KOLKATA: Counting of votes polled in the West Bengal assembly elections began at 8 am on Sunday under tight security and strict adherence to safety protocols, amid a raging second wave of COVID-19.
Exit polls have forecast a tight contest between the ruling Trinamool Congress and the BJP in the eight-phase elections to the 294-member assembly.
The counting will decide the electoral fate of 2,116 candidates including nominees of the Left-Congress-Indian Secular Front alliance.
The exercise is underway in 108 counting centres spread across the 23 districts of the state, where a three- tier security arrangement has been put in place.
At least 292 observers have been appointed and 256 companies of central forces deployed at the counting centres.
Polling to 292 assembly seats was held in eight phases from March 27 to April 29.
Voting in Shamsherganj and Jangipur seats in Murshidabad district was postponed due to the death of some candidates.
Polling in these two seats will now be held on May 16 and votes counted on May 19.
In view of the rising number of coronavirus cases in the state, the Election Commission has decided to place tables at the counting halls in such a way that social distancing norms are maintained.
All the EVMs and VVPATs at the counting centres will be sanitised before the commencement of the process.
Of the state's 294 assembly constituencies, the most keenly watched will be Nandigram in Purba Medinipur district where Chief Minister and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee is contesting her protege-turned-adversary Suvendu Adhikari of the BJP.
Banerjee, who is seeking a third term in office, has left Bhabanipur constituency in Kolkata to fight from Nandigram, the epicentre of an anti-land acquisition movement that catapulted her party to power in 2011 ending the 34- year-long Left Front rule.
However, 10 years later, a number of leaders have left the party and joined the BJP ahead of the election which was blotched by violence, vicious personal attacks and jingoistic fulminations.
Exit polls were divided in their forecast for the West Bengal election, where the BJP ran a high-octane campaign in its bid to capture power in the state for the first time by ending Banerjee's 10-year-long reign.
An average polling of 81.87 per cent was recorded in the eight phases.