Polling is underway in 34 assembly seats of West Bengal spread across five districts in the penultimate phase, the only round where the Left Front and the Congress are in strong reckoning.
The Left and the Congress had won 22 of these seats in the 2016 assembly elections. In 2019 Lok Sabha elections, contesting separately, both the parties witnessed a massive slide in their support base in these constituencies in South Dinajpur, Malda, Murshidabad, West Burdwan and Kolkata.
The Congress for long has a significant presence in South Dinajpur, Malda and Murshidabad whereas the Left Front has several pockets of influence in South Dinajpur, Malda and West Burdwan districts.
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The BJP eroded the support base of the two parties among the Hindus in these districts, while the Muslims consolidated behind the TMC in the communally polarised 2019 elections.
The BJP witnessed a meteoric rise in its vote share from 13 per cent in 2016 to about 37 per cent in 2019 in these seats. The TMC’s vote share too increased, though marginally.
“The 2019 was Lok Sabha elections. So it will be wrong to refer it in the context of the assembly elections. Moreover, this time we are contesting in alliance with the Left Front and the Indian Secular Front. Hence, we are quite sure of regaining lost ground in our traditional strongholds,” said Humayun Reza, the Congress candidate from Suti in Murshidabad district.
Reza was elected from the seat as a Congress nominee in 2016. But the TMC took lead in this assembly segment in the last parliamentary elections.
The Left and the Congress are hoping that influential Muslim cleric Abbas Siddiqui’s ISF could be helpful in regaining allegiance of Muslim voters.
A division in Muslim votes between the Congress-Left Front-led alliance and the TMC could ultimately benefit the BJP, said Siliguri-based senior journalist Probir Pramanik.
Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) is also contesting in three of the 34 seats — Malatipur in Malda, Sagardighi in Mursidabad and Asansol North in West Burdwan — crowding the competition for the Muslim votes.
Reza said this time people would not be swayed by the BJP’s communal planks and would vote for the joint fronts.
“Despite their best efforts, it will be difficult for the Congress and the Left to repeat their 2016 performance in these seats. At best the alliance could do better than its 2019 performance,” according to Pramanik.
In the four Kolkata seats, the contest will be mainly between the TMC and the BJP while the focus will be on Bhabanipur, the seat vacated by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to contest from Nandigram.
Senior TMC leader and power minister Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay is pitted against actor-cum politician Rudranil Ghosh in this high-profile constituency that had elected two chief ministers. Apart from Mamata Banerjee, Bhabanipur was also the constituency of former chief minister late Siddhartha Shankar Ray.
Other keenly followed constituencies in the 7th of the 8th phase-elections will be Kolkata Port from where Urban Development and Municipal Affairs minister Firhad Hakim is contesting; Ballygunge where veteran politician and Panchayats and Rural development minister Subrata Mukherjee is in the fray; Jamuria, the seat from where president of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union Aishe Ghosh is making her electoral debut as CPI (M) candidate and Balurghat where the BJP has fielded former chief economic adviser of the Union government Ashok Lahiri.
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The Election Commission has deployed 653 companies of central forces for this phase of polling.
In view of the surge in COVID-19 cases, the commission has decided to allow maximum 1,000 electors in a polling station instead of earlier stipulation of 1,500 electors.