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Violence mars civic polls in West Bengal 

An elderly man being carried by his family member to cast his vote at a polling centre, during the West Bengal Municipal elections, in Murshidabad district, on Sunday.

An elderly man being carried by his family member to cast his vote at a polling centre, during the West Bengal Municipal elections, in Murshidabad district, on Sunday. | Photo Credit: PTI

Allegations of widespread electoral malpractices and violence marred the elections to 108 civic bodies in 20 districts involving 95 lakh voters in West Bengal held on Sunday.

From north to south and from early morning to late in the afternoon, there were several instances where crude bombs were hurled, EVMs were attacked and candidates and agents of the Opposition parties were driven out of the polling booths.

Violence erupted at Dhulian in Murshidabad and Dalkhoola in Uttar Dinajpur district when the Trinamool Congress supporters clashed with the supporters of independent candidates. The situation spiralled out of control and the police had to fire tear gas shells and use force to control the situation.

Several persons were injured in Kamarhati in the violence in the North 24 Parganas. Apart from crude bomb explosions, people were seen attacking vehicles and motorbikes in Kamarhati which is located on the northern fringes of Kolkata.

Crude bombs were hurled near the polling booths in Halisahar and Garulia municipalities.

EVMs were attacked at least in half a dozen places from Barasat Basirhat, Madhyamgram in the North 24 Parganas, Rajpur–Sonarpur in the South 24 Parganas, Raghunathpur in Murshidabad among other places.

Candidates of the Opposition parties at several places alleged they were beaten up and driven out of the polling booths. A young man serving as an agent of the CPI(M) at Sonarpur in the South 24 Parganas broke down before television channels alleging that he was beaten up when the polling started. Similar allegations were made by women polling agents and candidates of the Left parties at Barasat and a Congress candidate at Behrampore in Murshidabad district.

At least four journalists working for local television networks including video journalists sustained injuries when they were attacked. Media persons were attacked at the North Dumdum Municipality in the northern parts of Kolkata and Kanthi in Purba Medinipur district near a polling booth when they tried to record irregularities and violence. The polling percentage across the 108 municipalities till 5 p.m. on Sunday was 76.51%.

BJP calls bandh on Monday

The State BJP leadership called for a 12–hour bandh on Monday in protest against the irregularities and violence and the deteriorating law and order. State BJP spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya said the ruling party has turned the civic elections into a complete farce and urged the courts to take cognizance of the violence and the irregularities. The BJP has submitted a list of about 923 complaints to the State Election Commission.

CPI(M) leader Rabin Deb said the polls were a “shameful chapter” for democracy in West Bengal. He alleged that the municipalities were breeding grounds of corruption and that was the reason why the ruling party was pulling out all the stops to capture them.

“What is the point of holding such elections when votes are looted in broad daylight,” asked State Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury. Mr. Chowdhury faced protests by the TMC supporters when he went to a polling booth where party activists were attacked.

Trinamool Congress leader Partha Chaterjee said the Opposition was making wild allegations as the TMC has public support. He said the ruling party will thwart any attempts to enforce bandh on the people on Monday.

The TMC has already won four civic bodies and 100 wards without contest. The results will be declared on March 2.

Local body elections in West Bengal have a history of violence and the State Election Commission had in 2013 approached the Supreme Court seeking deployment of Central forces against the wishes of the Trinamool Congress government.

No major incident, says DGP

Director General of Police Manoj Malaviya said the elections were held “very peacefully” with no major incident of violence. He said no death or grievous injury was reported and some stray incidents occurred and the police acted accordingly.

“We have carried out 797 preventive arrests and 51 persons were arrested on Sunday on the basis of specific incidents recorded in the day,” Mr. Malaviya said. He said the polling percentage was reflective of the process. The DGP said strict action will be taken against those who try to enforce the bandh.

Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar said there was “no election” and that it was a war where the entire administration had sided with the ruling party. Mr. Dhankhar also blamed State Election Commissioner Saurabh Das saying he had abdicated his constitutional responsibility.

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Printable version | Aug 11, 2022 2:46:40 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/violence-electoral-malpractices-mar-civic-polls-in-west-bengal/article65090134.ece