Poll violence claims three lives; Banerjee blames SEC, opposition

Last Updated: Sun, Jul 21, 2013 16:50 hrs

Kolkata, July 21 (IANS) Panchayat poll violence took three lives in West Bengal since Saturday, even as Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee appealed for calm and claimed the disturbances could have been avoided had the elections been held in one or two phases.

Two Congress activists died in a bomb attack by rival party supporters in Beldanga of Murshidabad district Saturday night. Another Congress worker was killed in a political clash at Bharatpur in the same district Sunday, police said.

Two police personnel were injured while trying to separate the clashing groups at Bharatpur.

Murshidabad, along with Nadia, Malda and Birbhum districts, would go to the hustings Monday in the fourth and penultimate phase of the panchayat polls in the state. Eighty percent of the booths in the four districts have been declared sensitive.

Union minister and Murshidabad district Congress president Adhir Chowdhury termed the killings as the handwork of miscreants who recently left the Communist Party of India-Marxist and joined the ruling Trinamool Congress. He also alleged that police failed to act despite being tipped off in advance about the disturbances.

There were reports of violence from Nadia and Malda as well.

Five people were killed during polling for round three of the elections July 19, while three others were killed during the second phase July 15.

Speaking over phone to a local television channel, the chief minister called upon the opposition parties as also the Trinamool to maintain peace ahead of the polls.

"I appeal to all of you to maintain peace and exercise polling rights freely. Let the people of this state enjoy the fresh air of democracy which has been missing for decades," she said.

Saying the bloodshed could have been avoided had the polls been held in one or two phases, she said: "These are local elections, often with micro local issues at stake. Often two members of the same family contest for two rival parties. This triggers family feuds. These are not Lok Sabha elections and needed to be handled differently."

Putting the onus for the violence on the opposition parties and the State Election Commission, Banerjee said the CPI-M, Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) - and even the courts, all preferred a lengthy, drawn-out five-phased election.

"No one listened to our logical and practical suggestion about a one-day, or at best a two-day poll."

Stating that the election was being conducted by the State Election Commission, "not the government", Banerjee said adequate police were provided by the state as per requirements stipulated by the SEC.

"Still precious lives were lost. Every death is a tragedy, irrespective of the party he or she belongs. A family loses a precious member who can never be replaced," she added.

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