Sporadic instances of violence in pockets of Agartala and beyond, opposition parties alleging rampant poll malpractice and voter intimidation while the ruling BJP dispensation claimed fair elections “hitherto unseen in the history of the State” and a high voter turnout despite those odds marked the highlights of the Tripura civic body polls on Thursday.
Contests were held in 225 seats, including 51 wards of the Agartala Municipal Corporation, across 13 Nagar Panchayat and municipal bodies spread across 20 police station areas.
The run-up to the largely triangular contest between the BJP, Left and the newest entrant, Trinamool Congress, was marred by allegations of large-scale violence which warranted interventions from the Tripura High Court and the Supreme Court to ensure that the State took adequate measures for a free, fair and violence-free election.
The day, however, began with the Trinamool Congress candidate from ward no 12 of the Ambassa Municipal Council alleging that her house was ransacked the previous night with sticks and stones by unidentified miscreants sheltered by the BJP who threatened her and her family with dire consequences unless they remained indoors and not come out to vote.
Even before the first hour of voting was over, Trinamool poll agents with head and body injuries from different parts of Agartala began arriving at the Govind Ballav Pant Medical College and Hospital for treatment alleging assault from BJP workers.
Complaints of violence and large-scale intimidation of voters were received from ward numbers 51, 50, 15, 8, 6,5 and 2. Trinamool Congress filed nearly 100 complaints before the state Election Commission and later took to the streets, organising a sit-in demonstration before the East Agartala police station from where leaders, including the chief of the party’s State steering committee Subal Bhowmik, were detained and later released.
The CPI-M, on the other hand, demanded complete countermanding of the Agartala civic polls and total repoll in all 51 wards of the civic body on similar grounds. That demand also found resonance with the Trinamool Congress. Both parties plan to move Supreme Court on Friday on grounds of contempt.
Several Trinamool candidates with grievous body injuries were spotted in the latter part of the day at the GB Pant Hospital. Tapan Biswas from ward number 51 alleged he sustained serious injuries on his eyes and face after he was assaulted by goons sheltered by the BJP. Padma Bhattacharya, the candidate from ward number 8, sitting anxiously before the hospital’s trauma care centre alleged her son, Dhiman, had his skull cracked open and shoulder badly hurt after a group of 5-6 BJP workers assaulted him when he had gone to cast his vote.
“The allegations are largely exaggerated. The Trinamool is playing to the gallery because they do not have any real ground presence. Some reports of violence were received from a couple of wards among the 225 which went for polls. That is a minuscule percentage. The Left is on its way out for good and is desperately trying to hold on to straws like these for existence,” said Tinku Roy, General Secretary, Tripura BJP, while summing up the day’s experiences.
“We are happy with the way polls have happened in the State today and we are confident that the government’s performance for the development of urban areas will be recognised by people in these elections,” he added.
The charges, counter-charges notwithstanding, the highlight of the day was perhaps BJP MLA Sudip Roy Burman taking to the streets after receiving distress calls from workers of opposition parties. “These people were previously workers of the BJP. They may now be working for other parties and are at the receiving end of aggravated assault. I am an elected representative of all citizens of my constituency, irrespective of their political affiliation and it is my duty to stand beside them when they are in distress. I will try to get them back to my party if I retain their confidence,” Roy Burman said while comforting a Trinamool Congress poll agent and a CPIM candidate in ward number 8, both of who alleged they were assaulted and intimidated by BJP workers.
Roy Burman had recently lashed out at Chief Minister Biplab Deb and blamed him for “administrative incompetence” on account of the pre-poll instances of violence. Till reports were last received, the overall voter turnout at 4 pm was nearly 75 per cent. Political observers termed the number as “impressive”.