Bengal records almost 80 percent turnout
Amid allegations of muscle-flexing, the voter turnout inched towards 80 percent Thursday in the four constituencies in West Bengal that went to the polls in the first phase of the Lok Sabha election in the state.
The Election Commission said there were no major discrepancies.
Long queues of voters were seen in the four constituencies - Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar and Cooch Behar - since polling began at 7 a.m., kick-starting the staggered five-phase balloting in the state, which sends 42 members to the Lok Sabha.
Simultaneous by-polls are being held in the Kumargram and Maynaguri assembly constituencies in Jalpaiguri district.
"The average turnout till 5 p.m. was 79.9 percent in the four constituencies," an Election Commission official said.
Darjeeling recorded a 76 percent turnout and Alipurduar 79.4 percent. The figure for Cooch Behar was 80.69 percent and 80.60 percent in Jalpaiguri.
Polling is scheduled to end at 6 p.m.
Meanwhile, the All India Forward Bloc accused the ruling Trinamool Congress of unleashing terror and adopting unfair means, including booth capturing in several places in Cooch Behar.
Party candidate Dipak Roy protested before the district magistrate and said the party will approach the Election Commission seeking repolling in three assembly segments - Natabari, Cooch Behar South and Sitalkuchi.
The Trinamool denied the allegations.
"The body language of the Forward Bloc candidate shows he is heading for a defeat. It is a known ploy, that when you know you will lose, you start making allegations," said North Bengal Affairs Minister Gautam Deb.
Special election observer Sudhir Kumar Rakesh said: "Whatever complaints we received, we have passed them on to the observers and the district administration. They are looking into it. Till now, no major discrepancy has come to our notice."
Around 120 companies of paramilitary forces have been deployed.
A total of 6,033,310 voters, including 2,909,975 women, are eligible to exercise their franchise to make their choice from among 47 candidates.
The Trinamool, Left Front, Congress, the BJP and the Bahujan Samaj Party are contesting from all the seats.
Darjeeling - for long a political flashpoint over the issue of a separate Gorkhaland state - is witnessing a bitter fight between the Trinamool and the BJP, the latter again enjoying the endorsement of the prominent hill-based party Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.
The main battle there is between BJP's S.S. Ahluwalia and football icon Bhaichung Bhutia of the Trinamool Congress, with the Communist Party of India-Marxist nominating Saman Pathak, and the Congress naming Sujoy Ghatak.
As many as 28 electronic voting machines (EVMs) were replaced across the four constituencies after they developed snags.
The Election Commission made arrangements for webcasting and videography of voting at important booths in all the three districts.
The next four phases of polling will be held April 24 (six constituencies), April 30 (nine seats), May 7 (six seats) and May 12 (17 seats).
(Posted on 17-04-2014)