Till 2006, North Bengal — where the first phase of polling will take place on Monday — was devoid of political excitement.
As in all elections since 1977, the Left Front was a clear winner that year, getting 36 seats of the 49 in the pre-delimitation era (now there are 54), with the Congress remaining happy in its comfort zones of Malda and North Dinajpur. However, the 2009 Lok Sabha elections changed the situation drastically.
The voteshare of the Left Front shrank and the combined opposition is now smelling victory in the red strongholds of South Dinajpur, Jalpaiguri and Coochbehar.
Five ministers, including Ashok Bhattacharya, Kiranmay Nanda and Kshiti Goswami, will be fighting a hard battle against the rejuvenated Trinamool Congress-Congress alliance in the state.
Trinamool Congress president Mamata Banerjee made a five-day whirlwind tour of the region, hopping from one district to another in helicopter.
Her party, which has failed to make a mark in north Bengal so far and got two in 2006, is battling on two fronts — first, countering Left supremacy, and second, tackling independent candidates who are being covertly supported by Congress leaders such as Deepa Dasmunshi because of their discontent with the seat adjustment with the Trinamool.
The return of Gorkha National Liberation Front leader Subash Ghising to the hills has added a dimension to the election battle in Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong.
He was hounded out of Darjeeling in 2007 and had been living in Jalpaiguri.
All the three regions here will witness a triangular battle among three hill-based parties — the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha(GJM), Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) and All India Gorkha League (AIGL) — although Congress and CPI(M) candidates are also in the fray.
If lack of development is the key issue in north Bengal, Mamata Banerjee has been able to sell dreams to the electorate — new railway network connections, a “mini secretariat” and heavy industrialisation. It has caught the fancy of many.
Yet Mamata says: “We are not selling dreams. We have to work very hard to meet the aspirations of the people.”
Mamata safe bet: bookies
Move over, cricket. The Bengal election is the new happy hunting ground for gamblers and the favourite here is Mamata Banerjee. Satta bookies consider the Trinamool chief’s reaching Writers’ Buildings a near certainty, offering around 80 paise per rupee for her. For the Left, the odds are high, the going rate being R2 per rupee. Gambling on polls is a first for Kolkata’s underworld betting market – elections over the last 35 years had left no room for doubt regarding the outcome. Money is pouring in, not only from Kolkata, but also Siliguri, Asansol, Howrah, Kalyani and Dugapur.