Some bed-ridden patients were brought to booths on cycle-vans in Lalgarh
The festive season appeared to have arrived before time in the seven Assembly constituencies of West Bengal's Paschim Medinipur district, which on Tuesday saw men and women dressed in bright-coloured starched clothes making their way to polling booths — wearing cheerful smiles on their faces and clutching their photo identity cards with pride.
The summer sun burning over their heads while they waited patiently in long queues, to exercise their franchise in the final phase of the elections, did not seem to bother the voters at all as they joked with their neighbours. The whole atmosphere at most polling stations resembled that of puja pandals but for the heavy security cover that sheathed the booths and adjacent areas.
Such scenes of voter enthusiasm were common place in other parts of the State but could be considered momentous in the Maoist-affected Assembly constituencies that recorded a relatively poor turnout in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections (78.72 per cent) in the wake of a poll boycott called by Maoists.
Now enthusiasm was at its peak among women, who outnumbered men electors in most of the booths from the very first hour of polling. Senior citizens too were not far behind as they arrived at the booths supported by their children or neighbours.
Even some critically ill and bedridden voters were brought to the booths on cycle-vans.
The booths in the Lalgarh region sprang the greatest surprise with a high turnout since early in the day. While polling personnel at a booth at the Lalgarh Sardamani Vidyapeeth said around 35 per cent of votes had been cast till 9 a.m., the turnout at Netai crossed 50 per cent by 11 a.m.
Central para-military force personnel kept a hawk's eye on persons entering the booths as well as those loitering around, and none seemed to mind it. “It is because of their heavy presence that we have developed the confidence to come out in large numbers to exercise our franchise. They have to be strict in order to stop any mischief-maker from creating nuisance,” Khelaram Murmu of Kumarbandh village said after casting his vote in the booth set up at Kantapahari.
Niyati Mahato, wife of Chhatradhar Mahato who was the former convener of the Maoist-backed Police Santrash Birodhi Janasadharaner Committee and Independent candidate in Jhargram, flashed a contented smile when this reporter met her near the Birknar booth.
Showing her indelible ink-marked finger, Ms. Mahato claimed that such a high turnout was indicative of more votes for her husband: “When I met him yesterday [Monday] in prison, he expressed confidence about his chances of winning. The voter turnout is proving him right”
Family members of the victims of the January 7 Netai killings also cast their votes. Clad in a new saree and with determination writ large on her face, the 21-year-old wife of victim Sourav Ghorai, Sampa Ghorai said she cast her vote to secure justice to her husband.
Keywords: West Bengal Assembly poll