Four killed in firing by Central Armed Police Forces in Bengal's Cooch Behar district during polling, Mamata blames Home Minister Amit Shah

Published : April 10, 2021 21:00 IST

Security personnel keep vigil after the Election Commission stopped polling at polling station number 126 in Sitalkuchi constituency in Cooch Behar district of West Bengal on April 10. Photo: PTI

Four persons were killed when Central forces opened fire as violence erupted in the fourth phase of the Assembly election in West Bengal at the Sitalkuchi constituency in Cooch Behar district on April 10. Three others were injured in the shooting. Condemning the action of the Central forces, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee demanded the resignation of Union Home Minister Amit Shah, alleging that the forces were acting on his orders. In a separate incident in the same constituency, an 18-year-old voter was shot dead when miscreants opened fire at the polling booth. Both the ruling Trinamool Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) claimed that the youth was one of their supporters.

According to the Superintendent of Police (SP) Cooch Behar, Debashish Dhar, the Central force personnel opened fire in self defence. He said: “Everything was normal till 9:30 a.m. Then one person fell unconscious as he was ill…. The CISF personnel were enquiring as to what had happened, when a rumour was spread that the person had been attacked by the CISF. Soon 300-350 villagers assembled and began to attack the CISF with homemade makeshift weapons. Reinforcement was called from the nearby QRT (Quick Response Team). A lot of scuffling took place, and the incident [firing] took place when there was an attempt to snatch the rifles and enter the polling booth.” The Trinamool claimed that the four men who were killed were its supporters and that the attack was a premeditated one on the party.

Mamata’s professed plan of visiting Sitalkuchi on April 11 was scuttled by an order passed by the Election Commission restricting any political leader from visiting the region in the next 72 hours. “In Cooch Behar district comprising of 9 ACs (AC numbers 1 to 9) where voting shall be over by today, no political leader from any national, State, or other party should be allowed to enter the geographical boundaries of the district for the next 72 hours. This comes into force with immediate effect,” the order stated. Reacting strongly against the EC’s order Yashwant Sinha, who recently joined the Trinamool said on social media: “Election Commission has covered itself with mud by stopping Mamata from going to Coochbehar. After all she is still the CM of Bengal and it is her duty to visit the place of this unfortunate occurrence. We know for certain now that EC is not fair.”

Mamata Banerjee demanded the resignation of Amit Shah, claiming that “Delhi’s police” had done the killing. At an election rally in Bongaon, North 24 Parganas, she said: “Delhi’s police has shot and killed four people in the voters’ line today… and are saying that the villagers had come to snatch the guns. BJP should hang itself in shame. They spill the blood of people and they talk big. Amit Shah you resign as the Home Minister. You are a conspirator. I have been saying for a long time that the CRPF is torturing the people…. Women are being harassed and humiliated in the villages.” She claimed that the BJP, knowing that it has lost, is now resorting to firing on people. “Do you want to vote for those who fire on people?” she asked at the rally.

The Trinamool wrote a letter of complaint to the Election Commission saying, “The conduct of the ECI is such that it appears to be under the command of the BJP. They are facilitating violence sponsored by BJP and executed by CAPF, who in turn seem to have been instructed well by the star campaigner of the BJP – The Home Minister, Government of India.” The letter referred to the “brutal cold-blooded murder of 4… innocent people of Bengal by the bullets fired by the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF)”. The party plans to hold protest rallies across the State in condemnation of the firing.

The BJP responded to the allegations saying that the incident was a result of Mamata’s repeated exhortation to her supporters to resist the Central forces. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while giving an election speech in north Bengal, expressed his sadness at the deaths and attacked Mamata saying, “Didi, this violence, inciting people against the Central forces, and disrupting the election process will not be able to save you.”

Md Salim, Polit Bureau member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), called the incident a “black day for Indian Democracy.” In a statement condemning the firing, Salim demanded an enquiry under judicial supervision. He also accused Mamata of instigating “unsuspecting supporters” towards violence. “The CM also stands accused of responsibility in today's incident. She has repeatedly provoked and instigated her unsuspecting supporters towards violence. The EC had failed to discipline the CM as well despite numerous complaints from the Left. Unfortunately, she has shown no remorse in using people she takes for granted, as cannon fodder. The incident in Shitalkuchi has made this a black day for Indian Democracy,” Salim stated.

On April 10, 44 seats from the districts of Howrah (9), South 24 Parganas (11), Alipurduar (5), Cooch Behar (9) and Hooghly (10), went to polls in the fourth phase of the election. The average percentage of votes polled till 5 p.m. was 76.16 per cent, with the highest polling taking place in Cooch Behar (79.73 per cent), followed by Hooghly (76.02 per cent), South 24 Parganas (75.49 per cent), Howrah (75.03 per cent) and Alipurduar (73.65 per cent).

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