78.5 lakh voters, 205 candidates: West Bengal all set for phase 3 of polling
Entering the next stage of its high-voltage election battle, West Bengal will witness polling in the third phase of the Assembly election on Tuesday. The voting will be held on 31 seats. In the fray are three strong factions - ruling Trinamool Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Left Front-ISF-Congress alliance.
In the third phase, more than 78.5 lakh voters will exercise their franchise and decide the fate of 205 candidates. The high-profile contestants to watch out for include BJP leader Swapan Dasgupta, TMC minister Ashima Patra and CPI(M) leader Kanti Ganguly in three districts - Howrah, Hooghly and South 24 Parganas, respectively.
The Election Commission of India (ECI) has moved to make stringent security measures amid rising Covid-19 cases in the country's second wave. The commission has deployed 618 companies of central armed police forces (CAPFs) to guard 10,871 polling stations, marked as "sensitive" in West Bengal. State police forces have also been roped in at strategic locations to aid the CAPFs.
As the Covid-19 infections have shown worrying signs across the country, the ECI has moved to conduct the elections by strictly following the health protocols. In the visuals from the last two phases, masked voters were seen wearing a disposable plastic glove in the hand used for voting to avoid maximised surface contact.
On Tuesday, voters from 16 seats in South 24 Parganas (part II), seven seats in Howrah (part I) and eight seats in Hooghly (part I) are hoping to cast their vote.
In the last Assembly elections in 2016, Mamata Banerjee-led TMC won all but one seat - Amta constituency in Howrah district - of these 31 segments. That lone seat went to Congress.
But after the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the BJP emerged as the main challenger to the TMC.
Another high-profile seat up for voting on Tuesday is the Diamond Harbour Lok Sabha constituency, held by political heavyweight and TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee, the chief minister's nephew. Four of the seven assembly segments from this seat will go to polls in the third phase, and the rest will witness voting in the fourth phase on April 10.
The Indian Secular Front (ISF), floated by Peerzada Abbas Siddiqui, is expected to be a cause of concern for the TMC in Diamond Harbour, as the outfit holds sway in several Muslim-dominated areas.
TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee, had been hitting out at Siddiqui, alleging that he has been propped up by the BJP, a charge vehemently denied by the cleric, who is taking on the ruling party with gusto.
The BJP, acting on the slim chance it can reap benefit from, has fielded sitting MLA and ex-TMC leader Dipak Halder from Diamond Harbour.
The BJP is fighting a high-stakes battle in the state by aiming to oust the TMC from power and has held power-packed campaigns over the past few days, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The BJP camp also deployed its battery of leaders including Union home minister Amit Shah, party president JP Nadda, UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath and Union minister Smriti Irani to aggressively campaign for it in the last few weeks.
The second phase of the Assembly elections saw chief minister Banerjee embroiled in a high-profile battle in Nandigram against her former ministerial colleague Suvendu Adhikari, who switched over to the BJP last year.
Polling for the first two phases of the West Bengal polls was held on March 27 and April 1 respectively. The third phase of polling will take place on April 6 and the fourth phase will be held on April 10. The counting of votes will take place on May 2.