64 percent voting in West Bengal, two injured in mine blast


Kolkata : The Left citadel of West Bengal registered a 64 percent voter turnout in 14 Lok Sabha constituencies by Thursday evening. But the largely peaceful poll was marred by a landmine blast, triggered by suspected Maoists, that injured two security personnel.

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“There was around 64 percent polling till 5 p.m. But the figure will go up as people were still queuing up to vote” by the closing time, state chief electoral officer Debasish Sen told reporters here, describing the election as “peaceful and secure”.

Opposition Trinamool Congress made allegations of vote rigging by the ruling Left Front, and demanded repolling in some parts of the state. The ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) also claimed that its polling agents were intimidated in the Darjeeling hills.

Asked whether polling was free and fair, Sen said: “I wouldn’t like to comment on that now.”

The voter turnout was between 20 and 30 percent in Maoist-hit areas, he said. In the 49 booths of Lalgarh constituency in West Midnapore district, only 13 percent voted.

Two Border Security Force (BSF) personnel were injured in a low intensity landmine blast at Balarampur. This incident apart, polling was largely peaceful in nine districts in the northern and Maoist violence-hit western parts of the state despite sporadic disturbances and interruptions in the poll process, which ended at 5 p.m., reports said.

Voters young and old lined up at over 21,000 booths in towns and villages stretching from the cool climes of the Darjeeling hills in the north to remote regions of the Purulia plateau and jungle areas of the western districts to elect their MPs from among 134 nominees.

A total of 16 million people were eligible to vote Thursday, the first phase of the Lok Sabha elections in the state covering six north Bengal districts – including the troubled Darjeeling – and Maoist-hit Purulia, West Midnapore and Bankura.

Two suspicious boxes found in West Midnapore’s Maoist-dominated Pirakata forest region triggered panic among voters who refused to go to polling stations. The police later found these boxes contained fire crackers, the police said.

There was a poll boycott in a booth in Salboni of West Midnapore as irate tribals demanded proper recognition of a local script.

To ensure a peaceful and fair polling, the Election Commission had deployed nearly 220 companies of central forces across the Lok Sabha constituencies.

The CEO said apart from the Maoist belt, there were 93 polling booths in Jalpaiguri and North Dinajpur districts where there was either a poll boycott or low polling, and the commission is awaiting reports from observers and poll officers before deciding the next course of action.

A total of 101 electronic voting machines had to be replaced after they malfunctioned.

Reports from Siliguri said there was a poll boycott in six booths in the plains of Darjeeling district while enthusiastic voter queues were seen in the hills under a thick blanket of fog, a cold wind and intermittent rains.

Fifty percent polling was recorded in the Darjeeling district where Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) heavyweight and former central minister Jaswant Singh is trying his luck with the backing of the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM), which is agitating for a Gorkhaland state.

The opposition Trinamool Congress demanded repolling in the entire Keshpur assembly segment of Ghatal constituency, alleging the ruling communists had driven away their polling agents from all booths and terrorised voters.

Speaking to the media, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee demanded that the state’s Left Front government be sacked for not ensuring free and fair polls.

The ruling CPI-M also alleged that voters were intimidated in the Darjeeling hills and its polling agents driven out.

West Bengal has 42 Lok Sabha seats. While 17 seats go to polls May 7, voters in 11 constituencies will exercise their franchise May 13.