Sheikh Nurul Islam (middle) speaks to one of the three presiding officers in Sagardighi. Islam said he had gone to the polling booth alone. If the two men flanking him had indeed accompanied Islam, the MP would have broken election rules that allow only the candidate and his polling agent inside the booth. The picture above does not suggest that Islam flouted Section 144 of the CrPC, which is in force on all polling premises. The CrPC section bars the assembly of more than five persons on the polling premises. Picture by Chayan Majumdar
April 24: The Election Commission today removed three presiding officers in Murshidabad’s Jangipur constituency after Trinamul candidate Sheikh Nurul Islam entered their booths allegedly with more people than permitted and shook hands with voters and polling officials.
Voters and district officials alleged that Islam entered the polling premises — Sheikhdighi High School in Sagardighi — with “eight to nine party workers”. According to the model code of conduct, a candidate can enter a booth with only his or her polling agent and is not allowed to interact with voters.
The district officials said Islam had also violated Section 144 of the CrPC, which is in force on all polling premises. Section 144 prohibits the unlawful assembly of five or more persons in a particular area.
Islam, the outgoing Basirhat MP who has been fielded in Jangipur that is represented by the Congress’s Abhijit Mukherjee, denied the allegations against him, claiming he entered the booths “alone” to “enquire about the polling”.
The Election Commission removed the three presiding officers after seeing TV footage showing Islam entering the booths and speaking to the trio with men by his side.
District magistrate Y. Ratnakar Rao said: “The Trinamul Congress candidate for the Jangipur seat, Sheikh Nurul Islam, has violated Section 144 of the CrPC by entering the polling booths with his associates. He also tried to influence voters. Necessary action will be taken against him by the Election Commission.”
Rao could not recall the names of the presiding officers who have been removed from poll duty.
The sub-divisional police officer of Jangipur, Wangden Bhutia, said an FIR had been lodged against Islam.
The Trinamul candidate denied having broken any law. “No one accompanied me to the polling booths. I entered the booths alone to enquire about the polling. If the police have lodged a case against me, let them do so,” he said.
Bengal chief electoral officer Sunil Kumar Gupta said “disciplinary action” had been initiated against the presiding officers of Sagardighi’s booths 20, 21 and 22, and one micro observer. “For a violation of Section 144 in the booths, the police have filed an FIR against the Trinamul candidate, ” Gupta added.
Voters standing in the queue on the polling premises alleged that Islam arrived there around 12.30pm in a car, “accompanied by eight to nine party workers”.
A district official said: “The Trinamul candidate drove straight into the school compound with his followers. He got off his car and entered the polling booths with around four to five party workers, which he can’t do.”
Anarul Haque, a voter, said that as soon as Islam entered the premises, there was a “rush” among voters to shake hands with him. “The candidate then went inside the polling booth. We saw the presiding officer stand up. The candidate shook his hand,” Haque said. “After the Trinamul candidate came out, there was another scramble to shake his hand.”
All four polling personnel, including the presiding officer, in a booth in Murshidabad’s Domkol stopped voting to have lunch together, following which they were removed.
District magistrate Rao said: “What happened at booth No. 101, set up at Kushabaria Shishu Siksha Kendra, was a gross violation of rules. Polling can’t be stopped. The four polling personnel in a booth can go for lunch one at a time. I removed the polling personnel and replaced them with four others.”
A district official said a small queue of voters waited outside the booth as the polling team ate.
The presiding officer, Srimanta Biswas, said: “We thought there were no voters outside the booth. We made a mistake by having lunch inside the booth.”
The average polling percentage till 9pm in the six constituencies that voted today was 83.84. At 8pm, the percentage was 79.27 in Raiganj (North Dinajpur), 83.71 in Balurghat (South Dinajpur), 81.26 in Malda North, 80.6 in Malda South, 80.53 in Jangipur (Murshidabad district) and 85.23 in Murshidabad.
The office of the Bengal chief electoral officer said the polling in the second phase was peaceful.
“The poll process was unaffected. There were no reports of political clashes, electoral malpractice, booth capturing or intimidation. We are satisfied with how things went today,” Bengal chief electoral officer Gupta said.
Forty-four EVMs had to be replaced.
“Every booth had armed police coverage. There were no complaints from any section regarding the deployment of central forces,” Gupta said.
Four persons were arrested in Balurghat and one in Murshidabad.
Left Front chairman Biman Bose said the Election Commission “appeared to be more active” in the second phase than in the first.
“In the first phase, the EC was befooled and misdirected. That’s why many booths in Cooch Behar witnessed strong-arm tactics by the ruling party. But in this phase, the EC appeared to be more active,” Bose said.
Six villages that fall in the Raiganj constituency today did not vote to protest the lack of road connectivity for decades that has forced villagers to use a rickety bamboo bridge over a river. Around 2,500 people boycotted the polls.
Abu Hasem Khan Choudhury, the Malda South Congress candidate, alleged that Trinamul supporters had lobbed crude bombs at workers of his party at a booth in Kaliachak.
Sabitri Mitra, the Malda Trinamul president and minister, denied the allegations.