Nandigram was the talking point on Thursday with clashes between BJP and TMC workers, reports of polling station ‘jamming’ and allegations of rigging despite Section 144 being imposed in the high profile constituency
The second phase of elections concluded in the key states of Assam and West Bengal on Thursday with both states recording high polling percentage. However, sporadic instances of violence and allegations of poll rigging by both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the ruling All India Trinamool Congress marred the democratic exercise in West Bengal.
Assam, which once reeled under the impact of militancy and extremism, recorded peaceful polling by and large.
The provisional data until late evening showed that the northeastern state polled 76.96 percent in the 39 seats where voting was underway in the second phase on Thursday. Likewise, West Bengal’s 30 seats under the second phase recorded a turnout of 80.43 percent, despite instances of violence in a few places and the strong presence of security forces in the state.
These numbers will go up as the last hour of polling is taken into account.
Although the newsmaker of the day was Mamata Banerjee who termed the election process ‘the worst’ she has seen in her life and accused the Election Commission of blatantly siding with the ruling party. Her party, the AITMC, lodged 63 complaints related to poll rigging, violence and other election malpractices with the poll panel, which they alleged went unheard.
Another talking point of the day was Banerjee’s constituency Nandigram, which saw spurts of violence, incidents of poll station ‘jamming’ and allegations of rigging despite Section 144 being in place as Election Commission had anticipated disturbance in the high profile seat. Banerjee is locked in a prestige battle here with her aide turned adversary, Suvendu Adhikari.
The seat recorded around 80.79 percent polling till the end of polling, as per provisional data uploaded on the EC app.
In Assam, the key political highlight of the day was BJP strongman and state’s home minister Himanta Biswa Sarma being served a show-cause notice by the poll panel following a Congress complaint. The Congress had alleged that Sarma threatened a leader of its alliance partner Bodoland People’s Front with action by the central investigation agency NIA.
Sporadic violence and minor clashes were reported from various constituencies, including the high profile Nandigram, where chief minister Mamata Banerjee is locked in a high-stakes electoral battle with her former lieutenant Suvendu Adhikari now with the BJP.
The EC, however, dubbed the process ‘peaceful’ in its end-of-the-day press release, insisting that the commission has laid great emphasis on ensuring a transparent and vigilant mechanism for COVID-19 safe, intimidation free and inducement-free elections amidst tight security arrangements.
An agitated Banerjee slammed the Election Commission for not taking any action despite lodging several complaints and threatened to move court over it. Amongst the complaints were allegations of “booth capturing” and massive fake voting in the Boyal area in Nandigram.
“We have lodged 63 complaints since morning. But not a single action has been taken. We will move court over it. This is unacceptable. The EC is working as per Amit Shah’s instructions,” she said while sitting outside polling station number 7 in Boyal in Nandigram, where her partymen alleged many voters were unable to cast their ballot.
“Goons from other states are creating ruckus here,” she said.
Banerjee also rang up the West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar to complain about the situation. Dhankar tweeted soon afterwards:
Issues flagged @MamataOfficial a while ago on phone have been imparted to the concerned.
There is full assurance of the concerned to adherence to rule of law.
Am confident all will act in right spirit and earnestness so that democracy flourishes.
— Governor West Bengal Jagdeep Dhankhar (@jdhankhar1) April 1, 2021
Banerjee accused the central forces deployed in the Nandigram constituency of helping the BJP under the instructions of Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
“The CRPF, BSF are acting under the instructions of Home Minister Amit Shah….they are only helping the BJP,” she told reporters outside a polling station in Nandigram constituency.
She also alleged Election Commission was following the instructions of Shah and not acting on complaints of alleged irregularities lodged by her party.
Despite sporadic violence and accusations of vote fraud in Nandigram, the TMC supremo said she was confident of victory from the constituency where she had a decade-and-half ago led a farmers’ movement against a chemical hub planned by the then Left Front government.
She demanded that Shah, who had earlier campaigned for Adhikari, her rival in Nandigram, must “control the BJP goons brought from outside”.
“This is shameful. The people will give them a befitting reply. The way even women journalists have been heckled is disgraceful,” she said.
The chief minister, however, said she is more worried about the fate of democracy given the use of money and muscle power than her personal victory.
“I am not worried about Nandigram, I am confident of victory. (But) I am worried about democracy,” Banerjee said as she showed the ‘V’ for victory sign to a gaggle of press photographers.
The feisty TMC boss said she would win a majority of the 60 seats that had gone to the polls in the first and second phase.
The constituencies where polls were conducted include nine seats each in Purba and Paschim Medinipur districts, eight in Bankura and four in South 24 Parganas. Strict adherence to COVID-19 protocols has been ensured in all places, officials said.
Both Banerjee and Adhikari fanned out to various polling booths in Nandigram to take stock of the situation after reports of stray violence and booth “jamming”, a bid by workers of one party to crowd out voters from a polling station by forming long queues.
Surprisingly, these incidents occurred despite the Nandigram constituency being placed under Section 144 to contain possible violence. In the Boyal area in Nandigram, villagers alleged that BJP supporters had stopped them from going to the polling booths.
As soon as Banerjee reached Boyal, BJP supporters greeted her with “Jai Shri Ram” slogans.
