West Bengal: 3 shot dead in clashes during panchayat poll nomination filing; Mamata blames oppn

Kolkata: In 2018 polls, TMC won 90 per cent of Panchayat seats and all 22 Zilla Parishads

BY | Friday, 16 June, 2023

Three persons were shot dead and several others were injured as violence and arson marked the conclusion of nomination filing for the three-tier West Bengal panchayat polls slated next month.

Two persons were killed at Bhangore in South 24 Parganas district, around 30 km from Kolkata, while another youth was gunned down by miscreants at Chopra in Uttar Dinajpur district, around 50 km from Siliguri, in the northern part of the state, police said.

Several incidents of clashes were reported from different parts of the state as the police had a harrowing time controlling the situation.

State Election Commissioner (SEC) Rajiva Sinha declined to comment on the incident, stating that he is yet to receive a report.

The violence triggered a political slugfest between the opposition CPI (M), Congress and BJP — and the ruling TMC, with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee accusing the opposition of trying to malign the state by orchestrating the violence.

She denied any involvement of her party workers in the incidents of violence, stating that the TMC has instructed its members to allow all candidates to file their nominations.

“In around 74,000 booths, some incidents have occurred in only two or three. Our party workers are not involved in those incidents,” Banerjee said.

Pointing out that violence during panchayat polls is not new, citing a similar situation in 2003 when 36 people were killed during the Left regime, she said, “Rural polls are so localised that even three or four members from a same family are contesting elections.”

“Opposition parties are trying to create disturbances by orchestrating violence while filing nominations. They are doing it to tarnish the state’s image. If they (the opposition) think they will unleash one-sided violence, then people will give a befitting reply,” she said.

Banerjee also referred to the 2013 panchayat polls in the state, when it was held under the supervision of central forces, but couldn’t help stop the bloodshed as “49 people were killed.”

Speaking of the ongoing violence in Bhangore, Banerjee blamed the Indian Secular Front (ISF) for it without naming the party.

“For the last two days, a political party which uses religion to polarise people has unleashed a reign of terror in Bhangore, assaulting our party workers and ransacking several vehicles. There has been some retaliation from our end, too, yesterday,” she said.

Governor C V Ananda Bose expressed shock and concern over the killing of three people and incidents of attacks on the media.

“Shocked to hear that death toll in pre-election (violence) in Bengal is increasing. It is revolting that the media is also under attack by the hooligans. Victory in elections should depend on the count of votes not the count of dead bodies,” Bose said in a statement released by Raj Bhavan on Thursday night.

“Goons, hooligans, musclemen, the lumpen and crash elements… shall not be allowed to rule the roost. When the fourth estate is under attack it means democracy is under attack… This game of Saitan should end, will end. The beginning of the end will be in West Bengal,” the statement quoted Bose as saying.

Bose urged “all concerned to come together and stand united to put down the forces of disruption and uphold the dignity of the common man and the sanctity of free and fair elections, abjuring violence and ensuring an era of peace”.

He said violence has no place in democratic elections and people have the right to peace and harmony.

“Bengal is committed to protecting the right of the common man for freedom and peace in society, at the time when elections to the local bodies are about to take place. Miscreants and those who flaunt muscle power will be brought to book and shown their due place behind the bars. Bengal is going to witness a new era of peaceful elections to the local bodies,” he said.

Referring to the Calcutta High Court’s orders directing all concerned in unequivocal terms, to do their duty and to discharge their obligations as per the Constitution of India, Bose said that the court’s verdict will be implemented in letter and spirit.

“Under no circumstances will mobocracy be permitted to throttle democracy. On behalf of the people of West Bengal, I entreat all political parties, opinion leaders and all stakeholders to stand united to defend democracy at any cost,” he said.

The state’s three-tier panchayat election encompassing a significant electorate of approximately 5.67 crores, will exercise their franchise to choose representatives for nearly 75,000 seats in zilla parishads, panchayat samiti and gram panchayats.

As per the figures available till Wednesday, the TMC, which was behind the opposition in filing nominations in the first few days, had filed nominations in nearly 50,000 seats, whereas the BJP had covered around 46,000 seats, and the CPI(M) and the Congress had covered 38,000 and 11,000 seats respectively.

CPI(M) state secretary Md Salim said candidates of the Left Front and the Congress were attacked in Chopra when they and their supporters were going to file nominations.

“The TMC has unleashed a reign of terror with tacit support from SEC and state police. This is shameful in a democracy,” senior CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty said. The ISF, too, slammed the TMC for having “no regard for the democratic process in the state”.

“Since the beginning of the filing of nominations, TMC goons have resorted to violence to stop our candidates from reaching nomination centres,” ISF leader and Bhangore MLA Naushad Siddique said.

BJP state spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya said, “The SEC is working like a frontal organisation of the TMC. The TMC wants to turn this panchayat election into a farce, just like 2018.”

In the 2018 rural polls, the TMC won 90 per cent of the Panchayat seats in the state and all 22 Zilla Parishads. These elections were marred by widespread violence and malpractices, with the opposition alleging they were prevented from filing nominations in many seats across the state.

State Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said the people of West Bengal can cast their votes only if central forces are deployed.

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