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Violence mars Ajnala bypoll
Over 100 injured; complaints of booth capturing, rigging
Varinder Walia
Tribune News Service

Ajnala, February 23
Large-scale violence, clashes, firing incidents and attempts of rigging/booth capturing today left more than 100 persons of both the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Congress injured, some of them seriously, in the Ajnala byelection.

The worst clash was witnessed at Chakk Bala village, 2 km from the Pakistan border, where a mob chased Akalis, including candidate Mr Amarpal Singh Bonny, and Mr Manjinder Singh Kang, a former Chairman of the Punjab Forest Corporation. Mr Kang and two Akali leaders had to take shelter at an open house which was surrounded by the mob for more than three hours. He was later rescued by Mr Jasbir Singh Dimpa, a Congress MLA, himself.

However, Mr Kang alleged that the mob had attacked at the behest of Mr Dimpa, who wanted to settle political scores with him. Meanwhile, senior police officials, including Mr S.K. Agnihotri and an election observer Mr R.V. Meena, reached only when normalcy was restored.

Despite the large-scale violence, Mr Meena claimed that the polling was going on smoothly. He failed to notice that the party's election office in the village was totally smashed. When told that many persons were injured in the clashes, he quipped that the law and order problem was the concern of the Punjab Police. However, Capt Kanwaljit Singh, General Secretary, SAD, said that being representatives of the Chief Election Commission, observers were duty-bound to ensure violence-free polling.

Mr Kang was later attacked by the police force in Jagdev Khurd village, led by Mr Ranbir Singh, DSP, where mediapersons had a close shave. Some of the youths were taken into custody without any provocation.

A mockery of the poll was witnessed at Kamalpura village, where more than 200 shots were fired with assault rifles, including AK-47 (which is normally the weapon given to the police) by activists of both parties, immediately after the polling process was completed. This was perhaps the only booth where election observers reached in time and helped in carrying EVMs to safer place. In their report to the Election Commission, the observers informed that the polling was not affected.

The police resorted to a lathicharge at Tera Rajputan village in which at least 20 Akali workers, including Mr Manjit Singh Barkandi, District President SAD, Muktsar and a close confidant of Mr Parkash Singh Badal, sustained injuries. The police had to open fire to bring the situation under control. The election Observer, Mr Jyoti Kals also reached there and asked the Punjab Police to leave the booth immediately with the aim to defuse the situation. The other villages where warring SAD/ Congress workers clashed included Madhu Chhanga, Tera Kalan, Zafarkot, Mattian, Dayal Bhatti, Chamiari and Bhure Gill etc.

The ban orders of District Magistrate, barring the entry of outsiders, were grossly flouted even as hundreds of vehicles of musclemen, bearing number plates of Haryana and New Delhi, thronged the constituency. Though 11 injured persons were admitted to the local Civil hospital, those belonging to the Akali party were taken to private hospitals for first aid.

Mr Parkash Singh Badal, President, SAD, alleged that the Ajnala byelection was not “election, but police action”. In a letter to the CEC, the SAD chief described as the “magnitude of rigging, fake voting and booth capturing indulged by Congress activists” as unprecedented. In a strongly worded letter to the Chief Election Commissioner, Mr Badal described the day’s developments at Ajnala as “black day for democracy in India. Deploring the alleged inaction of the EC, Mr Badal said that if this was the way elections were going to be conducted “we may have nothing to bequeath to our posterity except disgrace at failing to defend democracy.”

The Akali leader described the day’s proceedings as “operation murder democracy.” He said in his long political career, he had never seen such brazen conduct of the state agencies, carried out with such massive planning and with such impunity.

At the Avan Wasau polling station (booth 97), the police, the presiding officer and other members of the polling staff joined hands in a broad-daylight conspiracy to deny Akali workers their right to franchise. At Mattian (booth 131), a polling agent was forcibly thrown out of the polling station, whereas at Zaffarkot (no. 92), a booth was allegedly captured with the security personnel remaining a mute witness. The total polling was recorded between 75 to 80 per cent. 

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