Archive for ‘Darjeeling’

19/05/2019

Lok Sabha election 2019: Vandalism, rigging reported from Bengal in last phase of polling

The seventh and the last phase of Lok Sabha election in West Bengal was hit by vandalism and rigging on Sunday amid polling in nine parliamentary constituencies with the ruling Trinamool Congress and the BJP locked in a bitter battle for power.

LOK SABHA ELECTIONS Updated: May 19, 2019 11:19 IST

HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
Lok Sabha elections,Lok Sabha polls,Lok Sabha Bengal
Kolkata Police personnel leaving for polling booth on the eve of final phase of Lok Shabha election from a Polling distribution center in Kolkata on Saturday . (ANI photo for representation)
Crude bombs were hurled at two places on Sunday in West Bengal, where polling is underway in nine constituencies in the last phase of polling of the Lok Sabha election amid reports of vandalism and malfunctioning EVMs.
Reports of bombs thrown in Gilaberia area in Deganga of North 24 Parganas district under Barasat constituency and in Raidighi of South 24 Parganas district under Mathurapur constituency came in as voters queued up in polling booths.
There were allegations that BJP supporters were beaten up and its camp office vandalised allegedly by TMC workers in Kultoli in Jaynagar Lok Sabha constituency as 14.17% polling was recorded till 9am from across the state.
Sayantan Basu, the BJP’s candidate for Basirhat constituency, alleged rigging in several areas and said police was doing nothing to stop it.
“People have queued up from as early as 4:30am to vote. But there are a lot of allegations of muscle flexing and rigging in areas such as Sandeshkhali, Hingalganj and Baduria. The inspector-in-charge of Shashan police station is virtually helping to rig in favour of the TMC,” Basu said.
“About 150 complaints were lodged with the EC (Election Commission) in the first three hours. I have not seen effective steps of the poll panel so far,” Basu, also the general secretary of the Bengal unit of the BJP, alleged.

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Mala Roy, the TMC’s candidate in Kolkata South constituency, alleged that central force personnel did not allow her to enter booth number 72 in a polling station in Mudiali under her constituency. Roy said she went after learning that polling was stopped for 45 minutes. She said she will lodge a complaint with the poll watchdog.

Trinamool Congress’ Rajya Sabha member Sukhendu Sekhar Ray alleged Electronic Voting Machines in all the parliamentary constituencies were not working as he questioned the EC over the EVMs.

“Hundreds of EVMs found to be dysfunctional from the very start of poll in various booths of the 9 Parliamentary Constituencies Of West Bengal where elections are being held today,” Ray wrote on Facebook.

“Rs 3,173 crores sanctioned by the Government in April 2017 for purchase of 16 Lakh new EVMs. It seems that old and junk machines have been put on service in these 9 constituencies with the evil design to delay the process of voting,” he said.

“Because if the voters after waiting for hours together fail to cast their votes will leave the polling stations in disgust, which will affect percentage of polling severely. Shame Election Commission,” Ray said.

Widespread violence

Before this, the state witnessed numerous incidents of violence in the last six rounds of polling, which included vandalism, attacks on candidates, party workers, security officials and the media, and those of stopping voters from voting.

Sporadic incidents of booth capture, smashing and malfunctioning of electronic voting machines (EVM), intimidation of voters have also been reported from West Bengal in all these phases. Several workers of both the parties have also been killed in violence reported from across the state.

The past week also saw a high-pitched battle between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the TMC, during and in the immediate aftermath of BJP president Amit Shah’s roadshow in Kolkata, which included the vandalising of a bust of 19th century Bengali icon Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar in an educational institute.

This led to the Election Commission bringing forward the campaign period by 19 hours, a move that received all-round criticism from opposition leaders.

The eastern state is important for both the TMC and the BJP as 42 seats are on offer — the third highest after Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra — which the ruling party at the Centre is eyeing to offset possible losses in northern India, and which are crucial for chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s national political ambitions.

Candidates, as well as party workers, of both the TMC and BJP have accused each other of violence throughout the six phases of polling in the state.

During the sixth phase on May 12, the BJP’s candidate from Ghatal constituency Bharati Ghosh alleged she was heckled at a polling booth and pushed by some women supporters of the Trinamool Congress. The former Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, once considered close to chief minister Mamata Banerjee, also said stones were thrown at her convoy and that crude bombs were hurled at her car.

