Over 74 percent turnout in Bengal polls’ final phase (Fourth Lead)

Kolkata, May 5 (IANS) Thousands of enthusiastic people, including centenarians from the erstwhile enclaves in Cooch Behar, cast their maiden votes in the sixth and final phase of the West Bengal assembly polls here on Thursday.

Overall, more than 74 percent of the 58,04,019 voters exercised their franchise in the first eight hours across 25 constituencies of Cooch Behar (nine) and East Midnapore districts (16), to bring the curtains down on the staggered month-long polls to the 294-member legislature in the eastern state.

As many as 170 candidates, including 18 women, were in the fray.

There were sporadic incidents of irregularities with the opposition parties accusing the ruling Trinamool Congress of resorting to malpractices since balloting began at 7 a.m.

The overall turnout at 3 p.m. was 74.15 percent, with East Midnapore recording 75.19 percent votes and Cooch Behar 72.31 percent, an Election Commission official said.

But the day belonged to the voters from the 51 erstwhile enclaves in Cooch Behar, including three centenarians, who were registered as electors for the first time since the country’s Independence.

Doddering and frail but nevertheless beaming with pride, 103-year-old Mohammed Ajgar Ali – from the erstwhile enclave of Mosaldanga in Dinhata constituency – led three generations of his family in casting their maiden votes.

Perhaps the oldest first-time voter in the country, Ali is one of the 9,776 newly registered electors from the erstwhile enclaves in Cooch Behar district.

Accompanied by his grandson Joynal Abedin and son Bilal, Ali was brought in a special vehicle provided by the Election Commission to a booth at Mansab Seoragudi Primary School in Mosaldanga – over 700 km from state capital Kolkata.

As he sat down on the floor momentarily, tense eyes darted to the centenarian. However, aided by officials, he was up on his feet and flashed a victory symbol accentuated with a toothless smile.

“Perhaps I have lived for so long only to see this day. When I woke up early in the day, I couldn’t stand properly but now that I have voted, I can die in peace,” said Ali struggling to hide his emotions.

Similarly, taking the huge leap in the same assembly seat are 103-year-old Haseem Ali Khandakar from the former Dakshin Mashaldanga and Kachua enclaves and Khatemon Bewa of erstwhile Purba and Dakshin Mashaldanga enclaves, said Cooch Behar’s Additional District Magistrate Ayesha Rani.

The enclaves were swapped with Bangladesh after the Land Boundary Agreement was implemented last year.

Trinamool candidate from Cooch Behar’s Natabari Rabindra Nath Ghosh landed in a controversy when he was caught on camera threatening a polling officer inside the polling booth.

In a video broadcast by a TV channel, Ghosh is seen entering the booth in his constituency and verbally intimidating the polling official and even asking him where he was employed.

In East Midnapore, thousands turned up in over 4,000 disabled voter-friendly booths, aided by the Election Commission’s special initiatives.

In Moyna seat, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) alleged that its polling agent’s house was broken into and vandalised by Trinamool supporters. The Trinamool, meanwhile, accused the Congress of overwhelming several booths in the onstituency.

Five Trinamool workers were reportedly detained in the assembly segment on the charge of intimidating voters.

In Nandigram, the opposition accused the Trinamool of intimidating and threatening their agents.

The main focus is on Nandigram, where a peasants agitation in 2006-07 against the then Left Front government’s bid to acquire farmland for a chemical hub and a special economic zone led to police firing that resulted in 14 deaths. The peasants’ protest played a pivotal role in the ouster of the Left Front after 34 years in office.

In 2011, the Trinamool Congress, then in alliance with the Congress, won 20 seats. The Congress got one, while Left Front partner Forward Bloc triumphed in four seats.

This time, the Left Front and the Congress have teamed up against the Trinamool.

While the Left Front is in the fray in 18 seats, the Congress is contesting four constituencies. The alliance has extended support to three Independent candidates.

The Trinamool and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are contesting all the 25 seats.

The votes will be counted on May 19.



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