How did cops manage to keep goons away from the booths on polling day in North Kolkata? How did the men and women in uniform measure up to the challenge of holding free and fair polls in South Kolkata? Here’s how.
Two days before voting in North Kolkata, Mehfuz, a known gangster from Taltolla area, received a call from the Anti-Rowdy Section (ARS) of Kolkata Police.
The cops told him that he should immediately proceed on a vacation outside the city limits or else...A veteran who has ‘managed’ many an election before, Mehfuz packed his bags and headed for cooler climate.
His is not an isolated case. Two days before South Kolkata went to polls on April 30, Nanti, a known name in the city’s underworld, was asked to leave Kolkata forthwith or risk arrest. Like his colleague from the north, he left for Digha.
Many of them have chosen the police directive to pay a visit to well-known tourist deatinations like the Ajmer Sharif Dargah in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Odisha or even Darjeeling and Mandarmoni. And they have left in droves -- from Rajarhat to Behala, from Metiabruz to Burrabazar.
Those who dared the police, like Sheikh Vinod, had to cool their heels in jail.
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“Two days before polling in Kolkata, I was called to Lalbazar. There were many people like me at that meeting. A police officer told us that we had two options: one to leave the city immediately and two, spend some time in jail,” a notorious criminal from Behala who did not wish to be identified told HT.
“I left for Digha with my wife. Only after polling was over in my area did I return to Kolkata. Many of my friends are still vacationing,” he added. “Yes, this plan was okayed by our seniors. We had to keep troublemakers away from the booths,” said a senior ARS officer.
The plan was a great hit. On April 21 and April 30, when North and South Kolkata went to polls, the hoodlums were nowhere to be seen. Voters queued to before polling booths in large numbers to cast their franchise. The sounds of bombs and bullets were absent.
“The plan was unofficial but effective. Who wants to be behind bars? If you don’t listen to ARS officers they will make life hell for you. They will dig out old cases and slap new ones on us. So we obliged,” said a tough from North Kolkata.