Day fine with 70% polling, dusk falls with blood (India)

Kolkata/Jhagram 3 poll staff die as Maoists blow up a government jeep at Jamboni


The first phase of the Lok Sabha polls held in 14 of the West Bengal's 42 seats recorded a turnout of 70 per cent and was largely peaceful barring stray incidents of violence, among them a major one at Jamboni in Jhargram, where Maoists blew up a government jeep late evening, killing three staff on poll duty on the spot.
Of the 14 constituencies that went to polls today, eight are in North Bengal and six in South Bengal.
While Chief Electoral Officer Debasish Sen breathed easy saying the poll was not bloody as feared, both the Opposition and the ruling Left Front were left groping for answers for the low turnout this time around in a state where the May 2004 Lok Sabha polls and the 2006 Assembly polls has seen at least 10 per cent higher turnout.
Briefing reporters, Sen said till 5 pm, the turnout was 64 per cent on an average amid the looming Maoist threat in the western region. "1,000 booths, identified as most sensitive in the area, saw around 30 per cent turnout. In 49 booths of Lalgarh alone, 13 per cent polling took place. In a total of 93 booths in Purulia, South Dinajpur and Jalpaiguri, no one turned out to vote. But in 21,811 booths, people took part well in the voting process."
On booths where not a single voter turned up, Sen said there is little the Election Commission could do in the absence of a complaint. "If some one does not want to vote, the EC cannot do anything. But if voters are stopped forcibly, we can take action."
But just as Sen finished his media briefing, Maoists triggered a mine blast that blew up a vehicle carrying district administration staff near Jamboni under Jhargram Lok Sabha constituency. The blast killed at least three government staff returning to their respective headquarters.
The paramilitary forces, deployed in the region in heavy numbers, immediately cordoned off the area but stopped short from the blast site fearing more mines. The district magistrate and the returning officer for Jhargram, N S Nigam, confirmed three casualties but their identities could not be established immediately.
The day, however, begun well and passed off largely peacefully. There was a vote boycott call given by the Maoists and in response, several pockets in the region heeded the call despite heavy deployment of security forces and helicopters hovering overhead through the day.
In the morning, there was a minor mine blast in Biramdih under Purulia constituency in which Maoists' hand was suspected. A poll boycott poster was located near a polling booth and as a BSF jawan approached to remove it, a blast injured him. It was of low intensity, police sources said.
10 per cent low turnout than 2004
OF THE 14 constituencies that went to polls today, eight are in North Bengal and six in South Bengal.
CHIEF ELECTORAL Officer Debasish Sen said the poll was not bloody as feared.
BUT OPPOSITION and the ruling Left Front were left groping for answers for the low turnout this time around.
MAY 2004 Lok Sabha polls and the 2006 Assembly polls had seen at least 10 per cent higher turnout.
THERE WAS was a vote boycott call given by the Maoists and in response, several pockets in the region heeded the call despite heavy deployment of security forces and helicopters hovering overhead through the day.
As the day progressed people came out in large numbers to vote. Even a patient carrying an oxygen mask came out from Darjeeling district hospital to vote. Since BJP's candidate Jaswant Singh is not enrolled as voter from here, he preferred to relax in a hotel. Jibesh Sarkar, the CPM candidate said the enthusiasm in Siliguri was a reflection of the voters' opposition to the creation of a separate state of Gorkhaland.
At some booths, the buttons and the related candidates in the EVMs were not synchronised leading to delay in polling. Voting picked in afternoon. "Voting was peaceful. There is no doubt about my victory. I will have a comfortable margin," said Forward Bloc's Nripen Roy
With the voters of Kurmanpur, Bejpukur and Saiyadpur boycotting the polls, not a single vote was cast at the three booths. While voters of Kurmanpur and Bejpukur have been boycotting the polls ever since they were included in Dakshin Dinajpur district in 1992, voters of Saiyadpur boycotted citing "neglect of the area by the administration." Meanwhile, Prasanta Majumdar had to face the flak from the polling officer when he accompanied his mother to the booth and told her where to vote.
