Amid reports of violence, West Bengal votes

Absence of central forces from several booths raises questions as state goes to vote for panchayat election

| Updated: 08 July, 2023 1:59 pm IST
Absence of central forces made even poll officials jittery  

KOLKATA: Considered the litmus test for the 2024 Lok Sabha election, West Bengal votes for the panchayat election amid reports of violence and ruckus in several booths.

The voting started at 7 in the morning and will continue till 5 in the evening.

Despite the presence of 822 companies of central forces and state armed police forces, The New Indian found no sign of central forces in most of the booths it visited, suggesting something amiss.

The New Indian team visited interior villages like Belgodia, Barasat, Chandigarh, Kirtipur and Shimuliya where one of the top things on voters’ wishlists is peace. “We want nothing but a peaceful election,” they said.

“The election has been peaceful so far here. You can see the queue is getting long and I know whoever you will speak to, they will only ask for a peaceful voting environment,” Yashuddin, a voter, said.

Subimal Hajra, 78, said, “Voting is our democratic right and I ask all to come out and vote. My only demand is there should be no bloodshed. We should learn to embrace the differences and live peacefully beyond the parties and the politics.”

One of the notable absences is the central force, and the poll officers are surely not happy about it. “Can you see the central forces? Where are they? We have received one unit of armed state police. It’s already 10 am yet we do not know when the central force will arrive or whether they will at all arrive or not,” a presiding officer at a booth told The New Indian on the condition of anonymity.

The central forces were supposed to be present in every polling booth. The Calcutta HC had asked the State Election Commission to deploy central forces and state armed police forces in a 50:50 ratio.

Amid the visible absence of central forces, incidents of violence were reported from across the state. Congress leader Kaustav Bagchi wrote to the Chief Justice of the Calcutta HC TS Sivagnanam, stating, “As a citizen of the State of West Bengal, I seek an immediate judicial intervention with regard to the present panchayat poll violence that is taking place at the behest of the ruling dispensation in connivance with the West Bengal State Election Commission and the State Administration.”

“Ever since this morning there has been unprecedented violence, booth capture, etc. As per media reports, there have been four deaths till now, owing to poll violence,” the Congress leader wrote in his letter.

Meanwhile, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the state’s main opposition party, claimed, “TMC polled through the night at Booth No. 5 in Diamond Harbour’s one-block Netra area. The stamped ballot paper was recovered from inside the ballot box after opening the ballot under the pressure of the villagers.”

Citing an incident at Purba Medinipur, Nandigram, block 1, booth no. 72, the ruling Trinamool Congress said, “BJP workers are creating a ruckus and are not allowing voting to take place.” The incident reportedly happened at 8:30 in the morning.

So far, more than 18 killings have been reported that are related to the panchayat election.

West Bengal governor CV Ananda Bose has already been travelling since morning to take stock of the situation on the ground.

As per official data, out of a total of 61,636 booths, there are nearly 5,000 booths in 22 districts that are marked as vulnerable.

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