Over one crore voters in West Bengal will decide the political fate of 306 candidates on Thursday, when 43 assembly constituencies go to polls in the sixth phase, amid a raging second wave of COVID-19. Security measures have been heightened in view of the violence in the previous phases, particularly the death of five people in Cooch Behar in the fourth phase of polling on April 10, an Election Commission official said.
The poll panel has decided to deploy at least 1,071 companies of central forces in the sixth phase to ensure free and fair voting, he said. It will also put in place measures to ensure strict adherence to COVID-19 protocols during the voting process, the official said.
West Bengal on Tuesday registered its highest-single- day spike of 9,819 new COVID-19 cases, which took the tally to 6,78,172, and at least 46 more people succumbed to the infection, pushing the toll to 10,652. Both the TMC and the BJP have pitched hard to gain the confidence of Matuas, who make for a large chunk of the state’s Scheduled Caste population, in most of the 17 assembly segments going to polls in this phase in North 24 Parganas district and some of the nine seats in Nadia.
Apart from these constituencies, elections will be held in nine seats in Uttar Dinajpur district and eight in Purba Bardhaman. Prominent names in the sixth phase of the assembly polls include BJP’s national vice president Mukul Roy, TMC ministers Jyotipriyo Mallick and Chandrima Bhattacharya and CPI(M) leader Tanmay Bhattacharya.
The political fate of film director Raj Chakraborty and actor Koushani Mukherjee, who are the TMC’s candidates from the Barrackpore and the Krishnanagar North constituencies respectively, will also be decided in this phase. Voting will be held at 14,480 polling stations in the 43 assembly segments of the four districts.
This phase will witness stiff competition between the ruling Trinamool Congress and its main rival BJP. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, BJP chief J P Nadda and Bollywood star Mithun Chakraborty led the campaign of the saffron party, which has fortified into TMC’s main challenger in this election.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee spearheaded the TMC campaign along with her nephew and party’s youth wing chief Abhishek Banerjee. The Election Commission has curtailed daily campaign hours and extended the “silence period” from 48 hours to 72 hours in each of the remaining three phases of the assembly polls in view of the Cooch Behar violence and the rising COVID-19 cases in the state.
Elections have been held in 180 constituencies so far, and the remaining 114 seats are set to go to polls between April 22 and 29. Votes will be counted on May 2.