Over 70 percent polling in Bengal second phase

Kolkata, April 17 (IANS) Amid allegations of sporadic violence and voter intimidation, over 70 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.

“At 3 p.m., the overall polling percentage was 70.82 percent,” an Election Commission official said.

Long queues of voters were seen outside most polling booths despite the sweltering heat and humidity, after 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 ended two hours earlier than elsewhere at 4 p.m.

“Polling percentage at 3 p.m. in Alipurduar was 73.65, Jalpaiguri recorded 67.93, Darjeeling 66.73, North Dinajpur 70.37, South Dinajpur 74.78, Malda 68.67 and Birbhum 73.59,” said the official.

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 the 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 by entering a booth sporting the party symbol on his shirt.

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 a 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 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, Trinamool 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 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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