KOCHI: When Printu N A reached the polling booth in Kizhakkambalam near here along with his wife to cast his vote in the local body polls on Thursday, he was excited because it was his first vote. But what he had to endure at the booth (no.1, ward 7) was nightmarish. A group of people dragged the Wayanad native out of the building and brutally assaulted him in front of his wife, saying the couple would not be allowed to vote as they were not natives of Kizhakkambalam.
The two exercised their franchise later, after the police increased the security by deploying a team of officers at the booth. It was not the case of Printu alone. Idukki native Sreejith K S, who has been living in Kizhakkambalam for six years, too was attacked at booth no.2 in the same ward citing the same reason.
Sabu M Jacob, president of Twenty20, the non-political organisation ruling the panchayat, said, “Nearly 250 voters supporting Twenty20 did not come out to vote after they were threatened by a group of local people belonging to mainstream political parties.”
The video of the assault triggered outrage and the police arrested nine persons on Saturday evening. Twenty20, meanwhile, filed a petition before the district collector, seeking repoll in the two booths. The CPM blamed Sabu for “unleashing the attack at the booth” while the Congress said “the entire episode was fabricated”.
Attack: CPM blames Twenty20 chief, Cong says ‘fabricated story’
Twenty20, promoted by garment manufacturer Kitex Group, took over the reins of the panchayat in 2015. While the organisation has said its victory was due to the failure of the political system, the parties have openly questioned the real motives of the organisation. Printu has not yet recovered fully from the shock: “I went to cast my first vote. A group of people pounced on me as I stood in the queue. They didn’t even bother to check my electoral ID card which has my Kizhakkambalam address.
They shouted at me saying that they will not allow a person who stays on rent in the panchayat to cast a vote,” said the father of two and a resident of the panchayat since 2006. Sreejith, 35, ignored the threats by a group two days prior to the polls. “When I reached the booth, they surrounded me and attacked me,” he said. Sabu said: “People from different parts of the state have been staying in the panchayat for years as they work in different units and firms.
They all have shifted their votes to the panchayat by following the procedures laid down by the Election Commission (EC). How can somebody deny their right to cast votes in an election? We don’t expect such brutality to take place in Kerala. “We knew that some local goons would create trouble for the voters and that’s why we had approached High Court seeking police protection and necessary arrangements to ensure the safety of the voters.
Though the EC and state government submitted before the court that they would ensure all measures for a free and fair polling at the panchayat, based on which the court passed a verdict in our favour, it totally failed to put in place necessary security measures.” The CPM said they did not hinder the polling. “The Twenty20 activists have included names of relatives of many Kitex employees in the voters’ list, citing that they’re staying in this ward.
They arrived with the ID card issued by the Kizhakkambalam grama panchayat secretary, which is not valid as per the EC’s direction. The party workers questioned this. If the LDF workers had obstructed the polling, then how could 98 per cent voters cast their votes in the booth?” asked CPM Pattimattom local commi t t e e s e c re tar y Gopalakrishnan. He said LDF has lodged a complaint against Sabu for the attack on the booth premises.
Entire episode fabricated: Cong
Congress has alleged the entire episode was fabricated. “The local residents of Kizhakkambalam will organise a mass gathering against this fake campaign,” said Babu Saidali, Congress Kizhakkambalam block secretary.
Kunnathunadu police said in a release that the arrested are Abdul Asees, Ranjith, Faisal, Jaffar, Mohammedali, Shihab, Sinshad, Sulfi and Ansari.