Supporters of BJP and TMC allegedly indulged in violence, as TMC leaders demanded re-polling in booth number 7 of the village. Police and Rapid Action Force were rushed to the spot to control the situation, amidst incidents of alleged stone-pelting.
However, BJP state president Dilip Ghosh dubbed the allegations as baseless. “The allegations are baseless. It seems she has accepted the defeat,” he said.
According to EC officials said they would look into the complaints. According to PTI, a TMC election agent’s mother was seen pleading before the EC officials not to ask her son to go to the election booth and alleged that he has been “threatened last night by Opposition parties”.
Protesters also blocked the road in Nandigram’s Block 1, alleging Central forces stopped them from going to the polling stations, the news agency reported.
“The CRPF personnel accompanying Adhikari stopped us from casting our votes,” a protester said. On the other hand, Adhikari’s car was attacked, and stones were pelted while he was visiting booths in the Assembly constituency.
Two separate stone-pelting incidents took place in Takapura and Satengabari areas in Nandigram. His vehicle was gheraoed at various locations as TMC supporters shouted slogans against the BJP leader. Security forces patrolling the area dispersed the mob.
“I am used to such protests by TMC goons. They are all followers of Mamata begum (Mamata Banerjee). Let them do whatever they want till the results are out on May 2,” Adhikari told reporters.
The BJP has been accusing Mamata of Muslim appeasement, by addressing her as phuphi and khala of “infiltrators and Rohingyas” and sometimes as Mamata begum.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was campaigning in Bengal, too accused her of minority appeasement, saying she favours “infiltrators” over “chotiwalas“.
Meanwhile, BJP candidate from Keshpur Assembly constituency Tanmay Ghosh’s vehicle was vandalised allegedly by the Trinamool Congress supporters, police said. Three persons have been arrested in connection with the incident, they said.
Voting was held in 30 Assembly Constituencies of West Bengal with nearly 76 lakh electorates registered across 10,620 polling stations in phase 2. During this phase, a total of 10620 Ballot Units (BUs), 10620 Control Units(CUs) and 10620 VVPATs were used in West Bengal. Webcasting arrangements were put in place for 5535 Polling Stations in West Bengal.
A total number of 14,499 cases were reported from West Bengal with 11,630 disposed of till 4.30 pm, the commission said.
The situation in Assam was peaceful with a significant number of voters turning up to exercise their franchise in the 39 seats where voting was conducted in the second phase on Thursday. There were reports of EVM glitches from some polling stations and upon their immediate replacement voting continued uninterrupted, an election official said.
Long queues were seen outside most of the 10,592 polling stations across the 13 districts in the Barak Valley, the Hill region and parts of Central and Lower Assam since early morning.
A significant number of women voters were seen turning up for exercising their franchise. At most places, voters were found wearing masks and maintaining social distance as they stood inside the rings drawn at six feet distance outside the polling stations.
Besides, they were examined with thermal scanners for body temperature, provided with sanitisers and disposable plastic gloves before they went into the polling booth to cast their vote.
E-rickshaw was made available to ferry senior citizens in the Cachar district, and they were also felicitated for their will to vote. Wheelchairs were also provided at all the election centres with volunteers navigating the old and disabled to their polling booths. Resting areas were also created for the senior citizens to wait for their turn to vote.
Voting began at 7 am and will continue till 6 pm with the extra hour given in view of the pandemic.
Among the prominent candidates who have voted are Karimganj (North) MLA Kamalakhya Dey Purakayastha of Congress and his BJP opponent Manash Das, BJP’s Nalbari candidate Jayanta Malla Baruah, UPPL’s Gobinda Chandra Basumatary, and former Asam Sahitya Sabha president and BJP candidate from Sipajhar Paramanda Rajbongshi.
Senior Congress leader Sushmita Dev also exercised her franchise at a polling booth in Silchar and asserted that her party will win the elections. Several polling stations in Cachar were decked up, showcasing the cultural legacy of the district through the display of handicrafts and handlooms.
In many of the 117 model polling stations, the first voters were greeted with traditional Assamese scarf ‘gamosa’ as well as with saplings.
In other news, Election Commission issued a show-cause notice to BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma for allegedly making threatening BPF leader Hagrama Mohilary. Sarma has been asked to respond to the notice by 5 pm on 2 April.
The Congress had approached the EC alleging that Sarma had threatened to send Mohilary to jail by misusing the NIA. The Bodoland People’s Front is an ally of the Congress in Assam.
In the show-cause notice, the EC said “The Commission has obtained a full transcript of Himanta Biswa Sarma’s statement from the Chief Electoral Officer, Assam.” It also quoted a transcript of the speech provided by the state election machinery.
“If Hagrama does extremism with Batha he will go to jail. This is straight talk. If Hagrama encourages Batha, he will go to jail. Already got a lot of evidence. This case is being given to NIA,” according to a portion of Sarma’s speech made part of the notice.
The total electorate include 37,34,537 males and 36,09,959 females. Elections to the 126-member assembly are being held in three phases with 79.97 percent of the electorate exercising their franchise in 47 constituencies in the first phase on 27 March.
The third and final phase elections in Assam for 40 seats will be held on 6 April, whereas the third phase of the eight-phased Bengal elections will be held on 6 April. The day will also see single-phase Assembly elections in Nadu, Kerala and the Union Territory of Puducherry.
The votes will be counted on 2 May.
With inputs from PTI