Kolkata April 29, 2009: West Bengal goes to the first of the three phase election in 14 out of 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state tomorrow amid unprecedented security to ward off threat from Maoists or extremists. Prominent among those whose fate would be decided on the morrow include BJP heavyweight Jaswant Singh from Darjeeling, CPI(M) leader in Lok Sabha Basudeb Acharya from Bankura, CPI parliamentarian Gurudas Dasgupta from Ghatal and the wife of ailing Congress leader Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi, Deepa Dasmunshi. Jaswant Singh is fighting the election with the support of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha which is spearheading a stir in the Darjeeling hills for a separate state of Gorkhaland.
A total of 1.69 crore electorate will be eligible to vote for 134 candidates, including nine women. West Bengal will have the highest deployment of 220 companies of central forces in each of the three-phases -- tomorrow, May 7 and May 13. Three helicopters will also be deployed during the election.The central forces would be deployed in static, critical mobile and mobile positions.
The constituencies going to polls are Coochbehar (SC), Alipurduar (ST), Jalpaiguri (SC), Darjeeling, Raiganj, Balurghat, Malda (North) Malda (South), Ghatala, Jhargram (ST), Midnapur, Purulia, Bankura and Bishnupur (SC).
Star campaigners for the Congress-Trinamool Congress alliance were AICC President Sonia Gandhi, Mamata Banerjee and Rahul Gandhi. Besides them, Congress stalwart Pranab Mukherjee also campaigned for the alliance. For the ruling Left Front, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacherjee, CPI(M) Politburo members Sitram Yechuri, Brinda Karat and Left Front chairman Biman Basu had hit the campaign trail. CPI(M) veteran leader Jyoti Basu was unable to campaign due to ill health.
The Election Commission faces a crucial test in holding a peaceful poll in the Jhargram seat in West Midnapore district, which includes Lalgarh where a tribal agitation against 'police atrocities' is on since early November last year.
Polling booths in four villages in Lalgarh, whose residents opposed the entry of the police, have been moved five kilometers away with the Election officials arranging for buses to ferry voters. In some North Bengal constituencies there is presence of extremist outfits like the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO), allegedly having links with the ULFA, and parties like the Greater Coochbehar Democratic Party (GCDP), agitating for a separate state.
Apart from three regular central election observers for each constituency, the EC has appointed four special observers - two in Ghatal, one in Darjeeling and one in Bishnupur following complaints from those areas, while there would also be micro-observers. Keshpur, Sabang, Pingla, Chandrakona, Malda, Darjeeling and Bishnupur seats have been declared as sensitive, while some others were identified as 'critical'.