Bengal panchayat poll violence: 10 political workers dead, media attacked

Gangadhar Patil | May 12, 2018 | 4 min read


We were locked up, say journalists; TMC workers blamed

Kolkata: Violence and clashes between party workers on Monday marred the West Bengal Panchayat elections, leading to the assault of workers from major opposition parties --- CPI(M), BJP and Congress - and death of 10 of them. Several journalists were attacked. Two mediapersons, Kamakshya Das from Uttarer Saradin and 24 Ghanta’s Pinki Sarkar, were allegedly under the custody of workers from the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) for hours and released later.

CPM MLA Sujan Chakraborty informed 101Reporters that his comrades Debu and Usha Das were burnt alive in their home in South 24 Pargana. “I am standing in front of the house of comrade Debu Das and Usha Das. They have been killed. They were being threatened by TMC goons and when they didn’t succumb to the threat, they were burnt alive today.”

Their only son is a third year undergraduate student and the couple used to do odd jobs for livelihood, said Chakraborty, adding, “Derek O’Brien and other TMC leaders are constantly spreading wrong information and worsening the situation.”

Mushtaq Mursheed Ahmed of Uttarbanga Sambad sustained injuries in Alipurduar district’s Birpara block. “There were more than 25 people in the booth. As nobody was allowed inside, we came out to click pictures of the voting line. While we were speaking to BJP district president Laxminath Ray, TMC goons started beating him up when he said duplicate and fake votes were registered in the whole block. My bike keys and my phone were snatched. I have filed an FIR with the local police, naming eight workers that I have identified.”

ABP’s Mayukh Thakur Chakraborty said his team was around Bhangar to cover the election, where famers’ committee and “the goons” of TMC worker Arabul Islam were in conflict. When members of the committee came to vote, Arabul’s men allegedly attacked them. “In the midst of it, we also sustained injuries. We had to take shelter in a booth. After waiting for almost 45 minutes, the police came and got us out,” Mayukh said. Bhakti Dey from Kolkata TV was beaten up at Gopalpur near Duttagar in North 24 Parganas.

Violence was a prominent feature in this election campaign. According to contesting parties, TMC obstructed other parties from filing nomination for various seats. The State Election Commission said that 16,814 of 48,650 (34.6%) gram panchayat seats and 3,059 of 9,217 (33.2%) seats in panchayat samitis were uncontested. Alarmed, the Supreme Court asked the SEC on 10th May to not declare candidates who win unopposed as winners.

Poll body a puppet, says Cong neta

An activist associated with the Bhangar movement, where agricultural labourers since 2016 are demanding right to their lands and opposing a power grid project, said, “Entajul Khan, brother of Shahid Manzoor Khan, who was murdered during the Bhangar movement, and the candidate from North Ghazipur seat have been severely beaten up and hospitalized with broken limbs. Many other committee members have been seriously injured and hospitalized.”  

On April 6, police arrested Shankar Das, Biswajit Hazra and Amitava Bhattacharya, members of the Bhangar Solidarity Committee. Another activist Ratul Banerjee, who was arrested on April 8, has been booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) .

The constant conflict with TMC had forced farmers to form a committee and contest the election independently from their constituency, but they were constantly attacked and stopped from filing nominations. Hence, these activists tried to stand by them, calling them to Kolkata so that they could file their nominations.

Abdul Mannan, leader of Opposition from Congress, said it is unprecedented that 34% of the seats are unopposed. “All zila parishads are under the control of TMC. Congress could hardly file nomination for 40% of the seats. This has never happened in West Bengal civic police stopping people from filing nomination and protecting hooligans. The election commission is also a puppet. It said that it is satisfied with the election procedures. How can they be satisfied if they are not puppets? It is a complete lawless situation.”

MLA Sujan Chakraborty shared the sentiment. “This is a farce in the name of democracy. The assault that is being continued is unprecedented. I would say that this is a model of fascism which is very unfortunate. This never happens in any part of the country.”

BJP leader Samik Bhattacharya said ruling party does not believe in democratic norms. “The downtrodden people are being beaten mercilessly. The villages of scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and Dalits were ransacked and their houses burnt. We believe that in the near future, people will organise themselves and protest against this state-sponsored violence.”

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