India parties claim 17 dead in poll clashes

Clashes in West Bengal
The BJP accused the ruling TMC’s workers of violence in the state

At least 17 people have allegedly been killed in India’s West Bengal state since Sunday in clashes following local elections. They were all reportedly party workers who belonged to the governing Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Violence reportedly broke out after the incumbent TMC swept to power for a third time in the battleground state, but police are yet to confirm the deaths or what started the violence. The BJP has alleged that TMC workers attacked its members, vanadalised offices and even looted shops run by BJP workers. But TMC has denied the charge and said seven of its workers were killed in clashes. The BJP has said it lost nine workers to the violence.

The alleged deaths come amid a steep surge in Covid infections in India. Cases are rising especially fast in West Bengal, which saw massive election rallies ahead of the polls. TMC, BJP and a coalition of leftist parties have all traded blame for instigating the violence. Unverified visuals on social media show ransacked offices, burning buildings and people being attacked. It’s still unclear how the clashes began.

A ransacked office
BJP alleges its officers were ransacked by TMC workers

Incumbent Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee asked people to show restraint and not take part in any violence. She is set to be sworn in on Wednesday. Prime Minister Narendra Modi telephoned the state’s governor, Jagdeep Dhankar, and expressed his concern over the situation. The federal home ministry has also sought a report of the violence from its state counterpart.

BJP president J P Nadda also arrived in the state on Tuesday. He met the families of two party workers who died in the clashes. The situation remains tense as reports of violence have poured in during the last 24 hours from several districts across the state. West Bengal, where political parties have a larger than usual presence on the ground, has a history of poll-related violence involving party cadre.

And the latest clashes come in the wake of a hard-fought election, which saw PM Modi campaign heavily, making himself the face of the BJP in the state. But Ms Banerjee, a veteran herself, didn’t just hold on to power but won comfortably. This surprised political observers who expected the might of the nationally-ruling BJP to dent TMC’s vote count.

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