Political clashes continued in some rural pockets across Bengal on Friday, the third day when candidates elected in the July 8 rural polls formed boards in panchayats.
While in Hooghly, schoolgirls fell ill because of indiscriminate bombing nearby, violence sparked in Cooch Behar over allegations by BJP workers that a Union minister of state who is an MP of the saffron camp confined a winning candidate from his own party to be elected as the rural body chief.
In Hooghly’s Khanakul, at least eight students of a girls’ high school were taken to a hospital after they felt unwell because crude bombs were lobbed rampantly in front of their institution as Trinamul and BJP workers clashed over the formation of the board of a local panchayat.
“The students panicked as the bombs were hurled on the school’s boundary wall and a few exploded near the window of a classroom. Though no schoolgirl was injured, many students fell ill as they were frightened,” said Jharna Samanta, the headmistress of Khanakul Krishnavamini Girls High School, which is barely 30 metres away from the Khanakul-I panchayat office.
At this panchayat, Trinamul and the BJP won eight seats each out of 17 seats while a CPM candidate bagged one.
Since Friday morning, both parties were desperate to form the board with the help of the lone Left candidate. This made supporters of both parties start hurling crude bombs to drive away the other side.
Eventually, Trinamul formed the board with the help of the CPM member.
The girls, who fell sick, were rushed to the Khanakul-I block hospital and released after first aid. They reached their homes safely, said a police officer.
“The BJP was the first to attack us. Our workers only retaliated. We have formed the rural board. The CPM member had earlier given his nod to support our board,” said Naimul Hoque, a Trinamul leader in Khanakul.
Bimal Ghosh, BJP’s president of the Arambagh (organisational) district, however, claimed his party colleagues had only tried to prevent Trinamul workers from forcing the CPM member to support them.
“They started hurling bombs when our people tried to protest this highhandedness,” said Ghosh.
A similar clash broke out in the Rammohan-I panchayat of Hooghly this morning. The rural body has 18 seats and Trinamul and BJP won nine seats each. This made the administration conduct a lottery on Friday. While the BJP got the post of the pradhan, Trinamul won the deputy’s post. This led to tension and the BJP and Trinamul workers pelted stones and bricks at each other. The police finally brought the situation under control.
In the northern district of Cooch Behar, infighting within the BJP surfaced on Friday. BJP supporters of two groups clashed with each other at Matalhat panchayat of Dinhata subdivision, following differences over the selection of their party candidate for the pradhan’s post.
A section also alleged that Nisith Pramanik, the Union minister of state and the BJP MP, detained a candidate who was chosen by the party for the post.
The situation turned violent as the agitated supporters even attacked the police and ransacked a police vehicle.
In Matalhat, there are 22 seats. The BJP won 15 while Trinamul won the remaining seven.
“It was decided that Badal Barman, one of our candidates, will be the new pradhan. On Friday morning, however, he didn’t arrive at the panchayat office. As we started searching for him, we learnt that Nisith Pramanik detained him,” alleged Jiban Barman, a local BJP leader.
Jiban and his associates resorted to a demonstration and said Pramanik did it to ensure that Manabendra Roy, a BJP candidate from the MP’s lobby, was elected as pradhan.
As Manabendra and other BJP candidates initiated the process of forming the board and electing the pradhan, protesters pelted stones at the panchayat office and ransacked it.
When the police intervened, they were also attacked and a vehicle was ransacked. The police used batons to disperse them.
Later, the police conducted raids in neighbouring areas and made arrests.
“Six persons have been arrested in connection with the incident at Matalhat panchayat. They were involved in stone pelting and were trying to enter an area where prohibitory orders under Section 144 of CrPC were in force,” said Kumar Sunny Raj, the additional superintendent of police (headquarters) of Cooch Behar.
Pramanik, the MP, could not be contacted. Calls made to him by this newspaper went unanswered.
Sukumar Roy, the district BJP president, was brief in his reaction.
“There was some confusion among some of our workers over the formation of the board. It has been resolved,” he said.