Sporadic clashes mar West Bengal civic polls

Kolkata, May 30 (IANS) Sporadic clashes were reported from many places in West Bengal Sunday as urban voters queued up to cast their votes for the civic body polls considered the last trial of strength for the contesting parties ahead of the assembly election showdown next year.

Though the situation was largely peaceful, trouble broke out between the ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) cadres and main opposition Trinamool Congress workers in Jamuria of Burdwan, and Naihati in North 24 Parganas district. The security forces had to resort to baton charge to control the situation.

Activists of the two parties also clashed in Beleghata in the city, stalling the polling.

Around 85 lakh (8.5 million) people in 1,792 wards across 81 civic bodies, including the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, are eligible to exercise their franchise.

There were complaints of Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) snags affecting the polling, particularly in the city. This prompted the Trinamool to demand extension of the polling hours in a letter to the West Bengal State Election Commission.

Political issues and not civic problems had taken centrestage in the run up to the polls, but Friday’s Gyaneswhari Express derailment, which claimed 145 lives, has eclipsed all other matters over the last three days.

Before the train derailment, issues like early assembly election, political violence, conspiracy theories for fomenting communal trouble, functioning of the railway ministry (with the portfolio held by Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee) and Maoist activities dominated the speeches and statements of the leaders.

Drowned in the political cacophony were the civic issues — water supply, roads, sanitation, maintenance of parks and pollution — that are of critical concern to the people.

The elections are being held a year after the Lok Sabha polls that saw the Trinamool Congress-Congress combine along with the Socialist Unity Centre of India decimate the Left Front.

But the political equations have substantially changed this time around.

A striking feature is the failure of the Trinamool and Congress to clinch a seat- sharing deal. Both parties are now going it alone in the Kolkata Municipal Corporation and almost all the municipalities spread across the state.

The key question is whether the break-up of the alliance will in turn help the Left Front, which is looking to the municipal polls to effect a turnaround in its fortunes after its disastrous performance in the general elections.

The Trinamool Congress-Congress combine bagged 27 Lok Sabha seats out of 42 in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. The Left Front was reduced from 35 seats in 2004 to 15.

Among the 81 civic bodies, the Left Front currently controls 54 including the Kolkata Municipal Corporation.