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Bengal Panchayat Polls: Chaos on First Day of Filing Nominations, Clashes in Murshidabad

Candidates across districts faced several hurdles due to ‘lack of preparation’ by the State Election Commission. Some couldn’t even file nominations.
Bengal Panchayat Polls

Kolkata: The district administration saw widespread tension on the first day of filing nominations for the panchayat elections in West Bengal on Friday. Clashes between the two groups—ruling Trinamool Congress and Opposition party—were reported from various areas.

Several districts witnessed disorganisation ending up in candidates not being able to submit their nominations in numerous places.

Mohd Salim, state secretary of the Communist party of India (Marxist), told People’s Reporter, "We are ready for the elections. However, it is now clear that the State Election Commission (SEC) is not yet prepared. In most cases, there was no guidance on what to do. Those who went to submit nominations either found that the table wasn't ready, or no one was there, or they weren't trained, or that the form was missing.”

Salim said there was no point in blaming those at the block or sub-division level of the administration. “The State Election Commissioner should have verified everything when he made the announcement. After the announcement, he held an online meeting with the district administration at night. The bamboo enclosures can be erected by workers overnight, but the rest of the preparations are incomplete,” he added.

On Friday, district administrations were “forced” to start collecting nomination papers in every block of the state with virtually no preparation, said Opposition party people. Instead of the police, civic volunteers were sent to block offices for security. A District Magistrate of North Bengal directly demanded adequate security during the collection of nomination papers from the Election Commissioner, it was reported.

A district level official in South Bengal told People’s Reporter: "On the first day, there may not have been a crowd to collect nomination papers from various political parties, but this crowd will increase on Saturday. It is very important to keep the security arrangements complete for him.''

As per reports, submission of nomination papers could not be started anywhere in the state from 11 a.m on Friday in accordance with the Election Commission's notification.

The most important thing is that after the notification of panchayat polls is issued, it has to be published in the form of a notice in the Gram Panchayat office. The PRO has to mandatorily publish 'Form 1' on the notice board of Gram Panchayats, stating date of submission of nomination papers to the date of withdrawal. But even after 24 hours, this was not done, said several party workers.

Meanwhile, on Friday, two cases were filed in the Calcutta High Court regarding panchayat elections – on the short time for filing nominations and the need for central forces.  The court observed that the nomination papers could be submitted to the offices of sub-district magistrates, district magistrates, and the Election Commission, and the necessary arrangements may be made. Nominations can also be submitted online if required. The idea of bringing the entire election process under CCTV surveillance should be kept. The court clearly stated that civic volunteers cannot be used in panchayat elections in any way.

However, on the objection of Trinamool MP Kalyan Banerjee, the state government's lawyer on the submission of nomination papers online, Justice Shivagnam said online nomination and the use of CCTV meant using modern technology. The Chief Justice asked why the state government was so allergic to the use of technology?

The application of this case also pleaded that the use of contractual workers of the state government, civic volunteers, teachers, and education workers connected with various cases in the election work should be stopped.

Lawyer Kaustubh Bagchi told the court that Calcutta High Court Judge Rajashekhar Mantha had given specific instructions on which civic volunteers could be used and which cannot for the work. The election should be completed following this instruction.

Meanwhile, there were reports of clashes in different parts of the state. Some Left candidates complained that they were blocked from filing nominations.  When the CPI(M) candidates in Ranibandh of Bankura went to file nominations, it was alleged that there was no one in the office to receive them.

In Murshidabad Salar, two factions of the TMC allegedly clashed over submission of nominations. The situation eventually escalated into a scuffle, leaving several people injured on both sides. The police reached the spot and brought the situation under control. The TMC supporters reportedly fled the area after facing stiff resistance from the Left supporters in Raninagar and Islampur.

Phulchand Sheikh, a 42-year-old Congress worker from the Ratanpur Naldip village in the Murshidabad district, was shot at point blank range on Friday night. According to eyewitness accounts, he was shot six times in quick succession. While receiving treatment at Kandi Hospital, he passed away.

In East Medinipur, police clashed with BJP workers and supporters in Nandigram. When BJP candidates marched to the Nandigram BDO office to submit their nominations, the police reportedly stopped them in front of the office. The police claimed that only the candidate, proposer, and supporter (totalling three people) can enter. This led to an argument which turned into a scuffle, said sources.

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