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Lok Sabha elections 2019: Clashes in Bengal again as 80mn vote in phase 4

The poll watchdog deployed additional forces to cover around 98% of all booths in the battleground eastern state but violence broke out as soon as polls opened at 7am on Monday with the ruling TMC and the opposition BJP and Congress trading charges of voter intimidation.

lok sabha elections Updated: Apr 30, 2019 00:09 IST
HT Correspondents
HT Correspondents
Hindustan Times, Kolkata/New Delhi
Lok Sabha elections 2019,Bengal,Begusarai
In 2014, the BJP and its allies won 56 of these seats, leaving just two for the Congress. The fate of a large number of high-profile candidates such as Union ministers Giriraj Singh (Begusarai), Subhash Bhamre (Dhule), SS Ahluwalia (Burdwan-Durgapur) and Babul Supriyo (Asansol) was sealed

Violent clashes and political bickering in West Bengal overshadowed the fourth phase of the national elections on Monday as an estimated 80 million people cast their votes for 72 seats that largely represented strongholds of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies.

The voter turnout across nine states that went to the polls on Monday stood at 63.42% at 10pm, according to the Election Commission’s official app. The highest turnout was reported from Bengal, where eight seats went to the polls (76.72%) and the lowest in Jammu and Kashmir, where the second of the three-phase polling for the sensitive Anantnag seat was held (9.79%). The figures are provisional and likely to be updated because people were seen in queues outside polling booths till well after sunset.

In 2014, the BJP and its allies won 56 of these seats, leaving just two for the Congress. The fate of a large number of high-profile candidates such as Union ministers Giriraj Singh (Begusarai), Subhash Bhamre (Dhule), SS Ahluwalia (Burdwan-Durgapur) and Babul Supriyo (Asansol) was sealed. Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda (Kendrapara), Urmila Matondkar (Mumbai north) and Dimple Yadav (Kannauj) were also in the contention in the latest phase on Monday.

Later in the day, a comment by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a rally in southern Bengal’s Serampore that 40 Trinamool Congress lawmakers were in touch with him also ratcheted up the political temperature, with the regional party saying it will approach the EC on charges of “horse trading”.

One person died and several had been injured in violence in the previous phase of election in West Bengal last week. With Monday’s polling, the elections have entered the Trinamool stronghold of south Bengal, which holds the bulk of the state’s 42 seats that the BJP is eyeing to offset possible losses in northern and western India, and which Banerjee requires for a wider national profile after the results are announced on May 23.

The poll watchdog deployed additional forces to cover around 98% of all booths in the battleground eastern state but violence broke out as soon as polls opened at 7am on Monday with the ruling TMC and the opposition BJP and Congress trading charges of voter intimidation.

Places such as Nalhati (Birbhum), Nanoor (Bolpur), Barabani (Asansol) and Suri (Birbhum) saw pitched battles between political workers involving knives and long sticks. In Berhampore, Congress candidate and incumbent MP Adhir Chowdhury alleged he was forced to chase away some people who allegedly came to cast fake votes in KN College.

Tension gripped Benadaha village in Murshidabad district, a Congress stronghold, when crude bombs were hurled allegedly to terrorise voters. “Congress has a big vote bank in Berhampore but I didn’t find central forces personnel in many booths,” alleged Chowdhury.

In Birbhum district’s Kandihi, a central force personnel fired in the air inside the booth after villagers allegedly stormed the booth over a quarrel over mobile phones deposited before entering the polling booth. It triggered a political slugfest.

“I have heard that the CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) fired inside a booth…CRPF personnel can be deputed outside booths, but they do not have the right to lathicharge or fire,” chief minister Mamata Banerjee told a rally hours later. She also alleged the firing was a ploy to rig the polls by the BJP with the help of central forces.

Leaders from the saffron party dismissed the charge, and pointed to scuffles and violence at Asansol, where sitting MP Babul Supriyo’s car was vandalised allegedly by stone-throwingTrinamool Congress supporters, but the minister escaped unharmed with only the rear glass of the vehicle being damaged. The EC has directed the state police to register an FIR against Supriyo for allegedly trespassing into polling booth number 199 and threatening a polling agent and an officer.

The BJP leader alleged that his polling agents were not being allowed entry. “They are trying to stop me. But they won’t be able to stop me like this. I will move to ensure that BJP agents are allowed,” Supriyo said before leaving the area. Trinamool workers hit back, saying Supriyo and his men had manhandled them, with the EC seeking a detailed report on the matter.

In Asansol-Durgapur, police and central force personnel baton-charged a section of the villagers, who demanded they won’t allow polling to begin till central forces are deployed in sufficient numbers. “In Hadispur village in Nalhati (under Birbhum constituency) three of our villagers were injured after TMC supporters attacked them,” alleged BJP candidate Dudhkumar Mondal.

Anubrata Mondal, the Birbhum Trinamool strongman, hit back, saying, “Five TMC supporters were injured when BJP workers attacked them in Kamardanga village under Sadaipur police station in Birbhum constituency.”

As the day progressed, focus shifted to Modi’s rally in Serampore, where he warned Banerjee that her MLAs will abandon her after the results of the Lok Sabha polls were out, claiming that 40 of them were already in touch with him. “When the lotus will bloom all over Bengal after May 23, Didi (Banerjee), you will see that your MLAs will also abandon you and run away. Forty of your MLAs are in touch with me even today,” Modi said. “It will be tough for you to save yourself. You have cheated the people of Bengal,” he added.

Taking to Twitter, Trinamool spokesperson Derek O’Brien called Modi “Expiry Babu PM” and said his party will take up the Prime Minister’s remark with the Election Commission. “Expiry Babu PM, let’s get this straight. Nobody will go with you. Not even one councillor. Are you election campaigning or horse trading! Your expiry date is near. Today, we are complaining to the Election Commission. Charging you with horse trading. #LokSabhaElection2019,” he tweeted.

The BJP also said it will approach the Chief Electoral Officer, West Bengal, demanding a re-poll in the entire Birbhum Lok Sabha constituency and in a number of polling stations of Asansol, Krishnanagar and Ranaghat seats over allegations of voter intimidation.

Glitches in EVMs were reported from several constituencies in Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh as soon as the polling process started. In some constituencies, while the machines were immediately changed, the replacement caused long delays in some other areas, said election commission officials. In UP, the Samajwadi Party claimed that votes given to it had been credited to the BJP in two polling booths.

In Uttar Pradesh, EVM problems were reported from most of the 13 constituencies going to the polls with the maximum number of complaints from Kannauj, from where Dimple Yadav, wife of Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, is fighting to retain her seat. Voting was delayed for over two hours at two polling booths of Kannauj. In the first hour of polling, as many as 74 booths reported EVM malfunctions in UP and the number shot up to 100 within the first two hours. By 2pm, about 274 EVMs were reported to have malfunctioned.

First Published: Apr 30, 2019 00:09 IST