M A I N   N E W S

Battle for Bengal begins today
n The Left is fighting hard to save its ‘Red fort’ but TMC-Cong alliance is confident of staging a ‘coup’
n First phase of polling to cover all 6 north Bengal dists n Elaborate security measures
Tribune News Service & Agencies

Security personnel prepare to go to various polling stations in Siliguri on Sunday.
IN THE LINE OF DUTY: Security personnel prepare to go to various polling stations in Siliguri on Sunday. — PTI

Kolkata, April 17
With the state ruled by the world’s longest serving communist-led government in a multi-party democracy going to the polls tomorrow, there’s a big question on everybody’s mind: Will West Bengal’s 34-year-old “Red fort” crumble in the wake of a combined charge from the Trinamool Congress-Congress alliance?

Over 56 million voters will provide the answer when they will exercise their right to franchise to choose their 294 representatives in a six-phase polling that will end on May 10.

The Assembly elections are widely regarded as the toughest challenge faced by the 10-party Left Front that came to power in 1977 after the Emergency. Between 1977 and early 2008, with the villages and small towns endorsing its rule, the Left Front steamrolled all opposition in elections year after year. During the 2006 elections, the Left Front won a landslide victory, gaining three-fourth majority.

The CPM itself got an absolute majority claiming 176 seats, leaving Opposition parties, the Trinamool Congress and the Congress way behind with 30 and 21 seats, respectively. But the electoral script started changing soon after, as Chief Minister Buddahdeb Bhattacharjee's pet industrialisation projects like Tata Motors' small car Nano plant in Hooghly district’s Singur and a chemical hub venture in Nandigram of East Midnapore district triggered peasants' unrest. Spearheaded by Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee, the political parties and civil society carried out intense anti-land acquisition agitations in both areas, triggering violence.

Banking on the anti-land acquisition stirs, the Trinamool consolidated its position among large sections of rural masses and minorities - so long aligned with the Left Front - and made substantial gains in the 2008 panchayat elections. The party teamed up with the Congress to decimate the Left in the Lok Sabha polls a year later. Out of the 42 Lok Sabha seats, the Trinamool grabbed 19, the Congress 6, and another alliance Socialist Unity Centre of India - Communist (SUCI-C) 1. The Left Front could win only 15 seats. The anti-Left Front trend was repeated in the civic polls and by-elections to a number of Assembly constituencies last year.

Stunned by the series of electoral setbacks, the Left Front appears on a sticky wicket against a determined challenge from the Trinamool-Congress combine. Under the seat-sharing arrangement, the TMC is contesting on 233 seats, leaving 64 seats to the Congress and two to the SUCI. Mamata Banerjee, who is also the chief ministerial nominee, has been campaigning extensively, urging the people to usher in a change of regime for better governance and an end to CPM “misrule.”

In meeting after meeting, the firebrand leader is harping on the "atrocities" committed by the CPM on the people and promising a new dawn of development and jobs if the Trinamool-Congress combine was voted to power. Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukheree has claimed in his rallies that this time the alliance would defeat the CPM.Bhattacharjee, who largely kept himself confined to his constituency of Jadavpur where he faces a tough fight, has now started moving to the districts. The Chief Minister is telling the electorate about the "corruption" and "misgovernance" of the UPA government at the Centre, where the Congress and the Trinamool are partners. He has also been talking about the "rectification measures" taken by the CPM which had in fact angered a substantial part of the electorate. The Congress has roped in star campaigners like party chief Sonia Gandhi and general secretary Rahul Gandhi, who took on the Left Front for its non-performance during its over three-decade-long rule and its failure to usher in development in all spheres.

In the first phase, 54 constituencies in six north Bengal districts, including Darjeeling, would vote. The next phases will be held on April 23 (50 constituencies), April 27 (75), May 3 (63), May 7 (38) and May 10 (14). The votes will be counted May 13. The state chief electoral officer Sunil Kumar Gupta said arrangements were in place for conducting free and fair elections. He said adequate paramilitary forces have been deployed at various booths. Central observers and senior Central police officials would be engaged for supervising the entire poll process.

(With inputs from agencies)


Trinamool candidate arrested 

Kolkata: Union Minister Mukul Roy's son Subhranshu Roy, a Trinamool Congress candidate, was on Sunday arrested by the police in North 24 Parganas district. He had been absconding since Tuesday after an FIR was filed by the Election Commission against him and others for allegedly assaulting its team members. 





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