Amid violence, sweltering heat, polling picks up in Bengal

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Kolkata, April 11 (IANS) Amid sweltering heat and allegations of violence polling for the first phase of the West Bengal assembly polls in 31 constituencies picked up with over 38 percent turnout recorded in the first four hours on Monday.

Polling began at 7 a.m. in the 31 constituencies, of which 13 are in West Midnapore and nine each in Bankura and Burdwan districts.

Besides allegations of sporadic violence, the scorching heat accounted for a casualty when polling officer Parimal Barui at booth number 295 in Pandavehwar in Burdwan district collapsed and died of suspected sun stroke.

“In the first four hours, 38.65 percent polling was recorded. The turnout in West Midnapore is 48 percent, 32.51 percent in Bankura and 35.45 percent in Burdwan,” said an Election Commission (EC) official.

The EC received over 500 complaints from across the three districts including of voter intimidation, violence and Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) malfunctioning.

Several incidents of violence were reported with the Left Front, Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party alleging the polls to be far from being peaceful and fair.

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Several crude bombs kept in a bag were seized from near a booth in Jamuria in Asansol in Burdwan district. A Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) polling agent had to be hospitalised after being attacked at a polling booth in Chandrakona in West Midnapore.

“Since last night, Trinamool goons have been on the prowl, intimidating voters and attacking polling agents. Such is the condition that we are not getting polling agents. There has been widespread violence, voter intimidation, polling is far from peaceful in Sabang,” Congress leader and former state minister Manas Bhuniya said.

CPI-M state secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra too said voters were being prevented from entering booths in his constituency Narayangarh.

Mishra, also the leader of opposition, faced angry demonstrations from residents while visiting some of the booths in his constituency.

Tension prevailed in Bankura’s Sonamukhi where a CPI-M polling agent was attacked and masked men, armed with bamboos and cane, were seen roaming around.

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Opposition leaders also claimed central security forces were absent in many of the booths.

Bengali actor and Trinamool candidate from Barjora in Bankura, Soham Chakraborty, claimed he was prevented from entering a booth by security personnel.

“I am the candidate from here and despite carrying an identity card, I was prevented for no reason. I have informed the party leadership about this,” said Sohom.

An electorate of nearly 70 lakh (69,79,788), including 33,68,311 females and 50 third genders, are eligible to choose their representatives from 163 candidates. Twenty one of the contestants are women.

Voting is being held across 8,465 polling stations including two auxiliary stations amid high security.

The Trinamool, the Left Front-Congress combine and the BJP are locking horns on all the seats.

Among the LF constituents, the CPI-M has put up 19 candidates, followed by the Communist Party of India (CPI), Revolutionary Socialist Party, All India Forward Bloc and the Democratic Socialist Party (Prabodh Chandra) in one each. The Congress is in the race in eight constituencies.

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Other outfits like Bahujan Samaj party and the Shiv Sena have also fielded a number of candidates.

In the 2011 assembly polls, the Trinamool Congress had bagged 17 and its then ally Congress bagged three seats. The Left Front, then in power, won the remaining 11.

The star candidates in this round include CPI-M state secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra (Narayangarh), state BJP chief Dilip Ghosh (Kharagpur Sadar), former Pradesh Congress president Manas Bhunia (Sabang) and 91-year-old Congress nominee Gyan Singh Sohanpal (Kharagpur Sadar).

Voters in 18 constituencies — six in West Midnapore, nine in Purulia and three in Bankura — exercised their franchise on the first polling day on April 4. That was part one of the first phase.

Polling for the remaining phases will be held on April 17, 21, 25, 30 and May 5.

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