A Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate was badly roughed up and pushed into a bush amid allegations of electoral malpractice from various areas, as around 48 per cent voting was recorded in the first six hours in the bypolls to three West Bengal Assembly constituencies on Monday (25 November).
Election Commission sources, however, said that notwithstanding sporadic incidents the situation was peaceful overall in the Kaliaganj, Kharagpur Sadar and Karimpur Assembly constituencies.
"At 1 PM, the polling percentage was 50 in Kaliaganj, 43 in Kharagpur Sadar and 51 in Karimpur," the EC said.
Over 7.34 lakh voters are eligible to vote in 801 polling stations to choose their representatives from among 18 candidates, including three women.
In Karimpur (Nadia district) the Trinamool Congress and the BJP were engaged in a no holds barred fight.
BJP candidate Jay Prakash Majumdar, the party's state vice-president and a familiar face in television debates, moved around the constituency since the morning, notwithstanding strong resistance from the Trinamool cadres.
He got involved in heated exchanges with some people, allegedly Trinamool supporters, at a booth in Thanarpara where the BJP alleged its polling agent had been abducted. Central forces personnel finally intervened and removed those people.
Majumdar was shown black flags and 'go back' slogans were raised against him in Sahebpara, after he was asked to leave a booth at Pipulkhola when the Trinamool alleged that he was going too close to the EVM machines.
But, things turned ugly outside the Ghiyaghat Islampur Primary school booth where Majumdar had gone after receiving news of alleged electoral malpractice and found eight outsiders in the room where meals were purportedly being prepared for polling officials. The officials, however, denied any knowledge of food being cooked for them only 10 metres from the booth.
Majumdar removed the 'outsiders' and lodged a complaint with the district administration, but all hell broke loose when he came out of the booth onto the road.
Around 50 people surrounded Majumdar, staged a demonstration, and then started slapping and punching him before pushing him into the bushes. As Majumdar tried to regain his composure, one of the protesters kicked him hard, sending him hurtling down further into the bushes in full glare of television cameras and the presence of central forces.
An enraged BJP filed FIRs against the Trinamool Congress workers as also the Sub-Divisional Officer for failing to protect the candidate, and moved the Election Commission seeking its immediate intervention in the constituency.
While state BJP president Dilip Ghosh called it an "attempt to murder", state minister and Trinamool district observer Rajib Banerjee claimed Majumdar was either the victim of his party's "factional feuds" or 'orchestrated' the incident himself to gain sympathy in the face of a 'certain defeat'.
Majumdar's rival Trinamool candidate Bimalendu Sinha Roy also courted controversy after he was found to have entered a booth with the party symbol displayed on his dress. He was ordered out of the booth.
Elsewhere, in Kaliaganj of North Dinajpur district, a presiding officer was removed after the Trinamool Congress lodged a complaint with the Election Commission against BJP candidate Kamal Chandra Sarkar for breaking rules by showing his wife the EVM button she needed to press.
The BJP also alleged that booth number 266 at East Goalpara primary school was captured by the Trinamool Congress after beating and driving away the voters and rival polling agents.
In Kharagpur Sadar's booth number 140, the BJP agent complained that the Electronic Voting Machine was strategically placed beside a mirror wall.
The mirror wall was later covered with a cloth by the election officials.
There were also reports of booth jamming at Kharagpur College.
The Congress moved the Election Commission alleging rampant irregularities and partisan attitude of the administration and the police.
Congress leader Suvankar Sarkar said: "The Central forces are working for the BJP, the state police are favouring Trinamool. Then from whom can other parties and voters expect cooperation?"
The ruling Trinamool Congress and the opposition BJP are contesting all the seats.
The Left Front and Congress have formed an alliance with the Congress in the fray from Kharagpur and Kaliaganj and Left Front major CPI-M in Karimpur.
The polls at Kharagpur Sadar and Karimpur were necessitated after the MLAs -- Dilip Ghosh and Mahua Moitra -- won the Lok Sabha polls.
The bypoll in Kaliaganj is the fallout of the death of Congress MLA Pramath Nath Roy.
Though the bypolls are not going to bring about any change of government at the state level, they have generated much interest among political observers and analysts, who feel the results and voting trends could give a fair idea, and even to some extent, shape the future course of events in the run up to the 2021 Assembly elections in Bengal.
(This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.)