Huge turnout for assembly elections; violence mars polls in some areas

Elections were held for the 234 assembly seats in Tamil Nadu, 140 seats in Kerala, 30 seats in Puducherry, 31 seats in the third phase in West Bengal, and 40 seats in the final phase in Assam.

The voting turnout was huge | File photo: Twitter

The single-phase assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry, the third phase in West Bengal and the third and final phase in Assam witnessed heavy turnout as polling was held by and large peacefully amid tight security and in compliance with the COVID-19 protocol, with only minor incidents reported in a few states.

Elections were held for the 234 assembly seats in Tamil Nadu, 140 seats in Kerala, 30 seats in Puducherry, 31 seats in the third phase in West Bengal, and 40 seats in the final phase in Assam.

Tamil Nadu registered 71.1 per cent voting as per preliminary estimates. Key leaders, including AIADMK’s K Palaniswami, O Panneerselvam and DMK chief M K Stalin exercised their franchise. 

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Sporadic poll-related minor incidents were, however, reported from a couple of places though there were no major untoward incidents. 

The ruling AIADMK filed a petition with the CEO against Udhayanidhi Stalin, DMK candidate from Chepauk-Triplicane segment in Chennai, for allegedly wearing a party insignia that also encompassed party’s rising sun symbol while voting. The AIADMK sought Udhayanidhi’s disqualification. 

AIADMK Lok Sabha MP P Ravindhranath alleged he and his supporters were allegedly attacked by DMK men. Pointing to the damaged windscreen and window of his car, he alleged it was an attempt aimed at a murderous assault, adding huge stones were used for the attack. 

DMK’s Thondamuthur constituency nominee in Coimbatore district, Karthikeya Sivesenapathy alleged ruling AIADMK and BJP people tried to attack when he was travelling in a car. 

In Tiruvallur and Dindigul districts, AIADMK and DMK men came to blows near polling stations over allegations and counter claims of cavassing votes. 

The election commission said there were no major law and order issues anywhere. 

Celebrities like Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan, who also leads MNM, were among the early voters and actor Vijay rode a bicycle to the polling booth leading to speculation in social media that it was a subtle sign of protest against the rise in fuel prices. His publicist clarified that the actor did so in view of car parking problems in the small street where the polling booth was located. 

People who had tested positive for coronavirus were allowed to vote during the last hour of polling (6 pm to 7 pm) and they were provided with PPE kits, officials said.

Chief Minister Palaniswami cast his vote in his native Salem district. Speaker P Dhanapal voted in Salem, Panneerselvam in Theni district and ministers, including SP Velumani and Sellur K Raju, in Coimbatore and Madurai, respectively. DMK president Stalin, after paying homage at the mausoleum of party patriarch M Karunanidhi and founder CN Annadurai, cast his vote in Chennai. 

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Makkal Needhi Maiam chief Kamal Haasan, who is trying his luck for the first time in Assembly polls, cast his vote in Chennai before heading to Coimbatore from where he is contesting polls. Haasan alleged money distribution in Coimbatore and his party has lodged a complaint with the district poll authority seeking action on the matter. 

At least 74.01 per cent of the total 2.74 crore voters exercised their franchise in Kerala, according to latest estimates. 

The massive exercise involving over two lakh polling officers began at 7 AM and the last hour from 6 PM to 7 PM was set aside for COVID-19 patients and those under isolation. The ECI said 73.69 per cent of male voters, 73.48 per cent of female voters and 37.37 per cent of transgender voters exercised their franchise as per the preliminary assessment till 6.55 PM. 

The state witnessed massive turnout till afternoon but incessant rain in central Kerala reduced the footfall later. Polling was held for 140 assembly constituencies of Kerala across 40,771 polling stations. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan (Dharmadam), leader of opposition in the state assembly Ramesh Chennithala (Haripad), senior Congress leader Oommen Chandy (Puthupally), BJP state president, K Surendran (Konni and Manjeswaram) and Metro Man E Sreedharan, (Palakkad) were among those who had voted. Besides Vijayan, 11 of his cabinet colleagues are among the 957 candidates in the fray. 

