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Poll staff hit in front of TMC nominee
EC alarm at third assault

Malda, April 10: Trinamul supporters today allegedly beat up in front of a Lok Sabha poll candidate election officials trying to film a motorbike rally being held in Malda without permission, the third time ruling party members in Bengal have been accused of assaulting poll personnel for enforcing the model code.

The Election Commission dubbed the attacks an “alarming trend” and sought reports from Bengal director-general of police G.M.P. Reddy, the Malda district magistrate and the Manikchak block development officer (BDO).

Trinamul denied the allegation of assault and claimed no bike rally had been brought out.

Eight state government officials on deputation to the Election Commission were allegedly bashed up by the Trinamul supporters when they tried to film the bike rally in Manikchak, 40km from Malda town, and objected to the event as no permission had been taken. Video footage showed that Trinamul’s South Malda candidate Moazzem Hossain was present at the spot when the attack took place.

The BDO of Manikchak, S. Dukpa, has lodged an FIR naming four persons, including the son-in-law of Trinamul district president and minister Sabitri Mitra.

Ajit Das, the officer who was leading a video-surveillance team, said: “I reached Khaertala village (in Manikchak) along with Dilip Saha, an officer leading a model code of conduct team, around 9.30am after coming to know that the Trinamul candidate had brought out a bike rally. We saw two vehicles escorted by a large number of motorbikes on the Nurpur-Khaertala road. We asked them to stop the rally as they had not taken permission for it.

“As soon as we started to take video images, the Trinamul supporters attacked us. They demanded that we stop filming the rally and began to kick and punch us. I called the BDO from my mobile phone. Around 25 to 30 people had surrounded us. We were assaulted for around 20 minutes. The attackers smashed a video camera before leaving. When a police team arrived, we told them about the incident and they left in their vehicles in the direction in which the bike rally had proceeded.”

Das said the poll officials lodged a written complaint with the BDO’s office in Manikchak.

BDO Dukpa said Trinamul had not taken permission for the rally.

“The South Malda Trinamul candidate, Moazzem Hossain, held rallies in the Manikchak, Mathurapur and Nurpur areas. No permission had been taken. An election monitoring team was attacked by the Trinamul supporters when they tried to stop the rally…. We have filed a complaint at Manikchak police station against four persons — Jamal Sheikh, Soumyadwip Sarkar (Sabitri Mitra’s son-in-law), Mukuleswar Rehman and Matiur Rehman. They are all known Trinamul leaders in the area,” Dukpa said.

District magistrate Sharad Dwivedi said he had told the Manikchak BDO to lodge a police complaint. “Members of an election monitoring team were attacked by rally participants in Manikchak. I have sought a detailed report from the BDO. The police have seized several motorbikes,” Dwivedi said.

Malda police superintendent Rupesh Kumar, who took charge today after replacing Rajesh Yadav on the EC’s orders, said efforts were on to arrest the accused. “We have started a case on the basis of a complaint filed by the Manikchak BDO. Six motorbikes have been seized,” he said.

Minister Sabitri Mitra denied the allegation that Trinamul activists had attacked poll officials. “We did not hold a motorbike rally. Our South Malda candidate, Moazzem Hossain, was on an open-hooded vehicle when another car carrying election staff blocked the road. Our supporters protested. No one was beaten up. There is a conspiracy. Election personnel are working on behalf of the Congress. We will lodge a complaint with the EC. I have heard that the name of my son-in-law has been dragged into this. I am telling you he was not present (when the alleged incident took place),” she said.

Hossain said tonight that he was not present at the spot when the Trinamul activists allegedly assaulted the election officials. “I was travelling in my car,” he said.

A senior EC official said from Delhi that the commission was viewing the incident “very seriously”.

“We have been closely monitoring the Bengal situation and this is becoming an alarming trend. In less than two weeks, three major incidents of election officials being intimidated or heckled by the ruling party have taken place,” he said this evening.

According to him, the commission’s top brass held a meeting this evening to review the matter and devise ways to prevent such incidents in the future.

“We cannot possibly allow this to go on. We have asked the DGP for a thorough report. We have also sought statutory reports from the district. We will examine the reports and decide on the course of action,” he added.

Bengal chief electoral officer Sunil Kumar Gupta said two FIRs had been lodged — one for intimidation by the rally participants and the other for the manhandling of the election officials.

“We are awaiting the reports from the districts, which will be forwarded to Nirvachan Sadan,” Gupta said.

Last month, a BDO in North 24-Parganas’ Habra was allegedly assaulted by a Trinamul MLA and his associates for removing election paraphernalia carrying the chief minister’s images from a road maintained by the PWD. A few days later, a poll official was allegedly pushed around by Trinamul supporters in Howrah for trying to remove campaign hoardings from a civic body-maintained lamppost.