Gouranga Mistry, a small-time trader in his fifties, was elated on Saturday as he could cast his vote in the rural polls after 10 years.
Mistry couldn't vote in the 2013 and 2018 rural polls as all three-tiers of the rural body in his area were won uncontested by ruling Trinamul.
On Saturday, he queued up for around three hours to exercise his franchise at the polling booth at Nurpur village under the Raipur-Supur gram panchayat, which is nearly 10km from Bolpur town.
"I have a small shop in Bolpur town. I opened it late because I did not want to miss the opportunity to vote. The rural poll is important because it gives a chance to choose a person to take care of local affairs," said Gouranga.
Not just Gouranga, thousands of rural voters in Birbhum were also happy.
Birbhum, a district known for Trinamul strongman Anubrata Mondal, now in Tihar jail, was infamous for uncontested Trinamul victories in local body polls. In 2013, Trinamul won at least 30 per cent of the seats uncontested. In 2018, Birbhum topped the list of districts where most rural body seats were won uncontested by Trinamul. Amid complaints of violence to deny Opposition candidates a chance to file nominations, Birbhum Trinamul won around 87 per cent of rural body seats uncontested. Birbhum Trinamul won 1,967 gram panchayat seats out of 2247, 405 of 465 panchayat samiti seats and all 42 seats of zilla parishad uncontested in 2018. Most rural people of Birbhum did not get a chance to vote.
A Trinamul leader said though the tradition of uncontested wins did not vanish from Birbhum in 2023, the percentage was negligible in comparison to 2013 and 2018 rural polls.
Though 891 gram panchayat seats of 2,859 and 127 panchayat samiti seats of a total of 490 were won uncontested this year, Trinamul won only one zilla parishad seat of the 52.
"Though many seats in two lower-tiers were won uncontested by Trinamul, rural voters could vote for the zilla parishad seats," said a district official.
A Trinamul leader said his party won uncontested in most seats in Bolpur subdivision, Anubrata's hometown.
A Trinamul leader said the withdrawal of nominations by rivals in Bolpur was huge as Sheikh Kajol emerged as a powerful Trinamul leader in Anubrata's absence. CPM district committee secretary Gautam Ghosh accused Kajol of adopting "violent means", but said he couldn't replicate Anubrata's scale.
Kajol denied the charges.