Polling ends in West Bengal Tuesday as Maoist heartland votes

Over 100,000 security forces, comprising central paramilitary troopers, crack units of the state police and commandos have been deployed in the 14 constituencies spread over parts of three western districts - West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia - where polling will be held.

Voting has already been conducted in the other 280 seats of the 294-member assembly. The polls are being generally regarded as the stiffest challenge for the Left Front that has been ruling for 34 years - the world's longest-serving communist-led government in a multi-party democratic system - against a determined charge of the opposition Trinamool Congress-Congress combine.

Three helicopters have started aerial surveillance since Monday morning, with the authorities claiming to have chalked out a "foolproof" security plan on the basis of intelligence inputs and reports from security forces working on the ground.

The previous five phases of polling in the politically volatile state, which had witnessed large-scale inter-party violence even three months back, have passed off peacefully, belying fears that the elections could see much blood-letting. Over 80 percent of the electorate has participated in the democratic exercise, with not a single
death in clashes or security forces' action.

However, the litmus test of the security apparatus comes Tuesday, when over 26 lakh electorate are eligible to choose their representatives from among 97 contestants at 3,534 polling stations that are located in places like Salboni, Jhargram, Nayagram, Binpur, Joypur and Bandwan, which have been the scene for shootings and carnage related to left wing violence in the past couple of years.

Troopers of the Central Reserve Police Force's anti-Maoist wing, Combat Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA), are scurrying the jungles, modern gadgets like anti-explosive devices have been brought in, and high-frequency satellite phones would be used at several polling booths as part of the massive security exercise.

As a precautionary measure, polling would end at 3 p.m., two hours earlier than the earlier rounds, to enable polling personnel exit the zone before daylight fades.

Leading political personalities like Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram, West Bengal Chief Minister and Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Left Front chairman and CPI-M state secretary Biman Bose and Railway Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee have spearheaded the campaign for their party candidates.

Among the star candidates in the fray are Minister for Western Region Development Sushanta Ghosh (Garbeta in West Midnapore) and Minister of State for Backward Class Welfare Debolina Hembram (Ranibandh in Bankura).

Chhatradhar Mahato, convenor of the People's Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA), a pro-Maoist tribal outfit, is contesting from Jhargram constituency in West Midnapore district as an Independent candidate.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) is in the fray in 11 constituencies, Communist Party of India (CPI) inone, the Forward Bloc in two, the Trinamool Congress in nine, the Congress in four and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in all 14 constituencies.
The total number of eligible voters for the sixth phase of elections is 2,655,229.
The counting of votes will take place May 13.

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