Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Sunday accused West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of politicising the death of four people who were killed in firing by security forces in Cooch Behar district during the fourth phase of the state Assembly elections, PTI reported. Shah alleged that it was Banerjee who provoked violence in the first place.
“Mamata Banerjee had advised people to gherao [corner] the central forces,” Shah told reporters in Nadia district of the state. “Is that not responsible for the deaths in Sitalkuchi? Her advice had instigated the people to attack the CISF [Central Industrial Security Force].”
On April 7, at a rally in Cooch Behar city, the West Bengal chief minister had allegedly urged people to corner the security forces if they tried to intimidate voters. “If the CRPF tries to create any trouble, I urge the women in rural areas to gherao them,” she allegedly had said. “Some of you should confine them while others will go to vote… You should repeat it to prevent them from intimidating voters.”
At least five people were killed in Cooch Behar during the fourth phase of voting on Saturday. Security forces caused the majority of the casualties, killing four, outside polling booth number 125 under Sitalkuchi Assembly constituency. Voting was adjourned at the polling booth after the violence.
Apart from the four deaths, in what the CISF claimed was an act of self-defence, a first-time voter, identified as Anand Barman, also died after unidentified gunmen fired at a polling station in the same district.
Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Shah wondered why Banerjee had not said anything about Barman’s death. He accused the Trinamool Congress chief of selectively mourning the deaths by a way of doing appeasement politics.
“Attempts are being made to politicise the Sitalkuchi killings,” he said. “Mamata Banerjee had paid tributes to four persons who were killed in the CISF firing but did not condole the death of Anand Barman as he is a Rajbongshi and is not fit for her vote bank.”
The BJP leader added that it was “very unfortunate to see appeasement politics even in case of deaths”. “Mamata Didi still has time,” Shah said, according to the Hindustan Times. “The fifth person who lost his life, she should condole his death as well.”
The BJP leader’s comments came after Banerjee blamed the BJP for orchestrating the attack, and demanded Shah’s resignation over the incident. The Trinamool chief said the central forces opening fire on voters amounted to genocide.
The Trinamool Congress maintains that the four people who were killed on Saturday belonged to the party, and alleged a large conspiracy behind the attack. But the Election Commission has ruled out any such possibility, saying the security forces had no option but to open fire to save their lives and government property.
Hours after the violence, the poll panel banned politicians from entering Cooch Behar district for the next three days. It also extended the silence period for the next phase of the West Bengal elections, which is scheduled to take place on April 17, from 48 hours to 72 hours. This will cut short the campaigning period.
At her press conference on Sunday, Banerjee criticised the poll panel for its decision, alleging that the Election Commission had barred entry of politicians to the district because it wanted to suppress facts related to the killings.
Elections in West Bengal have been marred by fights among party workers and polling disruptions. Authorities have deployed thousands of additional central security forces to keep the peace during this year’s voting, an eight-phase process that began on March 27 and will end on April 29.