Nearly 80 percent turnout in Bengal polls second phase (Intro Roundup)

Kolkata, April 17 (IANS) Nearly 80 percent of about 1.22 crore voters exercised their right to franchise in 56 constituencies in the second phase of elections to the West Bengal assembly on Sunday, amid allegations of sporadic violence and voter intimidation.

However, the Election Commission claimed the second phase was “relatively calm” compared to the first leg of the polls.

“At 5 p.m., the overall polling percentage was 79.70 percent,” Chief Electoral Officer Sunil Gupta said.

“Compared to phase one, the second phase was relatively calm. There were fewer complaints and there was a heightened visibility of central forces which was due to a conscious effort on our part,” he said.

Long queues of voters were seen outside most polling booths despite the sweltering heat and humidity, as voting commenced at 7 a.m.

There were 383 candidates, including 33 women. Balloting took place at 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 ended two hours earlier than elsewhere at 4 p.m.

Many people were in queue when polling ended in the other 45 constituencies at 6 p.m.

“Polling percentage at 5 p.m. in Alipurduar was 82.07, Jalpaiguri recorded 77.69, Darjeeling 74.00, North Dinajpur 78.90, South Dinajpur 82.72, Malda 79.60 and Birbhum 82.89,” said Gupta.

He said reserve polling officer Gopi Chakraborti — on duty in Alipurduar district — died after a stroke.

There was an initial poll boycott in seven booths of Malda over developmental issues. “However, polling started after the sector officer persuaded the people to lift the boycott.”

The CPI-M alleged false voting in the presence of the presiding officer in a booth in Malda’s English Bazar. The officer was later removed.

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

In the district’s Rampurhat, a section of residents reportedly boycotted polls citing failure of the state government to provide basic electricity services.

The BJP’s star candidate Locket Chatterjee, contesting from Mayureshwar, was seen threatening a presiding officer for aiding rigging.

A clash broke out between Trinamool and CPI-M workers outside a booth in Malda, in which two people were injured.

Meanwhile, the EC lodged two FIRs against Trinamool’s Birbhum chief and strongman Anubrata Mondal for casting his vote after entering a booth sporting the party symbol on his kurta and moving outside his constituency defying the poll panel’s order.

Political parties expressed satisfaction with the polls, but some opposition parties claimed there was widespread violence in some areas.

“Barring sporadic incidents and electoral malpractices in some booths the voting has been more or less peaceful,” CPI-M politburo member Mohammad Salim said.

BJP national secretary Rahul Sinha said: “Except Birbhum, the polling was peaceful.”

Congress leader Manas Bhunia, however, was unhappy with the election.

“The election was unruly to say the least. There was widespread violence in Birbhum and Raiganj (of North Dinajpur district),” he said.

In the 2011 assembly polls in these constituencies, then allies Trinamool and the Congress had won 18 seats each, the Left Front 15, Gorkha Janmukti Morcha 3 and independents won on 2 seats.

This time, the Trinamool is contesting 55 seats, the BJP 53, the Congress 23, Left Front 34, and the GJM 3.

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

Also grabbing attention was Sujapur in Malda district where Abu Naser Khan Choudhury, the Trinamool candidate and brother of late Congress stalwart A.B.A. Ghani Khan Choudhury, is contesting against his nephew Isha Khan Choudhury of the Congress.

So far, voters in 49 of the total 294 constituencies have exercised their right to franchise on two dates — April 4 and 11 — that made 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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