Amid violence, over 76% turnout in Bengal till 5 pm

Kolkata: Amid widespread violence, including the attack on a Union Minister, clashes outside polling booths, hurling of bombs and EVM snags, over 76 per cent of the electorate voted till 5 p.m. in the fourth phase of Lok Sabha elections in West Bengal on Monday.

Long queues of men and women were seen outside the polling stations in Baharampur, Krishnanagar, Ranaghat, Burdwan East, Burdwan-Durgapur, Asansol, Birbhum and Bolpur Lok Sabha constituencies which went to the polls on Monday.

Of the overall polling percentage of 76.44 till 5 p.m., Baharampur recorded 76.16 per cent voting, Krishnanagar 76.55 per cent, Ranaghat 78.33 per cent, Burdwan East 76.92 per cent, Burdwan-Durgapur 75.31 per cent, Asansol 73.64 per cent, Bolpur 77.95 per cent and Birbhum 76.69 per cent, an Election Commission official said.

The voting started at 7 a.m. and was scheduled to continue till 6 p.m. A total of 1,34,56,491 voters spread across 15,277 polling stations were eligible to decide the fate of 68 candidates.

Union Minister and BJP candidate from Asansol Babul Supriyo’s car was vandalised, allegedly by Trinamool Congress workers, outside a polling station in Barabani. The leader was unharmed in the incident.

“Our polling agent was not allowed to sit in a booth in Barabani by the Trinamool supporters. Babul Supriyo took the agent with him inside the booth and asked the presiding officer to make arrangements so that he could sit there. While returning, Trinamool activists surrounded his vehicle and some pelted stones, breaking the rear glass,” a BJP leader told IANS.

Supriyo also alleged that a BJP agent at a booth in Jamuria was not allowed to take his place in the polling station.

Later in the day, Supriyo was heckled by agitators backed by the ruling Trinamool Congress at Raniganj. “I am disappointed with the role of the central forces. It is sad that the central forces did not work properly,” Supriyo said.

In Baharampur, sitting MP and senior Congress leader Adhir Chowdhury accused Trinamool workers of capturing booths and stopping voters from coming to the polling stations in certain areas.

Several people, including a woman, were injured after bombs were hurled by some unidentified miscreants at Hanskhali in Ranaghat constituency.

Reports of booth capturing and intimidating voters surfaced from at least three booths in Birbhum district’s Rampurhat and at Ketugram in East Burdwan.

Meanwhile, the police resorted to lathi charge to disperse the crowd after villagers and voters demanded deployment of central forces in Jemua in the Burdwan-Durgapur constituency.

A political clash ensued after miscreants, allegedly backed by Trinamool, vandalised houses of villagers and BJP supporters in Birbhum’s Nalhai and Nanur, areas infamous for political violence. Some Trinamool supporters also accused BJP activists of vandalising their houses in the afternoon to take revenge.

Villagers at Law Bagan in Birbhum’s Suri were allegedly offered tea and puffed rice by Trinamool activists and locked up in a house and told not to vote, local people said, adding that their voter identity cards were also snatched away. Later, security personnel took the voters to the polling stations.

Voting was stalled at Poduma under the the Dubrajpur Assembly segment after villagers vandalised a polling booth in the Birbhum constituency. The villagers clashed with the security forces following a dispute over depositing mobile phones, officials said.

To bring the situation under control, the security personnel fired in the air. However, Trinamool’s Birbhum candidate Satabdi Roy said that two people were injured in the firing.

“Polling was stalled for some time at a booth in Dubrajpur before resuming later,” an official of the commission said.

In Burdwan East’s Purbasthali, some Trinamool supporters accused BJP workers of attacking them while they were returning from the booth after exercising their franchise.

Meanwhile, Trinamool’s Birbhum district President Anubrata Mondal was put “under strict surveillance” following allegations that he was threatening polling officials.

The BJP demanded repoll in the entire Birbhum Lok Sabha constituency and in a number of polling stations in Asansol, Krishnanagar and Ranaghat seats.

“We have sought repoll in the entire Birbhum constituency and also in the polling stations of Baraboni, Pandaveswar (both part of Asansol parliamentary constituency), Chakdah (part of Ranaghat) and Chapra (part of Krishnanagar),” said state BJP Vice President Jay Prakash Majumdar.

Leading the pack of star constituencies is Asansol, where Supriyo, a singer-turned-politician, is facing challenge from Trinamool’s Moon Moon Sen, yesteryear actress and the daughter of Bengali screen legend Suchitra Sen. The CPI-M, which has pockets of support in the constituency, is also in fray.

In neighbouring Burdwan-Durgapur, BJP leader and Union Minister S.S. Ahluwalia is pitted against Trinamool contestant and incumbent MP Mumtaz Sanghamitra.

In Baharampur, Chowdhury is bidding for his fifth straight win, while Krishnanagar is set for an absorbing tussle between erstwhile investment banker Mahua Moitra of the Trinamool and BJP’s Kalyan Chaubey, former goalkeeper of the Indian football team.

West Bengal will vote in all the seven legs of the staggered Lok Sabha elections. The votes will be counted on May 23.