Over 76 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. Polling remained largely peaceful barring sporadic incidents of violence and vandalism, including an attack on a CPI-M candidate and the smashing of an Electronic Voting Machine (EVM).
Till 5 p.m., the overall polling percentage was 76.07 per cent, with Raiganj recording 73.31 per cent, Jalpaiguri 82.76 per cent and Darjeeling 72.14 per cent turnout, an Election Commission official said in Kolkata.
Voting across 5,390 polling stations began at 7 a.m. and officially ended at 6 p.m. amid tight security by both the central forces and the state police force. However, in a number of booths, queues could be seen well after the deadline.
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 villagers, including many women, complained of intimidation by goons backed by the ruling Trinamool Congress and refused to cast their votes under the supervision of state police personnel, accusing them of being partisan.
The matter escalated in the afternoon, as BJP and Trinamool Congress activists clashed with each other and hurled stones and crude bombs, forcing the Rapid Action Force (RAF) personnel to resort to baton charge and lob tear gas shells to disperse the crowd.
Later, the central force personnel took confidence building measures in the area and escorted the agitating voters to their respective polling stations.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had won the Darjeeling seat in 2009 and 2014, but faces an uphill task this time as the Trinamool Congress has joined hands with a faction of the principal hill party Gorkha Janamukti Morcha.
The workers of the BJP and Trinamool Congress also clashed inside a polling booth at Chopra’s Kotgach, where an 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, the polling process is on,” an official said.
The villagers standing in the queue said the situation became “normal” after the deployment of the central forces.
Meanwhile, the vehicle of the sitting Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) MP from Raiganj, Mohammad Salim, 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.
However, Special Police Observer for West Bengal, Vivek Dubey, described the polling as “more or less” peaceful notwithstanding “small incidents”.
Ajay V. Nayak, the Special Observer appointed by the Election Commission (EC), 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 with the EC alleging violence in many polling stations where central forces were not deployed.
“Central forces were deployed mostly in the urban areas while state police personnel were deployed in many sensitive areas,” he told reporters at the office of the Chief Electoral Officer.
CPI-M state Secretary Surjya Kanta Misra demanded repoll in 22 polling stations of Raiganj accusing Trinamool backed miscreants of rigging the elections.
State BJP President Dilip Ghosh also accused the EC 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 voters — 25,22,887 men, 24,09,372 women and 87 belonging to the ‘other’ category — were eligible to vote for the 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.