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Saturday, May 08, 2021

Bengal Assembly Elections: EC bans entry of politicians in Cooch Behar for next 72 hrs; more CAPF companies rushed to state

Despite the violence, a voter turnout of 76.16% was recorded till 5 pm during the fourth phase of polling.

By: Express Web Desk | Kolkata |
Updated: April 10, 2021 10:09:35 pm
Voters queue up in front of a booth at in Kolkata on Saturday (Express photo by Shashi Ghosh)

The Election Commission (EC) has banned the entry of politicians to Cooch Behar district for the next 72 hours after five people were killed in violence in Sitalkuchi constituency during the fourth phase of West Bengal Assembly elections Saturday. The poll watchdog had, earlier today, suspended voting at a poll booth in Sitalkuchi where the incident took place when polling was underway.

Five persons were killed, including four in a firing by CISF personnel, while five candidates were attacked during the fourth phase of polling in 44 seats, triggering a political firestorm.

Meanwhile, an estimated 76.16 per cent of 1.15 crore voters exercised their franchise till 5 pm. The voting today was held in 44 constituencies spread across Howrah (Part II), South 24 Parganas (Part III), Hooghly (Part II) in south Bengal and in north Bengal’s Alipurduar and Cooch Behar.

Sporadic incidents of violence and clashes had been reported during the earlier phases of polling in the state as well, with the death of a TMC worker and injuries to several others, mostly in Purba and Paschim Medinipur, being reported during the second phase on April 1.

Here are all the poll-related updates you need to know today:

EC bans entry of politicians to Cooch Behar district for next 72 hours

Following the violence, the Election Commission has banned the entry of politicians to Cooch Behar district (comprising 9 seats) for the next 72hrs. EC has said any visit by political leaders could cause law and order issues.

The EC order also added, “The Election Commission of India further directs that the silence period for phase 5 (i.e. for polls scheduled on April 17) shall be extended to 72 hours and no campaigning shall be permitted during 72 hours before the close of the poll in order to ensure the conduct of free, fair and peaceful elections.”

Earlier, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had said that she would visit the families of the victims killed in the poll violence in Cooch Behar on Sunday.

Violence mars fourth phase of polling, five dead

Five people were shot dead in West Bengal’s Cooch Behar district as violence marred the fourth phase of polling in the state.

While one person died when miscreants shot at him while he was standing in a queue to cast his ballot, four others were killed when the central forces retaliated after they were allegedly attacked.

The first incident took place near Pathantuli area in Sitalkuchi when Aanand Barman, a first-time voter, was killed while he was standing in a queue outside a polling booth. Following this, TMC and BJP workers clashed in the area.

Later in the day at around 11:30 am, clashes broke out between Trinamool and BJP workers at the Jorpatki area of Sitalkuchi. On receiving the news, a quick response team of the CAPF reached the spot. Over 200 people were allegedly trying to forcibly enter a polling station. According to a report by the Election Commission, the miscreants tried to snatch arms from the CAPF personnel and attacked them. The central forces fired back in self-defence and four persons died in the process. Four others have received injuries.

The Election Commission adjourned voting at booth number 125 of the Sitalkuchi constituency following the violence and has sought a detailed report from the observers and the Chief Election Officer by 5pm Saturday.

Fired in retaliation as mob tried to snatch weapons, says CISF

The CISF is currently preparing an incident report to be sent to the Election Commission, which has suspended polling at the booth concerned in Sitalkuchi area.

Sources said the CISF will also hand over CCTV footage and other electronic evidence to substantiate its claims to the EC.

Sources said in the morning, a CISF QRT under company commander Sunil Kumar along with local police saw some people trying to prevent voters from reaching the booth about 150 metres away. The police tried to intervene but the mob became violent and started pelting them with stones.

“There were around 50-60 people who attacked the QRT and the police. They broke the windows of our vehicles and some of our jawans also sustained injuries. TO disperse the crowd about five-six rounds were fired in the air. The matter was defused after a deputy commandant pacified the mob,” a CISF official said.

Modi urges EC to take action; Mamata calls for Shah’s resignation, orders CID probe

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was addressing a rally in Siliguri during the same time, said he was “deeply hurt” by the incident. “I will urge the Election Commission to take strict action against the accused. I extend my condolences to the bereaved families,” Modi added.

Narendra Modi PM Narendra Modi at an election rally at Krishnanagar in West Bengal on Saturday (PTI photo)

Commenting on the poll violence, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee demanded the resignation of Union Home Minister Amit Shah.

Speaking at a public meeting at Baduria in North 24 Paraganas, Banerjee said, “Shah should resign owing responsibility for the incident which is dastardly, cold-blooded and unprecedented.”

The chief minister said she would order a CID probe over the incidents of violence in the state. She added that the TMC would bring out protest rallies throughout the state on Sunday, and asked TMC activists to wear black badges and demonstrate peacefully from 2 pm to 4 pm.

Banerjee said she had long apprehended that central forces would act in such a manner. “As BJP knows it has lost the people’s mandate, they are conspiring to kill them.”

She alleged this was part of a conspiracy hatched by Shah. “However, I would ask everyone to remain calm and cast their vote peacefully. Avenge the deaths by defeating them,” Banerjee asserted.

Later, at a press conference in Kolkata, TMC leaders termed the Cooch Behar incident as “preplanned murder”, and also called for the resignation of Shah.

CPI(M) has demanded a high-level inquiry into the deaths.

71 more CAPF companies rushed to West Bengal

Following the violence, the Election Commission has directed the Union Home Ministry to deploy 71 additional companies of Central Armed Police forces (CAPFs) in West Bengal for the conduct of the remaining four phases of polls, official sources said.

The next phase of polls is scheduled on April 17 followed by April 22, 26 and 29

Senior officials said the poll panel has directed the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to rush in and deploy the fresh companies “immediately”.

Till now, a total of 1,000 companies were earmarked for the conduct of elections in the state that has 294 assembly seats.

(With inputs from PTI)

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