The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Twin roads to 81%

April 18: Call it voting with a vengeance or fearless voting, West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura have sprung a surprise by notching up 81 per cent polling.

Election officials, who revised yesterday’s poll-end figure of 70 per cent to 81 per cent today after collecting all numbers, claimed credit for the high turnout.

They said the turnout was six per cent higher than in 2001 because of the “free and fair manner” in which the polls were conducted and the fact that the “fear and intimidation factors” were missing.

Chief electoral officer Debashis Sen said: “The Election Commission has been successful in inspiring the voters in rural Bengal to cast their votes without fear.”

Possibly true. But possibly not the entire truth. CPM leaders in the three districts accepted the commission’s claim, but added that the turnout also showed the party’s success in mobilising supporters.

“Our strategy was very different this time, given all the stringent norms set by the commission,” said Amiya Patra, district secretary of the CPM’s Bankura unit.

“We concentrated on going from door to door and motivating people to come out of their homes and vote.”

Patra said this worked, proving that the Opposition’s allegation that a high turnout meant rigging by the CPM was “a pack of lies”.

“There were no complaints of malpractice, but the turnout was still very high. That was important for us.”

If this trend holds for the rest of the state, the CPM could use it to bust a few myths.

One is that it employs muscle power to winch up the turnout. If it goes on to win the election without losing too many seats, another myth will fall by the wayside. That it wins by unfair means.

Patra said the turnout “appeared bigger” because the list of dead and shifted voters had been deleted from the rolls. In Bankura, about 44,000 names were deleted this time. “These names had made the list longer and changed the percentages,” Patra said.

Sen agrees. “We have been able to make the electoral rolls as clean as possible. That helped a great deal.”

The Congress candidate from Garbeta (East) in West Midnapore, Tirthankar Bhakat, accepted that genuine voters turned up in large numbers. But he found it difficult to believe that in one booth in his constituency the turnout was 100 per cent.

Sen, however, said the commission had examined the election process in all the 5,460 booths where polling was above 80 per cent and found it to be in order.

The turnout also bucks the trend seen in the 2001 election where polling percentages were lower across all districts of Bengal from the 1996 numbers.

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