Bengal finds itself once again caught in the grip of tensions as the ongoing panchayat polls in the state turn violent. The clashes that have erupted during the elections have resulted in a tragic loss of at least eight lives and left numerous others injured. On Saturday, July 8, the polling commenced under heavy security provided by the Central Reserve Police Forces (CRPF). However, the measures have proven insufficient to contain the escalating violence. It has plagued districts such as Coochbehar, Murshidabad, and North 24 Paraganas.
Governor CV Ananda Bose has personally taken stock of the dire situation on the ground. He witnessed firsthand the rampant violence that has unfolded. Expressing his deep concern, he urged that the elections be carried out through the ballot and not the bullet.
Violence Throughout The Polling
Various forms of violence have characterized the incidents, highlighting the volatile nature of the situation. Unidentified individuals set ballot papers ablaze at one polling booth in Baravita Primary School, Sitai, Coochbehar, resulting in vandalism. They created a scene of chaos, leaving the room filled with smoke, scattered torn ballot papers, and overturned and burnt wooden chairs and tables.
Pre-poll violence also erupted in Murshidabad, where a house was vandalized and set on fire. The clashes occurred as workers from the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and Congress confronted each other, further fueling the tense atmosphere.
Loss Of Lives
Political parties involved have surfaced with allegations and counter-allegations amidst the chaos. The TMC has claimed that three of its party workers were killed in Rejinagarm, Tufanganj, and Khargram. Similarly, hooligans launched a brutal attack at a polling booth in Falimari gram panchayat, Cooch Behar, resulting in the death of a BJP polling agent. The candidate himself sustained injuries and was rushed to the hospital, causing the suspension of voting at the affected booth.
The BJP accuses the TMC of openly engaging in ballot looting in Kholakhali. Bengal BJP President Dr. Sukanta Majumdar shares a video on Twitter, alleging that the TMC is involved in the misconduct at booth No. 44 and 45 in Kholakhali.
Tragically, violence claims the life of a booth agent who supports an independent candidate in Pirgachha, North 24 Parganas district. Villagers stage protests, alleging the involvement of Munna Bibi’s husband, who is a TMC candidate, in the murder.
The casualties continue to mount as Sateshuddin Sheikh, a TMC worker, loses his life in Khargram, Murshidabad, while Phoolchand, a Congress worker, suffers the same fate in the same area during the nomination process for the Panchayat election.
Bengal’s Failing Democracy
Critics have criticized the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress for the deteriorating law and order situation in Bengal. The panchayat elections play a significant role as they precede the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
Currently, voters actively participate in the election process for a considerable number of seats, comprising 63,229 gram panchayat seats, 9,730 panchayat samiti seats, and 928 zilla parishad seats. The counting of votes is scheduled for July 11, revealing the political landscape influenced by these controversial elections.
Where Is Bengal Heading?
As violence continues to disrupt the democratic process in Bengal, authorities must take immediate and effective measures to ensure the safety of voters, restore peace, and uphold the principles of fair elections. The people of Bengal deserve a democratic process that is free from fear and violence. We must hear their voices through the power of the ballot, not the force of bullets. It is crucial to prioritize the restoration of a conducive environment where every citizen can actively exercise their democratic rights without intimidation or coercion.