| Voting at gunpoint
Calcutta, April 26: Two observers for Subhas Chakraborty's constituency who had yesterday said it had never had a fair poll and that a repoll could be conducted this time have been sent packing.
The CPM had last night lodged complaints with the Election Commission against both H.R. Bheemashankar, the expenditure observer for Belgachhia East, and observer Durga Charan Sahoo.
'After a preliminary verification' of the complaints, the EC thought they were not fit to continue, confirmed deputy election commissioner Anand Kumar.
Bheemashankar had told a television channel last evening that from the reports he had received, he could conclude that the constituency was 'most notorious' and it hadn't witnessed clean elections in the past.
He also said the commission was therefore taking 'extraordinary steps' to ensure there are no such reports this time.
CPM state secretary Biman Bose who had yesterday written to chief election commissioner B.B. Tandon today said the poll panel should verify the credentials of observers before assigning them to oversee polls.
Sahoo had told a TV channel that a re-election would be ordered if the need arose. He had also circulated pamphlets through returning officers, which said voters 'should tell him in case of rigging and a repoll would be conducted', an election department official said.
Bose said it was apparent that the observer had a 'preconceived notion' about the minister's constituency. 'This can be an impediment to free and fair polls.'
The CPM leader had earlier said the people of Bengal would give a fitting reply to the poll panel, which had split the Bengal votes into five phases and almost made the state a war zone with a huge paramilitary deployment.
Subhas Chakraborty's seat had made news earlier as well ' for his remarks against the commission. The minister had told a public meeting that election officials were acting as the 'EC's stooges despite being on the government's payroll'.
An angry commission had filed an FIR against Chakraborty, accusing him of intimidating government officials.
The CPM has time and again levelled the same charge against the poll panel ' intimidating voters.
Tapas Karmakar and Abdul Gaffar, two officials in charge of polling in sector 7 of Ashokenagar in North 24-Parganas, were also pulled out of duty today for allegedly coll- ecting voter identity cards from vi- llagers saying they wouldn't need them to vote. District magistrate Manoj Pant said the duo was caught red-handed.
A paramilitary jawan was suspended on charges of molesting women at South 24-Parganas' Mathurapur, inspector-general of police (law and order) Raj Kanojia said.
In Calcutta, Bose alleged regular harassment and teasing of women by paramilitary jawans on poll duty. 'We haven't raised the issue with the commission yet, but such incidents are disgraceful.'
But if the party thought it had scored a point early today, the joy was short-lived as the commission announced tonight that the Belgachhia East duo would be replaced by half-a-dozen others ' Lalit Mohan, Ashish Chakravarty, K.N. Bhar, Anil Sant, Ahmed Nadeem and Ashok Kumar Shivhare.
At least one additional observer has been deployed at all 76 constituencies going to polls tomorrow. Some like Patharpratima in South 24-Parganas and Ballygunge and Taltala will have two additional observers.