Violence mars local body polls in Bengal

Kolkata, Oct 3 (IANS) Amid incidents of violence and intimidating tactics including assaults on mediapersons, polling was underway on Saturday for local bodies in four pockets of West Bengal.

In the last battle before next year’s assembly polls, elections are being held for the Asansol Municipal Corporation in Burdwan district, the Bidhannagar Municipal Corporation in North 24 Parganas district and the Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad in Darjeeling district.

Polls are also being held for the 16 wards of the erstwhile Bally municipality which has now been merged with Howrah Municipal Corporation. Besides, bypolls are on for some rural body seats – two zilla parishads, 72 panchayat samitis and 341 gram panchayats.

“Barring a few complaints of alleged booth capturing, polling has been peaceful so far. Till 1 p.m. 47 percent of polling was recorded in Asansol, 43 percent in Siliguri, 38 percent in Bidhannagar and 43.7 percent in Bally,” State Election Commissioner S.R. Upadhaya said.

Both in Asansol and Bidhannagar, the CPI-M accused the ruling Trinamool Congress of using violent tactics, including booth capturing.

The polls in Bidhannagar in the city’s satellite township witnessed violent scenes since morning with allegations of Trinamool activists allegedly resorting to booth capturing, voter intimidation and throwing crude bombs.

Several journalists were assaulted and a camera was also snatched away while they were trying to cover the incidents of alleged malpractice.

A female journalist alleged that she was threatened with “rape” by outsiders who had illegally swarmed a polling booth.

Deputy Commissioner of Police Bidhannagar Kankar Prasad Barui refused to comment even as a host of journalists demanded answers on why police did not act when the mediapersons were being attacked in their presence.

CPI-M leader and former state minister Gautam Deb condemned the attack on the mediapersons and lambasted the ruling Trinamool for turning the polls into a “farce”.

Former state minister and CPI-M mayoral candidate in Bidhannagar Asim Dasgupta alleged that a large number of outsiders had been entering the polling booths and genuine voters were being prevented from casting their votes.

The opposition parties also alleged that their polling agents were assaulted and driven out by “Trinamool goons”.

In Bidhannagar, a few crude bombs were hurled outside a booth in ward no 41. However, no one was injured, police said.

Similar accusations were made by former Marxist MP from Asansol Bansa Gopal Chowdhury.

Clashes between Marxist and Trinamool activists were reported from Raniganj in Burdwan district.

Denying the allegations, state agriculture minister and Trinamool MLA from Asansol Moloy Ghatak in turn charged the CPI-M and the BJP of collectively resorting to violence in his constituency.

“A lot of goons have been brought in by the CPI-M and the BJP and they are trying to capture booths in Asansol. In preventing one such attempt one of our party activist sustained bullet injuries,” said Ghatak.

The results will be declared on October 7.

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