The first phase of Assembly elections in West Bengal was marred by sporadic incidents of violence, complaints against Central forces of influencing voters and EVM malfunctioning even though polling was overall peaceful with a turnout of 79.79 per cent till 5 p.m.
Elections were held amidst tight security by following Covid-19 protocols in 30 constituencies of five Junglemahal districts including nine seats in Purulia, four in Bankura, four in Jhargram, six in West Midnapore and seven in East Midnapore.
The highest turnout of 82.51 per cent was recorded in East Midnapore followed by 80.12 per cent in West Midnapore, 80.55 per cent in Jhargram and 77.07 per cent in Purulia, said an EC official.
Compared to the first two hours in the morning, the number of voters increased manifold in the afternoon in polling booths. “Barring a few stray incidents polling was by and large peaceful. Ten people have been arrested so far,” said CEO Ariz Aftab at a press conference today.
In the Contai South seat in East Midnapore, voters staged a protest outside a polling booth over EVM malfunctioning. They blocked a road outside the polling station at Majna, claiming that even if they voted for one party, the VVPAT slip showed another party. A contingent of Central forces was deployed to control the situation and polling had to be kept on hold for some time. Mr Aftab said that a technical snag had developed in the VVPAT but polling continued after replacing it.
BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari’s younger brother Soumendu was attacked in Contai allegedly by Trinamul supporters, alleged party workers. His car was vandalised and his driver injured in the attack.
At 8.30 a.m. in Garbeta III block of West Midnapore, CPI-M’s candidate of Salboni seat Sushanta Ghosh was allegedly attacked by Trinamul supporters who vandalised his car. He was rescued by two policemen while media persons were also attacked later on. Party workers complained that though CAPF personnel were inside the booth, there was no apparent security outside the booth.
An EC official said seven persons were arrested in connection with the incident and a report has been sought from the district administration. The Trinamul, however, denied any involvement. Later, a CPI-M delegation led by Rabin Deb met the CEO and demanded re-polling in 21 booths in Salboni.
In Bankura, allegations were levelled against Central forces for influencing voters in eight places and there was a poll boycott in three areas namely Jamthola and Kendua in Chatna and Ranibandh in Hirbandh over demands of road and bridge construction. In Purulia, where polling was almost peaceful, complaints of EVM malfunctioning leading to protests by voters were registered in some areas including Munsifdanga, Para and Manbazar.
Voters in several areas, including Khejuri, Pataspur, Bhagabanpur in East Midnapore and Salboni, Garbeta in West Midnapore complained of intimidation.
A few stray incidents of violence were registered in Bhagwanpur, Bhupatinagar and Jhargram while complaints of bombing and booth jamming were lodged at some areas in Khejuri.
A few hours after the polling process started Trinamul Congress raised concerns over the fluctuating turnout figures on the EC’s mobile app and malfunctioning of EVMs at several booths.
Flagging ‘discrepancy’ in voter turnout data, All India Trinamul Congress’ parliamentary party complained to the CEO in this regard. MP Sudip Bandopadhyay further said that the polling process is conducted smoothly if polling agents are from the same locality but BJP requested EC to send any person that the party decides. “We have requested EC to change it from the second phase onwards,” said Mr Banerjee after meeting the CEO.
A BJP delegation led by senior leader Kailash Vijayvargiya, who met the CEO lauded the EC’s role claiming that the polling was 90 per cent peaceful.
“The process can be made cent per cent peaceful if all persons having criminal records are rounded up,” said Mr Sisir Bajoria, BJP leader. He further flaunted an audio clip of a conversation between chief minister Mamata Banerjee and BJP’s East Midnapore district vice-president Pralay Pal accusing the former of influencing voters and begging votes. Long queues were seen outside most booths in the morning 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.
Many voters and political party workers were found without masks amidst the recent surge in coronavirus. In some booths, voters were provided masks, while sanitisers and polythene gloves were made available at many locations.