Kolkata: Widespread violence during the panchayat polls in West Bengal on Monday left at least eight people dead and 43 injured, as 73 percent of the electorate turned out to cast their vote.
Notwithstanding the elaborate security arrangements in which 60,000 security personnel from West Bengal and other states were deployed, violence broke out in North and South 24 Parganas, East Midnapore, Burdwan, Nadia, Murshidabad and South Dinajpur districts.
Polling booths were mainly targeted during the violence after clashes broke out between Trinamool Congress supporters and opposition party workers. Crude bombs were also hurled near several polling stations.
Despite the violence, State Election Commission (SEC) sources said 73 per cent polling was recorded till 5 pm, the closing hour, but many more voters were still in the queue.
Opposition parties accused the ruling Trinamool Congress of unleashing a reign of terror and destroying democracy.
"First they didn't allow people to file nominations. Seconds after filing nominations, TMC started threatening the candidates to withdraw. The people who didn't withdraw were attacked. This is nothing but a complete destruction of the democratic process," CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said.
CPI leader D Raja said it was a farce of an election and the Mamata Banerjee government should have taken steps to save democracy in West Bengal.
However, the TMC downplayed the violence, saying it was far less compared to the previous rule of the Left.
"To all 'newborn' experts on Bengal #PanchayatElections in State have a history. 400 killed in poll violence in the 1990s in CPIM rule. 2003: 40 dead. Every death is a tragedy. Now closer to normal than earlier times. Yes, few dozen incidents. Say, 40 out of 58,000 booths. What's %age? (sic)", TMC leader Derek O'Brien said on Twitter.
The state police and the SEC gave a break-up of the incidents of violence and about the people who died today.
In East Midnapore, two persons were killed in Nandigram block-2, when bike-borne miscreants threw bombs on voters waiting in queue outside a booth, SP S N Kumar said.
In another incident in Nandigram, 15 people were injured in a clash outside a booth. One person was hit on the head with a knife while another lost his finger, police said.
In the district's Contai area, chilli powder was thrown at an Independent candidate and four others, police said.
A State Election Commission (SEC) official said that a man was shot dead near a polling booth in Sujapur village in Murshidabad. Local BJP unit leader Subhas Modal claimed the victim was a party worker.
In South Dinajpur, a man was killed and four others were injured after a bomb was hurled outside a polling station, he said.
One person was killed in clashes between two groups outside a polling booth in Nakashipara area in Nadia district, while another death was reported from Shantipur area, he said.
The SEC official said bombs were hurled outside a polling station in Amdanga area of North 24 Paragans in which a man, said to be a CPI(M) supporter, died and another injured.
At Kultali in South 24 Parganas, one person was killed when a bomb was hurled outside a polling station, he said.
In Cooch Behar district, North Bengal Development Minister Rabindranath Ghosh allegedly slapped a person outside a polling booth, the official said, adding that the SEC has received a complaint and asked authorities to take action.
Television channels showed Ghosh slapping the person. He, however, claimed that he did not do it.
In Dinhata area of the district, at least 15 people, including voters, were injured after clashes broke out between two rival groups outside a polling station, police said.
In North Dinajpur, three crude bombs were found near a polling booth at Galaisura, police said. Of the three bombs, two were found on railway tracks, RPF sources said.
In Birbhum, masked men carrying weapons and sticks were seen threatening voters outside some of the booths. Television footage from Basanti block of South 24 Parganas showed masked gunmen outside polling stations.
In Bhangar, which was rocked by pre-poll violence and saw the arrest of a TMC leader, police resorted to batoncharge and fired teargas shells to disperse people following clashes, the SEC official said.
In Keshpur area in West Midnapore, police resorted to lathicharge and chased people allegedly threatening voters.
In Malda, the office-in-charge of Ratua police station Debabrata Chakraborty was injured in stone-pelting when he went to remove a blockade on a state highway, S P Arnab Ghosh said. Chakraborty has been admitted to a hospital, he said.
The panchayat poll is being held after a protracted legal battle in the Calcutta High Court and the Supreme Court involving the SEC, the TMC and the opposition parties.
BJP state president Dilip Ghosh alleged that the "TMC has turned the polls into a farce".
CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty said democracy "has been murdered by TMC in Bengal".
The TMC has termed the allegations baseless and concocted. Its secretary general Partha Chatterjee said: "There have been one or two isolated incidents. The administration has taken steps in all the cases. We have seen elections during the Left Front rule when we used to witness bloodbath and death."
CPI(M) workers led by senior party leaders Biman Bose and Surya Kanta Mishra staged a sit-in outside the SEC office in the city. Congress workers too staged a protest rally outside the SEC office.