Voting underway for phase 5 of LS polls in Bengal

Kolkata, May 20 (UNI) Under a massive security blanket, the fifth phase election to seven Lok Sabha seats comprising mainly the industrial belt of West Bengal began at 7 am on Monday.

More than 1.25 crore electorates will exercise their constitutional rights in this phase to elect seven winners among the odd 88 contestants in the state, in which 800 companies of the Central Paramilitary Forces have been deployed, official sources said.

Exactly 1,25,23,702 electorate members, including 61,72,034 women, and some 348 transgenders will pick their seven winners on Monday from Bangaon (SC), Barrackpore, Howrah, Uluberia, Serampore, Hooghly, and Arambagh constituencies spread over three districts.

Serampore in Hooghly has the highest number of voters at 19,26,645; Barrackpore has the lowest at 15,08,728.

As many as 571 people crossed over 100 years of age, and 80,775 are over 85 among the 1,25,23,702 voters who enrolled for the fifth phase of polling in the state, election sources said on Saturday.

The North 24 Parganas district constituencies of Barrackpore and Bongaon are the most violence-prone segment, where the ECI has special attention.

Though all the segments apparently go for a multi-corner fight, the ruling Trinamool Congress and the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party are the focus of the electorate, which shunned the Left absolutely in the 2019 poll and elected only two Congress candidates, one each in Murshidabad and Malda districts.

The TMC and BJP shared 22 and 18 of the states Lok Sabha seats five years ago, respectively.

This time, the CPI-led Left and Congress have an electoral understanding, supporting each other by not fielding candidates where the grand old party and Communists had fielded their respective candidates.

The TMC and BJP fielded all seven candidates, the CPI (M) in six, and Congress at Uluberia.

The ECI has focused special attention on the Bongaon and Barrackpore LS seats and deployed 799 companies of CAPF, while over 25,000 state police will ensure free and fair voting. The CAPF will man the polling centre and this time Quick Response Team was reinforced after the sporadic violence outside the booths at several places, obstructing the electorate from coming to the polling centres in the fourth phase.

In industrial Barrackpore, the BJP’s sitting MP Arjun Singh is up against state Irrigation Minister Partha Bhowmick of the TMC and Debdut Ghosh from the CPI (M), who enjoys the support of the Congress.

After a denial of nomination by the ruling TMC, Singh moved to the BJP five years ago, where he secured victory in the 2019 elections. Interestingly, he later returned to TMC within three years. In 2019, he won against Dinesh Trivedi.

In North 24 Parganas Bangaon (SC), BJP’s sitting MP Shantanu Thakur is pitted against TMC’s Biswajit Das. In 2019, Shantanu Thakur of the BJP won the Bongaon constituency by defeating his aunt TMC’s Mamata Thakur, where the Matua community is a major factor and issue of CAA, for which the BJP’s top leadership in the country has been beating the drum since the poll was declared in mid-March.

Besides, Shantanu Thakur is the head of the All India Matua Mahasangha, headquartered at Thakurnagar in Bongaon. This position gives him significant influence over the Matua community, which migrated here in large numbers in 1947 post-partition and plays a crucial role in the constituency’s electoral dynamics. The community’s stance on issues like the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which serves as a crucial litmus test, could be a decisive factor in the election outcome.

Also in the industrial Howrah, the other parts of the iconic Howrah Bridge, former India football star Prasun Banerjee, winner of the last two Lok Sabha polls, is pitted against Rathin Chakraborty of the BJP and CPI (M) candidate advocate Sabyasachi Banerjee.

Notably, this constituency reportedly has a significant portion of voters who are non-Bengali speakers, hailing from states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan.

In the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, 19 candidates are competing for this seat. They are Prasun Banerjee, Ashraf Ali, Chandra Sekhar Jha, Debasish Mandal, Gautam Kumar Shaw, Imtiaz Ahmed Mollah, Kanai Sit, Kashi Nath Malick, Md. Shanawaz, Pankaj Gar, Rantidev Sengupta, Samir Mondal, Sekhar Mondal, Shailendra Kumar Jaiswal, Shyam Prasad Ram, Sisir Samanta, Sudarsan Manna, Sumitro Adhikary, and Suvra Ghosh.

Uluberia, also in Howrah district where TMC’s Sajda Ahmed is up against Arun Uday Pal Chaudhary of BJP and Azahar Mollick of the Congress.

Uluberia boasts a near-even split between Hindu and Muslim voters, making it a significant battleground. The political landscape of this constituency reflects a historical dominance of the Left Front, symbolised by Hannan Mollah of the CPI (M), who secured victory here a remarkable eight times. This stronghold was, nonetheless, challenged in 2009 when TMC’s Sultan Ahmed emerged victorious. Following Ahmed’s passing, his wife, Sajda Ahmed, clinched victory in the subsequent by-election held in 2018, maintaining the party’s hold over the constituency.

Serampore in the Hooghly, where three-time lawmaker Kalyan Banerjee is up against the BJP’s Kabir Shankar Bose and CPI (M) Dipsita Dhar.

In Hooghly Lok Sabha seat, the BJP’s sitting MP and former cinestar Locket Chatterjee is up against TMC’s new horn, Rachana Banerjee, a TV anchor, and Manadip Ghosh of CPI(M).

In 2019, Locket Chatterjee from the BJP won the seat with 6,71,448 votes. Dr. Ratna De of the Trinamool Congress came in second with 5,98,086 votes, while Pradip Saha of the CPI(M) secured third place with 1,21,588 votes.

The Hooghly contest is notable this time for featuring two Bengali cine stars, Chatterjee defending her seat against TMC’s Rachna Banerjee, a newcomer to both polls and politics. Banerjee is known for hosting the popular TV show Didi No. 1. CM Mamata Banerjee is significantly banking on Rachna Banerjee’s popularity among women in the sub-urban areas to clinch victory in this constituency.

In the Arambagh Lok Sabha seat, also in Hooghly, TMC has fielded Mitali Bagh and BJP Anup Kanti Digar and CPI(M) Biram Moitra.

Historically, it has been under the Left’s control since 1980 until the TMC gained dominance in 2014.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, TMC’s Aparupa Poddar secured victory with 6,49,929 votes and a 44.15 percent vote share, narrowly defeating the BJP’s Tapan Kumar Ray by a margin of just 1,142 votes.

During high octane electioneering the saffron brigade sought to win in 30 seats as per Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s expectation, the BJP did not spare any stone unturned to woo the voters.

Right from the PM Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, BJP president Jagat Prakash Nadda, several union ministers and CMs from Assam, Tripura, Rajasthan and many others came for electioneering. Besides, state party president Sukanta Majumdar and Nandigram MLA Suvendu Adhikari are making a whirlwind campaign for party candidates. These two leaders also accompanied almost each and every candidate during the filing of nomination papers.

Ruling TMC supremo and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who has been winning all the elections since 2009 and then ousted Left Front in 2011 has been virtually making all efforts to woo the voters, saying the “Jora Phool” is only the saviour of Bengal.

She also vehemently opposes the CAA, which has become one of the major issues in the husting.

Her nephew and TMC general secretary, who is contesting from Diamond Harbour, is No 2 in the ruling party, is also in high campaign mood to retain all the seats intact, besides looking for some of the BJP bastion.

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