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Threat calls worry voters

Intimidation hits a record high as state gears up to vote in fourth phase. HT reports.

kolkata Updated: May 01, 2011 14:57 IST
HT Correspondent

The Election Commission (EC) is being flooded with phone calls from voters complaining of intimidation, the highest till date since assembly elections kicked off in the state on April 18.

Before the elections kicked off, the EC had drawn up a list of intimidated voters and the intimidators in West Bengal - an effort taken for the first time in the assembly elections, replicating the Bihar model.

While the number of intimidated voters is approximately 2.3 lakh, the number of intimidators is nearly 14,000.

"Identification of threatened voters and intimidators was a big challenge before us. For the first time, such a step has been introduced in West Bengal," said Dibyendu Sarkar, deputy chief electoral officer (CEO) of West Bengal.

The first three phases were marked by peaceful polling. But with just 72 hours left before the fourth phase of elections, which will be held in 87 constituencies of four districts, including those that had frequently hit the media headlines because of political clashes since the winds of change started blowing over the state.

Constituencies such as Nandigram and Khejuri in East Midnapore, Ketugram and Mangalkot in Burdwan, Khanakul and Singur in Hooghly and Amta and Udaynarayanpur in Howrah will be voting on Wednesday.

And before all these politically sensitive constituencies go to polls, the EC, which hardly received any calls from intimidated voters in the first three phases, is now being flooded with complaints from lakhs of insecure voters.

"Every day we are receiving at least five to seven such calls on an average. This is the highest in all the four phases. It is very alarming," additional chief electoral officer NK Sahana said on Saturday.

Most of the calls have come from East Midnapore followed by Hooghly and Howrah. Burdwan has accounted for the least number of calls so far.

Saibal Barman, another deputy CEO, said that the EC has phone numbers and pictures of all the 14,000 identified intimidators. They have hardly any criminal backgrounds. Action would be taken against them if they are found anywhere near the booth on the polling day.

"We have arrested 1,30,000 persons with criminal background and pending warrants. We have also identified 2,30,000 people who were intimidated by the goons. About 14,000 intimidators, with no criminal background have been identified. We have assured fair polls to the people and will work towards it," said Burman.

"We have alerted the four district magistrates regarding the intimidation calls and the fear of the voters. They have been asked to co-ordinate with the observers on the poll day and before that," Sahana said.

However, some people are relaxed with the sleuths cracking on the goons. "Unlike previous years, no one is threatening us. We are now fearless," said Mihir Bhadra, a voter.

On Sunday, special observer for the fourth phase Sudhir Kumar Rakesh, who is also the CEO of Bihar, would arrive and head straight towards East Midnapore. On May 2, he would be holding meetings with the district magistrates of Burdwan, Howrah and Hooghly.

Will the EC's success story continue in the coming phases?