Police block the way to Ghazipur where booths have allegedly been captured. (Express photo by Shubham Dutta)
West Bengal on Monday saw a turnout of 73 per cent in gram panchayat elections which was marred by widespread violence that left atleast 12 people dead and over 50 injured, prompting the Centre to ask the Mamata Banerjee-led government for a report on the issue. The State Election Commission, however, said the polling percentage would rise since 4.5 lakh voters were still queued up across the state after the end of voting hours.
Despite around 9,000 Kolkata police personnel deployed for the elections, violence broke out in North and South 24 Parganas, East Midnapore, Burdwan, Nadia, Murshidabad and South Dinajpur districts. Debu Das, a CPM worker and his wife, were charred to death after a few TMC activists allegedly burnt their house late Sunday night. As soon as voting began at 7 am, news of polling booths being targetted and captured, vandalising of ballot boxes and rigging were received. Crude bombs were also hurled near several polling stations.
The violence reached such a crescendo that a lawyer approached the Calcutta High Court seeking summoning of the State Election Commissioner (SEC) and the state home secretary. However, a division bench of Chief Justice J Bhattacharya and Justice Arijit Banerjee refused to entertain his appeal and asked the lawyer to file a petition. Meanwhile, the home ministry has asked the TMC government to provide a detailed report on the circumstances leading to the clashes and the steps taken to restore peace and punish those involved in the violence.
Elections were held in 622 zila parishads and 6,158 panchayat samitis, besides 31,836 gram panchayats of the state. This is because 16,814 gram panchayat seats, 3,059 panchayat samiti seats and 203 zila parishad were uncontested, the SEC said.
Members of JJPOBC protesting on road that separates Uttar ghazipur from Machibhanga. (Express photo by Partha Paul)
As reports of violence breaking out at several quarters continued to pour in throughout the day, opposition parties accused the TMC of unleashing a reign of terror and destroying democracy. “First they didn’t allow people to file nominations. Second after filing nominations, TMC started threatening the candidates to withdraw. The people who didn’t withdraw were attacked. This is nothing but a complete destruction of democratic process,” PTI quoted CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury as saying.
CPI leader D Raja called the election a farce and asked the Mamata Banerjee government to take steps to save democracy in West Bengal. However, the TMC downplayed the violence, saying it was far less compared to the Left Front’s 34 years of rule. Dishing out statistics, TMC leader Derek O’Brien said about 400 people were killed in poll violence in 1990s under the CPI(M) regime. “To all ‘newborn’ experts on Bengal #PanchayatElections in State have a history. 400 killed in poll violence in 1990s in CPIM rule. 2003: 40 dead. Every death is a tragedy. Now closer to normal than earlier times. Yes, few dozen incidents. Say, 40 out of 58,000 booths. What’s %age?”, TMC leader Derek O’Brien said on Twitter.
To all ‘newborn’ experts on Bengal #PanchayatElections in State have a history. 400 killed in poll violence in 1990s in CPIM rule. 2003: 40 dead.Every death is a tragedy. Now closer to normal than earlier times.Yes, few dozen incidents. Say,40 out of 58000 booths. What’s %age ?
— Derek O’Brien (@derekobrienmp) May 14, 2018
Most number of casualties were reported from Murshidabad, where three people were killed, while two were shot in East Midnapore’s Nandigram. Two people lost their lives in Nadia and North Dinajpur districts. In South Dinajpur, a man was killed and four others were injured after a bomb was hurled outside a polling station. One person was killed in clashes between two groups outside a polling booth in Nakashipara area in Nadia district, while another death was reported from Shantipur area, an SEC official said.
Bombs were also hurled outside a polling station in Amdanga area of North 24 Paragans in which a man, said to be a CPI(M) supporter, died and another injured. In South 24 Parganas’ Bhangar, the ‘Jomi, Jibika, Bastutantra O Poribesh Raksha Committee’ (committee for protecting land, livelihood, ecology and environment), which is spearheading an anti-power grid movement in the area, accused armed miscreants of the Trinamool Congress of kidnapping one of their nine candidates – Imtiazul Khan.
Violence also took place in West Midnapore’s Keshpur district where gun-toting miscreants gathered outside the polling stations. (Express photo)
Bhangar has been on the boil for the past few days after TMC leader Arabul Islam was arrested and sent to 10-day police custody in connection with the killing of Hafizul Mollah, a supporter of an Independent candidate. Uttar Ghazipur booths 100 and 102 located in Bhangar’s Prathmik Vidyalaya (primary school) were allegedly captured during morning clashes. The booths fall under Arabul’s son Hakibul Islam’s seat. According to an eyewitness, the JJPOBC and TMC faced off each other and started pelting stones at each other. The booth was subsequently captured by the TMC, alleged members of the JJPOBC.
Violence also took place in West Midnapore’s Keshpur district where gun-toting miscreants gathered outside the polling stations and beat up voters. Several attempts to rig the election process were also reported across the state as miscreants poured water into ballot boxes or set them on fire. The counting of votes will take place on May 17.