From the Darjeeling hills to the Sundarbans, Bengal goes to polls in its fifth phase

45 Assembly seats, the highest number in the eight phases, vote on Saturday.

Forty-five Assembly seats spread across six districts of the State will go to polls in the fifth phase of polling in West Bengal on April 17. Of the 45 seats, 13 are going to polls in north Bengal and 32 seats will vote in south Bengal. This is the highest number of seats going to polls in any of the eight-phase marathon Assembly elections.

Thirteen seats in north Bengal are spread across three districts of north Bengal — five in Darjeeling, seven in Jalpaiguri and one in Kalimpong. In south Bengal, 16 seats are spread across North 24 Parganas, and there are eight each in Nadia and Bardhaman districts. The seats going to polls stretch from the northernmost point of the State in the Darjeeling hills to Basirhat Uttar and Basirhat Dakshin in the Sunderbans. Elections are being held in the tea gardens of the Dooars and also in the urban and rural settlements of North 24 Parganas, Bardhaman and Nadia. A total of 1.13 crore voters are eligible to cast their votes to decide the fate of 342 candidates.

Key candidates include senior Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader and Siliguri Mayor Asok Bhattacharya, contesting from Siliguri; State Minister Bratya Basu, who is contesting from Dum Dum in the northern fringes of Kolkata; and State Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya from Rajarhat’s Gopalpukur seat in North 24 Parganas.

In north Bengal, one of the key poll issues is the suffering of tea garden workers labouring under poor wages both in Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri, while agrarian distress continues to be the main issue in Bardhaman and other rural areas of the State. Both the BJP and the TMC have sparred over the benefits of the Centre’s PM Kisan Samman Nidhi and the State government’s Krishak Bandhu scheme, respectively.

In districts like North 24 Parganas and Nadia, the contest will be centred around the inroads made by the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and the subsequent resistance of the Trinamool Congress. In many of the 45 seats, both the ruling TMC and the BJP are evenly poised. In certain pockets in north Bengal and Bardhaman, the Samyukta Morcha of the Left, the Congress and the Indian Secular Fund (ISF) can make a difference.

The BJP ensured that all its heavyweight campaigners, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, party president J.P. Nadda and actor Mithun Chakraborty, addressed several meetings. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Trinamool Congress MP Abhishek Banerjee have campaigned in areas going to polls. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi also campaigned in Darjeeling district at the eleventh hour for Samyukta Morcha candidates.

A lot has changed since the previous phase of the ongoing Assembly polls was held on April 10. The death of four persons on polling day at Sitalkuchi after Central forces opened fire, and the Election Commission of India barring Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, and State BJP leaders Dilip Ghosh and Rahul Sinha, from campaigning for a period, has added a new dimension to the fifth phase.

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