This article, first published at 5.53 pm on July 9, 2023, was republished with updates at 8.15 am on July 10, 2023.
Kolkata: West Bengal once again showed an alarming prevalence of violence embedded in the state’s electoral politics. At least 18 deaths were reported on the day of the panchayat elections, Saturday, taking the total number of casualties to 40 since the polls were announced on June 8. Repolling will take place in 700 booths today, July 10.
As always, Murshidabad recorded the highest number of casualties during the panchayat elections with five reported deaths. North Dinajpur followed closely with four deaths, and Cooch Behar reported three fatalities. Killings also took place in Malda, South 24 Parganas, Nadia, and East Burdwan.
Instances of violence and malpractice have been reported across all districts. The opposition has accused the manipulation of ballot boxes at the counting centre just hours after the conclusion of voting.
#PaharayPublic at Singur DCRC.
Loot is not yet completed. Attempt to reopen sealed ballot box caught red handed. Poll official has no answer.
Activists asking SEC to follow rule book. SEC is only following instructions from Kalighat. pic.twitter.com/DtQew6lBkY
— Md Salim (@salimdotcomrade) July 9, 2023
Free & Fair ❌
Free to rig & Absolutely unfair ✔️
Some snippets of the day-long charade called “2023 WB Panchayat Elections”:- pic.twitter.com/LT4ZNDoXpz
— Suvendu Adhikari • শুভেন্দু অধিকারী (@SuvenduWB) July 8, 2023
Amit Naik from Ausgram in East Burdwan said, “I can’t vote, armed goons are watching over. They will not allow us to vote. We can’t file a complaint anywhere. Even if the commission picks up the phone, they are not giving any assurance.”
From remote villages in East Medinipur to posh localities in New town, many people like Amit could not vote. But their votes were cast. The deployment of approximately 660 companies of central forces was much less than allotted 822 companies making the lack of security in and around the polling booths evident.
Pratima Mandal of Khejuri Ramchak in East Medinipur tried to contact the commission all day without success. Her husband and son were allegedly knocked unconscious by supporters of the Trinamool Congress (TMC). Till late evening on Saturday, she did not get any medical or security help.
In New Town, the satellite township bordering Kolkata, residents living in high-rises and gated communities have reported incidents of intimidation, threats, and being prevented from casting their votes by unknown individuals under the guise of ‘vote boycott’.
In Mayusehwar, Birbhum, the presiding officer Rangana Sen was in tears while miscreants were allegedly involved in fraudulent voting. Rampant rigging took place in the presence of law enforcement and presiding officers. In Dinhata, Cooch Behar district, a presiding officer reported that miscreants had forcibly entered the polling station, held him at gunpoint, and stamped the symbol of a particular political party.
However, unlike the past few Panchayat elections, a notable aspect of the day was the “resistance” shown by the opposition parties. In Kanksa, the tribals valiantly resisted the attack. In the remote villages of Basanti in South 24 Parganas, a few women used social media to inform people about booth capturing and violence which went viral.
In another part of the district, a villager saw false voting happening even before the polling began and threw the ballot box open.
In violence prone Murshidabad’s Bharatpur and Salar areas, a section of TMC joined hands with the opposition parties to resist booth capturing. Across the state, the ruling party has found themselves under attack from opposition parties. Majority of those party workers who lost their lives on Saturday were known to be TMC supporters.
In Purulia, at Booth No. 106 in Poonacha, the outgoing Zilla Parishad Sabhapati Sujoy Banerjee had to be rescued by the police after angry villagers surrounded him for allegedly tampering with the voting process.
In Kultali, South 24 Parganas, a clash erupted between the booth encroachers and villagers, resulting in one death. Meanwhile, in Swarupnagar, North 24 Parganas, the villagers retaliated by seizing motorcycles from the assailants and throwing them into a nearby pond.
The TMC is trying to deflect allegations of violence citing the number of deaths from the ruling party’s side. According to an exit poll survey by C-Voter for local ABP Ananda channel, TMC is expected to retain most of the districts. Political experts in West Bengal are also keeping them ahead of the BJP and Left-Congress alliance.
The last panchayat election in Bengal that displayed a comparable pattern was the one in 2008 when the ruling Left Front faced a similar “resistance” from a rising TMC.
With much of the resistance coming from areas with sizable minority populations and the visuals of violence, dead bodies and electoral rigging likely to dent its image, the ruling party in Bengal has valid concerns about the long-term repercussions of the events that transpired in the past month.
Translated from the Bengali original by Aparna Bhattacharya.