The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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CM plea for peaceful polls

Calcutta, May 10: The bloody build-up to tomorrow’s elections to the three-tier panchayat today spurred chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to appeal to all parties to maintain peace.

“We have identified 527 supersensitive booths and 6,000 sensitive booths. Two armed policemen have been deployed for every polling premise,” said inspector-general of police, law and order, Chayan Mukherjee.

Apart from a series of clashes in North Dinajpur, North and South 24-Parganas districts, three ministers, one of them belonging to the Centre, were at the receiving end of violence allegedly perpetrated by CPM workers.

Left Front chairman Biman Bose has claimed that pre-poll violence left 17 party activists dead while state Congress chief Pranab Mukherjee put his party’s toll at 11.

The administration has made elaborate police arrangements in West Midnapore, Bankura, Purulia and East Midnapore — where the People’s War has a strong base — and in Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar, where the KLO and the Ulfa have considerable influence. Central forces have been deployed in these districts.

The CPM is already sitting pretty with its candidates having been returned uncontested from 10 per cent of the 58,357 seats. Its major partners in the Left Front, the CPI, Forward Bloc and the RSP, have secured 225 seats.

The Front partners, however, failed to reach a consensus on seat adjustment in North and South 24-Parganas, Murshidabad, Malda, Cooch Behar, South Dinajpur and Jalpaiguri. The RSP alone is fighting the CPM in 4,500 seats. The Forward Bloc has entered into a straight contest with the CPM in nearly 1,000 seats. The CPI could not reach a deal on about 150 seats.

In Hooghly, Burdwan and West Midnapore, all CPM bailiwicks, the party’s vice-like grip on rural Bengal is evident. In these districts, the party has had no opposition in a large number of gram panchayat, panchayat samity and zilla parishad seats.

In Hooghly, CPM candidates have won uncontested in 1,545 of the 4,064 seats, while in Burdwan, the figure is 1,341 of 5,159 seats. West Midnapore saw CPM nominees capturing 1,285 of 4,868 seats before polling. In the last panchayat election in 1998, a little over 800 seats went uncontested.

CPM insiders, however, conceded the party will find it difficult to win in at least 10,000 seats where the Opposition Trinamul Congress, BJP and the Congress have forged a grand alliance.

The three parties have been crying foul against the CPM’s “terror tactic” which, they said, scared Opposition parties from filing nominations.

Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee today reiterated her demand for Central intervention under Article 356. She alleged that her party could not put up candidates in nearly 24,000 seats due to the “terror unleashed by the ruling CPM”.

CPM state secretary Anil Biswas dismissed her allegation during the day, saying the Opposition parties could not field enough candidates due to organisational weaknesses.

The CPM has fielded women candidates in 41 per cent of seats. “We have taken this decision because we feel women panchayat functionaries will work with more honesty and sincerity than men. Having more women in the panchayat set up will bring about more transparency,” he said.

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