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West Bengal Panchayat Elections: Repolling Concludes With No Major Incident Reported, 69% Voting Recorded

The voting began at 7 am on Monday and was slated to conclude at 5 pm. However, voting began late at some booths as ballot boxes could not reach there in time. In such booths, the time for voting has been extended.

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West Bengals Panchayat polls
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In the repolling on 696 booths in West Bengal panchayat elections, no major incident was reported on Monday and 69.85 per cent voter turnout was recorded till 5 pm.

Rural body elections were held in West Bengal on Saturday but the State Election Commission (SEC) ordered repolling on 696 booths in 19 districts after voting on some booths was declared void because of violence or tempering with the ballots. At some places, voters boycotted the elections and so the voting could not take place.

The voting began at 7 am on Monday and was slated to conclude at 5 pm. However, voting began late at some booths as ballot boxes could not reach there in time. In such booths, the time for voting was extended. Moreover, as per the norm, whoever entered the booth before 5 pm has to be allowed to vote, so the voting continued after 5 pm at several places.

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"No major untoward incidents were reported from the districts where repolling is underway. A couple of stray incidents happened and those were managed by the police," an SEC official said to PTI on Monday.

In Nadia, however, one person died due to cardiac arrest while standing in the queue to vote in Tehatta sub-division, reported PTI.

Widespread violence and allegations of booth capturing and false voting dominated the Bengal panchayat elections. The PTI reports that at least 15 people were killed on the day of the voting. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has said that repolling should be held on at least 6,000 seats and announced that it would approach Calcutta High Court over the matter. 

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Polling was held on Saturday in over 61,000 booths for the three-tier panchayat elections. In several places, ballot boxes were looted and were set on fire and were thrown in ponds. The accompanying violence also killed 15 people.

A total 5.67 crore people living in West Bengal's rural areas were eligible to decide the fate of 2.06 lakh candidates in 73,887 seats of the panchayat system, according to PTI.

Why did the SEC hold repolling?

The SEC held repolling in Bengal panchayat elections amid allegations of tampering with ballot boxes and boycott in some areas. 

The decision for repolling was announced after reviewing reports of violence and tampering with ballot boxes and ballot papers, said officials to PTI.

At least 15 people were killed in the violence on Saturday, reported PTI. 

In Malda, locals blocked a booth in Dogachi in Raniganj panchayat in Gazole block, preventing the repoll, reported PTI, adding that tolling could not be held on Saturday too as locals boycotted the vote demanding the repair of a road.

The PTI reported, "As polling could not be held on Saturday, a repolling was ordered but that also could not be held as locals locked the booth, an official said. A road was blocked at Tehatta in Nadia in the morning but it was later cleared by the police. Voters also demonstrated outside a booth at Mayna in Purba Medinipur district, he said."

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Of the booths where repolling was held on Monday, the highest (175) were in the violence-hit Murshidabad. It was followed by Malda with 109, Nadia (89), Cooch Behar (53), North 24 Parganas (46), Uttar Dinajpur (42), South 24 Parganas (36), Purba Medinipur (31), and Hooghly (29), said officials to PTI.

The officials added that no repolling was ordered in Darjeeling, Jhargram, and Kalimpong districts.

BJP demands repolling in over 6,000 seats, to approach High Court

Even as the voting in West Bengal panchayat elections was underway, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said that the exercise was a "sham" as the SEC was only conducting repolling on 696 whereas the polls were rigged in over 6,000 seats.

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BJP MLA Suvendu Adhikari said that the party had shared with the SEC a list of over 6,000 villages but the SEC accepted the list provided by the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and conducted repolling on just 696 booths. He said the party will approach the High Court on Tuesday.

Adhikari, also the Leader of Opposition in West Bengal assembly, tweeted, "We demanded repoll in those booths, where: a) There's evidence of false voting in the CCTV footage, including rigging by polling officers themselves or where the rigging process have been facilitated by them b) those polling booths where the BJP agents were present in the beginning of the polling process, which can be ascertained by the CCTV footage, but were thrown out before the end of voting i.e. when the ballot boxes were being sealed."

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Adhikari tweeted, "Initially the West Bengal State BJP provided the details of more than 6,000 booths where either the CCTV cameras were not installed or malfunctioning or there would be clear evidence of false polling captured by the CCTV cameras. We demanded repoll in all such Booths. The State Election Commission is conducting repoll in only 696 booths across the state. It's a complete sham and wilful contempt of the Hon'ble Calcutta High Court's Order."

