July 23, 2013

Large-scale Plunder of Votes in Panchayat Elections


Rape of Democracy, alleges Left Front

FREE run of armed ruling party gangs, large-scale booth capturing, forcible false votes, blockade of villages, violent attacks on opposition candidates and their polling agents, active connivance of state police with miscreants. West Bengal panchayat elections, after first two phases of polling, can easily be summed up as an “unprecedented plunder of votes”.

In the first phase, voting took place in West Midnapur, Bankura and Purulia on July 11.

In continuation of the terrorisation, which was going on before the election, TMC gangs roamed freely in the villages in these three districts, threatening voters not to come out of their houses, particularly in Bankura and West Midnapore. In West Midnapore, booth capturing was rampant in Pingla, Dantan, Gopiballavpur, Shalboni, Nayagram, Chandrakona, Debra, Ghatal, Keshpur, Garbeta.  In many areas, the booth capturing started after 1 pm.  For example, 79 booths were captured in Ghatal and more than 50 in Debra. In Gopiballavpur, more than 30 booths were captured out of 98. TMC miscreants chased away CPI(M) polling agents from most of these booths and the polling officials were forced to keep silence under threat. In Pingla, CPI(M) leaders were attacked with sharp weapons and many were injured.

In Bankura, there was no semblance of fair elections in 11 out of 46 seats in Zila Parishad (District Council). Thousands of people were denied their voting rights in Indas, Taldangra, Bishnupur, Joypur, Kotulpur, Mejia and Saltora. Booths were captured, particularly after 12 pm. However, in southern parts of the district, mainly tribal areas, people came out in numbers to vote.

In Purulia, there were sporadic incidents of violence. In a major attack, CPI(M) activists were injured in Barabazar. However, people came to vote in this district despite fearful atmosphere.

In the second phase, on July 15, the attacks were more violent, more unconcealed and more widespread. Voting took place in Burdwan, East Midnapore and Hooghly districts in that phase. Large numbers of seats in these three districts were already snatched away by the ruling party as Left Front candidates were not allowed to file nominations or were forced to withdraw in the face of brutal terror. In the rest of the seats, TMC gangs wrecked havoc by widespread booth capturing, never witnessed in the state for decades.

In Burdwan, TMC brought gangs from outside the district. They infiltrated in the district in the last two days before polling from the neighboring districts. TMC started a full-fledged attack on booths in almost all areas in the district from the morning. In Jamuria, Sheikh Hasmat, the husband of a CPI(M) candidate, Monowara Bibi, was killed in a bomb attack at Madhudanga gram panchayat. Enraged villagers chased the miscreants and one of them, was beaten to death. Even after this incident, numerous booths around this area were captured by TMC.

In Rayna, widespread attack took place. Many booths were captured. CPI(M) district council candidate Suprava Karfa was arrested when she complained about rigging. TMC gangs captured many booths in Galsi, Aushgram, Kalna, Khandaghosh, Mangalkote, Ketugram. At the end of the day, 890 booths were fully or partially rigged and captured in Burdwan district alone.

In another incident, symbolic of what happened throughout the district, ballot papers were snatched from the hands of Chayarani Tah, mother of murdered CPI(M) leader and ex-MLA Pradip Tah in a booth in Burdwan Sadar. A TMC activist snatched the ballot and stamped it within the booth. This person is an accused in the murder case.

Wherever the villagers tried to resist, the state police came in support of the miscreants of the ruling party. In many places, villagers were arrested.

In East Midnapore, elections turned into sham in many areas. In Nandigram, no other political parties are allowed to function for the last two years. In some of the seats, ruling party faced challenges from independent candidates. TMC activists gheraoed booths and obstructed voters from reaching in many areas. In some areas, the independents, mostly TMC rebels, suffered the attacks. In Sonachura, in Nandigram, the vote boxes and tables were brought outside the booth and polling took place in open. This was done to prevent any voter from casting votes against TMC.  CPI(M) and Left Front agents were chased out of polling booths in Egra, Ramnagar, Patashpur, Khejuri, Panshkura, Moyna. In Kanthi, home to father-son MP duo of TMC, villagers were attacked so that they do not go to polling booths. Nearly 450 booths were captured in this district. Central forces were kept idle and TMC gangs roamed freely. Hundreads of booths witnessed looting of votes, openly.

In Hooghly, already 362 booths saw no voting at all. TMC ‘won’ in all three tiers there ‘without contest’. In Dhanekhali, Polba, Tarakeswhar, Arambagh, Haripal, TMC armed gangs created terror with the help of police. They stormed booths, beat up CPI(M) polling agents, and stamped ballots in one after another booth. In Arambagh alone, 136 booths were totally under ruling party control. In Salepur in the same subdivision women came out of their homes and clashed with miscreants after CPI(M) polling agent was forcefully kidnapped. CPI(M) candidates were attacked in many areas. In Uttarpara, CPI(M) candidate in panchayat samiti Shuvra Chatterjee was attacked and she suffered head injury. Piyush Dhar, another candidate in Debanandapur was grievously attacked. In Nabagram area, a bike borne gang went from booth to booth and chased away people. 

In the second phase nearly 1500 booths were captured in the three districts.

The state administration virtually kept aside the central para military forces. They were not deployed in booths. Most of the central security forces were stationed in the block office. Some of them went to main roads but not in the villages. The state government was opposing the deployment of central forces from the very beginning. Central forces were sent to the state under the direction of the Supreme Court. However, they were forced to remain inactive. In the second phase central forces were not deployed in 88 per cent of booths.

Biman Basu, Left Front chairman, expressed anguish in the manner voting right of the people was snatched. He told presspersons, “Our worst apprehensions came true. The chief minister herself continually threatened election commission and the opposition. Ministers openly threatened that the opposition parties would not be allowed to operate freely. Those terror tactics were implemented in the first phase. It accentuated in the second phase. Thousands of people were not allowed to vote. Booths were captured. Security forces were forced to remain idle. This is a rape of democracy.”

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