Shillong/Kohima, Feb 23 (IANS) India's democratic system triumphed as Meghalaya electors rejected a shutdown call by an outlawed outfit to cast votes in large numbers while Nagaland too saw brisk balloting in peaceful assembly elections Saturday. Over 80 percent polling was recorded in both states.
Assembly by-polls were also held in three constituencies in West Bengal, and one each in Punjab and Mizoram.
The votes will be counted Feb 28.
In Meghalaya, as polling began 7 a.m., people defied a shutdown call by the banned Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC) to turn out at the polling booths in huge numbers to elect a new 60-member assembly.
"Who are they (HNLC) to deny my democratic rights. People have come out in large numbers to exercise their franchise without any fear," said Kitbok Wanniang at Nongkwar polling booth.
Eighty-one percent turnout was recorded till 4 p.m. when polling officially ended.
"An estimated 81 percent voters have cast their ballots till 4 p.m. We are expecting that the voting percentage would increase to 85 percent or more," Chief Electoral Officer Prashant Naik told IANS.
"The election has been conducted in a free, fair and peaceful manner with no report of major poll-related incidents," he said.
Activist Agnes Kharshiing said at least six people had used Rule 49-0 under The Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961, to record the desire not to vote saying they were not satisfied with the contesting candidates.
The Border Security Force (BSF) had stepped up patrolling along the India-Bangladesh border "to prevent possible infiltration of HNLC rebels into Meghalaya to disrupt the elections," BSF spokesman Ravi Gandhi said.
The HNLC, which conducts hit-and-run operations from its hideout in Bangladesh, has been demanding a sovereign Khasi homeland in eastern Meghalaya.
Meghalaya, with a population of nearly three million as per 2011 census, has a total electorate of 15,03,907, including 7,59,608 women dominating in many constituencies of the matrilineal state.
A total of 345 candidates, including 25 women and 122 independents, were in the fray. The state had 2,485 polling booths, out of which 842 were termed hyper-sensitive.
Chief Minister Mukul Sangma and his wife Dikanchi D. Shira cast their votes in Chengkompara polling booth in Ampati constituency.
"I'm sure there will be a swing in favour of the Congress," Sangma told IANS.
The United Democratic Party (UDP) was equally confident of victory.
"I'm confident that the UDP will gain more seats and we are confident of ousting the Congress party from power," UDP chief and former chief minister Donkupar Roy said.
The Congress has fielded candidates in all constituencies followed by the UDP in 50 and the Purno Sangma-led Nationalist People's Party in 32 constituencies.
In Nagaland, over 83 percent of the 1,193,438- strong electorate voted till 4 p.m., but polling was still on in some remote areas beyond 6 p.m.
Nagaland, which shares its borders with Assam to the west and north, Arunachal Pradesh to the north, Myanmar to the east and Manipur to the south, has a total population of 19,80,602.
Polling was held for 59 out of total 60 seats, with election to Tuensang Sadar I constituency adjourned after Congress candidate P. Chuba Chang died Friday.
"Voters were seen coming out enthusiastically to polling stations. We have registered over 83 percent polling till 4 p.m.," Nagaland Joint Chief Electoral Officer N. Moa Aier told IANS.
The hilly border state had recorded 85 percent polling in 2008.
"Polling has ended but we are still collecting reports from the polling stations located in remote areas of the state. So, the final polling percentage is likely to increase further," Aier said.
Calling it one of the most peaceful elections in the state, he said: "There are reports of some minor political clashes, but no major incident has been reported from anywhere in the state so far."
Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio voted at his native village Touphema in Northern Angami constituency.
Election officials used 2,600 EVMs to conduct the polls in 2,023 polling stations. A total of 188 candidates, including two women, are in fray.
The ruling Naga People's Front (NPF) has fielded candidates in all 60 seats while the main opposition party Congress put up 57 nominees. The Bharatiya Janata Party fielded 11 candidates.
Over 26,000 security personnel, including 225 companies of central paramilitary forces and police, have been deployed.
In Punjab, polling in Moga saw a 70 percent turnout despite heavy rain while in West Bengal, 83 percent of the electors voted in the three assembly constituencies -- Nalhati in Birbhum district, Rejinagar in Murshidabad district and English Bazar in Malda district.
Over 70 percent of total 17,054 electors cast their franchise in the by-election to the tribal dominated Chalfilh assembly constituency in Mizoram.