The ‘Khela’ (game) of power begins in West Bengal on Saturday with the beginning of the first of the eight-phase assembly polls in the state.
In the first phase, 30 seats covering all assembly constituencies from the districts of Purulia and Jhargram and a segment of Bankura, Purba Medinipur and Paschim Medinipur are going for polls.
The first phase of polling will decide the electoral fate of 191 candidates including 21 women.
The state is likely to witness a triangular contest this time with Trinamool Congress (TMC), Congress-Left alliance and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the fray.
However, the power-packed campaigns involving stormy rallies and mega roadshows were mostly dominated by the ruling TMC and the BJP. The third front i.e. the coalition of the Congress, Left Front and Indian Secular Force has been observed to be on the back foot when it comes to fierce campaigning.
The ambitious BJP has done intense campaigning with the goal to topple the incumbent TMC government in the state. To continue its stride in Bengal especially after an overwhelming result in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in the state, the party has roped in Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and many others into the campaign fray.
It will not be wrong to say that West Bengal has become the second home for Shah and BJP President JP Nadda who have been holding roadshows and rallies every other day.
When the ‘Jai Sri Ram’ slogan became synonymous with the BJP, another slogan that has been dominating this election season is ‘Khela hobe’ (game is on). Though the slogan was raised by TMC, it has now crossed the barrier of party lines.
Even PM Modi in his public meetings in Kharagpur, Kanthi, Bankura or Purulia took a jab at TMC saying, “Khela sesh, vikas shuru (game is over, now development will start).”
“Didi bole khela hobe, BJP bole chaakri hobe. Didi bole khela hobe, BJP bole vikas hobe. Didi bole khela hobe, BJP bole shiksha hobe. Khela shesh hobe, vikas aarambh hobe,” he had said.
The BJP has talked of ‘ashol poriborton’ (actual change) and promised to build ‘Sonar Bangla’ (prosperous Bengal). The party leaders have alleged that TMC leaders are involved in “scams” and have also made allegations about the “siphoning of money” meant for relief in the wake of cyclone Amphan. BJP has been accusing the ruling party of “tolabaji” (extortion) and attacked Mamata Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek with the nickname “Tolabaaz Bhaipo” (extortionist nephew).
On the other hand, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee did not miss any stage to launch scathing attacks on the top BJP leadership. “We do not want to see Modi’s face. We do not want rioters and looters. We do not want Duryodhana and Dushasana,” said Mamata while mounting veiled attacks on Prime Minister Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
Sitting on a wheelchair, Mamata has exerted her best efforts in the campaigns to testify her statement that a “wounded tigress becomes more aggressive.”
Going a step further, the Chief Minister said, “I will play such a shot with my one good leg that it will completely bowl out BJP.”
Earlier this month, the TMC supremo sustained “severe bone injuries” on her left foot and ankle as well as bruises and injuries on her shoulder, forearm and neck, according to the report of her initial medical examination. She was later discharged from the hospital on March 12 introducing the new dimension of her poll campaign with a ‘wheelchair’.
Meanwhile, the BJP has termed it as tactics of gaining sympathy of voters.
Mamata reckoned the ‘Mir Zafar’ title to TMC defector Suvendu Adhikari, who joined the BJP in December last year.
Suvendu Adhikari, who is at a head-to-head contest against Mamata in the Nandigram seat in the second phase, has been playing a significant role in carrying BJP’s flambeau in Bengal.
Some of the major issues in Paschim Medinipur, Jhargram, Bankura and Purulia are unemployment, lack of industrial growth and economic backwardness, with several small-scale workers and artisans facing hardships since the imposition of the Covid-19 lockdown. This has propelled both top parties to woo voters in their support. Further, the severe water scarcity in Purulia has put the ruling TMC in a little back as the BJP has been attacking the state government on the issue.
Once considered as the bastion of the Left Front, people in the tribal-dominated districts of Purulia, Bankura, Jhargram, Purba Medinipur and Paschim Medinipur voted for the TMC in the last two Assembly elections. In the 2016 assembly polls, the ruling TMC won 27 out of these 30 seats, whereas Congress managed to garner two seats and Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) won a single seat.
However, the BJP clinched victories in all these four areas in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. TMC is levelled on its welfare schemes like ‘Duare Sarkar’, ‘Kanyashree’ and ‘Swastho Sathi’ to regain its support base in these areas.
Some notable names for the first phase of polling include Srikanto Mahato, Rajib Lochan Saren, June Malia and Uttam Barik from TMC, and Rabindranath Maity, Chandana Bauri and Rajib Kundu from BJP.
Congress has fielded five candidates for the first phase such as Nepal Mahato from Baghmundi, Shiu Maiti from Bhagabanpur, Uttam Banerjee from Balarampur, Manas Kumar Karmahapatra from Egra and Partha Pratim Banerjee from Purulia.
In the first phase, the total number of general electorates is 7380942 in which there are 3752938 male voters, 3627949 female voters and 55 of the third gender. The total number of service electors are 11767.
As many as 123393 electors are octogenarians and above. Further, 40408 electors are of persons with disabilities category. The list also includes three overseas electors.The Election Commission has determined 10288 polling stations, in which 8229 are the main and 2059 as auxiliary.
The Commission has appointed 21 general observers, nine expenditure observers and seven police observers.
For the first phase, 730 coys of central forces including 92 for Bankura, 169 for Purba Medinipur, 139 for Paschim Medinipur, 186 for Purulia and 144 for Jhargram have been deployed.
Elections to the 294-member West Bengal Assembly will be held in eight phases starting from March 27 with the final round of voting taking place on April 29. The counting of votes will take place on May 2.