Sporadic violence, low turnout mark Kolkata civic body polls; BJP, Left announce agitation
A crude bomb explosion that left three men injured, rampage inside at least two polling booths and more than a dozen sporadic clashes marked elections to the 144 seats in the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) on Sunday even as chief minister Mamata Banerjee said “voters celebrated the festival of democracy” while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Left declared state-wide agitations from Monday.
A low turnout of 64% and absence of central paramilitary police force (CAPF) were salient features of the polling during which Trinamool Congress (TMC) candidates and workers were seen engaging in quarrels and fisticuffs with their counterparts from the BJP, Congress and the Left. At least five candidates were hospitalized in the evening.
Calling Mamata Banerjee a dictator and the state election commissioner S K Das “spineless,” leader of the opposition in the assembly, Suvendu Adhikari, demanded a re-poll late in the evening. He alleged that police tried to confine him and a host of legislators and an MP to his residence in the Salt Lake Township which is not part of Kolkata.
“We were allowed to leave after the polls. A bureaucrat shoved me as well. I will not accept this,” he said.
Two crude bombs went off near Khanna cinema hall in central Kolkata in the morning but nobody was injured. However, three men were hurt when another bomb went off near the polling station at Taki Boy’s School.
While the political parties accused each other of ferrying in outsiders to create trouble police arrested a man for the second bomb attack.
“We have also identified his associates but the names cannot be disclosed. As many as 72 people were arrested in the city till 2 pm. The polling was overall peaceful. Police took prompt action. None of the 4,559 polling booths in the city were left unguarded. The state election commission (SEC) also received complaints and forwarded these to us. We have filed action-taken reports,” said Subhankar Sinha Sarkar, joint commissioner of police (headquarters)
Prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) were clamped within 100 metres of all polling stations. More than 23,500 policemen were deployed on Sunday.
Of the 144 civic wards, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) currently controls 126.
“The presiding officers in all polling booths became silent spectators when our agents were driven out. The TMC showed how low its confidence is even after winning 213 of the state’s 294 assembly seats six months ago,” said Bengal BJP’s chief spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya.
“The Kolkata Police has proved that it is an organ of the ruling party and not a law enforcement agency. We will stage agitations across Bengal,” Bhattacharya added. The CPI(M), too, announced a two-day agitation.
TMC national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee dismissed the allegations and said strong action will be taken if any TMC worker is found to be involved in violence and electoral malpractice.
“The TMC cannot do anything if the BJP does not have the organisational strength to deploy polling agents. The polls were held peacefully barring some stray incidents. If the media has any photo or video footage, showing our workers involved in any incident, please make it public. Our party will give them exemplary punishment and so will the administration,” Banerjee said.
Complaints poured in even when polling was coming to a close. The BJP alleged that Kolkata Police did not allow eight of its legislators to leave the government’s MLA Hostel near Park Street by locking the main gate.
The BJP also alleged that policemen were deployed outside Adhikari’s Salt Lake residence.
“The policemen could not show any official order that said BJP MLAs and MPs should be restrained till 5 pm. They only said they had instructions,” said BJP state vice-president Jay Prakash Majumdar.
Minister Firhad Hakim dismissed the allegation.
“This is a drama staged by the BJP. Can the police dare to stop the movement of legislators?” said Hakim.
The MLAs were allowed to leave the hostel after the polls were over at 5 pm. Adhikari was also allowed to leave his home but he got into an altercation with the police.
In the afternoon, BJP leader Meena Devi Purohit, who has won from ward No 22 thrice since 2005, alleged that she and her followers were attacked by TMC supporters. She alleged that her son-in-law and the latter’s brother were assaulted as well.
Opposition parties alleged that TMC workers ransacked a polling booth in ward no 23. Polling was stalled at a booth in ward no 22 where the polling agent of the Congress was found with bleeding injuries.
Congress and TMC workers clashed near Marwari Vidyalaya in the business district of Burrabazar. The counting monitor of an electronic voting machine (EVM) was thrown on the ground, SEC officials said.
The SEC installed security cameras inside all polling booths, counting centres and facilities to be used for storing around 6500 EVMs following an order passed by the Calcutta high court. Adhikari alleged that most of the cameras were deactivated. “Let a central agency conduct a probe,” he said.
The BJP had moved the high court seeking deployment of CAPF. It cited the alleged killings after the March-April assembly polls. The petition was however rejected by a single bench and the division bench of chief justice Prakash Shrivastava and justice Rajarshi Bhardwaj. The party challenged the order in the Supreme Court but no hearing was held.