Bengal Elections 2021: Voting for 35 seats begins at 7 am; over 84 lakh electors to cast ballot in Phase 8
Bengal Elections 2021: Voting will be held at 11,860 polling stations spread over 11 Assembly constituencies each in Murshidabad and Birbhum, and six in Malda and seven in Kolkata
More than a month after the electoral exercise to elect a new state Legislative Assembly in West Bengal began, over 84 lakh voters spread across five districts will cast their ballots on Thursday to decide the last batch of 35 representatives to be elected via a popular contest.
Voting for the final phase of the West Bengal Assembly polls will begin at 7 am today and will continue till 6.30 pm.
A total of 84,77,728 voters — 43,55,835 male, 41,21,735 women and 158 of the third gender — are eligible to exercise their franchise in the final phase of the election.
The electors will decide the political fate of 283 candidates when the 35 Assembly constituencies go to the polls in the eighth and final phase of the West Bengal Assembly polls.
The election will take place amid a raging second wave of COVID-19 which killed another 77 on Wednesday and infected 17,207 people, the highest-single day spike recorded in the state so far.
The election will also be held amid heightened security arrangements in view of the violence in the previous phases, particularly the death of four people in Cooch Behar in a CISF firing and another by miscreants in the fourth round of polling on 10 April.
The Election Commission, which is facing severe criticism for failing to curb the spread of COVID-19, and to ensure strict adherence to COVID-19 norms in political rallies and in polling stations, has decided to deploy at least 641 companies of central forces, including 224 in the Birbhum district to ensure free and fair voting.
Voting will be held at 11,860 polling stations spread over 11 Assembly constituencies each in Murshidabad and Birbhum, and six in Malda and seven in Kolkata (the full list of constituencies is here).
The state has undergone seven phases of elections for 259 seats with the seventh phase of the election for 34 seats being held on 26 April. The seventh phase of the West Bengal elections saw a turnout of 75.06 percent voter till 5 pm. The final turnout for the seventh phase is yet to be announced.
The state has recorded a turnout of at least 79.11 percent in 43 Assembly constituencies in Phase 6. The turnout in the remaining five phases of the Assembly election in the state was 84.13 percent (phase one), 86.11 percent (phase two), 84.61 percent (phase three), and 78.43 percent (phase four) and 78.36 percent (phase five).
The counting of votes for all the 294 seats is scheduled for 2 May. The state Legislative Assembly has 295 members and includes one nominated member from the Anglo-Indian community.
Tight contest in Kolkata, a three-cornered contest in Malda and Murshidabad districts
The focus in the final phase of polling will be on five Assembly constituencies in Kolkata north — Beleghata, Jorsanko, Shyampukur, Maniktala, Kashipur-Belgachia — as a neck and neck contest is expected between TMC heavyweights and BJP challengers. Two TMC ministers — Shashi Panja (minister of Women and Child Development and Social Welfare) and Sadhan Pandey (state Consumer Affairs Minister) — are contesting from Shyampukur and Maniktala seats in north Kolkata, respectively.
Panja is up against BJP's Sandipan Biswas and AIFB's Jiban Prakash Saha while Pandey faces former India footballer and BJP candidate Kalyan Chaubey and CPM's Rupa Bagchi.
In Beleghata, TMC has fielded Paresh Paul against BJP's Kashinath Biswas and CPM's Rajib Biswas.
In Jorasnko, BJP has named Meena Devi Purohit against TMC's Vivek Gupta and Congress' Ajmal Khan. The TMC has named Atin Ghosh in Kashipur-Belgachia against BJP candidate Sibaji Sinha Roy and CPM's Pratip Dasgupta.
The final phase is expected to see three-cornered contests in many of the 17 constituencies in Malda and Murshidabad districts where the Left-Congress-ISF combine has a stronghold apart from the TMC and the BJP.
EC places TMC's Birbhum chief under surveillance
Meanwhile, the poll panel has placed Trinamool Congress Birbhum district president Anubrata Mondal under strict surveillance till Friday 7 am, as the chief electoral officer in the state has received "several complaints against him", the official said.
The TMC leader was placed under similar surveillance during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and the 2016 Assembly polls.
As of 27 April, surveillance teams of the Election Commission (EC) had seized Rs 1.45 crore suspect cash from various poll-bound areas, officials told PTI.
In the first instance, Rs 30 lakh cash was seized by the teams at Maulali crossing in the Chowrangee assembly constituency.
Another team seized Rs 40 lakh from a vehicle in the Jorasanko Assembly seat area. Similarly, a team of Kolkata Police intercepted five people and seized Rs 75 lakh for which they could not give "any documentation or justification", a senior EC official said.
The Income Tax Department has been intimated about these cases, he said.
The EC deploys static surveillance teams, drawn from various central and state government agencies, to check the flow of illegal inducements to voters like cash, drugs and other items in the run-up to the polls.
EC to focus on strict implementation of COVID-19 rules
The EC, which was recently hammered for its failure to ensure strict adherence to COVID-19 rules during the mass gathering and political rallies in West Bengal and several other states, is likely to have its eyes set on not just conducting a free and fair election, but also ensuring that the COVID-19 protocols are adhered to during the voting process, an election official told PTI.
West Bengal on Wednesday logged 17,207 fresh COVID-19 cases, the highest-single day spike recorded in the state so far, pushing the tally to 7,93,552, a bulletin issued by the state health department said.
The death toll climbed to 11,159 with 77 more fatalities which is also the maximum count during a day, it said. Campaigning for the eighth and final phase has been a low-key affair, following curbs imposed by the EC in the wake of the second wave of COVID-19 cases in the state.
The poll commission has banned roadshows and vehicle rallies in the state and noted that the COVID safety norms were being flouted in West Bengal during campaigning. It also disallowed any public meeting with more than 500 people.
Leaders of political parties chose either the virtual platform or small street-corner meetings for campaigning, which ended on 26 April evening. TMC supremo and incumbent Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee accused the Centre of mishandling the second wave of COVID-19 and providing inadequate vaccines to the state.
BJP president JP Nadda denied Baneree's allegations and attacked her for not attending the crucial meeting convened by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss the COVID10 situation.
The EC has also banned all victory processions on 2 May, both during and after the counting of votes.
With inputs from PTI
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