People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)

Vol. XXX

No. 17

April 23, 2006

First Phase Assembly Polls Free, Fair,

& Peaceful With A Big Turnout


Brisk voting in progress at a polling booth in the first phase

B Prasant


THE first phase polls to the Bengal assembly held in the three ‘red clay’ districts of Midnapore west, Bankura, and Purulia remained free, fair, and peaceful keeping alive the tradition of the state under the Left Front. The Bengal CPI(M) and the Bengal Left Front have congratulated the political maturity of the people of the state for this to have been possible.


The polls were held in 21 assembly constituencies in Midnapore west, in 13 constituencies in Bankura, and for 11 seats in Purulia.


The turnout was impressive with close to 70 per cent polling completed in a large number of booths by the time it was 4.30 pm. Big queues continued to form even after the official closing time of five in the afternoon, outside of most of the polling stations and in all three districts


The big and naggingly continuous noise made in a section of the media that the Maoists’ vote boycott call would be a ‘huge success,’ has sounded as embarrassingly hollow after the polls as the anti-communist rhetoric that these scions are paid to churn out, day in, and day out.


Biman Basu, state secretary of the Bengal unit of the CPI(M) and the Bengal Left Front chairman was happy when he said that the free, fair, and peaceful polling was basically due to the consciousness of the mass of the people who turned out in their lakhs in the districts right from early in the morning to exercise their democratic right of casting ballots.


Biman Basu especially drew the attention of the media to a very large turn out of women who rose early, came out of the households, and formed the first queues in front of the polling stations well before the scheduled start of the polling from seven in the morning.


Polling commenced slightly behind schedule in some booths because of  mysterious malfunctioning of the Electronic Voting Machines or EVMs.  It was found, for example in booths under the Balarampur constituency in Purulia, that the press on any button on the machine would produce a vote in favour of the Trinamul Congress.  The errors were subsequently rectified.


There was one ugly incident involving an observer at Indus under PS Patrasayer in Bankura district.  On entering two booths, Nos 10 and 13, the said observer, finding only CPI(M) polling agents in the booths, allegedly shouted at the CPI(M) polling agents that it devolved on them to produce election agents of the Trinamul Congress.


When the CPI(M) polling agents denied that there was any such decidedly awkward proviso in the Election Commission guidelines, the observer flew into a great rage.  He asked them to ‘shut up or face dire consequences.’  He then stormed out of the booths onto the queues and reportedly asked the people lining up three questions repeatedly and in a threatening manner:


‘Why do you vote for the CPI(M)?’  ‘How much money does the CPI(M) give you to do this?’  ‘How much liquor is supplied to you by the CPI(M) for your coming out to vote for the CPI(M)?’


Things were expectedly and very quickly getting out of hand and it was only the rushing in of senior officials that saved the day.


Biman Basu called the alleged behaviour of the observer a shameful exercise.  He also commented to say that for some weeks now, the Trinamul Congress chieftain had made statements, and which had appeared in the media, wherein she had declared that the ECI ‘was working in favour of us.’


In another incident at Nayagram in Midnapore west, a presiding officer protested the uncalled for harassment of voters by some members of the paramilitary forces.  He was promptly slapped down by the paramilitary personnel and the situation became critical. Senior officials later intervened, pacified the injured presiding officer and the polling continued.


A few cases of vote boycott were reported during the day but in all the instances, local issues and not political matters were involved, said Biman Basu.