In the night of Monday in Bankura, a group of lathi-wielding Trinamool Congress (TC) workers barged into houses identified as those of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters and threatened them not to vote. After they left, the houses were stoned for hours on end. The threats and acts of stone-pelting continued till yesterday.
TC leader Bangshi Chakraborty dared BJP supporters to cast their votes the day before yesterday, the latter allege. “If you ‘do BJP’, be ready for dire consequences,” he is alleged to have said while roaming around the neighbourhoods.
People around the Saltora Police Station in Bankura are alleging that police, in cahoots with TC workers, have threatened them not to cast their votes today. The threats were issued in presence of policemen, they complain. Former TC workers Nandalal Mandal, Swarup Bandyopadhyay, Subodh Mandal and Bagan Mandal had led scores of colleagues to join the BJP last year, leading to frequent clashes between supporters of the two parties as the national party slowly spread its influence across the area.
There is indeed scope for anti-incumbency in the area. There is no drinking water facility or ground water resource in and around 102 polling stations, informs the blog of the district magistrate and Election Commission’s returning officer in the constituency Vijay Bharti. The blog also says there are parts in the constituency where some people have called for boycott of polls.
The sight of men gathered in groups under TC and BJP banners, discussing an imminent outbreak of violence is commonplace in the area. In the premises of households identified as those of BJP supporters, one can see rocks lying scattered all over the place, indicative of violence the houses witnessed some time ago. Fear is writ large over women’s faces in the verandahs. Scared to speak up, they scurry for cover the moment a journalist approaches them.
Mandal and Bandyopadhyay have still not dared return home after the incident of break-in at their houses at 10 pm in the night of Monday. Mandal’s wife Durga said, “Two vans full of cops accompanied by TC workers had arrived at our place that night. They said if my husband returned, they would sever our limbs. They told us consequences would be extreme if we dared cast our votes on Wednesday. They said ‘everything will be over’ by 11 am on the polling day. Yesterday, the police came back to issue the threat once again and left a message with us for our menfolk that they must surrender at the earliest, failing which we would all be dumpedinthelock-up.”
“The TC workers are working in connivance with the police here. They are upset by our constantly increasing influence since the panchayat elections,” Bandyopadhyay says.
Subhash Sarkar, the BJP candidate from Bankura, lodged a formal complaint with Bharti, yesterday in the afternoon. “We are expected to win a majority of votes from this village. The TC is apprehensive of that and is, therefore, threatening us,” Sarkar said about the Bagjada village of Bankura.
TC Satora block president Kalipada Ray rubbishes the charges. “These allegations are baseless. Those who are making these allegations actually belong to no party. They were paid to join the BJP. They are maligning the TC for their own mileage,” he says.
District magistrate Bharti says he has no report of trouble from Bagjada. He has instructed the joint block development officer to submit a report from the ground. The village has not seen arrival of paramilitary forces to man the election. The village is being guarded by armed men of the West Bengal Police.
In the meantime, the situation is as tense in the adjacent villages of Anandapur and Rautora. As the administration claims ignorance of news of disturbances, BJP workers are approaching journalists wherever they can and pleading with them to carry stories of their plight. “They won’t let us vote; they won’t let us appoint polling agents. They would kill us if we dared to, they have threatened,” the BJP workers say, adding, “We are spending every minute in mortal fear of another attack.”
Bharti has assured Sarkar of adequate security measures including supervision by the joint BDO and officer in-charge of Saltora Police Station. But Sarkar is not confident all his supporters can vote as the police are the accused, too.
The prominent candidates contesting from Bankura are the CPI(M)’s Basudeb Acharia, eyeing his tenth win, and TC’s Moon Moon Sen, yesteryears’ film actress. Maoists are said to be regrouping in the tribal Jangalmahal area of Bankura ahead of polling on May 7 to disrupt the elections.