The first phase of the panchayat elections in West Bengal covering three junglemahal districts passed off,by and large,peacefully today with a voter turnout of 70 per cent amidst tight security and surveillance by helicopters. “The election has been more or less peaceful. There have been some stray incidents of violence. There are a few complaints of booth jamming and booth capturing. We are looking into those complaints,” State Election Commission Secretary Tapas Ray told reporters. SEC sources said that around 70 per cent polling was recorded till 5:00 pm,with long queues before some booths.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee expressed satisfaction over the peaceful polling in the first phase in West Midnapore,Bankura and Purulia districts,a former Maoist stronghold. “The voting process has been totally peaceful. The people have rejected the politics of violence perpetuated by Maoists and the CPI(M),” Banerjee said. The police said 11 people were injured in a clash between Trinamool Congress and Congress workers at Sabong in West Midnapore district.
The injured included a TMC gram panchayat candidate. Five of the injured were taken to the Midnapore Sadar Hospital,the police said. Leader of the Opposition leader and CPI(M) politburo member Surya Kanta Mishra was involved in an altercation with local Trinamool Congress supporters outside a polling booth at Khadurdah Gram Panchayat area in West Midnapore district. In the once-feared Maoist strongholds of Pirakata,Bhimpur,Salboni and Goaltore in West Midnapore district,voters were seen standing in long queues.
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Old-timers in West Midnapore,Bankura and Purulia districts told reporters that they had not witnessed such enthusiasm among voters for many years. Women were seen in large numbers,with the elderly among them holding sticks for support,waiting to cast their votes. At Bishnupur in Bankura district,a large number of Muslims were seen standing in queues. Asked by newsmen if voting during Ramzan inconvenienced them,they mostly replied in the negative. The opposition Congress and Left Front alleged that central forces were not deployed properly and that TMC resorted to terror.
“Is it an election? Central forces were not properly deployed. Several workers were brutally beaten up. This is the bloodiest election I have ever seen,” WBPCC chief Pradip Bhattacharjee told PTI. Bhattacharjee said that he informed the Union Home ministry about the violence during the elections. The Left Front also alleged that that central forces were not used properly and TMC bikers terrorised CPI(M) and Left Front workers. “The central forces were not deployed properly. There were several instances of booth capturing in West Midnapore district. TMC biker gangs terrorised the people. But at some place people came out to vote ignoring their fear,” Left Front chairman Biman Bose said.