Notwithstanding the sweltering heat, 60% of the nearly 70 lakh voters turned out till 1 p.m. on Monday to cast their ballot in 31 constituencies, in the second part of the first phase of the West Bengal assembly polls.
However, the opposition parties accused the ruling Trinamool Congress of resorting to widespread violence.
Groups of people, said to be Trinamool Congress activists, staged angry demonstrations against CPI-M state secretary and candidate from Narayangarh constituency Surjya Kanta Mishra when he visited some of the booths on receiving complaints of electoral malpractices.
Polling began at 7 a.m. in the 31 constituencies, of which 13 are in West Midnapore and nine each in Bankura and Burdwan districts.
The scorching heat accounted for a casualty. Polling officer Parimal Barui at booth no.295 in Pandaveshwar of Burdwan district collapsed and died of suspected sun stroke.
“Till 1 p.m., 59.78% polling was recorded. The turnout is 65% in West Midnapore, 57.60% in Bankura and 56.74 % in Burdwan,” said an Election Commission (EC) official.
The EC received over 1,100 complaints from across the three districts regarding voter intimidation, violence and Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) malfunctioning.
“Around 950 of the complaints have been redressed so far. Many of them were found to be baseless. We are looking into all aspects,” said the official.
Mishra alleged incidents of violence occurred across the three districts.
“There have been incidents in Jamuria, Pandaveswar and Raniganj (Burdwan), Patrasayer (Bankura) and Keshpur and Garbeta (West Midnapore), but the people have withstood against all these intimidating tactics,” said Mishra.
“I don’t have any trust in the police or the administration, but I trust the EC and the people,” he said.
Several incidents of violence were reported, with the Left Front, Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party alleging the polls were far from peaceful and fair.
Several crude bombs kept in a bag were seized from near a booth in Jamuria of Burdwan district.
A Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) polling agent had to be hospitalised after he was attacked at a polling booth in Chandrakona of West Midnapore.
“Since last night (Sunday), Trinamool goons have been on the prowl, intimidating voters and attacking polling agents. Such is the condition that we are not getting polling agents. There has been widespread violence, voter intimidation, polling is far from peaceful in Sabang,” said Congress leader and former minister Manas Bhunia.
Tension prevailed in Bankura’s Sonamukhi where a CPI-M polling agent was attacked and masked men, armed with bamboos and cane, were seen roaming around.
Opposition leaders also claimed central security forces were absent in many of the booths.
Bengali actor Soham Chakraborty, who is the Trinamool candidate from Barjora in Bankura, claimed he was prevented from entering a booth by security personnel.
“I am the candidate from here and despite carrying an identity card, I was prevented for no reason. I have informed the party leadership about this,” said Soham.
An electorate of nearly 70 lakh (69,79,788), including 33,68,311 females and 50 from the third gender, are eligible to choose their representatives from 163 candidates -- 21 of them women -- across 8,465 polling stations including two auxiliary stations.
The Trinamool, the Left Front-Congress combine and the BJP are locking horns in all the seats.
Among the Left Front constituents, the CPI-M has put up 19 candidates, the CPI, Revolutionary Socialist Party, All India Forward Bloc and the Democratic Socialist Party (Prabodh Chandra) in one each. The Congress is in the race in eight constituencies.
The Bahujan Samaj Party and the Shiv Sena have also fielded a number of candidates.
In the 2011 assembly polls, the Trinamool Congress had bagged 17 and its then ally Congress got three seats. The Left Front, then in power, won the remaining 11.
Apart from Mishra and Bhunia, star candidates include state BJP chief Dilip Ghosh and 91-year-old Congress nominee Gyan Singh Sohanpal (both from Kharagpur Sadar).
Voters in 18 constituencies -- six in West Midnapore, nine in Purulia and three in Bankura -- exercised their franchise on the first polling day on April 4. That was part one of the first phase.
Polling for the remaining phases will be held on April 17, 21, 25, 30 and May 5.