iconimg Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Nandini Guha, Hindustan Times
Kolkata, April 28, 2011
The crucial third phase of the Bengal Assembly polls ended on Wednesday, with the Election Commission emerging as the new headmaster in town — checking cars, frisking handbags, forbidding cell phones and chasing away just about anybody in order to maintain its iron grip on Kolkata and its two adjoining districts.

Patrolling over Monday and Tuesday on the city's streets instilled fear of the central paramilitary forces. But, from Wednesday morning, CRPF and BSF jawans took over total control of the booths, setting new standards of strictness in conducting the poll process.

"The EC succeeded in putting the fear of God into the criminals who revel in booth-capturing, thanks to deployment of the paramilitary forces all across. It prompted people to come out and vote in large numbers – in some pockets, the percentage was even more than 90," said Amit Mitra, Trinamool Congress candidate at Khardah.

"The confidence that the paramilitary forces instilled among voters was commendable, but they were heavy-handed at times. I wasn't allowed to enter a few booths in my constituency," said Fuad Halim, CPI(M) candidate from Ballygunge.

EC, the headmaster, seemed to be tracking voters at every place, both inside and outside booths. A mild lathi-charge at Bijpur, in the North 24-Parganas, was all the violence that could be recorded during the day. Even Left Front chairman Biman Bose, who demanded repolling at Bijpur (22 booths) and Haroa (18), did not allege "rigging", a favourite of political parties.

"Switch off your mobile right now," came the stern order to a Tollygunge voter who was trying to contact her husband on her cellphone.

Kakoli Poddar, a young mother, was carrying baby food in a stylish tote bag as she stood in a serpentine queue in front of a south Kolkata booth. "Put that bag away right now," shouted a paramilitary officer. But she had to deposit her bag with a friend so that she could exercise her franchise in peace.

While cars were checked across the city, all entry points to the city were screened with a fine-tooth comb.

The EC removed 16 presiding officers from various polling centres in the city on various charges.