The West Bengal polls enter the fourth phase Monday with the rivalry extremely bitter in a number of high-profile contests and the security arrangements unprecedented, the Election Commission having imposed prohibitory orders against assembly of more than four persons at one place.
The fourth phase covers 49 seats around Kolkata — 33 in North 24-Parganas and 16 in Howrah. These areas are largely Trinamool Congress bastions but even Trinamool party managers do not rule out a few upsets; some of them said they fear “sabotage” in some seats because of intense infighting.
The BJP is the one party from which some Trinamool Congress leaders fear a couple of surprises, given the aggressive campaign by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has addressed six rallies. The assembly seats he visited saw a massive turnout, with some of his rallies reminiscent of 2014 rallies that swayed thousands of Lok Sabha voters. One of these was Basirhat South, a seat with a large Muslim population, and the only one with a BJP MLA — Shamik Bhattacharya, elected in a bypoll.
Siddharth Nath Singh, BJP national spokesperson, predicted that his party will do extremely well. While he refused to go into numbers, Singh said the BJP is in the contest in all seats. “The TMC and the CPM are using the same yardstick — fake videos and morphed photos to malign us. Both the TMC and the CPM seemed to have given up on ideology. I hope BJP will come out with stunning results,” Singh said.
The CPM top leadership including Sitaram Yechury is camping in Kolkata. The CPM leadership claims that if the high security arrangements can stop “vote loot”, the Left-Congress combine holds a fair chance of regaining some of the ground it has lost.
The 33 seats in North 24-Parganas are in two broad subdivisions, Basirhat and Barrackpore. In Basirhat particularly, the Congress-CPM combine can pose a challenge to the TMC in seats such as Swarupnagar, Hinjalganj, Deganga, Bagda, Sandeshkhali. But in Barrackpore, which includes Naihati, Bhatpara, Jagaddal, Noapara, Kamarhati , Khardah and Dum Dum, the Trinamool is expected to find the going relatively easy.
Some of the most interesting fights in North 24-Parganas will be in Khardah where Finance Minister Amit Mitra will face his Left Front predecessor Asim Dasgupta, Kamarhati where Madan Mitra is fighting from jail against Manas Mukherjee of the CPM, and Dum Dum where Tourism Minister Bratya Basu fighting for a second term. In Howrah, one of the most solid bases of the ruling party, Howrah North has actress Rupa Ganguly of the BJP pitted against cricketer Laxmi Ratan Shukla of the Trinamool Congress, while Jagmohan Dalmiya’s daughter Baishali is contesting from Bally.
Since Saturday night, central police forces have assembled at Salt Lake, Rajarhat and Howrah and checked each vehicle entering. Hotels are under the scanner and since early morning the EC has been asking “non-residents” to move out of these areas.