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Poll sparks free-for-all
- One-vote victory for Left Front in civic elections

Malda, June 18: Trinamul Congress workers fought a pitched battle with CPM activists in Malda town this afternoon over the election of Left Front-supported Independent Nihar Ghosh as the Englishbazar municipality chairman.

Ghosh got 13 votes, while Trinamul nominee Sandhya Das got 12.

The victory triggered protests from Trinamul, which alleged that the Left Front does not have the numbers required to claim the chairman's post. The Left Front has 11 councillors in the 25-member board, Trinamul 8, Congress 4, and the BJP one. One councillor is an Independent.

A CPM victory procession headed towards the municipality office raising slogans in favour of Ghosh, even as Trinamul supporters accused the Congress of secretly supporting the Left Front.

Police said Trinamul activists attacked the rallyists, after which a clash broke out. Police personnel on duty stayed silent spectators to the free-for-all that continued for more than an hour.

More than 100 people were injured, while two scooters were set ablaze and six shops ransacked before a large contingent of police rushed to the spot and lathicharged the warring activists. Sixteen warring activists were admitted to the district hospital. Some newspersons and photographers were also injured in the melee.

'CPM activists were attacked by Trinamul Congress supporters when they were taking out a victory procession. The police had no option other than resorting to a lathicharge to quell the furious mob,' said Sashikanta Pujari, the Malda superintendent of police.

The Congress and Trinamul have jointly called a 24-hour bandh in Malda district on Monday. A large police contingent has been deployed in Malda town to prevent a recurrence of violence.

CPM state secretary Anil Biswas said in Calcutta that Ghosh was elected with the support of two Opposition members. 'We have information that two commissioners from the Opposition camp had voted for our nominee for the chairman's post. One of them must be from the Congress. If this is the situation of the Opposition, we have nothing to say.'

Krishnendu Chowdhury, the outgoing Trinamul chairman, alleged that party councillor Babla Sarkar and Biswanath Guha of the Congress voted for the Left Front. 'They have been purchased by the CPM, which engaged in horse trading to get the chairman's post,' he said.

Congress leader A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury condemned the violence and said the CPM had masterminded the operation to 'wrest the chairman's post'. The Congress veteran also criticised the police action on activists of his party and Trinamul.

State Congress chief Somen Mitra said in Calcutta that the party would seek a report from the district.

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