The director generals of the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) have refused to join issue with West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee over the incidents of firing in Cooch Behar district and booth-related tensions during the ongoing assembly elections. “I’ll not comment on what is being said by political parties," DG CRPF Kuldiep Singh said. “I can guarantee that all paramilitary forces and people of their state, who are under the EC’s responsibility, are working as per the EC’s directions." DG CISF Subodh Jaiswal echoed these thoughts. Speaking to News18, he said the central forces were working under the command of the Election Commission. “No comments on political allegations," Jaiswal said when asked about Mamata Banerjee’s accusations against the CISF of a “genocide" in the Cooch Behar incident during the fourth phase of voting.
On the morning of April 10, the CISF personnel on duty at booth number 126 at Jorpatki in the Sitalkuchi constituency of the district opened fire, leading to the deaths of four people and another person receiving a bullet injury. One more person was killed in a separate incident of shooting by some unidentified men near a different polling booth. The Election Commission’s special police observer, Vivek Dube, said in his report that the CISF had to fire in self-defence after villagers tried to snatch their weapons. There was a misunderstanding between villages and the security personnel, he said.
Top officials of the CISF countered the allegations made by Mamata Banerjee. Officers at the force’s headquarters in Delhi said that when an accredited social health activist, or ASHA worker, and a home guard were badly beaten up at the Jorpatki booth, the CISF personnel on duty tried to defuse the situation by firing in the air, but even that did not deter the crowd. “How can she call it a genocide? Poll duty officials were getting beaten up, we tried firing in the air but were left with no option when the crowd started snatching weapons," an officer, who did not wish to be named, told CNN-News18. He added that the standard operating procedure of firing below the knee sometimes does not translate into an ideal situation on the ground. “The human instinct is to duck when under fire. So, even if the police are aiming for the knee, if the person ducks, he can be shot in the upper body," the officer, who received reports on the Cooch Behar incident, told News18.
Mamata Banerjee had called the incident a genocide and alleged that all victims were shot in the chest. The Trinamool Congress had also alleged that CISF personnel are not trained to handle this kind of law-and-order situation since the force is meant to provide security to industries. Officers, however, rejected this. “If this were true, how were 200+ companies of the CISF deployed for election duty? How did polling in all other places happen incident-free?" a CISF officer asked.
The TMC and BJP have been repeatedly trading charges over the violence in the midst of the fiercely fought eight-phase elections in the politically crucial state. The next rounds of polls are on April 17, 22, 26 and 29. The counting of votes will take place on May 2.
Officials at the force’s CGO complex headquarters in Delhi said that both the district police and the EC observers have “expressed satisfaction" with the CISF’s handling of the situation.
On allegations that the CISF beat up a local boy which agitated the crowd and led to the attack on the quick-reaction team (QRT), officials said, “The youth suffered from a fit of epilepsy. The CISF had no role to play in him falling sick. It was a politically motivated rumour that the CISF beat him up. This rumour then led to the crowd attacking the personnel deployed at the booth."