A total of 35 seats go to polls in the last phase of West Bengal Assembly elections on Thursday but the focus largely is on the 11 seats in the Birbhum district, arguably the most violence-prone district in the state, and all eyes are on the Trinamool Congress strongman Anubrata Mondal.
For the third consecutive election in the state, after 2016 and 2019, the Election Commission has been forced to put Mondal under the “strict surveillance” of the central armed police forces for a period of 62 hours during the Birbhum district polls. He still dodged the forces for three hours on Wednesday before being finally tracked down. The CBI also issued a notice for questioning him in a cattle smuggling case this week.
Mondal is the district president of the TMC in Birbhum, the party’s much feared face here, as well as, a close aide of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who has not let go of him despite a series of controversies and allegations of political killings against Mondal. He has been in politics for over three decades and Banerjee has always defended him publicly. Incidentally, Mondal has never contested any election.
The maximum number of security forces for any district in the last phase have been sent to Birbhum and half-a-dozen senior officers have been specially deputed to the district by the West Bengal Police amidst fear of violence. The BJP has made winning Birbhum seats an issue of prestige and the fight became all about the lawlessness perpetrated by Mondal in what is the ‘Land and Abode of Rabindranath Tagore’.
The TMC had won nine of the 11 seats in Birbhum in the 2016 assembly elections but BJP made inroads here for the first time in 2019, getting leads in five of the assembly segments. BJP has raised the issues of political killings, corruption and a bad name brought to Tagore’s Birbhum by TMC’s Mondal. The district is also closely associated with Somnath Chatterjee, Amartya Sen and Pranab Mukherjee.
11 seats of Murshidabad, seven in Kolkata and six in Malda, where the TMC is expecting to do well, also go to polls today. The last phase has hardly seen any campaigning after the Election Commission banned big rallies and all road shows last week. However, Mondal’s shadow looms large over the last phase of the elections.