West Bengal panchayat polls: 72% turnout; violence claims 12 lives; updates

Women stand in a queue to cast their vote for Panchayat election at a polling station in Nadia district of West Bengal | PTI photo
The single-phase West Bengal panchayat election concluded at 5 pm in the evening on Monday with 72.5 per cent total voter turnout percentage, said State Election Commission. However, the number may rise as 450,000 voters were still lined up in the queue outside the polling booths to cast their vote across several parts of the violence-ridden state, news agency PTI reported.

Speaking on the unprecedented violence marring the panchayat election procedures, West Bengal Director General of Police (DGP), Surajit Kar Purkayastha confirmed the death of over 12 people in the violence.

He said, “12 people died, out of which, the identity of 6 more is yet to be ascertained. At least 6 police personnel are also injured. Last year, 25 people were killed in the election. Security has been taken care of and now we hope rest of the election will pass peacefully”.

Despite the deployment of elaborate security arrangements with 60,000 vigilant security personnel, the violent clashes, shooting and protests left at least 12 dead and injured over 50 people. Polling booths were mainly targeted during the violence after clashes broke out between Trinamool Congress supporters and opposition party workers. Crude bombs were also hurled near several polling stations. The polling for electing 38,616 representatives in three tiers of the Panchayati Raj institutions in 20 districts started at 7 am on Monday.

The Ministry of Home Affairs has sought a report from the West Bengal Government regarding incidents of violence during panchayat election in the state.

As the opposition parties continued to blame the Mamata Banerjee-led government over the increasing violence in the ongoing West Bengal Panchayat elections, senior Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Derek O'Brien on Monday listed the number of deaths in a series of tweets that took place since the 1990s and accused the CPI(M) and BJP of “deliberately trying to foment trouble”.

People injured in poll violence sit by the side of a road as a vehicle is set on fire by locals during Panchayat polls, in Nadia district of West Bengal | PTI photo

As the day progressed, reports of clashes, booth capturing, vandalising of ballot boxes and rigging were received from pockets of South and North 24 Parganas, North Dinajpur, Nadia, West Midnapore and Cooch Behar districts. At least 12 people were killed on Monday as clashes broke out between supporters of different parties in several districts disrupted voting for the rural bodies.

Commenting on the ongoing violence and protests, CPI(M) leader Biman Bose said, “The election has turned into a commotion because no rules were followed. The police could not strengthen the security. That is why we have come here to speak to the Election Commission to find a solution”.

CPI(M) general secretary, Sitaram Yechury while addressing the press conference, said, “This is nothing but the complete destruction of democracy. Election Commission not giving time to a political representative. We are organizing a protest against it”.

According to news agency ANI, several party members of the CPI(M), the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) and other parties associated with the Left Front, staged a violent protest outside the State Election Commission office against the incidents of violence during the panchayat election.

Unidentified armed scoundrels stole ballot boxes at gunpoint in booth number 44, 45 and 45K in Murshidabad, reported ANI. A ballot box was recovered from a pond in West Bengal’s Sonadangi area. Also, Congress workers are staging a protest outside the State Election Commission office in Kolkata.

Several reports of clashes have emerged from various districts in which dozens of people have been injured. Further, violence broke out in North 24 Parganas, Burdwan, Coochbehar, and South 24 Parganas districts, killing three people and injuring at least 21.     

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM) have blamed the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) of violence during the ongoing West Bengal Panchayat election. Union Minister and BJP leader Babul Supriyo on Monday demanded President's rule in the state, while CPM General Secretary Sitaram Yechury urged the state election commission (SEC) to act in a way to restore faith in the election process.  

It is the last major election in the state before next year's Lok Sabha elections. 

With 40 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats located in the districts, political parties are viewing Monday's polls as a warm-up match ahead of the 2019 general elections. 

The three-tier panchayat polls are being held in the state after a protracted legal battle in the Kolkata High Court and the Supreme Court involving the state election commission, the TMC, and opposition parties. 

In North 24 Parganas, a Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, worker and his wife were charred to death after their house was torched on Sunday night. There are allegations that TMC workers were behind the attack.  

Incidents of violence were also reported from Bhangar, where a media vehicle was torched and a camera broken. Subsequently, the media was prohibited from entering the area.  

Furthermore, Bhangar locals blocked the roads, alleging that TMC workers were capturing the polling booth.

The counting will take place on May 17.

Here are the top developments on the panchayat polls currently underway in West Bengal: 

West Bengal: Women queue up to cast their votes at a polling booth in Cooch Behar. #PanchayatElections pic.twitter.com/zoLL22btpS

— ANI (@ANI) 14 May 2018

1) 72.5% voter turnout recorded till 5 pm: The State Election Commission said the polling percentage was 73 at the end of voting hours at 5 pm today, though the numbers would go up since 450,000 voters were still queued up across the state. Though the polling began amid tight security, it saw huge-scale clashes between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Trinamool Congress (TMC) workers, resulting in the death of one. The counting of votes will take place on May 17.

12 people died, identity of 6 more yet to be ascertained. 3 police personnel also injured. Last yr 25 people were killed in the election. Security has been taken care of. We hope rest of the election will pass peacefully: Surajit Kar Purkayastha,West Bengal DGP #PanchayatElection pic.twitter.com/gy3HZhWIzS

— ANI (@ANI) May 14, 2018

ALSO READ: WB panchayat polls: Ballot boxed looted at gunpoint in Murshidabad

West Bengal #PanchayatElection: Voter turnout till 5 pm is 72.5%. pic.twitter.com/J2ln1zRNOm

— ANI (@ANI) May 14, 2018

West Bengal: Congress workers hold protest outside Election Commission in Kolkata #PanchayatElection pic.twitter.com/OXAmycIZMr

— ANI (@ANI) 14 May 2018

2) 'Nothing but the complete destruction of democracy', says Yechury: CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury condemned the unfrequented incidents of violence taking place during the West Bengal panchayat election. He said, "This is nothing but complete destruction of democracy...We are organising a protest against it.”

