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Around 80% voting in Bengal by-polls

Kolkata: More than 80 per cent of the voters exercised their franchise till evening in by-polls for two Lok Sabha constituencies and one assembly seat in West Bengal on Saturday.

“The polling percentage till the polling hours ended at 5 p.m. in the Lok Sabha constituencies of Cooch Behar and Tamluk was 77 per cent and 81 per cent respectively. The figure for Monteshwar assembly seat was 86 per cent,” said an Election Commission official.

But with people still standing in the queue, the polling percentage may go up.

Barring sporadic incidents of violence and allegations of booth capturing, polling in the three constituencies was mostly peaceful.

Altogether, 39 companies of CRPF personnel have been deployed along with large number of state police to ensure fool proof security.

However, longer queues could be seen in front of ATM kiosks than at polling stations in all three constituencies in the morning hours.

“I have the ATM card in one pocket and the voter card in the other, but I feel withdrawing money is more important now than casting my vote,” said a man standing in an ATM queue at Cooch Behar.

The elections are being held under the shadow of the Central government`s demonetisation of 500 and 1,000 rupee notes to unearth black money and counterfeit coins, that has caused turmoil across the nation.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) demanded repolling in Cooch Behar constituency over alleged violence and vote loot by the ruling Trinamool Congress party. They also complained their polling agents were beaten up and stopped from entering the stations by Trinamool-backed miscreants at several places in Tamluk constituency including Haldia, Chaitanyapur and Nandigram.

The Trinamool has denied the accusations.

“All are voting for Trinamool this time around. Who would water a dead tree like CPI-M,” said state Transport Minister Subhendu Adhikari, whose brother Dibyendu Adhikari is the candidate in Tamluk constituency.

In Manteshwar constituency, Congress candidate Bulbul Ahamed Sekh withdrew his candidature on the polling day protesting against alleged booth capture and voter intimidation by cadres of the ruling party.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders alleged the Trinamool was intimidating their supporters to keep them away from the polling booths. BJP candidate of Monteshwar Biswajit Poddar also accused Trinamool party workers of kidnapping a BJP polling agent on his way to the booth.

“The elections were free and fair. There was not a single untoward incident. The electronic media people were moving around all the constituencies. Could they show one incident of irregularity or violence?” said Trinamool all-India vice president Mukul Roy.

Roy also ridiculed Sekh`s announcement of withdrawing from the fray. “He took the decision only around 5 p.m. when polling was almost over.”

An electorate of 3,524,977, including 1,689,735 women and 38 from the third gender, were eligible to choose their representatives from among 23 candidates vying in Cooch Behar (Reserved-Scheduled Caste) and Tamluk parliamentary constituencies and Monteshwar assembly seat.

Cooch Behar has the maximum number of contestants (10), followed by Tamluk (seven) and Monteshwar (six).

The state`s principal political parties — the ruling Trinamool, Congress, Left Front and BJP — are in fray for all three seats.

The Cooch Behar seat fell vacant after the death of Trinamool`s Renuka Sinha, while Tamluk has gone to the hustings as the incumbent MP Suvendu Adhikari became a minister in Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee`s Cabinet.

Trinamool lawmaker Sajal Panja`s death caused the Monteshwar assembly by-poll.

The vote count is on Tuesday.