ALLIANCE SET(H)BACK

Trinamul doses: Threats & Lakshman

By Anshuman Phadikar
  • Published 6.05.16
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East Midnapore on Thursday became the first district in Bengal to make all its 3,851 polling premises disabled-friendly.
Each of the premises had a wheelchair, handrails and a ramp, along with signage in Braille. The administration had identified 15,500 physically challenged voters in the 16 Assembly constituencies in the district.
The administration had also arranged for at least one person to help physically challenged voters in each booth.

Nandigram, May 5: The Left-Congress alliance could not put up agents in hundreds of the 4,298 booths in East Midnapore because of "door-to-door threats" by suspected Trinamul activists.

The Bharat Nirman Party, floated by former strongman Lakshman Seth after being expelled from the CPM, however, could field agents in the 13 seats it is contesting in the district. Trinamul leaders said BNP agents were "allowed" because Seth was "fighting the Left tooth and nail".

The contrasting pictures revealed that despite the Left's claims of a resurgence, it was still far from making a comeback in East Midnapore, where Trinamul won all 16 seats in 2011.

Alliance leaders in East Midnapore said during the day that Left and Congress agents could not be put up in 1,500-odd booths. In the evening, CPM state secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra put the CPM's figure at 331. CPM sources said many agents could be deployed later in the day with help from the central forces and police.

Sources said that after the ouster of Seth, who had ruled the roost in the district for years before a land acquisition notice put up by the Haldia Development Authority he helmed in 2007 perpetrated the crisis that catapulted Mamata Banerjee to power, the CPM had failed to rebuild its organisation in East Midnapore.

According to the sources, Trinamul was propping up Seth in the Assembly elections because he still wielded clout in the district and to ensure that anti-ruling party votes got split between the Left-Congress and the BNP. The sources said the alliance's assertion that it would win around four seats in the district seemed a far cry going by its failure to field agents in so many booths.

Seth after casting his vote in Haldia.
Jahangir Badsa)

The booths where the alliance could not deploy agents were in Nandigram, Khejuri, Haldia, Bhagabanpur and Patashpur. In Nandigram alone, the combine could not station agents in 234 of the constituency's 271 booths. Subhendu Adhikari is Trinamul's Nandigram candidate.

Kabir Mohammed Sheikh, the CPI candidate for Nandigram, said many polling agents dared not step out of home after being threatened by Trinamul activists last night in villages like Sonachura, Bhangabera, Gokulnagar, Kalicharanpur and Garchakraberia.

At several campaign meetings, Tamluk MP Adhikari had directed Trinamul activists to work in tandem with the BNP as the fledgling party was "fighting against" the alliance.

While the BNP is contesting 13 East Midnapore seats, it has left three for ally Samajwadi Party.

BNP sources said Seth was "helping" Trinamul because he was eyeing reprieve in cases of murder and destruction of evidence related to the CPM's armed recapture of Nandigram in November 2007.

Last year, the BNP won three seats in the Tamluk municipality polls. The three councillors are said to be aiding Trinamul, which runs the municipality.

"We have good relations with the BNP. If the party wins two or three seats, they will be with us," a district Trinamul leader said.

Repeated calls to Seth's cellphone went unanswered.

District BNP president Asok Guria, who was once a CPM district secretariat member in East Midnapore, said: "Our main target is to ensure the Left's defeat in the district. Our polling agents were not threatened anywhere by the ruling party. On the contrary, they were very helpful."

CPM state secretary Mishra alleged that the party could not field agents in 331 booths in East Midnapore because of Trinamul intimidation.

He said he had received reports that Trinamul activists had captured 35 booths in Nandigram. "Let us collect figures tomorrow and then we will decide on whether to ask for re-polling in Nandigram," he said.

CPM district secretary Niranjan Sihi alleged that "Trinamul goons" last night visited the houses of Left polling agents in many places, including Nandigram, and threatened them with "dire consequences" if they stepped out of their homes. "They also threatened family members," he said.

Sihi said he had lodged a complaint with the Election Commission. "Complaints were sent to Nirvachan Sadan through state chief electoral officer Sunil Kumar Gupta," he said.

East Midnapore Congress leader Sabuj Pradhan echoed Sihi. "Our polling agents were too scared to go to the booths after being threatened by Trinamul goons," Pradhan said.

While the Left has put up candidates in 14 Assembly seat, the Congress has fielded nominees in two.

"We had to confine ourselves to our homes through the day because of threats from ruling party activists. We were too scared," said Sheikh Tabrikul Islam, a Congress polling agent.

Adhikari rubbished the Opposition's allegations. "The allegations of threats are baseless. The Left and the Congress does not have any organisational consolidation in the district, so they failed to field polling agents," he said.