Over 65 per cent of the electorate cast their votes in the three northern West Bengal constituencies in the second phase of the Lok Sabha elections on Thursday, amid several incidents of violence including an attack on a CPI-M candidate and the smashing of an EVM.
Till 3 p.m., the overall polling percentage was 65.43, with Raiganj recording 61.84, Jalpaiguri 71.32 and Darjeeling 63.14 per cent turnout, an Election Commission official said in Kolkata.
Voting across 5,390 polling stations began at 7 a.m. and will end at 6 p.m.
Much of the violence was reported from Chopra in Darjeeling constituency, where voters put up a road blockade demanding that CRPF personnel be deployed in all polling stations to ensure their security.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had won the Darjeeling seat in 2009 and 2014.
The villagers complained of intimidation by the ruling Trinamool Congress-backed goons and refused to cast their votes under the supervision of state police personnel, accusing them of being partisan.
As the BJP and Trinamool activists clashed with stones and bombs, the Rapid Action Force personnel lobbed tear gas shells to control the situation.
The workers of the two parties also clashed inside the polling booth at Chopra’s Kotgach, where the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) was broken into pieces.
“All possible measures have been taken in Chopra and the situation is now under control. Central forces have also been deployed in concerned polling booths. Currently, polling process is on,” an official said.
The villagers, standing in the queue, said the situation has become “normal” after the deployment of the central forces.
The vehicle of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) MP from Raiganj Mohammad Salim, who is seeking re-election, was damaged at Islampur when he visited the area on receiving reports of booth-capturing. Salim alleged that the police were “mute spectators” during the attack.
Special Police observer for West Bengal, Vivek Dube, however described the polling as “more or less” peaceful notwithstanding “small incidents”.
Ajay V. Nayak, the special observer appointed by the Election Commission, virtually echoed Dube.
“So far the elections have been fair and peaceful,” Nayak told reporters.
Senior Congress leader and Rajya Sabha MP Pradip Bhattacharya lodged a complaint before the Commission alleging violence in many polling stations where the central forces were not deployed.
“Unfortunately, several incidents of violence have been reported in three constituencies. Central forces were deployed mostly in urban areas while state police personnel were deployed in many sensitive areas,” he told reporters at the office of the Chief Electoral Officer.
State BJP President Dilip Ghosh also accused the Commission of “not taking requisite security measures in advance” in areas like Chopra and Dhupguri which had seen poll violence earlier also.
Tea garden workers were among those who turned out in strength in the Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri constituencies, while Muslim community members were seen in good numbers at the prestigious Raiganj seat in the early hours.
The polling process was disrupted in a few booths in Jalpaiguri due to faulty EVMs.
A total of 49,32,346 eligible voters — 25,22,887 men, 24,09,372 women and 87 ‘other’ category — will vote for 42 candidates in this phase.
In 2014, the Trinamool Congress had won Jalpaiguri, the CPI-M bagged Raiganj while the BJP secured Darjeeling.
The star constituency is Raiganj in North Dinajpur district where Salim is taking on former Union Minister and Congress nominee Deepa Dasmunsi, BJP state General Secretary Debasree Chaudhuri and Trinamool candidate Kanaia Lal Agarwal. Ten other candidates, including five Independents, are also in the fray.
In Darjeeling, BJP’s Raju Singh Bisht is taking on Trinamool’s Amar Singh Rai, Saman Pathak of the CPI-M and Congress’ Sankar Malakar. There are also seven candidates from other registered parties and five Independents.
The Trinamool has re-nominated its sitting MP Bijoy Chandra Barman in Jalpaiguri, where the BJP ticket has gone to a medico Jayanta Kumar Ray, the Congress has fielded tea workers’ leader Mani Kumar Darnal and the CPI-M Bhagirath Chandra Roy.
The subsequent phases of polling will be held on April 23, 29 and May 6, 12 and 19. Polling for the Cooch Behar and Alipurduar constituencies took place in the first phase on April 11.
The vote count is on May 23.