Thursday, 21 September 2023

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Voting resumes in West Bengal state after Indian village poll violence

KOLKATA, INDIA — Voting in local polls in India’s West Bengal state resumed on Monday at hundreds of election centres after being disrupted by violence that left 10 people dead, officials said.

The state election commission reported seven people were killed on Saturday in election-related violence, and another three died “in post-poll violence” on Sunday, election commissioner Rajiva Sinha told reporters on Monday.

Opposition parties said at least 16 people died.

The election commission reran polls at 697 centres following complaints of violence and electoral malpractice.

India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has in recent years worked hard to gain a toehold in West Bengal — ruled by a communist party for much of its history — as it seeks to expand its reach beyond its Hindi-speaking northern heartlands.

The fierce contest is to elect municipal leaders, with more than 200,000 candidates in the running across the state of 104 million people.

West Bengal has been led by Mamata Banerjee since 2011 when her Trinamool party defeated the communist-led administration that had run the state for the prior three decades.

Banerjee, a fierce critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has accused his Hindu-nationalist BJP of attempting to import divisive sectarian politics into the state, which has a large Muslim minority.

Modi has in turn accused her administration of endemic corruption.

But the roots of political violence in the state stretch back decades, with police recording thousands of murders around election time since the 1960s.

During state polls in 2021 — won emphatically by Trinamool but with a strong BJP showing — several activists from both parties were shot or hacked to death, their bodies sometimes hung from trees as an intimidation tactic.


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