Women turn out in large numbers.

Women turn out in large numbers.

Sporadic violence as Bengal goes through third phase; voter turnout still high

EC removes 8 returning officers in Kolkata; polling officer suspended over unsecured EVMs

Agency Report | Kolkata | 6 April, 2021 | 11:00 PM

Largescale violence rocked the third phase of polling in Bengal, with two from opposing parties killed and several injured. At least five candidates of different parties were attacked, their vehicles damaged and polling agents thrashed. While sporadic clashes were reported from multiple constituencies in Howrah and South 24 Parganas, two of the three districts that went to polls, it was the badlands of Hooghly that lived up to its reputation of poll violence. Amid reports of clashes during the third phase of polling where 77.68 per cent voting was recorded till 5 pm the Election Commission of India removed eight returning officers from Kolkata assembly constituencies - six from North Kolkata and two from South Kolkata. On Tuesday 31 assembly constituencies spread across three districts including South 24 Parganas, Howrah and Hooghly went to the polls.

According to Election Commission data around 77.68 per cent polling was recorded till 5 p.m. Hooghly district where 8 constituencies went to the polls recorded the highest percentage of 79.36 percent followed by Howrah district where 77.93 per cent voting was recorded in the 7 constituencies. The 16 constituencies of South 24 Parganas recorded the lowest percentage of 76.68 percent till 5 p.m.

A long queue of voters was seen at most of the polling stations. “Polling was more or less peaceful other than some sporadic incidents of violence. There have been some incidents where candidates were assaulted of which we have sought reports. Action will be taken against those found guilty as per the law,” Chief Electoral Officer Ariz Aftab said.

Though the Commission claimed the election was peaceful, there were reports of violence from several constituencies throughout the day. BJP candidate from Uluberia (Dakshin) assembly seat Papiya Adhikary was assaulted when she went to the Uluberia hospital to see an injured party candidate. In another incident TMC candidate from Arambagh in Hooghly district Sujata Mondal Khan was assaulted allegedly by BJP workers. In Tarekeshwar seat BJP candidate Swapan Dasgupta was abused by alleged members of the TMC when he tried to go around the polling stations, party sources said.

“I was chased and hit on my head. They had a plan to kill me. My bodyguards saved my life. I came to know that BJP members were thwarting people from casting their votes in Arandi. I went there to find out what was going on. I was assaulted, hit with bamboo sticks by the saffron party men,” Mondal, estranged wife of BJP MP Saumitra Khan, said.

Police arrested five persons — three members of the TMC and two of the BJP — for their alleged involvement in assaulting Mondal, while a search for those who assaulted Papiya was initiated, a police officer said.

Meanwhile, the ECI removed 8 returning officers from Kolkata assembly seats on Tuesday. In a notification the commission said that the returning officers of Entally (AC 163 ), Beleghata (AC 164), Shyampukur (AC 166), Kashipur Belgachia (AC 168), Jorashanko (AC 165) Chowrangi (AC 162) — all from North Kolkata and Kolkata Port ( AC 158) and Bhowanipur (AC 159) will be removed immediately. The Trinamool Congress reacted immediately, alleging that they were removed to give an advantage to a particular political party.

Sources in the Commission, however, said that all the returning officers were in the same position for more than three years and it has been the standing order of the Commission that no officer will remain at a place for more than three years and so they were removed. When asked why did the Commission take so much time to remove them, a senior ECI official said, “There were some complaints against them and the Commission was looking into it”.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee complained of blatant misuse of central forces in the third phase of polling. The chief minister wrote in her official tweeter handle “The blatant misuse of Central forces continues unabated. Despite us repeatedly raising this issue, @ECISVEEP continues to be a mute spectator while men in uniform are being misused at several places to openly intimidate TMC voters & influence many to vote in favour of one party”.

Earlier this morning, the Election Commission suspended a sector officer after three EVMs and four VVPAT machines were found at Trinamool leader Goutam Ghosh’s residence. According to reports, sector officer Tapan Sarkar, who was in-charge of Sector 17 in Uluberia seat, had spent the night at his relative Goutam Ghosh’s house. The EVMs and VVPAT machines with Sarkar were part of the reserve stock. The Commission has said that these EVMs won’t be used for voting on Tuesday.

The 31 seats are divided among three districts where elections will be held in 16 constituencies of South 24 Parganas, 8 of Hooghly and 7 of Howrah. The total number of voters in these constituencies is 7856474 that includes 4049 service voters. There are 3997218 male voters and 3859013 female voters.

The total number of polling stations is 10871 that includes 8480 main and 2391 auxiliary booths. The number of 80 plus voters is 126177 while 64083 are PWD (Persons with Disabilities). The total number of third gender voters is 243 while overseas voters are only 2. The election data also shows that 205 candidates including 13 females from different political parties are in the fray during the third phase of polling.

Prominent candidates among them are BJP leader Swapan Dasgupta, Trinamool Congress minister Ashima Patra and CPI(M) leader Kanti Ganguly. Marking all the 10871 booths ‘sensitive’ the ECI has deployed 618 companies of central forces for the third phase and has also retained another 89 companies of central forces from the second phase who are already stationed in South 24 Parganas. That pushes up the number of forces to 707 companies — the highest deployment in this election so far.

As many as 78,564,74 voters in 31 Assembly constituencies spread across three districts — South 24 Parganas, Hooghly and Howrah — cast their votes during the third phase on Tuesday.

According to election commission data, around 31.71 per cent polling was recorded in the first five hours of polling much on the lines of Phase 1 and Phase 2 polls held on March 27 and April 1, respectively.

Hooghly district, where eight constituencies are going for the poll recorded the highest turnout till 12 noon at 37.39 per cent, followed by Howrah district where 37.04 per cent polling was recorded in seven constituencies.

The 16 constituencies of South 24 Parganas recorded the lowest turnout at 34.71 percent till 12 noon.

Long queues of voters could be seen at most of the polling stations. So far, voting has been peaceful barring a few instances of allegations and counter-allegations between the Trinamool and the BJP.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee complained of blatant misuse of Central forces in the third phase of polling.

“The blatant misuse of Central forces continues unabated. Despite us repeatedly raising this issue, @ECISVEEP continues to be a mute spectator while men in uniform are being misused at several places to openly intimidate TMC voters & influence many to vote in favour of one party,” Banerjee posted on her official Twitter handle.

There were complaints of violence and voter intimidation both from the Trinamool and BJP camp. While the BJP leaders claimed that the mother of one of their supporters was killed by Trinamool ‘goons’ at Goghat in Hooghly on Monday night, the Trinamool on its part claimed that its candidate from Arambagh, Sujata Mondal, was chased by BJP ‘goons’ at Arandi 1 gram panchayat.

Mondal happens to be the wife of BJP leader Saumitra Khan and had joined the Trinamool recently. The ruling party also alleged that their candidate from Khanakul in Hooghly, Munshi Najbul Karim, was beaten up by BJP supporters. The party is likely to lodge a complaint with the EC on Tuesday afternoon.

A three-cornered battle between the Trinamool, the BJP and the COngress-Left combine is on the cards in the 31 Assembly seats where polling is underway on Tuesday.

Marking all the 10,871 booths as ‘sensitive’, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has deployed 618 companies of Central forces for the third phase of polling besides retaining another 89 companies of Central forces from the second phase, which are already stationed in South 24 Parganas, pushing up the number of forces to 707 companies – the highest deployment in the ongoing Assembly elections so far. (IANS)