Injuries to two people in police firing and stray incidents of violence marked the sixth phase of polling in West Bengal on Thursday that was largely peaceful across four districts and held amid an alarming spike in coronavirus infections in the state.
Polling was held for nine seats each in North Dinajpur and Nadia, 17 in North 24 Parganas, and eight in East Burdwan district. Provisional turnout stood at 79.09 %, comparatively lower than the polling percentage recorded in the first five phases. In the sixth phase, 306 candidates were in the fray.
“Polling was today conducted peacefully in 14,480 polling stations,” the election commission (EC) said in a statement. With the sixth phase, polling has been held now for 223 of 294 seats.
At Bagda in North 24 Parganas, a mob allegedly attacked a state police team, injuring a constable and the officer-in-charge of Bagda police station, EC officials said. When police fired three rounds to disperse the mob, two villagers suffered leg injuries. The incident triggered a slugfest between Trinamool Congress (TMC) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders.
“Police opened fire on innocent villagers. Even the state police are now under the control of the EC,” said TMC spokesperson Snehasish Chakraborty.
“The attack on the state police was an outcome of the instigating speeches by chief minister Mamata Banerjee. Four men were killed at Sitalkuchi in north Bengal (on April 10) when central forces opened fire in self defence. Before that incident, Banerjee asked people to attack central forces,” said BJP state vice-president Jay Prakash Majumdar.
Voting took place amid a spike in coronavirus infections. The state reported more than 10,000 infections on Wednesday and 11,948 on Thursday. Fifty-six people died in Bengal between Wednesday and Thursday morning.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi cancelled the four rallies he was to address in Bengal on Friday. “Tomorrow, will be chairing high-level meetings to review the prevailing COVID-19 situation. Due to that, I would not be going to West Bengal,” Modi tweeted. He was supposed to address a rally at the Shahid Minar grounds in the heart of Kolkata.
Union home minister Amit Shah, who addressed a rally in South Dinajpur district where polls will be held on April 26, said by the time polling in the sixth phase ends, the BJP will secure an absolute majority. “But we still want you to vote for us so that BJP gets over 200 seats.”
In North 24 Parganas district, TMC and BJP workers clashed in Ashoknagar, Barrackpore and Bijpur. BJP workers alleged that six people sustained splinter injuries when bombs went off at Ashoknagar. TMC workers blamed central forces for opening fire on them and said a man was shot in his leg.
Central paramilitary officers posted in the area dismissed the allegation saying no shots were fired anywhere. The EC sought a report from the local administration as the election watchdog’s police observer, Navin Kumar, rushed to the area.
BJP national vice-president Mukul Roy’s son, Subhranshu Roy, who was contesting from Bijpur seat in North 24 Parganas, alleged that bombs were hurled at their supporters.
Mukul Roy contested the Krishnanagar North seat in Nadia district against actress Kaushani Mukherjee (TMC). “I was gheraoed by BJP workers in some areas when I was visiting polling booths,” alleged Mukherjee.
Shah and chief minister Mamata Banerjee held rallies in districts where polls will be held in the last two phases on April 26 and 29.
Addressing a rally in Malda district, where Muslims comprise majority of the population, Banerjee said: “There was a time when some people were in the CPI(M). They terrorised people. Now, the same people are in the BJP and still terrorising people… I will never let the BJP enforce the National Population Register and National Register of Citizens in Bengal, not as long as I am alive.”