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High turnout in Bengal; Singur, Nandigram vote

Tuesday May 03, 2011 09:46:43 PM, IANS

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Kolkata: One-time political flashpoints Singur and Nandigram voted Tuesday as millions exercised their franchise in 63 constituencies of four districts in the fourth phase of West Bengal assembly elections that saw an 85 percent turnout.

Around 85 percent of 1.26 crore electorate voted during the day to choose their representatives from among 366 candidates in areas covering the entire Howrah, Hooghly and East Midnapore districts and parts of Burdwan, state Chief Electoral Officer Sunil Kumar Gupta said. But the poll percentage would go up as people had queued up outside a few booths when voting officially ended at 5 p.m.

In a battle that many feel threatens the three-decades-old Left Front government, people from all strata of life came out to vote in the cities, small towns and villages.

Hooghly has 18 seats, and Howrah and East Midnapore 16 each. Voting was held in 13 of the 25 seats in Burdwan.

Barring some stray incidents, polling was largely peaceful. However, the ruling Left Front complained of intimidation and terrorisation of party agents and voters by the Trinamool Congress at Nandigram of East Midnapore district, said Gupta.

The CEO of Bihar Sudhir Kumar Rakesh and his Orissa counterpart S Srinivasan, appointed as special observers, went round many of the booths.

Crucial rural belts like Singur in Hooghly district and Nandigram - both of which saw violent protests against land takeover for industry - saw high polling.

A total of seven presiding officers and four polling were replaced for reasons ranging from ill health to complaints of influencing voters, said Gupta.

A Trinamool Congress polling agent was arrested when he reached a voting centre in Nandigram as he had a non-bailable warrant against him. Altogether 67 persons were arrested across the district as a preventive measure, said the CEO.

In Hooghly's Jangipara, two CPI-M supporters were arrested for campaigning in the area with false electronic voting machine (EVM), said police.

The CPI-M, which heads the Left Front, alleged that its candidate from Ketugram in Burdwan was attacked by Trinamool supporters. Three of the attackers were arrested, Police Superintendent Humayun Kabir said.

"The polling percentage was 80 in Howrah, 82 in Hooghly, 89 in East Midnpaore and 88 in Burdwan," a source said.

There was a vote boycott in four booths - three in Amta of Howrah district and another in Katwa of Burdwan - over local issues.

At least 133 electronic voting machines were replaced after they developed mechanical snags.

Left Front chairman Biman Bose claimed that the "incidents" have raised a question mark over the security arrangements made by the EC. Moreover, the LF polling agents were not allowed to sit in many booths.

But Trinamool state president Subrata Bakshi said: "Overall we are satisfied with the polls, though the CPI-M tried to play mischief in some areas."

Of the 15,711 polling booths, about 5,000 were declared "super sensitive"-an official euphemism to mean they are prone to violence.

The star candidates Tuesday include Industries Minister Nirupam Sen, Agriculture Minister Naren Dey, Higher Education Minister Sudarshan Roy Chowdhury, Information and Culture Minister Soumendranath Bera and Fire and Emergency Services Minister Pratim Chatterjee.

The CPI-M is contesting from 46 constituencies, the Communist Party of India (CPI) six, Trinamool Congress 59, Congress four, Forward Bloc seven, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) 63.

In the first three phases, polling was conducted in 12 districts covering 179 of the state's 294 assembly seats.

The six-phased polls started April 18 and will end May 10. Thirty eight constituencies will go to the hustings May 7 and 14 May 10. The votes will be counted May 13.





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