Around 84.5 per cent polling was recorded during the Sabang Assembly bypoll in West Midnapore on Thursday. Barring some isolated incidents of violence, polling was by and large peaceful, said sources in the Election Commission. The Opposition, however, alleged that ruling Trinamool Congress cadres prevented their polling agents from entering the booths and also beat up party workers.
Local BJP leaders claimed their agents were barred from entering booths 161, 169 and 170. At booth 44, BJP workers allegedly sustained injuries in a clash with Trinamool cadre. At booth 273, three CPM workers — Arabinda Mahapatra, Asit Mahapatra and Ramesh Mahapatra — were allegedly beaten up by Trinamool activists. At booth 291, Trinamool workers were accused of trying to rig the polls.
Alleging that Trinamool had indulged in electoral malpractices in the bypoll, which will not reflect the actual verdict of people, state BJP president Dilip Ghosh claimed almost half of the 306 polling booths were looted by ruling party workers. Addressing mediapersons at the state BJP headquarters in Kolkata, he said: “Half of the booths were looted by Trinamool cadres. Free and fair polls were not held. They drove out our polling agents from booths. While 31 of our workers were injured in clashes with Trinamool workers, 11 of them had to be hospitalised.”
“The central forces were not utilised properly and state police personnel were mute spectators when outsiders entered the constituency and beat up our workers. This election will not reflect the real verdict of the people,” he claimed.
“The Trinamool has been doing this in each and every election. They know that they will lose Sabang and that is why they resorted to violence,” Leader of Opposition and Congress’ Abdul Mannan said.
However, former Sabang MLA and Trinamool Congress MP Manas Bhunia rubbished such allegations. “We have thousands of party workers here. We have their support. Why would they indulge in poll violence? These are baseless allegations. I could not see any violence here. Have you seen any violence here? You cannot because polling has been peaceful here,” Bhunia told mediapersons.
Accompanied by his wife Gita Rani Bhunia — the Trinamool candidate — he said: “My only worry is whether my wife will get more votes than what I received a year ago. This is her challenge and I think she will win by a better margin.”
While Bhunia had won the Assembly election from Sabang in 2016 on a Congress ticket, he had later switched to Trinamool, necessitating the bypoll. The BJP has fielded Antara Bhattacharya, while the Congress has fielded Chiranjib Bhowmick, a local leader.
Earlier in the day, BJP youth workers staged a protest outside the office of the West Bengal Chief Electoral Officer, denouncing it for its alleged failure to ensure free and fair polls. Raising slogans against the government, they blocked the road in front of the EC office. After burning an effigy of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, the BJP workers called off their protest. Last year, while Bhunia had received 59.70 per cent votes, Trinamool had bagged 36 per cent and the BJP only 2.6 per cent of the votes.