Over 81 percent turnout in Bengal, polling mostly peaceful



Braving the sweltering heat, voters turned up in huge numbers as around 81.42 percent polling was recorded in six Lok Sabha constituencies of West Bengal Thursday, amid stray incidents of violence.

The authorities described the polling process in the second phase of elections in the state - after four constituencies voted a week back -as "peaceful", without any major incidents or complaints of booth capturing. Five arrests were made.

"Around 81.42 percent votes have been polled. However, the percentage will increase and may touch 85 percent as people are still there in the queue before the booths," state chief electoral officer Sunil Gupta said here.

Despite the temperature rising close to 40 degrees Celsius in many areas, people patiently stood in the long queues for hours to cast their votes for Jangipur, Murshidabad, Malda North, Malda South, Balurghat and Raiganj seats, an official said.

There were reports of crude bombs being hurled close to a polling booth in Kathalberia under Kaliachak police station of Malda district, with Congress and Trinamool Congress activists blaming each other.

The Election Commission removed presiding officers of three booths in Murshidabad district for allowing Trinamool Congress candidate from Jangipur Haji Nurul Islam to "illegally enter" with some party workers. "A total of four presiding officers and one micro-observer were replaced today," said Gupta.

There were complaints in two booths of Balurghat and Malda South constituencies that all votes were being registered against the name of particular candidates. The authorities admitted the EVMs had malfunctioned, but denied that the votes were registered in favour of certain contestants.

Two sitting Congress MPs and candidates - union minister Abu Hasem Khan Choudhury of Malda South and Mausam Benazir Noor of Malda North - could not vote in the morning as the EVM conked. Enraged, they sought repoll, but withdrew the demand after managing to vote later in the day.

Gupta said 44 EVMs were replaced during the day.

EC appointed special observer SudhirKumar Rakesh expressed satisfaction at the functioning of the administration.

"It has been very good. The entire election machinery has responded well. Incidents are not in our control. What matters is the response. Response was very prompt," he said.

He also dismissed allegations from the opposition that central paramilitary troopers were not deployed properly on field duty.

There were reports of poll boycott in five booths.

The Trinamool termed the polls as "peaceful" barring "a few stray incidents". "People have exercised their franchise in a free and fearless manner," said Trinamool general secretary Partha Chatterjee.

The Left Front also expressed satisfaction. "Except some sporadic incidents, people participated in large numbers. The Election Commission was also more active today than they were in the first phase," said its chairman Biman Bose.

An electorate of around 8.3 million was eligible to choose representatives from a field of 78 candidates in 9,755 polling stations spread over four districts - Muslim majority Malda and Murshidabad, besides North Dinajpur and South Dinajpur.

Trinamool Congress, Left Front, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party - competed in all the constituencies.

Among the star candidates in this phase were Abu Hasem Khan Choudhury and union minister Deepa Dasmunsi (Raiganj), as also President Pranab Mukherjee's son Abhijit Mukherjee (Jangipur) - all Congress.

Popular Bengali band singer Soumitra Roy (Malda North) and theatre personality Arpita Ghosh (Balurghat) are nominees of the Trinamool, while CPI-M central committee member Mohammad Salim is in fray from Raiganj, where the BJP has fielded famed actor Nimu Bhaumik.

The next three phases of polling in the state will be held April 30 (nine seats), May 7 (six seats) and May 12 (17 constituencies).- IANS