Bengal, Assam poll pitch gets shrill as Phase 1 campaign ends
The high-decibel campaigning for the crucial first phase of assembly elections in West Bengal and Assam ended on Thursday, with key leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Congress holding rallies and roadshows across the two states.
In the first phase on March 27, polling will be held in 30 of the 294 assembly constituencies in Bengal and 47 of the 126 constituencies in Assam.
In Bengal, chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who faces her second acid test after 2011 when she ousted the Left Front government, continued her broadside against senior BJP leaders. The BJP, which has made deep inroads in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls when it won 18 of the state’s 42 seats, deployed its senior leaders in poll-bound districts where a record 30 rallies were held by the party’s star campaigners, including Union home minister Amit Shah and actor Mithun Chakraborty. “Listen to me. Do not be scared. This election is being conducted by the Election Commission of India,” said Shah at Baghmundi in Purulia district, while referring to the political violence witnessed during the 2018 panchayat elections in Bengal. “Mamata Banerjee wants to make bhatija (nephew) the next chief minister, while the BJP wants to bring progress,” he said, without naming Abhishek Banerjee who also campaigned at Baghmundi.
In Purulia, Union defence minister Rajnath Singh said that the TMC supremo delivers speeches encouraging acts of violence. “Unke bhashan mein bhi hinsa hoti hai... woh kehti hai ke isko mar bhagao, usko bartan se pit pit kar bhagao (During her speeches, she talks of violence... she asks people to beat up and oust a few and hit others with utensils),” he said.
In South 24 Parganas district, apparently referring to the Indian Secular Front, Banerjee accused the BJP of backing a new political party to eat into minority votes. “A new political outfit has been launched in the state at the behest of the BJP to grab a share of the minority votes and help the saffron party. Please don’t vote for its candidates,” she said. She alleged that the CPI(M)and Congress have an understanding with the BJP.
In Assam, the hectic campaigning for the first phase was marked by poll meetings by the ruling BJP and the Opposition Congress’s leaders, who criss-crossed the state to garner support for their respective parties.
A total of 264 candidates, including heavyweights like chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal (Majuli), state Congress president Ripun Bora (Gohpur), president of ruling Asom Gana Parishad Atul Bora (Bokakhat), Raijor Dal president Akhil Gogoi (Sivasagar) and Assam Jatiya Parishad president Lurinjyoti Gogoi (Duliajan and Nahakatia), are in the fray in the first phase.
“We will win almost all the seats we are contesting in the first phase. There’s a little bit of uncertainty in just one seat,” said senior minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. On Thursday, the star campaigner addressed rallies in seven constituencies which will go to polls in the first phase.
Constituencies in the first phase fall in the tea-rich belt and both BJP and Congress have tried their best to woo the tea-tribe community whose votes play a decisive role in 35-40 seats in the first phase.
Besides several schemes for the community launched by the state government, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union home minister Amit Shah, BJP national president JP Nadda and Union defence minister Rajnath Singh have addressed several rallies in the state where they have promised more schemes to benefit the tea workers.
Slamming the Congress, Madhya Pradesh chief minister and BJP leader Shivraj Singh Chouhan said: “The Congress had ruled Assam for so many years. What did they give to the state? Their successive governments gave only unemployment, insurgency, violence and infiltration.”
The Congress has also announced a guarantee of increasing daily wages of tea garden workers from ₹167 to ₹365. “The pulse of the ground assures us that the people of Assam are with us and we will secure a resounding victory for the grand alliance,” said Chhattisgarh CM and Congress observer for Assam, Bhupesh Baghel.
“We are ready for the first phase of polls and everything is in place. In the first phase nearly 50% of the polling stations would have CCTV coverage,” said chief electoral officer Nitin Khade.