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Battlefield on unfamiliar terrain

May 11: With a straight line running through them, four districts in south Bengal and one in north reverberated on Sunday with bloody clashes, bomb blasts and gunshots.

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government, faced with its first panchayat election, appeared caught on the wrong foot as clashes erupted in the districts that were not originally under the scanner. Today’s poll witnessed a higher toll — 18 — compared to the two previous occasions. About 200 people were injured.

Interestingly, the violence-scarred districts — Murshidabad, the two 24-Parganas and Nadia — are not the CPM’s bailiwicks. If anything, the Congress is a major force in Murshidabad and Nadia. The 24-Parganas are considered Trinamul Congress strongholds. CPM dissidents and disgruntled front partners also feature heavily in the two districts.

The forces came together today to combat the communists’ attempts to invade their turf.

If police had to rush to areas where the administration had least expected trouble, places marked sensitive, like Garbeta and Keshpur in Midnapore, Nanoor in Birbhum, Goghat, Polba and Arambagh in Hooghly, recorded peaceful polling.

“Our opposition is weak in the area and we were apprehensive that Naxalite factions would create trouble. But we had been constantly appealing to the public to be restrained. Their co-operation made the atmosphere tension-free,” said Amiya Patra, the CPM’s Birbhum secretary.

In Hooghly, earmarked as one of the most “sensitive” zones by poll observers, the three blocks that could have erupted — Arambagh, Goghat and Khanakul — saw policemen sitting around without much to do. Hopes for peace had risen when the CPM won 1,600 seats out of 4,064 uncontested.

Fifteen people died in Murshidabad and the 24-Parganas.

As it did in 1993 and ’98, Murshidabad topped the list of bloody districts. In the last rural poll, four persons were killed in the district.

Today, in Domkol, the constituency of the minister for animal resources development, seven persons were killed.

Polling booths at Behrampore, Khargram, Suti and Beldanga also witnessed violence. The police had to fire 16 rounds in five different places to disperse clashing mobs.

Police sources said the district intelligence branch had no information that Congress and CPM activists were gearing up to indulge in violence by stocking bombs and firearms.

In South 24-Parganas, four persons were killed when CPM and SUCI supporters fought a pitched battle at Dosha in Joynagar. The SUCI claimed that two of the dead, Marjina Bewa and Madina Bibi, were its active members.

In two other clashes with SUCI members at Canning and Kultali, CPM activists Afzal Sheikh and Sujoy Naskar were killed. The area is known to be a stronghold of the SUCI.

Officials said one of the main reasons behind the spurt in violence in the district was a long-standing feud between the CPM and the SUCI.

In North 24-Parganas, a clash broke out at Madanpur Primary School at Kemia Khamarpara when some Trinamul supporters protested against five alleged false voters in the queue. The gang of five attacked the youths later. In the melee, an octogenarian Trinamul supporter, Abdul Kuddus, was killed and at least 15 people were injured.

In another incident in the district, CPM supporter Mohammad Selim was shot dead by miscreants early today. Police said he was kidnapped from Sibdaspur near Barrackpore while making chain flags.

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