Sporadic violence mars first phase of Bengal polls, 77 pc turnout till 5 pm

Sporadic incidents of violence marred the first phase of Lok Sabha polls in Bengal's three parliamentary constituencies, with a 77 per cent voter turnout till 5pm and several injuries reported as TMC and BJP workers clashed mostly in the violence-prone Cooch Behar seat.
General election 2024 - West Bengal polling
General election 2024 - West Bengal polling

Kolkata | Sporadic incidents of violence marred the first phase of Lok Sabha polls in Bengal's three parliamentary constituencies, with a 77 per cent voter turnout till 5pm and several injuries reported as TMC and BJP workers clashed mostly in the violence-prone Cooch Behar seat.

The TMC and BJP lodged around 100 and 50 complaints respectively, which are related to poll violence, voter intimidation, and assaults on poll agents in the initial hours of polling, as claimed by sources from both parties. Most complaints originated from Cooch Behar.

"We have received a few complaints and we are looking into them. However, we have no reports of any major incidents of violence so far. The polling has been peaceful," a senior officer from the CEO's office said.

The CEO's office received approximately 500 complaints from various parties till 2pm, with most of the complaints swiftly resolved.

According to officials, Cooch Behar recorded a 77.38 per cent turnout till 5pm, while Alipurduars and Jalpaiguri recorded 75.54 and 79.33 per cent, respectively.

Voting commenced at 7 am and concluded at 6 pm. Sources suggest the turnout may increase further as long queues were seen outside polling booths.

All three seats are reserved: Cooch Behar and Jalpaiguri for SCs, and Alipurduars for STs. These seats were won by the BJP in 2019.

During the last Lok Sabha polls, the turnout in Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri, and Alipurduars was 84, 86, and 83 per cent, respectively.

A total of 37 candidates, including Union Minister and BJP leader Nisith Pramanik (Cooch Behar), are contesting in the three constituencies.

West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee criticised the Election Commission, alleging it functions as a "BJP commission."

She accused the EC of favouring the BJP by deploying only central forces and excluding state forces in Cooch Behar.

"Using central forces in Cooch Behar in this manner raises questions. How can we expect a free and fair election under such circumstances? It's shameful that the EC appears biased towards the BJP," she said.

While the TMC expressed confidence in reclaiming Alipurduars and Jalpaiguri from the BJP due to "free and fair" voting, it frowned upon the violence in Cooch Behar. Nevertheless, it remained optimistic about defeating Pramanik.

The TMC alleged that BJP workers assaulted polling agents in Sitalkuchi and prevented voters from accessing some booths in Cooch Behar.

The BJP denied these allegations and accused the TMC of voter intimidation.

Sitalkuchi, known for its history of violence, saw widespread disturbances during the last assembly polls, resulting in four deaths beacuse of firing by central forces on troublemakers.

Television footage on Friday shpwed TMC and BJP workers clashing in Mathabhanga area, with injuries reported on both sides. Both parties confronted each other over allegations of voter intimidation.

In another incident in Mathabhanga area, TMC workers protested against central forces' alleged assistance to BJP workers in rigging votes. Anant Barman, the TMC block president from Bethguri, was hospitalised after reportedly being assaulted by BJP members.

"The BJP, with central forces, has terrorised voters to rig the elections. Our workers are facing harassment and violence," North Bengal Development Minister Udayan Guha said.

Guha faced protests by women in his Dinhata constituency when he tried to visit following allegations of booth capture. He attributed the protests to the BJP, a claim the saffron party refuted.

"The TMC, anticipating defeat, is intimidating voters. BJP workers have been attacked in various areas. Udayan Guha's visits incite violence. In many instances, even media persons have been assaulted," said Pramanik.

The BJP claimed that in Cooch Behar South, its members were kidnapped by TMC workers, and polling agents were denied entry to booths.

In Mathabhanga, five BJP workers were injured and hospitalised after being attacked by TMC members, according to a district BJP leader.

In the same region, the saffron camp claimed TMC workers visited homes to intimidate voters.

In Chandmari, BJP workers alleged that voters were barred from entering booths, with TMC members controlling polling stations to rig the elections.

In Jalpaiguri, BJP MLA Sikha Chattopadhyay was denied access to Dabgram Fulbari area amid rigging allegations. A large TMC mob halted her car's entry to the area.

"The TMC was looting booths. Police were passive spectators," she claimed.

Despite allegations of violence, the state BJP remains hopeful of retaining all three seats and expressed satisfaction with the overall voting process.

"The TMC attempted to manipulate voters. However, they seem to have fallen short. We remain optimistic about retaining all three seats," said BJP spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya.

In the neighbouring Alipurduars constituency, the TMC alleged CRPF personnel and BJP leaders threatened and harassed voters, compelling them to vote for the saffron camp. The BJP denied these claims.

CPI(M) central committee member Samik Lahiri observed that despite disturbances caused by TMC and BJP supporters, voters managed to cast their ballots. He suggested that these parties rely more on strong-arm tactics than trust in the people.

Senior Congress leader Nepal Mahato stressed the importance of increased vigilance by central forces in subsequent polling phases to prevent violence similar to today's incidents.

"Voters deserve to cast their votes without fear. Given the day's incidents, I believe central forces must be more proactive to ensure peaceful voting in the future," Mahato told PTI.

Confident of victory, the TMC has decided to take out victory rallies in the three constituecies later this evening.

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