The five-phase Lok Sabha polls in West Bengal begin on Thursday in four constituencies of Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Cooch Behar and Alipurduar — all in north Bengal. A total of more than six million voters are eligible to make their choices among 47 candidates.
The Election Commission (EC) has deployed an IAS officer — four years senior to the state's chief electoral officer, Sunil Gupta — as a 'special observer' who would monitor the entire polling process. The Lok Sabha polls in West Bengal will be in five phases from April 17 to May 12.
Experts claimed the move is a clear indication that the EC top brass is trying to control the poll process in Bengal directly from Delhi.
Incidentally, over the past few weeks, EC officials had come under attack by members of the ruling Trinamool Congress in at least three incidents in Malda, Howrah and Habra.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee had recently said the EC was acting like an agent of her rivals, after the poll watchdog transferred eight officials including superintendents of police and district magistrates accused of acting in favour of the ruling party.
Meanwhile, a closely-fought contest is anticipated in the Darjeeling constituency among GJM-backed BJP candidate SS Ahluwalia and Trinamool candidate Bhaichung Bhutia, who are representing the two sides of a bitter war over statehood for the hills.
In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, Darjeeling had gone to the BJP, while in the other three constituencies, Left Front candidates had emerged victorious.
While BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi has addressed a huge rally in Siliguri, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has attended a workers' meet in the Dooars.
Though the Trinamool has never won any of these north Bengal seats, it is banking on its good performance in the 2011 assembly elections and is making an all-out effort to open its account in this area.
The CPI(M) has, however, kept its campaign in these constituencies low key, depending on the candidates and local leaders to spearhead the campaign.
While the RSP has fielded sitting MP Manohar Tirkey from Alipurduar, CPI(M)'s incumbent in Jalpaiguri seat Mahendra Roy has also been fielded by the Left combine.