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W Bengal readies for 3rd phase

The third phase of assembly polls 2006 will be crucial to show if Left has the support of Kolkata or not.

india Updated: Apr 26, 2006 22:08 IST

With political heavyweights like Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya in the fray, Thursday's third round of assembly elections in West Bengal is sure to witness a keen contest in Kolkata and its two adjacent districts where 77 seats are up for grabs.

Though the ruling Left Front is tipped to win control of the 294-member house for the seventh consecutive term, the third phase will be crucial to show if the Left has the support of Kolkata or not along with the contiguous districts of North 24 Parganas and South 24 Parganas.

Although the Left has ruled West Bengal since June 1977, Kolkata has kept a safe distance from the communists.

In 2001, the Trinamool Congress of Mamata Banerjee came on top in Kolkata.

But Kolkata and its outskirts might witness an improved showing for the Left Front because of the gradual image makeover of Bhattacharya as an urbane, industry and IT-friendly chief minister.

The facelift the city got with flyovers, shopping malls and Sector V IT hub in Salt Lake in the past five years is another reason for a probable Left swing.

This was proved in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections when the Left swept all the parliamentary seats except one that went to Trinamool.

Although the Trinamool-run Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) had earned kudos for its work, the Left Front wrested the civic body from the Trinamool last year after its mayor Subrata Mukherjee parted ways with Mamata Banerjee, indicating a swing of the vote bank for the Left in the city.

There are 485 candidates, including 38 women, in the third phase.

Among the three districts having polling on Thursday, North 24 Parganas and South 24 Parganas have 28 seats each followed by 21 in Kolkata.

The total number of voters in the three districts is 12.4 million. Barasat in North 24 Parganas is the largest constituency with 320,342 voters.

The first two phases on April 17 and 22 saw balloting in 111 constituencies covering West Midnapore, Bankura, Purulia, East Midnapore, Nadia, Howrah and Hooghly.

Besides Chief Minister Bhattacharya (Jadavpur constituency in south Kolkata), the third phase will decide the electoral fortunes of IT Minister Manabendra Mukherjee, Subhas Chakraborty, Kshiti Goswami and Kanti Ganguly (all Left), Trinamool leaders like Sougata Roy and Partha Chatterjee and the Congress' Somen Mitra and Subrata Mukherjee.

This phase will also witness Bengali cinema hero and Trinamool candidate Tapas Paul's fight to retain his Alipore seat in Kolkata against film industry colleague and noted screen villian Biplab Chatterjee of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M).

Journalist Udayan Namboodri, author of "Bengal's Night Without End", a book on alleged electoral malpractices in West Bengal, is a Trinamool candidate from Dum Dum in North 24 Parganas.

The Trinamool has also fielded former Maoist leader Asim Chatterjee.

While Maoist violence and industrial sickness were the overriding concerns in the first two phases, the areas in the third round are beset with civic problems, infiltration (North 24 Parganas) and livelihood crisis and development issues (South 24 Parganas).

The third phase also witnessed the most star-studded campaigning. The Bengali film fraternity took to the streets to seek votes for the Left Front while Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders LK Advani and Arun Jaitley campaigned for Trinamool Congress-BJP candidates.

Railway Minister Lalu Prasad hit the campaign trail for Left candidates while popular TV actor and BJP leader Smriti Irani was ranged against him.

The Congress roped in Priya Dutt, a Congress MP from Mumbai and daughter of the late actor Sunil Dutt, to campaign along with central leader Margaret Alva.

Putting up a brave face against exit poll predictions that the Trinamool would fare poorly in this election, Mamata Banerjee slogged for precious votes.

"The Left has been decimated in the first two phases. In this phase too you have to defeat them," she said in her campaign speeches.

Chief Minister Bhattacharya was on the streets almost every day.

A total of 13,673 polling stations have been set up in the three districts. The total electorate in West Bengal is 48.9 million. The five-phase elections end on May 8.