State CPI-M secretary among star hopefuls as Bengal votes on Monday (Curtain Raiser)

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Kolkata, April 10 (IANS) The fate of several political stalwarts, including CPI-M state secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra, will be decided as 31 constituencies spread over three districts vote on Monday in part two of the opening phase of the West Bengal assembly elections.

Thirteen of the constituencies are in West Midnapore, and nine each in Bankura and Burdwan.

Voters in 18 constituencies — six in West Midnapore, nine in Purulia and three in Bankura — exercised their franchise on the first polling day on April 4. That was part one of the Phase One.

An electorate of nearly 70 lakh (69,90,900) across 8,465 polling stations including two auxiliary stations is eligible on Monday to choose its representatives from a field of 163 candidates — 21 of them women. High security marks the poling arrangements.

In the 2011 assembly polls, the Trinamool Congress had bagged 17, and its then ally Congress three of the seats now going for the balloting. The Left Front, then in power, won the remaining 11.

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But the political alignments and allegiances have changed dramatically since then. While the Congress has now entered into a seat adjustment with the Left Front, the Trinamool has virtually established its monopoly in these areas in subsequent polls to the Panchayat and the Lok Sabha.

A case in point is Narayangarh of West Midnapore district, from where Mishra has been winning repeatedly since 1991. Five years back, despite the Trinamool wave that swept away the Left Front regime, Mishra retained the seat, albeit with a reduced margin of 7,109 votes.

However, since then, the Trinamool triumphed in the 2013 rural polls, snatching 13 of the 16 gram panchayats, while its candidate Sandhya Roy took a lead of nearly 27,000 votes from the segment a year later.

But the LF spearhead, Communist Party of India-Marxist seems confident of coming up trumps this time around on the strength of the doctor-turned-politician’s reputation and his rising popularity graph at the way he conducted himself as leader of the opposition in the assembly.

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At Sabang, neighbouring to Narayangarh, former state minister and former Bengal Pradesh Congress chief Manas Bhunia is fighting to retain his seat in a four-cornered contest.

An interesting battle is on the cards at Kharagpur Sadar, where 91-year-old sitting Congress lawmaker Gyan Singh Sohanpal — affectionately called “chacha ji” of Bengal politics — is seeking his 11th stint as legislator.

Opposing the nonagenarian are new state BJP president Dilip Ghosh and Trinamool Congress nominee Ramaprasad Tewari besides three others.

State Labour Minister and Trinamool contestant Moloy Ghatak is trying his luck from his old constituency — Asansol North — of Burdwan district.

Providing the glam touch is Bengali film actor Soham Chakraborty, who has thrown his hat into the ring from Bankura district’s Barjora constituency on a Trinamool ticket.

The Trinamool is hoping to win a large chunk of the seats in the region on the strength of the social security schemes and development ushered in by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

The opposition parties are harping on the issue of corruption by highlighting the Saradha chit fund scandal and the Narada sting footage (that purportedly showed some Trinamool leaders accepting money in return for extending favours to a fictitious company), besides raising the lack of new big-ticket investments in the Durgapur-Asansol industrial belt of Burdwan district, once called the Ruhr of India.

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The Trinamool, the LF-Congress combine and the BJP are battling all the seats.

Among the LF constituents, the CPI-M has put up 19 candidates, followed by the Communist Party of India, Revolutionary Socialist Party, the All India Forward Bloc and the Democratic Socialist Party (Prabodh Chandra) one each. The Congress is in the race in eight constituencies.

Amid the soaring mercury, the political fever reached a peak in this region with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, host of union ministers like Sushma Swaraj, Ravi Shankar Prasad and Pyush Goel, BJP president Amit Shah, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and CPI-M general secretary Sitaram Yechury hitting the campaign trail.

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