Over half vote for four Bengal seats (Third Lead)

Kolkata, April 17: Amid allegations of muscle-flexing, an average 60 percent of votes were cast Thursday in the first six hours of polling covering four constituencies in the first phase of Lok Sabha elections in West Bengal.

Long queues of voters were seen in the four constituencies – Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar and Coochbehar – since polling began at 7 a.m., kick-starting the staggered five-phase balloting in the state, an official said.

The official said that 60 percent voting took place till 1 p.m.

By 11 a.m., Alipurduar recorded the highest voting percentage at 44.36. Around 42.46 percent voters exercised their franchise in Cooch Behar, and 42 percent in Jalpaiguri. The figure was 39.35 percent in Darjeeling, polling officials said.

Around 120 companies of central paramilitary forces have been deployed in the three districts – Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar – which have gone to the hustings.

Simultaneously, by-polls are being held in the Kumargram and Maynaguri assembly constituencies in Jalpaiguri district,

The opposition parties – Left Front, Congress and BJP – have alleged that their polling agents were beaten up or not allowed to sit in polling booths by miscreants alleged to be Trinamool activists in several areas of Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar and Cooch Behar constituencies. The Trinamool has denied the allegations.

Bhaichung Bhutia, former Indian soccer captain and Trinamool Congress candidate from Darjeeling, accused the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha of intimidating voters. The GJM, which is backing Bharatiya Janata Party nominee Surinder Singh Ahluwalia, dubbed the allegation “baseless”.

State Chief electoral Officer Sunil Gupta said the commission has received a few allegation of intimidation, beating up of polling agents and other malpractices.

“The observers for the areas were duly informed and prompt action taken,” said Gupta.

The state’s newly-appointed special observer Sudhir Kumar Rakesh said: “Everything is fine up till now. Whatever complaints we received, we have passed them on to the observers and the district administration. They are looking into it.”

A total of 6,033,310 voters, including 2,909,975 women, are eligible to exercise their franchise to make their choice from among 47 candidates.

A few Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) malfunctioned in Alipurduar constituency of Jalpaiguri district, and were replaced, officials said.

“The faulty units were replaced immediately,” said Binay Sikdar, additional district magistrate, Jalpaiguri.

As many as 9,292 EVMs have been put into service in the first phase in which the Trinamool, Left Front, Congress and the BJP, as also the Bahujan Samaj Party are contesting all the seats.

Darjeeling – for long a political flashpoint over the issue of a separate Gorkhaland state – is witness to a bitter fight between the Trinamool and the BJP, the latter again enjoying the endorsement of the prominent hill-based party Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.

The main battle is between BJP’s S.S. Ahluwalia and football icon Bhaichung Bhutia of the Trinamool Congress, with the Communist Party of India-Marxist nominating Saman Pathak, and the Congress naming Sujoy Ghatak.

But political watchers are keeping a close watch on Darjeeling where the contest is beign labelled as a proxy war between West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjeee and GJM chief Bimal Gurung.

The Election Commission has made arrangements for webcasting and videography of voting at important booths in all the three districts.

West Bengal has 42 Lok Sabha constituencies.

The next four phases of polling will be held April 24 (six constituencies), April 30 (nine seats), May 7 (six seats) and May 12 (17 constituencies).

IANS