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Dairy polls on Cong turf turn bloody

Behrampore, Jan. 6: Congress supporters took their contest for the power levers of a dairy from the ballot box to the roads and fought a pitched battle with their CPM rivals here this morning.

At the end of the day, the party took a heavy toll of the CPM. It retained the Bhagirathi Milk Cooperative board by a 12-nil margin.

But police had to open fire and burst teargas shells during the polls on the home turf of Congress MP Adhir Chowdhury. Officers said his supporters had launched one of the attacks targeting policemen.

Six policemen were among 25 people injured. Seventeen people, including five constables, are now in Behrampore General Hospital and 72 Congress workers are among 82 people in custody.

The CPM alleged that Chowdhury, the district Congress chief, led the attack.

Deputy superintendent of police Sahabul Hossain, who was among the injured, said: 'Congress-backed anti-socials attacked us with bombs and pipe-guns from their party office. Pradyut Biswas, the inspector in charge of Behrampore, and several other policemen were injured in the attack. A police constable was hit by a bullet in his leg.'

The tension over today's elections could be felt from the morning and the district administration promulgated prohibitory orders under Section 144 within a radius of 200 metres from the venue ' Rabindra Sadan ' a stone's throw from the district Congress headquarters.

Groups of Congress and CPM supporters armed with party flags began to converge on the area from early morning and the police were kept on their toes in enforcing the cordon on the Sadan.

Around 10.30 am, when several thousand supporters of both parties had assembled, Congress workers armed with bombs, pipe-guns and brickbats, attacked the CPM cadre.

'The clash between Congress and CPM activists erupted near the old collectorate. Policemen, who rushed in to restore peace, were also attacked. The police first resorted to a lathicharge and later burst teargas shells and fired two rounds to disperse the mob,' said Murshidabad superintendent of police Sanjay Singh.

The CPM had put up nominees for all 12 seats to wrest control of the cooperative board, which has been under Congress control for two consecutive terms over the past six years.

There were about 290 voters, all chiefs of various rural milk co-operatives, and the polls were to begin from 10 am.

Behrampore, now a Congress bailiwick courtesy Chowdhury, had been on the boil for the past few weeks because of alleged CPM attempts to hijack his political constituencies.

The CPM in Murshidabad is cornered since the Congress wrested the zilla parishad in the 2003 panchayat polls and bagged all three Lok Sabha seats last May.

The police said there were two clashes today. The first was between the Congress and the CPM, which was 'brought under control in 15 minutes'. Half an hour later, the Congress supporters regrouped and allegedly targeted the police.

After the police firing, a section of Congress supporters ran to seek shelter in the party office with lathi-wielding policemen chasing them.

Chowdhury, who was present there along with zilla parishad sabhadhipati Siddika Begum, climbed onto a police jeep and later claimed to have been arrested.

He said: 'CPM supporters hurled brickbats at me and other leaders in front of our party office. Many Congress workers were injured. Our supporters tried to resist the attack. Some policemen may have been injured in the process. I am sorry for them.'

District CPM secretary Nripen Chowdhury, who alleged that the police did not do enough to quell the clash, said an FIR has been lodged against Chowdhury and his guards'.

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