Violent clashes mark West Bengal panchayat polls

Skirmishes, threats and irregularities reported as state wraps up single phase panchayat poll

| Updated: 08 July, 2023 10:00 pm IST
At least 12 people have allegedly been killed and several injured in the violence-marred West Bengal panchayat polls

KOLKATA: At least 12 people have allegedly been killed and several injured in the violence-marred West Bengal panchayat poll. Several incidents of ballot looting, throwing away ballot boxes and setting the ballot boxes on fire were also reported.

Skirmishes broke out in Raghunath Gunj, while incidents of firing were reported from Coochbehar’s Gitaldaha, Coochbehar. One injured. A video of state police recovering a ballot box from the drain surfaced.

The New Indian learned that the peace room, created by West Bengal Governor CV Ananda Bose to handle any complaints related to the poll, had received at least 250 calls till 6.10 in the evening.

The Trinamool Congress, BJP, Congress and Left Front each blamed others for the rampant violence that headlined the election.

Surprisingly, despite Kolkata HC’s directions, and the presence of 822 companies of central and state police armed forces, The New Indian found that in several booths there were no central forces.

Taking account of the violence in the state, Union Home minister Amit Shah called up West Bengal BJP president Dr Sukanta Majumdar and asked him for a report on today’s violence.

Majumdar had earlier written to HM Shah, requesting the intervention of the Central Government for the restoration of democracy in West Bengal.

He wrote that very few booths enjoyed CAPF (Central Armed Police Force) security while the majority were covered by police personnel and even civic volunteers, in violation of the orders of the Kolkata HC.

BJP national president JP Nadda also dialled Dr Majumdar and took stock of the situation in the state.

It was not the common people, who told The New Indian that they yearn for peace, who faced difficulty exercising their democratic rights. Union Minister of State for Home, Nisith Pramanik, was allegedly obstructed by the state police from casting his vote. He was later allowed to vote following an altercation.

Senior CPI (M) leader Biman Basu, accompanied by 100+ party workers and leaders, staged a protest against the violence by staging a march to the State Election Commission (SEC) office.

“Ballot boxes are being looted. CCTVs are not functioning properly. Presiding officers are helpless. TMC agents are pouncing on journalists. This is the pain of 1956,” says the Leader of the Opposition in the West Bengal assembly, Suvendu Adhikari. He too went to the SEC office from Nandigram to register his protest about the conduct of the election.

Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury blamed the ruling TMC for the violence. “Voting started yesterday night when everyone was sleeping. Stealing of ballot papers started yesterday night,” he alleged.

Targeting Chief minister Mamata Banerjee, Chowdhury said, “We congratulate you, didi (as CM Banerjee is often referred to) for your win. Nothing happened. No clashes, no killings, nothing. We are all fabricating facts. You will be okay on July 11. You will give your speech on that day as well.”

While the opposition parties in West Bengal blamed TMC, the ruling party too returned the fire, sharing a video of an alleged BJP worker brandishing a sword and threatening voters in Bankura.

“Booth captured and ballot box thrown by @BJP4Bengal supporters in Dewanganj Gram Panchayat of Haldibari Block in Cooch Behar,” TMC tweeted.

“Today, yet again, the BJP has launched a scathing attack on the rights of people. Once again, the people of Bengal will firmly reject such an oppressive force and assert their true power, making it clear where the BJP truly belongs!” the ruling party added.

Blaming the opposition parties, TMC leaders Dr Shashi Panja and Bratya Basu said, “A total of 5.67 crore voters took part in the Panchayat Elections today. The Opposition and the media are claiming that the entire polling exercise in Bengal has been marred with violence, but the truth is far from that.”

“There are 14 districts in Bengal where the entire election procedure has been smooth. Major incidents of violence have occurred in 9 booths, while minor incidents have taken place in 60 booths. The total number of booths across the State, meanwhile, stands at 61,539,” they stated.

“If we look at the percentage of booths where violence has taken place, the number comes to 0.00097%,” the TMC leaders added while saying that opposition parties are “manufacturing violence”.

Till 5 pm, 66.28 per cent of voting had taken place, however, in many booths, voting was still on even after 6.30 pm.

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