Women standing in queue to cast their votes take cover under umbrellas during the rain at Nagrakata in Jalpaiguri on Monday. Picture by Biplab Basak
April 18: The rain came, and sent voters scurrying for cover, even keeping away a few from the booths for some time but not enough to dampen spirits in a region where reports of 85 per cent polling made both Mamata Banerjee and Biman Bose happy, a rare occurrence in the history of Bengal politics.
The Trinamul chief said at a meeting in Birbhum that she was happy with the polling though she said she wanted 100 per cent turnout in the next five rounds.
The Assembly elections to the six north Bengal districts in the first phase ended more or less peacefully, a fact that has been acknowledged by almost all political parties, which, along with the common people, have heaped praises on the Election Commission.
“Over 70 per cent voting has taken place, and we have gone ahead in one direction. Now we want 100 per cent voting in the rest of the regions. Each vote will count,” Mamata told the rally at Bolpur, where about 20,000 people had assembled on the Dak Bungalow grounds.
“People came out to vote fearlessly,” said leader of the Opposition Partha Chatterjee of the Trinamul Congress. “The turnout was very good. As for the rains, they are a good omen for Trinamul.”
The heat and sun was almost unbearable like any other April day till the afternoon when suddenly it started raining in North Dinajpur and Cooch Behar and parts of Jalpaiguri and South Dinajpur districts.
Thundershower accompanied by squall and a wind speed of 50-60kmph hit the districts around 4.30pm. Polling was stopped for sometime in Raiganj (North Dinajpur) and Cooch Behar, when voters broke the queues and took shelter on the verandah. The voting resumed after 30 minutes.
CPM state secretary Biman Bose praised the Election Commission for the “free, fair and peaceful” polls today in the six districts — Malda, North Dinajpur, South Dinajpur, Jalpaiguri, Cooch Behar and Darjeeling.
“There were lots of provocation from the Opposition. But polling was free and fair...peaceful...wonderful. I congratulate the people for that. Generally, it was a good election,” Bose said at the party headquarters in Calcutta.
“I am happy with the poll turnout...it will be around 80 per cent. Owing to rain in the afternoon, some voters had stayed away but later joined the queues. The Election Commission has done its job well. I find the Election Commission’s role proper,” he added.
No one knows for sure who will benefit from this large turnout but both the Left and the right confidently stated that it would go in their favour.
While Trinamul’s Darjeeling district chief Gautam Deb said people had turned up in large numbers to cast their votes for his party, CPM’s Asok Bhattacharya said the region had traditionally seen large turnouts which had always helped the Left.
It is not that this region had seen widespread violence on polling day in the past. But this time, even allegations of partisanship on the part of the polling personnel or charges of party cadres bullying voters were missing.
Partha Chatterjee’s only grouse was that 83 electronic voting machines malfunctioned during the day.
“The state government was responsible for the maintenance of these machines,” Chatterjee said. “Biman Bose can answer how well these machines were maintained.”
Bose, however, dismissed the malfunctioning as “small and stray incidents”.
“These are stray and small incidents,” Bose said.
“There have been arguments between ruling and Opposition parties. In Moynaguri, an Opposition leader had arranged for drinks and food for some voters in a bid to influence the latter. But that was stopped by the Election Commission. But no major incident happened.”
Asked how many seats the Front was expecting in north Bengal given that he was happy with the turnout, Bose said: “Ask them (the Opposition). They had said we will get golla (zero) after roaming around in helicopters. But Front will get majority of the seats in north Bengal.”
A senior resident of Panchanandapur, Santi Mondal, who was a voter for Malda’s Mothabari constituency, said: “Given the situation in the state, where political fortunes appear to have reversed, we had been expecting that some trouble would break out. However, things were exceptionally normal today, even compared to previous polls. We feel the entire credit goes to the Election Commission and the security personnel who manned the booths and kept vigil in all areas.”
Aparna Mukherjee, a young woman who voted in Cooch Behar constituency, said she not only felt secure but was touched by the courtesy displayed by the security men.
“While standing in the queue I found an old and frail lady, somehow reach the booth. She was panting and immediately the paramilitary officials offered her a chair and gave her some water,” she said. “After she got back her breath they requested us to allow her to jump the queue so that she could quickly cast her vote.”
As the curtain came down on the polling today, Khokan Das of Jalpaiguri, a Trinamul supporter, hoped that the “transition” of power at Writers’ Buildings from the Left to the Trinamul would be just as peaceful. “Change is coming, that’s for sure,” Das said. “Let us hope it is peaceful as well.”