A CISF quick reaction team coming under attack during a security patrol and injury to a child in the commotion are stated to have triggered the violence at a polling booth in West Bengal's Cooch Behar district which left four people dead on Saturday, sources said. Preliminary investigation revealed that a large number of local people, believed to be TMC supporters, gathered at booth no 126 at Sitalkuchi in Mathabhanga area and had an altercation with the central forces during the polling process.
The firing took place around 9.35am at Assembly Constituency No 5 (Sitalkuchi), Booth No 126 in Amtali Madhyamik Shiksha Kendra under the Mathabhanga police station in the Cooch Behar district.
The Superintendent of police, Cooch Behar, Debashish Dhar, said, “Trouble started when Quick Reaction Team (QRT) of CISF 567/C headed by company Commander Inspector E Sunil Kumar was attacked by a group 50 to 60 people while they were taking round to quell a group of agitated people who were resisting voters from reaching their respective polling booths. In the melee, one child fell down and miscreants started damaging the vehicle of QRT and attacked the QRT personnel. In self defence, the QRT reacted and fired six rounds in the air to quell the agitated local people. In the meantime, Deepak Kumar, DC Adhoc Commandant of 567 CISF, reached the spot and after pacifying the mob, he left the place,” an EC official said.
He further said, “An hour later, another group of people (more than 150 in numbers) gathered in the area and went on mayhem. They manhandled the polling staff and assaulted a Home Guard and a Asha worker who were present on the duty at the booth. In the meantime, the CISF booth commander tried to pacify the mob but they forcibly entered the polling booth and ransacked whatever came their way. In the chaos, a section of them tried to snatch the weapons of the CISF personnel and in self defence the jawans fired two rounds in the air but the mob didn’t pay any heed to the warning. In the meantime, QRT of CISF and police also reached the spot. The mob further started advancing aggressively towards the CISF personnel and sensing imminent danger to their life they fired seven more rounds towards the advancing mob. While the above incident was going on, more police parties also arrived at the booth. It is reported that in self-defence they have also fired a few rounds.”
A senior EC official also corroborated the same and said, “A scuffle took place and locals tried to snatch arms and ammunition of the central forces and in self defence they opened fire to bring the situation under control. Total four people were killed in the firing and several others received injuries in the chaos. The polling has been suspended at booth number 126. The re-polling date will be announced later.”
Those who were injured are being treated in a local hospital and additional central forces were sent to Sitalkuchi in Cooch Behar to maintain the law and order situation in the area.
The CISF is an armed police force under the Union Home Ministry and is tasked to guard major civil airports and vital installations in the country. It has deployed multiple companies for providing security during the eight-phased assembly polls in West Bengal.
Condemning the incident, West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee came down heavily on the central forces and blamed Union Home Minister Amit Shah for influencing the jawans who are on poll duties.
Addressing a public rally in Bongaon in North 24-Parganas, she said, “The BJP is losing the election and therefore, on instruction of Amit Shah, central forces are killing my innocent people. Look at their audacity. They simply killed four people in Cooch Behar and blamed that they tried to snatch their rifles. It is a shame that Amit Shah has stooped to a new low. Sensing BJP’s defeat, he is asking the central forces to kill the innocent voters. We strongly condemned the incident and want Amit Shah’s resignation. The Home Minister should resign immediately.”
She said, “I have been saying that Amit Shah has been influencing the central forces and our worst fears have come true with the Sitalkuchi firing incident. Tomorrow, I am going to Sitalkuchi where the firing took place and we will observe protest rallies across the State against Amit Shah and Narendra Modi’s anarchy in the country.”
Reacting to the Sitalkuchi firing incident, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a public meeting at Siliguri said, “What happened in Cooch Behar is sad. I offer my condolences to bereaved families. I would like to request the Election Commission (EC) to take strict action against the accused persons. Such an incident clearly shows that Didi’s (Mamata) goons are frustrated.”
He said, “Didi O didi, do you think jawans — who give befitting reply to Maoists and terrorists — will be scared of TMC goons?”
The District Police source said, the number of casualties could rise further as four people are in critical condition and fighting for their lives in a local hospital in Cooch Behar.
Mamata claimed that all the victims were TMC supporters and they were shot dead by the Central paramilitary personnel so that her supporters should not come out (due to fear) to exercise their voting rights in the fifth phase.
However, the Election Commission maintained that the security forces were forced to open fire to control the ‘organised’ mobilisation of the miscreants in the polling booths in Sitalkuchi. “Many jawans were also injured in the clash,” EC sources said.
Polling is underway in total 44 Assembly constituencies across five districts (Howrah, Hooghly, South 24 Parganas, Alipurduar and Cooch Behar) of West Bengal in the fourth phase of the Assembly election on April 10.
Among the hot seats are Sitalkuchi and Tollygunge constituency, where BJP has fielded Baren Chandra Barman against TMC’s Partha Pratim Ray and Union Minister Babul Supriyo against sitting TMC MLA Aroop Biswas.
When contacted, TMC candidate from Sitalkuchi, Partha Pratim Ray, he broke down and said, “People of North Bengal will never forgive anarchists like Amit Shah and Narendra Modi for their dictatorship style of functioning.”
He said, “Four of our supporters were killed by the jawans and this happened on instruction of Amit Shah. Sensing their defeat, BJP is now conducting elections with the support of the central forces. I would like to request the people in North Bengal to unite against the evil forces like the BJP”.
The State BJP leadership blamed Mamata Banerjee for the incident, who had urged people to ‘gherao’ the Central forces from allegedly interfering in the polls.
Meanwhile, the TMC have decided to hold protests in every block and ward of West Bengal over the firing in Cooch Behar on Sunday.
(With inputs from PTI)
Read all the Latest News, Breaking News and Coronavirus News here. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Telegram.