Midnapore/Jhargram/Kanthi: Polling began at 7 am on Saturday for the 30 seats in the first phase of the
assembly elections in West Bengal amid tight security, officials said.
Voting also began at 7 am for 47 seats in the first phase of the assembly elections in Assam to decide the fate of Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, and a host of ministers and opposition leaders. Altogether 264 candidates, including 23 women, are in the fray in the first phase, they said.
In Bengal, more than 73 lakh voters are eligible to exercise their franchise to decide the fate of 191 candidates in these seats, most of which are located in the once-Naxal-affected Jungle Mahal region.
The elections are being held following COVID-19 guidelines in all nine seats in Purulia, four in Bankura, four in Jhargram and six in Paschim Medinipur, besides the seven seats in high-stakes Purba Medinipur -- the home turf of BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari.
The elections, which will continue till 6 pm, are being held amid tight security with the Election Commission deploying around 730 companies of central forces, guarding 10,288 polling booths housed in 7,061 premises, officials said.
Each company of the central forces consists of 100 personnel, they said.
Besides, 22,092 state police personnel have also been deployed at strategic locations, they added.
Long queues were seen outside many booths even before polling began 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.
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 were made available at all the locations.
The Trinamool Congress is contesting 29 of the 30 seats, while supporting an Independent in the Joypur assembly segment in Purulia as the nomination of its official candidate Ujjwal Kumar was rejected by the EC due to a discrepancy.
The BJP is also contesting 29 seats and backing ally AJSU Party of Jharkhand in Baghmundi.
The Left-Congress-ISF alliance has put up candidates in all 30 seats, even as there are "friendly fights" in some. Of these 30 seats, 27 were won by the TMC in the 2016 assembly elections, the Congress bagged two and RSP one. However, the equations changed in 2019 with BJP making massive inroads in the tribal-dominated Jungle Mahal region, winning all five Lok Sabha constituencies -- Purulia, Bankura, Jhargram, Medinipur and Bishnupur.
West Bengal has been caught in the throes of violent political clashes between the TMC and BJP supporters which have claimed several lives on both sides over the last few days, prompting the Election Commission to deploy such a massive number of central forces.
Tension was palpable at Tulsidi village in Purulia's Bandwan as an election vehicle was set on fire hours before the polling began. Forces are at present keeping a close vigil in the area, surrounded by forests that were once the hideouts of Maoists, officials said.
Total 73,80,942 voters are eligible to exercise their franchise in the first phase. Of them, 37,52,938 are male and 36,27,949 female, while there are 55 third gender voters.
West Bengal is voting in eight phases for 294 seats. The votes will be counted on May 2.
Tight security in place in Assam
A total of 300 companies of security forces have been deployed in the first phase, in which people are voting at 11,537 polling stations across 12 districts of Upper Assam and the Northern Bank of Brahmaputra. Patrolling has been intensified and strict vigil is being kept in all the vulnerable areas, officials said. Most of these 47 seats are witnessing a triangular contest between the ruling BJP-AGP alliance, the Congress-led opposition grand alliance and the newly-formed Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP). Altogether, 81,09,815 voters are eligible to exercise their franchise in the first phase. Of them, 40,77,210 are male and 40,32,481 female, while 124 are third gender voters, besides nine overseas voters.
Women polling officials are exclusively conducting the exercise in 479 polling stations. The polling would continue till 6 pm. A significant turnout was seen at several booths as the poll began with many choosing to vote early. Special measures were taken for People with Disabilities (PwD), including the provision of wheelchairs at every polling station and e-rickshaws for their commute.
The ruling BJP is contesting 39 seats and its partner AGP 10. The two allies are engaged in "friendly contests" in Lakhimpur and Naharkatiya constituencies. The opposition grand alliance is contesting all the seats, with the Congress putting up candidates in 43, and the AIUDF, CPI(ML-L), RJD and Anchalik Gana Morcha (contesting as Independent) in one each.
The newly-formed AJP is in the fray in 41 seats, while there are 78 Independents, including 19 candidates of the newly-formed Raijor Dal. Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal is trying his luck
from Majuli (ST), Speaker of the outgoing assembly Hitendranath Goswami is fighting the elections from Jorhat. Ministers Ranjit Dutta (Behali), Naba Kumar Doley (Dhakuakha), Jogen Mohan (Mahmora), Terash Gowala (Duliajan) and Sanjoy Kishan (Tinsukia) are all locked in triangular
contests with Congress or its alliance partners, and the AJP.
Titabor, another high-profile seat that was held by former chief minister Tarun Gogoi of the Congress for four successive terms, is witnessing a direct contest between Bhaskar Jyoti Barua of the Congress and former MLA Hemanta Kalita.
Congress Legislature Party leader Debabrata Saikia and state Congress president Ripun Borah are in the fray from Nazira and Gohpur, respectively. Activist and Raijor Dal leader Akhil Gogoi, in jail for his alleged role in the violent anti-CAA protests, is contesting as an Independent from Sivasagar. AJP president Lurinjyoti Gogoi is contesting from Duliajan and Naharkatiya.
Most voters were seen wearing masks amid a resurgent coronavirus, while those arriving without one are being provided at the booths. Assam is voting in three phases for the 126-member assembly. The votes will be counted on May 2. PTI