Kolkata: The first phase of elections in high-stakes poll battle in West Bengal will be held on Saturday with both the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seeking to outdo each other in poll promises and campaign rhetoric.
While the BJP is striving to form its first government in the state, the Left-ISF-Congress alliance is also striving to spring a surprise.
Thirty seats go to the polls in the first phase and include all constituencies in Purulia and Jhargram and some constituencies from Bankura, Purba Medinipur and Paschim Medinipur.
Elections to 294 constituencies in the state will be held in eight phases till April 29 and the results will be declared on May 2.
The first phase of polling will decide the electoral fate of 191 candidates including 21 women.
TMC had won 27 out of these 30 seats in the 2016 elections and BJP was not a major player in the last polls. However, the party has gained in strength in the past five years and has emerged as the main challenger to the ruling party which has won two successive assembly polls. The BJP won 18 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections against 22 won by the TMC.
Congress had won two seats going to the polls in the first phase and Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) had won one seat.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and senior BJP leaders including Home Minister Amit Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and party chief JP Nadda campaigned in the first phase. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has led the Trinamool campaign. She had earlier this month sustained “severe bone injuries” on her left foot and ankle as well as bruises and injuries on her shoulder, forearm and neck, according to the report of her initial medical examination.
She sustained injuries while on a visit to Nandigram, from where she is contesting the polls to take on her former ministerial colleague Suvendu Adhikari, who has joined the BJP. Nandigram will go to the polls in the second phase. Mamata Banerjee was discharged from the hospital on March 12 and she has been campaigning in a wheelchair.
During the power-packed campaigns, the BJP has talked of ‘ashol poriborton’ (actual change) and promised to build ‘Sonar Bangla’ (prosperous Bengal).
The party leaders have alleged that TMC leaders are involved in “scams” and have also made allegations about the “siphoning of money” meant for relief in the wake of cyclone Amphan. The party has been accusing the ruling party of “tolabaji” (extortion). The BJP has also said that the TMC government had deprived the people of benefits of central welfare schemes such as PM Kisan and Ayushman Bharat.
The party has also been talking about economic backwardness and water problem in the constituencies going for polls in the first phase.
Several ex-TMC leaders, including Suvendu Adhikari’s father Sisir Adhikari, MP, had joined BJP ahead of the polls. Bollywood star Mithun Chakraborty also joined BJP.
Mamata Banerjee has also been making scathing attacks on the BJP. “We do not want rioters and looters. We do not want Duryodhana and Dushasana,” she said in a rally.
She has also been throwing challenge at BJP through her party’s “khela hobe” (game will take place) slogan. BJP leaders have been responding to the slogan and the Prime Minister said at a rally that Banerjee’s “khela” (game) will be “shesh” (over) and development will start on the day results are declared.
Mamata Banerjee has labeled Suvendu Adhikari as a “traitor”. The TMC has been talking of development initiatives of its government in the region and of the increasing price of diesel, petrol and cooking gas. The Trinamool government also launched ‘Duare Sarkar’ outreach programme with an eye on the elections.
Some prominent names in the first phase of polling include Srikanto Mahato, Rajib Lochan Saren and Uttam Barik of TMC and Rabindranath Maity, Chandana Bauri and Rajib Kundu from BJP.
Congress has fielded five candidates for the first phase – Nepal Mahato from Baghmundi, Shiu Maiti from Bhagabanpur, Uttam Banerjee from Balarampur, Manas Kumar Karmahapatra from Egra and Partha Pratim Banerjee from Purulia.
Political parties have made efforts to woo voters through their manifestos. The BJP has promised 33 per cent job reservation to women, along with free public transport and education. It also promised to implement the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in the very first meeting of its cabinet if the party is able to form a government in the state.
The TMC has promised 5 lakh jobs in a year and financial assistance to the female heads of family. Around 7.32 crore voters electors are eligible to cast their votes at 1,01,916 polling booths in the state.