It was Trinamool vs Trinamool on a day the Election Commission cracked yet another almost blemish-less century and ensured free and fair voting in the fifth phase of West Bengal Assembly polls.
If Mamata Banerjee had the sounded the war bugle against EC and its “heavy-handed tactics”, Saturday saw the reason why the ruling party has been feeling increasingly nervous. Using muscle power to subvert polling process is a blueprint created over decades by the Left and perfected in the last five years by Trinamool Congress. Last year’s civic polls showed to what extent can violence decide the outcome of a democratic procedure.
This time, however, the EC under Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi has proved a very tough nut to crack.
From the minute fourth-phase voting ended on 25 April up until the morning of Saturday, the EC and Kolkata police took a series of well-planned, calibrated and stringent steps that ensured Phase 5 remains almost as incident free as Phase 4, notwithstanding a few stray incidents of violence and rigging that is unavoidable in an exercise involving 14,500 booths for a 1.2 crore electorate.
The 349 candidates across 53 seats in Kolkata, South 24 Parganas and Hooghly that went to vote on Saturday included the who’s who of Bengal politics: the Chief Minister, mayor of Kolkata and members of Mamata Banerjee‘s core team — many of whom have found it difficult to erase the indelible ink of Sarada and Narada scams.
To contain trouble and ensure that outsiders do not queer the pitch on Saturday, the EC had a clear plan.
They started by liberally using Section 107 of IPC which ensured history sheeters were either put inside bars or had to fly their area of operation. The cops kept a close eye on all tainted criminals of port, Tiljala-Topsia, Tollygunge and Jadavpur area. The Kolkata police, under new Police Commissioner Soumen Mitra, prepared 43 quick response team. The EC also had at its disposal a 90000-strong security force (including state police) which was used to comb search for troublemakers.
Another significant step was to shut down all local clubs in every mohalla. This unprecedented step was triggered by an apprehension that clubs — hangout joints for local youths — were TMC strongholds and could be used as base to create trouble or rig the polls.
As a final step, the poll panel ordered imposition of prohibitory orders under Section 144 of CrPc in all the constituencies on polling day. Taken together, these steps ensured that violence was kept at a minimum.
Some incidents did take place though till about 5pm in the evening, an hour before official end of voting, sporadic violence in different parts of the state left 7 people injured while 27 so far have been arrested. The EC received nearly 3000 complaints and the biggest one came from Baruipur, a municipality in South 24 Paragans district.
In booth No 162 of Nabagram area under Baruipur constituency, four Trinamool Congress workers were injured in firing during a clash with CPIM activists. One 14-year-old, Ahmed Mollah, reportedly took a bullet in his hand while three others including a differently-abled individual were also hurt in firing. The injured have been admitted to the Baruipur Mahakuma Hospital. The Election Commission took suo motu cognizance of the incident and has sought an urgent report on the incident.
In the dock is one Rafikul Mollah though Sujoy Mistry, CPIM candidate in the area, has denied all charges. However, Kolkata mayor Sovon Chatterjee, the president of South-24 Parganas district TMC, blamed the CPIM for launching a calculated attack and accused the EC of inaction. Cops have so far arrested six, according to latest reports.
Other incidents of violence were reported from Goghat and Arambagh in Hooghly district. In Goghat, Forward Bloc candidate Biswanath Karak and his bodyguard were beaten up with the butt of a rifle by TMC-linked hooligans sparking off a massive search operation by central forces. Karak, who was on his way to visit some booths after getting reports of rigging, was waylaid by a biker gang. Police have arrested 5 TMC workers.
Sonali Guha, the new Didi in town
Mamata Banerjee isn’t the only firebrand female leader in Bengal. Other women leaders have shown during this election that they can be quite incendiary as well. If it was BJP’s Roopa Ganguly and Locket Chatterjee in earlier phases, this time it was Didi’s colleague Sonali Guha’s turn.
The TMC leader and candidate from Satgachia constituency landed in trouble after TV channels caught her inciting party workers over the phone. Guha, TMC candidate from South 24 Pargana’s Satgachia constituency, was seen instructing party activists to “thrash and drive out CPM agents from booths”. A malfunctioning EVM, which paused voting for over an hour in Kashibati Hindumoyee School (booth No 108), drew Guha’s ire as she accused the CPM of damaging the EVMs and asked party members to drive them out. She also engaged in confrontation with paramilitary jawans when they prevented her from entering the booths.
The EC subsequently filed an FIR against her.
Trinamool vs Trinamool
As cops kept things under tight control, Trinamool’s infighting came to the fore. Marxist-turned TMC leader Abdur Rezzak Mollah, who joined Mamata Banerjee’s party in February this year, brought charges of sabotage against party colleague Arabul Islam.
Back when Mollah was a CPIM leader, Islam was his bitterest rival. That the relationship hasn’t changed for the better despite a desperate attempt by TMC supremo to make Islam the ‘poll manager’ for Mollah’s campaign became clear on Saturday. Amid reports that Mollah’s men have been targeted in many places by Islam’s followers, the veteran TMC candidate from Bhangar constituency told local TV channels that “there is 100% chance of sabotage”.
CPIM rebel Mollah joined TMC in February this year. Mamata Banerjee’s decision to field him as a candidate in Bhangar didn’t go down well with firebrand leader Arabul and his men who have, for a long time, been at the receiving end of violence from CPIM under the veteran Marxist leader.
If Mamata calculated that Mollah’s inclusion may consolidate the minority votes, it seemed to have backfired as Saturday saw prolonged clashes and infighting between TMC workers. In many places, Mollah’s followers were beaten up those close to Islam. An irritated Mollah kept his temper in check all throughout the day until the final hours when it became clear that friendly fire may ruin his chances.
On being asked whether his poll manager Islam’s action will be the deciding factor in this seat, Mollah quipped: “He was a factor. Now he is a tractor.”