Sticks, stones, guns and bombs tarred local polls in Uttar Pradesh, where political developments have assumed heightened significance ahead of the all-important state elections early next year, as the ruling BJP claimed a "historic victory" on Saturday.
Counting of votes for the 476 posts of block panchayat chiefs has concluded, reports said, after the polling ended at 3 pm.
While opposition parties including former Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav's Samajwadi Party alleged widespread rigging and manipulation by the BJP, the ruling party claimed a "historic victory".
"In the elections for Block Panchayat Chiefs, the BJP is winning more than 635 seats with its allies and supporters. This number will increase further after the final results are out," Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said at a news conference.
There were reports of violence from the Hamirpur district where opposition Samajwadi Party workers alleged that BJP activists attacked them with sticks and stopped their voters from reaching the polling booths. Policemen were also beaten up in the clash and vehicles damaged.
In Hathras, a Samajwadi Party leader was injured after being shot. In Chandauli district, BJP and Samajwadi workers clashed, with incidents of stone-throwing and motorcycles being vandalised. The police had to use sticks to beat back the fighting political workers.
Similar incidents were reported in at least 17 districts including Etawah, Ayodhya, Prayagraj, Aligarh, Pratapgarh, Sonbhadra districts. In Aligarh, a BJP leader was seen in a video yelling at a magistrate. The police and the administration have been slammed for failing to stop the violence that erupted long before voting day.
Many Samajwadi leaders posted videos of the clashes and accused the BJP of influencing the voting with attacks. In one of the videos, a senior police officer in Etawah was heard complaining to a senior that he was slapped by supporters of the BJP.
"These people are throwing bricks and stones sir. They even slapped me. They brought bombs as well. People from BJP. MLA and district chief," Superintendent of Police (City) Prashant Kumar is heard saying in the video that has been widely shared.
पुलिस को पीटता भगवाधारी????— Manish Jagan Agrawal (मनीष जगन अग्रवाल) (@manishjagan) July 10, 2021
इस भगवाधारी का ये तमाचा पुलिस पर नहीं बल्कि सीधा उत्तर प्रदेश के गृह मंत्रालय के मुंह पर है!
उत्तर प्रदेश का गृह मंत्री कौन है भाई ? pic.twitter.com/AirTM3qLz3
A TV journalist in Unnao was seen being mercilessly beaten up by a senior bureaucrat in another video.
उत्तर प्रदेश में जंगलराज!— Manish Jagan Agrawal (मनीष जगन अग्रवाल) (@manishjagan) July 10, 2021
जंगलराज और अराजकता का नंगा नाच!
उन्नाव के मियागंज ब्लॉक में CDO दिव्यांशु पटेल व भाजपा विधायक बम्बा लाल के गुर्गों ने भी पत्रकार की पिटाई की,
वीडियो बनता रहा,कैमरे में तस्वीरें कैद होती रहीं, CDO पत्रकार को मारते रहे,
उन्नाव में पत्रकार धरने पर बैठे! pic.twitter.com/qFj11aqmD9
A total of 349 candidates for the block panchayat chief posts were elected unopposed on Friday, the last day for the withdrawal of nomination papers. Some 1,700 candidates went to the elections on Saturday.
Opposition parties, including the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress, have accused the ruling BJP of stomping on democratic principles and attacked it for allegedly showing "utter disrespect" to women during the election process.
They accused the government of misusing power and official machinery in the panchayat elections.
Hitting out at the BJP government, BSP chief Mayawati alleged that there is "jungle raj" in the state.
In a tweet in Hindi on Saturday, she said, "In the reign of the present BJP government in UP, there is no rule of law, but a jungle raj is prevailing there, under which there has been widespread violence in the panchayat polls, and there was indecent behaviour with a woman in Lakhimpur Kheri."
Earlier this week, the BJP clinched a massive victory in another set of local body elections in Uttar Pradesh, in a big setback for Akhilesh Yadav's Samajwadi Party. The BJP took 67 seats in the zila panchayat chairperson election where 75 seats were at stake. Mr Yadav's party won only five seats.
(With inputs from PTI)