Pande at a booth in Panihati. Picture by Bhabatosh Chakraborty
Panihati, Sept. 21: Mira Pande today criss-crossed the Panihati municipal area, listened to voters, spoke to candidates and gave instructions to poll personnel, the first such tour by the state election commissioner on a polling day.
In places where allegations of booth capture were made against Trinamul activists, voters thanked Pande for her presence. At a polling station, she ran into “Go back Mira Pande” slogans from suspected Trinamul activists.
Pande visited Panihati after complaints of booth capture and violence reached her Calcutta office, sources said.
Clutching a diary in which she took down notes, Pande sprang a surprise when she reached Panihati in North 24-Parganas around 11am without an escort car. She first went to Panihati Taranath High School, where polling was being held.
“Didi, apni amader baanchaan. Ora vote ditey dichchhey na (Please save us. They are not allowing us to vote,” said Deepa Chatterjee, the Congress candidate of ward No. 4. Pande took her to a room and heard her out.
The commissioner visited all the booths at the polling centre. Many people alleged that outsiders on motorbikes were preventing them from voting and terrorising them. Pande noted down the names of the on-duty police personnel. Many voters thanked her for visiting.
By the time Pande emerged, police had arranged for an escort car and asked senior officers to accompany her.
As the convoy rolled out, residents followed her car and stopped it. They requested her to visit another polling centre at Vivekananda Siksha Niketan nearby. When Pande stepped out, many clapped and some expressed their gratitude with folded hands. She smiled back and waved at the crowd.
Many officials could not recall the last time a state election commissioner in Bengal had embarked on such a tour during municipal polls.
Pande visited some more polling stations before reaching a small primary school at Sodepur’s Nandan Kanan in ward No. 17. Some voters complained that they were asked to leave after the ink was put on their fingers.
Within 10 minutes, Pande held a meeting with Barrackpore police commissioner Vishal Garg and district magistrate Sanjay Bansal inside the school.
Pande’s last stop was Udayan Sangha in Sodepur’s Kathgola, where Trinamul workers allegedly stopped some residents from voting. When she started speaking to the polling personnel, Trinamul supporters gathered outside and shouted slogans such as “Mira Pande go back” and “CPM’s agent, go back”.
Local Trinamul MLA Nirmal Ghosh later said: “There were no allegations of violence and booth jamming…. Her action was uncalled for.”
The CPM and the Congress alleged that Trinamul activists terrorised voters.
“We sent many fax messages to the commission office, complaining of lawlessness in Panihati,” said Charan Chakrabarty, the chairman of the outgoing Left-run board.
Local Congress leader Tapas Majumdar said: “By 11am, we had sent 15 faxes to the commission, seeking help. In all 35 wards, Trinamul ensured that a large section of voters could not vote.”
Pande said before leaving Panihati: “You’ll get to know about re-polls, if any, very soon.”