Kolkata: Local body polls in four pockets of West Bengal on Saturday saw a turnout of about 70 percent, but were marred by violence, allegations of booth capturing and assault on media persons that left 17 of them bloodied and injured.
In the last battle before next year’s assembly polls, elections were held for the Asansol Municipal Corporation in Burdwan district, the Bidhannagar Municipal Corporation in North 24 Parganas district and the Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad in Darjeeling district.
Two voters were injured when they were fired upon, while another sustained bomb splinter injures in Asansol’s ward No.14. Clashes between CPI-M and Trinamool activists were reported from Raniganj in Burdwan district.
In Rajarhat, clashes between the Trinamool and the Congress led to seven two-wheelers being set on fire. A Congress candidate was arrested.
But the worst violence was seen in Bidhannagar — a posh satellite township of Kolkata — where media persons faced the ire of alleged Trinamool Congress workers and hoodlums as they tried to film and click photos of electoral malpractices.
Calling the attacks “preplanned”, news channels Zee 24 Ghanta and ABP Ananda claimed “miscreants harboured by the state’s ruling Trinamool Congress” carried out the assaults.
While Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee ordered a probe, the opposition tore into the Trinamool for the attacks on the media.
Representatives of ABP Ananda, 24 Ghanta, Kolkata TV, Newstime, The Telegraph, ETV News Bangla, and Ananda Bazar Patrika were victims of the assaults.
A woman reporter with 24 Ghanta claimed that a gang of people who had illegally swarmed inside a polling booth threatened to “rape” her and constantly hurled abuses.
Bidhannagar Police Commissioner Jawed Shamim said police were looking into the incidents of violence targeting the media.
State Election Commissioner S.R. Upadhyay admitted receiving complaints — mostly from political parties — about alleged electoral malpractices from many booths in Bidhannagar, Asansol and Bally.
According to the commission, Bidhannagar recorded 70 percent, Asansol 71 percent, Bally 69.3 percent and Siliguri 78 percent of polling at the scheduled close.
Condemning the attacks on the media, Trinamool secretary general Partha Chatterjee said the chief minister has ordered a probe.
“The administration will look into the reasons, the circumstances that led to these incidents. We will also find out the agent provocateurs, and look into whether any political party or any other interest group incited the violence,” said Chatterjee, who is also the state education minister.
Charging the CPI-M led Left Front with inciting violence, Chatterjee said the Trinamool will take out a protest rally in the city on October 6.
The opposition — Left Front, Congress and the BJP — was unanimous in holding the Trinamool responsible for turning the polls into a “farce” and demanded the election be scrapped and held afresh.
CPI-M leader Gautam Deb said his party has called a 12-hour shutdown on Monday in Bidhannagar and neighbouring Rajarhat as a mark of protest.
State Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury demanded fresh polls under the supervision of the Election Commission of India.
“The polls today were completely farce and the entire state witnessed how the Trinamool goons robbed the people’s right to vote and how media was threatened and the journalists assaulted,” Chowdhury said.
State BJP president Rahul Sinha along with party workers demonstrated at the State Election Commission office demanding scrapping of the entire polls and that they be held afresh.
The Indian Journalists’ Association (IJA) and the Kolkata Press Club condemned the attack on the media persons and demanded immediate action against the assailants.
Polls were also held for the 16 wards of the erstwhile Bally municipality which has now been merged with Howrah Municipal Corporation.
Besides, the day also saw bypolls for some rural body seats — two zila parishads, 72 panchayat samitis and 341 gram panchayats.The results will be declared on October 7.