Kolkata, April 17 :
Nearly a quarter of the electorate cast their vote on Thursday in the first two hours of balloting in the first phase of Lok Sabha election in West Bengal’s four constituencies.
Long queues of voters were seen in the four constituencies – Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar and Coochbehar – since polling began at 7 a.m., kick-starting the staggered five-phase balloting in the state, an official said.
“The average percentage is around 21 to 22 in the four seats” till 9 a.m., assistant chief electoral officer Amitjyoti Bhattacharya told IANS.
Around 120 companies of central paramilitary forces have been deployed in the three districts – Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar – which have gone to the hustings.
The opposition parties have already filed several complaints against the ruling Trinamool Congress alleging their agents were beaten up or not allowed to sit in polling booths in Alipurduar and Cooceh Behar constituencies. The Trinamool has denied the allegations.
A total of 6,033,310 voters, including 2,909,975 women, are eligible to exercise their franchise to make their choice from among 47 candidates.
A few Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) malfunctioned in Alipurduar parliamentary constituency in state’s Jalpaiguri district.
“The faulty units will be replaced at the earliest,” said Binay Sikdar, additional district magistrate, Jalpaiguri.
As many as 9,292 EVMs have been put into service in the first phase in which the Trinamool, Left Front, Congress and the BJP, as also the Bahujan Samaj Party are contesting all the seats.
Darjeeling – for long a political flashpoint over the issue of a separate Gorkhaland state – is witness to a bitter fight between the Trinamool and the BJP, the latter again enjoying the endorsement of the prominent hill-based party Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.
The main battle is between BJP’s S.S. Ahluwalia and football icon Bhaichung Bhutia of the Trinamool Congress, with the communist Party of India-Marxist nominating Saman Pathak, and the Congress naming Sujoy Ghatak.
But political watchers are keeping a close watch on Darjeeling where the contest is beign labelled as a proxy war between West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjeee and GJM chief Bimal Gurung.
The Election Commission has made arrangements for webcasting and videography of important booths in all the three districts.
West Bengal has 42 Lok Sabha constituencies.
The next four phases of polling will be held April 24 (six constituencies), April 30 (nine seats), May 7 (six seats) and May 12 (17 constituencies).