Four voters, standing in a queue to vote in Sitalkuchi, Cooch Behar, West Bengal, have been killed in firing by the CISF central forces.
These four are reported to be working class men from poor families: two migrant workers Nur Alam Mian and Maniruzzaman Mian, a first-time voter Samiul Haque, and a mason Hamidul Mian. In addition, in a separate incident, an 18-year-old first time voter Ananda Barman, was shot dead by unidentified miscreants.
Such firing raises grave questions about the role and motives of central forces in the West Bengal elections. Rather than keeping the peace and ensuring free and fair elections, the central forces are committing bloodshed and intimidating voters. Statements by BJP leaders have added to the impression that the central armed forces are serving to intimidate voters to further the BJP's interests.
Here is a list of instances where BJP leaders have sought to use thr Sitalkuchi firing for communal targeting and intimidation of voters:
- The CISF and other central forces answer to the Home Ministry headed by Amit Shah, who is currently campaigning for the BJP in West Bengal, and using the firing in his speeches to sharpen communal polarisation. Shah alleged (falsely) that the CM mourned only the four victims whose community she wished to "appease" and did not mourn Ananda Barman. The fact is that all over W Bengal, all five victims are being mourned. Four of them were killed by the bullets of central forces - and the ECI and the Home Ministry bear responsibility for those deaths.
- BJP's West Bengal President Dilip Ghosh has threatened "more Sitalkuchi-like incidents in many places" if the "bad boys do not behave", adding that the "bad boys" must not be allowed to "remain in Bengal."
- Another BJP leader Sayantan Basu declared that in the four remaining phases of elections, 16 Sitalkuchi-style massacres would be committed.
- During the Lok Sabha elections, Sayantan Basu gave a speech urging central forces to "shoot booth captors in the chest, not the legs." At the time, the EC had said they would act against Basu. Was any action taken? If not, the failure to punish him has certainly emboldened Basu to continue to issue threats on behalf of the central paramilitary forces.
The fact that the BJP leadership is able to speak on behalf of the CISF as though it were their private militia, indicates how the central forces are being misused by the BJP-led Central Government in the WB elections.
The fact that all four voters who killed in the CISF firing are Muslims, makes Dilip Ghosh's and Sayantan Basu's words a thinly veiled communal threat against the minority community.
Unanswered Questions About The Massacre:
- a) The fact is that there is no evidence whatsoever that the four victims attempted to snatch CISF rifles, as alleged by the CISF, or indeed that they indulged in any other form of violence.
- b) A survivor of the massacre, a teenager named Mrinal Haque, has been found to have several injuries consistent with a thrashing with sticks. Villagers say that when they protested the unprovoked thrashing to which Mrinal was subjected, the CISF opened fire and killed four voters. The injuries on Mrinal's body give the lie to the police observer's report to the EC, that Mrinal had fallen sick, and that onlookers mistakenly assumed he had been beaten by jawans and assembled a violent mob which attacked the CISF.
- c) Media reports which initially claimed that there was a mob of 300-400 people, now states that there were merely 70-80 people. Crowd control requires minimum force. Why was the CISF deployed in West Bengal, when it is well known that the CISF has neither experience nor training in crowd control? Even assuming that the CISF claim about villagers getting agitated about a boy's thrashing, why could the CISF not control a crowd of less than 100 persons, without resorting to lethal firing?
- d) Even the CISF has not claimed that the victims came to the poll booth armed. Had they in fact been planning violence, they would have been armed - they came unarmed because they came to cast their votes. It is inconceivable that four unarmed persons would suddenly seek to snatch rifles from CISF men - knowing full well that they were vastly outnumbered by a CISF battalion armed to the teeth.
- e) We want to know why the EC has accepted the CISF version without demanding evidence to back the story. Surely there must be CCTV footage, or other videographed evidence of the CISF claims?
- We demand an independent enquiry into the CISF firing at Sitalkuchi
- We demand that the responsible CISF personnel including any officer who ordered the firing be arrested and prosecuted for the massacre.
- We demand that CISF deployment be withdrawn by the EC and measures taken to restore voter confidence.
- We also demand that the EC ban Dilip Ghosh, Sayantan Basu. Amit Shah and any other leader who vilifies the victims of the firing, or communalises the firing, from campaigning, and book them under the relevant sections of Model Code of Conduct and People's Representation Act for hate-mongering and intimidation.
We call for an All India Protest Day on 13 April to mourn the victims of the CISF firing, and demand justice for the all five voters killed in Cooch Behar.