In more than 20 of the 31 assembly seats that go to the polls in the third phase in West Bengal on Tuesday, the contest between the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will be close because of the demographics of these constituencies and strong presence of the ruling party.
The polls will be held in Hooghly, South 24 Parganas and Howrah districts. Out of the 205 candidates in the race, only 13 are women. The Election Commission of India (ECI) has deployed more than 62,000 central armed police personnel for the third phase.
Like the second phase, prohibitory orders under Section 144 of Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr.PC) will be enforced around the 10,871 polling booths in the three districts on Tuesday to stop assembly of more than four people.
The number of electors in the third phase is 78,52,425 of whom a little less than half are women while 243 belong to the third gender.
In Hooghly district, where eight seats go to the polls, the BJP made sizeable inroads in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Actor-turned-politician Locket Chatterjee managed to wrest the Hooghly Lok Sabha seat while the BJP lost the Arambagh seat by about a thousand votes only.
Chatterjee, who is one of the four BJP Lok Sabha members contesting in the eight-phase elections, has been fielded from the Chinsurah assembly seat which is part of her Lok Sabha segment.
Having promised to enforce the new citizenship law in Bengal if it comes to power, the BJP has set its eyes on the scheduled caste population, for whom the Dhaniakhali, Goghat and Arambagh seats are reserved.
Arambagh is likely to witness the most fierce contest, all parties say. The TMC has fielded Sujata Mondal Khan, the estranged wife of Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) state president and Lok Sabha member Saumitra Khan from this seat. Sujata Mondal Khan joined the TMC in December after her husband sent a legal notice for divorce following a marital dispute. He announced his decision during a press conference, making the incident a first of its kind in Bengal politics.
Swapan Dasgupta, the BJP’s Rajya Sabha member who resigned from the Parliament to contest the local elections, is contesting against the TMC’s Ramendu Singha at the Tarakeshwar seat in Hooghly district. “I tried to meet as many people as possible,” Dasgupta told the local media during a door-to-door campaign on Saturday.
Debjit Sarkar, the former state president of the BJYM, is contesting for the Jangipara seat. “I contested the local Lok Sabha seat but the situation is quite different now. I have felt the tension in some areas,” Sarkar, who could not win in 2019, told HT on Monday night.
In Hooghly district, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI(M), is contesting only the Arambagh and Tarakeshwar seats.
In South 24 Parganas district, where as many as 16 assembly segments are going to the polls, several are part of the Diamond Harbour Lok Sabha constituency held by chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee. The TMC’s youth wing president held five rallies and roadshows as campaigning came to a close at 5 pm on Sunday.
The district, with 31 assembly constituencies, is a TMC stronghold. In the 2016 state polls, the ruling party won 29 seats. In 2019, when the BJP won 18 of the state’s 42 Lok Sabha seats and even made a dent in the adjacent North 24 Parganas district, voters in South 24 Parganas remained loyal to the TMC. Abhishek Banerjee won from Diamond Harbour for the second time by a margin of 3,00,000 votes.
Muslims comprise a sizeable section of the population in many assembly segments such as Canning East, Baruipur East, Baruipur West and Diamond Harbour. While this may make the contest easier for the TMC, since Muslims have backed the party consistently, allegations of corruption during distribution of relief for victims of cyclone Amphan has been made the main election issue by the BJP and the Indian Secular Front founded by cleric Abbasuddin Siddiqui.
Magrahat East, Bishnupur, Mandirbazar, Joynagar, Basanti, Kultali and Canning West are reserved for scheduled caste candidates. In these seats, the Left parties had a strong presence till 2016 and the Marxists are desperate to make a comeback. At Raidighi, CPI(M) stalwart and former minister Kanti Ganguly, is contesting the seat again.
The CPI(M) is contesting nine seats in South 24 Parganas, including Kultali which witnessed violence in almost all elections in the past. On Monday evening, BJP and TMC workers exchanged allegations of violence at Kultali.
In Howrah, where the TMC has a strong presence, only seven seats are going to the polls. Out of these, the BJP intends to put up a tough fight at Udaynarayanpur, Jagatballavpur, Uluberia North and Uluberia South although the size of the Muslim population in these zones can make things difficult for the saffron camp.
Actress Tanushree Chakraborty, who joined the BJP in March, has been fielded from Shyampur.
The ECI has organised the International Virtual Election Visitors Programme (IEVP) 2021 for foreign election management bodies during the elections in four states and Puducherry on Tuesday.
“The ongoing elections in Assam, Kerala, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal have an electorate of over 187.2 million, one of the largest in the world to vote so far amid the Covid-19 pandemic. It is a good opportunity to share our best practices and experience of conduct of our poll process as well as steps taken to mitigate the effect of pandemic,” the ECI said in a statement.
Over 106 delegates from Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Cambodia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Republic of Korea, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Mongolia, Nepal, Panama, Philippines, Romania, Russia, South Africa, Suriname, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Zambia are going to participate in IEVP 2021, the statement added.