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    Campaign for fifth phase poll ends in Bengal

    Kolkata: The high-voltage campaign for the May 7 fifth phase election to 38 constituencies in the Maoist-hit districts of West Midnapur, Bankura, Purulia and parts of Burdwan district ended on Thursday.

    An electorate of 74, 17,723 will chose their representatives to the West Bengal Assembly from among 193 candidates in fray. The notable among the constituencies is Keshpur in West Midnapur district where a bitter turf war between two arch political rivals CPM and Trinamool Congress made news for several years.

    When the Left Front suffered a rout in south Bengal in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls at the hands of the Trinamool Congress, these four districts, together known as the red fort, stemmed the wind of change blowing hard across Bengal.

    The May 7 election in these districts appears to be a test for the Left Front's ability to block the threatend inroads by the Trinamool Congress. Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee played the development card during her hectic campaign, promising industry, educational institutes and hospitals.

    Alleging that the Maoist problem was created by the CPM, Mamata had said the Marxist party branded as a Maoist whoever protested against the CPM's 'reign of terror'. The Left leaders on the other hand had accused Mamata of making 'false promises' to woo tribals in the region.

    Addressing a campaign meeting at Jhargram in Maoist-affected West Midnapur district where Lalgarh is situated, Chief Minister and CPM leader Buddhadeb
    Bhattacharjee had alleged, "If Trinamool Congress wins, the Maoists will raise their heads again in the state. Giving vote to them equals to giving vote to the Maoists."

    Addressing an election meeting, Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee had urged the Maosits to shun violence and sit for talks to settle their demands. Union Home Minister P Chidabaram, who had addressed campaign meetings at Keshpur and Garbeta in West Midnapur district, tore into the Left Front's shoddy record on the law and order front.

    Tight security arrangement has been made for the fifth phase as well as the sixth and last phase. Apart from state forces, around 550 to 600 companies of central paramilitary forces would be deployed in the 38 constituencies, election office sources here said.

    Of the 38 seats, 12 are in West Midnapur district, five in Purulia district, nine in Bankura district and 12 in Burdwan district. The Left Front is contesting all the 38 seats - CPM in 32 seats, Forward Bloc in three and the CPI, RSP, DSP and the BBC (Biplabi Bangla Congress) one each.

    Trinamool Congress is contesting in 33 seats and its alliance partner Congress in five. The BJP has fielded candidates in all the seats.

    Prominent candidates included health minister and CPM state party stalwart Suryakanta Mishra, state Congress president Manas Bhuniya, Trinamool Congress leader and mayor of the Asansol Municipal Corporation Tapas Banerjee. Surya Kanta Mishra is in the fray from Narayangarh in West Midnapur district. An MLA since 1991, Mishra is pitted against Trinamool's greenhorn Suryakanta Autta in a crucial contest.

    Bhuniya is seeking reelection from Sabong in West Midnapur district where Left Front has fielded Rampada Sahu belonging to BBC. Veteran Congress leader Gyansingh Sohanpal is also seeking re-election from Kharagpur (Sadar) seat.