Kolkata (West Bengal) [India], April 17 (ANI): Amid the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases, the next round of 'Khela' will begin in West Bengal as 45 seats will go to polls on Saturday in phase five of the multi-phased election.
45 constituencies covering the districts of Jalpaiguri, Kalimpong, Darjeeling and a segment of Nadia, North 24 Parganas and Purba Bardhaman will vote in phase-V in which a total of 319 candidates, including 39 women are in the fray.
Ahead of the fifth phase polling, the Election Commission decided to curtail the timings of campaigning for the remaining phases and extended the silence period to 72 hours for each of the phases.
In its order, the EC said: "No rallies, public meetings, street plays, Nukkad sabhas, shall be allowed on any day during the days of campaign between 7 pm and 10 am with effect from 7 pm of 16.4.2021.""Silence period for rallies, public meetings, street plays, nukkad sabha, bike rallies or any gathering for campaigning purposes shall be extended to 72 hours before the end of the poll for Phase 6, Phase 7 and Phase 8 in the state of West Bengal," it added.
Several people have expressed concern over the rising COVID-19 infections, including West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar. The Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of the day also called an all-party meeting over adherence to COVID-19 norms during election campaigning.
After the meeting, the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) reiterated their request to club the remaining phases into one, while the rival Bharatiya Janata Party argued that the issue was not on the agenda.
A total of 1,071 companies of central forces for ensuring a peaceful election. In addition to this, 15,790 state police officials will also be on duty on Saturday for the fifth phase polls.
In the North 24 Parganas district, the Barishat constituency will see the deployment of 107 companies and 140 companies are on duty in Nadia's Ranaghat. A total of 118 companies have been deployed for Quick Response Team (QRT), sector office, post-poll situation and strongrooms.
The fifth phase will prove to be a key battle for both the major parties. While BJP has maintained a stronghold in 13 constituencies from North Bengal, the TMC finds it a relatively comfortable position in the south Bengal seats. Despite its losing footholds, the Left Front can also create some surprise in some of the seats in South Bengal.
Similarly to previous phases, the BJP is targeting the Mamata Banerjee-led TMC over 'tolabaazi' (extortion), 'cut money' and syndicate raj. Plus, an air of anti-incumbency can also be felt against the ruling state government. However, the ruling party is also banking upon its welfare schemes like "Duare Sarkar', 'Swastho Sathi' and 'Kanyashree' to woo the voters.
The Gorkhaland movement, atrocities against tea garden workers and lack of development work are the predominant subjects in North Bengal this election, while parties have grappled with the issues of employment opportunities in the southern part of the state.
In the Siliguri constituency, CPI(M)'s Ashok Bhattacharya is the key contestant against BJP candidate Shankar Ghosh and TMC's Omprakash Mishra. Bhattacharya, the former Mayor of Siliguri is a prominent communist leader in North Bengal.
Senior TMC leader and minister in the state government Bratya Basu is contesting from Dum Dum. CPI(M) has fielded Palash Das and BJP has fielded Bimal Shankar Nanda from the constituency.
In the Kamarhati constituency, the key contestant is TMC heavyweight Madan Mitra against BJP's Anindya Raju Banarjee and CPI(M)'s Sayandip Mitra.
Actor Chiranjeet Chakraborty will contest from Barasat on the behalf of TMC against BJP candidate Shankar Chatterjee and Forward Bloc candidate Sanjib Chattopadhyay. Meanwhile, there is a contest between TMC's Sujit Bose and BJP's Sabyasachi Dutta for the Bidhannagar constituency.
Naxalbari, which is known for an over 50-year-old Maoist movement, has been witnessing a transition from a Red belt into a saffron fabric. While BJP has fielded Anandamoy Barman from the Matigara-Naxalbari constituency, Congress has fielded sitting MLA Sankar Malakar and TMC will rely on Captain Nalini Ranjan Ray. Malakar has been representing the Matigara-Naxalbari Assembly constituency since 2011.
In the Memari constituency in Purba Bardhaman district, TMC's Madhusudan Bhattacharya is the strong contender against BJP's Bhismadeb Bhattacharya and CPI(M)'s Sanat Banerjee. On the other hand, in Jamalpur constituency, sitting Marxist Forward Bloc MLA Samar Hazra has an edge over TMC's Alok Kumar Majhi and BJP's Balaram Bapari.
In Rajarhat Gopalpur, TMC has fielded singer Aditi Munsi against BJP's West Bengal spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya. CPI(M) has fielded Subhajit Dasgupta from the seat.
In Dabgram-Phulbari constituency there is a contest between TMC candidate Goutam Deb, BJP's Sikha Chatterjee and CPI(M)'s Dilip Singh. Deb is currently serving as the state tourism minister.
In Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong constituencies, TMC has not fielded its candidate as GJM is backing the TMC. The GJM had won these seats in the last two Assembly elections. Pemba Tshering is the candidate for GJM (Gurung) for Darjeeling and Keshav Raj Sharma for GJM (Tamang). BJP has fielded Neeraj Zimba Tamang from the seat, while Gautam Raj Rai will contest for CPI(M) there.
Ahead of the coming phase, West Bengal reported 6,910 new COVID-19 cases and 26 deaths in the last 24 hours. According to the state health bulletin, the total count of cases has reached 6,43,795. The number of active cases in the state stands at 41,047. With 26 more deaths, the toll in West Bengal has reached 10,506.
The first four phases were held on March 27, April 1, April 6 and April 10 respectively. The sixth phase of the state assembly polls is scheduled for April 22. The counting of votes will take place on May 2. (ANI)