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Wednesday, Nov 20, 2019

Violence in West Bengal, Punjab as voting ends

West Bengal, witnessed clashes on Sunday too with Trinamool and BJP blaming each other for violence.

lok-sabha-elections Updated: May 19, 2019 23:52 IST
HT Correspondents and PTI
HT Correspondents and PTI
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Seen here is the damaged car of Nilanjan Roy, BJP candidate for Diamond Harbour Lok Sabha constituency, in Dongra area of the constituency.(ANI Photo)
Seen here is the damaged car of Nilanjan Roy, BJP candidate for Diamond Harbour Lok Sabha constituency, in Dongra area of the constituency.(ANI Photo)

Violent clashes in West Bengal and Punjab marred the seventh and final phase of voting on Sunday in the marathon 17th Lok Sabha elections. Estimates at the end of polling indicated that around 61% of the 101 million people eligible to vote in the last leg turned out to choose their representatives to 59 seats spread across seven states and the Union territory of Chandigarh, the Election Commission said, adding that the turnout figure would be updated later.

Sunday’s polling, which decided the electoral fortunes of 918 candidates including Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Varanasi, was marked by glitches in electronic voting machines that had been a feature of every phase of polling in the world’s largest democratic exercise.

More than 8,000 candidates were in the fray for 542 Lok Sabha seats that were decided in the seven rounds of voting. Election to the Vellore seat in Tamil Nadu was cancelled after the recovery of a vast amount of cash from a building allegedly linked to a Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader.

Counting of votes from the election, following a hard-fought campaign by both Prime Minister Modi and his chief challenger Congress, will be taken up and the results declared on May 23.

Voting took place on Sunday in all 13 Lok Sabha constituencies in Punjab and an equal number in Uttar Pradesh, nine in West Bengal, eight each in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, four in Himachal Pradesh, three in Jharkhand, and the lone Chandigarh seat.

Violent clashes erupted during the final phase of the elections in West Bengal -- which recorded a turnout of 73.4% -- despite the deployment of 710 companies of security personnel in the state that elects 42 lawmakers to the Lok Sabha, the most by a state after Uttar Pradesh (80) and Maharashtra (48).

Despite the Election Commission deploying 710 companies of security personnel in the state, reports of clashes poured in from all nine parliamentary and four assembly constituencies that voted.

In Kakinara, a hamlet in the Bhatpara assembly constituency, members of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), armed with crude bombs and bricks, clashed on the streets. Three police vehicles were ransacked and one was overturned . A few shops in the local market were set ablaze, prompting central security forces to baton-charge the rioters. Bhatpara is a prestigious seat because incumbent and four-time MLA, Arjun Singh, switched from the TMC to the BJP and fought the Lok Sabha elections on a saffron party ticket.

TMC’s candidate in Barasat, Kakali Ghosh Dastidar, alleged that central forces personnel tore up banners of her party and chanted “Jai Shri Ram” slogans. The BJP candidate in Diamond Harbour, Nilanjan Roy, claimed that his car was vandalised in front of the police. Another car, belonging to a local BJP leader, was vandalised in Kolkata.

“Vote was rigged in all 51 booths here. State police and Mizoram Police were mute spectators,” said Anupam Hazra, BJP candidate in Jadavpur. Union minister and BJP candidate in Asansol, Babul Supriyo, faced “go back” slogans from voters in Jorasanko in north Kolkata when he went to cast his vote.

The poll campaign had to be cut short by a day in West Bengal after BJP and TMC supporters fought a pitched battle in Kolkata on Tuesday at a roadshow by BJP president Amit Shah. Vandals stormed a college and damaged a bust of Bengal Renaissance icon and social reformer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar.

The stakes are high for both parties, with the BJP looking to West Bengal to offset possible reverses in its northern and western strongholds and TMC nursing ambitions of playing a role on the national political stage.

Punjab recorded a polling percentage of 59% in its 13 Lok Sabha constituencies. In the lone Chandigarh seat, 63.57% of the electorate turned out to vote .

Reports of technical glitches in EVMs came in from several places in Punjab, including Ludhiana, Samana and Moga. Punjab’s chief electoral officer S Karuna Raju said eight ballot units, 13 control units, and eight voter-verified paper audit trail machines had been replaced.

Clashes broke out between Congress and Akali-BJP workers in Talwandi Sabo in Bathinda and Gurdaspur. At Talwandi Sabo, the Akalis alleged that gun shots were fired by ruling Congress workers.

In Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous state, the turnout was 55.52%. In Varanasi, the Prime Minister’s constituency, the turnout was 53.38%. Gorakhpur, a seat previously held by chief minister Yogi Adityanath and which the BJP lost in a by-poll last year, recorded a voter turnout of 56.47%.

Violence erupted in the Chandauli Lok Sabha constituency, where state BJP chief Mahendra Nath Pandey is seeking re-election, when supporters of the saffron party and the Samajwadi Party clashed.

Bihar recorded a turnout of 53.36%. “Going by reports that reached us from district headquarters, we have found out that the voting process was temporarily hampered at few polling stations in Ara, Sasaram, Jehanabad, Patliputra and Buxar,” a Bihar election official said. “Officials have attended to the complaints and redressed all grievances.”

In neighbouring Jharkhand, an estimated 70.97 of the electorate exercised their franchise in three Lok Sabha seats. In Madhya Pradesh, a turnout of 69.36% was recorded and in Himachal Pradesh, 66.7% of the voters exercised their franchise.

An average of 66.88% voters exercised their franchise in the last six phases. The entire electoral exercise was spread over 38 days.