West Bengal election LATEST updates: The Election Commission (EC) on Saturday directed the Union Home Ministry to deploy 71 additional companies of Central Armed Police forces (CAPFs) in West Bengal for the conduct of the remaining four phases of polls, official sources said.
The order comes in the backdrop of multiple incidents of poll violence in the state, including the one on Saturday in Cooch Behar where police said four people were killed in firing by CISF personnel, who had retaliated after allegedly being attacked. Senior officials said the poll panel has directed the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to rush in and deploy the fresh companies "immediately".
The new companies are drawn from the BSF (33), ITBP (13), CRPF (12), SSB (9) and CISF (4).
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee said that the state government will order a CID probe into the firing by central security forces on voters in Cooch Behar on Saturday.
"We will order CID probe into firing by central forces on voters at Sitalkuchi in Cooch Behar. I believe, this incident (firing incident in Cooch Behar) is pre-planned. I will order an investigation into the matter. Home minister Amit Shah is completely responsible for today's incident and he himself is the conspirator. I don't blame central forces because they work under home minister's order," she said.
She added, "I will be going to Mathabhanga hospital tomorrow at 10 am and from there I will go to Alipurduar. I couldn't go to Cooch Behar today due to Model Code of Conduct as polling is going on there."
The Trinamool Congress (TMC) also wrote to the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), West Bengal over "Cold-blooded murder of four and brutal injury of three innocent people by Central Forces."
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Saturday sought Union Home Minister Amit Shah's resignation over firing by central forces at Sitalkuchi in Cooch Behar, killing four people. Banerjee, speaking at a public meeting at Baduria in North 24 Parganas, said she will be leaving for Cooch Behar after attending rallies, and will visit the spot where central forces opened fire during polling.
Appealing to people to remain calm, Banerjee alleged that central policemen shot dead people standing in a queue to vote and demanded "Shah should resign" owing responsibility for the incident "which is dastardly, cold-blooded and unprecedented".
The Election Commission (EC) on Saturday ordered the adjourning of polls in polling station 125 of the Sitalkuchi Assembly constituency in the Cooch Behar district, based on an interim report from special observers. Four people were killed in the area as polling was underway for the fourth phase of the Assembly election.
"Detailed reports sought from them and Chief Electoral Officer by 5 pm today," the EC further said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who addressed a poll rally in Siliguri on Saturday, condoled the deaths due to political violence in Cooch Behar district. The fourth phase of polls is underway in the state.
"What happened in Cooch Behar is very saddening. My sympathies are with the families of those who died, I condole their demise. Didi and her goons are perturbed, seeing the people's support for BJP. She has stooped to this level as she can see her chair slipping away.
"I would like to tell Didi, TMC and their goons clearly that their ways will not be allowed to work in Bengal. I urge the Election Commission to take strict action against the accused of the incident in Cooch Behar," he said.
He added, "Didi, this violence, tactics of instigating people to attack the security forces, the tactics of obstructing the polling process will not protect you. This violence can't protect you from the 10 years of your ill-governance."
A first-time voter was allegedly shot dead on Saturday in Cooch Behar district of West Bengal, where the fourth phase of the Assembly elections is underway amid sporadic incidents of violence, PTI reported.
An 18-year-old voter, Ananda Barman, was allegedly shot dead by miscreants outside booth number 85 in Pathantuli area after clashes broke out between activists of the ruling TMC and the BJP. The culprits, who are yet to be identified, managed to flee, the report added quoting officials.
The incident led to violence in the area as bombs were hurled, prompting central forces to baton-charge to bring the situation under control, police said. "We have received information about a person being shot outside a polling booth in Sitalkuchi in Cooch Behar. We have sought a report from the micro observer," an Election Commission official said.
Additionally, PTI also quoted police sources as saying that four people had died after CISF allegedly opened fire after coming under attack in Sitalkuchi.
Speaking to an Election Commission official over phone, Chatterjee said she was attacked by locals at polling booth number 66 in Hooghly. She also claimed that media professionals were attacked during the incident.
One person was killed when miscreants opened fire at people waiting in a queue to cast their vote. The deceased identified as Ananda Barman (18).
The Trinamool Congress on Saturday alleged that BJP goons created ruckus outside several polling booths in Cooch Behar district " Sitalkuchi, Natalbari, Tufanganj and Dinhata " and prevented TMC agents from entering the booth, ANI reported.
Over 1.15 crore electors will decide the fate of 373 candidates, including Union Minister Babul Supriyo and West Bengal ministers Partha Chatterjee and Arup Biswas for 44 seats in the fourth phase of the Bengal polls.
Forty-four Assembly segments across five districts " two in north Bengal and three in south Bengal " will go to the polls on Saturday, 10 April.
Voting for 44 constituencies in the fourth phase of the eight-phased West Bengal Assembly Election 2021 will begin today at 7 am and continue till 6.30 pm amid COVID-19 precautions and tight security arrangements.
