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West Bengal Panchayat Elections: SEC Assures Action As Panchayat Poll Violence Leaves 11 Dead

West Bengal State Election Commissioner (SEC) Rajiva Sinha said hereceived 1,300 complaints from Barasat including on incidents of miscreants fleeing with ballot boxes.

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West Bengal State Election Commissioner (SEC) Rajiva Sinha on Saturday promised to look into complaints of vote tampering and to take a decision on possible re-polling after receiving reports from observers and returning officers.  

Sinha said the most number of complaints on incidents of violence during the day's polling came from four districts, and they would all be taken into account while reviewing the poll process.
 

The SEC, who had to face a lot of flak from various political parties, said that a decision on re-polling would be taken on Sunday when observers and returning officers would scrutinise and review the polling process.  

"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. 

"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," Sinha told PTI.   

The SEC, Sinha said, received 1,300 complaints from Barasat including on incidents of miscreants fleeing with ballot boxes,  

"Tomorrow there will be a detailed scrutiny. Re-polling will be held at those booths where a maximum number of violence was reported, and where polling could not happen or was stopped. 

"That is the reason the day after polling is kept for scrutiny. Observers and returning officers will scrutinise the polling process. Only then we will be able to understand in how many places re-polling needs to be ordered," he said.      

Asked whether Saturday's polling was peaceful or not, the former Bengal chief secretary said, "I will not be able to say until we get a full report on it. Let the polling be over. Law and order is the state police’s subject. When we get information, the SEC passes it on." 

He said the district magistrates, police superintendent and CAPs were informed immediately after the SEC got any information about any untoward incident in connection with Saturday's polling.  

Talking about the number of deaths, Sinha said officially there were three deaths during Saturday's polling. 

"As per the direct information we have received, there are only three deaths," he said.  

However, according to police officials, 12 people, including eight from the ruling TMC, and one worker each of the BJP, CPI(M), Congress and ISF died in different incidents of violence spread across West Bengal during Saturday's three-tier panchayat polls. 

Meanwhile, an individual identified as Manish Prasad, reportedly a BJP worker, was arrested after he entered the SEC office and said that he wished to throw black ink on Sinha for his alleged failure to control violence in Saturday’s polling process. 

The polling began at 7 am in 73,887 seats in the rural areas of the state with 5.67 crore people deciding the fate of around 2.06 lakh candidates. Till 5 pm, 66.28 per cent voter turnout was recorded, officials said.

The deceased include five Trinamool Congress (TMC) members and one worker each of the BJP, CPI(M) and Congress, and the supporter of an Independent candidate, officials told PTI.

Earlier, protesting against the widespread violence, West Bengal LoP and BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari said, "This is not an election, this is death. There is a fire of violence across the state. Central forces have not been deployed. CCTVs are not operating. This is not voting but loot...This is the collusion of TMC goons and Police and that is why so murders are happening."'

A total of 2.06 lakh candidates are in the fray for elections to 73,887 seats in the three-tier panchayat system in the state, said officials.

As per media reports, around 5.67 crore voters were to exercise their franchise to choose representatives for nearly 928 seats across 22 zilla parishads, 9,730 panchayat samity seats and 63,229 gram panchayats seats. 

Ahead of the 2024 parliament elections, the panchayat election, which includes nearly 65 per cent of the state's population, is serving as a litmus test for the state's political parties and it also holds the power to reshape the entire political scenario of the state. 

This election is also an opportunity for the parties to evaluate their booth-level organisation ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, as most of the 42 parliamentary seats are situated in rural areas of the state.

There are 63,229 gram panchayat seats and 9,730 panchayat samiti seats in 22 districts, while 928 zilla parishad seats in 20 districts as Darjeeling and Kalimpong have a two-tier system with Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) and Siliguri Sub-divisional Council at the top.

Long queues outside polling booths were seen as early as 6 am with people turning out early amid the intermittent rains.

Violence in Bengal

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Widespread violence in various parts of Bengal satrted making headlines since the day the polls were announced on June 8 which led to the death of over a dozen people, including a teenager. 

For the first time, Raj Bhavan played an active role in addressing the issue of poll violence, with Governor C V Ananda Bose opening a 'Peace Home' at the governor's house to address complaints of the commin people.

The governor this time was seen rushing to violence-hit areas to assuage the victims and their families.

Besides the death of nine people, as stated above, several people have also been injured in the latest episode of violence, reported PTI.

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Officials told the agency that ballot boxes were destroyed in at least two polling booths.

"In Cooch Behar district's Dinhata, ballot boxes were vandalised and ballot papers were set on fire at a booth in Baravita Govt Primary School. At another booth in the Barnachina area, locals torched a ballot box along with ballot papers, alleging that false voting was done," reported PTI.

TMC-BJP-CPI(M): How different parties stand

The ruling TMC is contesting all the 928 seats in zilla parishads, 9,419 seats in panchayat samitis and 61,591 seats in gram panchayats. The BJP has fielded candidates in 897 zilla parishad seats, 7,032 panchayat samiti seats and 38,475 seats in gram panchayats.

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The CPI(M) is fighting 747 zilla parishad seats, 6,752 panchayat samiti seats and 35,411 gram panchayat seats. The Congress is contesting 644 zilla parishad seats, 2,197 panchayat samiti seats and 11,774 gram panchayat seats.

At least 600 companies of central forces have been deployed for the elections along with around 70,000 state police.

Urging the people to vote without fail, Governor CV Ananda Bose on Friday said he would be on the streets along with his team during polling. He is scheduled to visit Barrackpore and Basirhat in North 24 Parganas district, and parts of Nadia district.

TMC-BJP feud continues: Who said what?

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Chief Minister and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee and the party's national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee led the party's campaign.

During campaigns, they primarily focused on the need to shun strong-arm tactics by its cadres and allow more democratic space to the political opponents, to avoid the rerun of the 2018 rural polls when it had won around 34 per cent seats uncontested. 

"BJP seems to forget that people vote and not the central forces. If the BJP doesn't have the support of people, no matter how many central forces you seek, the mandate will not change," Abhishek Banerjee said. 

BJP state president Sukanta Majumdar, national vice-president Dilip Ghosh, and leader of opposition Suvendu Adhikari led the saffron party's campaign, whereas state Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and CPI(M) state secretary Mohammed Salim led their parties' respective poll drives. 

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"The TMC wants to make the rural polls a replay of 2018, but we won't allow this to happen this time. BJP will defeat the TMC," Majumdar said. 

Chowdhury had said the "grab-all mindset" of the TMC, with no space for any form of opposition, has led to this anarchic situation. 

Echoing him, CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty said people will reject both the TMC and BJP in the polls. 

The Indian Secular Front (ISF), with its limited presence in parts of North and South 24 Parganas, too bevame prominent this time as its leader and lone MLA Nawsad Siddique led the party’s campaign, which often resulted in clashes with the ruling TMC in Bhangor in South 24 Parganas. 

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