12 killed in Bengal poll violence

Bombs hurled, bullets fired, people beaten up as clashes mar 3-tier panchayat elections

Published: 09th July 2023 07:59 AM  |   Last Updated: 09th July 2023 08:31 AM   |  A+A-

Police personnel baton charge after a clash between rival groups during panchyat elections, at Nagaria village in Malda district of Bengal on Saturday | PTI

KOLKATA: At least 12 people were killed and several others injured on Saturday, including a Trinamool Congress candidate for a gram panchayat seat and a BJP polling agent, in widespread violence as Bengal went to polls to decide who will control the state’s rural landscape.

Bombs were hurled, bullets fired and rivals attacked with sticks and sharp weapons in the turf war during the three-tier panchayat elections. As many as 2.06 lakh candidates are in the fray for 73,887 seats. Polling was suspended in 1,043 of the total 61,636 booths as ballot papers and ballot boxes were snatched and either thrown into a nearby pond or set ablaze.

Ballot boxes was seen set ablaze in Cooch Behar’s Dinhata and a youth was spotted fleeing with a ballot box in his arms at Mathabhanga in the same district. The presiding officer in a booth in Birbhum’s Mayureshwar was seen crying after the polling station was vandalised and ballots looted.

In Raninagar in Murshidabad, policemen were seen aiming guns while dispersing Trinamool supporters assembled in front of a booth.

Though the State Election Commission did not give any official toll, seven of the victims were identified as Trinamool workers who faced strong resistance from the Opposition in both in north and south Bengal districts. Two BJP supporters, two CPI(M) activists and a Congress supporter were also killed in the violence.

The overall toll since the rural poll was announced has now gone up to 31. Union home minister Amit Shah’s office called up BJP’s state president Sukanta Majumdar for a briefing. “I was asked about the violence during the panchayat elections. I will submit a written report,” said Majumdar. While the Opposition alleged that Central paramilitary forces were not properly deployed, Chief Election Commissioner Rajiva Sinha said they had requisitioned 837 companies of the Central Armed Paramilitary Force (CAPF) but only 649 companies were available. The Calcutta High Court had ordered the deployment of CAPF in all booths in equal ratio with their state counterparts.

Joining the issue with the state poll body, the BSF wrote to it complaining that despite seeking data on sensitive booths, no information was shared with them. “Had a proper list of sensitive areas been provided, the deployment of Central forces would have been easier,” a BSF official said.

Trinamool minister Shashi Panja said violence took place in around 60 booths. “Elections were held peacefully in 13-14 districts out of 22. Many were in favour of the deployment of CAPF but the central force personnel were seen influencing voters to exercise their franchise in favour of a particular political party,” she alleged. Governor C V Ananda Bose visited a number of areas in North 24 Parganas. “This is the most sacred day for democracy. An election must be through ballots and not bullets,” he said.

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