Bengal records nearly 80 percent turnout amid violence
Political violence left 24 injured as over two crore people - nearly 80 percent of the electorate - voted Monday in 17 Lok Sabha constituencies of West Bengal in the general election's final phase.
Dubbing the clashes "stray and isolated", chief electoral officer Sunil Gupta termed the polls - the fifth phase in the state - "peaceful".
"Till 6 p.m., 79.96 percent polling was recorded. People are still in queues and we expect the turnout to go up," he said. However, the turnout for the 17 constituencies in 2009 stood higher at 82.07 percent.
By-elections were also held in two assembly constituencies, Santipur and Chakdaha, in Nadia district.
The opposition parties accused the Trinamool Congress of unleashing violence to intimidate voters, and driving out their polling agents. The ruling party denied the allegations.
As many as 20 people were injured in clashes between activists of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and Trinamool in Haroa block, about 40 km from Kolkata, police said. However, Gupta put the figure at 14.
Some of the injured, reported to be CPI-M activists, accused the Trinamool of orchestrating the attack and said four of them received bullet injuries when they were going to a polling booth in Basirhat parliamentary constituency.
A police officer denied any bullet injuries, while the Trinamool claimed 11 of its activists were wounded. Later, 12 people were arrested.
Special observer for the state Sudhir Kumar Rakesh toured several areas - where scuffles were reported - as part of the commission's confidence building measure.
Putting the blazing sun to shame, Kolkata soaked in the poll carnival as senior citizens among others turned out in strength alongside a large number of enthusiastic first-time voters.
Among the political stalwarts, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her predecessor Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee cast their votes.
Celebrity voters included actors Moon Moon Sen and her daughters Raima and Riya, Dev, Koel Mullick and Sabyasachi Chakraborty, famed magician P.C. Sorcar Junior, besides former Indian cricket captain Sourav Ganguly.
In several areas of the city, including Tangra, Bhowanipore and Tiljala, there were allegations of Trinamool activists distributing biryani to voters.
While the Trinamool rubbished the charge, the alleged distribution of the dish led to an altercation between Marxist and Trinamool activists at Tiljala, leaving three injured.
Two crude bombs were allegedly thrown at former city deputy mayor and BJP leader Mina Devi Purohit's car, but missed. No one was injured, police said.
Apparently angry over some TV channels broadcasting footage of violence and electoral malpractices through the day mostly allegedly by the Trinamool, Banerjee expressed shock over the "alarming role" of a major section of the media and said "few major cash loaded political parties have taken control of media houses".
Trinamool general secretary Mukul Roy said apart from a "few stray incidents", polling was "free and fair".
On the other hand, the opposition Left Front dubbed Monday's poll as a "mockery of democracy" and demanded repoll in about 1,500 booths.
"The Election Commission has failed to intervene and rein in the administration which sided totally with the ruling party. This is the reason for the bloodletting, the bullet injuries, and rampant attacks on the opposition," said Left Front chairman Biman Bose.
Over 2.56 crore voters were eligible to choose their representatives in 37,670 polling stations for the seats spread across seven districts - Murshidabad, West Midnapore, Nadia, North and South 24 Parganas, Kolkata and East Midnapore.
Among notable Trinamool candidates were Bengali matinee idol Dev (Ghatal), former railway minister Dinesh Trivedi (Barrackpore), Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's grand-nephew Sugato Bose (Jadavpur), and Banerjee's nephew Abhishek Mukherjee (Diamond Harbour).
The CPI-M nominated trade unionist Subhashini Ali in Barrackpore.
The Congress fielded state president Adhir Chowdhury from Beharampur and eminent painter Samir Aich in Jadavpur. Two former state Congress chiefs - Somen Mitra (Kolkata North) and Manas Bhunia (Ghatal) also threw their hats in the ring.
The BJP candidates included state chief Rahul Sinha from Kolkata North and Sorcar Junior from Barasat.
The Trinamool won 14 of the seats in 2009, while the Congress, CPI and the Socialist Unity Centre of India-Communist bagged one each.
(Posted on 12-05-2014)