Lok Sabha Elections 2024: How Polls Were Conducted In Violence-Hit Manipur, Chhattisgarh And West Bengal

Amid allegations of intimidation and firing, opposition parties have urged for a re-poll in some states.

Lok Sabha Polls: First Phase Of Elections In Manipur Photo: - PTI

As the first phase of the biggest festival of democracy – Lok Sabha election of 2024 – commenced on Friday, April 19, at least three states – Manipur, Chhattisgarh, and West Bengal – reported instances of violence, intimidation and booth-capture – even though the Election Commission of India said the polling day was ‘largely peaceful’.

Incidents of violence during elections are not a rare occurrence in India. Notable episodes of such violence have occurred in the states of Bihar, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Jharkhand, and West Bengal, according to a study conducted by Observer Research Foundation (ORF) last year. 

The ECI this year made elaborate security arrangements, by deploying over 18 lakh polling personnel across 1.87 lakh polling stations for the first phase of polling on Friday. However, sporadic incidents of violence were reported from across the country. Amid allegations of intimidation and firing, opposition parties have also urged for a re-poll in some of these states.

How did EC plan to conduct polls in conflict-ridden regions this time?

Even before the Lok Sabha elections commenced, the poll body sought the deployment of additional security forces in states that have witnessed violence prior/during/post polls in the past.

In West Bengal, the Election Commission’s special observer (general) for the state, Alok Sinha, had asked district magistrates to furnish data on areas where violent incidents took place during the congress-in-bjp-s-decline-news-304061">2023 panchayat polls, where people were prevented from casting their votes and booths where national parties could not field their agents. The West Bengal panchayat polls had witnessed widespread violence across several districts, leaving almost 50 people dead in clashes between and within parties.

In Manipur however, the situation was different. The region has been embroiled in an ethnic conflict since May 2023 that has killed over 300 people so far. The ECI, after taking stock of the ground situation, found that a large number of electors from different constituencies of Manipur were displaced from their native places. The poll body then consulted with various stakeholders and decided to set up special polling stations at/near relief camps where such electors, who opt for such a facility, are residing now and will be able to register their votes in EVMs. Around 94 special polling stations were set up for more than 24,000 displaced people living in the relief camps that were identified by the Election Commission as eligible to vote. 

A broken EVM at a polling booth after incidents of violence during 1st phase of polling in Manipur on Friday
A broken EVM at a polling booth after incidents of violence during 1st phase of polling in Manipur on Friday Photo: - PTI

However, no voting arrangements were made for those who left the northeastern state following the clashes to take shelter outside. 

Maoist-affected Bastar in Chhattisgarh too was gripped under tight security. During the previous Lok Sabha elections, BJP MLA Bhima Mandavi, who was returning from campaigning, was murdered by Naxalites on April 9, 2019. 

What kind of incidents were reported from different states?

Despite stringent security arrangements, at least four EVMs were damaged at different polling booths in conflict-hit Manipur, sources confirmed to PTI. Additionally, a 65-year-old man was shot at by unidentified armed men at Moirangkampu Sajeb in Khurai constituency in Imphal East district, police said. At Kiyamgei in Imphal East district's Keirao constituency, armed men fired blank shots and intimidated Congress polling agents.

Meanwhile, in a complaint to the EC, the Manipur Pradesh Congress Committee has alleged instances of booth capture by armed miscreants in polling stations in Heinang, Thongju, Kanthoujam, Oinam, Khurai, Sekmai, Sugnu, and Keirao Assembly segments — all of which are located in the valley. 

In West Bengal, on one hand, the TMC alleged that BJP workers assaulted polling agents in Sitalkuchi and prevented voters from accessing some booths in Cooch Behar. On the other hand, the BJP denied these allegations and accused the TMC of voter intimidation. Injuries have been reported on both sides. 

In Chhattisgarh, a 32-year-old jawan of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) deployed on poll duty in Bijapur district was killed when a shell of Under Barrel Grenade Launcher (UBGL) exploded accidentally. In a separate blast, an assistant commandant of the CRPF was injured in a suspected IED explosion in the Bhairamgarh police station area of Bijapur district. The state also witnessed repeated calls of election boycott that was given by Maoists.

Will a re-poll be held in these areas?

The Election Commission has been vested with the power of ordering a re-poll if it suspects unfair polling in a booth or a constituency.

The Congress has demanded a re-poll in 47 polling stations in Manipur alleging that booths were captured and elections to two Lok Sabha constituencies in the northeastern state were rigged.

However, the EC has not yet ordered repolling in any constituency.