This is nothing but complete destruction of democracy. Election Commission not giving time to political representative. We are organizing a protest against it: Sitaram Yechury, general secretary, CPI-M on incidents of violence during West Bengal #PanchayatElection pic.twitter.com/s2Lmn6Orqt

— ANI (@ANI) 14 May 2018

3) Derek O'Brien slams TMC over violence: Amid reports of massive violence during West Bengal Panchayat elections, senior Trinamool Congress leader Derek O'Brien slammed those ‘deliberately trying to foment trouble’. In a series of tweets, O'Brien questioned the ‘‘newborn' experts on Bengal Panchayat Elections’ and talked about the history violence in the state. Recalling the 90s, O'Brien said that around 400 people were killed in poll violence under CPM rule in the state. The Trinamool lawmaker then compared the numbers to the period of 2003, when there were 40 deaths in the state.

To all 'newborn' experts on Bengal #PanchayatElections in State have a history. 400 killed in poll violence in 1990s in CPIM rule. 2003: 40 dead.Every death is a tragedy. Now closer to normal than earlier times.Yes, few dozen incidents. Say,40 out of 58000 booths. What's %age ?

— Derek O'Brien (@derekobrienmp) 14 May 2018

CPI(M) and BJP are now so desperate that they are even ganging up with Maoists to kill/shoot/stab three Trinamool workers in different incidents in #Bengal today. Deliberately trying to foment trouble. Is this democracy? #PanchayatElection

— Derek O'Brien (@derekobrienmp) 14 May 2018

4) Bengal govt is a shameless govt, says Union Minister Babul Supriyo: Demanding President's rule in the state, Supriyo said he was not surprised by all the incidents that have taken place since morning. "Bengal government is a shameless government, you cannot expect them to follow any kind of constitutional behaviour," Supriyo said. 

Not surprised by all the incidents that are happening since morning. Bengal govt is a shameless govt, you cannot expect them to follow any kind of constitutional behaviour. I demand President's Rule in WB: Babul Supriyo, Union Min on violence in various during #PanchayatElection pic.twitter.com/ElEr4OSbaf

— ANI (@ANI) 14 May 2018

5) Election Commission of West Bengal must act, says Yechury: Sitaram Yechury, in a tweet on Monday, called on the SEC to act in a way that will restore faith in the electoral process.

The Election Commission of West Bengal must act to restore faith in the process. Else it will be seen as complicit in TMC's project of destroying democracy. Allowing TMC to get away with throttling democracy has implications well beyond West Bengal. pic.twitter.com/F6vHJbiqun

— Sitaram Yechury (@SitaramYechury) 14 May 2018
6) TMC worker shot dead: A TMC worker named Arif Gazi was on Monday shot dead in Kultali area of South 24 Parganas district, news agencies reported.  

#CORRECTION: A TMC worker named Arif Gazi shot dead in Kultali area of South 24 Parganas district. (The photo is not related to this incident & is being retracted, Original tweet be deleted). https://t.co/TDQ26572sE

— ANI (@ANI) May 14, 2018
7) Deaths in Nadia, North 24 Parganas district: A person named Taibur Gayen on Monday was killed and two others were injured after crude bombs were hurled at them, allegedly by TMC supporters, reported Hindustan Times. The news portal also reported the death of twenty-seven-old Sanjit Pramanik in Santipur of Nadia district due to bullet injuries received during clashes.   

8) BJP candidate from Bilkanda attacked with a knife: BJP's Bilkanda candidate Raju Biswas was injured after being attacked with a knife, allegedly by TMC workers, news agencies reported.    

The person was injured after knife attack, allegedly by TMC workers, is a BJP candidate from Bilkanda. His name is Raju Biswas & he is undergoing treatment at Panihati State General Hospital. #WestBengal #PanchayatElection https://t.co/ILVznCF0Km

— ANI (@ANI) 14 May 2018

9) BJP, TMC blame each other for violence: The opposition CPI(M) and BJP have accused the TMC of terrorising voters and hurling bombs outside polling stations in Burdwan district.  

In North 24 Parganas, the BJP accused the ruling TMC of letting loose a reign of terror in several parts of the district, especially in Amdanga area. 

The TMC has termed the allegations as baseless.

Senior minister Jyotipriyo Mullick denied the involvement of the TMC in the incident and accused BJP of terrorising the voters. 

Highly condemnable & deplorable, it signifies that culture of political violence under TMC has engulfed entire #WestBengal & it is an alarming sign for democracy: Sudhanshu Trivedi, BJP on violence during #PanchayatElection pic.twitter.com/Qvjk3iZCIK

— ANI (@ANI) 14 May 2018

10) Tripura Governor calls for peaceful panchayat polls in Bengal: Tripura Governor Tathagata Roy on Sunday expressed hope that the people of West Bengal will be able to cast their vote peacefully during Monday's panchayat polls.    

Roy, a former president of the BJP's West Bengal unit and a former member of the BJP's national executive, on the sidelines of an event in Kolkata, told reporters that people should be allowed to cast their vote without difficulty. 

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