5 killed in Bengal poll violence, Modi-Mamata clash, EC acts tough

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(Eds: Coalesces related stories) Kolkata/New Delhi, Apr 10 (PTI) West Bengal plunged into chaos on Saturday when five people were killed, including four in CISF firing, during the fourth phase of polling, pushing the Election Commission to bar entry of political leaders from outside in the troubled Cooch Behar district for the next 72 hours.

The deaths, all in Cooch Behar's Sitalkuchi, set off a political firestorm in the politically volatile state, with the ruling TMC and challenger BJP blaming each other for the violence, the worst since the assembly polls got underway.

In a rare order, the Election Commission put in place restrictions, including extending the 'silence period' from 48 hours to 72 hours, for the fifth phase of polling after the violence.

Candidates will now not be allowed to canvass door to door 72 hours before the end of the polling hour instead of the usual 48 hours prior to the conclusion of the exercise.

It also barred the entry of politicians in Cooch Behar district for the next 72 hours to prevent any possible law and order flare-up and directed the union home ministry to deploy an additional 71 companies of central armed police forces (CAPF) for the next four phases of the polling.

Condoling the deaths in Cooch Behar, Prime Minister Narendra Modi requested the Election Commission to take stern action against those responsible for the incident and blamed the ruling TMC for perpetrating violence during the polls.

He also accused Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of instigating people against the central forces, sensing defeat.

'What happened in Cooch Behar is unfortunate and sad.

I extend my condolences to the bereaved families and urge the Election Commission to take stern action against those responsible.

'Mamata Didi and her TMC goons have become jittery because of ground swell of support for BJP,' Modi told an election rally in North Bengal's Siliguri.

The chief minister, who rushed to North Bengal and said she will meet the bereaved families, demanded the resignation of Home Minister Amit Shah and a reply from him on firing by the central forces which led to the death of people 'standing in the queue to vote'.

Asserting that she had apprehended such an incident all along, Banerjee said, 'After killing so many people, they (Election Commission) are saying the firing was in self- defence. They should feel ashamed.' 'This is a lie....The central forces opened fire on people standing in the line for voting, killing 4 in Sitalkuchi. I had been apprehending the forces would act in such a manner for long. As the BJP knows it has lost the people's mandate, they are conspiring to kill people,' she said at a rally in North 24 Parganas district.

The chief minister said a CID probe will be instituted into the incident.

Meanwhile, an estimated 76.16 per cent of 1.15 crore voters exercised their franchise till 5 pm in 44 constituencies where polling was held, an official said.

Four people were killed as central forces opened fire allegedly after coming under attack from locals, who 'attempted to snatch their rifles' in Sitalkuchi in Cooch Behar district, police said.

The Election Commission ordered stopping the voting exercise at polling station number 126 after the incident where a repoll will be held later.

According to a report from the national capital, the incident occurred when a quick reaction team of the CISF allegedly came under attack during a security patrol and a child was injured in the commotion.

Sources in the know of the incident said it all started around 9:35 AM when a CISF team, led by an Inspector- rank officer, was inspecting the Jor Patki area of Sitalkuchi constituency jointly with the local police to 'clear the elements which were resisting' the voters from reaching the polling booth no. 126 at Amtali Madhyamik Shiksha Kendra and other locations nearby.

The security personnel intervened to stop a crowd of about 50-60 people, and in the commotion, a child fell down.

After this, some 'miscreants' attacked the four-wheeler carrying the CISF quick reaction team (QRT) and the personnel on-board, the sources said.

'The QRT reacted in self-defence and fired six rounds in air to disperse the mob. Later, a Deputy Commandant rank officer and in-charge of the CISF unit (567/Charlie Company) reached the spot and pacified the mob. He later left,' a senior officer said.

About an hour later, the officials said, a group of about 150 people reached the polling booth no 186 in the vicinity, and 'manhandled the polling staff'.

The crowd allegedly beat up a homeguard jawan and an ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) worker and also tried to snatch the weapon of the on-duty CISF personnel when they intervened, they said.

'According to preliminary reports, four persons were killed as CISF personnel opened fire after coming under attack in a village.

'A scuffle took place, and locals gheraoed them and attempted to snatch their rifles, following which the central forces opened fire. Further details are awaited,' a police official said.

According to official sources, the preliminary report submitted by the EC's special police observer Vivek Dubey said a huge mob of around 350-400 people had gheraoed the central forces, following which they fired in 'self-defence'. PTI PNT SCH SUS NES NAB NN RT SK SK SK