Sandeshkhali violence rocks final phase of LS polls in Bengal, 69.89 pc voter turnout recorded

An injured being taken for treatment after violence erupted during the seventh and last phase of Lok Sabha elections, at Sandeshkhali in North 24 Parganas district, Saturday, June 1, 2024.
An injured being taken for treatment after violence erupted during the seventh and last phase of Lok Sabha elections, at Sandeshkhali in North 24 Parganas district, Saturday, June 1, 2024.

Kolkata | Widespread violence between supporters of the TMC and the BJP over alleged electoral malpractices in strife-torn Sandeshkhali marred the final phase of Lok Sabha polls in West Bengal on Saturday, resulting in injuries to a number of people.

A 69.89 per cent voter turnout was recorded till 5 pm across the nine contested seats that went to polls, several of which witnessed sporadic violence.

The Election Commission received 2,667 complaints until 4 pm, alleging EVM malfunction and obstruction of agents entering booths.

The TMC, Congress, ISF, and BJP each filed hundreds of complaints related to poll violence, voter intimidation, and assaults on agents. Despite these issues, the Election Commission stated that "barring a few incidents, the polling was peaceful".

"Highest polling of 76.56 per cent was registered in Basirhat, followed by Mathurapur (74.13), Jaynagar (73.44), Diamond Harbour (72.87), Barasat (71.80), Jadavpur (70.41), Dum Dum (67.60), Kolkata Dakshin (60.88), and Kolkata Uttar (59.23)," he said.

Voter turnout in Baranagar bypoll until 5 pm was 66.70 per cent, the official added. Voting commenced at 7 am and was scheduled to conclude at 6 pm.

Sources suggest the turnout may increase further as long queues were observed outside polling booths.

All nine seats are presently with the TMC. In the last parliamentary polls, Basirhat, Mathurapur, Jaynagar, Diamond Harbour, and Barasat recorded 85, 84, 82, 81, and 81 per cent voter turnout, respectively.

The voter turnout in Jadavpur, Dum Dum, Kolkata Dakshin, and Kolkata Uttar was 79, 76, 69.82, and 65 per cent, respectively, in 2019.

In Sandeshkhali which comes under the Basirhat Lok Sabha seat, clashes broke out between TMC and BJP supporters over allegations of electoral malpractices.

The police used batons and tear gas to control the situation. BJP candidate Rekha Patra alleged that TMC goons stopped voters from casting their votes.

Women voters of Sandeshkhali accused the TMC of not allowing them to cast their votes freely, an allegation dubbed baseless by the state's ruling party.

The TMC made counter-allegations and accused Patra and BJP goons of trying to vitiate the poll atmosphere.

As both groups came to blows on the Basanti Express Highway, the police resorted to baton charges and tear gas shell firing to disperse the mob.

The BJP also claimed that shots were also fired by the TMC goons.

Clashes among the police, BJP, and the TMC activists were reported from three pockets of Sandeshkhali as in several areas TMC and BJP workers were seen hurling bricks at the police.

Basirhat SP Hossain Mehedi Rahaman said three persons were injured during the clash between TMC and BJP supporters at Bayramari in Sandeshkhali, adding that one person was arrested in this connection.

Sandeshkhali's Bermajur area has been on the boil since last night as the BJP made allegations that TMC workers, accompanied by policemen, intimidated its polling agents by visiting their homes on Friday night.

Sporadic violence was also reported in the other eight constituencies voting in West Bengal.

Clashes broke out among the TMC, ISF, and the BJP in different pockets as the parties clashed over stopping polling agents from entering booths.

A confrontation erupted in Bhangar within the Jadavpur constituency between backers of Trinamool Congress and the Indian Secular Front (ISF), with allegations of crude bombs being hurled from both sides. Police intervention ensued, triggering protests as both factions accused each other.

Angry voters of Kultuli within the Joynagar constituency threw EVMs and VVPAT machines into nearby water bodies alleging electoral misconduct.

TMC supporters have accused the ISF of orchestrating the violence to intimidate voters. Prompt action from local law enforcement led to lathi charges and the arrest of suspects in the Polerhat area of Bhangar.

In the Canning area, clashes were reported between the TMC and the BJP.

BJP candidate Abhijit Das accused the ruling party of malpractices, which the TMC denied. As Das approached a polling booth, TMC activists staged protests and shouted "Go back" slogans. In response, Das got out of his car and shouted counter slogans.

Similarly, CPI(M) candidate Patikur Rehman faced "go back" slogans from TMC workers when he attempted to visit a booth in the Canning area.

In Jadavpur, CPI(M) workers were allegedly beaten by the TMC activists and their camp offices were ransacked.

In Baranagar assembly seat, where a by-poll is on, CPI(M) candidate Tanmay Bhattacharya was allegedly assaulted when he was standing outside a booth as TMC workers accused him of trying to influence the voters.

In some areas, media persons were also injured while covering the clashes.

The TMC exuded confidence about retaining all nine seats.

"The BJP tried to vitiate the poll atmosphere. But overall the people could cast their votes and we are confident of a win," Education Minister Bratya Basu said.

BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari demanded re-polling in several booths of the Diamond Harbour constituency alleging malpractices.

"The TMC in a pre-planned way stopped the Hindus from casting their votes in various seats. We want re-polling in various booths of the Diamond Harbour constituency as the violence and irregularities have been rampant," he said.

CPI (M) state secretary Mohammad Salim claimed that the election process in the Diamond Harbour constituency, where TMC's Abhishek Banerjee is seeking a third consecutive term, was "fraudulent".

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