What is happening in West Bengal? Panchayat poll violence turns deadly, bloodshed takes political turn

Violence erupted in West Bengal during the nomination filing of the panchayat elections in the state, leading to three people being shot dead.

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Three persons were shot dead and several others were injured as violence and arson marked the conclusion of nomination filing for the three-tier West Bengal panchayat polls slated next month.

Two persons were killed at Bhangore in South 24 Parganas district, around 30 km from Kolkata, while another youth was gunned down by miscreants at Chopra in Uttar Dinajpur district, around 50 Km from Siliguri, in the northern part of the state, police said.

Several incidents of clashes were reported from different parts of the state as the police had a harrowing time controlling the situation. State Election Commissioner (SEC) Rajiva Sinha declined to comment on the incident, stating that he is yet to receive a report.

The violence triggered a political slugfest between the opposition ? CPI (M), Congress and BJP - and the ruling TMC, with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee accusing the opposition of trying to malign the state by orchestrating the violence.

She denied any involvement of her party workers in the incidents of violence, stating that the TMC has instructed its members to allow all candidates to file their nominations. "In around 74,000 booths, some incidents have occurred in only two or three. Our party workers are not involved in those incidents," Banerjee said.

Pointing out that violence during panchayat polls is not new, citing a similar situation in 2003 when 36 people were killed during the Left regime, she said, "Rural polls are so localised that even three or four members from a same family are contesting elections."

"Opposition parties are trying to create disturbances by orchestrating violence while filing nominations. They are doing it to tarnish the state's image. If they (the opposition) think they will unleash one-sided violence, then people will give a befitting reply," she said.

Banerjee also referred to the 2013 panchayat polls in the state, when it was held under the supervision of central forces, but couldn't help stop the bloodshed as "49 people were killed."

Speaking of the ongoing violence in Bhangore, Banerjee blamed the Indian Secular Front (ISF) for it without naming the party.

"For the last two days, a political party which uses religion to polarise people has unleashed a reign of terror in Bhangore, assaulting our party workers and ransacking several vehicles. There has been some retaliation from our end, too, yesterday," she said.

The state's three-tier panchayat election encompassing a significant electorate of approximately 5.67 crores, will exercise their franchise to choose representatives for nearly 75,000 seats in zilla parishads, panchayat samiti and gram panchayats.

As per the figures available till Wednesday, the TMC, which was behind the opposition in filing nominations in the first few days, had filed nominations in nearly 50,000 seats, whereas the BJP had covered around 46,000 seats, and the CPI(M) and the Congress had covered 38,000 and 11,000 seats respectively.

CPI(M) state secretary Md Salim said candidates of the Left Front and the Congress were attacked in Chopra when they and their supporters were going to file nominations.

"The TMC has unleashed a reign of terror with tacit support from SEC and state police. This is shameful in a democracy," senior CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty said. The ISF, too, slammed the TMC for having "no regard for the democratic process in the state".

"Since the beginning of the filing of nominations, TMC goons have resorted to violence to stop our candidates from reaching nomination centres," ISF leader and Bhangore MLA Naushad Siddique said.

BJP state spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya said,"The SEC is working like a frontal organisation of the TMC. The TMC wants to turn this panchayat election into a farce, just like 2018."

In the 2018 rural polls, the TMC won 90 per cent of the Panchayat seats in the state and all 22 Zilla Parishads. These elections were marred by widespread violence and malpractices, with the opposition alleging they were prevented from filing nominations in many seats across the state.

State Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said the people of West Bengal can cast their votes only if central forces are deployed.

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