| An RAF team in South 24-Parganas. Picture by Amit Datta
Calcutta, May 11: Blood stained the most prized trophy in the Left Front government’s 26-year showcase as 18 people died in the panchayat poll which the chief minister dubbed largely peaceful.
“All things considered, the election today was free and fair and, by and large, peaceful. I regret the deaths, regardless of the victims’ political affiliations. Death figures are not indicative of violence in the districts,” chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said. The government pegged the death toll at 11.
Today, over 70 per cent of 3.38 crore voters exercised their franchise to 58,357 seats that were the focus of a fierce power struggle between the ruling Marxists and the fragmented Opposition.
The state election commission ordered repoll in 81 booths, down from 1998’s 179. “We had to order repoll for various reasons,” commissioner Ajoy Sinha said.
Bhattacharjee, claiming “our party suffered the most in terms of death toll and injury”, backed his contention of a largely peaceful election by saying there were no reports of violence from 14 of the 17 districts that went to the polls.
The death toll, he said, was six in the last panchayat poll in 1998 — though the unofficial figure was 10 — and 13 in 1993, when the rural poll was clubbed with elections to 15 municipalities.
Contesting his claim, Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee said: “The election was a farce. They (the Front) used violence to push us out of the reckoning. We will meet on May 15 to decide our course of action.”
The violence today was restricted to Murshidabad, North and South 24-Parganas, and Nadia in south Bengal and Jalpaiguri in the north.
Murshidabad, a substantial part of which is a Congress stronghold, recorded the most deaths at 10, including six in bomb explosions since midnight.
South 24-Parganas followed with four deaths, including two women, North 24-Parganas with two and one each in Jalpaiguri and Nadia.
PWD minister Amar Chowdhury and animal resources development minister Anisur Rahaman were attacked today at Canning, South 24-Parganas, and at Domkol, Murshidabad.
The RSP’s Chowdhury alleged he was attacked by CPM supporters and Rahaman accused Congressmen in his Assembly constituency of Domkol.
In Murshidabad, six persons carrying bombs in bags died when these exploded — three at Saranpur and one each at Domkol, Raninagar and Naoda.
The trouble started at Domkol around 8 am when some CPM supporters spotted Congress workers fleeing with two ballot boxes and some unused ballot papers at Ghoramara. After bombs were hurled, police fired seven rounds to disperse the mob, injuring at least 20 people.
In the afternoon, bombs were hurled at a voters’ queue from the roof of an adjacent building, killing two CPM supporters. The voting was halted for nearly an hour. At Gufarpara primary school at Ranitala, Congress’ Manirul Haque was shot dead in the queue.
The police fired 16 rounds at five places in the district to disperse rampaging mobs.
Though the poll was mainly peaceful in north Bengal, a CPM man died in a clash with RSP workers at Jalpaiguri’s Kohinoor tea estate.