Sporadic violence was witnessed in the second phase of the West Bengal assembly elections, which began at 7 am on Sunday.
Sources said a turnout of 55.94% was recorded till 1 pm in the electorate contest, which has 1.2-crore voters deciding the fate of 383 candidates – including 33 women – in 56 seats across the state.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked the people of West Bengal to exercise their right to choose the next government. “As Phase II of the West Bengal polls begins, I urge all those voting today to turn out in record numbers & vote,” he tweeted. Unlike the previous assembly polls in Bihar and Delhi, where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was treated to a severe drubbing, the party is not seeking votes directly in Modi’s name on this occasion.
More than 13,600 polling stations – including 311 model booths – are catering to the 1.21 crore people expected to participate in the polls. Besides general and police observers, as many as 1,563 micro-observers were seen keeping an eye on the polling process.
Officials said that that while the electoral process at seven constituencies of Birbhum district – Dubrajpur, Suri, Nalhati, Rampurhat, Sainthia, Hansan and Murarai – would be wrapped up at 4 pm due to Maoist concerns, voting would continue till 6 pm in all the other zones.
Prominent people in the fray
A high-profile electoral battle is being witnessed at Siliguri, where mayor and former CPI(M) minister Ashok Bhattacharya is facing off with former Indian football captain-turned-Trinamool Congress candidate Baichung Bhutia. According to reports, Bhutia has complained of bogus votes being cast at the Sriguru Vidayapith booth and registered a complaint with the election commission.
State ministers Gautam Deb, Krishnendu Narayan Chowdhury and Sabitri Mitra are also in the fray in this phase of the elections. Bringing in some glamour to the electoral proceedings are Bengali singer Soumitra Ray (Trinamool), actors Joy Banerjee and Locket Chatterjee (both BJP), and singer Suman Banerjee (BJP).
Violence and technical issues
Despite the elaborate security arrangements made by the authorities, the polling process was not without its usual hitches.
A scuffle broke out between workers of the Trinamool Congress and the BJP near a polling station at Dumrut village in Birbhum on Sunday morning. At least eight people were injured in the incident, and three persons from each side were arrested.
Tense moments were also witnessed at Sian (Nanoor constituency) and Kankartala (Dubrajpur constituency), where the Forward Bloc alleged that their agents were threatened by those from the Trinamool Congress.
Earlier on Saturday night, a Congress-CPI(M) office at North Dinajpur was vandalised by miscreants. The Congress alleged that Trinamool workers were involved in the incident.
Technical issues also plagued the electoral process, with instances of electronic voting machine failure being reported from many parts of the state.
Meanwhile, Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee was censured by the Election Commission for violating the model code of conduct by making “certain utterances” just before the polls. Anubrata Mandal, Trinamool party president for Birbhum district, was being kept under 24x7 surveillance by the central police force after a warning from the Election Commission failed to keep him from violating its strictures.
Election officials were also said to have identified 3,800 “trouble-mongers” over the last few weeks, and taken preventive action against them for the duration of the polling.
Previously, voters in 49 of the 294 assembly constituencies exercised their franchise on two dates – April 4 and 11 – that made up the first phase.
West Bengal is going through a staggered six-phase election, and polling for the remaining four phases will be held on April 21, 25 and 30 and May 5.
(With agency inputs)