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First leg polling ends peacefully

At least 50 per cent votes were cast defying a boycott call. Pics

india Updated: Apr 18, 2006 12:01 IST

Millions voted in 45 constituencies in three Maoist-infested districts of West Bengal Monday in the first round of a five-phase assembly election that the ruling Left Front is widely expected to win.

At least 50 per cent of polling had taken place in West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura districts as the 10-hour balloting ended at 5 p.m.

There was no violence although the Maoist guerrillas had given a call to boycott the elections. Thousands of security personnel had been deployed to provide a security cover.

"There is no report of any violence," Inspector General of Police Raj Kanojia said here.

"We are satisfied with the security arrangements," said Deputy Election Commissioner Ananth Kumar.

Former Election Commission observer K.J. Rao, who is covering the elections as an observer of a prominent Bengali news channel, said he was happy with the "free, fair and peaceful polling".

Long queues were witnessed since morning as people, especially women, turned up in large numbers to exercise their franchise.

The polling took place in 21 seats in West Midnapore, 11 in Purulia and 13 in Bankura districts and there were a total of 227 candidates. The West Bengal assembly has 294 seats.

The number of voters in the three districts was 6.8 million. A total of 7,911 polling booths were set up.

All eyes were on the eight Maoist-violence racked constituencies of Binpur, Salbani and Garbeta West in West Midnapore, Banduan in Purulia and Ranibandh, Raipur, Simlapal and Sarenga in Bankura district.

In West Midnapore, 250 companies of paramilitary forces were deployed while the other two districts had over 150 companies deployed for the polls. Medinipur in West Midnapore is the largest constituency with 183,015 voters.

Chief Electoral Officer Debasis Sen said aerial surveillance was undertaken with helicopters to ensure peaceful polling and instil confidence among voters. About 3,000 digital cameras were installed in about 40 per cent of the booths to prevent false voting, impersonation and other malpractices, he said.

West Midnapore's Keshpur, where a whopping 95 per cent votes were cast in some booths till afternoon, was under the scanner because of the history of political violence in the area and the overwhelming winning margins of Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) candidates.

In the last elections, the CPI-M had captured the Keshpur seat by a record margin of over 1.08 lakh votes when the votes polled were 1.3 lakh.

This time Rameswar Dolui is the ruling CPI-M candidate. Raids were conducted recently at the CPI-M party office there at the behest of the Election Commission. Opposition Trinamool Congress candidate Ashish Pramanik was arrested recently for beating up a rival member.

Some prominent seats where polling was held Monday were Garbeta East, Narayangarh, Datan and Nandanpur in West Midnapore.

For the first three seats, state ministers Susanta Ghosh (labour), Surya Kanta Mishra (health) and Nandagopal Bhattacharya (minor irrigation) were in the field. Former swimmer Bula Chowdhury contested on the CPI-M ticket from Nandanpur.

The five-phase assembly elections are being held on April 17, 22, 27 and May 2 and 8. The total electorate in West Bengal is 48.9 million.