The first phase of polls in Bengal will be held with both the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the BJP seeking to outdo each other in poll promises and campaign rhetoric.
While the BJP is striving to form its first government in the state, the Left-ISF-Congress alliance is also striving to spring a surprise.
Elections are being held in eight phases in West Bengal and three phases in Assam.
Thirty assembly segments in West Bengal and 47 in Assam are going to the polls in the first phase today.
The first phase of polling will decide the electoral fate of 191 candidates including 21 women.
The TMC and BJP have fielded candidates in 29 seats each, while the Left-Congress-ISF alliance has put up candidates in all 30 seats, even as there are “friendly fights” in some.
Covid protocols to be followed by voters at polling booth
In phase 1, polling will take place amid strict coronavirus guidelines in all constituencies in Purulia, four in Bankura, four in Jhargram and six in Paschim Medinipur, besides the seven seats in high-stakes Purba Medinipur – the home ground of BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari.
Among the other notable seats going to the polls in the first phase are Salboni, where the CPI(M) has fielded former minister Susanta Ghosh against BJP’s Rajib Kundu and TMC’s Srikanta Mahata. Ghosh, the MLA of Garbeta from 1987 to 2016, was in jail in the skeleton recovery case and is at present out on bail.
The TMC has fielded actor June Malia, a known face on the Bengali silver screen, from the Medinipur seat against BJP’s Samit Kumar Dash. The Left-led alliance candidate is Tarun Kumar Ghosh of the CPI.
In another significant contest, Santhali actor Birbaha Hansda is fighting on a TMC ticket from Jhargram against BJP’s Sukhamay Satpathy and CPI(M)’s youth leader Madhuja Sen Roy.
The seven seats in Purba Medinipur — Patashpur, Kanthi Uttar, Bhagabanpur, Khejuri, Kanthi Dakshin, Ramnagar and Egra — will also be closely watched in a prestige fight between the influential Adhikari family which has gone over to the BJP and the TMC.
Polling will start at 7 am and conclude at 6 pm, with the timing extended by an hour to ensure Covid-19 protocols are followed.
In Assam, the Congress is fighting 43 of 47 seats going to the polls in the first phase.
A total of 264 candidates, including 23 women, are in the fray from 47 seats.
Most of these seats will likely witness a triangular contest between the ruling BJP-AGP alliance, the Congress-led opposition grand alliance and the newly formed Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP).
In the first phase, 37 sitting MLAs are re-contesting including 24 from the BJP, 6 each from Congress and AGP, and one from the AIUDF.
States set for elections amid tight security
The elections will be held amid tight security with the Election Commission deploying around 684 companies of central forces that would guard 10,288 polling booths housed in 7,061 premises, officials said.
Besides, the state police will also be deployed at strategic locations, they added.
In Jhargram, 11 paramilitary personnel will be deployed per booth, the highest for any election held in the state so far, officials said. In the other districts, an average of six paramilitary personnel will be deployed per booth, officials said.
“Declaring all 1,307 booths in 1,010 premises as Left Wing Extremist (LWE) areas in Jhargram, we have decided to deploy 127 companies of the central forces only for booth management,” an Election Commission official told PTI.
Another 14 companies of central forces will be used as Quick Response Teams (QRTs), one company for the maintenance of strong room and another two companies will be kept reserved as district and sub-divisional striking force, he said.
Altogether, 144 companies of central forces will be deployed in Jhargram for the election, he added. “The central forces will be mainly deployed in and around the booths and the state force will be used for the maintenance of law and order. The constables will be used for queue management,” the official said.
Poll campaigning picks up pace
The campaigning has picked up pace in both states and lead campaigners from contesting parties have intensified their efforts to woo voters in other poll-bound states also.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP chief JP Nadda, Union Ministers Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari, Smriti Irani, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan have campaigned for the party in the last few days.
PM Modi addressed one rally in West Bengal and two in Assam on Wednesday.
Congress leaders including Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, former union ministers Salman Khurshid, Mallikarjun Kharge and Manish Tewari, party leaders Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Ripun Bora, Jitendra Singh, Gaurav Gogoi, Oommen Chandy have campaigned for the party.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is leading the party’s campaign in the state. In Tamil Nadu leaders of AIADMK, DMK, Makkal Needhi Maiam and other regional parties in the fray have intensified their campaign with less than ten days left for electioneering.
Elections to 294 constituencies in West Bengal will be held in eight phases till 29 April and the results will be declared on May 2.
Assam will have three-phase assembly elections on 27 March, 1 and 6 April.