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West Bengal elections 2021: Polling peaceful in early hours

PTI Midnapore/Kolkata/Kanthi | Updated on March 27, 2021

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 Assembly election in Purulia district. Photo: Reuters

14.28 per cent turnout till 9 am

Sporadic incidents of violence were reported from some areas that are voting in the first phase of the assembly elections in West Bengal on Saturday, even as the overall poll situation was peaceful with 14.28 per cent turnout recorded till 9 am, officials said.

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, they said.

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.

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

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 per cent voter turnout was recorded, the EC official said.

The State’s 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.

More than 73 lakh voters are eligible to exercise their franchise to decide the fate of 191 candidates in these 30 seats.

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, officials said.

Published on March 27, 2021

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