The fourth phase of the high octane West Bengal election is being held in 44 constituencies covering Cooch Behar and Alipurduar districts in north Bengal and parts of South 24 Parganas (Part III), Howrah (Part II) and Hoogly (Part II) in the southern part of the state, and will seal the electoral fates of 373 candidates from the ruling TMC, the BJP-led NDA, the Congress-led Sanjukt Morcha as well as Independents.
Polling will be held for nine assembly constituencies in Howrah, 11 in South 24 Parganas, five in Alipurduar, nine in Coochbehar and ten in Hooghly.
Of the 1,15,81,022 voters casting ballots today, 58,82,514 are men, 56,98,218 women and 290 members identify themselves as the third gender.
Some of the high profile leaders, who are contesting for these 44 seats include BJP firebrand and Union minister Babul Supriyo and West Bengal ministers Partha Chatterjee and Arup Biswas, among others.
While Supriyo will lock horns with sitting MLA Arup Biswas at Tollygunj, known to be the heart of the Bengali film industry in the southern outskirts of Kolkata, Partha Chatterjee, who is also the TMC's secretary-general, will take on film actor Srabanti Chatterjee of the BJP in Behala West seat to return to the Assembly for the fourth successive term.
Also in the fray on Saturday is TMC turncoat Rajib Banerjee, a former minister of the Mamata Banerjee cabinet, who is contesting from Domjur in Howrah district on a BJP ticket.
Two other MPs of the BJP Locket Chatterjee and Nisith Pramanik are also contesting from Chuchura and Dinhata seats in Hoogly and Cooch Behar districts, respectively.
Former Bengal Ranji captain Manoj Tiwary is contesting from Shibpur on a TMC ticket.
Ratna Chatterjee, wife of the former city mayor and fire minister Sovan Chatterjee, who left Mamata Banerjee's TMC to join the BJP for a short period, is facing BJP's actress-turned politician Payel Sarkar in Behala Purbo seat.
The Sanyukta Morcha comprising Left front, Congress and ISF has fielded mostly young faces for the fourth phase of polling. CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty is one of the few seniors fielded by the Left for this phase of the elections.
Bengal has already voted for 91 seats in three phases held between 27 March and 6 April. Polling in the previous three phases saw sporadic incidents of violence with members of all political parties, including some TMC candidates, facing attacks by rival camps.
Keeping the incidents of violence in mind, the Election Commission has deployed at least 789 companies of the central armed police force (CAPF) in 15,940 polling stations spread over the 44 constituencies.
Each company of CAPF comprises 100 personnel including officers.
The highest deployment of 187 companies of CAPF will be in Cooch Behar, which has witnessed sporadic incidents of violence in the run-up to the elections including an attack on BJP state president Dilip Ghosh allegedly by TMC supporters.
The fourth phase of elections in Bengal saw several top leaders from all political parties canvassing for candidates from their respective parties.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, BJP president JP Nadda and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath campaigned for BJP candidates at various places by holding public meetings and roadshows.
Mamata Banerjee and TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee, a Lok Sabha MP, held several public meetings in many of the constituencies going to poll on Saturday.
While the BJP leadership targeted the TMC government, its supremo and chief minister Mamata Banerjee, her nephew Abhishek Banerjee accusing them of corruption and "appeasement politics" and claimed that their "khela shesh hobe" (game will be over).
Modi and Shah promised voters early implementation of the Ayushman Bharat scheme, PM Kisan Samman Nidhi as well as the implementation of the 7th pay commission scales for state government employees if voted to power in West Bengal.
Banerjee, her nephew and party MP Abhishek were among star campaigners for the TMC who stepped up their attack on the BJP-led Central Government over the recent hike in prices of gas, petrol, diesel, besides plans to disinvest in a large number of Central Government-run PSUs.
During the campaigning, Banerjee also accused central police forces of harassing and intimidating voters in Bengal and urged voters to "gherao" them in case security men prevented them from voting.
The fiery TMC leader during a public rally at Tarakeswar in Hooghly district on 3 April also appealed to the minority community not to divide their votes. This led to the Election Commission of India issuing a show-cause notice to Banerjee for demanding votes on communal ground.
Reacting to the notice, the TMC chief had said that she won't change her stance even if she was served 10 notices. She had also accused the EC of bias, asking why no complaint has been filed against Prime Minister Narendra Modi "who talks about Hindu and Muslim (vote banks)every day".
The Election Commission on Friday had also issued a notice to Mamata Banerjee for her "completely false, provocative and intemperate statements" against central forces performing election duty in West Bengal, provoking her to declare she will continue doing so until "the CRPF stops working for BJP".
It's to be noted that while polling will be underway for 44 seats in the fourth phase of the West Bengal Assembly election, campaigning will continue in the 159 constituencies in the state that are set to vote in four phases on 17 April, 22 April, 26 April and 29 April.
With inputs from PTI