A video grab of the incident. (Express photo)
In a video that went viral Thursday, a man was seen purportedly marking votes inside a counting center in Nadia district in full view of polling officials and police. The State Election Commission (SEC) later ordered results from the counting center in Majhdia town be withheld till further notice. Till filing of this report, the area remained tense.
Candidates claimed that the man was part of group that barged into Sudhir Chandra Lal Memorial College, the counting center for Krishnagunj block, and disrupted the counting. They claim the group had the backing of the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC). The ruling party doubted the claim but has condemned the incident.
Around noon, the group allegedly barged in and drove out the election agents of opposition parties before proceeding to stamp ballot papers. Niladri Sukul, an Independent candidate, said, “I was ahead of the TMC candidate by 220 votes. Then the TMC miscreants entered, beat me up and drove me out. I saw them give false votes.”
“The miscreants stormed in and broke the fencing. They kicked us and started putting stamps on ballot papers they had brought with themselves. They took away some ballot papers too,” said a polling official who said he was at the center when the incident took place.
This was in full view of police and counting officers and continued for over an hour, according to candidates there. Later, they said, a strong police force arrived and drove the intruders out with a lathicharge and used tear gas.
Votes to the Krishnagunj block with 112 gram panchayat seats, 21 panchayat samiti seats and two Zilla Parishad seats were scheduled to be counted at the centre. “It is indeed a bad day for democracy. This is unprecedented. Miscreants rigging inside a counting station is unthinkable. Law and order has broken down,” said former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee reacting to the incident.
Despite repeated attempts by The Indian Express for comments, the district police chief could be reached. “We have received a complaint and are looking into it,” Nadia district magistrate Sumit Gupta told PTI.
“We will check whether this man is from our party,” said Gouri Shankar Dutta, district TMC chief. “It doesn’t seem so. If he is, we will take strong action. We condemn the incident.”
“This is unprecedented,” said Mahadeb Sarkar, BJP Nadia (north) president. “First TMC-backed goons blocked opposition from submitting nomination. Then they terrorised during polls. Now they are rigging secured counting centers.”
The incident happened amidst reports of intimidation and in some places beating up agents of opposition political parties near counting centers from different parts of the state.