Heavy turnout of voters in Bengal's Maoist heartland

Heavy turnout of voters in Bengal's Maoist heartland

Polling by and large peaceful across all 14 constituencies

Heavy turnout of voters in Bengal's Maoist heartland

Voters, many of them tribals living in jungle areas, lined up in front of booths from 7 am when the polling started and by 3 pm, the scheduled time for the polls to get over, 83.48 per cent 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 on April 18 and covered around 70,000 polling booths spread across 19 districts over 88,752 sq km. The total electorate was over 5.6 crore voters.

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

“Till 3 pm, polling percentage was 83.48 per cent. Polling in West Midnapore was 85.31 per cent, Purulia 76.8 per cent and Bankura 84.5 per cent,” state chief electoral officer Sunil Gupta said.

Polling ended at 3 pm, 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 the training of air force personnel in Kalaikunda air base in the district,” said additional chief electoral officer N K Sahana.

Thirteen people were arrested in West Midnapore for creating nuisance on 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.

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.