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‘Shots’, shouts greet EC team

Jan. 19: The final assessment can wait. The immediate challenge before the Election Commission team is to decide whether they heard gunshots or firecrackers in Bengal.

When Sudhir Kumar Rakesh, the head of the team, and Zaki Ahmed were approaching East Midnapore’s Sunia around 7pm, some villagers stopped their car and asked in Bengali: “Have you heard the firing? It’s taking place in Umapatibar village (neighbouring Sunia). Four shots were fired just now.”

When Rakesh and Ahmed, the deputy-director of the National Crime Records Bureau, asked district magistrate Archana and additional police superintendent (Contai) D.L Meena what the villagers were saying, the duo told the commission officials that the sounds were those of firecrackers being burst and not of firing.

When reporters who had accompanied the team later asked district police chief Ashoke Biswas why the commission officials were misguided, he said: “If you heard the shots, then write about that. But we are not saying so.”

Rakesh, the chief electoral officer of Bihar, told The Telegraph: “Nobody tried to attack us. All of us are perfectly safe. We haven’t heard or seen any shots being fired.”

Rakesh and Ahmed then tried to proceed towards Umapatibar despite the police requesting them not to. However, the duo could not reach the village as the road had been dug up. On their way back, a group of around 200 Trinamul Congress supporters stopped them. Both Umapatibar and Sunia are CPM strongholds.

“Everyday firing is taking place here,” said Shaktipada Das, one of the supporters. The protesters surrounded Meena and pulled his tunic, accusing him of assisting the “armed CPM camps in Sunia”.

When another group of Trinamul supporters manhandled Meena in neighbouring Sanberia, Rakesh asked police chief Biswas to take him away from the spot.

Earlier in the day, Rakesh and Ahmed held a meeting in Tamluk with DM Archana, Biswas and other district officials. The commission team was told all booths in East Midnapore were “sensitive” and that 250 companies of central forces had been sought.

When Rakesh and Ahmed were leaving for Khejuri at 2pm, around 200 CPM supporters protested in front of the district magistrate’s office. “We had to flee our homes in June 2009. We want to return,” one of the protesters shouted. Rakesh and Ahmed, however, did not understand what the protesters were trying to say as they spoke in Bengali.

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