| Women queue up to vote in Bhedakui, West Midnapore, as a soldier stands guard. Picture by Amit Datta
Calcutta, April 17: An exit poll predicted almost status quo in the 45 seats that went to polls today in Bengal as voting percentages too diverged little from 2001, handing a weapon to the Left Front to rubbish long-voiced allegations of forcibly jacking up the turnout.
The unprecedented security and surveillance mounted by the Election Commission made no difference to the turnout and would have had no impact on the outcome, if the exit poll proves correct.
According to the exit poll, the Left will win 40 of the 45 seats in the districts of West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura, the Trinamul Congress one and the Congress three. In 2001, the Left had 39.
Both Trinamul and the Congress said the exit poll was “motivated” and “absurd”. “We don’t believe in exit polls,” Trinamul MP Mukul Roy said.
Chief electoral officer Debashis Sen said the polls were peaceful, free and fair. “We have received no complaints from anywhere. There was a festive mood among the voters.”
In some booths in the trouble-prone Keshpur seat in West Midnapore, voting stretched beyond the closing time of 5 pm by over four hours. “There was strict scrutiny which is why the polling got delayed. So we allowed them to vote,” said an official.
Padma Dolai of Amrakuchi village in Keshpur was standing in the queue for over two-and-a-half hours since 10.30 am. “I came quite early but the queue is moving very slowly. Whatever it may be, I will cast my vote,” she said.
Trinamul demanded re-election in Keshpur, where a few booths recorded a turnout of 95 per cent, which is not unusual because polling in the past, too, has been as high.
That is the striking feature of the election in the first phase ' things look the same, which is an ominous sign for the Opposition.
Across the three districts, the turnout was 70 per cent compared with 75 per cent in the 2001 elections. But the turnout number is likely to go up because collation was incomplete when the Election Commission gave out the figure. Even district-wise, the turnout differs only marginally.
CPM state secretary Biman Bose was jubilant. “We are happy at the large turnout,” Bose said. “The central forces and the state police have ensured free and fair polls.”
The statement stands in contrast to the bitter battle the CPM has had with the poll panel. Trinamul, which was satisfied with the role of the commission, alleged that the presence of central forces did not prevent its supporters from being intimidated. “Our supporters have been driven out by the CPM,” said Roy.
The Congress, too, alleged intimidation.
Sen said that as announced earlier, polling in booths which had recorded an over 80 per cent turnout would be scrutinised.
Today’s was the toughest phase of the elections for the security forces as a part of the area is under Maoist influence and there was a boycott call that did not have an impact.
Deputy election commissioner Anand Kumar said at the end of the day: “Sab kuchh thik hai (Everything is fine).