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Lok Sabha elections 2019: In a first, Bengal polling staff demand central force in every booth; agitation in five districts

Author: Tanmay Chatterjee
Publication: Hindustan Times
Date: April 7, 2019
URL:      https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/lok-sabha-elections-2019-in-a-first-bengal-polling-staff-demand-central-force-in-every-booth-agitation-in-five-districts/story-X2tW1HryAK5gTxTLrmIHLN.html

Agitating polling staff said they would not risk their lives nor take insults that many faced when hooligans tried to rig rural polls in several districts in 2018.

In an unprecedented development, polling staff in five districts in West Bengal began an agitation from Saturday afternoon, saying they will not report for duty unless central forces were deployed in every booth.

Citing violence that marked the panchayat elections in 2018, the agitating polling staff said they would not risk their lives nor take insults that many faced when hooligans tried to rig rural polls in several districts.

Employees of government offices, government-aided schools and banks are usually assigned election duties. Though violence marked many elections during the Left Front regime in Bengal, polling staff had never staged such agitations.

In an embarrassment to the government and ruling Trinanool Congress, hundreds of people asked to report for election duty staged agitation and blocked traffic for three hours at Mathabhanga in Cooch Behar on Saturday, less than 24 hours before Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed his election rally in the district. They lifted the agitation only after district officials assured them that adequate security arrangements would be made.

At Uleberia in Howrah district, around 500 people staged a similar agitation on Saturday. Agitations were also held at Chetla in Kolkata and Haldia in East Midnapore district on Saturday and at Diamond Harbour in South 24 Parganas district on Sunday.

At many places, the agitators carried posters that said polling staff do not want to face the same fate as Rajkumar Roy, a school teacher whose body was found near a railway track at Raigunj in North Dinajpur district during panchayat polls in May last year. Roy was presiding officer at a polling station set up in a school building. While police said Roy was run over by a train, his family and friends alleged foul play.

“The memories still haunt us. Armed hooligans entered many polling booths and asked us to hand over the ballot papers. We are here to do our job. We cannot risk our lives,” a state government employee said on condition of anonymity.

No TMC leader was willing to comment on the development.

Sanjay Basu, additional chief electoral officer for West Bengal, said, “It is our responsibility to ensure the safety of polling staff. We will take all necessary steps.”

Interestingly, the Bharatiya Janata Party demanded last week that all polling booths in Bengal should be declared sensitive by Election Commission of India and central forces deployed in all of them. The EC turned down the first demand but said security will be tightened in all districts.

In an unrelated development, EC on Saturday banned the controversial election jingle sung by Union minister of state and BJP’s outgoing Asansol MP Babul Supriyo. The song was released on social media about two weeks ago and Trinamool moved EC saying it was released without clearance from the election watchdog. The jingle insulted party chief Mamata Banerjee, TMC leaders had alleged.
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