As it happened: 79.5% voter turnout in WB, 82% in Assam till 5pm
More than 17 million voters in Assam and West Bengal cast their ballot on Monday, in an election that will likely have a bearing on political realignment at a national level.
Sixty-one assembly constituencies went to polls in the second and final phase of the vote in Assam, where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) believes it has an edge over rival Congress party that currently is ruling the state. There were 525 candidates in the fray.
In West Bengal, where the Trinamool Congress is trying to pip a tacit alliance between the Congress and the Left parties, polling was held in 31 seats spread across the districts of West Midnapore, Bankura and Burdwan districts to decide the fate of 163 candidates.
Assam witnessed 82% voter turnout in the second and last phase of polling for 61 constituencies at 5 pm amid reports of violence at some places.
In West Bengal, voter turnout was 79.51% by 5 pm, this is tentative figure: Election Commission of India.
71.60% voter turnout recorded till 3 pm in West Bengal. 69.50% voting till 3 pm in Assam.
60% voters exercised their franchise till 1pm in 31 assembly constituencies in three districts of West Bengal.
Election Commission officials here said an average 60% polling was recorded in Bankura, West Midnapore and Burdwan districts till 1pm.
West Midnapore recorded 65% turnout, Bankura 57.6% and Burdwan 56.7%, officials said.
Additional chief election officer Assam Nitin Khade said that 55.46% polling was recorded till 2pm in Assam.
“We have received reports about some violence in different places. According to preliminary reports, one person died due to lathicharge by the CRPF at a place near Barpeta Road under Sarbhog constituency,” he said.
Former prime minister Manmohan Singh cast his vote in Guwahati.
More than 40% of the 95 lakh voters exercised their franchise till 12pm.
First time voters and others were seen queuing up from 3am at several of the 12,699 polling stations though voting began at 7am as scheduled. Many of them were keen to win the medal given by the district administration to the first two voters to encourage voting.
One voter was killed and several others injured in a clash between security personnel deployed iand voters near Safakama school polling station under Sarbhog constituency in Barpeta district in Assam.
Police said that some voters just outside of the Nityasar Khula Bazar LP School polling centre pelted stones to a CRPF party patrolling in the area following argument over some issues between them.
“CRPF men resort to lathicharge to disperse the agitating people. Two persons were injured in the lathicharge. Two CRPF jawans were also hurt in stone pelting on them”, said Aswini Kr Das , deputy commissioner of Barpeta district.
39.69% voter turnout recorded till 11am in West Bengal. 36% voting till 11am in Assam.
For the first time, I have seen Election Commission not being impartial in the state, says Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi.
At least 25% of the 1,04,35,271 electorate exercised their franchise amidst tight security during the first three hours of polling in Assam.
There were reports of malfunctioning of electronic voting machines (EVMs) in some polling centres which disrupted voting for some time. The election process continued uninterrupted once they were replaced, election officers said.
Over 15% of polling was recorded in the first two hours in the second and final phase of assembly elections in Assam.
“So far, we have recorded 15.15% of polling till 9am. We are still waiting for reports from some constituencies,” an election official in Assam said.
Former two-time chief minister and Asom Gana Parishad leader Prafulla Kumar Mahanta along with his wife former MP Dr Jayashree Mahanta voted in Barhampur and AIUDF president Badruddin Ajmal, who claims he will be the “king-maker” in the formation of the next government, also cast his vote.
No untoward incident has been reported so far from the constituencies where intense security arrangements have been put in place, particularly in Bodoland Territorial Area Districts (BTAD) where NDFB(S) militants are active and in Goalpara district which recently witnessed a bomb blast that killed three people.
Voting started in both Assam and West Bengal at 7am.
A large number of people were seen queuing at the various polling stations since around 6am across the state including capital Dispur.
In West Bengal, where the Trinamool Congress is trying to pip a tacit alliance between the Congress and the Left parties, polling will be held in 31 seats spread across the districts of West Midnapore, Bankura and Burdwan districts to decide the fate of 163 candidates.
Monday’s vote, however, is more about Assam, where the BJP hopes to form the next government. The party believes it has benefitted from the high voter turnout in the first round of polling on April 4, when 65 constituencies across the Bengali-speaking Barak Valley and tea gardens of the northeast went to vote.
The tea gardens workers with influence over 25 seats have traditionally voted for Congress, but the BJP made inroads in 2014 winning two Lok Sabha seats in the area, including Jorhat – the home town of chief minister Tarun Gogoi. BJP is hopeful that the trend has not reversed and it scored among workers, mostly Adivasis battling job insecurity and malnutrition.
In Barak valley that comprises three politically sensitive districts of Silchar, Karimganj and Hailakandi along the porous border with Bangladesh, the election campaign has seen a polarisation of voters along religious lines.
Muslims account for 50% of Barak valley’s population and a strong campaign against illegal immigration from Bangladesh, BJP leaders claim, has helped BJP split the Muslim votes and consolidate its support among Hindu voters who make up 42%.
“High turnout is a clear indication that BJP-led alliance has scored over the ruling Congress, since historically Congress gained in Assam only when voter turnout was low,” Nani Gopal Mahanta, who teaches political science at Gauhati University, said.
The BJP is counting on the first-time voters, totaling 6,76,000, and the youth -- 31% of Assam’s 19.8 million electorate is under 30. The party hopes to win, together with its local allies, 30-35 seats in the first phase. That leaves it 29-34 short of the half-way mark in the 126-member state assembly.
But, the BJP has limited presence in areas – central and lower Assam – that will vote on Monday. AIUDF of Badruddin Ajmal derives it strength from this region and how Muslims vote on Monday would be crucial in deciding whether Tarun Gogoi will be able to take another shot at the power. Gogoi expects the Muslims to switch their loyalty from Ajmal to Congress, which will keep alive his hopes of returning to power.
“We have exposed Ajmal’s deal with the BJP. Besides, Muslims have realised AIUDF cannot ensure development,” Gogoi said.
In 2011, Congress won 24 out of 61 seats that will vote on Monday. AIUDF won 17 and BJP just 3. Together, the AGP and Bodoland Peoples Front – NDA allies – won 14 seats in this pocket and the BJP expects them to improve their tally this time. The outcome will have a strong bearing on BJP’s government formation plan.
In West Bengal, while most poll predictions earlier gave a clear edge to chief minister Mamata Banerjee the last-minute deal between the Congress and the Left appears to have turned it into a close fight. The bipolar nature of the election in Bengal has also meant the BJP is likely to see a reversal of gains it made during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections when the state saw a three-cornered contest.
Of the 31 constituencies that go to vote on Monday, 9 are from the relatively industrialised district of Asansol will be in focus. Once a Left bastion, its voters polled overwhelmingly in favour of Trinamool Congress in the 2011 Assembly elections, helping Mamata Banerjee’s party win seven out of nine seats, But by 2014, the scene had changed for Bengal’s ruling party. In the Lok Sabha elections, BJP took a lead over Trinamool in as many as five assembly segments.
This time around, the Left-Congress alliance is hoping to stage a comeback in this area, while chief minister Mamata Banerjee has campaigned hard to recover her party from the loss in 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
(With inputs from Agencies)