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West Bengal panchayat polls: Voting begins, violence and booth capturing reported

Our Bureau/Agencies Kolkata | Updated on May 14, 2018 Published on May 14, 2018

Voters queue up for Panchayat polls in West Bengal   -  Debasish Bhaduri

Political parties are viewing today’s election as a warm up match ahead of 2019 general elections.

The voting for the single-phase panchayat polls began today across West Bengal amid tight security, an official said. However, the elections have been marred with instances of violence and allegations of booth capturing. Four people were killed in the violence, say reports. 

“The polling started at 7 in the morning,” the official said and the polling will end at 5 PM. Till 1 PM, 41.5 per cent polling was recorded, a State Election Commission (SEC) official said. The counting will take place on May 17.

Across the state, reports of violence and allegations of booth capturing and other strong-arm tactics to intimidate voters came in. In fact reports have also surfaced of a CPI-M worker couple being burnt to death late last night in Kakdwip in South 24 Parganas. While, allegations have been levelled against Trinamool Congress-backed goons; the ruling party leadership has denied allegations. Th area remains tense.

The SEC received complaints of violence from several districts. It has asked the police to take action, officials said. The four were killed in separate incidents of violence in North 24 Parganas, Nadia, South 24 Parganas and Murshidabad districts. Incidents were also reported from areas like Egra in Paschim Medinipur and Mohammedbazar in Birbhum. In North Bengal district too there were instances of violence from Shikarpur in Jalpaiguri, in the Alipurduar district among other places.

 

Violence

In Coochbehar district, North Bengal Development Minister Rabindranath Ghosh allegedly slapped a person outside a polling booth. Televisions channels showed the minister purportedly slapping the person. However, Ghosh claimed he did not do it. The SEC said it has received a complaint and asked authorities to take action.

In the Dinhata area of north Bengal’s Coochbehar district, at least 15 people, including voters, were injured after clashes broke out between two groups outside a polling station, sources said. The voters later lodged a police complaint.

In North 24 Parganas, the BJP accused the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) of letting loose a reign of terror in several parts of the district, especially in the Amdanga area. SEC sources said a few people were injured in clashes that broke out between two groups in Amdanga. Senior minister Jyotipriyo Mullick said TMC workers were not involved in the incident and accused the BJP of terrorising the voters.

Fifteen people were injured in a clash between two groups outside a booth in the Nandigram area of East Midnapore district. One person was hit on the head with a chopper while another lost a finger, police said. In Contai in the same district, Independent candidate and four others were injured when chilli powder was thrown at them at a booth, they said. In North Dinajpur district, three crude bombs were found near a polling booth at Galaisura, around three km from district headquarter Raiganj, police said.

Of the three bombs, two were found on railway tracks, affecting movement of trains, RPF sources said, adding that the bomb squad has been informed.

In Burdwan district, opposition CPI(M) and BJP accused the TMC of terrorising voters and hurling bombs outside polling stations. The TMC termed the allegations as baseless. In Birbhum, masked men carrying weapons and sticks were seen intimidating voters outside some of the booths.

In Birbhum, masked men carrying weapons and sticks were seen intimidating voters outside some of the booths.

Television footage from Basanti block of South 24 Parganas district showed masked gunmen roaming outside polling stations. In the Bhangar area of the same district, police resorted to lathi-charge and lobbed tear gas shells to disperse a crowd, following clashes, the official said. The SEC has asked the police to submit a report regarding the incident.

According to sources in the state secretariat, Nabanna, reports have been sought from the district superintendent of South 24 Parganas. Most of the allegations have been levelled against the ruling Trinamool Congress.

Intense battle

After a protracted legal battle in the Kolkata High Court and the Supreme Court involving the State Election Commission, the ruling Trinamool Congress and the opposition parties, the three-tier panchayat polls in West Bengal is being held.

The run-up to the panchayat elections was marked by intense campaigning. The ruling Trinamool Congress was engaged in a bitter war of words with the opposition Congress, Left Front and BJP over the violence that erupted during the filing of nominations for the polls.

Election personal distributing ballot boxes to Polling officials before they leave for polling stations at BDO office, on the eve of West Bengal Panchayat Elections 2018 in Birbhum district on Sunday.   -  PTI

 

The opposition had accused the ruling TMC of letting loose a reign of terror during the nomination process. The TMC rubbished the allegations and had said the opposition do not have a mass base and are trying to evade the polls. The filing of nominations, which was held from April 2 to April 9 and then again on an extended date on April 23, was marked by violence and clashes between the ruling TMC and opposition parties that led to several deaths.

Although top leaders of all parties campaigned for the polls, TMC supremo and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee refrained from it. Banerjee appealed to the people to vote in favour of development ushered in by her government.

According to the State Election Commission (SEC) sources, today’s elections are being held in 621 zilla parishads and 6,157 panchayat samitis, besides 31,827 gram panchayats. According to West Bengal SEC sources, of the 48,650 seats in 3,358 gram panchayats, 16,814 were uncontested and of the 9,217 seats in 341 panchayat samitis, 3,059 were uncontested. In the 20 zilla parishads, 203 of the 825 seats were uncontested, the SEC said.

Around 1,500 security personnel from Assam, Odisha, Sikkim and Andhra Pradesh are in the state to reinforce security for the polls. They are aiding around 46,000 personnel of the state police and 12,000 of the Kolkata Police. The state government is using close to 2,000 security personnel from the departments of excise, prison and forests in manning the booths, an SEC official said.

The panchayat polls is the last major elections in the state before the next year’s Lok Sabha elections. With 40 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats located in the districts, political parties are viewing today’s event as a warm up match ahead of 2019 general elections.

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Published on May 14, 2018
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