The clashes outside a polling station in West Bengal's Cooch Behar district on Saturday morning, in which four people died, took place after a local mob attacked security forces over a misunderstanding, the Election Commission has said, adding that the CISF personnel had to open fire to "save their lives and government property like EVMs".
The election panel says the misunderstanding began when the central security forces were trying to help a sick man near the polling booth in Sitalkuchi early on Saturday morning, when some locals thought the boy was beaten up by Central Industrial Security Force or CISF personnel, and assembled nearly 300-350 villagers.
"Due to the misunderstanding, the agitated mob attacked the CISF personnel detailed at the booth with deadly equipment and some of them even tried to snatch their arms and ammunitions," it said.
The Election Commission says the security personnel first fired in the air but it did not deter the mob. "Faced with no other alternative, to save their lives and government property like EVM and other polling materials, the CISF personnel opened fire. As a result, four persons who got bullet injury succumbed to their injuries at the local Mathabhanga Sub-Divisional Hospital," the Election Commission adds.
The clashes, which took place as 44 seats voted in the fourth phase of Assembly elections, have triggered a blame-game between the BJP and the Trinamool Congress.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has called it a "planned attack" and accused the central forces of "murder". Ms Banerjee also said Bengal Police CID (Crime Investigation Department) would conduct a probe.
"Home Minister Amit Shah is completely responsible for today's incident and he himself is the conspirator. I don't blame central forces because they work under Home Minister's order. We will demand his resignation," she said in a press conference on Saturday evening.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi condoled the deaths but also slammed Ms Banerjee and her party. "What happened in Cooch Behar is sad... I offer condolences to bereaved families. Mamata Didi and her goons are jittery because of groundswell of support for the BJP."
The Election Commission has now directed the Home Ministry to immediately send 71 additional companies of Central Armed Police forces (CAPFs) in Bengal for the remaining four phases of polls, news agency PTI reports.
1,000 companies are currently stationed in Bengal for the eight-phase polls. The new companies are drawn from the BSF (33), ITBP (13), CRPF (12), SSB (9) and CISF (4). A CAPF company has an operational strength of about 85 personnel.
The next phase of polls will be held on April 17, April 22, 26 and 29. Results will be out May 2.
With inputs from PTI