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Since 1st March, 1999
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Mafia shadow on murder

May 7: The second phase of polling in Bengal claimed eight lives, including that of two who fell victim to the scorching sun, but the bloodiest incident traces its roots to the coal mafia’s nexus with politicians in Asansol.

An armed gang barged into a school doubling as polling booth in Asansol’s Kanyapur this afternoon, snatched rifles from policemen before driving them away and shot and slit the throat of a Trinamul Congress supporter.

Akshay Bauri, 35, died within minutes — the first casualty in 10 years of what is being passed off as a poll clash in Asansol, known as a CPM bastion.

However, political and police sources said the grisly murder was the result of the coal mafia’s efforts to ingratiate itself further with some sections of the CPM whose patronage the underworld has been enjoying for at least a decade.

The CPM still has a stranglehold in Asansol but the Opposition Trinamul has been trying to break into the territory. The Trinamul effort has not made too much of a headway but the nascent threat was enough to infuriate the coal mafia, which smelt a chance to please the political guardians and went out of its way to engineer today’s attack, the sources said.

The audacity — and ferocity — of the attack stunned the police. Some officers described it as “unusual” as CPM-Trinamul clashes are rare in the area.

Around 10 men armed with pipe guns, bombs and daggers entered the polling booth around 12.30pm and threw away the electronic voting machines.

Pratim Mukherjee, an official video-recording proceedings inside the booth, was pushed to the floor and kicked. “When three policemen intervened, the goons snatched their rifles and beat them up with the butts,” he said. The polling officers ran for their lives. One of them could not be traced till late this evening.

Most of the 100-odd voters waiting for their turn to vote scattered and fled but Akshay was picked out and killed. The gang then dumped the rifles and left.

As word spread, about 200 Trinamul supporters armed with revolvers, bombs and daggers landed. Some went into the houses of CPM supporters nearby and fire-bombed them. TV sets, refrigerators and furniture were destroyed.

Three men have been arrested but the police did not specify whether they have been picked up for the murder or the rioting.

The other deaths in poll clashes occurred in Nandigram, Pranab Mukherjee’s Jangipur constituency and Uluberia in Howrah. In Jangipur, a CPM leader died in a bomb attack.

Kanai Jana, 49, suffered a heart attack and died after he ran to escape a lathicharge to disperse squabbling CPM and Trinamul supporters at Contai in East Midnapore.

In Salkia, Parulbala Das, 76, died of sunstroke while standing in the queue. Bhaskar Bera, 40, of Khejuri also could not bear the sun. The Met office said the temperature was pushing 40 degrees Celsius across south Bengal today.

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