Horrific Violence And Large-Scale Rigging Bring Curtains Down On Panchayat Elections In Bengal

Jaideep Mazumdar

Jul 08, 2023, 10:17 PM | Updated Jul 10, 2023, 11:49 AM IST

Ballot boxes being burnt in Nadia
Ballot boxes being burnt in Nadia

The overall death toll since the current polls were announced by the state election commission on 8 June now stands at 37.

The bloodiest panchayat poll in Bengal in this century was under the CPI(M)’s watch in 2003 when 76 lives were lost.

Fifteen deaths and large-scale rigging desecrated the sanctity of elections to 64,157 seats in gram panchayats, panchayat samitis and zilla parishads in Bengal that ended 5 pm Saturday (July 8).

Multiple reports came in of Trinamool cadres resorting to large-scale rigging by capturing booths, driving away polling agents of opposition parties and stuffing ballot boxes with proxy votes, thus defiling the entire poll process. 

But local people at many places where booths had been captured and proxy votes cast took matters into their own hands and ransacked polling stations, snatched ballot boxes and destroyed them. They did so to ensure repoll in these ‘compromised’ polling stations. 

Presiding officers fled in fear from many polling stations. Incidentally, central forces which had been requisitioned on the orders of the Calcutta High Court were not deployed properly and were missing from all trouble spots. 

While violence was reported from all over the state, Cooch Behar and Murshidabad districts witnessed intense violence and reported the maximum number of deaths.

Three people--two of the BJP and one from Trinamool--died in poll violence Falimari, Dinhata and Tufanganj in Cooch Behar. Two Trinamool workers were killed at Manikchak and English Bazar in Malda district. 

Two more deaths--one CPI(M) workers and another belonging to the Trinamool--were reported from Ausgram and Katwa in Birbhum district. 

Murshidabad district reported five deaths from Khargram, Rejinagar, Lalgola, Beldanga and Naoda. Of these five, four were Trinamool workers and one was a CPI(M) worker. A voter was killed in firing by Trinamool cadres in Nadia’s Chapra while another voter died in a bomb blast in South 24 Parganas’ Basanti. 

With two more deaths reported late Friday (July 7) evening, the death toll in poll violence over the last 24 hours (from early Friday evening) stood at 17. 

According to Opposition leaders, more than 20,000 of the 61,636 polling booths in the state were ‘captured’ by Trinamool cadres and huge numbers of proxy votes were cast there. 

Numerous videos of Trinamool cadres chasing away Opposition polling agents and supporters, preventing voters from going to polling stations, hurling bombs, capturing polling stations and casting proxy votes, often in connivance with polling and police officials, did the rounds on social media (see the links given below). 

BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari called the larg-escale rigging by Trinamool cadres a “murder of democracy” and demanded President’s Rule in the state. 

State Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, who is also the leader of the party in the Lok Sabha, said “Trinamool thugs created mayhem and stole the people’s mandate”. 

Condemning the widespread violence and rigging, CPI(M) leader Mohammad Salim said that the state election commission had subverted the Calcutta High Court’s directive on deployment of central forces by not sending the forces to the trouble spots throughout the day. 

But Trinamool leaders diabolically blamed central forces for failing to stop the violence.  State minister Shashi Panja said that the BJP, CPI(M) and Congress had orchestrated the violence and central forces had failed to protect voters. 

Trinamool leaders pointed to the fact that many more Trinamool workers were killed as compared to those of the Opposition parties to contend that the ruling party was the victim of violence. 

However, Opposition leaders said that unlike in the recent past, Opposition parties could put up a stiff resistance to the Trinamool and that’s why the toll in the Trinamool camp is higher. 

“We were prepared to resist the Trinamool’s bid to rig the polls. We fought back and the Trinamool never expected it. They thought they would get a walkover but that didn’t happen. And since they (the Trinamool) launched the offensive and we fought back, the death toll in the Trinamool’s ranks was higher,” a senior Congress leader from Murshidabad told Swarajya

BJP and CPI(M) leaders agreed with this assessment. “The Trinamool is not the victim of violence. It was the aggressor and tried to intimidate our workers, candidates and supporters. But people fought back and so more Trinamool workers lost their lives. Also, many of the deaths in the Trinamool camp were due to inner-party feuds,” BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari told Swarajya

What’s noteworthy is that unlike in the past, people expressed their anger over rigging by Trinamool cadres by ransacking polling booths which had been ‘compromised’ and by damaging ballot boxes and ballots. 

“People are fed up with their voices being throttled by this authoritarian Trinamool regime. People of Bengal have shown today that they will not tolerate any more rigging and in order to force the state election authorities to order repolling in booths which had been captured by Trinamool goons and where proxy voting took place, they destroyed or damaged ballot boxes,” said CPI(M) leader Md Salim. 

What’s also significant is that the maximum violence and incidents of rigging by Trinamool cadres took place in the districts where the Trinamool is facing a tough challenge. 

The BJP is strongly resisting the Trinamool’s attempts to encroach on its stronghold Cooch Behar, while an aggressive Congress is strongly resisting Trinamool’s bid to capture its traditional stronghold of Murshidabad. 

Birbhum also witnessed a lot of violence between Trinamool and BJP workers, and large-scale attempts at rigging by Trinamool cadres. Birbhum has been a Trinamool stronghold, thanks mainly to party strongman Anubarata Mondal. 

But with Mondal ensnared in the cattle smuggling scam and lodged in Delhi’s Tihar jail, the BJP has been attempting to dislodge the Trinamool from its pole position in this district. 

The overall death toll since the polls were announced by the state election commission on 8 June now stands at 37. The Trinamool’s share here is the highest with 19 of its cadres dead, followed by the BJP with six, the Congress with four and the CPI(M) and Indian Secular Front (ISF) at five. 

Here are some videos embedded in many tweets that provide a glimpse of the widespread violence and rigging by Trinamool cadres, as well as people’s anger against this rigging:

  • Videos of proxy voting at Galsi (East Bardhaman), Rampurhat (Birbhum) and Diamond Harbour (South 24 Parganas).

Elections were held Saturday to 64,157 seats in 63,229 gram panchayats, 9730 panchayat samitis and 928 zilla parishads. There were 1,74,820 candidates in the fray; 61,934 belonging to the Trinamool, 39,617 of the BJP, 36,257 of the CPI(M) and 12,636 of the Congress. 

The Trinamool won 9009 seats (14 per cent of the total seats) uncontested--8002 of these in various gram panchayats, 991 in panchayat samitis and 16 in zilla parishads. There were 61,636 polling booths in 44,382 polling stations.

This year’s violence and rigging has surpassed the violence and malpractices witnessed in the 2018 panchayat polls where the death toll was 30. 

The bloodiest panchayat poll in Bengal in this century was under the CPI(M)’s watch in 2003 when 76 lives were lost. The death toll in 2008 was 30 and in 2013 (two years after the Trinamool came to power in the state) was 34. 

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