11 people killed as rural West Bengal votes in panchayat elections

Kolkata: Eleven people were killed in election-related violence in West Bengal since midnight as voting was underway for the three-tier panchayat polls in the state on Saturday, officials said.

Among those killed were six TMC members, and one worker each of the BJP, CPI(M), Congress and ISF, and another person whose political identity could not be known, they said.

Besides violent clashes that injured several people, ballot boxes were destroyed in several parts of the state, they added.

The polling began at 7 am in 73,887 seats in the rural areas of the state with 5.67 crore people deciding the fate of around 2.06 lakh candidates. Till 1 pm, 36.66 per cent voter turnout was recorded, officials said.

Governor CV Ananda Bose visited different areas in North 24 Parganas district, and met people injured in the violence.

BJP polling agent Madhab Biswas was allegedly killed in Falimari gram panchayat in Coochbehar district, they said.

The BJP alleged that when Biswas tried to enter the polling booth in the morning he was stopped by TMC supporters, and as the situation escalated, they killed him. The TMC denied the allegations.

The supporter of an Independent candidate was injured in Kadambagachi area in North 24 Paraganas district. Superintendent of Police Bhaskar Mukherjee had earlier told reporters that 41-year-old Abdullah Ali died, but later the superintendent of Barasat Hospital said that he was critically injured and on ventilator support but not dead.

A TMC worker was killed in Murshidabad district’s Kapasdanga area in overnight violence. The deceased was identified as Babar Ali, officials said.

Another TMC worker was killed in the district’s Khargram area. He was identified as Sabiruddin Sk.

The TMC also alleged that its booth committee member in Tufanganj 2 panchayat samiti in Cooch Behar, Ganesh Sarkar, was killed in an attack by the BJP.

The brother of a TMC leader was killed in a clash with Congress supporters in Malda district, police said.

The incident happened in Jisharattola in Manikchak police station area. The deceased was identified as Malek Sheikh, they said.

The TMC also alleged that one of its workers was killed in Nadia’s Chapra.

An ISF worker was killed in a clash with TMC in the district’s Haringhata area. The victim was identified as 48-year-old Saidul Seikh, police said.

Nadia’s TMC president Debasish Ganguli claimed that the incident happened when ISF supporters were hurling crude bombs at TMC workers. “One of the bombs slipped from their hands and exploded,” he claimed.

However, Seikh’s family alleged that he was killed in an attack by TMC supporters.

A 38-year-old man was killed in South 24 Parganas district’s Basanti. The incident happened in the Fulmalancha area, and the deceased was identified as Anisur, police said.

A Congress worker was allegedly killed in Murshidabad’s Rejinagar police station area in election-related violence. He was identified as Yasmin Sk.

CPI(M) worker Rajibul Hoque was critically injured allegedly in an attack by TMC supporters in Purba Bardhaman district’s Aushgram 2 block. He died in the morning while undergoing treatment at a hospital.

The TMC alleged that one of its workers was killed outside a polling booth in the district’s Katawa area by CPI(M) supporters. The deceased was identified as Goutam Roy.

Incidents of destruction of ballot boxes and intimidation of voters were also reported from some areas.

In Cooch Behar district’s Dinhata, ballot boxes were vandalised and ballot papers were set on fire at a booth in Baravita Govt Primary School. At another booth in the Barnachina area, locals torched a ballot box along with ballot papers, alleging that false voting was done.

Protests were also held in various areas, demanding the deployment of central forces.

In Nandigram, female voters gheraoed a police officer with bottles of poison in their hands, demanding that central force be deployed in the area.

Governor CV Ananda Bose toured various areas in North 24 Parganas, meeting people injured in the violence and listening to complaints.

“People requested me to stop my motorcade on the way. There were a lot of tales to tell, they told me about murders happening around them, goons not allowing them to go to polling booths, and also about presiding officers not listening to them. These are stray cases but even one incident of bloodshed should cause concern to all of us,” he told reporters.

“This is the most sacred day for democracy. These are stray incidents but there should be a stop to it,” he added.

The ruling TMC questioned where were the central forces that were brought in for the elections.

“Shocking incidents are being reported since last night. BJP, CPI(M) and Congress had colluded, demanding central forces. Where are they deployed? TMC workers are being murdered. Where are the central forces?” state minister Sashi Panja asked.

The TMC also alleged that at a border village in Cooch Behar’s Gitaldaha, BSF personnel attempted to create chaos and disrupt the poll process.

CPI(M) state secretary Md Salim shared a video of open ballot boxes lying in the field, tweeting, “Vote is over! Condition of the ballots, ballot boxes in one of the booths. Btw this pic is from Diamond Harbour.” At least 600 companies of central forces have been deployed for the elections along with around 70,000 state police.

Sharing photos on Twitter, BJP state president Sukanta Majumdar that the State Election Commission (SEC) was reluctant to deploy the central forces that were sent to the state.

“On the one hand, the SEC is reluctant to deploy the central forces. On the other hand, civil volunteers are deployed for the election duty. This clearly shows that state govt and SEC has hoodwinked the courts. Is SEC silently facilitating the booth capturing by TMC goons?” he asked.

There are 63,229 gram panchayat seats and 9,730 panchayat samiti seats in 22 districts, while 928 zilla parishad seats in 20 districts as Darjeeling and Kalimpong have a two-tier system with Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) and Siliguri Sub-divisional Council at the top.

The ruling TMC is contesting all the 928 seats in zilla parishads, 9,419 seats in panchayat samitis and 61,591 seats in gram panchayats. The BJP has fielded candidates in 897 zilla parishad seats, 7,032 panchayat samiti seats and 38,475 seats in gram panchayats.

The CPI(M) is fighting 747 zilla parishad seats, 6,752 panchayat samiti seats and 35,411 gram panchayat seats. The Congress is contesting 644 zilla parishad seats, 2,197 panchayat samiti seats and 11,774 gram panchayat seats.

The election assumes significance for political parties as it will serve as an opportunity for them to assess their organisational strengths and weaknesses ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, besides broadly outlining the mood of the state after two years of the TMC government’s third consecutive term.