Over 81 percent polling in Bengal

Kolkata : Amid sporadic incidents of violence and a long list of allegations by the opposition parties, West Bengal witnessed an impressive turnout of over 81 percent of the 88.87 lakh electorate Wednesday as six Lok Sabha seats went to the hustings.

The Election Commission termed the exercise in Jhargram, Medinipur, Purulia, Bankura, Bishnupur and Asansol constituencies spread over four districts as peaceful, barring isolated incidents.

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But the Left Front accused the ruling Trinamool of indulging in massive “electoral malpractices” and said it would demand repoll in around 300 booths

Simultaneous bypoll was held to the assembly constituency Kotulpur of Bankura district.

The areas going to the hustings included the Maoist heartland of Junglemahal — the large forested stretches of West Medinipur, Bankura and Purulia districts — where a massive security cover was provided.

“The polling percentage was 81.28 till 6 p.m. The figure will go up as people are still standing before the polling stations,” said state chief electoral officer Sunil Gupta.

The turnout in 2009 for these seats stood at 77.72 percent.

“The polls were peaceful, though there were some isolated incidents. All allegations were promptly attended to,” said Gupta.

Two preventive arrests were made and two presiding officers removed while 28 electronic voting machines (EVM) had to be replaced.

“There were no serious complaints from political parties. There were no reports of booth capturing and major breach of law and order,” he said.

In Purulia’s Ghatbera, a police case was initiated against village panchayat leader Monica Mahato for entering the poll booth without an identity card. The presiding officer was removed.

In the same seat, an assistant sub-inspector had forcibly entered the booth. A detailed investigation is on, Gupta said.

In Midnapore’s Ajayabpur, a voter in drunken state damaged the electronic voting machine (EVM). It was replaced and the voter arrested.

Several tribal voters were intimidated but after the intervention of sector officer and police officer, they were able to exercise their franchise peacefully in Asansol’s Pandbeswar, he said.

In other incidents of scuffles spanning Bishnupur, the district officials were successful in dispersing the mob.

But Leader of Opposition in the state assembly Surjya Kanta Mishra alleged the Trinamool indulged in rigging and prevented Left Front polling agents from manning the booths by resorting to intimidation and violence.

“We are looking at seeking repoll in around 300 booths. We will zero in on the number after scrutiny tomorrow. As many as 123 booths were captured in the Jhargam Lok Sabha constituency and 60 in Asansol,” Mishra said.

However, the Trinamool called the polls “free and fair”.

“Earlier during the Left Front rule, people could not cast their votes fearlessly. Now the situation has changed. People have exercised their franchise in a peaceful manner. Polls have been free and fair,” said Trinamool general secretary Mukul Roy.

Bharatiya Janata Party candidate from Burdwan district’s Asansol Babul Supriyo accused the ruling Trinamool of indulging in “blatant rigging” and “intimidation of voters”.

Additional security was provided to the Bollywood crooner after he was allegedly heckled and prevented from entering a polling booth by Trinamool activists.

In Pandbeshwar, a disabled woman was mercilessly beaten up by some goons backed by a political party after she voted.

The Trinamool denied all allegations.

The electorate, including 42 lakh women, was eligible to vote at 11,321 polling station to decide the political fate of 72 candidates, including 11 women.

The Trinamool, Left Front, Congress and the BJP are in the fray in all the parliamentary constituencies that went to polls Wednesday.

Of the Left partners, the Communist Party of India-Marxist is contesting four seats, leaving one each to the Communist Party of India and the All India Forward Bloc.

In 2009, Left Front candidates bagged all the six seats.

Three helicopters, with a medical support team on board, had kept on standby in the Maoist-hit areas. Besides choppers, as many as 10 satellite phones were being used.

Bomb disposal squads, road opening parties and anti-landmine vehicles too had been deployed in the Maoist-affected areas.

West Bengal has 42 Lok Sabha seats, of which four voted April 17, six April 24 and nine April 30. Elections will be held for 17 constituencies in the final phase May 12.

Votes polled across the country would be counted May 16.