Assembly Elections 2021: EVM malfunctions, sporadic incidents of violence mark phase 1 in Bengal, Assam largely peaceful
Assam reported an estimated turnout of 77 percent till 6 pm, while Bengal saw a turnout of 79.79 percent till 5 pm in the 77 seats in the two states that polled on Saturday
Sporadic incidents of violence and reports of EVM malfunctioning and voter discrepancy marked polling in the 77 seats that voted as part of the first phase of the 2021 Assembly elections. Elections are being held in 30 seats in West Bengal, most of which are in the once-Naxal-affected Jungle Mahal region, amid tight security. A total of 47 seats in the northeastern state of Assam also underwent polling on Saturday.
Voting had started at 7 am and continued till 6.30 pm with those with coronavirus symptoms being allowed to vote between 5 pm and 6.30 pm, as per The Hindu.
According to PTI, Assam recorded an estimated 76.89 percent voter turnout was till 6 pm, while Bengal saw a turnout of 79.79 percent till 5 pm.
In Assam, till 5 pm, Nagaon district showed the highest voting percentage trends at 78.20 percent while Nazaira saw the lowest at 64 percent.
In Bengal, four districts reported over 80 percent turnout with Purba Medinipur the highest at 82.42 percent, as per data accessed on the Voter Turnout App of the election commission. Purulia reported the lowest turnout at 77.13 percent.
Election officials, however, said that the poll percentage may increase a bit after the final compilation.
The BJP alleged that party leader Suvendu Adhikari's brother Soumendu's car was "attacked by TMC supporters" in Contai. A delegation of BJP leaders even met with the EC over the incident. In a similar report, CPM leader Susanta Ghosh too alleged that 'TMC supporters' heckled him and hurled stones at his vehicle in the Salboni area of the Paschim Medinipur district.
Away from the 30 constituencies in Bengal where polling was held on Saturday, a clash broke out in Nandigram between BJP and TMC activists. TMC chief and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee is up against former protege Suvendu Adhikari in Nandigram, the springboard that propelled her to power in 2011, dislodging the Left Front from power after a 34-year unbroken rule.
The clash on Saturday left at least three TMC workers seriously injured. A TMC election agent alleged that goons hired by the BJP were behind the attack. The saffron camp, however, has denied the charge.
In the first phase in West Bengal, polling took place amid strict COVID-19 guidelines in all nine seats in Purulia, four in Bankura, four in Jhargram and six in Paschim Medinipur, besides the seven seats in high-stakes Purba Medinipur – the home ground of BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari. The TMC and BJP have fielded candidates in 29 seats each, while the Left-Congress-ISF alliance has put up candidates in all 30 seats.
The Trinamool Congress is supporting an Independent in the Joypur assembly segment in Purulia as the nomination of its official candidate. The BJP’s ally AJSU Party of Jharkhand is fielding a candidate in Baghmundi.
The constituencies in West Bengal that voted in the first phase mostly lie in the Naxal-affected Junglemahal region, where the BJP has the upper hand in the area as it had managed to win most of the Parliamentary seats in the region in the 2019 general elections.
In Assam, many seats witnessed a triangular contest between the ruling BJP-AGP alliance, the Congress-led opposition grand alliance and the newly formed Assam Jatiyam Parishad (AJP). Altogether 264 candidates, including 23 women, are in the fray.
West Bengal: Voting concludes in 30 seats in phase one
Sporadic incidents of violence were reported from some areas that are voting in the first phase of the Assembly elections in West Bengal on Saturday.
A man, in his mid-30s, was found dead in Keshiary's Begumpur area in the Paschim Medinipur district in the morning, police said. He has been identified as Mangal Soren, they said, adding that his body was found outside his home.
The BJP claimed that Soren was their supporter and was allegedly killed by "TMC goons", a charge rubbished by the ruling party. "TMC is trying to create tension in the area during polling so they killed Mangal," local BJP leader Bablu Baram alleged.
However, the district administration in its report to the Election Commission (EC) said that there was no connection of the death to the polls. A large team of central forces has been deployed in the area, officials said.
In the Salboni area of the same district, CPM candidate Susanta Gosh was heckled and stones were hurled at his vehicle allegedly by TMC supporters, police said.
In another related development, a clash broke out on activists of the BJP and the TMC in Purba Medinipur's Nandigram constituency – which is set to go to polls on 1 April (second phase) – leaving at least three persons seriously injured, a senior police officer told PTI.
Seikh Sufiyan, the election agent of TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee, however, claimed that goons hired by the BJP carried out an attack on the workers of the state's ruling party, a charge denied by the saffron camp.
"All three, who sustained injuries during the attack, are activists of the TMC. They were rushed to SSKM hospital in Kolkata. The condition of one of them has been stated to be serious," Sufiyan said.
BJP goons have "let loose a reign of terror" in Nandigram over the past 15 days, he alleged. "These goons have been visiting homes of TMC activists to attack them, twisting their hands and even snatching gold chains. The police, however, are not doing anything about it," he said.
