Bengal polls: Violence, attack on candidates mar third phase

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(Eds: Corrects header) Kolkata, Apr 6 (PTI) Five candidates, including two women, were assaulted, while clashes between rival political groups erupted during the third phase of polling in West Bengal on Tuesday.

However, despite the violence, voter enthusiasm was high with 77.68 per cent of voters casting their ballots till 5 pm, two hours before polling ended.

Polls were conducted with strict adherence to COVID-19 protocols, officials said.

Voting in 16 seats in South 24 Parganas district (part II), saw 76.68 per cent votes being cast by 5 pm. While 77.93 per cent votes were cast in seven seats in Howrah (part I) and 79.36 per cent in eight in Hooghly (part I), they added.

'Voter turnout of 77.68 per cent was recorded till 5 pm in 31 seats,' an EC official said.

Chief Minister and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee, however, alleged 'blatant misuse' of central forces to 'influence voters'.

'The blatant misuse of Central forces continues unabated. Despite us repeatedly raising this issue, @ECISVEEP continues to be a mute spectator, while men in uniform are being misused at several places to openly intimidate TMC voters and influence many to vote in favour of one party,' she tweeted.

Police arrested five persons -- three members of the TMC and two of the BJP -- for their alleged involvement in assaulting TMC candidate Sujata Mondal in Arambagh earlier on Tuesday, an officer said.

Television grabs showed the TMC leader being chased in an open field by people wielding sticks and iron rods and then hitting on the head with sticks. Her security officer was also injured.

The TMC claimed that BJP 'goons' didn't allow the party's agents inside the polling stations.

The BJP, on the other hand, accused Sujata of entering the area with TMC 'goons' and creating unrest by threatening people.

Police also said they had launched a search for those who assaulted BJP candidate from Uluberia (Dakshin) assembly seat Papiya Adhikary when she went to Uluberia hospital to call on an injured party candidate.

The attacks were part of a series of clashes which were reported from several parts of Bengal, where polling is underway in the third phase of assembly elections.

BJP candidate for Tarakeshwar Swapan Dasgupta was also allegedly abused by TMC supporters while going on a round of polling stations, party sources said.

TMC candidate Dr Nirmal Maji claimed that he was 'heckled' by BJP supporters and his vehicle vandalised when he tried visiting a booth in Uluberia (Uttar) constituency. In Khanakul, TMC candidate Najmul Karim was allegedly beaten up by the BJP activists and slogans were raised against him.

Later, central forces rescued him from the area.

In Falta, a BJP candidate's vehicle was attacked.

At least one person was injured when crude bombs were lobbed outside a polling station in the Canning Purba assembly seat. TMC candidate Shaukat Mollah accused Abbas Siddiqui-led Indian Secular Front (ISF) of having organized the attack, a charge denied by the party.

In some of seats in South 24 Parganas, TMC and ISF candidates clashed in some areas, including the Mandirbazar area, where 12 persons were injured.

TMC turncoat and BJP candidate from Diamond Harbour seat, Dipak Haldar, alleged that his former party stalled voters from casting their votes.

In the Dhanekhali seat, state minister Asima Patra accused central forces of high-handedness and alleged that voters were stopped by BJP 'goons' from reaching polling stations, an allegation dismissed by the saffron party.

A BJP supporter's family member was allegedly killed in Hooghly district, hours before polling in the area, police said.

Madhabi Adak succumbed to her injuries sustained while protecting her son from a few men who barged into their house, they said.

In Durbrajpur, clashes broke out between the BJP activists and the police after the latter tried to recover the body of a saffron party worker found this morning.

Chief Electoral Officer Ariz Aftab has sought reports from poll personnel on all poll related violence which occurred on Tuesday, officials said.

Banerjee later, while addressing a rally, claimed BJP activists were forcibly occupying polling booths and attacking TMC members, including party candidates, while asserting that she would not be bogged down by 'intimidatory tactics'.

BJP state president Dilip Ghosh dubbed the allegations as baseless and instead claimed that people had resisted TMC's efforts to unleash a reign of terror.

The violence occurred despite the Election Commission imposing prohibitory orders under Section 144 of CrPC in all constituencies, after declaring them as 'sensitive'. PTI SCH/SUS PNT JRC RBT RBT