Kolkata, May 5 (IANS) Polling began at 7 a.m. for 25 constituencies covering the Cooch Behar and East Midnapore districts in the sixth and final phase of the staggered month-long polling for the West Bengal assembly elections on Thursday.
Nine of the constituencies are in Cooch Behar district and 16 in East Midnapore.
Over 58 lakh (58,04,019) voters across 6,774 polling stations, including nine auxiliary booths, are eligible to decide the fate of 170 candidates — 18 of them female in this phase. The Election Commission Ais using 7,790 EVMs and 621 VVPATs.
It is a historic day for the dwellers of the erstwhile enclaves in Cooch Behar who are voting for the first time, marking another giant leap in their absorption into India after nearly seven decades of stateless existence.
Altogether 9,776 erstwhile enclave dwellers, including 567 who have opted for India from the former Indian enclaves — now part of Bangladesh — are registered as electors. They are Aspread across five constituencies — Dinhata (5,486 voters), Mekhliganj (988), Sitai (1,396), Sitalkuchi (1,898) and Tufanganj (8).
Following the implementation of the historic Land Boundary Agreement, Bangladesh and India exchanged 162 adversely-held enclaves on August 1, 2015.
Rising to the occasion, the Election Commission has rolled out the red carpet for the 9,776 first-time voters, besides setting up five model polling stations with facilities for sitting, wheelchairs etc.
In East Midnapore, all eyes are on Nandigram, where a peasants agitation in 2006-07 against the erstwhile Left Front government’s bid to acquire farmland for a chemical hub and special economic zone had triggered police firing that resulted in 14 deaths.
The peasants protest played a pivotal role in the ouster of the Left Front after 34 years in office.
In 2011, the Trinamool Congress, then in alliance with the Congress, won 20 of the seats that go to the hustings in this phase.
The Congress got one, while Left Front partner All India Forward Bloc triumphed in four seats.
This time, the Left Front and the Congress have teamed up to throw a challenge to the Trinamool.
While the Left Front is in fray in 18 seats, the Congress is contesting from four constituencies, with the alliance extending support to three independent candidates.
The Trinamool and the BJP are fighting all the seats.
The star candidates include Trinamool’s heavyweight leader and MP Suvendu Adhikari (Nandigram), who was purportedly seen in the Narada News sting operation video taking wads of currency notes in return for favours to a fictitious company.
Among other major candidates are state minister Sudarshan Ghosh Dastidar (Mahisadal), Udayan Guha (Dinhata) — both from Trinamool and Paresh Chandra Adhikary (Mekhliganj) of the AIFB.
The votes will be counted on May 19.