Denying Sufiyan's allegation, the senior police officer said that action was immediately taken to bring the situation under control and restore peace in the region.
Local BJP leaders, on their part, contended that the TMC men are trying to disrupt peace in the constituency – where Banerjee is locked in a fierce battle with protege-turned-adversary Suvendu Adhikari.
"None of our workers was involved in any attack on TMC activists. On the contrary, the ruling camp members assaulted our karyakartas during Suvendu Adhikari's rallies. The three TMC men, undergoing treatment, must be victims of infighting," a saffron party leader said.
On Saturday, a total of 167 cases of Model Code of Conduct violations were reported through the cVIGIL app from West Bengal out of which 111 were disposed of by 4.30 pm, PTI reported.
Similarly, 582 cases were reported from Assam with 423 disposed of till 4.30 pm.
During the polls, 10,288 each of ballot units (BUs), control units (CUs) and VVPATs were used in West Bengal and 11,537 each of BUs, CUs and 37 VVPATs were used in Assam. One control unit, on VVPAT and at least one ballot unit make an EVM.
"Non-functioning rate during the poll is lesser than experienced in last few polls," an EC statement said without elaborating, according to PTI.
TMC alleges vote tampering
Long queues were seen outside most booths in the morning hours with people stepping out early to avoid the sweltering heat, besides the uncertainty of being able to cast their votes in case of violence later in the day.
Voters in several areas, including Bhagabanpur in Egra and Midnapore, complained of intimidation to the central forces who assured them of security and took them to the polling booth.
Besides, there were allegations against both BJP and TMC for trying to influence voters by providing them food packets, tea and snacks.
An EC official told PTI that About 107 EVMs have been found to be non-functional. "Forty-seven EVMs have been restored by our sector officers and the rest are being mended," the official added.
The Trinamool Congress also raised concerns over the fluctuating turnout figures on the EC's mobile app Voter Turnout and malfunctioning of EVMs at several booths.
The party retweeted multiple allegations of the Electronic Voting Machine malfunctioning in polling stations in the Kanthi Uttar district, stating that no matter which way the voter goes, the poll is recorded in favour of the BJP. The party also claimed that the BJP was illegally trying to swing votes in their favour.
— Soham Chakraborty (@myslf_soham) March 27, 2021
Party leader Derek O’Brien alleged that there were certain discrepancies in the data issued by the Election Commission in the Voter Turnout app. "Voter turnout for ACs Kanthi Dakshin (216) and Kanthi Uttar (213) at 9.13 am was 18.47 percent and 18.95 percent respectively, four minutes later at 9.17 am, the voter turnout reduced to 10.60 percent and 9.40 percent,” the TMC leader told ANI.
“Such discrepancy raises the question on the genuineness of data issued by EC,” he added, according to the news agency.
On the BJP front, West Bengal BJP chief Dilip Ghosh refuted suggestions that the party was rigging the election. "The TMC knows that it is losing and that’s why it is saying all this," he claimed, according to ANI.
"TMC and Mamata Banerjee are under pressure and that is why they are saying such things," he added.
COVID-19 rules violated
Though COVID-19 rules were strictly listed out by the Election Commission, most of the voters and political party workers in West Bengal were seen without masks amid a resurgent coronavirus.
In some booths, the voters were provided masks, while sanitisers and polythene gloves were made available at most locations.
More than 73 lakh voters are eligible to exercise their franchise to decide the fate of 191 candidates in these 30 seats.
BJP accuses Mamata of wooing saffron party leader in Nandigram
A huge controversy erupted on Saturday amidst the polling for 30 Assembly seats in West Bengal, with the BJP and TMC indulging in an 'audio clip' war.
While the BJP released an audio clip where Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is purportedly heard cajoling a BJP leader from Nandigram to rejoin the TMC, the ruling party released an audio clip where BJP leader Mukul Roy is reportedly heard telling special poll observer Shishir Bajoria to approach the EC with the request to allow voters from outside an Assembly to be booth agents.
The TMC alleged that the EC issued an order in this regard, a day after the reported conversation between Roy and Bajoria.
"In the audio clip, Mukul Roy tells Shishir Bajoria that they must approach the EC asking for changes in rules so that others are allowed to be booth agents and not just in localities or else BJP won't be able to give agents in a large section of booths, TMC has alleged," according to a report in India Today.
