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Last Updated: Monday, 10 May, 2004, 15:49 GMT 16:49 UK
Voting in one of India's Marxist states
By Subir Bhaumik
BBC correspondent in Calcutta

Voters in West Bengal went to the polls on Monday to elect 42 members of parliament.

Voters queue in West Bengal
Some voters waited almost two hours to cast their ballots
The state's chief electoral officer, Basudeb Bandopadhyay, said that, according to preliminary results, between 62 and 65% of the total electorate of 47 million had cast their votes.

"We have received quite a few complaints of irregularities and sporadic violence and also malfunctioning of the electronic voting machines. We have attended to all of them," said Mr Bandopadhyay.

Three people were reported to have been killed in the state and about 50 injured.

One person died in an explosion while making a bomb in Murshidabad district, and two polling officials were attacked and injured by voters after asking for proof of identity.

Voters there also damaged the electronic voting machine, which led to a suspension of polling for some time.

Marxist and Trinamul Congress supporters lobbed bombs at each other in three areas of north-west Calcutta.

Three of them were injured in Kumirpara. Similar clashes were also reported in Murshidabad and Dumdum.

'Loyal voter'

In Calcutta and its suburbs, long queues of voters could be seen.

Calcutta resident Sabitri Chatterji leaving the polling booth
I will always vote for the Marxists - they fought for the rights of refugees like me
Sabriti Chatterji
At South Calcutta's Bijoygarh colony, 85-year-old Sabitri Chatterji, her back bent with age, voted for the Marxists.

Escorted by her daughter-in-law, Sabitri said she had first voted in a local elections in undivided Bengal before the Partition, after which she migrated to Calcutta from her ancestral village in what is now Bangladesh.

"I will always vote for the Marxists. They fought for the rights of refugees like me and they made our colonies habitable," she said.

But younger generations of Bengalis in these colonies don't always vote Left Front.

"I like the BJP but here they have no candidate. So I have voted for Mamata Banerjee, the Trinamul Congress chief, because she has an alliance with the BJP, said Priyanka Mukherji, still in her teens and voting for the first time.

Complaint

In Mograhat, in southern Bengal's Sundarbans delta, more than 30% of the voters had voted at Ghatakpur village school when election commission observer Manoj Kumar Singh arrived.

Map of West Bengal
"The elections are peaceful and fair and we have deployed enough police and paramilitary to maintain law and order. There can be no cause for concern for anybody," he said.

On Sunday, the Indian election commission rebuked the Bengal Left Front chairman Biman Bose for asking his supporters to "drag the observers by their collars to police station if they overstepped their limits".

The commission asked the state's chief electoral officer to file a complaint with the police and threatened to delay the polls in West Bengal if the Marxist activists interfered with polling and tried to influence it by illegal means.

Opposition parties demanded that Biman Bose be arrested for his aggressive statements.

The Marxist-led Left Front has been in power in West Bengal for more than 26 years. In the last parliamentary elections, it won 29 of the state's 42 seats.

Analysts say this time the Left Front may win a few seats in Calcutta, where last time they lost all the seats to the Opposition Trinamul Congress and the BJP.

But they also may find themselves losing a few seats to the Congress in the Muslim-dominated Murshidabad and Maldah districts.




India votes 2004: Full in-depth coverage here

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Gandhi family loyalists back in from the cold, but no fresh blood in cabinet.


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