Kolkata: The high-octane Lok Sabha elections in West Bengal reach an exciting third leg on Tuesday, as the poll caravan rolls to the culturally rich South Dinjapur and then moves to Malda — famed for its mouth-watering mangoes –before entering Murshidabad in South Bengal, which was once the capital of the Nawabs of Bengal, Bihar and Odisha.
Five constituencies — Balurghat, Malda North, Malda South, Jangipur and Murshidabad — are up for grabs in the third phase on Tuesday, spread across the whole of South Dinajpur and Malda districts, vast areas in Murshidabad and small parts of North Dinajpur and Nadia districts.
The elections on the morrow is crucial for the Congress, with the Muslim majority Malda and Murshidabad districts being it’s still existing strongholds.
In 2014, the Congress had won all its four seats from the state — Malda North and South, Jangipur and Berhampore — from these two districts. Berhampore in Murshidabad district will go to the hustings in the fourth phase on April 29.
However, the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress is throwing a determined challenge this time, while Malda has seen a resurgence of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), making the poll battle all the more absorbing despite the oppressive summer heat.
In the third phase, a total of 80,16,181 voters are eligible to register their choice in 8,528 polling stations to decide the fate of 61 candidates.
The Balurghat constituency in North Bengal is witnessing an intense battle between sitting Trinamool MP and noted theatre activist Arpita Ghosh, BJP nominee and reputed botanist at Gour Banga University Sukanta Majumdar and fulltime political worker Ranen Barman of the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), a constituent of the Left Front.
Ghosh’s candidature had drawn protests from within the party’s local unit due to her “outsider” tag and alleged absence from the constituency over the past five years, but the candidate handpicked by Mamata Banerjee claimed that the “temporary confusion within the party” was now over.
“It was a temporary problem. Right now we are working as a unit. This time our margin of victory will increase further,” she said.
Majumdar, on the other hand, claimed that he would triumph “provided people of Balurghat are allowed to cast their votes”.
“People of Balurghat were not allowed to vote in the last state rural body elections. Hopefully the situation will change this time. If people are able to cast their votes freely, the BJP will surely emerge victorious from here,” Majumdar said.
In Jangipur, former President Pranab Mukherjee’s son Abhijit Mukherjee of the Congress faces a tough battle as he seeks a hat-trick of wins from the constituency, which had sent his father to the Parliament twice. With the Trinamool going all-out to win its first Lok Sabha seat from the Murshidabad district, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has campaigned extensively in Jangipur, going to the extent of alleging that Mukherjee’s electioneering was being aided by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
The Trinamool nominee from Jangipur is Khalilur Rahaman, while the BJP has given ticket to Mafuja Khatun, the party’s only Muslim woman candidate in this election. Zulfiqar Ali of the CPI(M) is also in the fray.
“No doubt the fight is very tough this time. The Chief Minister is directly targeting me and making personal attacks. She is giving a clear message to the administration. I am confident that the truth will ultimately triumph,” Mukherjee said.
Khatun, who describes herself as a “grass root” activist, claimed that the electorate, including minority voters, will bless her as Mukherjee had “failed to carry out development work” amid obstacles created by the Trinamool Congress-led administration.
The tussle in Malda North is between cousins Isha Khan Choudhury of the Congress and incumbent MP Mausam Noor, who had won on a Congress ticket in 2014 but had deflected to Trinamool in Januray this year.
“In Trinamool Congress under Mamata Banerjee’s leadership, I can carry out projects which I could not during my two stints in the Parliament so far,” said Mausam, who’s a law graduate.
The BJP candidate from Malda North is another turncoat, Khagen Murmu, who crossed over from the CPI-M recently. The CPI-M has nominated Biswanath Ghosh. In Malda South, Congress veteran and sitting MP Abu Hasem Khan Choudhury, the father of Isha Khan Choudhury, is up against Trinamool’s Md Moazzem Hossain and Sreerupa Mitra Choudhury of the BJP. The CPI-M has not put up a candidate from here and is supporting Abu Hasem.
Interestingly, Mausam, Isha Khan and Abu Hasem are all blood relations of late Congress leader Abu Barkat Ghani Khan Choudhury, who is still venerated by the people of Malda for providing jobs to the locals and carrying out large scale development work in the district.
According to an analysis done by the West Bengal Election Watch and the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), 11 of the 61 candidates for phase three have assets worth over Rs 1 crore, while 15 (25 per cent) have declared criminal cases against their names.
In 2014, the Congress had bagged Maldah North, Malda South and Jangipur, while Balurghat went to the Trinamool and Murshidabad had a CPI-M winner.
As per the electoral roll, the voters for the third phase include 4,102,364 men, 3,913,593 women and 224 registered in the ‘other’ category.
Out of the total 8,528 polling stations, Balurghat has 1,530, Jangipur 1,762, Murshidabad 1,907, Malda North 1,713 and Malda South 1,616.
The subsequent phases of polling in West Bengal will be held on April 29, May 6, May 12 and May 19. Polling for the Cooch Behar and Alipurduar constituencies took place in the first phase on April 11, while Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Raiganj voted on April 18. The votes will be counted on May 23.