Despite the deployment of a record number of Central forces for the elections in the six Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal, which will go to the polls on Wednesday, the Election Commission is facing a major challenge to ensure foolproof security since a major part of the region has been hit by Left-wing extremism.
And there are a total of 72 candidates, including 11 independents in the fray for the elections from the six seats, which have some 88,77,071 registered voters.
The dense forests in Junglemahal, once a stronghold of the Maoists, spans Medinipur, Jhargram, Purulia and Bankura constituencies, while the Asansol Lok Sabha seat in Bardhaman district has a large number of coal mines. And the region, where the coal mafia calls the shots,had witnessed violent incidents during the past elections.
In the Jhargram (ST Reserved) constituency, the fight is between two medical doctors-- rookie Uma Soren of the Trinamool Congress(TMC) and sitting CPM MP Pulin Behari Baskey. Since 1977, the Marxists’ had retained their stranglehold over the seat and it was only after the foray by the Maoists in 2011 that the CPM influence began to wane.
Santhals, Oraon and Munda tribes comprise majority of the electorate in the seat. And the staggeringly poor tribes had voted en masse for the TMC in the Assembly polls despite their predilection for the Maoists.
However, the contest would be interesting as Baskey had won by a thumping margin of 2,93,000 votes in 2009 and if Soren could pull off an upset she would become the first Santhal woman to make it to the Lok Sabha.
In neighbouring Medinipur, the TMC has fielded Bengali yesteryear film star Sandhya Roy against CPI sitting MP Prabodh Panda. With the erosion in the Left votes Panda, who had scampered home with a margin of 48,000 votes last time, faces a tough battle.
However, the local TMC workers’ refusal to accept the candidature of Roy, who is viewed as an ‘outsider’, may provide a lifeline to Panda.
The most watched Lok Sabha constituency among the six is Bankura, where Bengali cinema’s glamour queen Moon Moon Sen, who is daughter of legendary actress, the late Suchitra Sen, of the TMC is pitted against CPM stalwart and nine-time MP, Basudeb Acharya.
Acharya has held this seat since 1980 but this time around he has had to sweat quite a bit to ensure that the fairytale goes on for another five years. However, it should not surprise anyone if Sen’s charms could well prove a stumbling block to Acharya’s march.
The other high-profile seat is Asansol, where the BJP has fielded famous Bollywood singer Babul Supriyo. BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s public meeting at Asansol had attracted a record number of people.
The constituency is dotted with coal mines and with 50 per cent of the electorate being Hindi speaking, majority of whom has switched their loyalty from the Left to the BJP, Supriyo has emerged as a dark horse. The other two contestants are sitting CPM MP Bangshagopal Chowdhury and TMC’s Dola Sen, a trade unionist and a Mamata Banerjee loyalist. But due to factional feud within the TMC, Dola’s prospects have been hit, with Mamata holding four public meetings to unite her party workers.
The BJP has demanded more Central security forces in Asansol apprehending rigging and violence by the TMC as the party has mobilised workers from adjoining districts in the area.
The Bishnupur and Purulia seats have been Left bastions for the last several decades, but with the change in the political equations in the state,it remains to be seen whether the LF can retain the seats, especially Bishnupur, where CPM sitting MP Susmita Bauri had cantered home by a margin of 2,30,000 in the 2009 polls, despite a TMC-Congress alliance.