The EC has deployed around 651 companies of central forces to provide security to 10,620 polling stations, all of which have been declared sensitive
The stage is set for the second phase of the Assembly poll in West Bengal today (Thursday, 1 April) when more than 75 lakh voters will decide the fate of 191 candidates, including Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, in 30 seats amid tight security.
All eyes are on the high-profile Nandigram constituency where Banerjee is pitted against her protege turned adversary Suvendu Adhikari.
TMC and BJP are contesting in all the 30 seats while CPM is in the fray in 15 and its alliance partners of Sanjukta Morcha — the Congress and ISF — are competing in 13 and two seats, respectively.
All polling booths in Phase 2 declared sensitive
The Election Commission has deployed around 651 companies of central forces to provide security in all the polling stations where polling will be held this phase of the Bengal election. The EC has declared all the 10,620 polling stations as sensitive, officials told PTI.
Besides the CAPF, the state police will also be deployed at strategic locations during the polling which will begin at 7 am, they said.
A total of 199 companies of the Central Armed Police Force will be deployed in Purba Medinipur, 210 companies in Paschim Medinipur, 170 in South 24 Parganas and 72 in Bankura, sources said.
Nandigram: A battle of titans
Polling will take place amid strict COVID-19 guidelines in nine seats of Paschim Medinipur district, eight in Bankura district, four seats in South 24 Parganas district and nine in Purba Medinipur district: the home ground of TMC turncoat and BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari. Nandigram falls in Purba Medinipur district.
The agrarian constituency which shook the foundations of the mighty Left regime over the anti-land acquisition movement in 2007, has now turned into a battleground of titans with Banerjee suddenly deciding to switch from her Bhowanipur seat to the constituency held by Adhikari, her former lieutenant who has switched loyalty to the BJP.
For Adhikari, it is a battle for political survival as a defeat would be a devastating blow and might also put a question mark on his political graph in his new party. Similarly, a victory would not only establish him as one of the tallest leaders in Bengal, but would also push him few miles ahead of others in the chief ministerial race in case the BJP is voted to power.
For Banerjee, who is running for the third successive term as chief minister, a victory is a must to lead the government and keep together her party, which has lately seen an exodus of several top leaders. For Sanjukta Morcha candidate Minakshi Mukherjee of CPI-M, the challenge is to regain her party’s lost ground.
While Banerjee had been camping in Nandigram for the past four days, BJP fielded its ‘big guns’, including Home Minister Amit Shah, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath and superstar Mithun Chakraborty to defend Adhikari’s turf, which he had won in 2016 and take on ‘Didi’ (as Mamata is popularly called).
Key poll issues
While TMC has invoked the Bengali sub-nationalism portraying the BJP as a party of outsiders and detrimental to Bengali culture, several other poll issues have gained the attention of electors in the run-up to the second phase of Bengal elections.
The demand for jobs, the inclusion of Hindu backward communities in the OBC category and the setting up of agro-based industry have emerged as major poll planks in the second phase of polls.
Key seats and candidates
Of the 30 seats which will see voting on Thursday, 23 were won by TMC in the 2016 Assembly elections, five by the Left Front, while the Congress and BJP had won one seat each.
The political equation in the state, however, changed in 2019 when the BJP made massive inroads in the tribal-dominated Jangal Mahal region and Medinipur belt by sweeping all the five Lok Sabha seats. Several of the constituencies in the Jangal Mahal region have already polled in the first phase.
The TMC, however, has been able to maintain its dominance in the South 24 Parganas district, where there is a sizeable minority population.
A prominent seat going to the poll in the second phase is Sabang, where TMC has fielded its Rajya Sabha MP Manas Bhunia. He is up against TMC turncoat and BJP leader Amulya Maity. Bhunia, a former state Congress president, had held the seat from 1982 to 2016 as Congress nominee before switching over to the TMC in September 2016.
TMC has fielded actor Sayantika Banerjee, a popular face in the Bengali silver screen, from Bankura seat against BJP’s Niladri Sekhar Dana. The Sanjukta Morcha has fielded Congress candidate Radharani Banerjee. In Debra seat, two former IPS officers will face each other. BJP candidate Bharati Ghosh is contesting against TMC’s Humayun Kabir. Both had resigned from their senior police posts to join active politics.
Banerjee, who has been campaigning in a wheelchair since her accident early this month, crisscrossed the majority of the constituencies going to the polls in the second phase. TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee toured the rest asserting that TMC will not let Bengal be ruled from Delhi or Gujarat in an apparent reference to the battery of central BJP leaders and ministers camping in the state.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP national president JP Nadda had led BJP’s campaign from the front addressing rallies at Kanthi, Bankura and Nandigram and urging the electorate to vote for BJP to usher in ‘ashol poriborton‘ (actual change) to build ‘Sonar Bangla’ (prosperous Bengal).
With inputs from PTI