Peaceful voting, 80 percent turnout in Bengal (Intro Roundup)

April 28th, 2011 - 12:08 am ICT by IANS  

Mamata Banerjee Kolkata, April 27 (IANS) West Bengal witnessed peaceful voting in the third phase of the six-phase assembly elections Wednesday that saw around 80 percent votes cast in 75 constituencies, officials said. The voting will decide the fate of Chief Minister Buddadeb Bhattacharjee and 11 of his ministers.

A total of 14,419,669 people in Kolkata and the neighbouring districts of North and South 24-Parganas were eligible to elect their representatives from among 479 contestants. Two women died while standing in long queues outside the polling stations.

“In South 24 Parganas district, a woman died of sunstroke in Kultali while waiting in the queue to vote. Another woman died when she slipped and sustained a head injury after coming out of a polling booth in Canning West,” said District Magistrate N.S. Nigam.

People milled at the booths in strength as the day passed of peacefully, save for some incidents of violence. Twenty four presiding officers were removed for poll irregularities, state chief electoral officer Sunil Gupta said.

Official sources said: “Till 8 p.m., about 80 percent of the electorate had voted. People are still in queue outside polling booths. So the number will go up.”

Kolkata has 11 constituencies, North 24-Parganas 33 and South 24-Parganas 31.

Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) led ruling Left Front is facing the stiffest challenge of its 34-year rule from a determined Trinamool Congress-Congress combine.

A CPI-M councillor of Kolkata was arrested for canvassing within the polling station premises, while 106 other preventative arrests were made in the three districts.

In Kasba constituency of South 24 Parganas, a clash broke out between CPI-M supporters and the Trinamool Congress activists in which four were injured and a vehicle was damaged.

In some booths, there was delay due to the malfunctioning of the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs).

“At least 106 EVMs have been replaced, but the poll process was not disturbed,” said Gupta.

Chief Minister Buddahdeb Bhattacharjee of the CPI-M and main opposition Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee also took part in the balloting that also saw union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and former Indian cricket skipper Sourav Ganguly cast their votes.

Former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee was among the early birds.

The areas being covered in the third phase include the industrial belt of the city and its suburbs and the populated areas of the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest.

But accusations flew from both sides. Banerjee charged the chief minister with efforts to manipulate polls in his Jadavpur constituency.

However, Orissa Chief Electoral Officer S. Srinivasan - here as a special observer - said: “During my three days stay in the state I have not received any complaint of manipulation and rigging.”

Left Front chairman Biman Bose demanded repoll in 40 booths - 22 of Bijpur and 18 of Haroa in North 24 Parganas district - accusing the Trinamool of driving out CPI-M agents and indulging in electoral malparactices.

Trinamool has high stakes in this round, as the areas going to polls are regarded as its citadel. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, Trinamool and its ally Socialist Unity Centre of India-Communist nominees were ahead in 66 of the 75 assembly segments.

Other than Bhattacharjee, 11 state ministers whose fate will be decided Wednesday include Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta (Khardah), Housing Minister Gautam Deb (Dum Dum) and Transport Minister Ranjit Kundu (Naihati).

Leader of Opposition Partha Chatterjee (Behala-W), Kolkata Mayor Sovan Chatterjee (Behala-E) and Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) secretary general Amit Mitra (Khardah) are also in the fray.

A number of celebrities nominated by the Trinamool, including film stars Debashree Roy, Chiranjeet ‘Dipak’ Chakroborty and theatre personality Bratya Basu are also trying their luck in the third phase.

The CPI-M is contesting in 61 constituencies, Forward Bloc (7), Communist Party of India (3), Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) (3), Trinamool (70) and Congress (5).

The Bharatiya Janata Party has put up candidates in all the 75 constituencies.

Over 600 companies of security forces were deployed for the voting. The Election Commission webcast polling in 200 polling stations in the three districts.

Polls to the 294-member assembly, which started April 18, will end May 10. The first and second phase of elections saw around 85 percent turnout.

Votes will be counted May 13.

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