West Bengal records 15.30% voter turnout till 10 am in phase 1 of Assembly polls

An armed policeman wearing a face shield stands guard as women wait in line to cast their votes outside a polling booth during the first phase of the West Bengal state election in Purulia district. (REUTERS)

Elections are being held in 30 seats, most of which are in the once-Naxal-affected Jungle Mahal region, across five districts amid tight security.

Polling for the first of the eight-phase assembly polls in West Bengal began at 7 am with voters deciding the fate of 191 candidates in 30 constituencies.

Over 73 lakh voters are eligible to exercise their franchise today.

The elections, which will continue till 6 pm, are being held amid tight security with the EC deploying around 730 companies of central forces, guarding 10,288 polling booths housed in 7,061 premises.

Sporadic incidents of violence reported

Sporadic incidents of violence were reported from some areas in the state that are voting in the first phase of the assembly polls.

A man, in his mid-30s, was found dead in Keshiary’s Begumpur area in the Paschim Medinipur district in the morning, police said.

He has been identified as Mangal Soren, they said, adding that his body was found outside his home.

The BJP claimed that Soren was their supporter and was allegedly killed by TMC “goons”, a charge rubbished by the ruling party.

“TMC is trying to create tension in the area during polling so they killed Mangal,” local BJP leader Bablu Baram alleged.

However, the district administration in its report to the Election Commission (EC) said that there was no connection of the death to the polls.

Central forces deployed

A large team of central forces has been deployed in the area, officials said.

The Purba Medinipur district witnessed violence as bombing and firing took place in the Satsatmal village at the Argoal gram panchayat in Bhagabanpur Assembly constituency, injuring two security personnel.

Patashpur Police Station Officer-in-Charge (OC) Deepak Kumar Chakraborty and a Central Force soldier were seriously injured in the incident.

Speaking to news agency ANI, Anup Chakraborty, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) district president, Purba Medinipur, alleged that the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) was spreading terror.

“There is a polling booth at the Argoal area under the Bhagabanpur assembly in Patashpur police station. A terror factory resides in the booth. That booth cannot function without terror and through it, the TMC is damaging the nearby booths by spreading terror,” he said.

“We want to make it clear that all those jihadis are running around in all areas and are trying to terrorise the people on behalf of Trinamool. This cannot happen, people have been awakened. The administration went there to control the situation which led to the injury of the OC,” he added.

In the Salboni area of the same district, CPI(M) candidate Susanta Gosh was heckled and stones were hurled at his vehicle allegedly by TMC supporters, police said.

As soon as he reached Salboni Bazar, some TMC supporters gheraoed and heckled him, following which they also attacked his car, eyewitnesses said.

Police personnel posted in the area rescued and escorted him to safety.

“This is an attack on democracy. This is jungle raj going on,” said Ghosh, a former minister in the Left Front government.

Some journalists who were reporting on the attack were also manhandled.

An EC official said that three persons were arrested in connection with the incident and a report has been sought from the district administration.

The TMC denied any involvement.

Earlier, Ghosh also got engaged in a war of words with TMC leaders at a booth in the area as the CPI(M) polling agent was allegedly removed from there.

Long queues were seen outside most booths in the initial hours with people stepping out early to avoid the sweltering heat, besides the uncertainty of being able to cast their votes in case of violence later in the day.

Till 9 am, 14.28% voter turnout was recorded, the EC official said.

CM Banerjee asks people to exercise their democratic right

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee called upon the people of the state to exercise their democratic right by coming out and voting in large numbers.

So far, 107 EVMs have been found to be non-functional, an EC official said.

“Forty-seven EVMs have been restored by our sector officers and the rest are being mended,” he said.

The Trinamool Congress said that a party delegation will meet the EC official at 12 pm over EVM malfunctioning in several booths.

In the Kanthi Dakshin seat in Purba Medinipur, voters staged a protest outside a polling booth over the issue.

A contingent of central forces was deployed at the spot to control the situation, the EC official said.

Most of the voters and political party workers were seen without masks amid a resurgent coronavirus. In some booths, the voters were provided masks, while santisers and polythene gloves were made available at most locations.

Candidates of different political parties were seen visiting the booths in a bit to encourage their polling agents and also reach out to voters at the last moment.

“The overall situation has been peaceful so far,” the EC official said.

On Friday night, the officer-in-charge of Patashpur police station, Dipak Chakraborty, and a paramilitary personnel were injured in a bomb attack when they were patrolling the area, an official said.

They are undergoing treatment at the Egra Hospital and their conditions are stated to be stable, he said.

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