44 seats at stake in fourth phase of Bengal polls today
Union minister Babul Supriyo, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Lok Sabha MP Locket Chatterjee, Bengal education minister Partha Chatterjee and a handful of Trinamool Congress (TMC) turncoats will be among the candidates in the fray as 44 seats in West Bengal vote in the fourth phase of the assembly elections on Saturday.
The seats in the fourth of the eight-phase polls are spread across Alipurduar and Cooch Behar in north Bengal and Howrah, Hooghly, South 24 Parganas and parts of Kolkata in south Bengal.
They include the prestigious seat of Singur in Hoogly district, where a land agitation by farmers against a car factory in 2007 propelled the TMC to power. The phase will also see at least four leaders who switched from the TMC to the BJP fighting to keep their seats.
The Sanjukta Morcha comprising the Left, Congress and Indian Secular Front (ISF) is also expected to make some impact in the south Bengal seats, especially in Muslim-majority Bhangar. This is also the first time in this poll cycle that elections will be held in the capital Kolkata, considered a TMC bastion.
In view of the violence witnessed during and after the last three phases, the election commission (EC) deployed 793 companies of central armed police force (CAPF) in these regions. Results will be announced on May 2. The BJP is looking to oust the TMC, which is hoping for its third consecutive term.
Supriyo, who represents the Asansol Lok Sabha seat in Bengal’s West Burdwan district, is locked in a fierce fight in south Kolkata’s Tollygunge with state minister Aroop Biswas and actor Debdoot Ghosh of the Left Front.
Supriyo, for whom actor Mithun Chakraborty and Union home minister Amit Shah held road shows, was confident. “People want progress and they know only the BJP can deliver. We have promised to transform Kolkata,” he said.
Biswas dismissed him. “The TMC works for the people round the year. Voters will give their reply on Saturday,” he said.
At Chinsurah in Hooghly district, Chatterjee is taking on TMC’s sitting lawmaker Asit Majumdar.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Chatterjee defeated the TMC’s sitting MP Ratna Dey Nag by more than 75,000 votes and was ahead in the Chinsurah assembly segment by more than 20,000 votes.
In Howrah district, former forest minister Rajib Banerjee, former TMC legislator Vaishali Dalmiya, the daughter of former Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) president Jagmohan Dalmiya, and Rathin Chakraborty, the TMC’s former Howrah town mayor, are contesting the Domjur, Bally and Howrah Central seats respectively. All three leaders switched from the TMC to the BJP two months before the elections were announced.
In Hooghly, former TMC legislator Prabir Ghosal is contesting the Uttarpara seat that he won for the ruling party in 2016. All four leaders joined the BJP at Shah’s residence in Delhi on January 31.
Branding them as “gaddar” (traitors), chief minister Mamata Banerjee lambasted the turncoats at election rallies. On Thursday, when campaigning for the fourth phase came to a close, she even alleged that Rajib Banerjee was corrupt and he had purchased property in Kolkata and Dubai.
“The TMC knows very well how much property I had. People will give a befitting reply to such wild allegations,” said the former minister.
At Behala, located on the southern outskirts of Kolkata, the BJP has fielded two popular film actresses, Payel Sarkar and Shrabanti Chatterjee, against former mayor Sovon Chatterjee’s wife Ratna Chatterjee and education minister Partha Chatterjee, respectively.
At Jadavpur, also in south Kolkata, Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s sitting MLA Sujan Chakraborty is contesting against TMC’s Moloy Majumdar and BJP nominee Rinku Naskar. “It is a tough challenge because we are fighting two enemies, the BJP and the TMC,” said Chakraborty.
At Bhangar in South 24 Parganas, cleric Abbasuddin Siddiqui’s brother and ISF president Nausad Siddiqui is pitted against TMC’s Rezaul Karim.
In north Bengal, where the BJP won seven of the eight Lok Sabha seats in the 2019 general elections, the TMC has geared up to recover lost ground. CM Banerjee has reined in infighting and taken political and administrative steps since last August.
The local Koch Rajbanshi community, which comprises a sizeable section of voters, especially in Cooch Behar, will play a decisive role in the fourth phase. Bangshi Badan Barman, general secretary of Greater Cooch Behar People’s Association (GCPA), has thrown his weight behind the ruling party. Barman said, “No chief minister of West Bengal did so much for the Rajbanshis as Mamata Banerjee has done.”
But the BJP is hopeful of repeating its 2019 performance and has focussed on TMC’s alleged grassroots corruption and minority appeasement.