Almost 80 percent turnout in Bengal, voters still in queue
Amid enthusiasm and long queues, around 80 percent voters exercised their franchise in the four West Bengal constituencies that went to the polls in the first phase of the Lok Sabha election in the state Thursday.
The Election Commission said overall the polling was peaceful, and "no major incidents" on law and order violation were recorded.
In a celebration of democracy, the young and the old stood in the queues for hours 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.
From the globally famous tourist town of Darjeeling in the lap of the Himalyas, to lush, forested stretches, tea gardens and plains in northern West Bengal, men and women turned out in strength at 7,443 polling stations in three districts - Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar.
Simultaneous by-polls were held for the Kumargram and Maynaguri assembly constituencies in Jalpaiguri district.
The average polling figure stood at 78.89 percent as the scheduled time for election ended at 6.p.m, but could go up by five to six percent as a substantial number of voters were still waiting for their turn at the polling stations.
"The percentage as of 6 p.m. is 78.89...and the numbers are likely to increase," said chief electoral officer Sunil Gupta.
The polling percentage in Cooch Behar stood at 78.45, in Jalpaiguri it was 79.75, Darjeeling recorded 77.85, while the turnout at North Dinajpur was 80.13 percent, Gupta said.
Three people were arrested.
"But no major incidents related to law and order were recorded," he said.
"We received complaints from the political parties throughout the day and they are being into by the officials in the district," said the CEO.
Gupta claimed there were no reports of booth-capturing, poll boycott, or deaths.
"There were no violations or disruptions of election process and no law and order breach. The overall process was peaceful," he said.
However, 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, and sought repoll 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.
Later, Left Front major Communist Party of India-Marxist state secretariat member Rabin Deb accused the Trinamool of rigging 147 polling booths in Cooch Behar district.
Trinamool national general secretary Mukul Roy congratulated the people for voting in large numbers. "The way people voted in North Bengal shows democracy has been re-established in Bengal. Today's trend shows Trinamool Congress will fare well in all the four constituencies," said Roy.
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 were deployed for the pollis where 6,033,310 voters - including 2,909,975 women - were eligible to make their choice from among 47 candidates.
The Trinamool, Left Front, Congress, the BJP and the Bahujan Samaj Party contested all the seats.
Darjeeling - for long a political flashpoint over the issue of a separate Gorkhaland state - witnessed 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, with the Communist Party of India-Marxist's Saman Pathak, and the Congress' Sujoy Ghatak also in the fray.
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 18-04-2014)