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Polling begins for first phase of West Bengal assembly elections


Polling began this morning in 54 constituencies in the first of six phases of voting in the elections to the 294-member West Bengal Legislative Assembly.


A total of 97,62,159 voters are eligible to exercise their franchise i the 54 constituencies, spread across six North Bengal districts, where as many as 364 candidates are in the fray.


Polling, which began at 0700 hours, will end at 1700 hours. The authorities have made elaborate security arrangements for the polling.


The second phase of polling will be held on April 23, the third on April 27, the fourth on May 3, the fifth on May 7 and the sixth and last phase on May 10.


Counting of votes will be taken up in West Bengal, as well as in Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry, where polling has already been completed, on May 13. All results are expected by that evening.


Polling is being held today at 8822 booths in Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Cooch Behar, Malda, North Dinajpur and South Dinajpur districts.


The ruling Left Front, which has been holding fort for 34 years, and the Trinamool Congress (TMC)-Congress combine are the main players in the election.


The electoral fate of ten state Ministers - Ashok Bhattacharjee(Siliguri), Kshiti Goswami(Alipurduar), Sailen Sarkar(Ratua), Kiranmoy Nanda(Raiganj), Ananta Roy(Mathabhanga), Paresh Adhikary(Mekhliganj), Biswanath Choudhury(Balurghat), Narayan Biswas(Harirampur), Srikumar Mukherjee(Itahar) and Anarul Haq (Chopra)- will be decided today.


The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has put up its candidates in all the 54 constituencies. The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), which has been spearheading a movement for a seperate Gorkhaland in Darjeeling, is a major factor in today's polling.


The Adivasi Vikash Parishad, a new organisation set up to oppose the demand for Gorkhaland, has also put up candidates for several seats.


Among the Left Front partners, the CPI(M) has candidates in 32 seats, followed by the Forward Bloc (10), RSP (9), CPI (2) and Samajwadi Party (1).


The Congress has put up candidates in 27 of the seats involved in today's polling and the TMC in 26, leaving one to the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).


About 500 companies of para-military forces, in addition to the state police, have been deployed to ensure free and fair elections. As many as 39 Central observers have been pressed into service.


(With inputs from United News of India)


NNN

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