West Bengal witnessed several incidents of violence and arson during the voting for the three-tiered panchayat polls in rural parts of the state on Saturday.
The election saw a fierce fight between the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which has emerged as the number two political party in the state. Saturday’s polls also serve as a litmus test for the upcoming 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
The scenes on the crucial polling day can best be described as a travesty of democracy. While a miscreant was seen running away with the ballot box from the polling station in Malda’s Mahadipur area, voting had to be suspended at Indreshwar primary school in Dinhata, West Bengal’s Cooch Behar after water was thrown into the ballot box.
In another incident, a ballot box at a polling booth in Baranachina of Dinhata in Cooch Behar district was set on fire allegedly by voters who were angry with bogus voting that was reportedly going on there.
Another incident was reported from Balutola in Gopalpur Panchayat of Malda where a clash broke out between Congress and TMC workers and bombs were hurled while the polling booth at Baravita Primary School in Sitai of Coochbehar also vandalised and ballot papers were set on fire.
Several other incidents of ballot box and ballot paper looting and destruction were reported from numerous polling booths in the State.
In the meantime, a 52-year-old TMC worker, Sateshuddin Sheikh was killed in Khargram of Murshidabad. However, the residents of Nandigram Block 1 of Purba Medinipur district said that they are boycotting the election until Central forces are deployed at booth numbers 67 and 68 in Mahammadpur No. 2 area.
A voter, Govind told ANI, “There is no Central force here. Booth capturing keeps happening here by TMC. They do bogus voting even in the name of the deceased. We won’t allow voting here unless Central forces come here…”
The ruling TMC hit out at the opposition parties in the state who were clamouring for the deployment of central forces in West Bengal amid the violence, questioning where were the central forces at the time of violence which claimed several lives.
Taking a jibe, TMC said that the death toll due to the election-related incidents is mounting under the “close supervision of Central Forces”.
“Under the close supervision of Central Forces, the death toll keeps mounting! A devastating bomb attack claimed the life of our party worker in Manikchak, Malda. In Narayanpur-I Gram Panchayat of Nadia,” the party said in a tweet.
Attacking the TMC, State Leader of the Opposition Suvendu Adhikari on Saturday said that the state is burning and the Central government should intervene with Article 355 or Article 356 (President’s Rule). He alleged that more than 20,000 booths have been captured by hooligans of the ruling party in the state in the presence of police.
“West Bengal Governor CV Ananda Bose is trying his best to save lives and restore peace. But, his appeal has gone waste as the election-related violence continued in the state,” he said.
BJP president JP Nadda spoke to Suvendu Adhikari and BJP West Bengal in-charge Mangal Pandey on the poll violence and assured them that the BJP won’t let democracy die in West Bengal.
“BJP will not let this death of democracy happen, and we will take this fight to a decisive level in a democratic way,” Nadda said.
Governor Ananda Bose remarked that it is usually the poor who get killed in violence and said that instead of killing poverty they are “killing the poor”.
“What I have seen on the field is very disturbing. There is violence, murder, force and intimidation. It is the poor who get killed. They should kill poverty, instead, they are killing the poor. This is something which is very disturbing,” the West Bengal Governor said.
Asking people to take violence off the purview of politics and how lack of peace will affect the new generation, he said that violence needs to be “nipped in the bud”.
Speaking on the violence BJP MP Ravi Shankar Prasad said that more than 12 people have lost their lives in the state so far.
The State Election Commission had set up a total of 61,636 polling booths to conduct fair and impartial elections for 3317 Gram Panchayats, 341 Panchayat Samitis and 20 Zila Parishads in West Bengal.
To ensure the safe conduct of the polls, 59,000 personnel of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) and other State Armed Police Forces were deployed at sensitive polling booths and the rest of the troops of CAPF and SAP along with local state police were given the responsibility of security at the remaining polling booths.
West Bengal has 3,341 gram panchayats and the number of village panchayat election centres is 58,594. There are 63,239 seats at the Gram Panchayat level, 9730 at Panchayat Samiti and 928 at the Zila Parishad level.
Earlier in 2018, the TMC won 34 per cent of the seats uncontested in the panchayat elections, which also saw various instances of violence. (ANI)