The elections to seven municipal bodies in West Bengal held today witnessed violence and booth-capturing at some places, with major opposition parties in the state demanded countermanding of the polls. While the elections to the four municipal bodies in the Darjeeling hills was generally peaceful, the three towns in the plains saw sporadic violence, with Pujali in South 24- Parganas district bearing the brunt, police and district administration sources said. The opposition parties alleged that Trinamool Congress workers were involved in the violence and booth-capturing.
The Trinamool Congress, however, rejected the charges and blamed the BJP for the violence.
EVMs were damaged in three booths of two wards in Pujali while some policemen were also injured, the police said. Scuffles took place in different places near the polling booths at Domkal in Murshidabad district and Pujali as men were seen carrying firearms and country-made bombs with their faces covered with cloth.
The overall turnout was nearly 68 per cent, according to State Election Commission sources. Pujali registered 79.6 per cent voting, the highest out of the seven, while Darjeeling had the lowest of 52 per cent. Domkal recorded 77.5 per cent, Mirik Notified Area 74.3 per cent, Kurseong 66.1 per cent, Raiganj 66 per cent and Kalimpong had a 58.1 per cent turnout of voters.
Representatives of Left parties and the Congress blocked a road and held sit-in-demonstration in front of the State Election Commission office here, alleging the poll panel had failed to conduct free-and-fair polls.
“We want the elections to be countermanded as the ruling party has unleashed terror at all the places where elections are being held,” CPI(M) state secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra told reporters here. Claiming that the elections have been turned into a farce, he said, “miscreants owing allegiance to the TMC have been terrorising everyone with guns, bombs and other weapons. Voters, candidates, their agents, police and journalists — no one has been spared.”
He further claimed that three CPI(M) supporters were injured in firing by miscreants at Pujali in South 24-Parganas district, one of the towns where polls were held. West Bengal Congress president Adhir Chowdhury demanded countermanding of the elections and said he instructed all 10 party candidates in Domkal not to take interest in the election as it has become a farce.
He alleged that Congress agents were driven out of polling booths at Domkal town in Murshidabad district by TMC activists.
BJP national secretary Rahul Sinha also demanded that the elections be countermanded and fresh polls declared by the State Election Commission.
“The commission should cancel today’s elections and fresh polls be held with central forces in charge of security,” the former state BJP chief said. TMC secretary-general Partha Chatterjee denied that activists of his party had any role in the violence at different places. Blaming the BJP, he said, “Those who don’t believe in democracy are resorting to violence.” “BJP is resorting to violence and is being aided by CPI (M) and Congress in its act,” Chatterjee, a senior minister in the Mamata Banerjee cabinet, said.
The Congress and the Left Front claimed that top officials of the state election commission refused to meet them. “The commission had assured us that steps will be taken to ensure free and fair polls, but it has failed miserably,” Mishra said. Of the seven municipal bodies where the elections are being held, four are in Darjeeling hills.
The Bimal Gurung-led Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) is the main opponent of the TMC in Darjeeling, Mirik, Kalimpong and Kurseong, where the ruling party campaigned extensively. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who frequently visits Darjeeling, has taken a keen interest in the municipal polls in the hills, which has for long seen the dominance of hill parties – the Subash Ghising-led Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) followed by Gurung’s GJM.
Raiganj in North-Dinajpur district, Domkal in Murshidabad and Pujali in South 24-Parganas in the plains are having a three-way contest with the Left-Congress combine, the BJP and the TMC being in contention.