Also read: Poll violence at several places in Bengal, BJP to meet EC in Delhi

In Barrackpore parliamentary constituency, the BJP’s candidate Arjun Singh alleged he was “attacked by goondas” of the Trinamool Congress in the fifth phase on May 6. On the same day, at Bongaon Lok Sabha seat, one TMC worker and one cop were injured in the violence.

In Hooghly district, which borders Kolkata, the rented accommodation of BJP’s women’s wing chief Locket Chatterjee, an actor-turned-politician who is also the party’s candidate from the Hooghly Lok Sabha constituency, was allegedly vandalised on May 6 by TMC workers.

A complaint was also filed against Chatterjee for allegedly threatening a presiding officer at a poll booth in Hooghly constituency during the same phase.

Sporadic clashes were reported in West Bengal, especially from Asansol, in the fourth phase of the general election. The BJP’s sitting member of Parliament and candidate Babul Supriyo’s car was vandalised in Asansol allegedly by stone-throwing Trinamool Congress supporters. The minister escaped unharmed with only the rear glass of the vehicle being damaged.

On April 18, the second phase of polling, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) candidate and Raiganj sitting MP Mohammed Salim’s car was attacked when he went to a polling booth on Islampur. Reports of sporadic violence came from Darjeeling constituency as well.

Places such as Nalhati (Birbhum), Nanoor (Bolpur), Barabani (Asansol) and Suri (Birbhum) saw pitched battles between political workers involving knives and long sticks.

Crude bombs were hurled by unidentified men outside polling stations at Tiktikipara in Domkal, Murshidabad, and Kaliachawk in Malda South.

The Election Commission has deployed hundreds of security personnel forces to cover the booths in the battleground eastern state to ensure free and fair polling.

The votes will be counted on May 23.

Source: Hindustan Times

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18/04/2019

India election 2019: Can West Bengal’s female candidates win?

A supporter throws marigold petals at Mahua Moitra
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Women make up nearly half of India’s 900 million voters, but they are still poorly represented in the country’s law-making bodies. One political party is trying to correct the balance by nominating 41% female candidates. The BBC’s Geeta Pandey travelled to the state of West Bengal to see how they are faring.

On a bright sunny morning, as an open jeep decorated with bright yellow and orange flowers hurtles along the dirt track from one village to the next, women in colourful saris and men rush to greet Mahua Moitra.

They shower bright orange marigold petals on her, place garlands around her neck and many reach out to shake and kiss her hands. She waves at them, greeting them with her palms joined: “Give me your blessings.”

Young men and women whip out their smartphones to take photos and selfies. On the way, she’s offered coconut water and sweets.

Ms Moitra, who is contesting the general election as a candidate of the state’s governing Trinamool Congress Party (TMC), is campaigning in her constituency Krishnanagar.

Women offer sweets to Mahua Moitra
Image caption On the campaign trail, women offer coconut water and sweets
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Women throw marigold petals at Mahua Moitra
Image caption Supporters throw marigold petals at Mahua Moitra
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In one village, party workers tell her about an old man who’s too ill to come to meet her, so she walks to his home to greet him.

Her jeep is followed by dozens of bikes and their riders, all young men, chanting slogans like “Long live Trinamool Congress, Long live Mamata Banerjee.”

The loud, colourful procession is led by a small truck, fitted with loudspeakers, from which announcements asking people to vote for Ms Moitra are played on a loop.

With the election season well under way in India and political leaders criss-crossing the length and breadth of the country, addressing rallies, I’m travelling across the country to see if the high-decibel campaigns are addressing the real issues that actually affect millions of people. One of them is getting more women into parliament.

In India, only 11% of members of parliament are women, and in state assemblies it’s 9%. In a list of 193 countries this year, India was ranked 149th for female representation in parliament – below Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

A bill to reserve 33% of seats for women in parliament and regional assemblies has been pending since 1996, so the decision by the TMC – led by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee – to give 41% of her party nominations to women has created a huge buzz.

Mahua Moitra during her road show
Image caption Ms Moitra quit her banker’s job in London to return to India and enter politics
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Ms Banerjee, who set up the TMC in 1998 after falling out with the Congress party, is a feisty politician who was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2012.

Her female candidates, says my BBC Bengali colleague Subhajyoti Ghosh, are an “interesting mix” of career politicians and first-timers. They include actors, doctors, a tribal activist and the 25-year-old widow of a recently-murdered politician.

Ms Moitra, the TMC’s national spokesperson and a member of the state assembly since 2016, is among 17 women who have made it to the party’s list of 42 general election nominees.

