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Rivals’ cry behind the silence

A Bengal police constable sleeps on a bench at a booth in Uttar Bagi Chit Free Primary School, South 24-Parganas, where 90 per cent of the votes had been cast by 12.30pm.
Picture by Anup Bhattacharya

Bishnupur (South 24 Parganas), May 12: A walk through the narrow concrete road inside Uttar Bagi village in Bishnupur, a part of the Diamond Harbour Lok Sabha seat, revealed nothing abnormal on Monday afternoon. Boys were playing cricket under the scorching sun, while the elders were mostly indoors. It was completely peaceful.

Another 15 minutes’ walk helped reach the frightfully peaceful and deserted Uttar Bagi Chit Free Primary School. It was 12.30pm, with more than five hours to go before the poll ended, but there was not a single voter to be seen. Ninety per cent of votes had already been cast.

An armed Bengal police constable was sleeping peacefully on a bench, other polling officials were relaxing in their chairs. A woman sitting at the voters’ assistant booth put up by the Election Commission said that no voter had come since 11.30am.

“There are 665 voters here. About 601 have already voted,” said Sukanta Das, the presiding officer of the lone booth at the school.

More than 90 per cent votes cast in four-and-a-half hours, which meant 133 votes in an hour and more than two votes a minute, something that made the Opposition cry foul.

“The voting was almost over by 11am. Such quick voting is nothing but rigging. Our polling agent was thrown out of the polling station,” said CPM leader Shamik Lahiri.

According to him, Trinamul supporters voted on behalf of the local people by preventing them from coming to the booths and ensuring that there were no protests, Opposition party’s polling agents were not allowed.

Idris Ali Mullick, the CPM’s polling agent in Uttar Bagi, was allegedly forced out of the booth at 10am. “Voting started a little late around 7.20am. I found that they were not allowing our supporters to come inside the booth. Then one Trinamul supporter stood beside voters and started instructing them,” said Mullick.

The CPM’s agent protested and the presiding officer asked the Trinamul supporters to leave the booth, but in five minutes, he was allegedly back with another five youths, who just barged into the booth.

“They asked me to stay silent or leave. I was afraid this time as I was alone. I was beaten up during the panchayat polls,” said Mullick, who left soon.

Sources in the Congress and the BJP said their polling agents were terrorised last night and so they didn’t turn up. At the polling station in Uttar Bagi — which Opposition parties said was a sensitive booth — there were no central forces. There were only two armed Bengal Police constables, who apparently did nothing when the Trinamul supporters were flouting all the electoral rules.

When The Telegraph reached the polling station at 12.30pm, there were only two polling agents, one from Trinamul and another for an independent candidate inside the booth.

“This is Trinamul’s ploy… They would say that Independent candidate’s polling agent was there, then why didn’t the other parties send their polling agents?” said a Congress supporter.

When The Telegraph visited the neighbouring area, some voters complained that they were not allowed to reach the polling station. When Jurmat Sardar approached the primary school around 10am, Trinamul supporters turned him away in front of a mosque that is close to the school. “They told me not to go inside as they had already voted on my behalf,” said Sardar, who was not willing to say more.

“How can I argue?” he said, the helplessness clear in his voice.

The ruling party’s might was in full show in Diamond Harbour constituency from where party supremo Mamata Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee is contesting. Party leaders have admitted in private that it is a prestige fight for them to ensure that Abhishek wins by a huge margin.

Sovan Chatterjee, mayor of Calcutta and also the Trinamul president of South 24 Parganas, had said that he spent between six and eight hours everyday since the candidates’ list was announced. The mayor had delved so deep to ensure Abhishek’s victory that he would often skip his office at Calcutta Municipal Corporation in the last two months.

“We have to win it for Didi,” said a party worker.

The CPM has asked for a re-poll in 41 booths of Diamond Harbour constituency, most of which are in Bishnupur.