The PTI reported that Adhikari also alleged that the SEC is conducting repolling based on a list given by TMC.

He said, "Our list has apparently been overlooked by SEC Rajiva Sinha and we are not surprised. The list of booths announced by SEC last night was submitted by the TMC...An exhaustively detailed evidence, backed up with ample video footage, will be submitted to the Calcutta High Court on Tuesday.

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West Bengal Governor meets Amit Shah

As the voting for violence-hit panchayat elections concluded on Monday, West Bengal Governor CV Ananda Bose met Union Home Minister Amit Shah and President Droupadi Murmu.

In a statement after meeting Shah, Bose said that "there will be light at the end of the tunnel". 

Bose said, "The darkest hour is just before the dawn. There will be light at the end of the tunnel. The only message I could get today is if winter comes, can spring be far behind. Good will happen in the days to come."

I hang my head in shame: TMC leader MLA Humayun Kabir

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Senior TMC MLA Humayun Kabir said the he hangs his head in shame over the election violence in Bengal rural elections and everyone else should be ashamed as well.

He said, "As a Bengali, I hang my head in shame, and everybody else should also be ashamed that even in 2023, we could not stop this culture of violence. We should introspect why we cannot shun this culture."

The PTI reported that, since the date the panchayat polls were announced, 33 people have been killed. Similarly, 30 people died in the 2018 panchayat elections. In 2003, the number was 76.

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Senior TMC MP Sougata Roy said violence and killings are not expected in democracy, but passed the buck to the SEC, reported PTI.
 
"It would have been better if the elections were held in a peaceful atmosphere. Unfortunately, so many people were killed. It is the duty of the SEC to ensure that elections are held peacefully. The culture of political violence must end," said Roy, as per PTI.       

Border Security Force (BSF) Deputy Inspector General (DIG) SS Guleria had, however, said on Saturday that despite efforts by the central forces to get the list of sensitive booths from the SEC, it was not provided, reported PTI.

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Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury approached the Calcutta High Court to seek compensation for the next of kin of the deceased.

"Submitting personally before the bench presided by Chief Justice TS Sivagnanam, Chowdhury, the state Congress president, alleged that entire Bengal was ravaged by unprecedented violence during the elections held on July 8," reported PTI.

Protests against alleged irregularities during polls

The toll in the violence rose to 15 after a man was found dead in South 24 Parganas, and two others succumbed to their injuries on Sunday morning, the report said.

BJP supporters staged a demonstration outside the State Election Commission office in Kolkata. Security was beefed up in the area as the protestors shouted slogans against the SEC over the alleged "inability" of the poll panel to conduct the elections peacefully.

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In Purba Medinipur district, BJP workers blocked the Haldia-Mecheda state highway at Nandakumar alleging that ballot boxes were being tampered with at the counting centre at Srikrishnapur High School.

"We received information around 3 am that the ballot boxes were being changed. We are demanding repolling at all the booths in the area under the protection of central forces, besides counting of votes at the booths itself," said BJP youth leader was quoted as having said in Tamluk.

As the situation escalated, police baton-charged the protesters to bring the situation under control, the report said.

Congress workers blocked the National Highway 12 in Rathbari area in Malda, protesting against the violence during polling on Saturday.

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"We have hit the streets in protest against Saturday's violence. We will also go to the court against it," Congress MP Abu Hasem Khan Choudhury was quoted as having said.

In the district's Harishchandrapur area, a police vehicle in which a Deputy Superintendent of Police was returning home on Saturday late night night was vandalised and the officer injured.

Police suspect that miscreants from Bihar, just across the inter-state border, were behind the incident, officials said.

In Uttar Dinajpur, two cars were set on fire, and several vehicles, including a state-run bus, were vandalised as the protests turned violent in the Chakulia police station area.

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Congress workers held similar protests in Murshidabad district's Beldanga, alleging that supporters of the ruling TMC indulged in intimidation of voters and false voting with impunity during the polls.

Violence was also reported from the district's Samserganj area where two groups clashed with crude bombs.

At Amdanga in North 24 Parganas, clashes boke out between ISF and TMC supporters. Crude bombs were hurled during the clashes.

In South 24 Parganas district, three police personnel were injured while trying to control a clash between TMC and Congress supporters. The incident happened in Nainan in Magrahat police station area, the report said.

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