(Eds: clubs related stories) Kolkata, Apr 26 (PTI) As the country sank deeper into its worst humanitarian crisis triggered by the COVID-19 carnage, West Bengal Monday celebrated the 'festival of democracy' amid cacophonous cries for more votes for a poll three days away.
A robust 75 per cent of the 85 lakh electorate had cast their ballots by 5 pm for the 34 seats that went to poll in the 7th and penultimate phase of polling for the 294-member state assembly. Voters in 35 remaining constituencies will exercise their franchise on April 29.
The voting happened on a day when the Madras High Court poured scorn on the Election Commission, 'singularly' blaming it for the second surge of the pandemic and calling it 'the most irresponsible institution' whose officials may be booked for 'murder'.
But, as the country faced an unprecendented health crisis in living memory, the politically turbulent state not only saw men and women, young and old, throng the polling stations guarded by burly central forces personnel in camouglage, but also fusillade of fire-counterfire between the BJP and the TMC.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was all bile when she demanded withdrawal of central forces deployed for the last phase of polling on April 29, claiming nearly two lakh of them, drawn from BJP-ruled states, were spreading the disease.
She claimed 75 per cent of them were infected with the virus.
She accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of insensitivity, alleging 'while mass pyres were lit at crematoriums, he was busy delivering speeches.
'I welcome the Madras High Court order, which clearly said the EC cannot escape its responsibility. Both Prime Minister Modi and EC are responsible for the situation,' Banerjee alleged at a TMC workers meet in Kolkata where party candidates were present.
BJP president J P Nadda, who addressed poll rallies through the day, held a press conference at a hotel in Kolkata where he defended the EC and the BJP's conduct.
'Holding elections is a constitutional obligation which the Election Commission has to fulfil,' he said, and reminded 'institutions' about the need for 'modesty' of words.
'Be it an institution or someone sitting in an institution, one should be mindful of modesty of words,' the BJP leader said.
Banerjee, facing the toughest electoral challenge in her career, made an emotional appeal to voters for supporting her party. 'While mass pyres were being lit at crematoriums, Modi was busy delivering his 'Mann ki baat'.' PTI TEAM SK SK SK