Voting for the West Bengal panchayat elections began at 7 am on Monday even as violent clashes and booth capturing were reported in several parts of the state.
People were seen standing in long queues outside polling stations right from 6 am. The elections are being conducted using ballot papers.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee urged people and political parties not to pay heed to canards and “fake videos”, and participate peacefully in the panchayat elections.
As many as 1,54,500 policemen, including Bengal police, civic volunteers and cops from the Sikkim, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have been deployed to ensure peaceful voting. Police have sealed the state’s border with Jharkhand.
Violence was reported at several places. In Bagda of North 24 Parganas district, nine goons were caught by villagers stamping ballot papers in a booth and beaten up, before being handed over to police and sent to hospital.
Villagers alleged that when they confronted the criminals, they tried to flee by hurling crude bombs.
Bengal food minister Jyotipriyo Mullick alleged that BJP had brought hundreds of people from Bangladesh to unleash violence, adding that police were outnumbered.
“The incidents of violence are largely reported from south Bengal. North Bengal is relatively peaceful,” said BJP Bengal president Dilip Ghosh.
In a booth in Bodo Khotimali of Dinhata in Cooch Behar district, there were reports that 100% polling was completed by 8 am.
TV channels aired footage showing north Bengal development minister Rabindranath Ghosh slapping a BJP polling agent in a booth in Natabari of the district.
“In different areas of Jalpaiguri, Cooch Behar and North Dinajpur district, ruling party supporters are jamming booths. We are trying to contact senior officers such as police superintendent, district magistrate, but they are not picking up phones,” alleged Dipan Pramanik, BJP resident of Jalpaiguri district.
In Suktabari area of Cooch Behar district, a woman voter was rushed to a hospital after she was injured in a clash between supporters of Trinamool and an independent candidate.
In most areas, disgruntled local Trinamool Congress leaders, who were denied tickets for the elections, are contesting as independent candidates.
Storm and rains had lashed north Bengal districts of Malda, North Dinajpur, Alipurduar and Jalpaiguri on Sunday.
In some areas such as Islampur of North 24 Parganas, power was disrupted and votes were conducted in candle lights.
In Chapatala of Deganga in North 24 Parganas, the Congress candidate sustained injuries.
TV channels aired footage of clashes between two groups of people inside a booth in Uttar Gazipur village in South 24 Parganas. Injured youths were seen writhing in pain inside the booth. The lone policeman guarding the booth appeared helpless.
A large police contingent fires tear gas shells to disperse trouble mongers in Bhangar.
Violence was reported from Keshpur of West Midnapore district too.>