Kolkata: The presence of extra security in West Bengal for the sixth phase of polling for the Lok Sabha election could not prevent violence from breaking out yet again. Eight seats, including those from around the tribal belt of Purulia and Jhargram, went to the polls on Sunday.
Even before polling could begin, reports of political clashes and deaths poured in from across these eight seats, especially East Midnapore, Kanthi and Jhargram. One BJP worker and one Trinamool Congress worker were found dead in Jhargram and Kanthi. Two other BJP workers — Ananta Guchait and Ranjit Maity — were reportedly shot at in East Midnapore's Bhagabanpur.
The BJP worker who first went missing on Saturday and was later found dead late at night by police has been identified as Raman Singh. The body of Sudhakar Maity, the TMC worker who also went missing Saturday, was found in Contai.
“Maity was spotted by a local on the national highway and was brought to Contai government hospital where doctors declared him dead. Maity had a political history with the Left party and he recently joined TMC," Kanthi Police said, adding that an investigation is underway.
Violence, EVM glitches at polling booths
Polling began with a couple of EVM malfunctions reported from Bankura and Bishnupur. State Election Commission also confirmed that an EVM was broken in Bankura's Shaltora, which is being considered for repolling.
Bankura's booth 1 also saw clashes between TMC and BJP supporters. A BJP cadre was allegedly pushed and thrown outside the polling booth by TMC workers. "The EVM was vandalised in front of us and no one could do anything. BJP Bankura candidate Dr Subhash Sarkar and a couple of media persons were stuck inside the booth for a long time as some unidentified men were chasing them with bricks and sticks," said Arabinda Das, an eyewitness.
A whopping 718 companies of Central forces were deployed in Bankura, Medinipur, Ghatal, Kanthi, Bishnupur, Purulia, Tamluk and Jhargram. However, sporadic violence occurred during polling.
Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) Siddhi Nath Gupta, at a press conference said, “Twenty-six were injured during today's voting. Three suffered bullet injuries. At least 16 were arrested and the presiding officer of Gahtal booth number 206/207 was suspended and issued a show cause notice."
BJP faces uphill battle
For the BJP it was a do-or-die situation in Jhargram, Ghatal and Purulia constituencies. While Purulia and Jhargram have already seen a wave of saffronisation, Ghatal looked like a tough nut to crack after today's clashes, firings by forces and lathicharge in the constituency where TMC star candidate Dev Adhikary is contesting against party friend-turned-foe ex-IPS officer Bharati Ghosh.
Bharati's presence at Ghatal's Keshpur made the locals angry. The BJP accused the TMC of "planting outsiders" to create a ruckus in the area. Bharati was accused of violating the Model Code of Conduct by sending her security into the polling booth. Later, unidentified men attacked her convoy. One of Bharati's security and a few media persons were injured.
After Bharati’s car was attacked, a mob gathered near Keshpur's 207/206 booth. Central forces lobbed tear gas shells and resort to a lathicharge. Security personnel also had to open fire to disperse the mob.
Attacks were planned, claims Bharati
"It is not only about me," Bharati said. "There are so many people in this convoy. What about their security and life? I did not flout any rules. This was a planned attack."
West Bengal BJP president president Dilip Ghosh said, "Mamata Banerjee is scared of Bharati and her zeal to fight. These are attempts to stop her victory."
Later, even Dilip Ghosh's car was vandalised allegedly by TMC workers in East Midnapore's Dantan. TMC candidate Dev told media in Keshpur, "Bharati has always flouted rules and she thinks she is above the law. We all know how the police seized lakhs from her car on Friday. I believe in peaceful polling. I don't understand such provocative measures taken up by the Opposition."
"Mamata killing sons of West Bengal"
Even as Dev slammed Bharati, BJP’s Mukul Roy tweeted, "Mamata Devi, please don't get so desperate and stop killing sons of West Bengal. The history will never forgive you..." (sic)
Roy's cab was stopped twice at Kolkata airport by police and was searched thoroughly. The incident occurred right after Rs 1.13 lakh was seized from Bharati’s car on Friday. Bharati was accused of trying to sneak the cash in. Roy, criticising the police and Mamata said, "I was thoroughly searched while exiting the airport. They stopped me again on the main road. These are not the police, they are all slaves of Mamata. I am sure they feel ashamed to identify themselves as police even to their own children. This is a planned harassment activity by TMC."
TMC leader Derek O Brein tweeted, "Some BJP candidates, staring at certain defeat, with no support base, deliberately rushing around from polling station to polling station, seeking to create trouble and disturb the peaceful polling in the state."
Villagers complain of harassment, intimidation
In Bishnupur, villagers boycotted the vote. They claimed Central forces were harassing the men and not letting women cast their votes. “There are four Central forces personnel on duty at the booth. They are not letting us enter. They asked us to vote for BJP. After we refused, they did not let our women enter the booths. They chased us away and threatened to beat up the men. Thus, we decided to boycott polls," they said.
A social media post by a voter named Ananya Jana from Haldia stirred up controversy. In a Facebook post, she claimed she and her sister were manhandled at a booth and forced to vote for the local TMC candidate. "Democracy is in danger," she wrote. "Yes, in West Bengal. So, at 11 am today I went to the voting booth, a primary school near my home in Haldia, with my family. The moment we entered there was this guy standing next to the EVM machine. He asked my sister to vote for the TMC candidate."
The author is Kolkata-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com
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Updated Date: May 13, 2019 08:47:38 IST