A moderate turnout was recorded in the by-election to the Bhabanipur assembly seat, where West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is contesting to retain her post, as polling in the high-profile constituency in south Kolkata passed off peacefully on Thursday.
Around 53.32 per cent turnout was recorded in the seat till 5 PM. The Election Commission said that the final turnout till 6 PM will be available on Friday.
A high voting rate at 78.60 per cent and 76.12 per cent was recorded in Murshidabad’s Samserganj and Jangipur seats respectively, where polls had to be countermanded during the April-May assembly elections following the death of two candidates.
A total of 6,97,164 voters were eligible to exercise their franchise in the three constituencies.
Banerjee, who is also the Trinamool Congress supremo, is pitted against BJP’s Priyanka Tibrewal and CPI(M)’s Srijib Biswas in Bhabanipur. Banerjee, a voter of the constituency, cast her vote at Mitra Institution school in the area.
Sporadic incidents of scuffles between the BJP and TMC supporters were reported from some areas of the constituency.
Tibrewal claimed that the TMC forcibly stopped the voting process at a polling booth in ward number 72, and that state minister Firhad Hakim and Subrata Mukherjee were trying to influence the voters in the constituency.
The BJP has lodged a complaint with the EC against Hakim and Mukherjee.
Hakim, however, termed the allegations as baseless.
“Does having tea at a roadside stall tantamount to influencing voters? The BJP knows it will lose the by-poll and are now making lame excuses,” he said.
A minor scuffle between supporters of the TMC and BJP was reported outside a booth in Bhabanipur over allegations that the ruling party was bringing fake voters inside the polling centre. Security forces brought the situation under control.
The TMC also registered a complaint with the EC, accusing Tibrewal of moving with an entourage of 20 cars and intimidating voters, a charge denied by her.
The BJP later alleged that its polling agents were not allowed entry inside several booths. Hakim said such claims were politically motivated.
In another incident, BJP leader Kalyan Chaubey’s car was allegedly ransacked on Sarat Bose Road. Incidentally, Chaubey was working as the election agent of Hindustani Awam Morcha-Secular candidate Satadru Roy.
The Kolkata Police submitted a report to the EC regarding the incident, following which the poll body rubbished the allegations of it being a political attack.
In Samserganj, bombs were hurled a few hours before voting started at 7 AM. The TMC had accused the Congress of carrying out the attack, a charge the grand old party dubbed as baseless.
The Congress has demanded a re-poll in nine booths of Samserganj constituency.
The EC has received 97 complaints so far, out of which 91 has been quashed. Out of these 97 complaints, 85 were related to the Bhabanipur by-poll.
The BJP took a dig at the TMC over the low turnout in Bhabanipur, saying that the ruling party’s campaign of projecting the by-election as a precursor to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls to defeat the saffron party was not endorsed by the electorate.
“What will happen to Mamata Banerjee’s ambition to project herself as an alternative to Narendra Modi in the 2024 elections? She had described Bhabanipur as mini-India which will show the country how to fight BJP by turning out in large numbers to vote and elect her by a huge margin,” party spokesperson Shamik Bhattacharya said.
He wondered what would happen to the “claims of different TMC leaders that Mamata Banerjee will win by a margin of over 1 lakh votes.”
Reacting to the BJP’s statement, Hakim said the saffron camp should be more worried about securing its deposit.
“They should be worried about whether they would be able to secure their deposit or will have to forfeit it,” he said.
The chief minister, who lost from the Nandigram constituency in the assembly elections earlier this year, has to win this by-poll to retain the post.
Votes will be counted on October 3.