New Delhi: As many as 79.79 per cent voters exercised their franchise in the first phase of polling in 30 Assembly seats in West Bengal on Saturday, while the turnout was a little over 77 per cent in Assam where 47 seats went to the polls in the first phase, as per the data released by the voter turnout app of the Election Commission of India.
More than half of the 73-lakh electorate in Bengal’s 30 Assembly constituencies have cast their ballot and sealed the fate of 191 candidates who were in the fray on the first day of the eight-phase elections in West Bengal, where five districts went to the polls on Saturday.
At least 21 female aspirants are contesting the elections in West Bengal, while 23 are in the fray in Assam.
In Bengal, the serpentine queues showed people are aware of the importance of the crucial poll that is seeing a bitter battle between the ruling Trinamool Congress-led by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and the BJP that has pitched every high-profile leader into campaigning in West Bengal.
As per the latest figures from Bengal, the approximate voter turnout trend till 5 p.m. in Bankura was the highest at 80.03 per cent, Jhargram at 80.55 per cent, Purbo Medinipur at 82.42 per cent, Paschim Medinipur at 80.16 per cent and Purulia at 77.13 per cent, according to the Election Commission’s voter turnout app.
“The turnout of voters is estimated at over 77 per cent. The percentage may increase a bit after the final compilation of reports from all the returning officers,” a senior election official told IANS over the phone on Saturday night.
Data showed 72.14 per cent voting in 22 districts in Assam till 5 p.m. There was 77.16 per cent voting in Biswanath, 71.10 per cent in Bokakhat, 73.29 per cent in Charaldeo, 72.85 per cent in Dhakuakhana, 70.76 per cent in Dhansiri, 71.10 per cent in Dhemaji, 70.14 per cent in Dibrugarh, 71.34 per cent in Gohpur, 75.16 per cent in Golaghat, 72.49 per cent in Jonai, 71.49 per cent in Jorhat, 74.19 per cent in Kaliabor, 70.43 per cent in Lakhimpur, 77.19 per cent in Majuli, 70.67 in Margherita, 78.20 per cent in Nagaon, 64 per cent in Nazira and 71.63 per cent in Sadiya. The voting percentage in Sivasagar was 77.72 per cent, 67.91 per cent in Sonitpur, 70.63 per cent in Tinsukia and 70.92 per cent in Titabor, till 5 pm.
In Bengal’s East Midnapore, two security personnel were reportedly injured in a firing incident that took place early Saturday at the Satsatmal, Bhagwanpur Assembly constituency ahead of voting. Tension prevailed in the Tulsidi village where the incident took place. Security forces are keeping a close vigil in the area, surrounded by forests that were once Maoist hideouts.
There were reports of EVM malfunctioning at 20 booths in Bankura district, eight in Jhargram and 39 in Purulia. EVMs in various booths had stopped working temporarily due to a technical glitch. People said they had to wait for more than two hours to cast their ballot.
In Purulia, allegations were raised by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) against a former minister and Trinamool candidate of purportedly distributing cash among voters. The BJP has filed a complaint with the poll body.
Suvendu Adhikari’s brother and BJP leader Soumendu Adhikari accused Trinamool Block President Ram Govind Das and his wife for poll rigging at three polling booths, saying “my arrival here created a problem for them to continue with their mischief, so they attacked my car and thrashed my driver”.
Dibyendu Adhikari, another of the Adhikari siblings, told the media he got to know that his brother’s vehicle was attacked in Contai with the help of Trinamool Block President Ram Govind Das. “Soumendu isn’t injured. The driver was beaten up. I’ve informed the Police Observer.”
There are seven seats in high-stakes Purba Medinipur — home ground of BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari. These seven — Patashpur, Kanthi Uttar, Bhagabanpur, Khejuri, Kanthi Dakshin, Ramnagar and Egra — are perceived as sensitive.
Polling began at 7 a.m. amid tight security for the first phase when the Jungal Mahal area in the south-western fringes that is said to be Maoist-affected, also voting. The polling will end at 6 p.m.
The polls are being closely watched because of the prestige battle between Suvendu Adhikari, a former Trinamool Congress man, who is now facing his erstwhile supremo Mamata Banerjee in Nandigram.
West Bengal BJP President Dilip Ghosh cast his vote at a polling booth in Jhargram during the polling.
Compared to first two hours in the morning, the number of voters increased manifold in the afternoon on polling booths with all section of citizens seen enthusiastically exercising their franchise. Women, particularly first-time voters, carrying voter slips and Aadhaar cards were seen standing in long queues. Special police officers deputed for election duty helped the aged and the physically challenged voters at the polling stations.
Of the five assembly elections scheduled in four states and one Union Territory, West Bengal has the most number of seats and voting spread over eight phases, a maximum. The other seven phases to the 294-member West Bengal Assembly will be held on April 1, April 6, April 10, April 17, April 22, April 26 and April 29. Results will be declared on May 2.
In Assam, voting began across 11,537 polling stations mostly covering eastern Assam’s 12 districts at 7 a.m.
The balloting will continue till 6 p.m as the Election Commission extended the time by an hour in view of the Covid-19 induced situations.
A total of 8,109,815 voters, including 4,032,481 females, are eligible to cast their ballots.
Covid-19 protocols for the voters, including social distancing and thermal screening, are being maintained.
Election officials said that to avoid crowding, the number of voters for every booth has been brought down to a maximum of 1,000.
As a result, the number of polling booths has been augmented by 34.71 per cent to 33,530 from 24,890 in 2016.
To avoid direct contact with the EVM, every elector is being given a hand glove.
In the 2016 elections, the ruling BJP-led alliance secured 35 of the 47 seats, while the Congress won nine and the remaining three seats by other parties.
According to the election officials, over 30,000 Central Armed Police Forces along with thousands of state security forces have been deployed to maintain law and order during this phase.
The officials said that to maintain social distancing and other Covid-19 protocols and due to technical snags of the EVMs in some polling stations, the casting of votes was a little slow in some areas.
No major untoward incident has been reported so far from any of the 12 districts where balloting is underway.