Senior BJP leader Swapan Dasgupta, TMC minister Ashima Patra and former CPI(M) minister Kanti Ganguly are among the 205 candidates whose campaigns for the third phase of elections in 31 seats in West Bengal ended on Sunday evening. In this phase, elections will be held in parts of rural Howrah, the Sunderban region, the Diamond Harbour and Baruipur belts in the South 24 Parganas, and parts of the Hooghly district.
The campaign ended at 5 pm with elections scheduled to be held on Tuesday. The BJP’s campaign was led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who addressed several public meetings in these three districts. Besides, Home Minister Amit Shah, BJP president JP Nadda, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Union minister Smriti Irani held a slew of rallies and roadshows in the last few days in these areas.
The Trinamool Congress’s charge was led by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, even as TMC MP and her nephew Abhishek Banerjee addressed a significant number of rallies. In his successive rallies, the prime minister attacked the TMC government over “appeasement politics”, while raking up the issue of ground-level corruption, including the alleged irregularities in Amphan relief.
On the other side, the chief minister took on the leaders who left her party to join the BJP ahead of the elections, urging people to vote against the “traitors”. She also attacked the BJP-led government at the Centre over rising fuel prices and the state of the economy. The Left-led alliance focussed more on street-corner meets, small gatherings and door-to-door visits in absence of a face to counter Modi and Banerjee at large rallies. However, ISF founder Abbas Siddiqui’s public meetings saw mega gatherings in places such as Canning that have significant Muslim population.
A total of 78,52,425 voters will decide the fate of 205 candidates in the 31 seats. Of them, 39,93,280 are males, 38,58,902 females and 243 third gender voters. The 16 seats in South 24 Parganas, going to the polls in this phase, are the most affected by cyclone Amphan that hit the state amid the lockdown last May. Significantly, these are TMC strongholds, having massive grassroots organisation, with many being part of Abhishek Banerjee’s Diamond Harbour Lok Sabha seat.
However, the allegations of corruption in Amphan relief and the rise of ISF in certain pockets are among the factors that are being closely watched for their potential to affect the TMC’s fortunes. One of the notable contests in this district is in Raidighi, where CPI(M) heavyweight Kanti Ganguly is up against BJP’s Santanu Bapuli and Trinamool Congress’s Aloke Jaldata.
Ganguly lost the last two elections from the seat by slender margins to TMC’s celebrity candidate Debashree Roy, but this time is banking on the work he did after the Amphan devastation even as he was not an MLA. In all, 10,871 polling stations have been set up in the 31 assembly constituencies where elections will be held from 7 am to 6.30 pm.
Hooghly district, once a TMC stronghold, witnessed the BJP making significant inroads with the 2019 Lok Sabha elections as party candidate Locket Chatterjee won the Hooghly seat. Elections will be held in eight seats of the district in this phase. Among the significant contests in this district in the third phase is the Tarakeswar seat where the BJP has fielded former party MP Swapan Dasgupta. He is up against Ramendu Sinharay of TMC and Surajit Ghosh of CPI(M). The TMC was ahead of the BJP by more than 4,000 votes in the Lok Sabha elections in this assembly seat.
In the Dhanekhali seat, TMC has renominated state minister Asima Patra. She is up against Tusar Majumdar of BJP and Anirban Saha of Congress. The seven seats going to the polls in Howrah, another TMC stronghold in its south Bengal bastion, are mostly in the rural areas of the district. The TMC won 15 of the 16 seats in this district in the 2016 assembly elections. However, the switching over of state minister Rajib Banerjee, a senior TMC leader of the district, to the BJP ahead of the elections is being closely watched for its potential to sway the polls.
Amta was the only seat that the TMC did not win in this district last time, losing to veteran Congressman Asit Mitra. He is contesting this time as well, against Debtanu Bhattacharya of BJP and Sukanta Kumar Paul of TMC. At least 618 companies of central forces will be deployed in this phase, Election Commission sources said, adding that all the booths have been identified as “sensitive”.
The EC allocated the highest 396 companies of central forces for the 5,544 booths in the three police districts in the South 24 Parganas — Baruipur, Diamond Harbour and Sundarban. There will be 166 companies of central forces in Hooghly and 133 in the rural areas of Howrah.
“We will not take any chance. For free and fair polling, officials have been instructed to be strict,” a senior official at the Chief Electoral Officer’s office said. Elections to the 294-member West Bengal assembly are being held in eight phases. The first two phases were on March 27 and April 1. Votes will be counted on May 2.