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Monday, April 19, 2021

Nandigram boils over: Mamata Banerjee cries foul, BJP rival says she’s losing, EC seeks report

Mamata Banerjee was held up for more than two hours in a polling booth in Nandigram where supporters of the ruling TMC and BJP nearly came to blows. Her security guards formed a cordon as she waited in a wheelchair.

Written by Ravik Bhattacharya , Atri Mitra , Amitava Chakraborty | Nandigram |
Updated: April 2, 2021 10:40:52 am
Mamata Banerjee visits a booth in Nandigram. (Express Photo: Partha Paul)

Tensions ran high and charges flew thick and fast in Nandigram, the constituency of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, on polling day Thursday as more than 80 per cent of 76 lakh votes in 30 constituencies were cast by 5 pm in the second phase of Assembly elections in the state.

Banerjee was held up for more than two hours in a polling booth in Nandigram where supporters of the ruling TMC and BJP nearly came to blows. Her security guards formed a cordon as she waited in a wheelchair. She could move out only after a large contingent of central forces and police personnel reached the site.

She later criticised the Election Commission and alleged that the BJP had terrorised voters. She even called up Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar but declined to divulge details. “Yes, I have spoken to the Governor and an EC special observer. I cannot reveal what all I discussed with them,” Banerjee told reporters after emerging from the polling booth.

Her BJP opponent Suvendu Adhikari, who toured different areas of the constituency, praised the conduct of the central forces and the EC.

Taking a swipe at Banerjee, Adhikari said: “The incident and her behaviour show she has lost the elections. She is just trying to grab some attention. Without the sacrifice of Suvendu Adhikari and the lives of 41 people, Mamata Banerjee could never have become the Chief Minister of Bengal in 2011. This time I am not with her and, therefore, she will not be the Chief Minister this time. Every day, she has flouted EC guidelines and lied. I am happy with the elections. The central forces have done a good job and the Election Commission has ensured free and fair polls.”

Mamata Banerjee stuck at a booth in Nandigram.

For Banerjee, and the BJP, the battle for Nandigram is a prestige fight. Because it was the 2007 agitation against land acquisition in Nandigram that catapulted Banerjee to the centrestage of politics in West Bengal, paving the way for the TMC’s victory in the 2011 Assembly polls that ended 34 years of Left Front rule.

Suvendu Adhikari before casting his vote at a booth in Nandigram.

On Thursday, sporadic incidents were reported from parts of Nandigram where long queues were seen at polling booths. Among the incidents reported was one about a TMC agent allegedly being forced out of Booth No. 7 in Boyal.

Banerjee showed up at 1.30 pm at Boyal Mukto Prathamik Vidyalaya where the booth was located.

People queue outside a booth in Nandigram.

Targeting the BJP, she told the press: “They have brought goons from outside. They are spreading terror… Not only Boyal, areas like Gokulnagar and Balarampur have witnessed violence. Democracy is the festival of the people. My humble regards to the Election Commission. But I request them: what you have done in Nandigram and other areas in these two phases, please do not do it in the upcoming phases of the polls. I have seen (TN) Seshan I have seen (SY) Quraishi, but I have never seen such a bad election.”

“We will win Nandigram. We will get 90 per cent of the vote…. I cannot reveal what I said to the Governor or the observer,” she said.

“I do not blame the central forces…. they are following directions of the Union Home Minister… to help the BJP and outsiders. They cannot even speak Bengali,” she said.

Security personnel keep vigil as villagers raise slogans against West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, waiting inside a polling station, during the second phase of West Bengal assembly polls, at Boyal in Nandigram, Thursday. (PTI Photo)

She also targeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi: “Why is he coming and holding public meetings during poll day? Is it not a violation of the Model Code of Conduct?”.

When she alleged rigging, BJP supporters gathered and began raising slogans. Later, TMC supporters reached the spot and chanted anti-Suvendu slogans. The situation became tense and the two sides nearly came to blows.

Central forces reached the spot and tried to control the situation. EC observers and Nagendra Tripathi, IPS officer deputed to oversee the security situation in Nandigram during the polls, showed up with more policemen. Tripathi spoke to the Chief Minister and then approached the two groups, holding talks with each. Supporters of the two parties later moved away.

Nandigram: Security personnel keep vigil as villagers raise slogans against West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, waiting inside a polling station, during the second phase of West Bengal assembly polls, at Boyal in Nandigram, Thursday. (PTI Photo)

“I spoke with the two groups and was able to convince them to maintain peace. I have also assured the Chief Minister that free and fair polls will be held in this booth,” Tripathi told the media as Banerjee was escorted out.

Governor Dhankhar, in a Twitter post, said: “Issues flagged @MamataOfficial a while ago on phone have been imparted to the concerned. There is full assurance of the concerned to adherence to rule of law. Am confident all will act in right spirit and earnestness so that democracy flourishes.”

South 24 Parganas: Security personnel stand guard as citizens wait to cast their vote during the 2nd phase of West Bengal assembly polls, at Gosaba in South 24 Parganas district, Thursday, April 1, 2021. (PTI Photo)

Election Commission issued a press statement Thursday evening, saying voting in polling station 7 of Nandigram went smoothly. By 4 pm, almost 74% of the registered voters had cast their vote, according to the poll panel. The Commission had asked its general observer and police observer to go to the Boyal school once reports of disturbance emerged in the media.

On the handwritten complaint submitted by Chief Minister Banerjee to the state CEO, the Commission asked special police observer Vivek Dube and special general observer Ajay Nayak to submit a report by 6 pm Friday.

Meanwhile after the polls got over Trinamool Congress MP from Tamluk and brother of Suvendu Adhikari BJP candidate wrote a letter to the district magistrate of Purba Medinipur and district election officer apprehending disruption of communal harmony in Nandigram.

In his letter he wrote, ‘Considering the present political situation in the area, I personally apprehend that the existing communal harmony may be blatantly disrupted. Resulting in complete ruin in normal peaceful living of the people residing there. I therefore earnestly request your good office to take all precautionary measures well in advance to maintain existing communal harmony for the greater interest for integrated and peaceful life of all people here…’

— With ENS from New Delhi

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