Over 81 percent polling in Bengal, opposition claims massive rigging
Over 81 percent of the 1.39 crore electors Wednesday cast their ballot in nine Lok Sabha constituencies of West Bengal. The Election Commission called the exercise "free and fair" but the opposition parties alleged booth capturing by the ruling Trinamool Congress and sought repoll in a large number of polling stations.
State chief electoral officer Sunil Gupta said around 81.35 percent polling was recorded at the end of the scheduled polling time spread over four districts - Howrah, Hooghly, Birbhum and Burdwan.
"The figure may go up by 1-2 percent as there are still queues before the booths," he said.
Birbum constituency recorded the highest turnout at 84.24 percent. The poling was lowest (71.87 percent) at Howrah.
A by-poll was also held for the Galsi assembly seat in Burdwan district.
Election Commission's special observer for the state Sudhir Kumar Rakesh noted that he could not say if polling was peaceful but the elections were free and fair like the earlier phases.
"I cannot say if the polls were peaceful but the third phase was free and fair much like the first two phases," he said to media queries if the third phase of Lok Sabha polls in the state was peaceful.
Rakesh said that he received over 300 phone calls and more than 150 SMSs complaining about various malpractices during the polls.
"Most of the callers and message senders could not provide details about constituency or booth details. In cases where the complainants have provided the details, it has been found that most of the booths had CRPF cover," he added.
Communist Party of India-Marxist politburo member Surjya Kanta Mishra claimed that the elections were "a total farce" in Arambag constituency "where none of the rules of law and civil behaviour were followed".
"There was so much irregularity in Arambag that even the conditions which have to be fulfilled for seeking repoll cannot be done in most of the booths where the Trinamool ran amok," he alleged.
"There was also rampant booth capturing in the other constituencies. We demand repoll in 826 polling stations in these eight seats," said Mishra, who alleged the Election Commission has failed in carrying out its responsibilities.
He said the number of central paramilitary force was "grossly inadequate". "Even in those where they were pressed into service, the deployment was improper."
However, he said that despite the large-scale malpractices, the Left Front will win the maximum number of seats in this phase.
State Congress president Adhir Chowdhury said the Trinamool activists "looted the votes".
"We had high hopes that the Election Commission would ensure the proper environment for the polls. But in this phase, they have failed," he said.
In Burdwan, a voter who was reportedly warned not to come out and vote was thrashed in public glare after he exercised his franchise, said CPI-M's Bardhaman Durgapur candidate Saidul Haque.
Congress candidate from Sreerampore Abdul Mannan sat on a demonstration, alleging malpractices by the Trinamool.
A first information report was filed against Jharna Roy, Trinamool panchayat member from Arambagh in Hooghly district, for allegedly casting the ballot of another voter, Arambagh sub-divisional officer Arindam Roy told IANS.
The BJP has fielded celebrities like Bollywood music composer Bappi Lahiri (Sreerampore), Bengali actor George Baker (Howrah) and eminent journalist Chandan Mitra (Hooghly).
Film actor and sitting Trinamool MP Satabdi Roy is seeking re-election from Birbhum, while in Howrah, the party has nominated former India football captain Prasun Banerjee.
In 2009, Trinamool had won five, and the Left Front spearheaded by CPI-M won four of the seats which vote Wednesday.
Polling has been completed in 10 of the total 42 Lok Sabha constituencies.
The final two phases of polling in the state will take place May 7 (six seats) and May 12 (17 constituencies). The results will be declared May 16.
Over 1.39 crore voters were eligible to cast their ballot at 17,332 polling stations to choose their representatives from among 87 candidates in the fray for the Lok Sabha seats, and four in the Galsi assembly constituency.
The Trinamool, the CPI-M, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were contesting all the nine parliamentary seats.
(Posted on 30-04-2014)