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Picture of peace: 2 votes a minute
90% polling over in a booth in four hours

A Bengal police constable sleeps on a bench at a booth in Uttar Bagi Chhit Free Primary School, South 24-Parganas, where 90 per cent of the votes had been cast by 12.30pm.
Picture by Anup Bhattacharya

Bishnupur, May 12: A Bengal police constable sleeping on a bench, poll officials relaxing in their chairs, not a single voter or central forces in sight… that’s a booth set up at Uttar Bagi Chhit Free Primary School in South 24-Parganas, where 90 per cent of the electorate had voted by 12.30pm.

“There are 665 voters here. Over 600 have already voted,” said Sukanta Das, the presiding officer of the booth at the school in Bishnupur.

The picture of peace was evident outside the booth, too.

Boys played cricket under the scorching sun while elders chose to stay indoors at Uttar Bagi village, part of the Diamond Harbour Lok Sabha constituency.

The Opposition, however, gave a different picture.

More than 90 per cent of the villagers had cast their votes in four-and-a-half hours, which meant 133 votes in an hour and more than two votes a minute.

“The voting was almost over by 11am. Such quick voting is nothing but rigging. Our polling agent was driven out of the booth and threatened,” said CPM leader Shamik Lahiri.

According to Lahiri, suspected Trinamul workers had voted on behalf of most of the villagers and had ensured that there were no protests.

Idris Ali Mullick, the CPM’s polling agent in Uttar Bagi, said he was forced out of the booth at 10am.

“Voting started a little after 7.20am. I found they (Trinamul workers) were not allowing our supporters to come inside the booth. One Trinamul worker stood beside the voting machine and instructed voters in the queue all day,” Mullick added.

The CPM’s agent said that when he protested, the presiding officer told the alleged ruling party supporters to leave the booth. “But they were back with a bigger group within minutes.”

The CPM agent alleged that the suspected Trinamul workers threatened him to “keep silent or leave the booth”. “I was afraid as I was alone. I was beaten up once during the panchayat polls by members of the ruling party,” said Mullick.

Sources in the Congress and the BJP echoed Mullick.

When The Telegraph reached the booth at 12.30pm, there were only two polling agents — one from Trinamul and another for an Independent candidate. Two Bengal police constables were in sight, one of them enjoying his siesta on a bench.

“This is Trinamul’s ploy.… They will now say that if an independent candidate’s polling agent was present inside the booth, why didn’t the other parties send their agents?” said a Congress supporter.

Some voters The Telegraph spoke to complained that they were not allowed inside the booth.

When villager Jurmat Sardar reached the primary school around 10am, Trinamul supporters chased him away. “They told me not to go inside as they had already voted on my behalf,” said Sardar.

“How could I argue with them?” he asked.

The ruling party’s might was in full show in the Diamond Harbour constituency, from where Mamata Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee is contesting. Trinamul leaders have admitted in private that they have been instructed to ensure that Abhishek wins by a huge margin.

Calcutta mayor Sovan Chatterjee, also the Trinamul president of South 24-Parganas, had said that he worked between six and eight hours every day to ensure Abhishek won. He had skipped office at the municipal corporation several times.

The CPM has asked for a repoll in 41 booths of Diamond Harbour constituency, most of which are in Bishnupur.

Asked if they saw anything unusual, a polling official in Bishnupur said: “I did not receive any complaint. Everything is peaceful. As this is lunchtime, people are not coming.”

T. Natarajan, the observer for Diamond Harbour seat, refused to speak.