Around 1.7 crore people - nearly 70% of the electorate - Monday voted in 17 Lok Sabha constituencies in West Bengal in the last round of the general elections, as 20 people were injured in clashes between rival political activists.
The opposition parties accused the ruling Trinamool Congress of unleashing violence to intimidate voters in various areas. They also claimed that a number of their polling agents were driven out of booths. The Trinamool denied the allegations. "Till 3 p.m., 67.34% polling was recorded," an official said.
By-elections were also held in two assembly constituencies, Santipur and Chakdaha, in Nadia district.
At least 20 people were injured in clashes between the CPI-M and Trinamool activists in Haroa block, about 40 km from Kolkata.
Some of the injured, reported to be CPI-M activists, accused the Trinamool of orchestrating the attack and said four of them received bullet injuries when they were going to a polling booth in Basirhat parliamentary constituency. "We were going to the polling booth when around 30-40 men, all Trinamool activists, attacked us with weapons, including guns," said Ruma Mandal, one of the injured who was admitted to a hospital.
The ruling party, however, rubbished the allegations and claimed 11 of its activists sustained injuries. "In Haroa, CPI-M's former panchayat head Dinabandhu Mandal was behind this clash, in which 11 of our workers were injured," Trinamool spokesperson Derek O'Brien said. "We have received information about a clash in Haroa in which 20 people are said to be injured," a police officer said and denied anyone received bullet injuries.
A CPI-M agent, who was hospitalised with injuries, said he was assaulted by a group of Trinamool activists and was driven out of a polling booth in Dum Dum in North 24-Parganas district. Mala Roy, Congress candidate from Kolkata South, alleged that polling agents of her party were being driven out and the presiding officers were trying to obstruct voting. CPI-M's candidate in Dum Dum, Asim Dasgupta also alleged that Trinamool-backed goons attacked Marxist activists and supporters.
More than 2.56 crore voters are eligible to cast ballot in 37,670 polling stations for the 17 seats spread across seven districts - Murshidabad, West Midnapore, Nadia, North 24-Parganas, South 24-Parganas, Kolkata and East Midnapore.
A total of 188 candidates are in the fray, including multi-millionaires, cultural figures and political heavyweights. Trade unionist Subhashini Ali of the CPI-M is facing Trinamool heavyweight and former railway minister Dinesh Trivedi in Barrackpore. Pharmacologist Sujon Chakraborty of the CPI-M is pitted against Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's grand-nephew Sugato Bose of the Trinamool and painter Samir Aich of the Congress in Jadavpur in what seems like a cliff-hanger.
Among other notable aspirants of the Trinamool are Bengali matinee idol Dev (Ghatal), Mamata Banerjee's perceived political heir and nephew Abhishek Mukherjee (Diamond Harbour), and former union minister Sudip Bandopadhyay (Kolkata North).
The Congress has fielded state president and union minister Adhir Chowdhury from Beharampur. Two other former state Congress chiefs Somen Mitra (Kolkata North) and Manas Bhunia (Ghatal) have also thrown their hats in the ring. The BJP has nominated state chief Rahul Sinha from Kolkata North and famed magician PC Sorcar Junior from Barasat.