17 million to vote in phase 2 of Assam, West Bengal polls today

  • Rahul Karmakar and Snigdhendu Bhattacharya, Hindustan Times, Guwahati/ Kolkata/ New Delhi
  • Updated: Apr 11, 2016 02:03 IST
Voting for 61 assembly constituencies in the second and final phase of Assam, and 31 seats in phase 2 of West Bengal polls will be begin on Monday. (PTI)

More than 17 million voters in Assam and West Bengal will get to cast their ballot on Monday, in an election that will likely have a bearing on political realignment at a national level.

Sixty-one assembly constituencies go to polls in the second and final phase in Assam, where the BJP believes it has an edge over the ruling Congress party. There are 525 candidates in fray.

In West Bengal, where the Trinamool Congress is trying to pip an alliance between the Congress and the Left parties, polling will be held in 31 seats spread across West Midnapore, Bankura and Burdwan districts to decide the fate of 163 candidates.

Monday’s vote, however, is more about Assam, where the BJP hopes to form the next government. The party believes it has benefitted from the high voter turnout in the first round of polling, when 65 constituencies across the Bengali-speaking Barak Valley and tea gardens of the northeast went to vote.

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The tea garden workers with influence over 25 seats have traditionally voted for Congress, but the BJP made inroads in 2014. BJP is hopeful that the trend has not reversed and it scored among workers, mostly Adivasis battling job insecurity and malnutrition.

In Barak valley that comprises three politically sensitive districts of Silchar, Karimganj and Hailakandi along the porous border with Bangladesh, the election campaign has seen polarisation of voters along religious lines.

Muslims account for 50% of the population and a strong campaign against illegal immigration from Bangladesh, BJP leaders claim, has helped it split the Muslim votes and consolidate its support among Hindu voters who make up 42%.

“High turnout is a clear indication that BJP-led alliance has scored over Congress, since historically Congress gained in Assam only when voter turnout was low,” said Nani Gopal Mahanta, who teaches political science in Gauhati University.

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The BJP is counting on the first-time voters, totalling 6,76,000, and the youth — 31% of Assam’s 19.8 million electorate is under 30. The party hopes to win, together with its local allies, 30-35 seats in the first phase. That leaves it 29-34 short of the half-way mark in the 126-member state assembly.

But, the BJP has limited presence in central and lower Assam that will vote on Monday. AIUDF of Badruddin Ajmal derives it strength from this region and how Muslims vote tomorrow would be crucial in deciding whether Tarun Gogoi will be able to take another shot at the power.

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In West Bengal, while most poll predictions gave clear edge to Mamata Banerjee the last-minute deal between the Congress and the Left appears to have turned it into a close fight. The bipolar nature of the election has also meant the BJP is likely to see a reversal of gains it made during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

Of the 31 constituencies that go to vote on Monday, nine from the relatively industrialised district of Asansol will be in focus.

Once a Left bastion, its voters polled in favour of Trinamool Congress in 2011, helping Mamata’s party win seven of nine seats. In the Lok Sabha elections, BJP took lead over Trinamool in as many as five assembly segments. This time around, the Left-Congress alliance is hoping to stage a comeback in this area, while chief minister Mamata Banerjee has campaigned hard to recover her party from the loss in 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

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