Copy of India_State_Election_57904.jpg-b0f00-1618048473777
Elderly voters come out after casting their votes as paramilitary soldiers stand guard at a polling station during fourth phase of assembly elections near Kolkata in West Bengal on Saturday. Image Credit: AP

Kolkata: What was being feared as a distinct possibility -- and the portends of which were clearly evident all through campaigning and until three phases of polling in the 2021 assembly elections in West Bengal -- came through in the most ugly and unfortunate terms possible on Saturday morning as five people lost their lives in electoral violence in the fourth phase of electioneering in the state. A first-time voter was killed in violence while returning home after casting his vote at a polling booth in Cooch Behar district, while four others lost their lives when Central Forces opened fire on an armed mob outside polling booth No 126 at Jor Patki in the Seetalkuchi constituency of the same district later on Saturday morning.

Following these incidents of violence, Election Commission of India (ECI) suspended polling in Booth No 126 of Seetalkuchi constituency and has barred the entry of any political leader into Cooch Behar district over the next 72 hours.

In the fourth phase of elections on Saturday, polling was conducted in 44 constituencies in the districts of Cooch Behar, Alipurduar, Howrah, Hooghly and South 24 Parganas. According to the ECI’s provisional data, 76.16 per cent polling was registered in West Bengal until voting ended for the fourth phase on Saturday evening. There are four more stages left, with the results scheduled to be declared on May 2.

The day’s most serious incident of violence took place in Booth No 126 of the Seetalkuchi constituency of Cooch Behar, where personnel from Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) opened fire on an armed mob that turned violent outside the booth. There were reports of attacks by Trinamool Congress (TMC) workers and supporters on Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate Indranil Khan in the Kasba constituency in South Kolkata, while the vehicle of another BJP candidate, Locket Chatterjee, in the Chinsurah constituency near Kolkata was vandalised. Reports of clashes between BJP and TMC supporters kept pouring in from various other parts of the state all through the day.

Precedence of violence in Seetalkuchi

Two days ago, Dilip Ghosh, the president of the state unit of BJP, was attacked in Seetalkuchi while he was returning from an election rally. Both Ghosh and his chauffeur sustained injuries while Ghosh’s car was severely damaged. At one point, Ghosh was seen seated on the front seat of the SUV with a helmet on.

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi condoled the deaths in Cooch Behar in his address to an election rally elsewhere in the state on Saturday, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee attacked Federal Home Minister Amit Shah, saying that the home minister “was influencing the Central Forces”. Mamata said: “We have to take revenge and the revenge is to vote them [BJP] out.” Addressing a media conference in Kolkata later on Saturday, Mamata said: “I am saying, Amit Shah, you resign. You resign. You resign. As the home minister you are a conspirator.”

Modi holds Mamata responsible

Addressing an election rally in Siliguri earlier in the day, Modi, taking a jibe at Mamata, said that what happened in Cooch Behar on Saturday was a fallout of the way Mamata had repeatedly exhorted the masses to turn against the Central Forces on duty in the state for these elections. “Even after ten years in power, a chief minister is threatening to barrack the Central Forces personnel and exhorting the masses to turn against them in order to win an election,” Modi said.

Mamata had, in recent times, made several comments on what she alleged as a “partisan” role of the Central Forces in these elections. On one occasion, she urged voters to “gherao” the personnel and hand them over to the police for any “excesses”, while on another occasion, she appealed to women to step out of their homes with crude kitchen tools and utensils and “confront” Central Forces.

Firing in ‘self-defence’

Sources told Gulf News in Kolkata that in a report filed with the ECI, Vivek Dubey, the Special Police Observer for the district, said there was a commotion first inside Booth No 126 in Seetalkuchi and then outside the booth as well between two groups. The presiding officer was also heckled and assaulted inside the booth. The CISF personnel on duty intervened and tried to disperse the unruly mob. Meanwhile, a youth who was injured in the commotion near the booth, was moved to hospital by the security forces. However, a rumour spread like wildfire that the youth had been killed by the security forces. Soon, around 300-350 people armed with crude weapons gathered outside the booth and attacked the men in uniform. The CISF personnel then sought reinforcements and the Quick Response Team moved in. Initially, the security personnel tried to control the mob without applying force, but they had to resort to firing in “self-defence” when some from the armed mob tried to snatch the weapons from the CISF personnel, resulting in the deaths of four people.