Kolkata: Amid violence that marked the single-phase panchayat election in West Bengal, questions were raised regarding the deployment of the Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) in sensitive zones in the state, even as political parties engaged in a blame game. The Border Security Force (BSF) has alleged that the State Election Commission (SEC) failed to provide information about the sensitive booths where CAPF presence was required. However, the SEC has refuted these claims.
Speaking to ThePrint, BSF Deputy Inspector General (DIG), S.S. Guleria, PRO, Eastern Command, said, “We had written several letters since 5 July, seeking details of the sensitive booths, but we received no reply.”
Guleria added that the reported deaths that occurred Saturday at the polling booths were not under the CAPF’s cover.
“We conducted the polls smoothly wherever our troops were deployed, but the deaths happened at the booths where there was no CAPF presence,” said Guleria.
Refuting Guleria’s allegations, State Election Commissioner, Rajiva Sinha told ThePrint, that the information regarding sensitive booths was indeed provided to the district magistrate/superintendent of police.
“We have recorded our communication with IG BSF. They have also confirmed it,” he said.
However, he did not give any official figure on the number of deaths reported Saturday and said “police confirmation report was awaited.” This response comes 19 hours after the polling ended Saturday.
When ThePrint asked for a clarification on SEC refuting the allegations, Guleria said the SEC’s claim of providing details of sensitive booths was “false”.
The polling day in West Bengal saw violence, deaths, intimidation and ballot box tampering in many districts, despite the presence of central force personnel. With more than 10 people reportedly killed in clashes and attacks, the SEC has not yet released the official data on the casualties.
The violence erupted despite the Calcutta High Court’s order last month, directing the SEC to seek 822 companies of CAPF to ensure fair and peaceful polls. The state has a history of violent elections, as seen in the 2018 panchayat polls and the 2021 assembly polls.
According to unofficial media reports, at least 12 people were killed Saturday across West Bengal. However, the SEC had earlier claimed that only five deaths had taken place in the pre-poll violence.
The panchayat polls were held across 3,317 gram panchayat seats, 928 zilla parishad seats, 9,730 panchayat samiti seats in 61,363 polling booths. About 5.5 crore voters were eligible to vote.
As the issue of deployment of the CAPF heated up in the state, Trinamool Congress (TMC) minister Shashi Panja, while addressing a news conference Saturday in Kolkata, raised questions on the central force’s absence on the ground and said “60% of the casualties belonged to the TMC.”
The Congress MP and West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee chief, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, while speaking to ThePrint, alleged that the ruling TMC led by Mamata Banerjee and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre had a tacit understanding over the deployment of central forces.
“Nothing else explains the absence of CAPF on the ground on the polling day. The state BJP should raise this with their counterparts in Delhi and protest here,” said Chowdhury, who is currently in Murshidabad taking stock of the violence on the ground.
Dilip Ghosh, BJP national vice-president, alleged that forces were sent, but the TMC-led state government did not utilise them adequately.
“In Purba Medinipur, I didn’t see any central force in the booths. If they were there, violence wouldn’t have taken place. I saw central force jawans marching on the highway, they did what was instructed to them by the state administration,” Ghosh told ThePrint.
Meanwhile, TMC spokesperson Kunal Ghosh countered Ghosh’s claims and said central forces come under the BJP-led central government, which had failed to send in the troops on time.
“Till the day of polling, the troops were still coming in. Why did the central government fail to send forces on time? And claims of peace under the central force being made by the BJP is a joke,” he told ThePrint.
Highlighting the 2021 state election, Kunal Ghosh alleged that the CAPF opened fire and killed voters in Bengal’s Cooch Behar. “See what is happening in Manipur where CAPF is deployed. BJP shouldn’t speak about violence,” he told ThePrint.
Meanwhile, more troops are expected to come in and stay on till 10 days after the results are declared on 11 July, according to the Calcutta High Court order last Monday, Guleria told ThePrint.
According to him, 649 companies of central force had arrived in the state by 11 am on polling day. By 6 pm on Saturday, after polling had ended, that number rose to 681. On Sunday morning, a total of 689 companies had been deployed in West Bengal, which was 133 companies less than the total number requested from the Ministry of Home Affairs.
(Edited by Richa Mishra)