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Polling on for seven Bengal civic bodies; opposition cries foul

IANS | Kolkata |

Moderate to brisk polling for seven civic bodies in West Bengal was reported on Sunday, as the Congress and the Left Front demanded scrapping of the "farcical" elections amid alleged violence and booth capturing in three municipalities.

A CPI-M leader claimed that at least four party workers were injured in poll violence.

Activists of the Congress and the Left Front, which forged an undeclared alliance for the civic polls, staged a noisy demonstration at the State Election Commission office here to protest against what they called "rampant looting of votes" by the ruling Trinamool Congress.

The protest was held after the poll authorities allegedly refused to meet their leaders and accept their memorandum on complaints regarding voting in three municipalities of Raiganj in North Dinajpur district, Domkal in Murshidabad district, and Pujali in South 24 Parganas district.

However, SEC officials later agreed to meet an opposition delegation after the demonstrators broke through police barricades.

In Domkal, Pujali and Raiganj, the Trinamool is up against an undeclared seat adjustment between the Congress and the Left Front.

Polling was, however, peaceful in four municipalities in northern Bengal hills — Darjeeling, Kurseong, Mirik Notified Area Authority in Darjeeling district, and Kalimpong in Kalimpong district.

The elections to the municipalities spread across five districts in the northern, central and southern areas of the state will provide a peek into the mind of voters in small towns.

The civic polls come amid a challenge for the Left Front and the Congress to revive their political fortunes in the backdrop of electoral battles wherein both lost ground to the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Communist Party of India-Marxist state Secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra alleged that the elections were far from "free and fair".

"In Domkal, motorcycle-borne outsiders attacked our workers and voters with bombs and pistols. The local administration looked the other way.

"Since morning, elections have been a farce. Three of our workers were injured when they were fired upon by Trinamool-backed miscreants. Another worker suffered broken limbs," said Mishra.

He alleged that all polling booths were captured by the Trinamool supporters in Raiganj and Pujali.

"The polling agents of the Congress and Left Front were driven out and electronic voting machines damaged. Even journalists were not spared," he said.

He demanded the scrapping of the civic elections. 

"But we have no illusion that fresh elections will be impartial. This shows it is not possible to hold proper polls so long as the Trinamool is in power," the CPI-M leader said.

Former Congress MP from Raiganj Deepa Dasmunshi alleged that opposition workers came under intense attack from Trinamool supported "goons".

She said genuine voters were not allowed to exercise their franchise. 

"Police and civil officials made no effort to provide protection to voters or our workers," she said.

The mountainous region of West Bengal has not witnessed a local election in the past five years.

The ruling Trinamool is trying to break the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha's stranglehold in the state's hills by tying up with the Gorkha National Liberation Front.

To strike an emotional cord among the people, the GJM has revived a call for a separate Gorkhaland state and tried to turn the civic polls into a Gorkhaland versus Bengal issue.