Bengal Panchayat election: Repolling in nearly 696 booths; political parties in war of words over violence

Kolkata: Repolling held after ballot boxes were looted, set on fire and thrown in ponds, leading to violence

BY | Tuesday, 11 July, 2023
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Barring minor incidents, the re-polling ordered by the state election commission in 696 booths in 19 districts of Bengal passed off peacefully with 69.85-per cent of all eligible voters casting their ballots till 5 pm, officials said.

Violence that left 15 people dead and allegations of vote tampering had marred the three tier panchayat elections held on Saturday, forcing the SEC headed by Rajiva Sinha to order a repoll in affected booths in all but three districts of Bengal.

The repolling started at 7 am amid tight security with at least four central forces personnel deployed in each booth, besides state police.

Those who were in queues at 5 pm in voting booths were allowed to cast their ballot with election officers working over-time to ensure a smooth process.

Voting started late in a few booths as ballot boxes did not reach on time, officials said. These booths were also given extra time to complete the polling, they said.

Counting of votes, including those cast in the re-polling, will be held on July 11.

“No major untoward incidents were reported from the districts where repolling is underway. A couple of stray incidents happened and those were managed by the police,” an SEC official said.

However, one person died due to cardiac arrest while standing in the queue to vote in Tehatta sub-division of Nadia district, police said.

In Malda, locals blocked a booth in Dogachi in Raniganj panchayat in Gazole block, preventing the repoll. Polling could not be held on Saturday, too, as the locals boycotted the vote demanding the repair of a road.

A road was blocked at Tehatta in Nadia in the morning, but it was later cleared by the police.

Voters also demonstrated outside a booth at Mayna in Purba Medinipur district, he said. Miscreants also torched a vehicle in Tamluk in Purba Medinipur besides roughing up a TMC leader.

Commenting on the repolling, Leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikari said the BJP had submitted a list of 6,000 booths to the SEC where it wanted re-election.

“Actually, false voting took place in 18,000 booths at the behest of the TMC. We are collecting more evidence.

“Our list was apparently overlooked by State Election Commissioner Rajiva Sinha, but we are not surprised. The list of booths suddenly announced by the SEC for repoll was submitted by the TMC,” he alleged.

“Detailed evidence backed up with ample video footage will be submitted to the Calcutta High Court on Tuesday, the day of the counting of votes,” he added.

TMC state general secretary Kunal Ghosh however alleged that the violence on the election day was perpetrated by opposition parties.

“It is TMC that has suffered the most due to this opposition-sponsored violence. Central forces did not arrive despite requisition by the SEC. Today’s poll has been peaceful and it proves that SEC has taken steps to control the situation,” he said.

Senior TMC leader and state minister Shashi Panja alleged that the BJP, Congress and ISF had been continuously instigating their workers in the run-up to the polls.

“Over 60 per cent of people killed in violence belong to the TMC,” she claimed.

While senior Trinamool Congress leaders asserted that everyone should be ashamed of the death of political workers during the panchayat elections held two days ago, and appealed for an end to the culture of political violence.

Of those deceased people, 11 were affiliated to the TMC.

“As a Bengali, I hang my head in shame, and everybody else should also be ashamed that even in 2023, we could not stop this culture of violence.

“We should introspect why we cannot shun this culture,” senior TMC MLA Humayun Kabir, a former senior police officer, said.

Since the date of the panchayat polls was announced early last month, 33 people were killed in political clashes. Some 30 people also died in the 2018 panchayat polls. The figure was 76 during the course of the poll process in 2003.

Senior TMC MP Sougata Roy said violence and killings are not expected in democracy, but passed the buck to the State Election Commission (SEC).

“It would have been better if the elections were held in a peaceful atmosphere. Unfortunately, so many people were killed. It is the duty of the SEC to ensure that elections are held peacefully. The culture of political violence must end,” he said.

Meanwhile, BJP leader Rahul Sinha demanded that the “elections should be held again under the watchful eyes of courts”.

CPI(M) West Bengal secretary Mohd Salim on Monday alleged that both the central forces and the state police failed to perform their duties to protect voters during the July 8 panchayat elections.

“Both the central forces and the state police did not perform their duty to protect voters,” he said.

BSF DIG S S Guleria had however said on Saturday that despite efforts by the central forces to get the list of sensitive booths from the State Election Commission, it was not provided.

The Calcutta High Court on Monday allowed senior Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury to file a petition seeking compensation to victims of panchayat poll violence in West Bengal and an investigation into it by an independent agency.

Submitting personally before the bench presided by Chief Justice TS Sivagnanam, Chowdhury, the state Congress president, alleged that entire Bengal was ravaged by unprecedented violence during the elections held on July 8.

The Congress leader prayed before the court that the next of kin of the deceased and the injured be given monetary compensation.

The BJP, in a release, said it has nominated a four-member fact-finding committee to visit the violence-affected areas in West Bengal. The panel members include MP and former Union minister Ravishankar Prasad, and MP Dr Satyapal Singh.

Among the districts where repolling was being held, violence-hit Murshidabad has the highest number of booths at 175, followed by Malda with 109, officials said.

Repolling was also being held at 89 booths in Nadia, followed by Cooch Behar (53), North 24 Parganas (46), Uttar Dinajpur (42), South 24 Parganas (36), Purba Medinipur (31) and Hooghly (29), they said.

No repolling was ordered in Darjeeling, Jhargram and Kalimpong districts, they said.

The decision for repolling was announced after reviewing reports of violence and tampering with ballot boxes and ballot papers, they added.

Polling was held on Saturday in over 61,000 booths for the three-tier panchayat elections, with a voter turnout of 80.71 per cent. In several places, ballot boxes were looted, set on fire and thrown in ponds, leading to violence.

A total 5.67 crore people living in the state’s rural areas were eligible to decide the fate of 2.06 lakh candidates in 73,887 seats of the panchayat system.

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