Kolkata: West Bengal`s countryside bled Monday as seven people were killed and scores - among them four children - injured in the penultimate round of the panchayat polls marred by bomb blasts, firings, violent clashes and allegations of rampant electoral malpractices.
However, despite the gory scenes, there were heavy turnouts at the polling booths, and an average 74.16 percent exercised their voting right till 5 p.m., the scheduled time for balloting to end, said a State Election Commission official.
The number can only go up, as a large number of people were standing in the queues well past the closing time in the four districts - Murshidabad, Birbhum, Malda and Nadia - hosting round four of the polls to village councils, regarded as the third tier of India`s governing system.
Three deaths were reported from Murshidabad, two from Birbhum, and one each in Nadia and Malda districts, officials said.
Two of the dead were voters, and the others either political activists or criminals, in what is largely being perceived as the zone of triangular contests, where besides the ruling Trinamool Congress and main opposition Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) led Left Front, the Congress also has a strong base.
The violence did not even spare innocent little ones.
A five-year-old boy was injured when bombs were hurled near his house at Dakkhinnagar village under Domkol police station in Murshidabad. He is now admitted to the Murshidabad Medical College and Hospital.
Three other children - between four to seven years - were injured in a bomb explosion while playing in the courtyard of the house of a Trinamool candidate at Lalutola village under Kaliachak police station of Malda district.
While the family members claimed bombs were hurled at the house, one of the child victims said they saw some "balls" while playing when they opened the door of the house.
"One of my friend Ajij said these are bombs. Then they exploded," said Mamud Sheikh, injured in the leg, in visible trauma, and labouring to speak.
In Murshidabad, two men were killed while making bombs at Raninagar.
A woman, who had queued up to vote, died when bombs were thrown outside a polling booth in Kajishah village under Beldanga police station.
The body of two CPI-M workers were recovered from a field under the Mayureshwar police station in Birbhum district Monday morning. Another seriously injured worker has been hospitalised.
The CPI-M blamed the ruling party for the deaths. However, the Trinamool said the victims were making bombs which exploded, claiming their lives. One person was killed in a bomb explosion early Monday in Mayapur of Nadia district.
In Malda, a voter standing in the queue was killed at Sambalpur village of Ratua block when Central Reserve Police Force personnel opened fire to control a mob.
Several others sustained injuries in clashes during which bombs, firearms and sharp weapons were used indiscriminately in all the four districts.
Murshidabad police chief Humayun Kabir said bombs were hurled at Domkol and Beldanga to terrorise the people. "We have seized 100 bombs, and muskets. Over 100 have been arrested."
The CPI-M-led Left Front accused the Trinamool of indulging in rigging and booth capturing in Nadia and Birbhum districts.
"Our polling agents were driven out, there were indiscriminate bombings, voters were threatened and booths captured. It seems those from the state administration who were put on poll duty had no intention of ensuring free and fair polling," said LF chairman and CPI-M state secretary Biman Bose.
"Democracy is under attack, people`s rights are under attack," he added.
About 1.10 crore electorate were eligible to cast their votes in about 13,400 polling booths in the four districts for 14,401 zilla parishad, panchayat samiti and gram panchayat seats in the three-tier local bodies.
The five-phase polling began July 11. The final round will be held July 25. The vote count is slated for July 29.