Clashes between the RSP and TMC left at least seven RSP workers injured, at Bhangulkhali area of Basanti Assembly in South 24 Parganas district in West Bengal on Saturday during the fifth phase of West Bengal polls. The attacks were allegedly sparked off by attempts made by TMC to try and influence voters.
Meanwhile, the TMC has alleged that the incident was engineered by the RSP and the central forces used ‘excessive force’ in the area, leading to further tension.
The first clash took place at around 11.00 am on Saturday when RSP workers, near the polling booth at the Bhangunkhali Primary School, were attacked by TMC workers from a neighbouring village. “They came in waves. We were going to vote when they came on bikes, armed with sticks and attacked us. They kept beating us until they realised our workers were coming. Then, at around 11.30 am, there was a second wave,” alleged Atiyar Sheikh, a RSP worker and a resident of the area.
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Sitting MLA from Basanti, RSP’s Subhash Naskar has not lost from the seat since first winning in 1982. The former irrigation minister is one of the few Left Front leaders who resisted the TMC’s ‘poriborton wave’ in 2011. Police sources maintained that the RSP’s dominion in the area was almost unquestionable and senior police officers, who had tried to arrest accused persons in Bhangulkhali had also been attacked in the past.
Apart from Atiyar Sheikh (33), Ramzar Sheikh (28) and Motiyar Sheikh (31) were also seriously injured. They added that the incident was sparked off by the presence of a “lady from the other village” who is the wife of a Trinamool Congress leader. Motiyar added, “We told the police who were posted at the polling booth, but they turned a blind eye. This has been the case for the past few days. The police has been wining and dining with the same goons who attacked us. Today, one of them tried stabbing me with a broken beer bottle and I just escaped from there.”
Ramzar Sheikh added, “The woman who was here, was offering money for votes, while at other times, she was threatening them openly. Her husband, Noor Mohammad in the neighboring village is a businessman and a TMC party member.”
After the initial two waves of attacks, both parties called in for reinforcements. By 12.15 pm, the polling booth was under heavy security by a central force team. Meanwhile, the RSP – now armed and reinforced – had driven the TMC to one end of the Basanti Road, opposite the school. By 12.30 pm, the TMC had also asked for more reinforcements and both parties clashed again. Bamboos, stakes and sticks were wielded while the police tried desperately to control the situation.
A CISF officer, who didn’t wish to be named, said, “Our instructions are to guard the polling booth. We have been asked to not interfere with the party clashes. But had the police called us earlier, things wouldn’t have gotten so much out of hand.”
By 12.45 pm, the villagers – consisting of RSP party workers and supporters in the Left bastion – became increasingly agitated, alleging that ‘chappa vote’ was going on and tried to clamber over the wall and into the school. The CISF team guarding the spot tried to disperse the crowd using lathi charge, but when that didn’t work, they drew their weapons and threatened to shoot. The protests immediately dispersed. But the CISF officer said, “The area is very tense. It’s just a question of waiting till the time voting goes on. There will definitely be another attack later in the night.”
Meanwhile, TMC candidate Gobindo Naskar, who visited the spot, wasn’t even allowed to get off his vehicle. He told Indian Express, “I have heard there has been some incident here, but I know that no one from TMC was involved in it.”
Basanti PS officer-in-charge Kaushik Kundu maintained, “There was some tension. But things are under control now.”