Only central security personnel will oversee the voting process in Bengal during the fifth phase of the Lok Sabha elections on May 6, State Special Police Observer Vivek Dubey has said, adding that the state police will not be allowed within 100 metres of the booths.
The decision was taken at a meeting between Mr Dubey, Special Observer Ajay Nayak and Chief Electoral Officer Aariz Aftab earlier on Tuesday. It was also announced that 578 companies of central forces will be deployed in seven constituencies going to the polls as part of the fifth phase, as opposed to 562 deployed for eight constituencies in the previous one.
The state police have been divested of electoral duties in the wake of violence during the fourth phase of the elections, besides allegations by the BJP that they are helping the ruling Trinamool Congress "rig" the elections. Party president Dilip Ghosh had earlier alleged that most senior police officers in the state were "behaving like Trinamool Congress workers".
Mr Ghosh also defended the Election Commission's move to transfer four senior police officers recently, claiming that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was furious only because her "plans to use the police to loot votes has fallen flat". In a letter to the poll body, Ms Banerjee had termed the transfers as an "unfortunate, highly arbitrary, motivated and biased decision taken at the behest of the BJP".
Violence had erupted in Asansol during the fourth phase of the polls, after BJP workers insisted that the voting process be initiated only after the arrival of central security forces.
Ms Banerjee, however, has accused them of forcing people to vote for the BJP. "I have been informed of central security personnel sitting inside booths at Englishbazar in Malda Dakshin and asking voters to vote for the BJP. Why are they doing this? Police cannot enter a polling booth," news agency PTI quoted her as saying.
The seven Bengal constitutencies going to the polls on May 6 are Bangaon, Barrackpore, Howrah, Uluberia, Sreerampur, Hooghly and Arambag. According to sources, Barrackpore will see a higher deployment of central forces to oversee the face-off between Trinamool Congress candidate Dinesh Trivedi and the BJP's Arjun Singh.
(With inputs from Agencies)