Violence across Bengal civic polls; Congress, BJP pull out
The municipal elections in West Bengal were marked by violence on Sunday, with party supporters roaming around with firearms, bombs being hurled at polling booths, voters beaten up and EVMs damaged or snatched from polling personnel. Although there were no reports of death, several persons were injured in the violence.
Mediapersons too were heckled at places, allegedly by ruling Trinamool Congress activists. A joint delegation of the Congress and Left Front that went to meet State Election Commissioner A K Singh was turned away. Singh remained out of bounds throughout the day.
As the violence continued, the Congress announced withdrawal of its candidates from all the 10 wards of Domkol (out of 21) it was contesting, even as polling was midway. The BJP later did the same in Raigunj, after two persons were severely injured following a bomb blast.
In Pujali, irate locals who could not vote clashed with police for "not acting" to check the violence. Half a dozen policemen and locals were injured in the incident.
Overall, the voting percentage was above the 67 per cent mark, with the three municipalities in the plains that saw the most violence — of the seven that went to polls — averaging voting of 74 per cent.
The Congress, BJP and CPM later dubbed polling in Raigunj, Domkol and Pujali, the third municipality that saw violence, as a farce and demanded a repoll. The Trinamool has been feeling the heat from the BJP in the state, with the party's vote share on steady rise in the state. Ahead of the elections, in a show of strength, the BJP had carried out processions across the state on the occasion of Ram Navami.
In all the three corporations, Domkol (Murshidabad), Pujali (South 24 Parganas) and Raigunj (North Dinajpur), violence began from the second hour of polling. Masked men riding motorbikes were seen brandishing firearms and lobbying crude bombs near a number of polling booths. In over a dozen booths, EVMs were either damaged by miscreants or snatched.
Polling was, however, peaceful in Darjeeling's four municipalities, with no untoward incident till reports last came in.
Opposition party workers gheraoed the office of the State Election Commission and entered into a scuffle with police when denied entry. They accused the commission of failing to make adequate security arrangements and giving the TMC an upper hand.
Congress state president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said there had been "blatant looting of votes in Domkol, Pujali and Raigunj". "Voters, candidates and polling agents were threatened and attacked."
CPM state secretary Dr Suryakanta Mishra said, "It is clear that no polls would be free and fair as long as the Trinamool is in power in the state." He also announced the launch of "a massive public resistance", beginning from May 22, 2017, with a march to Nabanna (the Secretariat).
State BJP president Dilip Ghosh said the Trinamool had resorted to "unprecedented violence" due to fear of defeat. "This is a dangerous situation in Bengal. The State Election Commission has become a Mamata Commission."
The Trinamool put the onus of violence on the Opposition. "It is the opposition parties, the Congress, CPM and BJP, which do not believe in democracy. They tried to disturb peaceful polling in the plains. In Darjeeling, let the results come in, we will see," said Partha Chatterjee, senior Trinamool leader and Education Minister.
Gorkha Janmukti Morcha secretary Roshan Giri expressed confidence that his party would again win the four municipalities of the Darjeeling hills, despite the TMC dedicating its resources to wrest Darjeeling, Mirik, Kalimpong and Kurseong from it.