KOLKATA: Over 84 lakh voters in West Bengal will decide the political fate of 283 candidates on Thursday, when 35 assembly constituencies go to polls in the eighth and final phase, amid a raging second wave of COVID-19.
All eyes will be on Trinamool Congress Birbhum district president Anubrata Mondal as he is under the strict surveillance of the Election Commission.
Mondal has been placed under surveillance till Friday 7 am, as the chief electoral officer in the state has received "several complaints against him", an EC official said.
The TMC leader was placed under similar surveillance during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and the 2016 assembly polls.
Security measures have been heightened in view of the violence in the previous phases, particularly the death of five people in Cooch Behar in the fourth round of polling on April 10, the official said.
The poll panel has decided to deploy at least 641 companies of central forces, including 224 in Birbhum district, in the eighth phase to ensure free and fair voting, he said.
Voting will be held at 11,860 polling stations spread over 11 assembly constituencies each in Murshidabad and Birbhum, six in Malda and seven in Kolkata.
Two TMC ministers - Shashi Panja and Sadhan Pandey - are contesting from Shyampukur and Maniktala seats in north Kolkata respectively.
Three-cornered contests are expected in many of the 17 constituencies in Malda and Murshidabad districts where the Left-Congress-ISF combine has a stronghold apart from the TMC and the BJP.
The poll panel will also put in place measures to ensure strict adherence to COVID-19 protocols during the voting process, the official said.
West Bengal on Tuesday logged 16,403 fresh COVID-19 cases, the highest-single day spike recorded in the state so far, pushing the tally to 7,76,345, a bulletin issued by the health department said.
The death toll climbed to 11,082 with 73 more fatalities, it said.
Campaigning for the eighth and final phase has been a low-key affair, following curbs imposed by the EC in the wake of the second wave of COVID-19 cases in the state.
The EC has banned roadshows and vehicle rallies in the state and noted that the COVID safety norms were being flouted in West Bengal during campaigning.
It also disallowed any public meeting with more than 500 people.
Leaders of political parties chose either the virtual platform or small street-corner meetings for campaigning, which ended on April 26 evening.
TMC supremo and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee accused the Centre of mishandling the second wave of COVID-19 and providing inadequate vaccines to the state.
BJP president J P Nadda denied Baneree's allegations and attacked her for not attending the crucial meetings convened by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss the COVID situation.