Trinamool faces Narada, alliance challenge in its citadel on Saturday

Kolkata, April 29 (IANS) The fate of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee would be decided alongside that of several Trinamool Congress leaders allegedly caught accepting illegal money in the Narada sting video as the West Bengal poll caravan moves to its fifth and penultimate phase on Saturday, involving 53 constituencies spread over an area considered the citadel of the state’s ruling party.

In the backdrop of the Calcutta High Court ordering on the poll eve a forensic test on the Narada sting tapes, 31 constituencies in South 24 Parganas, 18 in Hooghly district and four in Kolkata South, all known bastions of the Trinamool, are going to the hustings.

In the 2011 assembly polls, the Trinamool – then an ally of the Congress and the Socialist Unity Centre of India (Communist) – had bulldozed all opposition to capture 46 seats. The SUCI-C had bagged one.

The Left Front had won only six, with the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M)getting four, and the Revolutionary Socialist Party and the All India Forward Bloc one each.

Nearly 1.24 crore (1,23,97,832) voters across 14,642 polling stations, including 77 auxiliary booths, are eligible to decide the fate of 349 candidates — 43 of them female. The Election Commission will use 16,838 EVMs and 1,024 Voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT).

The Trinamool and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are contesting in all the seats.

The Left Front, which has tied up with the Indian National Congress, is in the fray in 37 seats – CPI-M in 31, AIFB – in three, RSP – two and Communist Party of India – one. The Congress has nominated 14 candidates. The combine has lent support to the Nationalist Congress Party in one seat, and is backing an independent Ambikesh Mahapatra – a professor who was arrested for forwarding cartoons of the chief minister in 2012 – in the Behala East constituency.

Over the past five years, the Trinamool has come up with spectacular electoral successes in the region, be it the assembly polls, or elections to the Lok Sabha, civic or rural bodies.

However, the opposition Congress-Left Front is hoping to put up a better showing, on the strength of the alliance arithmetic and the furore created over the Narada videos.

State ministers and party heavyweights Firhad Hakim, Subrata Mukherjee, city mayor Sovon Chatterjee and Iqbal Ahmed – all contesting the polls – were among the leaders allegedly shown taking money in return for doling out favours to a fictitious company.

The Narada footage has dominated the election campaign, with the ruling party battling corruption charges levelled by the opposition, and seemingly jittery over the likely fallout in the urban areas, especially Kolkata.

Besides, the alliance chemistry of the LF-Congress combine, has made a number of constituencies in Hooghly and South 24 Parganas a close call.

All eyes will be on south Kolkata’s Bhawanipur, where Mamata Banerjee — seeking re-election — is facing a challenge from Left Front-backed Congress nominee Deepa Dasmunshi and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s grandnephew Chandra Kumar Bose of the BJP.

Elsewhere, prominent candidates include ministers Arup Biswas and Manish Gupta — both from Trinamool — and CPI-M state secretariat members Rabin Deb and Sujan Chakraborty.

Another star candidate is Abdur Rezzak Mollah, a high-profile minister during the Left Front regime, who is contesting on a Trinamool ticket from Bhangore in South 24 Parganas.

Celebrated actress Debasree, the sitting legislator from Raidighi in South 24 Parganas, is taking on CPI-M heavyweight and former state minister Kanti Ganguly.

As part of fool-proof measures for ensuring free and fair polls, the Election Commission has decided to strictly enforce prohibitory orders under section 144 of the Indian Penal Code on Saturday to prevent unlawful assembly.

As many as 680 companies of central forces have been deployed, besides thousands of city and state police personnel, quick response and night intervention teams and flying squads.

–IANS

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