Campaigning ends for first phase of West Bengal polls
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Last Updated: Saturday, April 16, 2011, 18:51
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 under-development.

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 alliance.

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 Benga.

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 districts.

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.


First Published: Saturday, April 16, 2011, 18:51

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