Two voters, including a woman, standing in queue in Aranmula in Pathnamthitta and Chavittuavary in Kottayam collapsed and died. Tempers ran high at Kattayikonam in Kazhakootam constituency, a stronghold of the Marxist party in Thiruvananthapuram district, as CPI(M) and BJP workers clashed. Four BJP workers were injured and their car was damaged. 

Shobha Surendran, BJP‘s candidate in Kazhakkoottam, alleged that her party activists were attacked by CPI-M members. Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran, who is the LDF candidate from the constituency, told reporters that the aim of the protestors was to disrupt the voting procedure and alleged that police had acted as “BJP agent”. Three Marxist workers, including the ministers personal staff, have been taken into custody.

Dharmajan Bolgatti, film actor and UDF candidate in Balussery constituency, alleged that he was blocked by DYFI activists while he was visiting a booth. The wife of the BJP candidate in Thrikkakkara constituency in Ernakulam district challenged the police and media when photographers tried to capture the pictures of actor Mammootty arriving at the booth. She, along with other BJP workers, alleged that polling officers and the police denied permission to the media to capture pictures when her husband arrived at the booth.

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The 2016 Assembly elections saw 77.53 per cent voter turnout, while the Lok Sabha polls in 2019 saw a participation of77.84 per cent electors. Local body polls in 2020 saw a voter turnout of 76.2 per cent.

In West Bengal, five candidates, including two women, were assaulted, while clashes between rival political groups erupted during the third phase of polling. However, despite the violence, voter enthusiasm was high with 77.68 per cent of voters casting their ballots till late evening. 

The 16 seats in South 24 Parganas district (part II) registered 76.68 per cent votes till 5 pm. In the seven seats in Howrah (part I), 77.93 per cent votes were cast and in the eight seats in Hooghly (part I), the voter turnout was 79.36 per cent, an EC official said. 

Chief Minister and TMC chief Mamata Banerjee, however, alleged “blatant misuse” of central forces to “influence voters”. “The blatant misuse of central forces continues unabated. Despite us repeatedly raising this issue, @ECISVEEP continues to be a mute spectator, while men in uniform are being misused at several places to openly intimidate TMC voters and influence many to vote in favour of one party,” she tweeted. 

The police arrested five persons — three members of the TMC and two of the BJP — for their alleged involvement in assaulting TMC candidate Sujata Mondal in Arambagh earlier on Tuesday, an officer said. Television grabs showed the TMC leader being chased in an open field by people wielding sticks and iron rods and then hitting her on the head with sticks. Her security officer was also injured. 

The TMC claimed BJP “goons” didn’t allow the party’s agents inside the polling stations. The BJP, on the other hand, accused Sujata of entering the area with TMC “goons” and creating unrest by threatening people. 

The police also said they had launched a search for those who assaulted the BJP candidate from Uluberia (Dakshin) assembly seat Papiya Adhikary when she went to Uluberia hospital to call on an injured party candidate. The attacks were part of a series of clashes reported from several parts of Bengal, during the third phase. 

BJP candidate for Tarakeshwar Swapan Dasgupta was also allegedly abused by TMC supporters while going on a round of polling stations, party sources said. 

In Khanakul, TMC candidate Najmul Karim was allegedly beaten up by BJP activists and slogans were raised against him. Later, central forces rescued him from the area. In Falta, a BJP candidate’s vehicle was attacked. At least one person was injured when crude bombs were lobbed outside a polling station in the Canning Purba assembly seat.

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About 82.33 per cent of 79.2 lakh electors voted in the third and last phase of Assam assembly election in 40 constituencies. Voting was largely peaceful except for sporadic incidents of violence and disturbances reported from some areas. 

Polling percentage in the third round is more than the previous two, which saw 79.93 and 80.96 per cent voting, respectively. Altogether 337 candidates, including 25 women, contested in the 40 constituencies in the third phase.