Sporadic violence, clashes mar Bengal rural polls

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West Bengal Panchayat polls to be held today amid tight security
West Bengal Panchayat polls to be held today amid tight security

Kolkata : Sporadic violence and clashes between opposing political groups marred the initial hours of West Bengal panchayat polls on Monday.

The polling for electing 38,616 representatives across three tiers of state (rural) bodies started at 7 a.m. and would continue till 5 p.m.

According to the State Election Commission (SEC), 12.2 per cent votes were cast in the initial two hours of polling till 9 a.m.

Reports of clashes and booth capturing were received from pockets of South 24 Parganas, West Midnapore and Cooch Behar districts.

In South 24 Parnagas' Bhangar the 'Jomi, Jibika, Bastutantra O Poribesh Raksha Committee' accused armed miscreants of Trinamool Congress of kidnapping their Panchayat Samiti candidate Sariful Mullick and terrorising the voters.

The committee that was formed to protect land, livelihood, ecology and environment has been spearheading an anti-power grid movement in the area and has fielded nine independent candidate in the rural polls. 

The committee also accused the police of not taking action against the miscreants involved in casting false votes and backing the men of Trinamool Congress leader Arabul Islam, who was arrested three days back in an alleged case of murder.

Clashes were also reported in the district's Namkhana and several other areas.

In north Bengal's Jalpaiguri, Minister in-charge of north Bengal development, Rabindranath Ghosh, was accused of slapping a Bharatiya Janata Party polling agent and forcing him out of the polling premises.

The SEC sought a report from the Jalpaiguri District Magistrate regarding the incident. The Minister, however, denied all allegations.

Incidents of violence took place in East Midnapore district's Panskura and West Midnapore district's Keshpur where gun totting miscreants gathered outside the polling stations and beat up the voters.

The dates of state rural polls were initially declared on May 1, 3 and 5 but as the nomination process started in April, all the opposition parties accused the Trinamool of indulging in strongarm tactics to prevent them from filing nominations.

The matter reached the Calcutta High Court, that subsequently stayed the polling process and asked the SEC to extend nomination deadline and announce fresh election schedule.

More bitter legal battles followed, at the end of which the SEC declared May 14 as the new polling date.

Statistics reveal that of the total 58,692 seats in the three tiers of rural local bodies, 20,076 seats or 34.2 per cent have already been decided uncontested, with the Trinamool bagging a whopping proportion of these seats.

These seats include 16,814 of the total 48,650 in gram panchayats, 3,059 of the total 9,217 in panchayat samitis and 203 of the total 825 in zila parishads.

The Supreme Court has now asked the SEC not to issue winning certificates in case of the uncontested seats.

The SEC has, on the other hand, said all arrangements had been made for providing security for the polls. Around 71,500 armed personnel were on duty, manning every booth.

Armed forces have also arrived from Assam, Odisha, Sikkim and Andhra Pradesh to strengthen security arrangements.