Kolkata, April 30 (IANS) Amid tight security and braving the sweltering heat, over 38 percent of the electorate cast their votes in the first four hours of polling for 53 constituencies in the fifth and penultimate phase of West Bengal’s assembly polls on Saturday.
Voting began at 7 a.m. for 31 constituencies in South 24 Parganas and 18 in Hooghly districts besides four in South Kolkata.
“Poll percentage till 11.00 a.m. was 38.30 overall. In Hooghly it was 36.97 percent , in Kolkata South 32.58 percent and in South 24 Parganas 39.81 percent,” said an Election Commission (EC) official.
While the EC claimed the polling was peaceful, the CPI-M and Congress accused the ruling Trinamool Congress of intimidating voters and election agents.
State assembly deputy speaker and Trinamool Congress candidate, Sonali Guha courted controversy in her constituency Satgachia of South 24-Parganas when she was caught by TV cameras instructing over phone to “thrash CPI-M agent from a booth”.
Accusing the EC of not taking remedial measures despite a malfunctioning electronic voting machine (EVM) disrupting polls in a booth in Kashibati for over an hour, Guha staged a sit-in protest.
A little later she was caught by TV cameras saying over mobile “thrash out the CPI-M agent. They have done something to the EVM.”
Earlier in the day she got engaged in a heated debate with a central security personnel after he stopped her from getting close to the EVM.
Both the CPI-M and the Congress demanded her immediate arrest.
There were reports of entry of “outsiders” in Kasba from Bhangar in South 24-Parganas while in Haripal in Hooghly district, the CPI-M claimed its agent was “prevented” from entering by the Trinamool Congress. In Khanakul in Hooghly as well as in South 24-Parganas’ Canning East assembly seat, the CPI-M accused the Trinamool of threatening its agents.
Clashes between the Trinamool and CPI-M were reported in Arambag of Hooghly.
Left Front-Congress backed independent nominee Ambikesh Mahapatra alleged voters were being prevented from entering booths in his constituency Behala East.
He also claimed the family of one of his polling agents was assaulted and threatened by “Trinamool goons”.
Nearly 1.24 crore voters across 14,642 polling stations, including 77 auxiliary booths, are eligible to decide the fate of 349 candidates — 43 of them female.
The Trinamool and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are contesting in all the seats in this phase.
The Left Front, which has tied up with the Congress, is in the fray in 37 seats – CPI-M (31), All India Forward Bloc (three), Revolutionary Socialist Party (two) and Communist Party of India (one). The Congress has nominated 14 candidates. The combine has lent support to the Nationalist Congress Party in one seat, and is backing an independent in another.
In the 2011 assembly polls, theTrinamool had captured 46 seats. The LF had won only six – CPI-M (four), and the RSP and the AIFB (one each). The Socialist Unity Cetre of India-Communist had bagged one.
All eyes are on south Kolkata’s Bhabanipur, where Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee — seeking re-election — is facing a challenge from Left Front-backed Congress nominee Deepa Dasmunshi and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s grandnephew Chandra Kumar Bose of the BJP.
Also seeking re-election are state ministers and Trinamool heavyweights Firhad Hakim, Subrata Mukherjee, city mayor Sovon Chatterjee and Iqbal Ahmed – who were among the leaders allegedly shown taking money in the Narada News sting operation videos in return for doling out favours to a fictitious company.
Another star candidate is Abdur Rezzak Mollah, a high-profile minister during the Left Front regime, who is contesting on a Trinamool ticket from Bhangore in South 24 Parganas.
Celebrated actress and legislator Debasree Roy is taking on CPI-M heavyweight and former state minister Kanti Ganguly at Raidighi in South 24 Parganas.
As many as 680 companies of central forces have been deployed, besides thousands of city and state police personnel to ensure free, fair and peaceful polls.
Ahead of Saturday’s polls, elections have been held in 216 of the 294 constituencies in the state.
The remaining 25 will vote in the sixth and final phase on May 5.