Kolkata: The high-octane West Bengal assembly election reaches an exciting leg on Thursday, with the poll caravan moving to the historic Murshidabad district that was once the capital of the Nawabs of Bengal, Bihar and Odisha, and reaches upto a part of Kolkata in the third phase of the staggered month-long exercise.
Polling will also take place in Nadia district, the birthplace of Vaishnava saint Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and also for some of the seats in Burdwan, considered the rice bowl of India.
Over 1.37 crore (1,37,42,000) voters are eligible to choose their legislators in 62 constituencies across 16,461 polling stations, including 10 auxiliary booths, from a field of 418 candidates -- 34 of them female.
All 22 constituencies are going to the hustings in Murshidabad, regarded as a bastion of the Congress, and particularly of its dashing state president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.
Besides, the entire lot of 17 constituencies in Nadia will also be up for grabs. Seven seats in north Kolkata and 16 in Burdwan complete the list.
Murshidabad is a crucial test for the newly formed Congress-Left Front alliance, with the partners locked in a fight among themselves in 10 of the 22 constituencies.
Congress candidates are up against Revolutionary Socialist Party nominees in five constituencies, and take on Communist Party of India-Marxist contestants in four and the All India Forward Bloc in one seat.
The state's ruling Trinamool Congress is traditionally weak in the district, but political pundits feel the lack of total unity in the Left-Congress camp may give it a boost in a few seats.
Close fights are also on the cards at Nadia, where the alliance has achieved unity in all but the Krishnaganj seat -- that pits the Congress against the CPI-M.
The erstwhile 'red fort' of Burdwan, that collapsed like a pack of cards in the Trinamool surge in 2011, when the Left Front was ousted from power in the state, is also likely to witness a see-saw battle between the alliance and the Trinamool. Nine constituencies of the district had voted on April 11.
The Trinamool Congress is hoping big on the seven seats in Kolkata north, but the alliance is also keen to pull up some surprises.
In the assembly polls in the 62 constituencies five years back, then allies Trinamool and Congress had captured 45 seats, with the Trinamool taking 29 and the Congress 16.
Among the Left Front partners, the CPI-M had won 14, and the Revolutionary Socialist Party, Samajwadi Party and All India Forward Bloc one each.
In this phase, Ranaghat South in Nadia is the largest constituency electorate-wise, and Ausgram in Burdwan district the biggest in terms of area. Shyampukar constituency in Kolkata (North) has the least number of electors.
Among the major candidates in this phase are state ministers and Trinamool contestants Sashi Panja, Sadhan Pandey, Subrata Saha, former state minister and CPI-M candidates Anisur Rahaman and Debesh Das, Congress legislature party leader Md. Sohrab and former state party presdient Somendranath Mitra and Ritesh Tiwari from the BJP.
Of the 418 candidates in the fray, 61 are crorepatis, 80 have criminal cases against them, with 65 of them declaring serious criminal offences like murder and rape against their name.
So far, voters in 105 of the total 294 constituencies have exercised their right to franchise on three dates -- April 4, 11 and 17 -- in the first two phases.
West Bengal is having a staggered six-phase election. Polling for the remaining phases will be held on April 25, 30 and May 5.