Such was the enthusiasm and turnout of voters in the first phase of the panchayat elections in three districts in Junglemahal, a former Maoist stronghold in West Bengal, that votes were cast till 4:00 am on Friday morning.
The turnout was the highest in Bankura district with 86.44 %, followed by 80 % each in Purulia and West Midnapore districts, district official sources said.
In Purulia district, voting continued till 4:00 am in the former Maoist-hit blocks of Bandwan, Bagmundi, Balarampur, Jhalda and Jaipur with voters standing in queue at 5:00 pm yesterday being issued slips allowing them to vote after polling hours.
The death of Maoist topgun, Kishenji, in an encounter at Burisole forest in West Midnapore district on November 24 in 2011 was a contributing factor, which led other Maoist leaders to flee Junglemahal much to the relief of the local people, who could not stir out after dusk earlier.
Chau dancer, Dilip Mahato, a recipient of the National Award for Chau from the President, said that people returning home in the early hours after voting without fear was unthinkable during the Maoist days.
He said that the numerous public meetings by chief minister Mamata Banerjee had instilled confidence among the people of Junglemahal after Maoist activity waned.
"We are also getting rice at Rs. 2 per kg. We also have BPL cards which we did not have earlier. Even the food minister has been visiting us," Mahato, who belongs to Torang village in Bagmundi block of the district said.
In Bankura district, voting continued till 3:05 am this morning in Borjora-I, Gangajalhati, Raipur, Indpur, Bankura-II and Taldanga blocks, the sources said.
Among the blocks Raipur and Taldanga were formerly Maoist affected.
In West Midnapore district, voting continued till after midnight at Lalgarh, Bankiband, Gopiballavpur and Goaltore, which were earlier Maoist-hit, the sources said.
The voters were issued three slips - one for the gram panchayats, one for gram samities and one for zilla parishads.
Ballots were cast in ballot boxes as EVMs were not used for the grassroots polls.
The use of ballot paper also contributed to polling continuing till early this morning, the sources added.