Kolkata: The Congress-Trinamool Congress alliance, making a determined charge to unseat the Left Front in West Bengal, faces the challenge from its own dissidents as the stage is all set for the second phase of assembly elections Saturday.
Over 93 lakh voters in 11,531 polling stations spread over three districts will Saturday elect their representatives for 50 assembly constituencies from a field of 293 candidates.
After the record 84.11 percent turnout on April 18 in the first phase of balloting in 54 constituencies of north Bengal, the poll Juggernaut now moves south, reaching historic Murshidabad, the capital of the erstwhile Nawabs of Bengal, where the English East India Company snatched power on the battle grounds of Plassey in 1757.
Bordering Murshidabad is Nadia, the birthplace of Vaishnava saint Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, while to the west lies Birbhum district, home to Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore`s Santiniketan.
Murshidabad has 22 seats, Nadia 17 and Birbhum 11.
Eight rebel Congressmen - four each in Murshidabad and Nadia - are in the fray as independents after the party high command denied them tickets and yielded the seats to Mamata Banerjee`s Trinamool Congress.
In Murshidabad, the dissidents have the backing of district Congress chief and Lok Sabha member Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, while in Nadia they have their supporter in formidable leader Shankar Singh.
Both Chowdhury and Singh are canvassing for the dissidents, who have already been expelled from the party by the Congress high command. But the party leadership is yet to take any action against the two leaders.
In Birbhum, all eyes will be on Nalhati constituency where union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee`s son and Congress candidate Avijit Mukherjee is making his debut in electoral battle and is up against Forward Bloc nominee Dipak Chatterjee.
Baul (folk) singer Parikkhit Bala is in the race from Sainthia on a Trinamool ticket.
Other prominenet candidates in the second phase include CPI-M leader and state minister Anisur Rehman, former high court judge and Trinamool nominee Nure Alam Chowdhury, and Rukbanur Rahman, brother of computer graphics teacher Rizwanur Rahman who was killed a month after he married the daughter of a Kolkata-based Hindu industrialist.
The CPI-M has fielded candidates in 31 seats, while its Left Front partners Revolutionary Socialist Party, Forward Bloc and Communist Party of India are contesting in nine, five and one seat respectively, leaving three other seats to other minor parties.
The Trinamool is in the race in 29 and the Congress in 21 constituencies. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is contesting in all the 50 constituencies.
Around 5,000 security personnel have been deployed in the three districts to ensure free and fair polls and to prevent any breach of peace.
Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, Pranab Mukherjee, Trinamool Congress chief and Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee, BJP stalwart L.K. Advani and party chief Nitin Gadkari besides Left Front leaders Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and front chairman Biman Bose have campaigned in the three districts.
During the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the Trinamool Congress, the Congress and their other alliance partner Socialist Unity Centre of India-Communist (SUCI-C) fought together against the state`s ruling Left Front and bagged 26 of the 42 seats.
The last four phases of the state`s assembly polls will be held April 27 (75 constituencies), May 3 (63), May 7 (38) and May 10 (14).
The votes will be counted May 13.