Tension has been escalating in West Bengal’s Cooch Behar over the past few days and on Saturday, the district witnessed the worst violence the state reported in the first four phases of polling, which left five persons killed.
The day started with the death of an 18-year-old voter, Ananda Barman, who fell to bullets near a polling booth in the Sitalkuchi Assembly constituency. While his family members claimed to be supporters of the BJP, the TMC has also claimed that the deceased was their supporter.
Just a few hours later, four persons died when the central paramilitary forces opened fire on a gathering outside a polling booth in Sitalkuchi. The incident took place at Jorpatki area.
The deceased in CISF firing have been identified as Hamidul Haque, Haminul Haque, Manirul Haque, and Noor Alam.
“The central forces opened fire without any provocation. They are working in tandem with the BJP. This firing happened only because they wanted to scare off our voters,” alleged Partha Pratim Roy, the TMC’s Sitalkuchi candidate and the party’s Cooch Behar district unit president.
According to sources in the Cooch Behar district administration, personnel belonging to the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) opened the fire.
The BJP’s Lok Sabha MP from Cooch Behar, Nishith Pramanik, who is also contesting from Dinhata Assembly seat, however, blamed the Trinamool Congress (TMC) for the provocation. “It’s an outcome of the way the chief minister has been provoking her supporters against central paramilitary forces,” Pramanik said.
The district administration claimed that the personnel resorted to firing in self-defense after sensing the possibility of their weapons being snatched.
The Election Commission of India has sought an ‘action taken report’ from the district authorities.
Tension across the district had been escalating over the past one week. On Wednesday, there were allegations that the TMC mounted an attack on a rally of the BJP’s state unit president Dilip Ghosh in Sitalkuchi area. Ghosh’s convoy, too, came under attack of his way from Sitai to Mathabhanga. Window panes of his car was smashed and Ghosh suffered minor bruising.
On Thursday night, the TMC’s Mathabhanga candidate, Girindranath Barman, came under attack from an alleged BJP supporter. He was to be hospitalised to get his head injuries treated. On Thursday, a 14-year-old boy also suffered splinter injuries after a crude bomb burst near him.
Cooch Behar has been the most violence-torn district in West Bengal since 2017, initially due to the TMC’s infighting and then due to clashes between the TMC and the BJP after the 2018 panchayat elections. In 2019, TMC’s expelled youth wing leader Nishith Pramanik joined the BJP and won from Cooch Behar seat, defeating the TMC’s Partha Pratim Roy.
Local residents said that of the nine Assembly seats in the district, the TMC had their best chances in Sitalkuchi and Sitai, and were likely to put up a contest at Tufanganj and Mekliganj. The BJP’s was being considered to have an edge over the TMC in the rest of the five seats.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the TMC had a slender lead of about 1,200 votes over the BJP in Sitalkuchi assembly segment of Cooch Behar Lok Sabha.