আবার ফোন কাণ্ড! সামনে এল বিস্ফোরক কথোপকথনের অংশ। নির্বাচন কমিশনকে প্রভাবিত করার অভিযোগ। কাঠগড়ায় Mukul Roy ও Shishir Bajoria
— Trinamool Congress (Abar TMC) (@abarTMC) March 27, 2021
Meanwhile, a BJP delegation, led by party general secretary and Bengal minder Kailash Vijayvargiya, met the state's chief electoral officer and handed over their tape, claiming Banerjee was using her official position to influence the outcome of the bitterly contested assembly poll. Sharing the clip of the purported conversation, BJP's social media head Amit Malviya tweeted:
Massive! Mamata Banerjee calls Proloy Pal, BJP’s district Vice President in Nandigram and pleads for help! Proloy tells her that he was humiliated in TMC and he along with this family cannot betray the BJP. Pishi is definitely losing Nandigram and TMC Bengal...#AmarVoteBJPKepic.twitter.com/EqKEwvsy3Z — Amit Malviya (@amitmalviya) March 27, 2021
The ruling TMC questioned the genuineness of the audiotape but asserted that since Pralay Pal was a former TMC leader who switched over to the BJP, there was nothing wrong with Banerjee trying to woo him back. Pal, who pledged his allegiance to the Adhikari family, whose two members are still TMC Lok Sabha members, told TV news channels that Banerjee called him up and requested him to return to the TMC, a proposal he declined. "I am now working for the BJP and can't betray them," said Pal. Neither PTI nor Firstpost could not independently verify the authenticity of the audiotape.
Assam: EVM glitches in some places, polling concludes peacefully for 47 seats
In the northeastern state of Assam, voting was held for 47 seats in the first phase of the Assembly elections on Saturday. The election will decide the fate of Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, and a host of ministers and opposition leaders such as Raijor Dal founder and anti-CAA activist Akhil Gogoi. Altogether 264 candidates, including 23 women, are in the fray in the first phase. Voting began at 7 am in the northeastern state and concluded at 6 pm, with the timing extended by an hour to ensure COVID protocols are followed. While the polling was mostly peaceful, some complaints of EVM glitches were lodged, an Election Commission official said. Long queues were seen outside polling booths with voters and election officials adhering to COVID-19 protocols. Sonowal exercised his franchise around 11 am at Sahitya Sabha Bhavan, a model polling station, in his home town Dibrugarh in upper Assam. "The BJP and its alliance partners will win again and return to power in Assam. People have seen the performance of our government in the last five years," he said after casting his vote.
Slamming the Congress-AIUDF alliance as the country's "enemy", Sonowal said if it is elected to power it will "endanger" Indians living in the state and strengthen illegal immigrants.
He expressed confidence that people will solidly back the BJP-led NDA in the polls due to its development and peace efforts.
He also played down speculation about the next chief minister if the BJP-led alliance retains power, saying the state government worked like "team Assam" in the last five years and the party's goal is to win the polls.
A total of 300 companies of security forces have been deployed in the first phase, in which people are voting at 11,537 polling stations across 12 districts of Upper Assam and the Northern Bank of Brahmaputra.
Patrolling has been intensified and strict vigil is being kept in all the vulnerable areas, officials said.
Most of these 47 seats are witnessing a triangular contest between the ruling BJP-AGP alliance, the Congress-led opposition grand alliance and the newly-formed Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP).
Altogether, 81,09,815 voters are eligible to exercise their franchise in the first phase. Of them, 40,77,210 are male and 40,32,481 female, while 124 are third gender voters, besides nine overseas voters.
Women polling officials are exclusively conducting the exercise in 479 polling stations. A significant turnout was seen at several booths as the poll began with many choosing to vote early.
Special measures were taken for People with Disabilities (PwD), including the provision of wheelchairs at every polling station and e-rickshaws for their commute.
The ruling BJP is contesting 39 seats and its partner AGP 10. The two allies are engaged in "friendly contests" in Lakhimpur and Naharkatiya constituencies.
The opposition grand alliance is contesting all the seats, with the Congress putting up candidates in 43, and the AIUDF, CPI(ML-L), RJD and Anchalik Gana Morcha (contesting as Independent) in one each.
The newly-formed AJP is in the fray in 41 seats, while there are 78 Independents, including 19 candidates of the newly-formed Raijor Dal.
Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal is trying his luck from Majuli (ST), Speaker of the outgoing assembly Hitendranath Goswami is fighting the elections from Jorhat.
Ministers Ranjit Dutta (Behali), Naba Kumar Doley (Dhakuakha), Jogen Mohan (Mahmora), Terash Gowala (Duliajan) and Sanjoy Kishan (Tinsukia) are all locked in triangular contests with Congress or its alliance partners, and the AJP.
Titabor, another high-profile seat that was held by former chief minister Tarun Gogoi of the Congress for four successive terms, is witnessing a direct contest between Bhaskar Jyoti Barua of the Congress and former MLA Hemanta Kalita.
Congress Legislature Party leader Debabrata Saikia and state Congress president Ripun Borah are in the fray from Nazira and Gohpur, respectively.
Activist and Raijor Dal leader Akhil Gogoi, in jail for his alleged role in the violent anti-CAA protests, is contesting as an Independent from Sivasagar.
AJP president Lurinjyoti Gogoi is contesting Duliajan and Naharkatiya.
Most voters were seen wearing masks amid a resurgent coronavirus, while those arriving without one are being provided at the booths. Assam is voting in three phases for the 126-member assembly. The votes will be counted on 2 May.
With inputs from PTI
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