West Bengal bypolls: Election Commission seeks action taken report from CEO on malpractice charges

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New Delhi, 12/04/2019: FOR INDEX: A view of Election Commission of India, in New Delhi on Friday . Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma / The Hindu
| Photo Credit: The Hindu

“The Election Commission of India (ECI) has sought an action taken report from the West Bengal Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) after receiving nearly 100 complaints from the BJP regarding bogus voting, violence and intimidation during Wednesday’s (July 10) bypolls at four Assembly constituencies in the State,” a senior official said. The ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) has denied those allegations and dubbed them as “baseless”.

“There were some reports of violence, but overall, the election was peaceful yesterday. We promptly took action whenever reports of such violence and malpractices were reported to us or came to the notice of our officers,” CEO Ariz Aftab said.

Sources at the CEO’s office confirmed that it would respond to the EC’s query on July 11 by listing out the actions the poll conducting body has so far taken or initiated vis-a-vis those complaints. The bypolls were held at Maniktala, Bagdah, Ranaghat Dakshin and Raiganj Assembly seats.

“Three persons were arrested in Bagdah for their alleged involvement in intimidating electors and attacking the BJP candidate,” an official said, adding that two were held in Ranaghat Dakshin Assembly constituency for the same reason.

Among the constituencies, Raiganj witnessed the highest turnout at 67.12%, followed by Ranaghat Dakshin at 65.37%, Bagdah at 65.15% and Maniktala at 51.39%.

According to Election Commission officials, the turnout may increase as queues were observed outside polling booths at 6 p.m. when polling officially ended.

Sporadic incidents of violence were reported from Bagdah, Maniktala and Ranaghat Dakshin as the BJP accused TMC activists of assaulting its booth agents and stopping its candidates from visiting some polling stations.

BJP candidates Manoj Kumar Biswas and Binay Kumar Biswas from Ranaghat Dakshin and Badgah respectively claimed that they were not allowed to visit some booths.

“I was stopped from visiting the booths after I got complaints that BJP workers were being beaten up by TMC goons,” Binay Kumar Biswas said. Manoj Biswas alleged that the BJP camp offices in some areas were ransacked by the TMC.

BJP’s Maniktala candidate Kalyan Chaubey also faced protests and was greeted with “go back” slogans by alleged TMC activists as he tried to enter a booth in the constituency on the day of the polls. Later, security personnel dispersed the crowd. Mr. Chaubey later on July 10 reached the CEO’s office and demanded repolling in 89 booths.

“A few women activists of the TMC along with some goons surrounded me and gave ‘go back’ slogans. I have demanded repolling in 89 booths as the TMC has turned the bypolls into a farce,” he said.

Calling the allegations baseless, TMC leader Kunal Ghosh had insisted that the BJP was “only making excuses to hide its failure in the elections”.

“The BJP knows it will lose the polls, so they are making those excuses. The people of Bengal are with the TMC, this was proven in the Lok Sabha polls and will be proven again in the bypolls,” he said.

The TMC in the last Lok Sabha polls won 29 seats, whereas the BJP won 12 and the Congress won one seat.

Raiganj was won by the saffron camp in the last Assembly elections. The Maniktala seat was secured by the TMC in 2021 but it became vacant after former State Minister Sadhan Pandey died in February 2022. Despite the BJP winning the other three seats in 2021, the MLAs later switched to the TMC. The counting of votes will take place on July 13.

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