The bloodiest election in recent history

Union home minister Amit Shah on Sunday squarely held West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s recent “provocative speech” responsible for the violent mob attack on the Central paramilitary forces which, in turn, shot dead four villagers at a polling booth in Shitalkuchi of Cooch Behar during the fourth phase of the election a day earlier. With paramilitary forces struggling to keep the peace in Bengal, India’s bloodiest election in recent history is dangerously poised. Violence has steadily escalated with each phase, casting grave doubts on the Election Commission’s decision to do polling in eight phases. In Bengal, the campaigning is extremely polarising and two sides evenly matched in resources and motivation are locked in a seemingly do-or-die battle. Each blames the other for the violence and is actively prodding mistrust of authorities and communities. So the multiple phases seem to have escalated physical confrontations instead of dampening them.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Sunday alleged “genocide” in Sitalkuchi, saying the four voters killed on Saturday’s CISF firing was “sprayed with bullets in the chest and neck”. Her allegation came at an unscheduled news conference, called after her planned visit to Jorpatki village in Cooch Behar, where the deaths occurred, was thwarted by the Election Commission’s 72-hour ban from Saturday evening on politicians entering the district. Rumours and misinformation culminating in the CISF firing at Cooch Behar leading to four deaths highlight Bengal’s present plight. CISF personnel had reportedly helped a boy, but such has been the vilification of central forces by TMC that this was a tragedy waiting to happen. A Bihar SHO lynched in North Dinajpur district was another victim amid a general state of lawlessness. Election Commission has barred politicians from Cooch Behar and extended silent campaigning to 72 hours after issuing notices for Model Code violations served no purpose.
The dead voters — Nur Alam Mian (20), Maniruzzaman Mian (28), Samiul Haq (21) and Hamidul Mian (31) — are said to have been Trinamul supporters. While the administration, functioning under the poll panel, has said the CISF personnel fired in self-defence after being attacked by a mob, local villagers have alleged unprovoked caning and firing by the forces. Mamata questioned the deployment of the CISF, which specialises in industrial security, to maintain law and order during an election.

- Prabhakar Purandare

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