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Beaten, awaiting surgery, HC only hope: Opposition candidates attacked in Kolkata polls

The violence that trailed Sunday’s Kolkata Municipal Corporation polls, where the ruling TMC flexed its muscles to ensure a comprehensive win, has left several Opposition candidates and polling agents scarred — in mind and body.

Written by Ravik Bhattacharya , Santanu Chowdhury , Sweety Kumari | Kolkata |
Updated: December 23, 2021 1:16:09 pm
Rabi Saha (Congress candidate), Rajarshi Lahiri (BJP) and Faiyaz Ahmed Khan (CPI-M) were among those assaulted. (Express photpo by Ravik Bhattacharya, Santanu Chowdhury)

Faiyaz Ahmed Khan can’t walk. But the CPM leader and three-time former councillor from the South Port area of Kolkata is busy. His legs bandaged and a worried wife looking on, Khan is drafting an appeal to Calcutta High Court. He says the police are yet to even record his statement after he was assaulted severely outside a polling booth.

From a Congress candidate who was stripped in public to a BJP leader who fearfully scans a CCTV camera at home for intruders; from a CPM candidate who is scared to lodge a police complaint to another BJP leader awaiting an eye surgery. The violence that trailed Sunday’s Kolkata Municipal Corporation polls, where the ruling TMC flexed its muscles to ensure a comprehensive win, has left several Opposition candidates and polling agents scarred — in mind and body.

On Wednesday, Khan filed a petition before the High Court and demanded a court-monitored probe into allegations of booth capturing and false voting during the KMC elections. The 56-year-old candidate from Ward 75 is one of several such victims who say the High Court is their only hope for justice.

“On Sunday afternoon, I was at the Marine House polling station when around 100 TMC supporters and outsiders stormed in. They beat me and my agents,” said Faiyaz. “We are still in fear and shock. Apart from injuries on his legs and body, he has a blood clot on his nose,” said Khan’s wife Angira, who is a teacher.

“Two men have been arrested, and a probe is on,” said Deputy Commissioner of Police (Port) Zafar Ajmal Kidwai, who did not confirm the political affiliation of those arrested.

About 7 km away on Lake Terrace Road, 40-year-old Rajarshi Lahiri can walk — barely. Seated on a chair at home, he keeps glancing at a TV screen linked to CCTV footage from the gate. “I caught a false voter and also called the police several times to disperse mobs outside a polling station. I was assaulted twice, once while I was on Facebook Live showing the miscreants following me,” said Rajarshi, the BJP candidate from Ward 86.

The footage of the assault was captured by an onlooker on a mobile phone and shown on several TV news channels. “I am unable to step out because of my physical condition. But I will soon lodge a police complaint. The TV channels showed everything but the police have still not taken action,” Rajarshi said.

The police said they haven’t received a specific complaint. “All gatherings were dispersed whenever we got information related to any disturbance in the area,” said an officer.

But at the Hedua Park crossing in north Kolkata, Rabi Saha is far from convinced. This 45-year-old Congress candidate from Ward 16 was not only assaulted but stripped in public by miscreants — again, the act was caught on video that went viral on social media.

“I tried to stop TMC men from gathering in polling stations, and took the help of police, too. That is why I was targeted. I was taking a stroll near my home at night after the election… The TMC men first kicked me. When I fell, they pulled down the shorts I was wearing,” said Saha.

Saha’s daughter Ritisha, a college student, said: “I took my father to the hospital since he was bleeding. Then I went to the police station at night. They said the officer in-charge was not there and asked me to come later. Finally, on Monday afternoon, the police took our statement and complaint. No one has been arrested.”

Asked about the TMC allegation that he was “making indecent gestures at women”, Saha asked: “You think being in the Opposition, one can dare point fingers at TMC, let alone make gestures?”

Koustab Bagchi, Congress spokesperson and Saha’s advocate, said their plea for the High Court to step in has been accepted. The police refused to provide any information on this case.

Speaking over phone, 44-year-old Mukund Jhawar, the BJP candidate from Ward 20, said he is with an eye specialist, preparing for a surgery Thursday. “I was beaten so badly that, according to the doctor, there is major damage to the right eye,” said Jhawar, a textile agent.

“I protested when I saw TMC workers capturing booths at Ahiritola Banga Vidyalaya. They dragged me out and started beating me. Then, they took me to the Ahiritola crossing nearby and beat me in public. The police accepted my complaint only after a news channel arrived,” said Jhawar, who stays near Nimtolla Ghat in north Kolkata.

Amitabha Chakraborty, senior Congress leader and polling agent for Santosh Pathak in Ward 45, is still in shock. “I suffered a crack on my hand. I am yet to come to terms with the fact that the police stopped me from catching false voters with fake IDs. Our agents were driven out of the booths by TMC workers, who beat me in front of the police,” said the 59-year-old who is also planning to approach the High Court.

When contacted over the phone, Manju Kar, the CPM candidate from Ward 122, says she is scared to even lodge a police complaint. “My elder brother and I were severely beaten by TMC men after we protested against booth rigging. I received injuries on my hand but my brother suffered an eye injury,” said Kar, 50. “I am waiting for a decision from my party on approaching the High Court.”

On Sunday, Joint Commissioner of Police (Headquarters) Subhankar Sinha Sarkar told reporters that 209 persons had been arrested for their alleged role in the poll violence. “We attended to every complaint received and each case is being looked into,” Sarkar had said.

The Trinamool, however, dismissed the Opposition candidates’ allegations, attributing it to their “frustration on losing public support in election after election”.

Speaking to The Indian Express, TMC secretary general Partha Chatterjee said, “They have moved the court. Now the court will decide. The state election commission will also look into it. We have nothing to say on this. All I can say is they are doing this out of their frustration.”

Chatterjee, who is also a state minister, went on to say that “In every election,TMC is performing better and increasing its vote share. The Opposition is losing ground and people’s support election after election. It is high time they reach out to the people instead of criticising the ruling party and coming up with excuses. Out of 144 wards, trouble broke out only in a few of them. That does not discredit the fact that the polling was largely peaceful. I cannot see why there is such a hue and cry over violence. In places which witnessed trouble, the police have taken action. But in most places, Opposition parties are crying foul.”

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