Polling was marked by sporadic glitches in the EVMs. In Radhikapur booth number 34/51 the presiding officer was found casting votes on behalf of others. The DM suspended him and a new officer took charge. "I am winning this election unless the Opposition works against me," said Abul Karim Choudhury, an Independent candidate.
In Bankura town, turnout was high. CPM's Basudeb Acharya said: "Polling was peaceful and we expect the final turnout would be nearly 80 per cent, despite the scorching heat."
Long queues were seen outside polling booths from around 6 am. Voting was more or less peaceful. At 96 and 96A booths in Malatipur under Chanchol block, district administration and political leaders had to convince people to vote since they had tried to boycott polls. At Hardamnagar in Harishchandrapur, the EVM machine did not work for nearly two hours. "Congress had rigged booths and threatened people. Booths were openly rigged in certain places in Harishchandrapur," alleged CPM's Sailen Sarkar.
There were reports of EVM malfunction. At Kotwali booth number 40, where Congress candidates Abu Hashem Khan Choudhury and Mausam Noor came to vote, voting was delayed by 45 minutes as the EVM machine was not working. Similarly in Balurchar under Englishbazar, the EVM did not work for 90 minutes in the morning. At Saidapur booth 70, Congress and CPM supporters clashed and three people were injured. "We had asked for central forces. But polls were conducted with local police and constables. CPM had rigged polls in many booths but less than we had expected," said Choudhury.
A low-intensity landmine blast in the morning injured one paramilitary personnel. The Adivasi Mulbasi Committee, a tribal outfit, had asked people to boycott elections. Because of the Maoist intimidation few votes were polled in the three Assembly segments of Balrampur, Joypur and Baghmundi. "Despite a few stray incidents the polling has been largely peaceful," said Narhari Mahato, Forward Bloc candidate.
Around 30,000 voters in villages under Lalgarh block did not cast votes despite several measures taken by the Election Commission. Chhatradhar Mahato of the People's Committee against Police's Atrocity, however, cast his vote in Saradamani Vidyapith in Lalgarh.
Adivasi Vikas Parishad organised silent picketing at several places and a large number of voters, particularly in the tribal belt, boycotted polling. The parishad was spearheading a movement for lack of development for tribal communities in the tea garden belts and non-inclusion of Dooars within the proposed Gorkhaland state.
Congress candidate Sukhabilas Barma said, "It seemed quite good. Booths were my supporters are in large numbers witnessed huge turnout but those of the opponent were empty. But the final results will tell all."
Poll boycott by Adivasi Vikas Parishad crippled voting. RSP candidate Monohar Tirkey's own Assembly segment, Kalchini, was one of the worst affected by the boycott call. The tribal communities in these belts had traditionally been in the Left fold. The other affected area was Kumargram.
Voter turnout stood at 70 percent with Trinamool Congress alleging CPM of rigging in Keshpur. "There was a pandemonium at booths in Keshpur with CPM men roaming around. Our polling agents were not allowed to enter booths. None of the officials took notice of what was going around," said Nure Alam Chowdhury, Trinamool candidate. The Left Front denied the allegations.
More or less voting was peaceful. Trinamool candidate Seuli Saha alleged CPM of terrorising voters in some pockets.
"At places like Jaipur, Moinpur, Bhora and Jaganathpur CPM cadres terrorised voters. The numbers of central forces deployed were less than what we wanted and this let the
CPM do whatever they want. We are still hopeful that the results will be in our favour," said Saha. CPM candidate Susmita Bauri refuted the allegations and said voting was peaceful.
At some places, there were complaints of EVM malfunctioning. CPM candidate alleged that the presiding officer at booth number 32 was suggesting voters to vote for Trinamool. However, Trinamool candidate Dipak Ghosh said that there was not enough police force. "81 companies were employed in the whole district of which 71 were posted in Lalgarh where voters were less. We had asked for police in sensitive booths but noone was deployed," Ghosh said.
Voting turnout was around 63 per cent. There was also panic surrounding a tiffin box near one of the booths.

Von:, 01.05.2009

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