GUWAHATI: People queue up to cast their votes at a polling station in India’s Assam state on Tuesday.—AFP
GUWAHATI: People queue up to cast their votes at a polling station in India’s Assam state on Tuesday.—AFP

KOLKATA: Fresh deadly violence rocked the restive state of West Bengal on Tuesday as India held its biggest democratic exercise in two years with 175 million people eligible to vote in five regional elections.

The votes were being held even though India is experiencing a sharp rise in coronavirus infections, with several regions imposing restrictions on activities.

West Bengal in eastern India was the most important, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist BJP party attempting to win power there for the first time in what would be a major symbolic victory.

The state, home to about 90 million people, has seen thousands killed in decades of political violence, and the current campaign has triggered deadly clashes between supporters of the BJP and the ruling TMC party.

BJP trying to wrest power from Mamata Banerjee’s party in India’s eastern state

The TMC, headed by fierce Modi critic Mamata Banerjee, has accused the BJP of attempting to import divisive sectarian politics into the state, which has a large Muslim minority.

On Tuesday two people were killed including the mother of a BJP supporter and a man in his 30s who was a member of the TMC, police said.

Shots were fired outside several polling stations during clashes in areas outside the state capital Kolkata, leaving at least 20 people injured, police said.

Voters were being intimidated into staying away from polling stations “in hundreds of villages”, Dilip Ghosh, a senior local BJP member, told AFP.

Stalin’s alliance

Because of the need for extra security, West Bengal has spread its election over eight phases culminating on April 29.

The north-eastern state of Assam, home to 32 million people, was also holding the last out of three phases on Tuesday, with the BJP vying to hold on to power.

The state is polarised along ethnic and religious lines, with immigration from neighbouring Bangladesh one of the biggest campaign issues.

A “citizenship list” in Assam state in 2019 left off almost two million people unable to prove they were Indian, many of them Muslims, a process many fear the BJP wants to roll out nationwide.

The southern regions of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry also went to the polls, with local parties dominating the race but the BJP hoping to make inroads.

In Tamil Nadu an alliance led by MK Stalin — named by his father after the late Soviet ruler — was aiming to win power with his DMK party.

In Kerala the Left Democratic Front, a coalition including two communist parties, was fighting to retain power against an alliance led by Congress, the BJP’s main national rivals.

Puducherry, a small former French colony previously known as Pondicherry, has been rocked recently by political defections and resignations leading to the collapse of its Congress-led government.

Results from all the elections, which come two years after Modi was elected to a second straight term, are due on May 2.

Published in Dawn, April 7th, 2021

Opinion

Elite privileges
20 Apr 2021

Elite privileges

Elite bargains provide a powerful view of our political economy.
A conjurer of limitless hope
20 Apr 2021

A conjurer of limitless hope

Rehman Sahib came across as a battle-scarred soldier who was perpetually planning to regroup after a setback.
Cabinet lotto
Updated 20 Apr 2021

Cabinet lotto

To return to finance, the second change in the key ministry is interesting for how it differs from the first.
Election ex machina
Updated 19 Apr 2021

Election ex machina

Neither EVMs nor i-voting are new innovations, yet their use remains deeply controversial.

Editorial

Media blackout
Updated 20 Apr 2021

Media blackout

A free flow of information is the best way to counter rumour-mongering and fake news.
20 Apr 2021

Gas utilities’ reluctance

THE government has ‘ordered’ state-owned gas companies SSGC and SNGPL to remove impediments hampering the...
20 Apr 2021

Saudi-Iran talks

EVER since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, ties between Tehran and Riyadh have been increasingly strained,...
19 Apr 2021

Vaccine shortfall

THE hope that the slew of Covid-19 vaccinations approved for use since the end of last year would vanquish the ...
Another package
Updated 19 Apr 2021

Another package

Sindh has not seen much development worth the name during the PPP’s more than decade-long rule in the province.
19 Apr 2021

Cricket triumph

TEAM Pakistan have a number of reasons to rejoice after their 3-1 T20 series win over hosts South Africa on Friday....