Cooch Behar/Alipurduar (West Bengal): The endangered Toto tribals, tea garden workers and erstwhile enclave dwellers turned up in large numbers to take part in the world's biggest festival of democracy, as voting continued beyond the 6 p.m. deadline in two northern West Bengal Lok Sabha constituencies on Thursday amid reports of sporadic violence, EVM glitches and allegations of electoral malpractices.
As per the latest figures given by the Election Commission, of the over 34 lakh voters in Cooch Behar and Alipurduar constituencies, an average of 80.85 per cent cast their vote till 5 p.m.
While the polling percentage for Alipurduar was 81.58 per cent, Cooch Behar recorded a turnout of 80.11 per cent, an Election Commission official told IANS.
Even as BJP's Cooch Behar candidate Nisith Pramanik sat on a dharna (sit-in) demanding repoll in all the booths not manned by the central forces, lots of people were still waiting patiently outside the polling stations at 8 p.m., two hours after the scheduled close.
Members of the Toto tribe, which live in isolation in the small enclave of Totopara in Madarihat of Alipurduar district, came out in large numbers to exercise their rights. Around 1,600 Totos are registered as voters.
Enthusiasm also brimmed over in the 51 erstwhile Bangladeshi enclaves in Cooch Behar, which saw a large turnout at the polling booths. The dwellers were voting for the first time to elect the government at the centre.
With organised tea garden workers and their dependents forming a sizeable chunk of the voters in Cooch Behar and about 50 per cent of the electorate in Alipurduar, there were scenes of celebration in the gardens, as the pluckers of the two leaves and a bud spontaneously took part in the democratic process since early morning.
In Kolkata, state Chief Electoral Officer Aariz Arif said that polling was "peaceful" save a "few skirmishes".
Meanwhile, a police case has been initiated against five accused persons after a complaint of car vandalism in a polling station in Cooch Behar's Mathabhanga was registered. An incident of EVM and VVPAT damage was also reported at a polling station in Dinhata.
The voting process in a number of polling stations in Cooch Behar was temporarily disrupted after EVMs stopped functioning. Trinamool Congress district chief and North Bengal Affairs Minister Rabindranath Ghosh alleged a conspiracy.
Bulk of the allegations and incidents of violence were reported from Cooch Behar, particularly under the Dinhata Assembly segment.
Trinamool and BJP workers clashed at Dinhata's Rosmonda Primary School booth, following allegations that the Trinamool workers were beating up and driving away the voters.
In Mathabahnaga, alleged Trinamool-backed miscreants heckled Forward Bloc candidate Gobinda Roy and smashed the windshield of his vehicle after he arrived at the booth following allegations of false voting.
Ghosh also accused the central forces of interfering in the voting process by entering the polling premises even though they were not authorised.
On the other hand, the BJP's Pramanik demanded a repoll in all the booths which were not manned by the central forces and accused the Trinamool of "rigging" 350 polling stations.
While Cooch Behar is a Scheduled Caste reserved seat, Alipurduar is a Scheduled Tribe reserved constituency. Both seats were won by the Trinamool in 2014.