At least 11 killed in local polls in India’s West Bengal: Reports

Voters are casting their ballots in a fierce contest to elect municipal leaders in the eastern Indian state.

At least 11 people have been killed and dozens more injured in clashes, according to media reports, during the municipal polls in West Bengal, a state notorious for political violence during election campaigns.

Voters are casting their ballots on Saturday in a fierce contest to elect municipal leaders, with more than 200,000 candidates in the fray across the state of 104 million people.

Indian media reports, quoting the Press Trust of India news agency, said at least 11 election-related deaths in the state governed by the opposition Trinamool Congress party, and where the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is trying hard to gain a toehold as it seeks to expand beyond the Hindi-speaking north.

Six Trinamool Congress members and one worker belonging each to the BJP, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Congress and a regional Muslim party were killed, the agency said, adding that the identity of the 11th person was not known.

Al Jazeera was not able to independently verify the deaths.Videos on social media showed political workers roaming the streets with batons despite a heavy security presence as paramilitary troops stood guard to keep order.Ballot boxes were snatched and set alight outside polling stations in many places, according to reports, as rival parties blamed each other for the chaos.

More than 200 crude bombs – a staple of West Bengal elections that are sold cheaply on the black market to maim or intimidate voters – had also been seized during the polls, police said.

The West Bengal state was ruled by a communist party for more than three decades until Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee defeated the communists in 2011.

Banerjee, also a fierce critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has accused his Hindu nationalist BJP of attempting to import divisive sectarian politics into the state, which has a large Muslim minority.

Modi has in turn accused her administration of endemic corruption.

But the roots of political violence in the state stretch back decades, with police recording thousands of murders around election time since the 1960s.

During state polls in 2021, Trinamool won emphatically with a two-thirds majority. However, Modi’s BJP made substantial gains, making it the main opposition party as its tally in the state legislature went to nearly 80 seats from just three seats won in 2016.

Several activists from both parties were shot or hacked to death, their bodies sometimes hung from trees as an intimidation tactic.