TMC men clash with CPI-M activists during Kolkata municipal polls
Workers of West Bengal's ruling Trinamool Congress clashed with Communist Party of India-Marxist activists during elections to the Kolkata Municipal Corporation on Saturday.
Polling began amid a torrent of allegations by the opposition of strong arm tactics by the TMC. Complaints of violence poured in from almost all over Kolkata and TV news channels beamed images since early morning of political workers with bloodied heads and noses.
The clashes erupted despite steps taken to ensure peaceful polling in 144 wards of the municipal corporation. Unmanned aerial vehicles were used for aerial monitoring of 900 polling booths declared as sensitive.
Opposition leaders alleged there were incidents of booth jamming, intimidation of voters and polling agents being prevented from entering booths.
"In wards 101 and 110 (areas such as Ganguly Bagan and Garia), our workers were beaten up. One of them sustained serious injuries," said Shamik Lahiri, a former Lok Sabha MP of the CPI(M).
Firhad Hakim, urban development minister and a confidante of chief minister Mamata Banerjee, dismissed the allegations by the opposition. He said: "The opposition parties have lost all public support. They are not getting anybody to work as polling agents for them. Therefore, they are alleging terror tactics by the ruling parties."
One of the most significant points of the polls is the conspicuous absence of central forces. While 71 companies of central paramilitary forces were deployed during polling in 2010, only three companies were deployed on Saturday.
"Police has turned into unquestioning followers of the ruling party," alleged CPI(M) leader Kanti Ganguly, who was beaten by TMC supporters on Friday evening.
Voting began at 7 am and will continue till 3 pm. More than 37.42 lakh voters are eligible to cast their franchise and 1,077 candidates are in the fray. More than 18% of the electorate exercised their franchise in the first two hours, an official said.
All opinion polls have predicted a sweep by the TMC. Some leaders attributed the violence to the ruling party's strategy to leave nothing to chance as anti-incumbency always begins in cities.
During the run-up to the polls, opposition leaders constantly complained of lack of efforts by the state election commission to deploy central forces to ensure free and fair polls.
Election commissioner S R Upadhyay said he had done his best but there were gaps in security arrangements.
The counting is scheduled for April 28.