An elderly voter waits for her turn at a polling station in South Dinajpur’s Balurghat on Saturday. Polls were by and large peaceful in north Bengal, officials said. (Minthun Roy)
Sept. 21: The CPM today withdrew its candidates for the Burdwan and Chakdah municipal polls, alleging rampant rigging by Trinamul to take control of the civic boards.
The move is reminiscent of the 1972 Assembly elections when the CPM had pulled out of the fray, complaining of rigging by the Congress. Then Opposition leader Jyoti Basu had withdrawn his candidature for the Baranagar Assembly seat within hours of the commencement of elections.
Today, CPM leaders said that if the party candidates won seats in the two municipalities, they would resign.
Madan Ghosh, CPM central committee leader and former Burdwan secretary, said the decision was taken because of “heavy rigging”.
“After casting my vote in ward No. 35, I came to know that our party workers were being threatened by Trinamul and asked to stay away from booths. Our poll agents were driven out of at least 22 of the 35 wards in Burdwan municipality. So there is no reason why we should continue to participate in the elections,” Ghosh said.
Some voters complained that their ballots had been cast by Trinamul supporters.
“When I went to the booth, Trinamul agents told me that my vote had been cast. I pleaded with an election official but he said nothing could be done,” an elderly voter said.
Congress district president Azizul Haque said agents of his party were also forced out of booths in several wards. “We fought the elections even though our agents could not be present in many booths because of Trinamul terror,” he added.
Around 10.30am, the CPM’s Burdwan secretary and district Left Front convener, Amal Haldar, wrote to district magistrate Saumitra Mohan that the party was withdrawing from the election as most of the booths had been “captured” by Trinamul.
“Almost all the booths had been captured by Trinamul by 9.30am. Almost all our poll agents have been driven out of booths and beaten up in front of poll officials. Many voters were intimidated. So, we have no option but to withdraw our candidates in the interest of the security of voters as well as in the larger interest of democracy and peace,” Haldar’s letter said.
Mohan said: “We will take steps if specific complaints are made.”
A CPM source said the Burdwan leadership decided to withdraw the candidates after informing Alimuddin Street. “We took the advice of Biman Bose and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and declared that we were withdrawing from the race. Trinamul turned today’s elections into a farce,” the source said.
Trinamul MLA Swapan Debnath, the party’s observer in Burdwan, denied the allegation of rigging and saw in the CPM’s move an “admission of defeat even before the completion of the polls”.
“People voted peacefully. There were no reports of violence or our party intimidating voters. Actually, the CPM knew it would lose. That’s why it withdrew,” Debnath said.
Burdwan police chief S.M.H. Meerza said he did not have any information on poll violence. “I don’t know why the Left withdrew from today’s elections. The Congress and the BJP... did not withdraw from the polls,” he said.
The Left dubbed the municipal elections in Nadia’s Chakdah a “mockery of democracy”. Left leaders met Chakdah BDO Biplab Sarkar and informed him about the withdrawal of candidates.
CPM zonal committee secretary Amal Bhowmik said: “We faxed several complaints to the offices of the district magistrate, the sub-divisional officer and other officials, but nobody responded.”
Trinamul’s Nadia president Gourisankar Dutta denied the allegations of violence.
State election commissioner Mira Pande said: “There have been no major complaints from any of the municipalities…. One party has withdrawn from the elections.”