Agartala: Amid violence, and allegations from opposition parties of booth capturing and intimidation, an average of 34 percent of voters cast their franchise in the first four hours in by-polls to four Tripura Assembly constituencies on Thursday.
A policeman was stabbed and an electronic media journalist beaten up in the Agartala constituency. Allegations of disturbances were also received from the Surma constituency in the Dhalai district.
The Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Kiran Gitte, however, said: “Barring a few stray incidents of threat and intimidation, the voting process is going on peacefully”.
“In some locations, polling got delayed because of EVM issues and election officials are moving around to ensure elections are free and fair,” Gitte said.
Chief Minister Dr. Manik Saha, who is in the fary as a candidate of the ruling BJP from Bardowali, claimed the opposition parties were making “wild allegations” as they were afraid of losing the by-poll.
“The government has made all arrangements as per the instruction of the Election Commission of India to hold a free and fair election. But the allegations raised by the opposition parties are largely incorrect and indicate their fear of losing the elections,” Saha said after casting his vote.
“None of the opposition parties put their agents in all the booths and were not able to open booth offices. So, they have the only option of raising such wild allegations as a face-saver,” he said.
But the opposition parties slammed the election machinery and the police.
“None of the commitments of the CEO has been complied with. Except for BJP supporters, no known voters of the opposition parties are being allowed to exercise their democratic rights in several locations and polling agents were not allowed to get in,” said Trinamool Congress state president Subal Bhowmik.
A policeman, identified as Samir Saha, was allegedly stabbed at Booth No. 29 of Agartala constituency by BJP cadres, as he was proceeding to the polling station to cast his vote A television channel journalist Shubham Debnath was beaten up at Kasharpatty area of the city when he was covering an incident of voters being obstructed on the road in front of the police.
The Congress and Trinamool have alleged that in several places Agartala and Bardowali constituencies polling agents of opposition parties were evicted despite the presence of a central paramilitary force (CPF).
“Many opposition supporters have been prevented and beaten in the polling booths. Surma TMC candidate Arjun Namasudra was attacked last night and his vehicle was destroyed,” said Bhowmik.
The Congress candidate of Agartala Sudip Roy Barman alleged that a large number of outsiders were mobilized to indulge in “rigging” and prevent the opposition voters in Agartala in front of security personnel.
“The miscreants hurled bomb in Bitarban area of the city last (Wednesday) night. Motorbike-borne miscreants had terrorized the voters through the night but the police remained inactive.”
Roy Barman further alleged that security personnel didn’t take action against any criminal intimidation beyond 200 meters of the polling station and police officers “expressed their inability” to prevent of movement of criminals beyond the demarcated areas of the polling station.
Despite repeated requests to police officials and the Chief Electoral Officer, there was “no improvement” and a large number of ruling party cadres “captured” the whole stretches of ITI Road, Abhoynagar Road, Kunjaban area, and all intermediate roads and by-lanes. But the police are only patrolling the main road, which clearly indicated how the election machinery was working “shamelessly” for the BJP, Roy Barman alleged.
“The CEO had told us the voter facilitation center and the election officers would respond to the complaints but since morning either nobody is responding to the call or they are refusing to register the complaint. Everywhere voters are being threatened and all the polling station areas are surrounded by a large crowd of BJP cadres along with security personnel,” alleged Trinamool Candidate for Bardowali Sanhita Banerjee adding that BJP has made the by-election a “farce”.
Around 1.89 lakh voters are eligible to exercise their choice across 221 polling stations in the four constituencies – Agartala, Bardowali, Surma, and Jubarajnagar – to decide the fate of 22 candidates including five independents.
The by-elections in Agartala, Bardowali, and Surma constituencies are taking place as the elected BJP legislators resigned and crossed over to other parties. The CPI-M legislator of Jubarajnagar Ramendra Chandra Debnath died earlier this year.