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Shah must resign, demands Mamata

Bengal Assembly elections 2021: 5 persons, including 18-year-old, killed during voting

CISF firing kills 4, EC stops polling at Sitalkuchi; Modi, Mamata trade charges

Arnab Ganguly Calcutta Published 10.04.21, 04:09 PM
A security person sanitise to voters as they wait in queue to cast their vote, in Howrah on Saturday.

A security person sanitise to voters as they wait in queue to cast their vote, in Howrah on Saturday. PTI

Five persons, including an 18-years old who went to vote for the first time, were killed during the fourth phase of polling in Bengal at Sitalkuchi, a tiny village in Cooch Behar district, around 137 km from Siliguri, on Thursday.

The Election Commission stopped voting at polling station number 126 in Sitalkuchi where four persons died in firing by Central forces.

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Till 5pm, the total voter turnout in the state was reported at 76.16 per cent. The highest turnout of 79.73 per cent was registered in Cooch Behar district, followed by 76.2 per cent polling in Hoogly. In South 24 Parganas it was 75.49 per cent, while in Howrah it was 75.03 per cent and in Alipurduar 73.65 per cent, officials said.

Graphic: The Telegraph Online

Eighteen-year-old Anand Burman who was outside booth 85 in Pathantuli area was caught in a clash between Trinamul and BJP workers. The death of the teenager sparked violence in the area around the booth and in several villages.

Later, around 9.35 am, a Quick Response Team was attacked by a group of 50-60 men, who also damaged police vehicles, near booth number 126 at Sitalkuchi. Election Commission sources said the QRT fired five to six rounds in the air in self-defence.

After an hour, another group of around 150 assembled at booth 186 and allegedly manhandled the polling staff. They also assaulted the on-duty Home Guards and Asha workers after entering the booth ignoring the appeals of the CISF officers. A little later a CISF personnel fired two rounds in the air.

Two separate units of a Quick Response Team and the local police too arrived at the booth. The CISF personnel opened fire when some people from the mob allegedly tried to snatch their rifles. This led to the four deaths.

“As per preliminary reports, four persons were killed as CISF personnel opened fire after coming under attack in a village. A scuffle took place and locals gheraoed them and attempted to snatch their rifles, following which the central forces opened fire. Further details are awaited," a senior police officer said.

The ruling Trinamul claimed three others were grievously injured.

The violence on Saturday added to the acrimonious atmosphere in which polls are being conducted in Bengal, in fact, shredding the Election Commission’s reasoning to stagger voting in eight phases.

Within hours of the deaths, Sitalkuchi became the talking-point of the campaign elsewhere in the state, with both Narendra Modi and Mamata Banerjee accusing each other’s party of having instigated the violence.

Mamata laid the blame for Saturday’s firing and deaths on the doors of the Union home minister Amit Shah.

“The police from Delhi (central forces) have killed five of my brothers. They opened fire on a queue outside a polling booth,” Mamata said in Bongaon. “The panchayat polls were held under my administration without so much bloodshed. Already 20 people are dead. Amit Shah you resign, you resign, you resign. You have failed as a home minister,” she thundered.

She also accused the central forces of assaulting women in the rural areas and forcing the villagers to vote for the BJP.

Mamata, who also campaigned in South Bengal’s border district of Bijpur, was scheduled to leave for Siliguri later in the day. Before that she was to visit Sitalkuchi.

Modi was in Siliguri, where polls will be held on April 17, and blamed Mamata and the Trinamul Congress for Saturday’s violence.

“What happened in Cooch Behar is extremely sad. Seeing the support that the people have for the BJP, Didi and her goons have lost their minds. I will make it clear to Didi and her goons, their writ will no longer run in Bengal,” Modi said. “I urge the Election Commission to take strictest action against the perpetrators in Cooch Behar. Didi, this violence, attempts to instigate the villagers against the central forces will not save you.”

Both Modi and Mamata claimed to have received the mandate to rule Bengal for the next five years, and the violence, they added, was the last resort of their rivals to scare away voters.

Mamata claimed she would not let the deaths go unavenged, although it wasn’t clear what she meant. “Ami dekhe nebo (I will see). I am not a weak player. We have won in the three phases and we will win today,” she said. “BJP has lost completely. They know they won’t win.”

Complaint to EC

In an email to the Election Commission, Rajya Sabha MP Derek O’Brien said, “In booth 126, AC-Sitalkuchi 5 people have been shot dead by the CRPF after BJP captured the booth. According to our sources, all 5 were Trinamul party workers belonging to a certain faith… This is a grave violation of the law and the MCC on manifold accounts.”

There were reports of violence in other parts of the 44 Assembly seats that went to polls on Saturday. Trinamul is scheduled to hold demonstrations on Sunday across the state demanding Shah’s resignation.

State minister Subrata Mukherjee said the incident proved the desperation of the Union Home minister. “Innocent people are being killed so that the voters in the remaining phases do not turn out in large numbers. Shah is the man behind this conspiracy. He is desperate,” Mukherjee said.

Chilli powder attack

In the Ganguly Bagan area in Jadavpur constituency, the booth agent of CPI(M) candidate Sujan Chakraborty was reportedly attacked by a "fake voter", who threw chilli powder at her, the officials said.

A central police contingent was rushed to the spot following the incident.

In Bangor in South 24 Parganas, clashes were reported between ISF and TMC workers after the former alleged the ruling party was not allowing their polling agents to enter the booth.

In Chanditala in Hooghly, CPI(M) activists scuffled with TMC supporters outside a booth.

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