Former enclave dwellers vote first time as Bengal polls end (Intro Roundup)

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Kolkata, May 5 (IANS) Led by enthusiastic centenarians and sprightly youngsters, thousands of people from the erstwhile enclaves in Cooch Behar made history as they exercised their right to vote for the first time in West Bengal assembly polls’ sixth and final phase on Thursday.

Overall, more than 84 percent of the 58,04,019 voters exercised their franchise across 25 constituencies of Cooch Behar (nine) and East Midnapore districts (16), to bring the curtains down on the staggered month-long polls to the 294-member legislature in the eastern state.

As many as 170 candidates, including 18 women, were in the fray in the last phase.

There were sporadic incidents of irregularities with the opposition parties accusing the ruling Trinamool Congress of resorting to malpractices since balloting began at 7 a.m.

The overall turnout at 5 p.m. was 84.24 percent, with East Midnapore recording 85.09 percent votes and Cooch Behar 82.71 percent, said state chief electoral officer Sunil Gupta.

But the day belonged to the voters from the 51 erstwhile enclaves in Cooch Behar, including three centenarians, who were registered as electors for the first time since the country’s Independence. Till 5 p.m., 85 percent of these new voters had expressed their choice.

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Doddering and frail but nevertheless beaming with pride, 103-year-old Mohammed Ajgar Ali – from the erstwhile enclave of Mosaldanga in Dinhata constituency – led three generations of his family in casting their maiden votes.

Perhaps the oldest first-time voter in the country, Ali was one of the 9,776 newly-registered electors from the erstwhile enclaves in Cooch Behar district.

“Perhaps I have lived for so long only to see this day. When I woke up early in the day, I couldn’t stand properly but now that I have voted, I can die in peace,” said Ali struggling to hide his emotions.

Similarly, taking the huge leap in the same assembly seat are 103-year-old Haseem Ali Khandakar from the former Dakshin Mashaldanga and Kachua enclaves and Khatemon Bewa of erstwhile Purba and Dakshin Mashaldanga enclaves, said Cooch Behar’s Additional District Magistrate Ayesha Rani.

The enclaves were swapped with Bangladesh after the Land Boundary Agreement was implemented last year.

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Meanwhile, Gupta said two presiding officers were removed – one in Dinhata, and the other in Natabari – of Cooch Behar district.

“In Dinhata, Trinamool Congress candidate Udayan Guha had complained that the presiding officer was not impartial. The officer in Natabari had fallen sick,” he said.

There was poll boycott in two booths of Moyna in East Midnapore district on local issues.

Thirty people were arrested – twenty nine of them under preventive sections and another on specific charge, said Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) Anuj Sharma.

In Cooch Behar, two candidates of the ruling Trinamool were caught on camera allegedly threatening polling and police officers and “violating secrecy of votes”.

Taking cognisance of the media reports, the Election Commission directed filing of first information reports (FIRs) against both Guha, and Natabari constituency candidate Rabindranath Ghosh.

In Nandigram, the opposition accused the Trinamool of intimidating and threatening their agents.

With the polling over in the state, the Trinamool claimed it was only a matter of days before party chief Mamata Banerjee was sworn in as the chief minister again.

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The Left Front, on the other hand, claimed it would come to power with its ally Congress.

Addressing mediapersons, LF spearhead Communist Party of India-Marxist state secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra said the final phase was overall peaceful, but LF-Congress polling agents were driven out or not allowed to take their seats in booth no 331 in East Midnaproe and 60 in Cooch Behar.

In 2011, the Trinamool Congress, then in alliance with the Congress, won 20 of the seats that went to hustings on Thursday. The Congress got one, while Left Front partner Forward Bloc triumphed in four seats.

This time, the Left Front and the Congress have teamed up against the Trinamool.

While the Left Front is in the fray in 18 seats, the Congress contested four. The alliance has extended support to three Independent candidates.

The Trinamool and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) contested all the 25 seats.

The votes will be counted on May 19.



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