Millions of people braved the sweltering heat to vote in massive numbers in the first phase of assembly elections in Assam and West Bengal on Monday with experts saying the high turnout indicated the electorate was mobilised and motivated.
Over 82% voters turned out in 18 West Bengal constituencies — nine in Purulia district, three in Bankura and six in West Midnapore.
Thirteen assembly segments were Left Wing Extremists (LWE) dominated seats where polling ended by 4pm. The Election Commision found 15 cases of ‘paid news’.
In Assam, the turnout figure for the 65 seats in 14 districts of Upper Assam (tea belt in the eastern part) and Barak Valley (southern part bordering Bangladesh) was above 80%.
At least 93 electronic voting machines malfunctioned and were replaced.
The voting percentage for the corresponding constituencies for Assam during 2011 was 75% and for West Bengal it was 83.72%.
Manoranjan Mohanty, a political scientist with the Institute of Chinese Studies said the large turnout was because all sections of the electorate were mobilised.
“In Assam, groups opposed to the AGP-BJP tie up want to ensure a high voting turnout to defeat the coalition, the Congress wants to prove it has not suffered by losing Himanata Biswa Sharma so its cadres have been activated,” he said.
Monday’s voting is part of a six-week-long poll process in four states – Kerala, West Bengal, Assam and Tamil Nadu — and a union territory — Puducherry.
“I have seen tremendous enthusiasm among voters. People want change of political guard to guide development. We are sure of win in over 40 seats in the first phase,” said BJP Assam chief ministerial candidate Sarbananda Sonowal.
This phase was crucial for the BJP in Assam as the party did extremely well in this region in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
The next phase of polling is on April 11 in 61 seats of the Muslim-dominated lower and central Assam, where the Congress and AIUDF are expected to do well.
But experts said high turnout wasn’t always indicative of anti-incumbency, citing examples of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi.
Sanjay Kumar of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) attributed Assam’s high voting percentage to “a wind of change”.
In West Bengal, Kumar said the Congress-Left combine won’t be able to stop the Trinamool Congress.
In Bengal, polling will be held in another 31 seats in the second part of the first phase on April 11.
Opposition parties in West Bengal alleged there were ‘certain gaps’ in the patrolling of central police forces.
In 2011, the Trinamool Congress won 10 of Bengal’s 18 constituencies while the CPI-M and Congress won in six and two seats respectively.
In Assam, the Congress won 54 seats the last time, the Asom Gana Parishad – a BJP ally – won 4 while the BJP won 3.