Notwithstanding the oppressive heat, enthusiastic voters stood in long queues, as around 70 percent of the electorate exercised their franchise by Thursday afternoon in six Lok Sabha constituencies of West Bengal.
The authorities said the polling process in the second phase of elections in the state - after four constituencies voted a week back - was peaceful. However, the opposition parties accused the ruling Trinamool Congress activists of indulging in rigging and other electoral malpractices at several booths. Despite the temperature rising close to 40 degree celsius in many areas, the young and the old, men and women turned up in large numbers to cast their votes for Jangipur, Murshidabad, Malda North, Malda South, Balurghat and Raiganj seats since polling began at 7 a.m., an official said.
"The average percentage is around 70 percent till 3 p.m.," Election Commission sources told IANS here. The percentage was the highest in Ballurghat at 71.88, and lowest in Malda South (68.30). The Election Commission sought a report from the Murshidabad district administration following a complaint filed by the Congress against Trinamool Congress Jangipur nominee Haji Nurul Islam for entering several polling booths with a group of workers.
Polling was stalled for some time in a booth under Itahar assembly segment of Balurghat constituency following allegations that all votes were being registered against the name of a particular candidate. The authorities said polling resumed after changing the malfunctioning EVM, but denied the charge that all votes were being registered in favour of any particular candidate.
The Congress demanded repolling in a booth in Malda district after two of its candidates and union minister Abu Hasem Khan Choudhury from Malda South and Mausam Benazir Noor from Malda North could not cast their votes due to malfunctioning of EVMs. Both Noor and Choudhury alleged rigging, voters being prevented from casting votes and insufficient deployment of central security personnel in their respective constituencies.
Congress candidate from Balurghat in South Dinajpur district Om Prakash Mishra also alleged malpractices by the ruling Trinamool in some of the booths. An electorate of 83,311,287, including 4,007,898 female, is eligible to choose their representatives from among 78 candidates in 9,755 polling stations spread over four districts - Muslim majority Malda and Murshidabad, besides North Dinajpur and South Dinajpur. The four main rivals Trinamool Congress, Left Front, Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party are competing in all the seats. Among the LF partners, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) is in action in five and the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) in one.
Among the star candidates in this phase are two union Ministers Abu Hasem Khan Choudhury (Malda South) and Deepa Dasmunsi (Raiganj), as also President Pranab Mukherjee's son Abhijit Mukherjee (Jangipur) - all nominated by the Congress. Popular Bengali band singer Soumitra Roy (Malda North) and theatre personality Arpita Ghosh (Balurghat) are nominees of Trinamool, while CPI-M central committee member Md. Salim is in fray from Raiganj, where the BJP has fielded famed actor Nimu Bhaumik.
The results of this phase are crucial for the Congress, which had bagged five seats in 2009 from these constituencies. The other seat - Balurghat - had gone to RSP. West Bengal has 42 Lok Sabha constituencies, of which four voted April 17. The next three phases of polling will be held April 30 (nine seats), May 7 (six seats) and May 12 (17 constituencies).