Less than 24 hours before 91 municipal bodies across West Bengal go to polls, the state government received 32 companies of central security forces for deployment and ensuring a free and fair election. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who is also the Home Minister, expressed gratitude to the Centre but taking a dig said the forces have been sent too late to be effectively deployed.
“You can’t put the water on oven to boil and go to the market to fetch rice. There has to be some planning involved. The West Bengal government had asked for the forces long ago. Is there time to send these forces to far off districts now,” she asked.
Mamata said the 32 companies of central forces have come with a mandate to do patrolling. “They are not to be posted at booths as per the order they have. Whatever duty they perform that will be welcome. Let them move around,” she added.
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However, the central forces were deployed in certain areas and engaged in route marches in sensitive pockets immediately on their arrival.
On Saturday, 91 municipal bodies will go to the polls. Nearly 73,94,354 voters will exercise their franchise at 8,756 booths. As per the State Election Commission, elections will held for 1,946 municipal wards.
There is an air of tension in many areas as sporadic clashes were reported along with arson, rioting, threats and intimidation.
Mamata, however, claimed that polling will be peaceful and appealed the electors to exercise their franchise. “It is a democratic right and each one must exercise his or her right to vote. You are the God of this democratic process,” the CM said.
Rubbishing the allegations of malpractices during KMC polls held on April 18, she said those who who know they will be defeated are raising a bogey of terror and violence. “I have not seen more peaceful polls in Kolkata ever before, Mamata claimed, adding “democracy has returned after 34 years (of Left Front rule), that is why criticism is being made. A section of media is giving wrong news to the people. A conspiracy has been hatched”.
“I am the (state) Home minister. You cannot show me a single instance where there was bloodshed and vote loot during the poll. Whatever had happened at Singhibagan area had happened after the election was over. Some arrests were also made”, she said referring to a sub-inspector who was allegedly shot at and injured soon after the end of polls on April 18.
To hammer home her point, she said of the 4,646 booths in KMC, complaints had come from only 10-12 booths which was a negligible percent.
She urged the voters not to get provoked by any efforts of the Opposition parties to disrupt the poll process.
A Left Front delegation, meanwhile, met the State Election Commissioner and urged him to ensure that votes were not “looted” by the Trinamool Congress. The delegation led by Robin Deb urged that the central forces be deployed in sensitive areas.
Violence, tension ahead of poll today
Election related violence was reported from different districts as tension mounted ahead of the polls to the 91 civic bodies. In Siliguri, a TMC election office was set on fire late Thursday night. A large number of party festoons, banners and other poll material were gutted. The needle of suspicion was directed at the BJP local unit. The TMC has a lodged an official complaint with Bhaktinagar police station.
In Bhatpara municipality Ward 23, trouble broke out between the TMC and CPM sopporters. The CPM alleged that the TMC supporters had attacked their poll office and were intimidating their cadres.
In Bankura district’s Sonamukhi municipality, which is currently held by the Left Front, there is heightened tension as the TMC is putting in all efforts to wrest the seat. The local administration has imposed prohibitory orders under section 144 CrPC to prevent movement of four or more people together.