Five people were killed, four of them when a CISF unit that had been attacked opened fire on a mob, in Cooch Behar’s Sitalkuchi on Saturday as Bengal’s fourth round of polling turned out to be the bloodiest and most disrupted one of the eight-phase elections so far.
A 14-year-old boy was among several injured in the seven rounds of firing by CISF that left four villagers died. The Election Commission countermanded polling in booth number 126 of the constituency, based on a report from special observer Vivek Dube. The first victim of Saturday’s violence was 18-year-old Ananda Burman, who was shot by two bike-borne assailants just as he stepped out of a polling booth after casting the first vote of his life. Cooch Behar SP Debasish Dhar said Burman died before he could be taken to hospital.
Trinamool and BJP blamed each other for the death, which occurred around 9 am and seemed to set the tone for the rest of the day. Two people were arrested in connection with the attack while the EC sought a report on the incident. Trouble started 45 minutes later at Amtali Madhyamaik Shiksha Kendra, about 15 km away, after 14-year-old Md Manik collapsed near a polling booth. Villagers said his mother had asked him to wait outside before stepping in to vote. Three women from the neighbourhood were trying to revive Manik when CISF personnel guarding the booth stepped out to check what the commotion was about.
The CISF team offered to shift the boy to a hospital, reports reaching the EC office in Kolkata suggested. But, according to another account based on what a section of villagers said, Manik was injured in an assault by the CISF personnel. Around 350 people gathered in no time and attacked the CISF team and others, including unit head Sunil Kumar, a 32-year-old home guard, two poll officers and an Asha worker, sources said.
The mob reportedly tried to snatch firearms from the CISF personnel. A quick-response team headed for the site was apparently waylaid by residents of the area and their vehicle ransacked.
According to officials, the CISF personnel fired two rounds in the air at first, but that failed to disperse the crowd. They then fired seven rounds in “self-defence”, leading to the deaths. “Primary investigation revealed the force opened fire in self-defence after a few from the mob tried to snatch their firearms,” DIG (Jalpaiguri range) E Annapa said.