Thursday, April 30, 2009

West Bengal hot spots go to poll today

30 Apr 2009, 0433 hrs IST, TNN

KOLKATA: From the hills in the north to the trouble-torn Maoist belt of West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia in the west, a total of 14 Lok Sabha
constituencies go to poll in the first phase today, the most difficult and diverse among the three-tier elections in West Bengal. Poll officials fear a fresh spurt in violence in the Jangalmahal area as well as the foothills of Darjeeling during the day.

All through Wednesday, chief electoral officer Debashis Sen was a worried man. Till evening, the Maoist-led People’s Committee against Police Atrocities (PCPA) had put up new barricades against police in Banspahari and Chakadoba in West Midnapore and parts of Bankura and Purulia.

The state government has asked the Jharkhand government to seal the border with Bengal, following inputs from Delhi on the possibility of fresh landmine blasts in the area. Security at booths has been tightened. In the Maoist belt alone, 119 companies of central forces have been deployed along with the state police. Some Adivasis in the Ayodha hills of Purulia are campaigning for a vote boycott. Three helicopters will be pressed into aerial surveillance on poll day. If required, forces can fire at extremists from the helicopters, the home secretary said.

Elections will be held for a total of 14 seats — Darjeeling, Cooch Behar, Alipurduar, Jalpaiguri, Raiganj, Balurghat, Malda North, Malda South, Ghatal, Jhargram, Midnapore, Purulia, Bankura, Bishnupur — covering the hills and the plains with such conflicting agenda as the creation of Gorkhaland to the ‘liberated’ zones in Lalgarh.

The Left held sway over 10 of the 13 seats in North Bengal and Jangalmahal till the other day, with Congress holding on to only Darjeeling, Raiganj and Malda. Malda North is a new constituency that has come up after delimitation. This time, Left Front will fight some of its toughest battles here.

Among the heavyweights in the fray are Jaswant Singh of BJP from Darjeeling, Deepa Das Munshi from Raiganj and Subrata Mukherjee from Bankura. Left heavyweights Basudeb Acharia and Gurudas Dasgupta are in the race from Bankura and Ghatal.

In Darjeeling, Bimal Gurung’s Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and its support to Jaswant have queered the pitch for Congress, while CPM’s Jibesh Sarkar is banking on the population in the plains. But beyond the broad division over Gorkhaland, the ethnic and religious minorities in the Hills and the plains seem to hold the key. For instance, the Hills have a considerable population of Lepchas and Bhutias, religious minorities such as Muslims and Christians whom the GJM president had threatened the other day. CPM expects these groups and GNLF supporters to vote for it. On the other hand, there is a considerable Nepali population in Siliguri spread over Gurung Bustee, Pradhannagar, Champasari, Bagdogra and Naxalbari. This apart, there is a chunk of Muslim population in Chopra that usually votes for Congress.

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