Kolkata, July 22 (IANS) The violent, no-holds barred war fought by politicians for control of the rural turf in West Bengal left four innocent children in pools of blood and writhing in excruciating pain Monday. One of them is battling for his life.
The little ones - all aged between four and seven years - were injured in bomb explosions during the fourth phase of the panchayat or village council polls, touted as the grassroot level of India's three-tier governing system.
With political parties fighting it out not only on issues, but also through unabashed use of muscle power, bombs, sharp weapons and bullets, and security forces firing back to contain trouble-mongers, 19 lives have been lost since the round one of the polls July 11.
Monday was the worst. Eight people died - including goons, political workers and ordinary voters.
But it was the plight of the child victims - three in Malda district and one in Murshidabad - that provided the most poignant scenes.
At Lalutola village under Kaliachak police station in Malda, three children - merrily playing in the courtyard of a house - were wounded in a bomb explosion at the house of a Trinamool Congress candidate for the Birpara 1 Panchayat Samiti seat.
"As per the complaint, the three children were playing in the courtyard when their mothers heard the sound of an explosion. They rushed to the courtyard and found the children injured," Malda's Superintendent of Police Kalyan Mukherjee told mediapersons.
All three - their injured body parts bandaged - were taken to Malda Medical College and Hospital. One of them is in serious condition.
Such was the impact that a part of a finger of one of the children was found in an ice-cream box, sparking speculation that bombs were kept in the box.
The mother of one of the victims said: "The incident happened after we had just returned home after voting. The children were playing. We suddenly heard an explosion and rushed in to see them lying injured. The bombs were thrown at the house."
But victim Mamud Shaikh said they saw some "balls" while playing when they opened the door of the house.
"One of my friends, Ajij said these are bombs. Then they exploded," said Mamud, injured in the leg, in visible trauma, and labouring to speak.
Mukherjee said that nothing conclusive could be said as a probe was on.
The politicians started a blame game.
"Bombs were hurled at the house from outside. The Congress is to be blamed," said Trinamool leader and Tourism Minister Krishnendu Narayan Chowdhury.
Congress leader Abdul Mannan lost no time in refuting the claim. "I am surprised that he made such an allegation. This is irresponsible."
Opposition Left Front chairman Biman Bose claimed bombs were kept in the house, and demanded the arrest of the Trinamool candidate.
The second incident happened at Dakkhinnagar village under Domkol police station in Murshidabad. Five-year-old Ekhlakh Sheikh was injured when miscreants flung bombs near his house.
"Some miscreants were throwing bombs. Two or three of them ran towards our house. Ekhlakh's friends saw them and fled. But my son could not run," said his sobbing mother, as he lay at the Murshdiabad Medical College and Hospital.
Writer Sirshendu Mukhopadhay was shocked. "Such incidents make me a broken man. This is unacceptable. I don't understand politics. I am overcome with fear," said the septuagenarian.