Bengal, April 10: Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee on Saturday sought Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s resignation over firing by central forces at Sitalkuchi in Cooch Behar, killing four persons.
Banerjee, speaking at a public meeting at Baduria in North 24 Parganas, said she would be leaving for Cooch Behar after attending rallies and would visit the spot where central forces opened fire during polling.
The four persons were killed as central forces opened fire allegedly after coming under attack from locals, who “attempted to snatch their rifles”, police said.
The Election Commission ordered stopping the voting exercise at polling station number 126 in Sitalkuchi where the incident happened when polling was underway.
According to sources, the preliminary report submitted by EC’s special police observer Vivek Dubey said a mob of around 350-400 people had gheraoed the central forces, following which they fired in “self-defence”.
The incident led to violence in the area where bombs were hurled, prompting central forces to baton-charge to bring the situation under control.
In another incident, an 18-year-old voter, Ananda Barman, was gunned down outside booth number 85 in Pathantuli, also in Sitalkuchi, after clashes broke out between activists of the ruling TMC and the BJP.
Appealing to people to remain calm, Banerjee alleged that central policemen shot dead people standing in a queue to vote and demanded “Shah should resign” owing responsibility for the incident “which is dastardly, cold-blooded and unprecedented“.
She said the TMC would bring out protest rallies throughout the state on Sunday and asked party activists to wear black badges and peacefully protest the killings from 2 pm to 4 pm.
Earlier speaking at Hingalganj, the chief minister claimed: “the central forces opened fire on people standing in a queue to vote, killing four in Sitalkuchi.” She said she had long apprehended that the forces’ would act in such a manner.
“As BJP knows it has lost the people’s mandate, they are conspiring to kill people,” Banerjee added. She alleged this was part of a conspiracy hatched by the Union home minister.
“However, I would ask everyone to remain calm and cast their vote peacefully. Avenge the deaths by defeating them,” she said. Banerjee said that the death toll in this election was far higher than that in the Panchayat elections held three years ago. “If you count the total number of killings since the elections began some 17-18 persons were killed. At least 12 people belonged to our party alone.” Banerjee said the EC too owed the people an explanation on today’s incident.
“We are not in charge of the administration, but the EC is,” she said.
“They have removed the senior IPS Surajit Kar Purakaystha. They have removed my OSD Ashok Chakraborty, who is a lower-ranked retired officer from RPF. Yet the EC bringing in retired officers to oversee polls here,” she said.
Condoling the deaths, Prime Minister Narendra Modi requested the Election Commission to take stern action against those responsible for the incident and blamed the ruling TMC for perpetrating violence during the polls.
He also accused Banerjee of instigating people against the central forces. “What happened in Cooch Behar is unfortunate and sad. I extend my condolences to the bereaved families. Mamata Didi and her TMC goons have become jittery because of a groundswell of support for BJP,” Modi told an election rally in North Bengal’s Siliguri.
In the Ganguly Bagan area in the Jadavpur constituency, the booth agent of CPI(M) candidate Sujan Chakraborty was reportedly attacked by a “fake voter”, who threw chilli powder at her, the officials said. A central police contingent was rushed to the spot following the incident.
In Bangor in South 24 Parganas, clashes were reported between ISF and TMC workers after the former alleged the ruling party was not allowing their polling agents to enter the booth. In Chanditala in Hooghly, CPI(M) activists scuffled with TMC supporters outside a booth.
Later, at a press conference in Kolkata, TMC leaders termed the Cooch Behar incident as “preplanned murder”, and also called for the resignation of Shah.
TMC Lok Sabha MP Sougata Roy said the party condemns the unprovoked firing by central forces on innocent people in Cooch Behar. “We want the Election Commission to come out with video footage of the firing to make people aware of the truth,” Roy said.
“Modi and Shah cannot accept their imminent defeat in the ongoing elections in West Bengal. This firing incident in Cooch Behar has happened at the behest of Shah,” said senior TMC leader Subrata Mukherjee, adding this was a “preplanned murder committed to create panic among the common people” so that they become reluctant to cast votes in subsequent phases.