West Bengal Election: Over 76% turnout in phase 4 despite violence; CISF firing kills four in Cooch Behar

In another poll-related incident, an 18-year-old voter, Ananda Barman, was gunned down outside booth number 85 at Pathantuli which falls under Sitalkuchi in Cooch Behar district after clashes broke out between activists of the ruling TMC and the BJP

FP Staff April 10, 2021 21:48:08 IST
West Bengal Election: Over 76% turnout in phase 4 despite violence; CISF firing kills four in Cooch Behar

Violence broke out in West Bengal's Cooch Behar district as CISF forces opened fire on a mob, killing 4 people. PTI

In the first major outbreak of violence during West Bengal Assembly elections, five persons were killed, including four in a firing by CISF personnel, during the fourth phase of polling in 44 seats on Saturday, triggering a political firestorm.

An 18-year-old voter, Ananda Barman, was gunned down outside booth number 85 at Pathantuli, also in Sitalkuchi, after clashes broke out between activists of the ruling TMC and the BJP.

Five candidates were also attacked on Saturday in separate incidents.

An estimated 76.16 percent of 1.15 crore voters exercised their franchise till 5 pm, an official said. The polling started at 7 am and ended at 6.30 pm.

Cooch Behar district, which was at the centre of Saturday's violence that killed five people, registered the highest polling at 79.53 percent, as per figures available on EC's Voter Turnout out app at 9 pm.

Four people were killed, and as many were injured as central forces opened fire allegedly after coming under attack from locals, who "attempted to snatch their rifles", in West Bengal's Cooch Behar district, police said.

The Election Commission ordered stopping the voting exercise at polling station number 126 of the Sitalkuchi constituency where the incident happened when polling was underway.

The EC has sought a detailed report on the incident.

According to official sources, the preliminary report submitted by the EC's special police observer Vivek Dubey said a huge mob of around 350-400 people had gheraoed the central forces, following which they fired in "self-defence".

The incident led to violence in the area where bombs were hurled, prompting central forces to baton-charge to bring the situation under control.

Meanwhile, a storm already brewing in the politically volatile state broke out with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who had already been criticising central forces present in the state, claiming she had apprehended this kind of incident in the state.

The BJP, meanwhile, has condemned the incident and blamed the TMC for "inciting people against central forces", which it said caused the clashes.

Till now, a total of 1,000 companies of Central Armed Police forces (CAPFs) were earmarked for the conduct of elections in the state that has 294 assembly seats. Following the violence, 71 additional companies of CAPF have been called in to assist the poll body in carrying out the remaining four phases of polls in the state.

EC bans political visits to Cooch Behar

The Election Commission on Saturday put in place certain restrictions, including extending the "silence period" from 48 hours to 72 hours, for the fifth phase of polling West Bengal after violence in Cooch Behar district.

It also barred the entry of politicians in Cooch Behar district for the next 72 hours to prevent any possible law and order flare-up.

"The Election Commission of India further directs that the silence period for phase 5 (i.e. for polls scheduled on April 17) shall be extended to 72 hours and no campaigning shall be permitted during 72 hours before the close of the poll in order to ensure the conduct of free, fair and peaceful elections," an EC order said.

The silence period is generally for 48 hours.

The order also said that in Cooch Behar, comprising nine assembly constituencies (AC Numbers 1 to 9), no political leader from any national, state or other parties should be allowed to enter the geographical boundaries of the district for the next 72 hours.

"This comes into force with immediate effect," the poll panel said.

Mamata demands Shah's resignation over Sitalkuchi firing incident

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Saturday sought Union Home Minister Amit Shah's resignation over the killing of the four people in firing by the CISF at Sitalkuchi in Cooch Behar.

"Shah should resign owing responsibility for the incident which is dastardly, cold-blooded and unprecedented," the Trinamool Congress supremo said.

Asserting that she had apprehended such an incident all along, Banerjee said, "After killing so many people, they (Election Commission) are saying the firing was in self-defence. They should feel ashamed."

"This is a lie... The central forces opened fire on people standing in the line for voting, killing four in Sitalkuchi. I had been apprehending the forces would act in such a manner for long. As the BJP knows it has lost the people's mandate, they are conspiring to kill people," she said.

The chief minister also said a CID probe will be instituted into the incident.

Later, at a press conference in Kolkata, TMC leaders termed the Cooch Behar incident as "preplanned murder", and also called for the resignation of Shah.

TMC Lok Sabha MP Sougata Roy said the party condemns the unprovoked firing by central forces on innocent people.

