The Election Commission on Saturday adjourned voting at polling booth number 125 under Sitalkuchi Assembly constituency in Cooch Behar district of West Bengal after the ruling Trinamool Congress alleged that four people were shot dead in a clash with central security forces, PTI reported. The incident took place as 44 seats went to polls in the fourth phase of Assembly elections.
An Election Commission spokesperson said the poll panel’s decision was based on a preliminary report filed by special observer for Bengal Vivek Dubey. The state chief electoral officer has been asked to submit a detailed report by 5 pm.
“Till 9.30 [am] everything was fine [at the polling booth],” police officer Debashish Dhar said, according to NDTV. “One man, who had come to vote, fainted and his treatment was going on just across the booth. As rumour got spread, locals thought he was beaten by central forces. Crowds then gathered and they tried snatching weapons from the CISF [Central Industrial Security Force] troops.” Following this, Dhar said the central forces opened fire.
The Trinamool Congress held a press conference about the incident. TMC MP Sougata Roy identified those who died as Hamidul Haq, Haminul Haq, Manirul Haq and Noor Alam. He alleged that central forces opened fire as a part of conspiracy to create an atmosphere of fear.
Roy also blamed Union Home Minister Amit Shah for orchestrating the incident and said the Bhartiya Janata Party leader should resign. “Why did the Central Armed Police Forces fire,” he asked, according to ANI. “Where do they get this audacity of firing on common voters? That is the main question. This is a part of a conspiracy and we do not think that the PM is out of this conspiracy. This is an effort to intimidate voters.”
The Trinamool leader said party workers will hold protests in every block and ward of West Bengal. “Our leader Mamata Banerjee will visit the houses of all those who were killed today,” he added.
A delegation of the Trinamool Congress were scheduled to meet Election Commission officials at 3 pm on Saturday to discuss the incident.
Earlier on Saturday, the TMC claimed in a complaint filed with the poll panel that five of its party members were killed in booth number 126 of Sitalkuchi constituency.
“In booth number 126, AC [Assembly constituency] Sitalkuchi, five people have been shot dead by the CRPF [Central Reserve Police Force] after BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] captured the booth,” Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien said. “According to our sources on the ground, all five were Trinamool Congress party workers belonging to a certain faith.”
O’Brien said this amounts to violation of the law and the Model Code of Conduct on multiple accounts. He also asked the poll body to investigate the matter. In a tweet later, he confirmed that the toll was not five, but four.
However, the police did not state that those killed were Trinamool Congress members. “As per preliminary reports, four persons were killed as CISF personnel opened fire after coming under attack in a village,” a senior district police officer told PTI.
When asked whether any action has been taken against the accused personnel, the officer said, “It is for the EC to decide. As per our reports, they opened fire in self-defence”.
The Sitalkuchi constituency witnessed poll-related violence soon after voting began on Saturday. A first-time voter, identified as Anand Burman, was allegedly dragged outside polling booth number 85 in Pathantuli area and shot dead earlier in the morning, PTI reported.
Supporters of the Trinamool Congress and the BJP clashed outside the booth. Central security forces resorted to baton-charge to bring the situation under control. A few hours later, supporters of the two parties clashed again and attacked security forces, NDTV reported.
Meanwhile, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi attacked each other.
Speaking at an election rally in Siliguri, Modi said that the incident was “saddening”. “Didi [Banerjee] and her goons are perturbed, seeing the people’s support for BJP,” the prime minister said. “She has stooped to this level as she can see her chair slipping away.”
He also urged the Election Commission to take action against those responsible for the violence.
Banerjee, meanwhile, attacked Amit Shah for conspiring against her party. “CRPF is not my enemy but there’s a conspiracy going around under the instruction of home minister and today’s incident is a proof,” she alleged at a rally in North 24 Parganas district’s Hingalgang area, reported ANI. However, the CRPF later clarified that it was not deployed at the booth.
The Trinamool Congress also wrote a letter to the West Bengal chief electoral officer. “Today, we write to you with a heavy heart in the wake of the brutal cold-blooded murder of four and brutal injury to three innocent people of Bengal by the bullets fired by the Central Armed Police Forces....” it read. “The seven, whose only mistake was that they wished to participate in this festival of democracy, which is being conducted by you – the Election Commission of India.”
West Bengal also witnessed sporadic instances of disruption and complaints during the third phase of polling. Results of the record eight-phased elections will be declared on May 2.