Kolkata: TMC looks set to sweep the violence-scarred rural polls keeping intact the mandate it won two years back during the assembly polls by taking an early but seemingly unassailable lead in results declared till now by the State Election Commission.
The ruling TMC has won in 16,330 gram panchayat seats out of the 23,344 seats declared, besides leading in 3,002 seats, according to the SEC as of 5.30 pm. Its nearest rival BJP has won 3,790 seats and is leading in 802 seats. In all elections are being held for 63,229 gram panchayat seats.
The Left Front has won 1,365 seat, of which the CPI(M) alone has won 1,206. The Left is currently leading in 621 seats. The Congress won 886 seats and is leading in 256.
Other parties which included the newly formed ISF won 937 seats and led in 190 seats, while independents which included TMC rebels won 418 seats and led in 73 seats.
TMC has also won all 18 Zila Parishad results declared so far and is leading in 30 others while CPI(M) is leading in one. In all, there are 928 Zila Parishad seats.
"The results reflect the faith of people in TMC and the state government. It also shows that people have rejected the divisive politics of the BJP and the negative politics of the Congress and CPI (M)," TMC spokesperson Kunal Ghosh said.
The elections were keenly contested as they were seen by all parties as an indicator of which way the wind will blow in the 2024 parliamentary elections from this part of the country.
The violence which rocked the panchayat polls held on Saturday has claimed at least 15 lives with 11 of them from the ruling TMC. Since elections were announced last month, the number of people who died in poll-related incidents has been 33, with the ruling party suffering 60 per cent of the deaths.
Allegations of vote tampering and violence by various parties forced the SEC to order re-polling in 696 seats on Monday, which passed more or less peacefully. Intervention by the Calcutta High Court had seen the deployment of central police forces on both election and counting days.
A voter turnout of 80.71 per cent was recorded on Saturday, whereas a vote percentage of 69.85 was recorded till 5 pm in 696 booths across West Bengal, where re-polling was held on Monday.
Though Bengal has a long history of violent rural polls with 40 people killed in one single day of polling during the 2003 panchayat elections, this year's violence which was covered extensively by the media focused national attention on it.
Governor CV Ananda Bose who had rushed to Delhi to give a report on the violence told newspersons "Political parties should realise elections are not grounds to examine one's physical strength".
Counting of votes for the three-tier panchayat polls to nearly 74,000 seats which besides the gram panchayat seats, also includes 9,730 panchayat samiti seats and 928 zilla parishad seats, began at 8 am on Tuesday peacefully amid tight security, officials said.
Vote counting is on at 339 venues spread across 22 districts and is likely to carry over to Wednesday. The maximum number of counting centres is in South 24 Parganas at 28, while the minimum is in Kalimpong at four. Some northern districts are also facing inclement weather.
"Counting began at 8 am and is likely to continue for the next two days. It will take time for the ballots to be counted and the results to be compiled," an SEC official said.
In Darjeeling hills, out of the 598 seats in Darjeeling and 281 in Kalimpong, the Bharatiya Gorkha Prajatantrik Morcha (BGPM) was leading in many areas and looks likely to be the new numero uno in the Bengal hill districts.
All the counting venues are manned by armed state police personnel and central forces, with prohibitory orders under Section 144 of CrPC being imposed outside the venue to avoid any untoward incidents. There are a total of 767 strong rooms across 22 districts.
Large crowds of supporters of various candidates gathered at various centres to ensure that counting was conducted correctly.
In various districts, TMC supporters celebrated their victory by dancing and smearing each other with green colour, the party's chosen colour.
As initial trends started pouring in, a war of words broke out between the TMC and the BJP, with the latter accusing the ruling party of "making last desperate attempts to loot votes by blocking opposition agents from entering counting centres."
"TMC goons are making desperate attempts to steal the elections by obstructing the counting agents and candidates of the BJP and other opposition political parties from entering counting centres. They are being restricted from going towards the venue, and bombs are being hurled to intimidate counting agents," leader of the Opposition, Suvendu Adhikari, said.
Refuting the allegations, TMC spokesperson Kunal Ghosh said, "Sensing defeat, they are making baseless allegations."
"Rejected by people and sensing humiliating defeat, this is BJP's last attempt to come up with lame excuses to make up for its own organisational failures," he said.
"We salute the people that despite all these (hurdles), they have supported the Left Front candidates," CPI(M) state secretary Mohd Salim said.
The CPI(M) leader alleged that the ruling party was misusing the police and administration to get back to power in the panchayats.
ISF MLA Nawshad Siddique who is leading his newly formed party told PTI, "Whatever chance the people have got to exercise their franchise despite violence and intimidation, they have expressed their opinion against the ruling party."
He added that the myth that a certaincommunity is a vote bank has been proven wrong.
A total of 5.67 crore people living in the state's rural areas were eligible to decide the fate of 2.06 lakh candidates in 73,887 seats of the three-tier-panchayat system.
Unlike earlier elections, the Opposition had fielded candidates in more than 90 per cent of seats, unlike in 2018 rural polls, when the ruling TMC had won 34 per cent of the seats uncontested.
In the 2018 rural polls, the ruling TMC had emerged victorious in 90 per cent of the panchayat seats and all the 22 zilla parishads. The elections were marred by widespread violence, with the Opposition alleging they were prevented from filing nominations in several seats.