The Election Commission appears to be in a fix as the Hindu community and Dhaka University students continue to demand deferral of the Dhaka city corporations election that coincides with Saraswati Puja, a major religious festival of the Hindus.
EC officials yesterday said they don’t intend changing the polls date for Dhaka North and South city corporations, as the High Court rejected a writ petition seeking deferral of the January 30 elections.
They also pointed out that SSC examinations will start on February 1.
Talking to The Daily Star yesterday, Rana Dasgupta, general secretary of Bangladesh Hindu-Bouddha-Christian Oikya Parishad, said they would move an appeal before the Supreme Court, challenging the HC’s rejection of the writ petition.
“The Election Commission has hurt the religious sentiment of the Hindus… Its rigid stance on the election date is hurting us even more,” Rana added.
Contacted, Election Commissioner Rafiqul Islam said, “The matter is now lying with court. The High Court has given a directive. But they [the petitioner] will file an appeal [with the SC]. We will abide by whatever the court decides.
“The scope is very limited for us to change the election date. We can’t defer it as the SCC exams will start on February 1,” he said, adding that different educational institutions will be used as polling centres and they have to vacate those before the SSC exams.
On January 6, SC lawyer Ashoke Kumar Ghosh filed the writ petition with the HC, seeking a directive to defer the January 30 polls by a week. The court on Tuesday rejected the petition.
“We did not expect this kind of verdict. It came as a shock to us,” Rana said.
POLLS DATE COINCIDES WITH PUJA
Members of the Hindu community said the observance of Saraswati Puja will start at 9:10am on January 29 and continue till 11:00am on January 30 as per Loknath Panjika, a traditional annual Bangla calendar that the Hindus follow.
Saraswati Puja is observed at almost all educational institutions where worshippers gather to offer prayers. But things may be different this time in the capital as polling centres will be set up at different schools, colleges and universities.
It will be difficult for worshippers to go to the educational institutions to observe the Puja as section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code will be imposed in and around the polling centres, said Rana.
Several top officials at the EC Secretariat told this newspaper that they could set aside one or two rooms in each of the educational institutions on the polling day for the Hindus to observe puja.
They also mentioned that the EC may defer the polls date if it faces mounting pressure from all sides.
Members of the Hindu community were stunned by the EC announcement on December 22 that the election would be held on January 30.
They said many members of the community boycotted last year’s Rangpur-3 by-polls as it was held on October 5, the second day of Durga Puja.
“Earlier, we had urged the EC to reschedule the Rangpur-3 by-polls but the commission did not pay heed to our demands,” Rana said.
“We suspect that a vested quarter is trying to curb the constitutional rights of the minorities. It seems that the EC is unable to understand the issue of religious sensitivity.”
Rafiqul, however, said they fixed the election date keeping in mind that the Saraswati Puja, according to the government calendar, falls on January 29.
“We also took the SSC exams schedule into consideration.”
The election commissioner said if they shift the election to January 28 or before that, it would be a “breach of rules”.
“We have already set the polls campaign period from January 10 to midnight of January 28. If the EC shifts the election date to January 28, the candidates’ campaign period will be cut short as they will have to end campaigns 32 hours before that.
“If we bring the election date forward, they [candidates] will go to court.
“We are having discussions on how to leave some educational institutions out of the polls process so that members of the Hindu community can observe puja there,” he added.
Meanwhile, demands for deferral of the city polls are getting louder.
DU students blocked the busy Shahbagh intersection for nearly one hour for the second consecutive day yesterday demanding deferral of the election.
On Monday, leaders of Bangladesh Hindu-Bouddha-Christian Oikya Parishad and Bangladesh Puja Udjapan Parishad put forward the same demand at a meeting with Chief Election Commissioner KM Nurul Huda.
A day before, a group of DU students from Jagannath Hall held a meeting with Election Commissioner Mahbub Talukdar in this regard.
Jagannath Hall Provost Mihir Lal Saha on January 10 sent a letter to DSCC Returning Officer Abdul Baten, calling for deferral of the polls. The RO forwarded it to the EC.
In separate statements the following day, Dhaka University Central Students’ Union, and Jagannath and Bijoy Ekattar Hall students’ unions demanded that the EC change the voting date.