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Heavy voting in Maoist heartland as Bengal polls end

Tuesday May 10, 2011 08:08:40 PM, IANS

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Kolkata: Defying a Maoist boycott and braving the scorching sun, over 83 percent of the 26 lakh-plus electorate voted amid massive security deployment in the sixth and final phase of the West Bengal assembly elections Tuesday. Voting was peaceful.

Voters, many of them tribals living in the jungle areas, lined up in long queues in front of booths from 7 a.m when the polling started and by 3 p.m., the scheduled time for the polls to get over, 83.48 percent of votes were cast, according to officials.

On Tuesday, polling was held in 14 constituencies of three districts - West Midnapore (7), Purulia (4) and Bankura (3) - considered the hotbed of Maoist activities.

Tuesday's polling brought to an end the staggered six-phase election for the 294-member assembly that began April 18 and covered around 70,000 polling booths spread across 19 districts over 88,752 sq km. The total electorate was over 56 million.

Three helicopters provided aerial surveillance and over 100,000 security personnel, comprising central paramilitary troopers, crack units of the state police and commandos were deployed in the region.

"Till 3 p.m., polling percentage was 83.48 percent. Polling in West Midnapore was 85.31 percent, Purulia 76.80 percent and Bankura 84.50 percent," state chief electoral officer Sunil Gupta told media persons.

Polling ended at 3 p.m., two hours earlier than the previous rounds, to enable officials to leave the area before daylight fades.

"The voting was peaceful. A blast was heard near a forest in Gopiballavpur, but it turned out to be part of the training of air force personnel in Kalaikunda air base in the district," said additional chief electoral officer N.K. Sahana.

A total of 13 people were arrested in West Midnapore for creating nuisance in polling booth premises, said Additional Superintendent of Police (headquarters) Sukesh Jain.

In Jhargram, five preventive arrests were made, said Additional Police Superintendent (Operation) Mukesh Kumar.

Polling in the area had posed the biggest challenge for the security forces and the election authorities. Places like Salboni, Jhargram, Nayagram, Binpur, Joypur and Bandwan have witnessed shootings and killings related to rebel violence during the past two years.

Troopers of the Central Reserve Police Force's anti-Maoist wing and Combat Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) had deployed in the jungles armed with modern gadgets, including anti-explosive devices.

High-frequency satellite phones were being used at several polling booths as part of the massive security arrangements.

The area resembled a battlefield with Kalashnikov-wielding security forces positioned in large number of bunkers and on the roofs of polling booths.

Anti-landmine vehicles were also on the roads.

"We had identified 1,049 hamlets as vulnerable to threats of which 470 were in West Midnapore, 563 in Bankura and 16 in Purulia. Both civil officials and security personnel kept a close watch on the residents of these hamlets," said Gupta.

Among the 97 candidates in the fray for the sixth phase were Minister for Western Region Development Sushanta Ghosh (from Garbeta in West Midnapore), Law and Justice Minister Rabilal Moitra (Gopiballavpur, West Midnapore) and Minister of State for Backward Class Welfare Debolina Hembram (Ranibandh, Bankura).

Chhatradhar Mahato, jailed convener of pro-Maoist tribal outfit People's Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA), contested from Jhargram constituency in West Midnapore district as an independent candidate.

The outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) had, however, given a call for vote boycott across the state.

Of the 14 constituencies where polling was held Tuesday, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) contested in 11 while its Left Front allies - the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Forward Bloc contested in one and two constituencies, respectively. The Trinamool Congress contested in nine and its alliance partner, the Congress in four. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had fielded candidates on all the 14 seats.

The counting of votes will take place May 13.






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