Lok Sabha election 2019: Eye on big fights as West Bengal’s western part goes to polls in sixth phase
The western region of West Bengal partially comprising the dry, hot and forested eastern extensions of the Chota Nagpur plateau will poll in the sixth phase on May 12, when 13,356,964 voters will choose eight representatives from a total of 83 candidates.
The constituencies where polling will be held in this phase are Tamluk, Kanthi, Ghatal, Medinipur, Bankura, Bishnupur, Purulia and Jhargram.
The remaining nine seats of the 42 constituencies in the state will votes on May 19, the last phase. Counting will be held on May 23.
All of the 15,428 polling stations in this phase are to be manned by central paramilitary forces.
“The TMC has an advantage over others in this phase, mainly because the Left is expected to retain its vote share to a good extent in Jhargram, Bankura and Medinipur – exactly the seats BJP is hopeful of. Left getting anything about 20% votes will increase TMC’s chances by dividing anti-TMC votes,” said political analyst Maidul Islam.
“In Purulia, Rahul Gandhi’s rally for the Congress candidate will definitely reduce the BJP’s chances,” Islam, who teaches political science in Kolkata’s Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, added.
Among senior leaders, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has campaigned in Jhargram and Tamluk, while Congress president Rahul Gandhi has come to Purulia, and BJP president Amit Shah addressed rallies in Medinipur, Ghatal and Bishnupur. Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee has held about 18 meetings in these eight seats.
In 2014, the TMC won all these seats comfortably, with the lowest winning margin of 98,506 votes in Bankura. In this constituency, its candidate and political greenhorn Moon Moon Sen defeated the Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s nine-time MP Basudeb Acharia. The highest winning margin in these eight seats was 3.47 lakh votes in Jhargram.
The most politically-significant fight in this phase will be in Medinipur, where the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) state unit president and Kharagpur (Sadar) MLA Dilip Ghosh is pitted against seven-time MLA and Bengal minister-turned Trinamool Congress (TMC) Rajya Sabha member Manas Bhunia. The impending battle between the two heavyweights has hogged limelight since the candidates were named.
The Jharkhand and Odisha-bordering seats of Jhargram and Purulia are also significant because it was once a Maoist hotbed between 1998 and 2011 and turned into a bastion of the ruling TMC since 2012. Restoring peace in this region by breaking the backbone of the Maoist rebels and ushering in a new area of progress has been the TMC’s key campaign issue in this belt.
“We ended Maoist insurgency here but the BJP could not end it in Chhattisgarh despite ruling the state for 15 years at a stretch,” Mamata Banerjee said while addressing a public meeting in Jhargram.
Amid reports that the Maoists led by their Bengal state unit chief Akash, presently based in Jharkhand, are desperately trying to stage a comeback using grievances against TMC’s local leaders’ alleged indulgence in corruption and nepotism, the BJP made significant inroads over the past couple of years, as was evident in the 2018 rural elections.
“Our performance in this belt will surprise political analysts and shock Trinamool Congress,” said BJP’s Dilip Ghosh.
The TMC is confident of retaining all seats, and to even increase winning margins in some.
Among other constituencies in focus are Bishnupur and Bankura.
Saumitra Khan, who won with a Trinamool Congress ticket from Bishnupur in 2014, joined the BJP in January this year. He is contesting from the same seat on a BJP ticket, but was barred by the court from entering the Bankura district in which six of the seven assembly segments that make the Bishnupur Lok Sabha seat are located.
Khan had to park himself at Khandaghosh, the only assembly segment within Bishnupur that is located in neighbouring East Burdwan district. His wife Sujata Mondal campaigned on his behalf in the rest of the constituency, while BJP president Amit Shah came to canvass for him. The TMC has pitted minister Shyamal Santra against him.
In Bankura, the TMC has fielded senior minister Subrata Mukherjee, who first became an MLA in 1971 and a minister in 1972. He later served as Kolkata’s mayor and was one of the key ministers in Mamata Banerjee’s government until being named Bankura candidate.
Mukherjee’s battle is not easy because the BJP’s Bakura candidate Subhas Sarkar, the party’s state unit vice-president, wields significant influence in Bankura district. The CPI(M) has fielded Amiya Patra, a central committee member of the party, who is also an influential politician in the district.
Purulia’s Congress candidate Nepal Mahato is a four-time MLA and influential political figure in Purulia district, where the BJP has fielded a young organiser, Jyotirmay Mahato, against TMC’s incumbent, Mriganka Mahato.
In Ghatal, former Indian Police Service (IPS) officer Bharati Ghosh – who is facing a probe by West Bengal CID since she resigned – is contesting on a BJP ticket. She is taking on TMC’s Dipak Adhikary alias Dev, a Bengali film industry superstar and Ghatal incumbent.
Kanthi and Tamluk are the TMC’s strong bastions since 2009.
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