Voting in panchayat elections continued till the small hours of Friday in some areas of Purulia, identified as one of the Maoist-affected districts of West Bengal. This district, along with two others, saw a huge turnout in the first phase of the polls which commenced on Thursday.

People, in serpentine queues, collected their voter slips (which allow them to exercise their franchise), much beyond the close of polling hours at 5 p.m.

In some blocks in Purulia, polling continued almost till 5 a.m. The Bandwan, Bagmundi and Balaramapur blocks, among others, have been Maoist hotbeds since late 2008. The polling percentage in this district was 87.4, according to figures given by the State Election Commission.

The scene was not too different in the other Left Wing Extremism-affected districts of Paschim Medinipur and Bankura, where also voting continued after midnight and in some places till the wee hours. The turnout was 87.2 per cent in Paschim Medinipur and 86.9 per cent in Bankura.

‘Celebration of democracy’

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee described this as a celebration of democracy in Jangalmahal. “People are now able to cast their own votes fearlessly,” she told a rally in Bardhaman district, which goes to the polls on July 15.

With normality returning to a region, which had seen much bloodshed and disruption for nearly three years between late-2008 and mid-2011, people were no longer afraid of stepping out of their homes in the dark.

However poll officials did not always share the villagers’ enthusiasm and there were reports of at least one instance in Bandwan, where fearful junior officials had to be coaxed by their seniors to stay back and complete their duty (with the posting of a posse of security forces) after dark.

Cumbersome process

Enquiries revealed that the delays were due to two reasons. One, in the absence of electronic voting machines, the process was cumbersome and time-consuming as voters were issued three slips – for each of the posts in the three-tier panchayat system.

The other reason was the electorate, mostly women, collecting their slips and ducking the queues to go home to finish their chores or put a child to sleep. Poll officers had to wait for the voters to re-appear and exercise their franchise.