Over 50 percent polling in first six hours in West Bengal (Third Lead)

Kolkata, April 17 (IANS) Over half of eligible voters exercised their right six hours into polling across 56 constituencies in the second phase of elections to the West Bengal assembly on Sunday amid allegations of sporadic violence and voter intimidation.

“Voter turnout percentages in Alipurduar was 45.56, in Jalpaiguri 59.98, in Darjeeling it stood at 53.03, in North Dinajpur 55.50, South Dinajpur 56.09, and Malda 54.33, while Birbhum recorded 62.49 percent turnout,” an Election Commission official said.

Long queues of voters were seen outside most of the polling booths despite the sweltering heat and humidity, since voting commenced 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.

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 (TMC) 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 Communist Party of India-Marxist.

Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) 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 TMC and CPI-M workers outside a booth in Malda, injuring two.

Meanwhile, despite the Election Commission’s constant surveillance, Trinamool’s Birbhum chief and strongman Anubrata Mondal courted 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 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.

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 to holding of 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 on 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 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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