KOLKATA: As the second phase of polling for the West Bengal Legislative Assembly elections on April 1 is nearing, a high-stakes battle will be witnessed in Nandigram, where Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee will face off against her former ministerial colleague Suvendu Adhikari.
Voting would take place in 30 Assembly constituencies in the second phase from the districts of South 24 Parganas, Bankura and Purba Medinipur.
Out of the 171 candidates contesting in 30 seats in phase-II polls of West Bengal, 152 candidates are men while only 19 are women. It means only 11 per cent of the candidates are female.
Of all the constituencies in the second phase, Nandigram is of the highest importance, as it will not only witness a high-profile contest between Mamata Banerjee and Suvendu Adhikari, the constituency is a key player in the victory of the Trinamool Congress' (TMC) in the 2011 Assembly elections.
Suvendu Adhikari played a key role in the TMC's 2007 anti-land acquisition protest in Nandigram as the ground-level strategist, propelling Mamata Banerjee's party to hand over a humiliating defeat to the Left government that ruled the state for 34 years.
However, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) inflicted a shock to the ruling government when it clinched victory in 18 Lok Sabha seats in 2019, with a vote share of over 40 per cent. This performance made BJP a serious contender for power in the state.
Between Suvendu Adhikari and Mamata Banerjee, Communist Party of India's (Marxist) candidate Minakshi Mukherjee is also contesting for the Nandigram seat.
Meanwhile, another important district in the fray for the second phase is South 24 Parganas. The district contains 31 Assembly constituencies in total and is known as a TMC stronghold. TMC managed to win 29 of 31 seats in the South 24 Parganas.
While BJP managed to make a dent in the North 24 Parganas in the 2019 elections, it failed to taste victory in South 24 Parganas. Mamata Banerjee nephew Abhishek Banerjee won the seat from Diamond Harbour for the second time in 2016 by a margin of over 3 lakh votes.
One of the most important factors in the South 24 Parganas is the Muslim population, which both parties will seek to draw in their favour, who have majorly supported TMC so far. The district is also infamous for intense violence ahead of polls.
Once considered as the bastion of the Left Front, people in the tribal-dominated districts of Purba Medinipur and Paschim Medinipur voted for the TMC in the last two Assembly elections. However, the BJP clinched victories in these two districts in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Apart from Purba Medinipur, their home turf, the Adhikari clan is reported to have organisational control over 20 to 30 seats of adjoining districts of Bankura and Paschim Medinipur, almost all of which will go into polls in the first two phases.
In Paschim Medinipur, Haldia, bordered by the Haldi river, is a key location for petrochemical businesses and is becoming an important industrial destination in Eastern India. In 2016, CPI(M) candidate Tapashi Mondal defeated TMC's Madhurima Mondal.
In the Purba Medinipur, Tamluk is also one of the key constituencies to look out for, which has its own distinct ethnic mix, stemming from successive migrations and invasions from both the west, east and especially from northern India, according to its website.
BJP's main candidate Suvendu Adhikari and his family holds considerable power in Tamluk, as his brother Dibyendu Adhikari, who also followed Suvendu Adhikari to BJP, had managed to hold on to the seat for TMC in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Meanwhile, the Debra constituency will witness a head-to-head contest between two super cops on April 1. While BJP has fielded former IPS officer Bharati Ghosh, TMC has put forward Humayun Kabir, also an ex-IPS officer.
Many popular faces from the entertainment industry are emerging in the second phase of polls, with actors Soham Chakraborty and Sayantika Banerjee contesting from Chandipur and Bankura respectively from TMC and actor Hiranmoy Chattopadhyay from BJP contesting for the seat in Kharagpur Sadar in Paschim Medinipur.
Meanwhile, the first phase of the West Bengal Assembly elections concluded with an estimated 79.79 per cent voter turnout on Saturday, which covered 30 seats from Purulia, Jhargram, Bankura, Purba and Paschim Medinipur.