They have been feted as heroes so far for being instrumental in ensuring relatively free and fair polls in the notoriously volatile climes of West Bengal. In the final phase of 2016 Assembly elections, however, the Central forces courted controversy for using "excessive violence" while establishing the writ of law.
From many parts of Cooch Behar and East Midnapore, the two districts that went to polls in sixth installment on Thursday, reports poured in all throughout the day of paramilitary personnel being 'too proactive' and in some cases blurring the line between imposing the regulations and violating it.
Given West Bengal's tradition of blood smeared elections, it is understandable why the Central forces may have wanted to err on the side of caution — after all, the last phase too went off almost without a glitch with very little complaints from the opposition — but still some of the incidents that took place on Thursday are hard to justify.
In Janu Basan village of Tamluk, the district headquarters of East Midnapore, a five-year-old boy was reportedly injured in lathicharge when paramilitary jawans tried to disperse a crowd near booth No. 94 leading to massive protest from locals. The boy later needed medical attention, as footage from local TV channels proved.
Abdul Kader, the Trinamool Congress councilor of ward No. 14 in Haldia reportedly suffered a hand fracture when CRPF jawans wielded their batons. Six other TMC workers were also injured. According to the forces, the TMC leader and his men had broken the 100-metre rule of not being allowed to assemble near a booth.
A similar incident was reported from Sitalkuchi, an administrative block in Mathabhanga subdivision of Cooch Behar. Another six TMC supporters including two women were reportedly injured when jawans lathicharged on them and smashed the party camp.
Once again, CRPF said they were forced to take action when the group of supporters refused to leave the vicinity of a booth despite repeated warnings. One of the injured women told Kolkata TV that forces chased them down and damaged their houses.
In Khejuri, villagers in Matilal Chak damaged a road in protest against alleged excesses of jawans when six TMC workers were hurt by lathicharge.
In Moyna, East Midnapore, six more workers were wounded when Central forces lathicharged to disperse 'unlawful assemblies' near booth numbers 255 and 266 in Deubhanga. The ruling party claimed that they had maintained a distance of 200 metres away from the polling area. Section 144, was, however, imposed in the area.
Similar complaints came in from Natabari constituency of Cooch Behar where four TMC workers were beaten up when central forces thrashed them for centering around booth numbers 173, 178, 180 and 182.
In each of these incidents, ruling party workers were at the receiving end. And Trinamool Congress wasted no time in claiming that they were victimised by the Election Commission who were acting as Centre's agents.
"The Delhi government used central forces to get back at us. This is shameful. The CRPF has always maintained a certain prestige and professionalism in their conduct. This time, they let themselves me exploited for political ends," said Suvendu Adhikari, the TMC candidate from Nandigram.
Adhikari's constituency was also in news all through the day. Many booths in Nandrigram had no presence of rival party agents. The CPM alleged that their workers were too scared to discharge their duties after being threatened overnight. Adhikari, however, denied all charges.
"These are completely baseless complaints. Nobody in Nandigram wants to be associated with their party. We have huge organisational, multi-tiered structure in Nandigram including female workers and representatives from the minority section. CPIM failed to organise agents in over 1,500 booths. What can I do if they have lost the support of their people? They should wrap up their party offices.
"There is no fight with CPM here. We are winning. Our only opposition is the central forces," Adhikari told ETV News Bangla. An earlier footage in 24 Ghanta, another news channel, captured him saying that TMC has come prepared this time to counter the tactics of forces. "We have understood the strategy of Central forces. Accordingly we have changed our strategy as well," said the TMC strongman who had featured in one of the infamous Narada sting videos.
That strategy became evident by the way many voters in Nandigram had to be escorted to their booths in police or CRPF vehicles. TV channels quoted many of them expressing fear after being warned overnight from stepping near the booth.
Amid reports of voter intimidation from Mytore, a hamlet in Panskura (west) constituency under East Midnapore, officer Mohammed Bilal Hossain was seen going from door-to-door and trying to allay the fears of local residents who were visibly scared stiff. "Don't be afraid. We are here to help you," the officer was seen telling local residents.
"Who has threatened you, tell me their names," asked the officer to voters, many of whom refused to identify themselves for fear of retribution. Some broke out in tears. Hossain also gave a local CPM agent a ride in his jeep and escorted him to the polling booth from where he was driven out.
FIR against TMC leaders
The Election Commission ordered the district administration to file FIR against two TMC leaders: Udayan Guha and Rabindranath Ghosh.
Candidate from Natabari constituency in Cooch Behar, Ghosh was caught on camera barging inside polling booth and threatening a sector officer. He even accused the officer of acting as a CPM tout. Taking suo motu cognizance of the event, the EC had sought a report. Guha, who is contesting from Dinhata constituency on a TMC ticket, has been charged with aiding proxy voting.
103-year-old votes for first time in life
Asghar Ali, 103 years old, cast his ballot for the first time in his life on Thursday when residents of Chhitmahal, one of the 51 enclaves in Cooch Behar district, exercised their franchise for the first time as Indian citizens.
These enclaves were formally declared Indian territory in August last year after an exchange with Bangladesh. Both countries exchanged 162 adversely-held enclaves on 1 August 2015 ending one of the world's most complex border disputes.
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Updated Date: May 05, 2016 20:01:42 IST