Bengal polls end with heavy voting in Maoist heartland (Intro Roundup)May 10th, 2011 - 10:02 pm ICT by IANS
Kolkata, May 10 (IANS) Defying a Maoist boycott and braving the scorching sun, over 85 percent of the 26 lakh-plus electorate voted amid massive security deployment in the sixth and final phase of the West Bengal assembly elections Tuesday. Voting was peaceful.
Voters, many of them tribals living in the jungle areas, lined up in long queues in front of booths from 7 a.m when the polling started. According to sources in the state chief electoral officer’s office, the overall polling percentage in the three districts was 85.11.
On Tuesday, polling was held in 14 constituencies of three districts - West Midnapore (7), Purulia (4) and Bankura (3) - considered the hotbed of Maoist activities.
“The district-wise polling percentage was 87.20 in West Midnapore, 80.34 in Purulia and 85.40 in Bankura,” said the source.
Tuesday’s polling brought to an end the staggered six-phase election for the 294-member assembly that began April 18 and is regarded as the stiffest challenge for the 34-year old Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M)-led Left Front government against a determined charge of the opposition Trinamool Congress-Congress combine. The total eligible electorate was over 56 million.
With the three-week election over, it will now be a three-day wait for the parties to know their fate sealed in the electronic voting machines (EVM) as the votes will be counted May 13.
For Tuesday’s polling, three helicopters provided aerial surveillance and over 100,000 security personnel, comprising central paramilitary troopers, crack units of the state police and commandos were deployed in the region.
Polling ended at 3 p.m., two hours earlier than the previous rounds, to enable officials to leave the area before daylight fades.
“The voting was peaceful and spontaneous. There were no reports of law and order violation. Altogether 26 electronic voting machine were replaced, while six presiding officers and 11 polling officials were changed on medical grounds,” said state Chief Electoral Officer Sunil Gupta.
A total of 22 people were arrested in the three districts, of whom 16 arrests took place in West Midnapore’s Garbeta constituency for creating nuisance in polling booth premises.
Polling in the area had posed the biggest challenge for the security forces and the election authorities. Places like Salboni, Jhargram, Nayagram, Binpur, Joypur and Bandwan have witnessed shootings and killings related to rebel violence during the past two years.
Troopers of the Central Reserve Police Force’s anti-Maoist wing and Combat Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) had been deployed in the jungles armed with modern gadgets, including anti-explosive devices.
High-frequency satellite phones were used at several polling booths as part of the massive security arrangements.
The area resembled a battlefield with Kalashnikov-wielding security forces positioned in large number of bunkers and on the roofs of polling booths. Anti-landmine vehicles were also on the roads.
Among the 97 candidates in the fray for the sixth phase were Minister for Western Region Development Sushanta Ghosh (from Garbeta in West Midnapore), Law and Justice Minister Rabilal Moitra (Gopiballavpur, West Midnapore) and Minister of State for Backward Class Welfare Debolina Hembram (Ranibandh, Bankura).
Chhatradhar Mahato, jailed convener of pro-Maoist tribal outfit People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA), contested from Jhargram constituency in West Midnapore district as an Independent candidate.
The outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) had, however, given a call for vote boycott across the state.
Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M)-led Left Front chairman Biman Bose and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee expressed happiness over the way the Election Commission (EC) conducted the polls in the Maoist heartland.
“I had appealed to the people to come out and vote without fear. I am happy that the people of Junglemahal have voted,” said Banerjee.
“The polls were peaceful. We are satisfied with the polling. The Left Front will form the next government of the state,” Bose said.
Of the 14 constituencies where polling was held Tuesday, the CPI-M contested in 11 while its Left Front allies - the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Forward Bloc had nominees in one and two constituencies, respectively. The Trinamool Congress was in fray in nine and its alliance partner, the Congress in four. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had fielded candidates on all the 14 seats.
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