Kolkata: Amid a few stray incidents of violence, intimidation and EVM failure, close to 35 per cent electorate cast their votes in the first four hours of polling in phase three of the Lok Sabha elections in West Bengal on Tuesday.
Long queues of men and women of various age groups were seen outside polling booths in Balurghat, Malda North, Malda South, Jangipur and Mushidabad constituencies.
Of the overall polling percentage of 34.87 till 11 a.m., Balurghat recorded 37.38, Malda North 32.37, Malda South 34.14, Jangipur 36.74 and Murshidabad 33.74, an Election Commission official said.
Crude bombs were hurled by bike-borne miscreants outside polling stations at Tiktikipara in Domkol area of Murshidadbad and Kaliachawk in Malda South constituencies, both known for their history of political violence.
The helmet-wearing miscreants in Kaliachawk could not be identified. State police and Central Force reinforcement were rushed to the polling stations.
In Domkol, a Trinamool Congress (TMC) councillor’s husband was also allegedly beaten up by Congress-backed goons.
Faulty EVMs stalled voting in a few polling stations in Malda North seat.
Oppositions parties — the Congress and the CPI-M — alleged that TMC supporters threatened their agents and voters in many booths in Murshidabad’s Bhagobangola and Jalangi areas.
Alleged aerial firing by TMC miscreants to threaten Opposition agents was also reported in Murshidabad’s Kumripur.
A former TMC lawmaker Mahmuda Begam was seen intimidating police personnel for heavy security deployment at a booth in Balurghat’s Kumarganj.
“This is my booth and I have developed this over 34 years. Will my supporters remain idle if police become overactive? Why was police deployed in this booth?,” she warned a police officer, who, however, stayed put.
In Balurghat’s Kusmandi area, TMC activists allegedly thrashed BJP supporters.
A total of 80,23,846 people will vote in 8,528 polling stations to decide the fate of 61 candidates, six of whom are women.
Altogether 324 companies of Central Force personnel have been deployed in the state, covering over 92 per cent of the polling stations across the five constituencies.
The deployment has been highest in Murshidabad district (96 per cent) followed by Malda (91.4 per cent).
The Balurghat seat is witnessing an intense battle between outgoing TMC MP Arpita Ghosh, BJP’s Sukanta Majumdar and Ranen Barman of the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), a constituent of the Left Front.
In Jangipur, former President Pranab Mukherjee’s son Abhijit Mukherjee of the Congress faces a tough battle as he seeks a hat-trick of wins from the constituency, which sent his father to Parliament twice.
In the multi-cornered battle on the seat, the TMC has fielded Khalilur Rahaman against CPI-M’s Zulfiqar Ali and BJP’s Mafuja Khatun, the party’s only Muslim woman candidate in this election.
The tussle in Malda North is between cousins Isha Khan Choudhury of the Congress and incumbent MP Mausam Noor, who won on a Congress ticket in 2014 but deflected to the TMC in January this year.
The BJP candidate from Malda North is another turncoat, Khagen Murmu, who crossed over from the CPI-M. The party has nominated Biswanath Ghosh.
In Malda South, Congress veteran and outgoing MP Abu Hasem Khan Choudhury, the father of Isha Khan Choudhury, is up against TMC’s Md Moazzem Hossain and BJP’s Sreerupa Mitra Choudhury. The CPI-M has not fielded a candidate here and is supporting Abu Hasem.
In 2014, the Congress bagged Malda North, Malda South and Jangipur constituencies, while the TMC won Balurghat and CPI-M got Murshidabad constituencies.
According to an analysis by the West Bengal Election Watch and the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), 11 of the 61 candidates in the fray have assets worth over Rs 1 crore, while 15 (25 per cent) have declared criminal cases against them.
The subsequent phases of polls will be held on April 29, May 6, May 12 and May 19. The votes will be counted on May 23.