Trinamool and Congress leaders in the CPI(M) stronghold of Arambagh have an unlikely group of companions on the campaign trail — RAF jawans.
While Opposition leaders argue they are only following the Election Commission's directive, CPI(M) leaders say this would only create fear in the minds of voters.
"Yes, I have taken along RAF personnel during my door-to-door meets. I have only been following the standing directive of the Election Commission to the letter," Krishna Chandra Santra, Trinamool Congress nominee from Arambagh, told Hindustan Times.
The local CPI(M) leadership is playing on a different line.
"They have no mass support and hence are using RAF to terrorise voters in the name of door-to-door campaign," the sitting Arambagh MLA and CPI(M) district secretariat member Benoy Dutta said.
Mirza Ghulam Mustafa, a villager from Sitalpur in Arandi 1 panchayat, said, "We have never before seen any candidate being accompanied by RAF in our village. It is only drawing needless attention in the area."
Hitting out at the EC, Dutta said, "The commission is taking sides in Arambagh. They are openly patronising and offering protection to Trinamool and Congress nominees to oust the CPI(M)."
Arambagh SDO Arindam Neogi trashed Dutta's claim. "We are providing security escorts to all candidates, but only upon a specific request." He said none of the CPI(M) or Forward Bloc nominees has yet sought police protection, while the opposition nominees had applied for escorts.
Iqbal Ahmed, the Trinamool nominee from Khanakul, said, "There is a sense of insecurity among all candidates here. We could be targets of CPI(M) armed cadres. The RAF is only here to provide security and have no intention of terrorising villagers."
Abhay Kumar Bit, a villager from Bali Natun Bazar in Goghat, said, "Chances of violence are high and hence the candidates, especially from the Opposition camp, are justified in asking for security."
Subhra Parui, the CPI(M) candidate from Khanakul, said, "We neither have police nor black money to support us in elections. All we are relying on is mass support, which is evident from the gathering at our meetings and also during the door-to-door campaigns."