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    Battlelines drawn for crucial West Bengal polls

    Kolkata: Sailing against a strong wind of change, the Left Front is facing the toughest ever challenge in its 35-year rule while Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress in alliance with Congress and other fringe players is pulling out all stops to bring about 'paribartan' or change in the West Bengal Assembly polls. The elections would be held in six phases with the first phase polling scheduled for April 18 in 54 constituencies in north Bengal. The sixth and the last phase is slated for May 10.

    Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who is leading the Left Front charge, and the Trinamool supremo have already hit the campaign trail either addressing meetings or participating in marches. Bhattacharjee is seeking re-election from Jadavpur constituency on the southern fringe of the city while Banerjee, currently a member of the Lok Sabha from Kolkata South, is not contesting the polls.

    For the ruling Left Front, it is a make-or-break election having tasted defeats in successive elections through panchayat, Lok Sabha and municipal elections since 2008. Battling against anti-incumbency, the CPM leadership admitted that it was up against a strong challenge, but it could still bounce back.

    "Trinamool-Congress alliance has bagged 11 lakh more votes than the LF in the last Lok Sabha polls, which can be made up if the Front managed to garner additional 10 votes in each of the 60,000 booths across the state," CPM central committee member and housing minister Gautam Deb said.

    Riding on an apparent pro-change wave, Trinamool is confident of dethroning the Left. "There will be polarisation between the Left Front and our alliance and there will be no other force. The people will vote for a change to end the 35-year 'misrule' of the CPM-led government," Banerjee has said.

    Undeterred by Trinamool's no-holds-barred thrust for taking over the Writers' Buildings, Bhattacharjee has launched a strong bid to return to power for the eight time in a row, though admitting the mistakes his party made. "We have won election seven times we will win for the eight time too," he told a public meeting in his constituency Jadavpur recently.

    "We have learnt lessons from our defeat in the last Lok Sabha poll and have taken up a rectification drive," he stated. Putting up a brave face about the Trinamool-Congress alliance, he remarked, "Politics is not an arithmetic. Two and two may be a zero in politics."

    Of the 294 seats in the state Assembly, Trinamool Congress alone has fielded candidates in 226 seats, leaving 65 for its ally Congress, two to Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI-Communist) and one to NCP. The Left Front has put up nominees in all the seats. BJP, which did not have any member in the outgoing Assembly, has announced candidates in 280 seats.

    In a minor jolt to the opposition alliance, Trinamool's ally SUCI(C) has announced that it would field candidates in 29 seats against Congress triggering the possibility of division of opposition votes. This had irked the Congress with state party president Manas Bhuniya saying it was mysterious that an ally of Trinamool has fielded nominees against us.