KOLKATA: An exciting battle is on the cards to capture West Bengal's tribal heartland as well as the seats in Junglemahal, once a hotbed of Maoists, in the sixth phase of Lok Sabha elections on Sunday with eight parliamentary constituencies up for grabs.
Out of the 42 Lok Sabha constituencies in the state, 25 had voted in the previous five phases of polling, while the remaining nine after Sunday will vote in the seventh and final phase on May 19.
A gritty fight between state BJP chief Dilip Ghosh and Manas Bhunia, a seasoned politician who jumped ship form the Congress to the Trinamool Congress in 2016, and a father-son duo contesting from two neighbouring seats laden with the memories of 'Quit India' movement also headline the polling scene on the morrow.
An electorate of around 1,33,56,964 will decide the fate of 83 candidates across eight parliamentary constituencies -- Tamluk, Kanthi, Ghatal, Jhargram (ST), Midnapore, Purulia, Bankura and Bishnupur (SC) -- in the penultimate round of the Lok Sabha polls.
The political temperature soared as bigwigs like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP President Amit Shah, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her Andhra Pradesh counterpart and TDP chief N. Chandrababu Naidu campaigned amid the heat wave in the five districts going to the polls on Sunday.
For the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is aiming to make it big in Bengal this time, the sixth phase is perhaps the most crucial one in which at least four constituencies with sizeable tribal population would go to vote.
The saffron outfit has witnessed a recent surge in both popularity and vote share in these four seats -- Jhargram, Purulia, Bankura and Midnapore -- spread across three districts where the battle lines have been drawn between them and the state's ruling Trinamool Congress as the once formidable communist support base has suffered a huge erosion in the region.
Midnapore is geared up for a high-profile contest between BJP's Bengal President Dilip Ghosh and six time-Congress MLA Manas Bhunia who defected to the Trinamool in 2016.
"People of Midnapore love me and know me well, as I have been at the forefront of their battle against the mafia-raj in the region since the last two-three years. People are with us. We will also get a large chunk of the Left's votes as they now only exist in posters," Ghsoh told IANS.
"I have seen unprecedented support for Mamata Banerjee and the Trinamool across Midnapore. People will bless us for the development carried out under this government. Neither the BJP, nor anybody else would be able to stop us," said Bhunia, Trinamool's Rajya Sabha MP.
Jhargram, one of the two seats reserved for Scheduled Tribes in Bengal, has a 16 lakh strong electorate, of which close to 50 per cent belong to various tribal communities, including Santhals and Kudmis.
The district which witnessed a saffron surge in the 2018 state rural body elections, when the BJP managed to win 330 gram panchayat seats as against Trinamool's 373, is set for another humdinger of a contest between Trinamool's Birbaha Soren, a tribal school teacher, and the BJP's Kunar Hembram, an engineer.
In West Midnapore's Ghatal constituency, Bengali matinee idol and sitting Trinamool MP Deepak Adhikari (Dev) will lock horns with the BJP's Bharati Ghosh, a former IPS officer and once a trusted lieutenant of Mamata Banerjee.
"I always want people to remember me as an actor who carried out a lot of development in Ghatal. I believe one must prove oneself by the virtue of his work," said Adhikari.
However, the BJP candidate disagreed.
"People of Ghatal are facing the brunt of loot, extortion and intimidation. There was no development in the last five years. The poor are living in misery. People need to bribe the ruling party's agents to avail welfare schemes," said Ghosh, the former Jhargram police superintendant who resigned last year after she was shifted to a less significant post.
Purulia is another seat in Bengal's tribal belt where the saffron outfit has shown signs of progress in the last few years. The stage is set for an intra-community battle here with all the major parties -- Trinamool, BJP, Congress and Left -- opting for candidates from the tribal Mahato community.
In East Midnapore district's Tamluk, which bears the memory of Mahatma Gandhi's 'Quit India' movement, sitting Trinamool MP Dibyendu Adhikari is up against former MP Lakshman Chandra Seth of the Congress, while in adjacent Kanthi, Dibyendu Adhikari's father and veteran politician Sisir Kumar Adhikari of the Trinamool is seeking a third straight term.
The Election Commission has decided to deploy central paramilitary forces in all the polling stations for Sunday's polling. It has also deployed two flying squads for every police station areas in the five poll-bound districts.
To ensure fool-proof security in the Junglemahal area, The Election Commission is also planning to use satellite phones and drones.