KOLKATA, INDIA - India's Election Commission cut off campaigning early in the eastern state of West Bengal on Thursday after days of clashes in the final stretch of the country's marathon elections, a drastic and unprecedented action in the world's largest democracy.
The three-member body said that “growing incidents of disruption and violence” were creating a “fear psychosis” among voters, and ordered campaigning to cease by 10 p.m., a day before it had been scheduled to end.
The commission is invoking for the first time Article 324 of the Indian Constitution, which gives it powers over India's Parliament and state lawmakers to conduct free and fair elections.
“But it may not be the last in cases of repetition of lawlessness and violence,” Chandra Bhushan Kumar, a deputy election commissioner, told reporters Wednesday.
Nine parliamentary constituencies vote Sunday in the seventh and last round of India's staggered, weekslong national election, which has been a highly acrimonious campaign that has seen Modi blame opposition parties for the country's ills.
They occupy only 25 per cent of the work force, less than 12 per cent of parliamentary seats, a backseat in many homes dominated by patriarchal voices, but in one significant area Indian women have emerged on par with men: at polling booths. That has made political parties sit up and take notice in a country where a slim margin can make the difference between victory and defeat.
To mark women’s empowerment, the Election Commission set up hundreds of “pink booths” in the country during the five-week general election that wraps up Sunday.
On Tuesday, rival political supporters fought with sticks and rocks during a rally for India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, which is trying to wrest seats from Trinamool Congress, a powerful regional party that currently governs West Bengal.
Violence was also reported in the state during last Sunday's polls.
Normally campaigns run up to 48 hours before polls open, according to Indian law.
Both Modi and Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal's chief minister, were holding last-minute campaign events Thursday.
In the state's capital, Kolkata, supporters of Banerjee's TMC held party flags and colorful balloons while waiting for her to arrive for her fourth event of the day.
Police struggled to control traffic and crowds, but the atmosphere was festive.
Banerjee planned to lead a 15-kilometer (9-mile) march along a road lined with dozens of loudspeakers.
Construction contractor Biswajit Paik wore a white garment with images of a Hindu temple, a mosque and a church, which he said symbolized that Banerjee “is for all faiths, all people.”
Modi held a rally near the airport.