Kolkata: Nearly 20 percent of the electorate cast their votes braving the soaring mercury and amid tight security in the first two hours of polling for 53 constituencies in the fifth and penultimate phase of West Bengal’s assembly polls on Saturday.
Voting began at 7.00 a.m. for 31 constituencies in South 24 Parganas and 18 in Hooghly districts besides four in South Kolkata.
“Poll percentage till 9.00 a.m. was 19.64 overall. In Hooghly it was A20.10 percent , in Kolkata South 15.64 percent and in South 24 Parganas 20.04 percent,” an Election Commission official said.
Nearly 1.24 crore (1,23,97,832) voters across 14,642 polling stations, including 77 auxiliary booths, are eligible to decide the fate of 349 candidates — 43 of them female.
While the Election Commission said polling was peaceful in the first two hours, the CPI-M and Congress accused the ruling Trinamool Congress of intimidating voters and election agents.
There were reports of entry of outsiders in Kasba from Bhangar in South 24-Parganas while in Haripal in Hooghly district, the CPI-M claimed its agent was “prevented” from entering by the Trinamool Congress. In Khanakul in Hooghly as well as in South 24-Parganas’ Canning East assembly seat, the CPI-M accused the Trinamool of threatening its agents.
At a booth in Satgachia of South 24-Parganas, Deputy Speaker of the West Bengal Legislative Assembly (WBLA) and Trinamool Congress MLA Sonali Guha was seen questioning a central force personnel with pointed fingers as he stopped her from getting close to the electronic voting machine (EVM).
Clashes between the Trinamool and CPI-M were reported in Arambag of Hooghly.
Independent candidate Ambikesh Mahapatra, supported by the Left Front-Congress, said voters were being prevented from entering some booths under police station of his Behala East constituency and alleged the officer in charge was inactive and did nothing. He also alleged the family members of one of his agents were assaulted and threatened by the Trinamool.
The Election Commission is using 16,838 EVMs and 1,024 Voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT).
The Trinamool and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are contesting in all the seats in this phase.
The Left Front, which has tied up with the Indian National Congress, is in the fray in 37 seats – CPI-M (31), All India Forward Bloc (three), Revolutionary Socialist Party (two) and Communist Party of India (one). The Congress has nominated 14 candidates. The combine has lent support to the Nationalist Congress Party in one seat, and is backing an independent in another.
In the 2011 assembly polls, theTrinamool had captured 46 seats. The LF had won only six – CPI-M (four), and the RSP and the AIFB (one each). The Socialist Unity Cetre of India-Communist had bagged one.
All eyes are on south Kolkata’s Bhabanipur, where Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee — seeking re-election — is facing a challenge from Left Front-backed Congress nominee Deepa Dasmunshi and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s grandnephew Chandra Kumar Bose of the BJP.
Also seeking re-election are state ministers and Trinamool heavyweights Firhad Hakim, Subrata Mukherjee, city mayor Sovon Chatterjee and Iqbal Ahmed – who were among the leaders allegedly shown taking money in the Narada News sting operation videos in return for doling out favours to a fictitious company.
Another star candidate is Abdur Rezzak Mollah, a high-profile minister during the Left Front regime, who is contesting on a Trinamool ticket from Bhangore in South 24 Parganas.
Celebrated actress and legislator Debasree Roy is taking on CPI-M heavyweight and former state minister Kanti Ganguly at Raidighi in South 24 Parganas.
As many as 680 companies of central forces have been deployed, besides thousands of city and state police personnel to ensure free, fair and peaceful polls.
Ahead of Saturday’s polls, elections have been held in 216 of the 294 constituencies in the state.
The remaining 25 will vote in the sixth and final phase on May 5.