West Bengal recorded a voter turnout of 80% on Monday in the first phase of the Assembly elections, while 70% of the electorate voted in Assam, according to the Election Commission. Sandeep Saxena, an EC official, told ANI that the voting was "brisk and peaceful" in both states, with no untoward incident being reported. Eighteen constituencies went to the polls in West Bengal, while 65 seats will be up for the taking in Assam. The two elections mark the beginning of a six week-long polling season in the country that will end with new governments being formed in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Puducherry, Assam and West Bengal.
The 18 West Bengal seats in play on Monday were mainly in the areas affected by Maoist violence known as “Jangalmahal”, including West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura. The state has 293 Assembly constituencies, and the polling will be carried out over six phases. Ruling party Trinamool Congress is contesting all 18 seats on Monday, as is the Bharatiya Janata Party. The Communist Party of India (Marxist), which ruled the state from 2006 to 2011, will contest 13 seats, while its ally, the Congress, will contest five. A total of 133 candidates are in the fray, of which 21 have criminal charges to their name.
The elections take place amid widespread allegations of corruption in the aftermath of the Saradha scam, a Ponzy scheme in which lakhs of investors were cheated. Supposed sting operations by Narada News have also cast a shadow over the elections, as they showed TMC leaders allegedly taking bribes. Hindustan Times reported a voter turnout of 75% till 3 pm.
More than 300 villagers boycotted the elections in Purulia, protesting against not receiving electricity and water in their village, ANI reported.
Of the 65 seats being contested, several are in upper Assam, an area dominated by Hindu voters in a state that has a large Muslim population. This will mean the first phase – the state's elections have two phases this time – will be crucial for the BJP. A key name for the BJP on Monday is Union minister Sarbanda Sonowal, who will contest for the Majuli seat. Meanwhile, three-time chief minister and Congress leader Tarun Gogoi will fight from Titabor. He has been named the party’s chief ministerial candidate once again.
In the last elections, the Congress had won 55 of these 65 seats, and the BJP just one. However, the BJP believes it has a chance to make serious inroads as they fared well in these areas in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, suggesting that the Congress' popularity might be waning in the conflict-ridden state. Of the 539 candidates contesting on Monday, 31 face criminal charges. The polls recorded a voter turnout of 66.95% till 3 pm.
People queued up at polling booths in the state to cast their votes.