As the six-phase polling drama unfolds in West Bengal from Monday, all eyes will be rivetted on the 364 candidates in 54 seats of six North Bengal districts.
This first phase, which promises to spring many surprises, has become crucial in two ways.
First, it will be the toughest battle for the Left Front to hold on to its traditional base, and, second, it will be the ultimate test for the Trinamool Congress to prove that the winds of change are truly blowing all over Bengal.
Till 2006, North Bengal presented a predictable zone, devoid of any political excitement and the seat-sharing among the Left and the Opposition remained as certain as the unfulfilled poll promises for development. The Left Front had remained a clear winner, mustering as many as 36 seats out of 49 in the pre-delimitation era, with the Congress remaining happy in its comfort zones of Malda and North Dinajpur.
But, after the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the scenario has changed drastically. The Left Front’s vote share has shrunk remarkably and the combined Opposition has been smelling victory in the red strongholds of South Dinajpur, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar. Five ministers, including Asok Bhattacharya, Kiranmay Nanda and Kshiti Goswami, will be fighting a tough battle with the rejuvenated TMC-Congress alliance.
Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi (Cong) and LK Advani (BJP) were all there in the past week, campaigning full throttle. Banerjee and the senior Gandhi presented a united front and projected a cohesive force to fight the Left Front.
The campaigning phase was marked by Banerjee’s whirlwind tour of five days when she hopped from one district to another in a helicopter to address as many as 20 meetings.