Over 21 percent polling in first two hours in West Bengal

Kolkata, April 17 (IANS) Over 21 percent polling was recorded in the first two hours across 56 constituencies in the second phase of elections to the West Bengal assembly on Sunday.

The opposition parties accused the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) of indulging in violence and voter intimidation. The TMC denied the accusations.

The voting started at 7 a.m. There are about 1.22 crore registered voters, 383 candidates, including 33 women, and 13,645 polling stations.

“Till nine a.m., in Alipurduar 20.66 percent of votes were cast, in Jalpaiguri 20.45 percent, in Darjeeling 19 percent, in North Dinajpur 24 percent, South Dinajpur recorded 25.33 percent. Malda saw 18.32 percent while Birbhum saw 23.69 percent voting. Overall, the percentage was 21.64,” an Election Commission official said.

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.

In these seven constituencies, polling will end two hours earlier than elsewhere at 4 p.m.

The poll panel has made elaborate security arrangements with central forces, 700 mobile surveillance personnel and Live Monitoring of Sensitive Area (LMSA) in addition to webcasting and CCTV monitoring.

As many as 2909 polling stations have been earmarked as vulnerable and special arrangements made for them.

The commission has identified 3,827 people as trouble-mongers and over 16,000 as vulnerable voters in the 56 constituencies.

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.

In Birbhum’s Bolpur, Bharatiya Janata Party workers were allegedly assaulted by Trinamool Congress activists. In Nanoor also, TMC activists were alleged to have assaulted a polling agent of the Communist Party of India-Marxist.

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

In the 2011 assembly polls, then allies TMC and the Congress had won 18 seats each while the Left Front could only get 15 in the present lot of 56 constituencies that went to polls on Sunday.

The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) had triumphed in three and independents in two seats.

This time, the TMC is contesting in 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.

Among other notable candidates are state ministers Gautam Deb (Dabgram-Pulbari), Krishnendu Narayan Choudhury (English Bazar), and Sabitri Mitra (Manikchak) — all from Trinamool 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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