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Read more from Geeta Pandey

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A former investment banker with JP Morgan, she gave up a well-paying job in London in 2009 to return to the heat and dust of Indian politics.

Her decision left her family aghast. Her parents, she told me, thought she was “insane”. Some party workers too had their doubts – “she’s a memsahib”, they said at the time, “she won’t survive”.

A poster of Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal
Image caption Mamata Banerjee was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2012
Presentational white spaceBut she has survived – and thrived. In 2016, she won the Karimpur assembly seat that no non-Left party had won since 1972 and has now set her eyes on the national parliament.

She’s agreed to let me follow her on the campaign trail, so for two days I’ve been a “fly on the wall” – standing behind her in her jeep, travelling in her car, watching her strategise with party workers, aides and confidants.

The previous evening, I had watched her be the chief guest at a college cricket match and address a gathering at the local market in Plassey.

A four-hour drive from Kolkata, Plassey is the site of the famous 1757 battle between the British East India Company and the local ruler supported by the French.

Ms Moitra takes her spot to speak and clearly takes aim at Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as she talks about a deadly suicide attack in Kashmir and India’s subsequent air raid in Pakistan.

The bike riders
Image caption Her jeep is followed by dozens of supporters on bikes
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Women shaking hands
Image caption Many women reach out to shake hands with Ms Moitra

“What’s the point of saying you killed all those terrorists in Pakistan? It’s not important who you killed in Pakistan or how many. What’s important is you failed to protect our soldiers.”

She talks about how the government has failed to create jobs and accuses the BJP of trying to divide Hindus and Muslims.

“You have taken away our livelihoods and you’re trying to teach us about [the Hindu god] Ram and [Muslim saint] Rahim? I don’t have to write my religion on my forehead,” she declares to loud claps from her supporters.

Elections in the past were to change the government, she says, but this election is to save the constitution of India. “It is no ordinary vote.”

Her main rival is the BJP’s Kalyan Chaubey, a former footballer who played in goal for India. So drawing a football analogy, she declares: “I’m an A-league centre-forward player, stop my goal if you can. I am here to win.”

Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, a founder member of the TMC and two-term MP, says to nominate so many women is part of a “continuous process” followed by Mamata Banerjee because “you can’t develop a society without uplifting the status of its women”.

In the last general election in 2014, she points out that the party nominated 33% women and 12 of their 34 MPs in the outgoing lower house were women.

Ms Banerjee, she says, believes that gender sensitive laws will come only if more women are in power.

At a campaign rally that Dr Ghosh Dastidar addresses in Kumhra Kashipur village in her constituency Barasat, women are seated in the front rows.

Their opinion though is divided over whether having more women in parliament will actually benefit other women.

Dr Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar being welcomed in her constituency
Image caption Dr Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar is among the founder members of the TMC and a two-term MP
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Supriya Biswas says it’s easier if their MP is a woman because then it’s easier to approach her. “For, who can understand a woman better than a woman?”

Archana Mallick and Meena Mouli, who live just across from the rally ground, point to the broken roads near their homes and complain about poor medical facilities in their village. They say that the candidate’s gender is “inconsequential” and what’s important is “who works for our benefit”.

Studies, however, show that female representatives bring economic growth to their constituencies because they are more concerned than men about issues such as water supply, electricity, road connectivity and health facilities.

Saswati Ghosh, professor of economics at Kolkata’s City College, says that politics in India is “still very patriarchal” and it’s “absolutely necessary” to elect more women MPs.

“It is important to have more women in lawmaking bodies because I think after a certain number, you’ll reach the threshold level and that will lead to change. I don’t know if 33% is the magic number that will change the quality of discourse, maybe 25% can do the trick?”

Archana Mallick and Meena Mouli say a candidate's gender is "inconsequential"
Image caption Archana Mallick and Meena Mouli say a candidate’s gender is “inconsequential”

Critics, however, question whether celebrities are the right candidates to bring about that change.

Prof Ghosh says actors and celebrities make for “winnable candidates” and that’s why all parties choose them even though sometimes they may not be the right candidates to reach that threshold.

But, she says that Ms Banerjee is a strong leader who’s regarded by many women as “a role model who inspires more women to come into politics”.

And that’s something that many Indians think the country sorely needs.

In their manifestos, the main opposition Congress party has promised to pass the women’s reservation bill, if elected to power. So has the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, although it had made similar promises in its last manifesto and did nothing about it.

By allotting 41% seats to women, Ms Banerjee has shown that one doesn’t need to set artificial quotas to elect more women.

Source: The BBC

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