THE FIRST PHASE of polling in 30 Assembly constituencies spread across five districts in West Bengal on Saturday was marred by sporadic incidents of violence, complaints of rigging, and snags in Electronic Voting Machines. The state recorded almost 80 per cent (79.79 per cent) voting.
Assam, meanwhile, registered 76.89 per cent polling in the first phase covering 47 of the state’s total 126 Assembly constituencies. The first phase will decide the fate of several political heavyweights including incumbent Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, state Congress chief Ripun Bora and jailed activist Akhil Gogoi.
In West Bengal, four out of five eligible voters cast their ballot in each of the five districts: Purba Medinipur (82.51%), Jhargram (80.55%), Paschim Medinipur (80.12%), Bankura (79.9%) and Purulia (77.13%).
As many as 191 candidates, including 21 women, are contesting in the first phase. Of the electorate size of 73.8 lakh, female voters number 36.27 lakh and male 37.52. Both the BJP and the Trinamool are contesting 29 seats each out of the total 30.
“Apart from some sporadic incidents, the polls in 30 constituencies were conducted peacefully. At least 10 people have been arrested in different incidents,” said Aariz Aftab, Chief Electoral Officer, West Bengal.
In Assam, a total of 264 candidates, including 23 women, are in the fray in this phase, which has a total of 81.09 lakh eligible voters. A total of 11,537 polling booths were set up for the first phase. While the Congress, part of the ‘mahajat’ has fielded its candidates in 43 out of 47 seats, the BJP is contesting in 39.
After casting his vote in Dibrugarh, Sonowal tweeted, “My vote for the protection of Sabhyata, Sanskriti and overall development of Assam.” Posing with his family after casting his vote in Gohpur, the Congress leader Bora told the media that people wanted a change and a Congress-led government in the state.
Polling in West Bengal began under heavy deployment of Central forces — 732 companies in the five districts.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed to the people to vote. “Today, Phase 1 of the West Bengal Assembly elections begin. I would request all those who are voters in the seats polling today to exercise their franchise in record numbers,” he tweeted.
A massive clash erupted in Patashpur in East Medinipur Friday night between TMC and BJP workers in which two security personnel suffered serious injuries. Two persons were later arrested. On Saturday, Communist Party of India (Marxist) candidate for the Salboni constituency, Sushanta Ghosh, was attacked by unknown persons. State CEO Aftab said seven persons were arrested in the case.
During the day, the Trinamool Congress accused the BJP of capturing booths in Medinipur, and the Central forces of not allowing people to vote. Such complaints emerged from Kanthi Dakshin under Purab Medinipur and Garbeta in Paschim Medinipur. TMC supporters also alleged that in the South Contai Assembly constituency, despite voting for TMC, votes were registered in BJP’s favour.
Sources in the Election Commission in Delhi dismissed TMC’s allegations with regard to malfunctioning EVMs. To TMC’s claim that voters in the Kanthi Dakshin Assembly seat cast their vote for TMC but these were registered in favour of BJP in the VVPAT machine, an EC official said, “We got this claim verified and it was incorrect. In polling station 216, a VVPAT malfunctioned and it was subsequently replaced with another machine. However, some people had protested outside the polling station and interrupted voting briefly. The Presiding Officer of the polling station even submitted a report to us about this incident.”
The BJP, on the other hand, accused Trinamool of malpractices, and also claimed the current Assembly elections to be less violent in comparison with those in the past.
In Contai, BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari’s brother Soumendu’s vehicle was attacked after he alleged that people were being stopped from casting their vote in the area. “TMC goons were rigging three booths. When we protested they ransacked my car. I was inside and somehow not injured,” said Soumendu Adhikari.
A delegation led by BJP National General Secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya met the CEO after the incident. “This is the first election in six years with fewer instances of rigging and violence. To avoid even 10 per cent of such cases in Phase 2, we demanded that the EC round-up anti-social elements,” he said.
A nine-member Trinamool delegation led by MP Sudip Bandyopadhyay too met the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) at 12 noon and raised objections over the BJP’s proposal to change the existing procedure on booth agents. “We have submitted a memorandum saying let the previous system — which required the polling agent to be a voter in the concerned booth — be retained,” said Bandopadhyay.
These rules can, however, be revised, said CEO Aariz Aftab.
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