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

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

“At 5 p.m., the overall polling percentage was 79.70 percent,” an Election Commission official 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 are about 1.22 crore registered voters, and 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.

There were many people in queue when the scheduled time of 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 the official.

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.”

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.

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.

In Nanoor, Trinamool activists allegedly assaulted a polling agent of the CPI-M.

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

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

Meanwhile, despite the Election Commission’s constant surveillance, the Trinamool’s Birbhum chief and strongman Anubrata Mondal courted fresh controversy as he cast his vote after entering a booth sporting the party symbol on his kurta.

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

As many as 2,909 polling stations were earmarked as vulnerable and special arrangements made for them by the poll panel, which 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 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 is 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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