Clashes, booth capturing mar Punjab panchayat polls

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Chandigarh, Dec 30 (IANS) Minor clashes and incidents of firing and booth capturing were reported at over a dozen places as panchayat elections were held in 13,276 panchayats across Punjab on Sunday. Results of the elections started trickling in later in the evening.

People in the state’s rural belt braved the cold wave to cast their votes.

Tension prevailed in some villages in Gurdaspur, Amritsar, Ferozepur and other districts following violence, clashes between supporters of different candidates and incidents of booth capturing.

Incidents of firing between warring groups were also reported from some places.

The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) alleged “complete hijacking of the panchayat elections by the Congress party”. It said that this “amounted to murder of democracy and lambasted the State Election Commission (SEC) for failing to hold free and fair elections”.

In a statement, SAD spokesman Daljit Singh Cheema said Congressmen not only incited violence during polling but also resorted to booth capturing even as the civil administration remained mute spectators and the Punjab Police facilitated rigging at various places by proceeding against Akali workers.

Cheema said Akali workers were prevented from casting their votes at various places with Congressmen resorting to indiscriminate firing. He said that firing incidents were reported from Deena village in Moga, Bosarkalan in Patiala and at places in Ferozepur and Amritsar.

He said booths were also captured at all these places by Congress activists. He complained of large-scale booth capturing from Mullanpur Dakha.

The SAD leader said one person was killed in Mamdot in Ferozepur after he was overrun by a car in a stampede after Congress workers set a ballot box on fire.

He said large-scale violence and booth capturing was also witnessed in Patiala, the home district of Chief Minister Amarinder Singh. He said in Sanaur, shots were fired and there was large-scale stone pelting. He said similarly in Rajpura SGPC member Surjit Singh Garhi was roughed up by Congress activists.

The SAD leader said in Naushera in Amritsar district, police personnel indulged in lathi-charge on Akali workers.

Punjab has a Congress government since March last year.

Five-time Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, who is over 91 years old, cast his vote in his native Badal village in Muktsar district. His son Sukhbir Singh Badal and daughter-in-law and Union minister Harsimrat Badal also cast their vote in the village.

The State Election Commission (SEC) officials said over 1.27 crore voters were eligible to vote.

The voting started at 8 a.m. at 17,268 polling booths and ended at 4 pm.

In some of the polling stations, enthusiastic voters were standing in long queues early in the morning.

While there were 28,375 sarpanch (village headman) candidates in the fray for the 13,276 panchayats, 104,027 candidates contested for the posts of panch (village council member).

An SEC spokesman had earlier said 1,863 sarpanches were elected unopposed after the end of the withdrawal process of nomination papers, and 22,203 panches have also been elected unopposed.

Authorities in Punjab had received 210,494 nominations for the panchayat elections. Of these 48,111 nominations papers were filed for the post of sarpanch and 162,383 nominations papers filed for the post of panch. A total of 83,831 panches would be elected for 13,276 panchayats.



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