Clashes leave 26 injured, TMC and BJP locked in war of words
Bombs were hurled, shots fired outside polling booths and a candidate had to scale the wall of a temple to escape a mob even as 26 people were injured in the sixth phase of the ongoing national elections in West Bengal on Sunday.
Eight constituencies in the western part of the state went to polls Sunday in a phase where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sensed its best chance to wrest seats from the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC), which was the incumbent in all of the areas. Earlier rounds of polling in the state had also been marred by violent clashes that claimed the lives of a number of political workers.
Additional director general of police (law and order) S N Gupta said 26 people were injured in clashes. Three of them sustained bullet injuries. As many as 15 vehicles were damaged and 16 people arrested. Five incidents of firing by central forces were reported since Saturday night, Gupta added. Five complaints were registered by police.
Tensions were high as voting opened in the morning over the death of two workers – one from BJP and the other from TMC – late on Saturday in Jhargram and East Midnapore districts. As the day progressed, Ghatal, where BJP candidate and former police officer Bharati Ghosh is taking on sitting MP and actor Dev, became the focus of the clashes.
In the morning, stones were thrown at Ghosh’s convoy when she was on her way to a polling booth. When she reached Jhetla village, crude bombs were hurled at her car. When she got out, she was pushed around and allegedly denied entry to several booths. When she entered a booth, she stirred a controversy by taking a photo with her phone. Minutes later, her personal guards allegedly fired in the air outside the booth to disperse the crowd, hitting a TMC worker in the arm.
Close to midday, Ghosh was given chase by a group of villagers, allegedly Trinamool workers, and she was forced to take shelter in Keshpur police station after scaling the wall of a local Kali temple where she took refuge after police seized her car. “After TMC-backed criminals began throwing stones at the temple too, I had to enter the police station,” Ghosh alleged, adding “The (TMC) have turned Keshpur into Kashmir”.
In Paschimbar village under Kanthi constituency, two BJP supporters were hospitalized after sustaining bullet injuries, allegedly fired by TMC supporters. However, TMC candidate Dibyendu Adhikari denied the role of their party workers. In Nayagram under Jhargram constituency, a voter, died after falling ill while standing in queue.
The Election Commission (EC) directed the police to register an FIR against Ghosh for coming within 100 metres of booths with her security men carrying arms.
“Central forces fired outside a polling station,” said chief minister Mamata Banerjee at a public rally. “She (Ghosh) provoked her guards to open fire injuring one of our workers,” said Firhad Hakim, state urban development minister.
Bengal’s chief electoral officer Aariz Aftab said, “Barring a few incidents of stray violence at Ghatal, polling was overall peaceful in the eight constituencies. Two EVMs were damaged by troublemakers at Saltora in Bankura constituency and Sutahata in Tamluk constituency. Both machines were replaced, said Aftab.
Union minister Prakash Javadekar alleged in Delhi, “TMC men have unleashed violence everywhere. Our candidate from Ghatal, a former IPS, was heckled and her car was vandalised. She was herself injured.” Clashes also erupted between BJP and TMC workers at Balarampur in Purulia district.