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Two burnt alive, 14 others killed as rural Bengal votes

16 May 2018

At least 14 persons were reportedly killed and hundreds others injured as violent clashes marred Monday's panchayat polls in West Bengal, though the State Election Commission (SEC) confirmed only six deaths. "The role of the state election commission has been obnoxious and the distinction between the TMC, the state government and the state election commission has been completely obliterated", a press statement by the party said.

As the day progressed, reports of clashes, booth capturing, vandalising of ballot boxes and rigging were received from pockets of South and North 24 Parganas, North Dinajpur, Nadia, West Midnapore and Cooch Behar districts. The Opposition alleged that members of the ruling Trinamool Congress are not letting voters enter poll booths. Crude bombs were hurled near several polling stations. Political violence, in a way, was normalised during the Left Front rule.

A BJP lawyer said the party planned to move the Supreme Court in a few days as the top court had ordered the poll panel to ensure violence-free elections. He said three policemen were injured and 70 people were arrested in connection with the violence. In a first ever, TMC has already won 20,163 of the total 58,692 seats unopposed - a record since the Panchayati Raj was introduced.

Opposition parties have accused the TMC of "unleashing a reign of terror and destroying democracy". 400 killed in poll violence in 1990s in CPIM rule. In the 2003 panchayat elections, around 40 people were killed.

Asil Sheikh, a AITC worker close to party MLA and Bhangor strongman Arabul Islam, said "The poll officials have gone for lunch and on behalf of them, we are guarding the polling booth". The victim was a BJP worker, the party's local unit leader Subhas Mondal claimed.

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The matter reached the Calcutta High Court, that subsequently stayed the polling process and asked the SEC to extend nomination deadline and announce fresh election schedule.

Samik Lahiri, CPM Secretary of South 24 district, in a letter to the EC, said, "Bombing is going on everywhere in the district [South 24 Pargana]".

"CPI (M) and BJP are now so desperate that they are even ganging up with Maoists to kill/shoot/stab three Trinamool workers in different incidents in #Bengal today".

Surajit Kar Purkayastha, director general of police in West Bengal, said the administration had made adequate arrangements to pre-empt violence during polling, adding that the scale of violence witnessed on Monday was much smaller than in previous panchayat elections.

Two burnt alive, 14 others killed as rural Bengal votes