A voter turnout of 26.28% was recorded till 11 am in the ongoing panchayat elections in West Bengal, PTI reported, quoting officials of the State Election Commission. There were several reports of violence and booth capturing across the state, and dozens of voters and party workers were injured.
Voting for the panchayat elections in West Bengal had started at 7 am amid tight security.
A Bharatiya Janata Party candidate was attacked with a knife, a BJP polling agent was slapped by a Trinamool Congress minister, and the finger of a Community Party of India (Marxist) worker was chopped off. Twenty injured voters at a single booth were taken to hospital, while BJP candidate from Bilkanda in North 24 Parganas district was attacked with a knife allegedly by Trinamool Congress workers. He is currently being treated in a hospital, ANI reported.
In North 24 Parganas district, the Bharatiya Janata Party accused the ruling Trinamool Congress of letting loose a reign of terror in several parts of the district. A few people were injured when clashes broke out between two groups, officials said.
Voters in Dinhata area of Coochbehar district filed a police complaint after clashes between two groups outside a polling station. In Burdwan district, Opposition parties accused the Trinamool Congress of terrorising voters and hurling bombs outside polling stations. The Trinamool Congress has denied all allegations.
A large police contingent fired tear gas shells to disperse troublemakers in Bhangar, the Hindustan Times reported. West Bengal minister Jyotipriyo Mullick alleged that the BJP had brought in hundreds of people from Bangladesh to unleash violence on the polling day.
The voting will end at 5 pm, and votes will be counted on May 17. The elections are being held for 621 zilla parishad seats, 6,157 panchayat samiti seats and 31,827 gram panchayats, PTI reported. The other seats did not require voting as they went uncontested.
Around 1,500 security personnel from Assam, Odisha, Sikkim and Andhra Pradesh are in the state for the voting in addition to the nearly 58,000 security personnel of the state police.
The run-up to the elections was mired in controversy and violence, with several allegations against the state’s ruling party and the election commission, leading to a postponement of the election date. Legal battles involving the allegations reached the Calcutta High Court and the Supreme Court.
The ruling party, Trinamool Congress, has already won 34% of the seats uncontested, but the State Election Commission will not declare its candidates victorious until July as the Supreme Court has expressed concern over the matter. Opposition parties had claimed their candidates had not been allowed to file their nominations. Several people had died in the clashes during filing of nominations.
The court called the unopposed victory of TMC candidates worrying and asked the election commission to wait before it hears the matter next on July 3. In the other seats, the court asked the poll panel and the state government to ensure free and fair elections.
Candidates were earlier asked to file nominations between April 2 and April 9, but after clashes between the ruling party and Opposition candidates, the date was extended to April 23. The polls were earlier scheduled for May 1, May 3 and May 5.