Following re-polling at 696 panchayat booths, after the voting on July 8 was declared void in light of alleged rigging, booth capturing and multiple reports of electoral malfeasance and voter intimidation, the stage is set for the counting of votes in West Bengal on Tuesday. The counting process began at 8 am on Tuesday amid high security.
The polls, which were billed as a test of popularity of the Mamata Banerjee government in light of multiple arrests in connnection with the alleged teachers' recruitment scam, saw several lives lost in the violence on July 8, the original polling day.
The outcome of the polls would also give an indication of where the BJP, the principal opposition party in the state, stands in West Bengal ahead of next year's Lok Sabha elections.
The decision to hold re-polling followed widespread allegations of ballot box tampering and violence, which resulted in the loss of at least 19 lives.
At first, votes for the Gram Panchayats will be counted, followed by those cast for Zilla Samitis and Zilla Parishads. All the counting centres will have an adequate deployment of central forces, which will be monitored by CCTV cameras.
Governor Bose Meets Amit Shah
Meanwhile, West Bengal Governor CV Ananda Bose, who had been conducting visits to districts affected by pre-poll violence, met with Union Home Minister Amit Shah in New Delhi on Monday.
After the meeting, the Governor said there will be light at the end of the tunnel and that good things will happen in the future. "The darkest hour is just before dawn. There will be light at the end of the tunnel. The only message I could get today is -if winter comes can spring be far behind? Good will happen in the days to come," West Bengal Governor said after meeting with Shah.
BJP Visits Violence-Affected Areas
Later, on Monday night, he was pictured leaving the West Bengal Bhavan in the national capital after meeting the Union Home minister. Meanwhile, a day ahead of counting for the Bengal panchayats, BJP national president JP Nadda on Monday nominated a four-member fact-finding committee to visit the violence-hit areas of the state and send a report. The delegation includes former Union minister and party MP Ravishankar Prasad, (convenor), former Mumbai Police commissioner, Satyapal Singh, Rajdeep Roy, and Rekha Verma.
"BJP National President Jagat Prakash Nadda has nominated a four-member fact-finding committee to visit the violence-affected areas in West Bengal, where many people were killed in panchayat-related elections violence. The committee will submit its report to the Party National President at the earliest," read an official release by the party on Monday. The delegation will reach the state capital, Kolkata, on Tuesday.
Political Drama Over Impartial Election Demands
The BJP, meanwhile, accused the State Election Commission (SEC) of not ordering repolling at "thousands of booths" where they should have. Leader of the Opposition in the West Bengal Assembly, Suvendu Adhikari, said he will move Calcutta High Court and present evidence collected by his party of alleged malpractice in thousands of booths during Saturday's polling.
Meanwhile, ahead of the counting day, TMC workers allegedly attacked BJP leader Ajay Roy over his visit to a counting centre at Dinhata High Secondary School in Cooch Behar district.
Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury wrote to the State Election Commission (SEC) on Monday, demanding an impartial, free and fair counting of votes in the presence of central forces.
About West Bengal Panchayat Polls
The panchayat elections were held on July 8 under tight security, with approximately 5.67 crore voters deciding the fates of 2.06 lakh candidates vying for 73,887 seats in the rural areas of West Bengal.
During the initial polling, security forces from the Centre and the state were deployed at all 61,636 polling booths to ensure a free and fair election.
A significant number of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) and State Armed Police (SAP) personnel were deployed at sensitive booths, while the rest were assigned security duties along with local state police.