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After early calm, Bengal poll day marred by killing, clashes

Tuesday - April 23, 2019 9:00 pm , Category : INDIA
Kolkata, April 23 (IANS) West Bengal saw its first poll-related fatality in the ongoing general elections on Tuesday, as a Congress worker succumbed to his injury following a political clash in phase three of the Lok Sabha polls on a day marred by clashes, bombings and intimidation.
The apparent calm in the early hours of polling - with the election authorities and central and state police personnel seeming to be in total control of the situation - was rudely shattered as the day progressed.
However, experts with long experience of the goings-on on polling days in Bengal, that tops in political violence, had warned in the morning itself that things could deteriorate after noon.
"I have seen in past elections, that the irregularities, electoral malpractices and violence soar after 1 p.m. So, right now we cannot predict that the day would pass off serenely," said Biswanath Chakraborty, a political analyst and professor of Rabindra Bharati University.
First there were reports of some alleged Trinamool Congress workers indulging in proxy voting in a booth under Ratua assembly segment of Malda North constituency. After TV channels repeatedly telecast footage of the malpractice, the Election Commission removed the presiding officer.
A little later, came complaints of unlawful assemblies of political workers - mostly from Trinamool - close to polling booths in the Balurghat constituency.
"We are ensuring the voters have no problem in reaching the booths," one of the youths said in response to reporters' questions.
A couple of youths in the gathering claimed their loyalties were with the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Communist Party of India-Marxist. However, most others identified themselves as Trinamool workers.
But voters were tense, unwilling to go to the polling booth. Some of them said they were threatened not to step anywhere near the booth.
The central forces and state police soon reached the area in strength and dispersed the youths.
Then emerged an instance of intimidation, with the police being at the receiving end.
Former Trinamool lawmaker Mahmuda Begam virtually shouted at the police personnel protesting against heavy security deployment at a booth in Balurghat's Kumarganj.
In full glare of the television cameras and print media representatives, the aged leader claimed: "This is my booth and I have developed this over 34 years."
"Will my supporters remain idle if police become overactive? Why was police deployed in this booth?" she warned a police officer, who, however, stayed put.
A BJP leader claimed hers was a voice of frustration.
"Unlike the panchayat polls, the Trinamool could not rig the booth this time. That's the reason she is so angry, and losing her cool," said Raju Bandopadhyay, one of the party's state General Secretaries.
The first report of hurling of crude bombs came from Kaliachawk - a area known for its volatility - under Malda South constituency. The crude bombs were hurled outside polling stations by bike-borne assailants.
Locals said no one could be identified as the assailants were wearing helmets.
Following the incident, a large number of state police and central force personnel were rushed to the spot and normalcy was restored.
The next report of bombing by gang of bike-riders came from Murshidabad district's Domkal, another area with a history of political violence. Part of the Murshidabad Lok Sabha constituency, Domkal saw a number of violent incidents through the day.
A Trinamool councillor's husband was also allegedly beaten up by Congress-backed goons in the area.
In South Dinajpur district, BJP leader Mantu Roy sustained serious injuries when he was beaten with the butt of a rifle allegedly by Trinamool-backed goons at Tapan, while the saffron outfit's Balurghat candidate Sukanta Majumdar was threatened. In Kusmandi area, Trinamool activists allegedly thrashed BJP supporters.
Aerial firing by miscreants purportedly owing allegiance to the Trinamool to threaten opposition agents was also reported in Murshidabad's Kumripur.
But it was the violence at Bhagwangola assembly segment of Murshidabad constituency that overshadowed all other happenings.
According to voters standing outside booth number 188, Trinamool and Congress activists attacked each other with bamboo sticks and sickles. A Trinamool panchayat member and some Congress workers were injured and one of the latter died in a nearby hospital.
"Tiyarul Sheikh has succumbed to his injuries," an officer of Ranitala police station said. His son was grievously injured and is fighting for his life in hospital.
Former Union Minister Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury accused Trinamool supporters of fomenting violence across the constituency. "Sheikh died while resisting Trinamool's goons," he said.
He also said despite resorting to all means, the Trinamool failed to rig the polls in Murshidabad district's Jangipur and Murshidabad constituencies.
Refuting all the allegations, Murshidabad's Trinamool nominee Abu Taher Khan held the Congress' factional fight responsible for Sheikh's death.

--IANS ssp/vd