"We demand the resignation of Home Minister Amit Shah. We want the Election Commission to come out with video footage of the firing to make people aware of the truth," Roy said.

"PM Narendra Modi and Shah cannot accept their imminent defeat in the ongoing elections in West Bengal. This (firing incident) has happened at the behest of Amit Shah," senior TMC leader Subrata Mukherjee claimed.

Mukherjee said this was a "preplanned murder committed to create panic among the common people" so that they become reluctant to cast votes in subsequent phases.

Earlier, Banerjee said the death toll in the Assembly elections has so far been higher than the panchayat polls held three years ago. "Some 17-18 people have been killed since the elections began. At least 12 of them belonged to our party," she said.

Modi blames TMC for creating hatred, distrust towards central forces

Condoling the deaths in Cooch Behar, Prime Minister Narendra Modi requested the Election Commission to take stern action against those responsible for the incident and blamed the ruling TMC for perpetrating violence during the polls.

He also accused Banerjee of instigating people against the central forces, sensing defeat.

"What happened in Cooch Behar is unfortunate and sad. I extend my condolences to the bereaved families and urge the Election Commission to take stern action against those responsible. Mamata Didi and her TMC goons have become jittery because of groundswell of support for BJP," Modi told an election rally in North Bengal's Siliguri.

"Didi, this violence, the tactic of instigating people to attack the security forces, the tactic of obstructing the polling process will not protect you. You have to go out of power. Didi is asking people to attack and gherao security forces who are here to protect the rights of the people of the state," he said.

Attacking Banerjee over the culture of violence and tolabaji (extortion), Modi said people of Bengal had made up their mind to defeat the TMC.

"Didi, you don't preside over the destiny of the people of Bengal, they are not your jagir (fiefdom)," he said.

CISF denies wrongdoing amid intense politicking on incident

Meanwhile, news agency ANI quoted a CISF spokesperson as saying, "Mob outside booth no 126, Jorpatki in Sitalkuchi (West Bengal) attacked CISF jawans performing poll duty and tried to snatch their weapons. In self-defence and to save polling officials, jawans deployed at the polling station fired 6-8 rounds."

The response came after the TMC accused the security forces of killing voters standing in a queue in a "premeditated manner".

In fact, Banerjee had also questioned the central forces' version of firing on voters in self-defence stating that there is no video footage or any other proof to substantiate claims of the central forces.

"Where does this theory come from? Who was injured on their part? Is there any footage? After killing those people, they were supporting the act," she told reporters here.

"A CID probe will be initiated to find out the circumstances behind the incident," the chief minister added.

Meanwhile, TMC leader Mahua Moitra said that the CISF firing has raised several questions, including the use of live bullets instead of rubber bullets by central forces, as well as the quality of training received by CISF professional.

In a series of tweets, Moitra said, "Does CAPF need to shoot to kill during a democratic election? Why not use rubber bullets like the rest of the civilised world? @ECISVEEP needs to answer."

Five candidates attacked in incidents of political clashes

A TMC candidate and four BJP nominees were attacked in various constituencies across the state. At Dinhata in North Bengal, TMC candidate Udayan Guha was attacked by alleged BJP activists.

He received injuries when a scuffle broke out with the saffron camp over allegations that it was not allowing the TMCs polling agents inside booths, a charge denied by the BJP.

In Behala Purba constituency on the southern fringes of Kolkata, BJP candidate and actress Payal Sarkar's car was ransacked by a group of people. She, however, escaped unscathed.

BJP candidate and Lok Sabha MP Locket Chatterjee was allegedly attacked by TMC supporters and her vehicle was vandalised in the Chuchura segment in Hooghly district. The ruling party of the state, however, rejected the accusation, and released a video of the incident.

In Bally seat in Howrah district, TMC turncoat and BJP candidate Baisahali Dalmiya's convoy was attacked as one of the vehicles was ransacked by miscreants.
In the Kasba seat in Kolkata, BJP candidate Indranil Khan faced a series of protests by the TMC activists who gheraoed him repeatedly.

At Ganguly Bagan area in the Jadavpur constituency, the booth agent of CPI(M) candidate Sujan Chakraborty was attacked reportedly by a "fake voter", who threw chilli powder at her, officials said.

A central police contingent was rushed to the spot following the incident. Clashes between workers of the Indian Secular Front, which is part of the Congress-Left alliance, and the TMC were reported from Bangor constituency in South 24 Parganas district, over charges that ISF polling agents were not being allowed to enter booths.

With inputs from PTI

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