Kolkata, July 29: Amid heightened security, votes cast in the five-phased panchayat polls in West Bengal earlier this month will be counted today to decide the fate of 1.69 lakh candidates, of which around 90,000 are women.
The massive exercise to determine the results for village councils - the third tier of India's electoral system - would be taken up by around 98,000 personnel in 329 counting centres - one in each block - across the rural areas of the state.
Up for grabs are 58,865 seats, for which an impressive 84.56 percent of the 4.4 crore electorate cast their franchise in five phases - July 11, 15, 19, 22 and 25.
There are in all 755 Zilla Parishad (district councils) constituencies spread over 17 Zilla Parishads, 8,864 Panchayat Samity constituencies in 341 Panchayat Samities and 36,016 Gram Panchayat constituencies in 3,354 Gram Panchayats.
With at least 24 people dying in poll-related violence since round one of the elections, the authorities have decided to deploy 4,500 central armed security forces besides a large army of state police personnel.
While the central forces will be on guard in the counting centres, the state police personnel will be deployed to maintain peace outside.
The polls were held in the backdrop of intriguing court battles between two constitutional bodies -- the West Bengal government and the State Election Commission, violence and complaints of terror, rigging and intimidation mostly against the ruling Trinamool Congress,
Politically, the polls are significant in the wake of the triangular fights between the Trinamool, the Communist Party of India-Marxist-led Left Front (LF) and the Congress, with the latter two charging the Trinamool with having adopted tactics of coercion and intimidation to win the elections "unethically".
To buttress their point, the opposition parties have been referring to the Trinamool winning about 6,250 seats uncontested and alleged that their representatives were not allowed to file nomination.
On the other hand, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has claimed that the elections were free and fair, with the violence at a much lower scale than in previous elections. She has, however, claimed that the opposition tried to create unrest in some pockets.
In the 2008 elections, the LF bagged 13 zilla parishads, and the Congress and the Trinamool two each.
However, this time the Trinamool was hoping to turn the script around by winning 13 Zilla parishads. CPI-M sources claimed that things could be tough for the LF, but still it would bag "at least two zilla parishads".
The Congress was also in the race in two-three zilla parishads.