Violence intensified during the filing of nomination papers for the panchayat polls in West Bengal on Monday, with reports of clashes emerging from several districts and leaders of Opposition parties sustaining injuries during the process.
The Calcutta High Court during the day heard petitions on several issues concerning panchayat polls, including seeking deployment of Central forces, increasing the window of filing nominations and preventing the deployment of contractual employees in the three-tier elections.
While the West Bengal State Election Commission (WBSEC) issued prohibitory orders under Section 144 of Cr. P.C and prevented any gathering outside block development offices where the nomination forms are filed, these measures did little to abate violence. The Commission had directed that only two persons will accompany candidates for filing of papers.
On the third day of filing of papers for the rural polls, violence erupted at Barsul in Purba Bardhaman when supporters of the Left parties were attacked. At Minakhan in North 24 Parganas district, CPI(M) State committee member Soma Das suffered injuries on the head. A CPI(M) office was attacked and several motorbikes kept there were vandalised.
Deb Shankar Mandal, a BJP leader, was among those who were attacked at Sonamukhi in Bankura district while filing nomination papers. Congress leaders and supporters were targeted at Nakashipara in Nadia district and Chopra in Uttar Dinajpur district. At Chopra, the Congress leadership alleged that some of the party leaders were abducted and later rescued by the police.
Violence and scuffle between supporters of the ruling Trinamool Congress and the Opposition parties were reported at Jamuria in Paschim Bardhaman, Kakdwip and Bhangar in South 24 Parganas.
Asma Khatoon, a candidate of the Indian Secular Front (ISF), was holed up in the office of the BDO, Bhangar, for almost four hours before she was taken out from a different gate of the government office. Several supporters of the Trinamool Congress had gathered outside the BDO office at Bhangar.
She alleged that her family members were being threatened for filing papers for the panchayat elections. CPI(M) State Secretary Md. Salim took to social media and said the situation in 2018 and 2023 were not identical, thereby implying that party supporters would resist attempts to disrupt polling process.
State BJP president Sukanta Majumdar said the State police were failing to maintain law and order and therefore deployment of the Central forces was a must for conducting panchayat polls.
Submits report to HC
Meanwhile, during the hearing in the Calcutta High Court, counsel of the WBSEC Jayanta Mitra submitted a report before the Division Bench presided by Chief Justice T.S. Sivagnanam pointing out that the last date for filing nominations could be extended to June 16. The court discussed whether extending the dates of nomination by more days can upset the entire schedule and a fresh notification be issued.
The panchayat polls in the State will be held on July 8. Elections are being held for 63,239 seats at gram panchayat level, 9,730 seats at panchayat samitis and 928 zilla parishad seats. Mr. Mitra told the court that over 10,000 nominations have so far been filed.
Chief Justice Sivagnanam pointed out that in the past three and half months the High Court had to intervene 12 times on issues relating to law and order. He said the confidence of the electorate should not be shaken and they must be able to exercise their franchise in a free and fair manner. The High Court had sought reports from the WBSEC on the points raised by the petitions filed by Leader of the Opposition Suvendu Adhikari and State Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.
Mr. Adhikari’s counsel S. Guru Krishnakumar told the court that the poll notification was issued within a day of the new commissioner taking charge, questioning what kind of consultation could have taken place with the State government in such a short notice.
The counsel argued for deployment of Central forces and prayed that contractual employees be not deployed in the panchayat polls. The WBSEC counsel said the political parties need to trust the WBSEC and approach the commission before approaching courts. The counsel admitted that there was ‘lawlessness’ and said the commission would do everything in its power to ensure free and fair polls.