Defying a Maoist boycott call, people formed long queues outside booths amid high security as the sixth and final phase of assembly elections in West Bengal started off peacefully in three districts on Tuesday.
Three helicopters are doing aerial surveillance and over 100,000 security personnels, comprising central paramilitary troopers, crack units of the state police and commandos have been deployed in the region covering parts of West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia districts.
Polling is being held in 14 constituencies - seven in West Midnapore, four in Purulia and three in Bankura, areas considered the hotbed of Maoist activites.
"There are no reports of any untoward incident. Polling is on peacefully and smoothly," said an officer at the state police control room in Kolkata.
Polling in the area poses the biggest challenge for the security forces and the election authorities, with over 26 lakh voters eligible to choose their representatives from among 97 contestants.
Places like Salboni, Jhargram, Nayagram, Binpur, Joypur and Bandwan have been the scene for shootings and carnage related to rebel violence over the past two years.
Troopers of the Central Reserve Police Force's anti-Maoist wing and Combat Battalion for Resolute Action (Cobra) are deployed in the jungles armed with modern gadgets, including anti-explosive devices.
High-frequency satellite phones are being used at several polling booths as part of the massive security arrangements.
As a precautionary measure, polling would end at 3pm, two hours earlier than the earlier rounds, to enable polling officials to leave the area before daylight fades.
The entire area resembles a battlefield with Kalashnikov wielding security forces positioned in large number of bunkers and on the roofs of polling booths.
Anti-landmine vehicles are also on the roads.
"We have identified 1,049 hamlets as vulnerable to threats of which 470 are in West Midnapore, 563 in Bankura and 16 in Purulia. Both civil officials and security personnel are keeping a close watch on the residents of these hamlets," said state chief electoral officer Sunil Gupta.
Voting has already been conducted in 280 seats of the 294-member assembly.
The polls are seen as the stiffest challenge for the Left Front that has been in power for 34 years - the world's longest-serving communist-led government in a multi-party democratic system - against a determined charge of the opposition Trinamool Congress-Congress combine.
Among the star candidates in the fray are minister for western region development Sushanta Ghosh (from Garbeta in West Midnapore), law and justice minister Rabilal Moitra (Gopiballavpur, West Midnapore) and minister of state for backward class welfare Debolina Hembram (Ranibandh, Bankura).
Chhatradhar Mahato, jailed convener of the People's Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA), a pro-Maoist tribal outfit, is contesting from Jhargram constituency in West Midnapore district as an independent candidate.
The Communist Party of India - Maoist - which has launched an armed struggle to seize state power in parts of India - has, however, given call for a vote boycott across the state.
The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) is contesting 11 seats, the Communist Party of India (CPI) in one, the Forward Bloc in two, the Trinamool Congress in nine, the Congress in four and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in all the 14 constituencies.
The counting of votes will take place May 13.