Polling peaceful in West Bengal first phase (Intro Roundup)

April 18th, 2011 - 11:32 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party Kolkata/Siliguri, April 18 (IANS) The much-awaited battle for control of Writers’ Buildings - the seat of power in West Bengal - got off to a peaceful start Monday with 74.27 percent voters casting ballots in the first phase of the assembly polls, officials said.

In one of the most incident-free elections witnessed in the politically volatile eastern state, there were long queues of voters and polling was brisk in the 54 constituencies spread over six northern districts - Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Cooch Behar, North Dinajpur, South Dinajpur and Malda.

“Around 74.27 percent polling was reported till 6 p.m., an hour after polling officially ended,” said Chief Electoral Officer Sunil Kumar Gupta.

The polling figure was lower than the 82.77 percent recorded in the 2006 assembly polls and in the 2009 elections to the Lok Sabha when 81.84 percent voters exercised their democratic rights in the six districts.

People lined up outside poll booths attired in their best - from the hill station of Darjeeling in the state’s northern tip to Malda, famed for its mouthwatering mangoes.

“Polling was completely peaceful. There were no untoward incidents,” Inspector General of Police Ranbir Kumar told IANS. Ten preventive arrests were made and there was no demand of repoll from any candidate, Gutpa told mediapersons.

Enthusiasm was high as first time voters and old timers voted in strength to choose their representatives from among 364 candidates in the six districts that has over 97 lakh eligible voters.

Monday was the maiden leg of the six-phase staggered polling that would end May 10.

The ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M)-led Left Front faces the biggest ever challenge of its 34 years of rule from the Trinamool Congress-Congress combine in the polls.

However, there was a vote boycott in six polling booths of Malda district and two other booths in South Dinajpur district on local issues like lack of development, said Gupta.

Two presiding officers - one in Harirampur constituency and the other in Gangarampur - in South Dinajpur constituency were removed for violating the poll code, he said.

According to sources in the CEO’s office, Jalpaiguri recorded 72.57 percent polling, Malda 75.1, Cooch Behar 77.1, South Dinajpur 78.17 percent. Polling percentage in Darjeeling was 71 percent and North Dinajpur was around 72.43 percent.

Polling began at 7 a.m. In some places, people cast their vote in candlelight due to power cuts, and in a few polling booths electronic voting machines (EVMs) malfunctioned but were set right soon.

The fate of 11 ministers of the Left Front were decided during Monday’s poll.

Authorities deployed 548 companies of central paramilitary forces in the districts to face any eventuality, a police officer said.

The CPI-M is contesting 32 seats, the Communist Party of India (CPI) two, Forward Bloc 10, Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) nine, Socialist Party one, the Trinamool Congress 26, the Congress 27, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) one, and the Bharatiya Janata Party 49.

Also in the fray are the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) in three constituencies, Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) in three, and the Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League in three.

Ruling Left Front Chairman Biman Bose praised the Election Commission for the way it conducted the polls.

“I am happy with the turnout of voters for the first phase. The election commission has performed its duty well. Polling was more or less peaceful,” Bose said.

State Congress chief Manas Bhunia also was satisfied with the conduct of elections.

“The vote was peaceful. If the turnout would have been more then it would have been much better,” he said.

When asked whether he was happy with the Election Commission’s performance, main opposition Trinamool Congress heavyweight Partha Chatterjee said “today is just the first day. Let all the phases be over”.

The next polling dates are April 23 (50 constituencies), April 27 (75), May 3 (63), May 7 (38) and May 10 (14). The votes will be counted May 13.

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