Voting for the first phase of assembly polls in West Bengal and Assam has begun with Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee facing a tough fight from Left-Congress combine and Tarun Gogoi of Congress striving hard to retain power in the key northeastern state. Eighteen constituencies in West Bengal and 65 in Assam are voting today in the over a month-long election process to elect new governments in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Assam, Kerala and Puducherry.
While West Bengal will have elections spread over six phases, the Assam polls will be held in two phases. In West Bengal, elections will be held on seven dates with the first phase having two polling days -- the other being on April 11. Elections will be held in West Bengal's Maoist-affected areas today.
In the first part of phase one, 133 candidates will try their luck from Left Wing Extremism hit districts of West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura. Out of the 18 constituencies, 13 have been classified as LWE-affected by the Election Commission where voting will end early at 4 pm due to security considerations. In the remaining five constituencies of Purulia, Manbazar, Kashipur, Para and Raghunathpur voting will go on as usual till 6 pm.
The ruling Trinamool Congress has been highlighting how peace has returned in the Maoist-hotbed Junglemahal area. The last 2011 assembly polls, which ended the 34-year-long rule of the Left, had Trinamool and Congress on the same side. The Congress, which broke its alliance later on, has forged alliance with the Left. The Left-Congress alliance has been a subject of mockery for both the BJP and the Trinamool.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has called this alliance an "unholy" one while Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who attended an election rally in Kharagpur town, mocking it, saying "dosti (friendship) in Bengal and kushti (wrestling) in Kerala". The strength of the West Bengal assembly is 294.
In Assam, the ruling Congress, the BJP-AGP-BPF alliance and the AIUDF are locked in a keen battle where the first phase of elections will be held in 65 of the 126 constituencies. In Assam, a total of 539 candidates are contesting in the first phase. Security has been tightened across the state with the Indo-Bangla border along Barak Valley's Karimganj district sealed and more than 40,000 security personnel deployed in the 65 constituencies spread across Upper Assam, hill districts, northern banks and Barak Valley.
The first phase will witness mostly direct contest between the ruling Congress and the BJP-AGP-BPF alliance though the AIUDF has put up candidates in 27 constituencies where the fight is expected to be triangular. The Congress is contesting in all the 65 constituencies in the first phase while the BJP is contesting in 54 and its alliance partners--AGP in 11 and BPF in three, the AIUDF in 27, the CPI and CPM in ten each with CPI(ML)(L) in six along with 60 others of unrecognised parties and 13 independents.
The prominent Congress candidates contesting are Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi from Titabor, Speaker of the outgoing assembly Pranab Gogoi from Sibsagar and former Union Minister and prominent tea tribe leader Paban Singh Ghatowar. In a bid to ensure that hate advertisements do not find place in newspapers of Assam and West Bengal on Sunday and today, the Election Commission has made it clear that only "pre-certified" advertisements are published in print media.