While Phase 5 of polling unfolded across 51 seats in seven states of the country, there were various reports of violence marring the electoral process in West Bengal. In one of these instances in Amdanga in North 24 Parganas, a reporter with a well-known news channel and a photojournalist were injured after they were allegedly attacked by supporters of the Trinamool Congress. The reporter has been identified as Tapas Sengupta of News X and the photographer as Rony Santra.
Speaking over the phone, Sengupta says the incident happened at about 3.30 pm when he and Santra were following the vehicle of Arjun Singh, the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate for Barrackpore. “There were vehicles of several other media houses [with us]. The cavalcade was stopped by logs piled on the road. As soon as the vehicles stopped, we heard people shouting and soon stones were pelted.” While not carrying TMC flags as a marker, the stone pelters were standing near the TMC camp. The incident took place in the presence of the police and central forces. There was also some counter pelting of stones in response from the BJP side.
Sengupta says a stone from the stone pelters near the TMC camp broke the back window of the car they were traveling in, and hit the back of his head. Santra was hit on his hand. “Holding my bleeding head, I crouched inside the car to save myself, and remained like that till we were rescued.”
Sengupta and Santra were taken in their damaged car to the Narayana Multispeciality Hospital in Barasat, where Sengupta had a CT scan. He says it wasn’t a major injury but they were shaken—and it could have been much worse. “I had seen them carrying bombs. Thank God they only stopped at pelting stones. Had they hurled bombs, I don’t know what would have happened.”
The BJP’s Arjun Singh had set off for Amdanga with his supporters at about 3 pm, after hearing reports that his party’s polling agents had been driven out of booths in the area by TMC workers. His convoy was allegedly stopped by TMC supporters and he was asked to leave. That’s when BJP supporters began chanting slogans of “Jai Shree Ram”, leading to a heated altercation between the BJP and TMC supporters.
In the commotion that followed, the TMC supporters allegedly began pelting stones. Singh was shielded by his guards and put inside his car. Stones were pelted at his vehicle and at the other vehicles—including Sengupta’s.
However, the TMC MLA from Amdanga, Rafiqur Rahman, holds Singh responsible. “The polling process was being carried out peacefully when Singh had come with his supporters and members of the electronic media to create trouble. People who were Mamata supporters got angry,” he says. “An argument started and in the ruckus that followed, people attacked the cars but could not tell the reporters from the BJP supporters.”
Sanjay Basu, the additional Chief Electoral Officer of West Bengal, says a report has been sought from the District Magistrate.
According to reports, from 8 am this morning, Singh was seen taking a proactive role in the electoral process: doing rounds of booths within his constituency and driving away “outsiders”, even chasing some of them with a stick in hand. Singh alleges these “outsiders” were stationed outside booths by the TMC, who was using them to intimidate voters. At about 11.30 am, Singh also faced an irate mob at Naihati, which chanted the slogan “Go back, Arjun Singh”.
Singh is a former TMC strongman and is currently the MLA from Bhatpara in North 24 Parganas. He aspired to contest from Barrackpore as the TMC’s MP candidate, but the party decided to continue with the sitting two-time MP and former Union rail minister Dinesh Trivedi instead. Failing to win a party ticket, Singh switched camps to the BJP earlier this year. He was quickly fielded as the BJP candidate for Barrackpore.
About 40 per cent of Barrackpore constituency comprises Hindi-speaking voters. Singh claims he has control of this section, and that he had been the man behind Dinesh Trivedi’s win. He now claims he’s the man behind the organisation itself, and that his supporters will elect him as the MP from Barrackpore. Trivedi, on the other hand, calls Singh a “non-factor”. Within weeks of Singh’s defection from the TMC, Trivedi said, “Everyone knows he is the muscleman here and is infamous for his hooliganism.”