Nearly 40 percent polling in first four hours in West Bengal

Kolkata, April 17 (IANS) Nearly 40 percent of voters cast their ballot in the first four hours of voting across 56 constituencies in the second phase of polls to the West Bengal assembly on Sunday amid allegations of sporadic violence and voter intimidation.

“Overall 39.19 percent of votes were polled till 11 a.m.,” an Election Commission official said.

Long queues of voters were seen outside most of the booths despite the sweltering heat and humidity, since polling started at 7 a.m. There are about 1.22 crore registered voters, 383 candidates, including 33 women, and 13,645 polling stations.

Five of the constituencies are in Alipurduar district, seven in Jalpaiguri, nine in North Dinajpur, six each in Darjeeling and South Dinajpur and 12 in Malda districts.

The only south Bengal district going to the polls in this phase is Birbhum. Of its 11 constituencies, seven — Dubrajpur, Suri, Nalhati, Rampurhat, Sainthia, Hansan and Murarai — have been classified as affected by Left-wing extremism and polling in these areas will end two hours earlier than elsewhere at 4 p.m.

“The poll percentage in Alipurduar was 36.28, in Jalpaiguri 40.71, in Darjeeling 36.06, in North Dinajpur 38.00, in South Dinajpur 40.08, in Malda 38.30, in Birbhum 44.88.,” the official said.

There were allegations of false voting in the presence of the presiding officer in Malda’s English Bazar. The poll panel said the official was removed.

At Dumrut, in Birbhum’s Bolpur constituency, three people were arrested following a clash between Trinamool Congress (TMC) and Bharatiya Janata Party workers.

In Nanoor, Trinamool activists allegedly assaulted a polling agent of the Communist Party of India-Marxist.

BJP’s star candidate Locket Chatterjee, who is contesting from Mayureshwar, said the civic police were spotted with central forces inside a booth in the constituency.

There were allegations of false voting in the presence of the presiding officer in a booth in Malda’s English Bazar. Following a complaint lodged by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), the officer was removed.

A clash reportedly broke out between TMC and CPI-M workers outside a booth in Malda, injuring two.

Meanwhile, despite the Election Commission’s constant surveillance, Trinamool’s Bribhum chief and strongman Anubrata Mondal courted a fresh controversy by entering a booth sporting a party symbol on his shirt and casting his vote.

While the EC has sought a report about the incident, Mondal put the onus of his “inadvertent” act of displaying the party symbol in the booth on the presiding officer, but refused to say sorry.

Besides being show-caused by the EC for his controversial remarks against opposition leaders, Mondal is under constant surveillance with his movements being video-graphed till the end of the poll process in the presence of central security forces and a local magistrate.

The EC move came in the wake of the demand by opposition parties and civil society members for his arrest to create an atmosphere conducive for holding free and fair polls.

As many as 2,909 polling stations have been earmarked as vulnerable and special arrangements made for them by the poll panel, which has also identified 3,827 people as trouble-mongers and over 16,000 as vulnerable voters in the 56 constituencies.

In the 2011 assembly polls in these constituencies, then allies TMC and the Congress had won 18 seats each, the Left Front 15, Gorkha Janmukti Morcha three and independents won in two seats.

This time, the TMC is contesting 55 seats, the BJP 53, the Congress 23, Left Front 34, and the GJM three.

In Darjeeling district’s Siliguri, former Indian football captain and TMC nominee Baichung Bhutia is pitted against former state minister and CPI-M heavyweight Asok Bhattacharya.

Eyes will also be on Sujapur in Malda district where Abu Naser Khan Choudhury, TMC candidate and brother of late Congress stalwart A.B.A. Ghani Khan Choudhury, is contesting against his nephew Isha Khan Choudhury, representing the Congress.

So far, voters in 49 of the total 294 constituencies of the assembly have exercised their franchise on two dates — April 4 and 11 — that make up the first phase.

West Bengal is having a staggered six-phase election. Polling for the remaining phases will be held on April 21, 25, 30 and May 5.

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