West Bengal poll turns violent, 5 dead

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KOLKATA/COOCH BEHAR, April 10 (PTI): In the first major outbreak of violence during the West Bengal assembly elections, 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 on Saturday, triggering a political firestorm.

An estimated 76.16 percent of 1.15 crore voters exercised their franchise till 5 pm, an official said.

Four people were killed as central forces opened fire allegedly after coming under attack from locals, who ‘attempted to snatch their rifles’, in West Bengal’s Cooch Behar district, police said.

The Election Commission ordered stopping the voting exercise at polling station number 126 of the Sitalkuchi constituency where the incident happened when polling was underway.

“According to preliminary reports, four persons were killed as CISF personnel opened fire after coming under attack in a village. A scuffle took place, and locals gheraoed them and attempted to snatch their rifles, following which the central forces opened fire. Further details are awaited,” a police official said.

The EC has sought a detailed report on the incident.

According to official sources, the preliminary report submitted by the EC’s special police observer Vivek Dubey said a huge mob of around 350-400 people had gheraoed the central forces, following which they fired in ‘self-defence’.

The incident led to violence in the area where bombs were hurled, prompting central forces to baton-charge to bring the situation under control.

In another incident, an 18-year-old voter, Ananda Barman, was gunned down outside booth number 85 at Pathantuli, also in Sitalkuchi, after clashes broke out between activists of the ruling TMC and the BJP.

West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh had come under attack in Sitalkuchi area earlier this week.

Amid the incidents of violence, the EC has directed the Union Home Ministry to deploy 71 additional companies of Central Armed Police forces (CAPFs) in the state for conducting the remaining four phases of polls.

Till now, 1,000 companies were earmarked for holding the elections in the state which has 294 assembly seats.

Condoling the deaths in Cooch Behar, Prime Minister Narendra Modi requested the Election Commission to take stern action against those responsible for the incident and blamed the ruling TMC for perpetrating violence during the polls.

He also accused chief minister Mamata Banerjee of instigating people against the central forces, sensing defeat.

“What happened in Cooch Behar is unfortunate and sad. I extend my condolences to the bereaved families and urge the Election Commission to take stern action against those responsible. Mamata Didi and her TMC goons have become jittery because of groundswell of support for BJP,” Modi told an election rally in North Bengal’s Siliguri.

The chief minister, who rushed to North Bengal and will meet the bereaved families, demanded the resignation of home minister Amit Shah and a reply from him on firing by the central forces which led to the death of people ‘standing in the queue to vote’.

Asserting that she had apprehended such an incident all along, Banerjee said, “After killing so many people, they (Election Commission) are saying the firing was in self- defence. They should feel ashamed.”

“This is a lie….The central forces opened fire on people standing in the line for voting, killing 4 in Sitalkuchi. I had been apprehending the forces would act in such a manner for long. As the BJP knows it has lost the people’s mandate, they are conspiring to kill people,” she said at a rally in North 24 Parganas district. The chief minister said a CID probe will be instituted into the incident.

Meanwhile, a TMC candidate and four BJP nominees were attacked in various constituencies across the state.

At Dinhata in North Bengal, TMC candidate Udayan Guha was attacked by alleged BJP activists.

He received injuries when a scuffle broke out with the saffron camp over allegations that it was not allowing the TMCs polling agents inside booths, a charge denied by the BJP.

In Behala Purba constituency on the southern fringes of Kolkata, BJP candidate and actress Payal Sarkar’s car was ransacked by a group of people. She, however, escaped unscathed.

BJP candidate and Lok Sabha MP Locket Chatterjee was attacked allegedly by TMC supporters and her vehicle was vandalised in Chuchura segment in Hooghly district. The ruling party of the state, however, rejected the accusation.

In Bally seat in Howrah district, TMC turncoat and BJP candidate Baisahali Dalmiya’s convoy was attacked as one of the vehicles was ransacked by miscreants.

In the Kasba seat in Kolkata, BJP candidate Indranil Khan faced a series of protests by the TMC activists who gheraoed him repeatedly.

At Ganguly Bagan area in the Jadavpur constituency, the booth agent of CPI (M) candidate Sujan Chakraborty was attacked reportedly by a ‘fake voter’, who threw chilli powder at her, officials said.

A central police contingent was rushed to the spot following the incident.

Clashes between workers of the Indian Secular Front, which is part of the Congress-Left alliance, and the TMC were reported from Bangor constituency in South 24 Parganas district, over charges that ISF polling agents were not being allowed to enter booths.

Left Front chairman Biman Bose condemned the incidents of violence and blamed both the TMC and the BJP for ‘vitiating the poll atmosphere’.

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