AT LEAST 14 people were reported to have been killed and many injured as the panchayat polls were marred by widespread violence across several districts of West Bengal, including North and South 24 Parganas, Nadia, Murshidabad, East Midnapore and South Dinajpur, on Monday.
While reports from the districts said 14 had died, the state police confirmed 12 deaths but said only six deaths were linked to poll violence. The State Election Commission (SEC) said over 72 per cent polling was recorded till 5 pm. The turnout is expected to increase as people were still standing in queues outside polling booths in the evening, said officials.
According to the state police, SEC and district administration reports:
* Two persons, Appu Manna and Jogeshwar Ghosh, were killed in Nandigram Block-2 in East Midnapore, when miscreants hurled bombs outside a polling booth. The CPI(M) claimed the victims were party workers who had supported an independent candidate.
* One person, Biswanath Tudu, was killed in Gangarampur in South Dinajpur when bombs were hurled outside a polling booth. Police said he was a Jharkhand Disom Party supporter.
* The charred bodies of two CPI(M) candidates, Debu Das and Uma Das, were recovered from their house in South 24 Parganas.
* One person, Arif Ali Ghazi, was killed when a bomb was hurled outside a polling station in Kultali, in South 24 Parganas. Police said he was a TMC supporter.
* One person, Bhola Tarafdar, was killed in a clash between two groups outside a polling booth in Nakashipara area in Nadia district. Another person, Sanjit Pramanik, was killed in Shantipur area. Police said both were TMC supporters.
* Bombs were hurled outside a polling booth in Amdanga area of North 24 Parganas, killing one person, Toyabur Gain, reported to be a CPI(M) supporter, and injuring another. One person, Tapan Mondal, was killed at Beldanga in Murshidabad. The BJP claimed he was a party supporter.
* A TMC supporter, Krishnapada Sarkar, was killed in a TMC-BJP clash at Tehatta in Nadia.
* One person, Shahin Sheikh, who was reportedly supporting an independent candidate, was killed in a clash at Nowda in Murshidabad.
* Amrito Saha, a relative of a TMC candidate, was shot dead in Raiganj, in North Dinajpur.
* A voter, Dulal Bhowmik, was killed in a clash in Cooch Behar district.
In other incidents of violence, 15 people were injured in a clash outside a polling booth in Nandigram. In Cooch Behar district, North Bengal Development Minister Rabindranath Ghosh was alleged to have slapped a person outside a polling booth. The SEC has received a complaint and has asked the authorities to take action.
In North Dinajpur, three crude bombs were found near a polling booth at Galaisura, police said. In Birbhum, masked men carrying weapons and sticks were seen threatening voters outside some of the booths. Television footage from Basanti block of South 24 Parganas also showed masked gunmen outside polling stations.
In Bhangar, in South 24 Parganas, which was rocked by pre-poll violence, police resorted to lathicharge and fired teargas shells to disperse people following clashes. There were reports of booth-capturing from the area.
In Malda, the officer-in-charge of Ratua police station, Debabrata Chakraborty, was injured in stone-pelting when he went to remove a blockade on a state highway. In Jyangra area of North 24 Parganas, some people stole ballot papers and threw them into a canal. In a similar incident in Jalpaiguri, ballot papers were set on fire by some unidentified people.
“There have been sporadic incidents of violence during today’s panchayat polls… But the violence and number of deaths is less as compared to previous panchayat polls,” said West Bengal Director General of Police Surajit Kar Purkayastha. ADG (Law and Order) Anuj Sharma said while 12 deaths were reported from across the state on Monday, only six were linked to poll violence.
An SEC official said polling was stopped in 19 booths and a decision on whether to order a repoll in these booths would be taken on Tuesday. “There were isolated incidents of violence. Overall, the polls were concluded peacefully. We do not support violence and the state government will definitely take action in such cases. Most of the persons who were killed today are from the ruling party. Six of our workers were killed… The BJP brought outsiders from Assam, Jharkhand and Bangladesh to disrupt the poll process. We have submitted at least 50 letters to the SEC and complained about this,” said TMC secretary-general Partha Chatterjee.
West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh, who met Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi in the evening, said: “TMC turned this election into a farce. We have brought the matter to the notice of the Governor as well as the central government. We have requested the Governor to send a report in this regard to the Centre.”
“The scale of violence makes it very clear that free and fair polls is impossible with such active involvement of the TMC-led administration… The role of the SEC has been obnoxious and the distinction between the TMC, state government and SEC has been completely obliterated,” said CPI(M) secretary general Sitaram Yechury.
Meanwhile, the Centre has sought a report from the West Bengal government on the violence. Sources said the state government has been asked to provide a detailed report on the circumstances leading to the violence and the steps taken to restore peace and punish those involved in the violence.