• Saturday, May 18, 2024

HEADLINE STORY

Sporadic violence, gunfire in India’s Bengal, Manipur as world’s largest democracy votes

In Bengal, both PM Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP and its opponent Trinamool Congress accused each other of targeting their workers on the ground. In Manipur, reports were made about gunfire outside polling stations.

A woman casts her ballot at a polling station in the first phase of voting for the India’s general elections in Parbatsar in the north-western state of Rajasthan, on April 19, 2024. (Photo by HIMANSHU SHARMA/AFP via Getty Images)

By: Shubham Ghosh

VIOLENCE was reported from West Bengal and Manipur, two eastern states of India, as voting began across the country for the first phase of the much awaited general elections 2024. Nearly a billion people will cast their ballots in the marathon election lasting 44 days to elect the new government in the world’s largest democracy.

In Bengal, supporters of the state’s ruling Trinamool Congress, an opposition party to prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), accused their BJP counterparts of targeting them in Cooch Behar district in the state’s northern part. Voters were also allegedly threatened. There were also reports of police recovering bombs. The BJP also accused the Trinamool of beating up one of their workers.

Three constituencies in Bengal — Alipurduar, Cooch Behar and Jalpaiguri — went to polls on Friday (19) when the first of the seven phases was held. All three seats were won by the BJP in the previous general elections in 2019. The northern parts of Bengal are known to be a stronghold of the BJP even though the state is dominated by the Trinamool.

Read: Voting begins in India, world’s largest democracy; every voice matters, says Modi

In the 2019 polls, the Trinamool won 22 of Bengal’s 42 parliamentary seats while the BJP won 18 — their best-ever show in the state which has been ruled by the communists for more than three decades in the past. The voters’ turnout, however, remained high despite the ruckus.

Nisith Pramanik, the Indian minister of state for home affairs and the BJP candidate from Cooch Behar who also cast his vote on the day, found himself in the middle of a controversy. While he accused the Trinamool of trying to stop people from reaching the polling booths but failed, the latter moved the Election Commission against him, accusing the minister of controlling the central forces on election duty in the state, stockpiling weapons at his home and also giving shelter to goons.

Read: Google Doodle pays tribute as India’s voting begins; Modi tweets in 6 languages

Gunshots outside Manipur polling booth

Gunshots were also heard near a polling booth in Manipur, a state which has been witnessing deadly ethnic clashes since last May. A short video was doing the rounds on social media showing commotion and people screaming before two shots were heard. Another shot followed, presumably in retaliation. A volley of shots takes place thereafter. The exchange of gunfire continued for around 10 seconds.

One report said the shots were fired by miscreants near a polling station in Thamanpokpi village in Moirang state assembly segment that falls under Inner Manipur parliamentary constituency. Voters, who had queued up to cast their ballots outside the polling station, panicked and ran for cover. No casualties were reported, however.

There were also reports of miscreants damaging at least four electronic voting machines at different polling booths in the conflict-hit state.

While the Election Commission has made arrangements for people who have been displaced during the violence to vote in their shelter camps. However, several common people in the strife-torn state have said that the situation there is not favourable for elections.

The state’s chief minister, N Biren Singh, who is from Modi’s BJP, has harboured optimism that the Hindu nationalist party will emerge winner in both the parliamentary seats in Manipur. Speaking to Indian broadcaster NDTV, he said peace has been restored in Manipur over the last few months and that has made elections there possible.

Speaking to NDTV after voting, Chief Minister N Biren Singh, said, “I am fully confident both Manipur seats will definitely elect a BJP government at the centre. Yes, Manipur is facing a troubled time but, in the last four-five months peace was restored and that is why we are holding an election.”

The BJP won the Inner Manipur seat in the 2019 elections while the Outer Manipur seat was won by the Naga People’s Front which is an ally of Modi’s party in this year’s election.

The parliamentary election in Manipur will also take place on April 26, the second phase, when 15 of Outer Manipur’s 28 assembly segments will vote.

One-hundred and two constituencies went to vote in the first phase of the election in 21 states and Union Territories. The voter turnout was quite brisk and was reported to be around 25 per cent till 1 pm local time. The polling started at 7 am local time and will continue till 6 pm.

A number of prominent leaders and personalities cast their votes in the first phase, including Indian National Congress leader P Chidambaram; actor Rajinikanth, Mohan Bhagwat, chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological mentor of the BJP, and Yoga guru Ramdev, among others.

(With PTI inputs)

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