Incidents of violence and attempted booth rigging were reported during the fourth phase of polling for the ongoing panchayat elections in Odisha on Tuesday.
Even an attempt to tamper with the ballot box was reported from ward number 10 of the Pandua panchayat in Jagatsinghpur district, where once Rabindranath Tagore’s family had a zamindari.
One of the polling officials was allegedly accused of tampering with the ballot box. Villagers have lodged a protest.
“At the instance of a candidate, the presiding officer tried to tamper with ballot boxes. We demanded immediate action against the guilty official,” a villager told The Telegraph on the conditions of anonymity.
In the third phase of polling, which was held on Sunday, journalists, police officers, and a block development officer had faced the wrath of the hooligans.
Following State Election Commission (SEC) stricture, the police swung into action and arrested 98 people in the Jajpur district alone for indulging in violence in the third phase of polling.
The last phase of polling will be held on February 24. However, despite sporadic incidents of violence, over 70 per cent voter turnout was reported in the fourth phase of elections, which was held across 1254-gram panchayats in the state.
The SEC has made it clear that it would inquire into all cases of booth capturing, rigging and would order for a repoll wherever required.
Ahead of the fourth phase of elections on Tuesday, tension prevailed in the rural belts of the state. Miscreants killed one person in the Bhadrak district on Monday night.
With reports of stray violence pouring in from different parts of the state, political parties indulged in mudslinging over the issue.
A Biju Janata Dal delegation led by Lelin Mohanty on Tuesday met the SEC and demanded immediate arrest of BJP leader and former minister Manmohan Samal and BJP workers who, the delegation accused of being a party to the killing of BJD supporter Pratap Chandra Rout in Dhamnagar of Bhadrak district on Monday.
“As the BJP in Odisha is going to lose the panchayat elections to the BJD, the Odisha BJP has unleashed massive, murderous electoral violence in the state against the BJD candidates and supporters, citizens and government officials,” said a press release issued by the BJD.
On the other hand, a delegation of the BJP called on the SEC and accused the ruling BJD of unleashing terror in different parts of the state during the panchayat polls.
“BJD is promoting violence and trying to create an atmosphere of fear in the state. Apprehending violence we had met the SEC earlier also and impressed upon him to initiate steps to make the election a free and fair affair,” said BJP spokesperson Golak Mohapatra.
Even Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan raised the issue of serious lapses in the voters’ list in social media and said that a number of eligible voters have been deprived of exercising their franchise because of voters’ list glitches.
Pradhan also raised the issue of Dongaria tribals in Rayagada being deprived of their right to exercise their franchise.
A Congress delegation, too, met the SEC and demanded stringent action against those involved in violence. “All those involved in violence and making an attempt to rig the elections should be immediately arrested,” said Congress leader and former MLA Lalatendu Mohapatra.