Friday, January 28, 2022

60 percent voting amid violence in Kolkata civic polls

Kolkata, April 18 (IANS) Amid claims of widespread violence by the opposition and rebuttal by West Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress, polling for the 144-ward Kolkata Municipal Corporation on Saturday witnessed around 60 percent turnout at the close of voting.

Calling the polls a “farce”, the Communist Party of India-Marxist led Left Front, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress all charged the Trinamool with unleashing violence and adopting unfair means. But the Mamata Banerjee led party asserted the elections were peaceful, free and fair.

“At 3 p.m., the scheduled close of voting, 59.20 percent polling was registered. The percentage may slightly go up with some of them still in the queues,” a West Bengal State Election Commission official told IANS.

“We have received many complaints of violence and are verifying them from our poll observers and police officers. Most of the complaints are from the opposition parties. There have also been claims for re-polling in certain booths, we are looking into that,” the official added.

Alleging widespread violence, the Left Front led by the CPI-M said the election was being “controlled” by the TMC and not by the poll panel.

“Since the start of polling, there has been widespread violence. The Trinamool has unleashed violence in at least 30 wards where it knows it will not win. At least 75 people have been injured but the Election Commission is keeping mum,” CPI-M leader Sujan Chakraborty said.

“We have filed 14 complaints with the commission, but no action has been taken. The poll is controlled not by the election commission but by outside elements of the Trinamool,” added Chakrabarty.

CPI-M leader Fuad Halim filed a police complaint alleging the TMC activists fired at him, but the bullets missed the target.

“The bike-borne assailants fired three rounds towards me but I managed to escape unhurt. The attackers are well known as Trinamool activists,” said Halim.

Congress leader Santosh Pathak, too, made similar accusations, claiming three of his party men received injuries after TMC goons hurled crude bombs at them.

The BJP, too, filed complaints, accusing the TMC polling agents of resorting to unfair means and influencing voters.

“Trinamool unleashed terror to intimidate voters, polling agents of opposition parties were assaulted and driven away, booths were captured. Even the media was not spared. The polls were nothing but a farce,” BJP’s state unit president Rahul Sinha said.

“The way the Trinamool has unleashed violence in which even women were not spared, I have no words to condemn. Several of Trinamool ministers roamed around booths supervising the violence…,” Sinha said while describing police as “mute spectators”.

Covering the polls, several media persons came under attack.

Two polling agents of the TMC were caught on camera directing voters to vote for their party.

Slamming a section of media and the opposition for spreading misinformation, the Trinamool claimed the polls were free, fair and peaceful.

“The votes were peaceful, free and fair. The way people queued up outside the booths braving the heat is a testimony to that. The credit goes to the administration and the people at large for the peaceful polls,” Trinamool secretary general Partha Chatterjee said.

“The opposition and some quarters were banking on a few stray incidents to paint a bad picture. But their hopes have been dashed by peaceful polls,” said Chatterjee.

Chatterjee’s views were echoed by Municipal Affairs Minister Firhad Hakim and Panchayat Minister Subrata Mukherjee.

On the security front, over 30,000 police personnel and three companies of central paramilitary forces have been deployed while drones are being used for aerial surveillance for the first time.

A total of 3,742,019 voters, including 17.52 lakh women, are eligible to exercise their franchise across 4,704 polling stations to decide the political fate of 1,077 candidates in the fray.

Among the star voters to exercise their franchise were Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, her predecessor and CPI-M veteran Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, former India cricket captain Sourav Ganguly and a host of Bengali movie actors.

The counting of votes is scheduled for April 28.

The voters’ list included 20 under the third gender category.

The Trinamool now runs the KMC board, with Sovan Chatterjee as mayor.

Opinion polls have predicted that the Trinamool would return to power in the civic body, with the Left Front emerging as the runner up. The BJP could finish a distant third, with the Congress taking the fourth place.

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