Amid violence, 66% turnout in Bengal (3rd Lead) (3 p.m.)

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Kolkata, April 29 (IANS) Amid violence including clashes outside polling booths, attempted intimidation and EVMs snags, 66 per cent of the electorate voted in the first eight hours of polling in the fourth phase of Lok Sabha elections in West Bengal on Monday.

Long queues of men and women were seen outside polling booths in Baharampur, Krishnanagar, Ranaghat, Burdwan East, Burdwan-Durgapur, Asansol, Birbhum and Bolpur constituencies.

As the day progressed, reports of clashes between workers of rival parties poured in.

Of the overall polling percentage of 66 per cent till 3 p.m., Baharampur recorded 66, Krishnanagar 66.59, Ranaghat 64.14, Burdwan East 67.05, Burdwan-Durgapur 66.45, Asansol 62.51, Bolpur 68.51 and Birbhum 66.77, an Election Commission official said.

The voting started at 7 a.m. and will continue till 6 p.m.

An electorate of 1,34,56,491, spread across 15,277 polling stations, is eligible to decide the fate of 68 candidates.

Union Minister and Asansol’s BJP candidate Babul Supriyo’s car was vandalised allegedly by Trinamool Congress activists outside a polling station in Barabani. The leader was unharmed in the incident.

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“Our polling agent was not allowed to sit by the Trinamool supporters in a booth in Barabani. Babul da took the agent with him inside the booth and asked the presiding officer to make arrangements so that he could sit there. While returning, Trinamool activists surrounded his vehicle and some pelted stones, breaking the rear glass,” a BJP leader told IANS.

Supriyo alleged that a BJP agent at one booth at Jamuria was not allowed to take his place in the polling booth.

In the Baharampur Lok constituency, sitting MP and senior Congress leader Adhir Chowdhury accused the Trinamool workers of stopping the voters from coming to the polling stations in certain areas and capturing booths in some places.

Reports of booth capturing and intimidating voters were reported from at least three booths in Birbhum district’s Rampurhat and at Ketugram in East Burdwan.

Opposition parties alleged that Trinamool supporters attacked women voters on their way to the polling booths. Central forces rushed to the spot and dispersed the crowd.

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Clashes between supporters of political parties erupted after miscreants allegedly backed by the Trinamool Congress vandalised houses of villagers and BJP supporters at Birbhum’s Nalhai and Nanur, areas infamous for political violence. Some Trinamool supporters also accused BJP activists of vandalising their houses in the afternoon to take revenge.

Villagers at Law Bagan in Birbhum’s Suri were allegedly offered tea and puffed rice by Trinamool activists, locked up in a house and told not to vote, local people said, adding that their electoral photo identity cards were also snatched away.

Later, Election Commission officials entered the village and security personnel took the voters to the polling stations.

Voting was stalled at Poduma under the the Dubrajpur Assembly segment after villagers vandalised a polling booth in Birbhum constituency. The villagers clashed with the security forces following a dispute over depositing mobile phones, officials said.

To bring the situation under control, the security personnel fired in the air. However, Trinamool’s Birbhum candidate Satabdi Roy said two people were injured in the firing.

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“Polling was stalled for some time at a booth in Dubrajpur and it resumed later,” an official of the commission said.

Trinamool’s Birbhum district President Anubrata Mondal was been “under strict surveillance” following allegations that he was threatening polling officials.

Leading the pack of star constituencies is Asansol, where Supriyo – a singer-turned-politician – is facing a challenge from Trinamool’s Moon Moon Sen, yesteryear’s actress and daughter of Bengali screen legend Suchitra Sen. The CPI-M, which has pockets of support in the constituency, is also in fray.

In neighbouring Burdwan-Durgapur, BJP leader and Union Minister S.S. Ahluwalia is pitted against Trinamool contestant and incumbent MP Mumtaz Sanghamitra.

In Baharampur, Chowdhury is bidding for his fifth straight win, while Krishnanagar is set for an absorbing tussle between erstwhile investment banker Mahua Moitra of the Trinamool and BJP’s former India soccer goalkeeper Kalyan Chaubey.

West Bengal will vote on all seven rounds of the Lok Sabha battle. The votes will be counted on May 23.

–IANS

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