Assam sees 78.45% voter turnout, West Bengal records 80% polling in first phase

At the end of the first phase of the two-phase polling on Monday, Assam recorded 78.45 per cent voting while the turnout in West Bengal was 80 per cent, the Election Commission said at a press conference.

While voting was 'brisk and mostly peaceful' in both states, in an isolated incident in Assam two persons were killed and 21 others were injured when suspected militants, allegedly belonging to the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), triggered a blast at Dudhnoi in western Assam.

''Two persons have been killed and 21 others were injured,'' said Pallab Bhattacharya, Additional Director General of Police. ''They have been shifted to hospital. The condition of two of the injured persons was critical,'' The Indian Express quoted Goalpara Superintendent of Police Nitul Gogoi as saying.

Western Assam will go to polls in the second phase on 11 April. Police said the explosion occurred at around 6.20 pm near an office of the BJP.

Chief minister Tarun Gogoi of the Congress and union minister for sports and BJP's chief ministerial candidate Sarbananda Sonowal were among those who cast their vote early. Both of them expressed confidence on the success of their parties.

''I have no doubt that the Congress will retain power. We will, perhaps, get between 65 and 70 seats,'' Gogoi told reporters in Jorhat. Congress had bagged 79 of the 126 seats in the 2011 elections.

Assam is the only state where the ruling party is seen to have a chance to win power. BJP will fall short of a majority in Assam due to tense anti-immigrant campaign, says the opinion poll.

However, a poll by India TV-CVoter showed that the BJP will win 55 seats in the 126-member Assam state assembly, more than its rival Congress, but not enough to win power.

BJP has alleged that the Congress has promised deputy CM post to Badruddin Ajmal, chief of the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), in the event of a Congress-AIUDF coalition government. Gogoi, however, says the Congress would be able to form the government without the support of minority-based AIUDF.

BJP is banking on the higher voter turnout. ''That the voters wanted a change was reflected in their turning out in large numbers. In fact, the youth, who are studying outside the state, had also come home to cast their votes. People's faith in the BJP has increased our responsibility,'' Sonowal told reporters in Dibrugarh.

Meanwhile, at least 93 electronic voting machines malfunctioned and were replaced during the first phase of Assembly polls in 65 constituencies in Assam, where the two-phase election started on Monday.

The second and final phase of polling for the remaining 61 of the 126 assembly constituencies will be held on 11 April, mostly in the areas of lower Assam

In West Bengal, nearly 80 per cent of the 4 million voters in the 18 constituencies of the Maoist-affected western districts turned out to vote on Monday, in the first phase of the assembly polls.

The scheduled poll timing in 13 of the 18 constituencies identified as Left Wing Extremism (LWE)-affected areas was reduced by two hours and closed at 4 pm without any report of violence.

Polling booths opened amid tight security at 7 am in the 18 constituencies - nine in Purulia district, three in Bankura and six in West Midnapore.

An Election Commission official said 78.08 per cent polling was reported in West Midnapore, 74.61 per cent in Bankura and 73.85 per cent in Purulia.

Since voting in five other constituencies - Purulia, Manbazar, Kashipur, Para and Raghunathpur (all in Purulia district) - will continue up to 6 p.m, the turnout is expected to rise, the official said, adding over 300 complaints were received during the day.

"There has been no report of violence while most of the complaints received were about malfunctioning of EVMs, which were redressed at the earliest," he added.

For the first phase of the elections, there are 40,09,171 registered voters and 133 candidates.

While a presiding officer in a booth in Purulia was changed following an allegation of trying to influence voters, a section of voters in Piyalsole village under Manbazar constituency in Purulia boycotted voting.

Among major candidates in the fray are Minister Sukumar Hansda of the Trinamool Congress from Jhargram and the CPI-M's Pulin Bihari Baske contesting from Gopiballavpur.
 
The Congress and the Left Front accused Trinamool activists of attempting to influence and intimidate voters in many booths across the three districts, a charge denied by the ruling party.

The Trinamool, the Congress-Left Front combine and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), are in the fray for the 18 constituencies.