West Bengal, Kerala set for polls today
While 66 Bengal constituencies will be voting in Round II, 59 Kerala seats will go to polls in the first phase.Updated: Apr 22, 2006 15:36 IST
Four more southern districts of West Bengal go to the polls on Saturday in the second round of staggered assembly elections the ruling Left Front hopes to win hands down.
Of the total 294 constituencies the second phase would involve 66 in Howrah, Hooghly, East Midnapore and Murshidabad districts where 348 candidates, including 28 women, are in the battlefield.
The first phase on April 17 saw balloting in 45 constituencies covering West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia districts. Although these were known Maoist strongholds, there was no violence and the entire exercise took place peacefully.
Among the four districts having polling on Saturday, Hooghly has 19 seats followed by 16 each in Howrah and East Midnapore and 15 in Nadia. The total number of voters in the four districts is 11.3 million. Shibpur in Howrah is the largest constituency with 269,646 voters.
A total of 122,99 polling stations have been set up in the four districts.
The total electorate in West Bengal is 48.9 million. The five-phase elections end on May 8.
While Maoist violence and underdevelopment were the overriding concerns in the first phase, the areas in the second round are beset by industrial sickness, law and order problems, shoddy civic amenities, Bangladeshi infiltration and erosion of the Ganges river.
Howarh and Hooghly have been facing industrial sickness for decades, leading to the closure of hundreds of factories. In Howrah, which is also Kolkata's twin city, civic amenities are poor.
As everywhere in West Bengal, the main battle will be between the Left Front led by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and the Trinamool Congress of Mamata Banerjee.
Ambika Banerjee, the Trinamool candidate who has won from Howrah Central five times, alleged that the Left had treated the district shabbily.
But of late Howrah has been in the limelight with upcoming projects like a food processing park, an IT hub and a motorbike factory by the Indonesian giant Salem besides a modern township by the same group.
Hooghly district, adjoining Howrah, too faces similar industrial sickness.
In Nadia district, illegal migration of Bangladeshis is a major problem and an election issue.
Murshidabad on the other hand is wilting under severe erosion of the banks of the Ganges. The river has devoured human settlements, rendering people homeless.
Some of the prominent contenders in the second phase are CPI-M's Fire Services Minister Pratim Chatterjee (Tarakeshwar in Hooghly) and Animal Resource Development Minister Anisur Rahman (Domkol in Murshidabad) besides Atish Sinha (Congress, Kandhi, Murshidabad) and five-time winner from Howrah Central Ambika Roy (Trinamool).
Putting up a brave face against exit poll predictions that the Trinamool would get barely three of the 45 seats in the first phase, Mamata Banerjee campaigned hard for the second phase.
"We will do better this time. We only want a free and fair election," she said at an election meeting at Nadia.
Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee hit the campaign trail in Nadia on Wednesday and attacked both the Congress and the Trinamool Congress with virulence.
Hoping that there would be huge turnouts in the second phase, he called the Congress "the party of the rich" and accused the Trinamool of aligning with the Hindu rightwing.
LDF sitting pretty, UDF hopeful in Kerala
Kerala goes to the polls from Saturday to elect a new assembly and the widespread feeling is that the Left is all set to bounce back after five years in the opposition.
The Congress, which heads the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF), of course does not think so. But it increasingly looks like it is only the Congress that thinks it can retain power in the staggered elections ending May 3.
At least three pre-poll surveys have predicted a sweep for the Left Democratic Front (LDF), saying it could win close to 100 seats in the 140-member assembly.
That was the number the UDF won in 2001.
The first phase of polling on Saturday will involve 59 constituencies in the six southern districts: Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Pathanamthitta, Alappuzha, Kottayam and Idukki.
A total of 409 candidates are in the fray. An estimated 8.4 million voters, including 4.3 million women, are eligible to exercise their franchise. Kerala's total electorate is 21.48 million.
Election Commission officials said the voting would take place in 8,292 polling booths, using 9,121 electronic voting machines.
"Is there any doubt about our victory?" asked Veliyam Bhargavan, state secretary of the Communist Party of India (CPI), a member of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) that is led by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M).
"The electorate will give a fitting reply to the misdeeds of the last five years' rule of the UDF," he added.
Chief Minister Oommen Chandy still thinks he can make it -- somehow.
He and his colleagues are harping on the theme that Kerala's economic progress would come to a halt if the CPI-M takes power, since the Marxists have no love for economic reforms other states are embracing.
"We want the people to discuss and debate... We want them to understand the real character of the CPI-M," he said.
Of the 59 seats, the Congress-led UDF won 45 in 2001.
The first phase on Saturday is crucial because over the years it has been noticed that whoever wins the most seats in the southern districts, especially in Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram, emerges the winner.
The Congress feels that the whirlwind tours of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi would help the party to recover lost ground. But it is not an optimism widely shared.
The third factor in the Kerala elections is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Although its vote share has been falling in every election and now stands around five percent, it is hoping to bag at least one seat.
For the first time, digital cameras would come up in the polling booths in all three phases.
"Apart from these cameras, no video shooting or photography will be allowed inside the polling booths," said Nalini Netto, Kerala's chief electoral officer.
First Published: Apr 21, 2006 09:37 IST