West Bengal Panchayat Elections: 33 Killed In Poll Violence; Guv Says It Is 'Very, Very Disturbing'

The panchayat polls that took place in West Bengal resulted in the death of 33 people, including 15 on the day of voting. A blame game continues among the ruling Trinamool Congress and the opposition parties in the state over the responsibility for the clashes.

West Bengal Panchayat elections

Violence rocked the West Bengal panchayat elections this year voting for which ended on Saturday. As many as 33 people have died since the announcement of submitting nomination papers was made, including at least 15 deaths on the day of polls as rival parties clashed in the rural parts of the state. Ballot boxes were vandalized and bombs were hurled at people in several villages. 

A war of words erupted between political parties as the Opposition blamed the Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee-led government for the violence. Leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikari demanded a thorough probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and National Investigating Agency (NIA) over the panchayat poll day violence. Meanwhile, the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) accused the opposition of causing the skirmish and asserted that they would emerge victorious in the poll results which will be counted on Tuesday. 

West Bengal has a long history of poll violence. During the 2003 panchayat polls, 76 people died and reportedly 40 were killed on the day of the polls.

West Bengal panchayat elections: What we know so far

1.  Among the 15 killed on Saturday were eight TMC workers and one worker from each of the opposition parties Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Communist Party of India(Marxist) and Congress. 

2. The polling started at 7 am on the morning of Saturday and ended at 5 pm with a turnout of 66.28 per cent reportedly. The total number of voters for the poll was  5.67 crore and the number of candidates was 2.06 lakh running for 73, 887 seats. 

3. State Election Commissioner (SEC) Rajiva Sinha reportedly said that complaints of vote tampering and the decision of re-polling for certain booths will be looked at after receiving reports from the observers and returning officers. The SEC mentioned about four districts from which the most number of complaints were received and said that if re-polling happens it would be decided on Sunday. He reportedly said, "I have been getting information (of violence and clashes) since last night. Calls were directly made to me as well as to the Control room phone numbers on these incidents." He also added, "The maximum number of such incidents on Saturday were reported from three to four districts like North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas and Murshidabad district."

4. Bharatiya Janata Party leader Suvendu Adhikari reportedly demanded that President's rule be imposed in the state and also threatened to march to Kalighta where the West Bengal CM lives. He reportedly said, "A free and fair election under the state administration is a mirage. It is only possible only if elections are held under President's Rule or Article 355," he also questioned the ruling party's blame on them for orchestrating the violence, said, "why would our own workers be targeted and killed? ".

5. West Bengal Pradesh Congress president Adhir Chowdhury in a veiled attack over the clashes, sarcastically congratulated CM Mamata Banerjee and said, "Congrats Didi, you have won the panchayat elections." Meanwhile, the CPI(M) accused the State Election Commission of enacting a farce in the name of holding panchayat elections and blamed the ruling party for the poll-related deaths.

6. TMC leader Bratya Basu dismissed the allegations made against the ruling party of letting loose a reign of terror, he reportedly said, "receiving end of the violence perpetuated by the opposition". Minister of State Shashi Panja told the media, "Of the 22 districts that went to rural polls, no incident of violence was reported in 16. Of the nearly 61,000 booths, incidents were reported in only 60. So, one can ascertain the ratio of violence in comparison with the areas where polls were held peacefully. It is lesser than one per cent."

7. West Bengal Governor Dr C V Ananda Bose visited different places of North and South 24 Parganas on Saturday and condemned the incidents of violence across the state. He also mentioned that the 'Peace Home' that was opened for hearing the complaints of the common people will be continuing to operate. He reportedly said, "What I have seen in the field is very disturbing. There is violence, murder, and intimidation. One thing I noticed is that it is the poor who are getting killed. Leaders are not there. So, who is driving them? They should kill poverty instead of trying to kill the poor. This is very very disturbing. This is not what Bengal wants or deserves. This is very disturbing that the lack of peace in society will affect the new generation."