West Bengal Panchayat Elections Marred by Violence and Accusations: TMC and BJP Engage in Blame Game
In a tragic turn of events, the West Bengal panchayat elections held on Saturday, 8th July, were marred by incidents of violence, resulting in the alleged deaths of at least 12 individuals. The election witnessed a turnout of 50.52 percent until 3 pm, according to the State Election Commission (SEC). With a total of 5.67 crore eligible voters in rural areas, the election began at 7 am on that fateful day.
Reports emerged of various incidents, including the damaging of ballot boxes and the hurling of bombs. Amid clashes, six Trinamool Congress (TMC) workers, along with one worker each from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Congress, Left, Indian Secular Front (ISF), and an individual with an unknown political affiliation, lost their lives. One of the casualties was Sateshuddin Sheikh, a TMC worker from Murshidabad district. Additionally, a BJP candidate’s polling agent was killed, and the candidate herself, Maya Barman, sustained injuries in an attack by a group of people.
Maya Barman shared her harrowing experience, stating, “TMC goons hurled a bomb at my agent and killed him. They also hit me.” Meanwhile, another TMC worker was allegedly murdered in Nadia district following an argument between the ruling party and Congress workers. The Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) also claimed that their candidates were subjected to attacks by rival parties in several places across the state.
In the aftermath of the violence, both the TMC and the BJP engaged in a war of words, trading accusations against each other. Suvendu Adhikari, Leader of the Opposition in the West Bengal Assembly, and a BJP leader, expressed his dismay, stating, “This is not an election, this is death. Across the state, there is a firestorm of violence. Central forces have not been deployed. CCTVs are not operating. This is looting, not voting.” Adhikari also accused the TMC and state police of planning and holding them responsible for the violence.
In response, TMC spokesperson Kunal Ghosh retorted that the majority of the people killed were members of the ruling party, taking a direct shot at the BJP. The exchange of verbal attacks between the two parties only intensified the tense political atmosphere.
Apart from the loss of lives, incidents of ballot box damage and bomb-throwing were reported throughout the day. Voters in Cooch Behar’s Dinhata set a ballot box on fire, alleging “bogus voting.” In another polling booth in Dinhata, water was thrown into a ballot box. In Hooghly’s Dhamsa, two ballot boxes were thrown into a pond during a clash between TMC and BJP cadres. Stone pelting and bomb hurling incidents were also reported from Nagharia in Malda district, resulting in injuries to several individuals.
Governor CV Ananda Bose, who visited several districts in West Bengal, expressed his concern over the violence, stating, “It should cause concern to all of us. This is the most sacred day for democracy. The election must be through ballots and not bullets.” Taking note of the situation, State Election Commissioner Rajiva Sinha requested details from all district magistrates regarding the deployment of security personnel to maintain peace during the election.
Prior to the panchayat polls, the TMC had claimed that three of its workers were killed, escalating the already tense situation. The party pointed fingers at the BJP, Congress, and CPI(M), all of whom had demanded the deployment of Central forces in the state for the elections. The TMC criticized the absence of Central forces, attributing it to the failure of these parties to ensure the safety and security of the people even before the polls commenced.