Voting begins for 73,000 seats in Bengal panchayat polls, 2 lakh candidates in fray
A total of 2.06 lakh candidates are in the fray for elections to 73,887 seats in the three-tier panchayat system in the state, officials said
Polling began at 7 am on Saturday amid tight security for the West Bengal panchayat elections, in which about 5.67 crore people living in the state's rural areas are eligible to vote, officials said.
A total of 2.06 lakh candidates are in the fray for elections to 73,887 seats in the three-tier panchayat system in the state, they said.
The election assumes significance for political parties as it will serve as an opportunity for them to assess their organisational strengths and weaknesses ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, besides broadly outlining the mood of the state after two years of the TMC government's third consecutive term.
Sporadic incidents of violence were reported across the state after the election dates were announced on June 8, resulting in the deaths of over 15 people.
There are 63,229 gram panchayat seats and 9,730 panchayat samiti seats in 22 districts, while 928 zilla parishad seats in 20 districts as Darjeeling and Kalimpong have a two-tier system with Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) and Siliguri Sub-divisional Council at the top.
Long queues outside polling booths were seen as early as 6 am with people turning out early amid the intermittent rains.
The ruling TMC is contesting all the 928 seats in zilla parishads, 9,419 seats in panchayat samitis and 61,591 seats in gram panchayats. The BJP has fielded candidates in 897 zilla parishad seats, 7,032 panchayat samiti seats and 38,475 seats in gram panchayats.
The CPI(M) is fighting 747 zilla parishad seats, 6,752 panchayat samiti seats and 35,411 gram panchayat seats. The Congress is contesting 644 zilla parishad seats, 2,197 panchayat samiti seats and 11,774 gram panchayat seats.
At least 600 companies of central forces have been deployed for the elections along with around 70,000 state police.
Urging the people to vote without fail, Governor CV Ananda Bose on Friday said he would be on the streets along with his team during polling. He is scheduled to visit Barrackpore and Basirhat in North 24 Parganas district, and parts of Nadia district.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee along with TMC general secretary Abhishek Banerjee led the ruling party's campaign, which revolved around the development initiatives undertaken by the state government and the MGNREGA funds stopped by the Centre.
The campaign by the opposition parties -- BJP, CPI(M) and the Congress -- mainly focused on the allegations of corruption, from the panchayat level to the teachers' recruitment at the state level, and political violence.
BJP MLA Ashok Lahiri, the former Chief Economic Advisor (CEA), wrote to the district administration of Dakshin Dinajpur overnight, expressing fears of violence claiming that security arrangements were inadequate at several places.
He alleged that TMC workers entered some polling booths in the night and snatched ballot papers, besides threatening BJP candidates.
On the other side, TMC alleged that BJP workers were threatening voters in Purba Medinipur district's Itaberia area.
The TMC also alleged that its candidate in Birulia village in Nandigram 2 block was abducted by the BJP, and its workers were threatened.
In a similar incident in Nadia's Hanskhali, TMC alleged that BJP supporters beat up one of its workers.
In the last panchayat elections in 2018, TMC bagged around 34 per cent of the seats uncontested, and won 90 per cent of the rest, amid allegations of violence.