Campaigning ends for first phase of West Bengal polls

With ruling Left Front facing its toughest challenge to retain power in 35 years, a high voltage campaigning for first phase of West Bengal Assembly polls ended this evening in six districts.

Kolkata: With ruling Left Front facing its
toughest challenge to retain power in 35 years, a high voltage
campaigning for first phase of West Bengal Assembly polls
ended this evening in six districts marked by war of words
between the Left and Trinamool Congress-Congress combine.

The fate of 364 candidates including ten ministers in
the Left Front government will be decided in the polling
which will take place in 54 Assembly segments spread over six
North Bengal districts in this phase on Monday (April 18).
The three constituencies in the Darjeeling Hills will go
to polls in the first phase with three hill parties - Gorkha
Janmukti Morcha, the GNLF and the Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha
League having campaigned in full force.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi and senior party
leader Pranab Mukherjee hit the campaign trail jointly in
North Bengal yesterday.

Gandhi tore into the Left, blaming it for Bengal`s

Promising that the Congress-Trinamool alliance would
make Bengal an advanced state if voted, the Congress president
alleged Left Front in its 34-year rule had made the state
backward in every district.

Campaigning for votes ended for the polls in 54
constituencies spread over six north Bengal districts -
Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Coochbehar, North Dinjapur, South
Dinajpur and Malda.

Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi addressed
campaign meeting at Matigara-Naxalbari, Malbazar and Malda on
Thursday criticising the Left Front for its "misrule" and said
this election will bring an end to the CPI(M)-led government.

Senior BJP leader L K Advani also addressed a campaign
meeting in Jalpaiguri district on Thursday. BJP leaders
Narendra Modi and Arun Jaitley were among the national-level
BJP leaders who addressed campaign meetings.

Advani said if people of Bengal were for a good
government they should vote for BJP candidate.

Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee led from the
front as the outcome of polls in North Bengal would have a
bearing on her party`s prospects and help in shake off the tag
that her party remained strong only in South Bengal.

The firebrand leader, having almost single-handedly
led the party`s campaign seeking to corner the Left Front,
addressed nearly 20 rallies in her whirlwind tour of North
Bengal for five days since April 10.
Addressing campaign meetings Banerjee came down heavily
on the Left Front government blaming it for having failed to
develop North Bengal referring the region lacked even basic
amenities like roads, health, electricity.

Both Banerjee and the Union Finance Minister who
addressed meetings in Jalpaiguri and Malda had a common
refrain about people seeking a change as votes in Bengal would
be polarised this time between the Left and TC-Congress

Hence the Congress rebels who have fielded themselves as
independents in North Dinjapur and Malda district would not
make any impact, the heavyweights contended.

Congress MP Deepa Dasmunshi, wife of ailing former Union
Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi, backing the Congress rebels
in North Dinajpur district had campaigned for them at Chopra,
Hemtabad and Islampur constituencies.

Deepa is the MP from Raiganj in North Dinajpur district.

For CPI(M) its star campaigner, Chief Minister Buddhadeb
Bhattacherjee did not take part in the campaign and remained
largely confined within Jadavpur, his home turf where he is
facing former Chief Secretary Manish Gupta.

Instead of Bhattacherjee, Housing Minister Gautam Deb
took the fight to the Trinamool camp in North Bengal.

CPI(M) politburo member Sitaram Yechury and other star
campaigner Biman Bose, the party state Secretary also
addressed election meetings for the first phase polls.

The CPI(M) leaders said slogan for change was misleading
and they did not want it for destruction.

In the last Assembly election in 2006 the Trinamool
Congress had won only one seat from North Bengal while in 2009
Lok Sabha polls the party won all its 19 seats from South

The Left, facing a tough challenge from opposition
Trinamool Congress and its ally Congress, stepped up pressure
by raising issues like Maoist problem, the corruption issue
under UPA regime and unemployment, ahead of the polls.
The six-phase polls for the 294-seat West Bengal
Assembly will be held between April 18 and May 10.

Meanwhile, West Bengal Chief Electoral Officer (CEO)
Sunil Kr Gupta today said that preparations for the first
phase of polling in north Bengal on April 18 was almost over.

Gupta said in the first phase, 97.42 lakh voters were
involved in the six districts.

A total of 12,133 polling centres were opened in the

He said altogether 364 candidates were in the fray out of
which 49 were from BJP, 32 from CPI(M), 27 from INC, 26 from
TMC, 38 from BSP, nine from RSP and 10 from Forward Bloc.

Gupta said 16 polling booths were located in hilly
terrain and polling personnel had already been despatched.

For other booths, despatch would start tomorrow.

Regarding deployment, he said all central forces and
those from other states were being deployed and had already
started area domination and inter-state and international
borders had been sealed.

On the EC`s voters` list for use as an alternative
identification route, he said the idea had been scrapped.


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