Salt Lake Votes Peacefully, After Violent 2015 Municipal Election

Last year, residents were shocked to see booths captured by goons, brought in from outside by the ruling TMC leaders.

Updated
Politics
3 min read
 Women polling officers collect polling materials from a distribution centre in Salt Lake on the eve of the fourth phase of West Bengal Assembly elections. (Photo Courtesy: IANS)

Amidst heavy paramilitary presence, a septuagenarian voter went inside the polling booth in Salt Lake (Sector-1), Kolkata and cast his vote. He then approached the TMC polling agent sitting there. In the presence of the presiding officer and poll officials and other party agents he told him,

We know you, and we haven’t forgotten what happened during the 2015 Municipal votes in Salt Lake and what you did then. Don’t you dare do that again.

These words reflected the mood of a number of voters in Salt Lake. Last year, residents were shocked to see booth after booth captured by goons, brought in from outside by the ruling TMC leaders. The goons, supplied mostly by the ‘syndicate’ people, had beaten up residents, not even sparing the old and the elderly.

Clashes during Municipality elections at Salt Lake in North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal in 2015. (Photo Courtesy: PTI)
Clashes during Municipality elections at Salt Lake in North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal in 2015. (Photo Courtesy: PTI)

Chilling Memory of 2015 Municipal Elections

The media persons covering the election were also beaten up, while the state police watched silently. The incumbent TMC MLA Sujit Bose, who was seen leading the goons last year, is also the ruling party’s nominee from the Bidhannagar (Salt Lake) assembly  constituency. During his campaign, Bose was seen repeatedly harping on the point that there won’t be a repeat of what happened in 2015.

But Bose’s assurance hardly matters to the voters. The Election Commission stepped in after tremendous pressure from residents, the media and opposition parties. Salt Lake was completely sanitised of outsiders by hundreds of central forces jawans. Check posts were set up at all  entry points, and central forces took control of the booths and surrounding areas.

 Paramilitary personnel deployed near a polling booth in Salt Lake  during the fourth phase of West Bengal Legislative Assembly polls, on April 25, 2016. (Photo Courtesy: IANS)
Paramilitary personnel deployed near a polling booth in Salt Lake during the fourth phase of West Bengal Legislative Assembly polls, on April 25, 2016. (Photo Courtesy: IANS)

On polling day morning, the central forces made their resolve firmer. Sudipta Sengupta, a senior journalist and resident of Salt Lake, was witness to how the jawans forced TMC workers to remove camps set up within 100 metres of a polling booths.

Though reports of violence poured in from various parts of North 24 Parganas and Howrah, Salt Lake, Lake Town and Bangur Avenue areas (all under the Bidhannagar assembly constituency) remained calm and peaceful.

Tight Security in Place

The satellite township of Salt Lake houses mostly middle and upper middle class people. A number of ministers, political leaders, IAS and IPS officers form part of Salt Lake’s population. A sizeable number of non Bengali-speaking voters live in Salt Lake too. The Left, Congress, TMC and BJP all have support bases in Salt Lake. Since the voters of Salt Lake, Lake Town and Bangur Avenue belong to the upper strata of the society, making their voices heard wasn’t that difficult. But what about those who do not live in cities, and without access to the upper echelons of the administrations?

Voters who queued in front of their respective polling booths early in the morning were initially apprehensive  of what might happen. Some of them admitted that the chilling memory of the 2015 municipal elections compelled them to come and cast their votes in the early hours.

Gradually, the mood in the queues changed. Gouri Roy, a senior citizen and resident of Bangur Avenue, Anirban Chakroborty, a resident of Lake Town and Salt Lake resident Sukharanjan Dasgupta had only one thing to say: Full marks to the Election Commission for such a peaceful election.

(The writer, Rajat Roy, is a former executive editor of Ananda Bazar Patrika.)

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