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Sporadic violence as re-elections for panchayat polls are held in Bengal

Media reports said at least 15 people were killed in political violence, election officials and police beaten up, ballot boxes burnt and damaged during Monday’s electoral process that was accompanied by massive rigging and booth capture by alleged Trinamool Congress supporters.

kolkata Updated: May 16, 2018 13:31 IST
HT Correspondents
HT Correspondents
Hindustan Times, Kolkata/Berhampore
West Bengal,Panchayat elections,Poll violence
Rapid Action Force and police baton-charge voters in North Dinajpur district’s Goalpokhor when they agitated due to delay in voting process.(ANI/Twitter)

Sporadic violence was reported from West Bengal on Wednesday as the state went for re-election in 572 booths for panchayat polls. Repoll took place in 19 districts out of the 20 where elections were held on May 14.

The booths, where repolling is taking place include 63 in Murshidabad, 52 in Coochbehar, 28 in West Midnapore and 10 in Hooghly among others. The poll panel had asked the state government and police to make elaborate security arrangements so that polling can be held in a free and fair manner.

But despite these measures, violence took place in some areas.

In Jyangra of North 24 Parganas, hundreds of policemen formed a ring around a polling station to keep toughs out. On May 14, some youths brought ballot boxes out of the booths, prised them open with crowbars and consigned some of the ballot papers to a nearby pond and burnt the rest.

Firearms and pellets were seized by police in Basanti of South 24 Parganas. Police also seized an improvised jacket made of tin presumably to offer protection from pellets.

At Farakka in Murshidabad district, two persons were injured when bombs were hurled targeting the voters at a booth in Maheshpur gram panchayat area. BJP alleged that their polling agents could not enter a single booth of the total 63 where re-election was held.

Rapid Action Force (RAF) and police baton-charged voters in North Dinajpur district’s Goalpokhor when they agitated due to delay in voting process. The incident occurred outside booth number 36/37.

In Bankra primary school (booth number 76) in Ratua I block of Malda district, goons stormed inside the centre at 8 am and took the ballot box away while brandishing guns.

“Bengal has landed in an incredible situation. We have witnessed electoral violence in Bengal, but the degree and extent have multiplied manifold. I am in politics for more than four decades. I can tell you with authority that such a situation has never befallen the state,” said Bengal Congress president Adhir Chowdhury, who is a Lok Sabha MP from Berhampore since 1999.

On Tuesday state BJP president Dilip Ghosh had expressed apprehensions that there may be violence during repoll too.

The spokesperson of Bhangar land agitators, Mirza Hassan, alleged that though supporters of arrested former TMC MLA Arabul Islam took control of five polling stations and rigged the polls, repoll was not ordered in Bhangar at all. “What were the parameters of choosing booths for repoll? Our candidate Entaj Ali could not cast his vote as he was driven out of the polling station and thrashed. We would suspect some of the booths were selected because the ruling party anticipated setbacks in those,” he asked.

In several booths policemen were seen chasing away outsiders from near the booths.

At Amdanga in North 24-Parganas, where a CPI(M) supporter was killed on May 14, police chased down a group of miscreants and even recovered firearms but failed to nab the toughs. In another incident in the same district, a sub-divisional police officer was beaten up by a mob allegedly for inadequate security arrangements for counting centre.

At Raiganj in Uttar Dinajpur, poll officials put up a road blockade and demanded impartial probe into the death of Rajkumar Roy, a presiding officer who went missing on the polling day. His body was recovered on Tuesday. Police claimed it was case of suicide.

Counting in scheduled on Thursday and opposition parties have said they anticipate violence on the day of counting as well.

In many places, people braved the rains to stand in queues to cast their vote. Security has been tightened to avoid a repeat of Monday’s violence during the panchayat elections.

Initial reports said at least 15 people were killed in political violence, scores injured, vehicles, houses and shops attacked, election officials and police beaten up, ballot boxes burnt and damaged during Monday’s electoral process that the Opposition termed as farce. Reports of massive rigging and booth capture by ruling Trinamool Congress supporters also poured in from across the state.

SEC officials, however, claimed on Tuesday that six people died due to poll-related violence.

The Congress, Communist Party of India (Marxist), Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) and other parties of the Left Front also staged a protest outside SEC office in Kolkata against the violence.

Taking note of the incident, the Ministry of Home Affairs also sought a report from the state government.

First Published: May 16, 2018 11:43 IST