8th Phase West Bengal Polls: 3-way battle amid Covid cases surge
It is expected to be a three-way battle as the 8th and final phase of the West Bengal assembly polls takes place today amid a massive surge of Covid-19 cases in India.
A total 35 assembly seats covering four districts -- Malda, Birbhum, Murshidabad and Kolkata -- will be up for grabs.
The biggest concern for the Election Commission, however, is to maintain health guidelines in the polls as the eastern state of India has logged 17,207 fresh covid cases -- the highest-single day spike -- and the death toll climbed to 11,159 with 77 more deaths yesterday.
The EC has already banned roadshows and vehicle rallies in the state following the surge in Covid-19 cases, leaving the leaders of political parties to either campaign virtually or hold small rallies with a maximum of 500 participants before the eighth phase of the election.
Of the 35 seats, six assembly seats are in Malda, 11 in Murshidabad, seven in Kolkata and 11 in Birbhum.
In this phase, WB ruler Trinamool Congress, eyeing a third consecutive term, will be up against Sanjukta Morcha, comprising the National the Congress, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Indian Secular Front and India ruler BJP.
The Left alliance is fighting to regain its strength in the Muslim dominated Malda and Murshidabad, considered the traditional stronghold of the alliance.
On the other hand, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will be hoping to make its mark in the fourth-most-populous state of India to come to power for the first time.
In the last 2016 assembly polls, both TMC and the Left-Congress alliance got 17 seats each, while the BJP won a single seat out of 35 seats.
In that election, the TMC got 38.74 percent votes, which was fewer than the Left-Congress alliance's 42.51 percent, while the BJP got 7.27 percent of votes.
But the scenario changed after three years in the last Lok Sabha (national election) polls in 2019 where the TMC managed 41.17 percent votes while the BJP gained 30.77, with most of the votes shifted from the Left-Congress alliance, which secured 24.69 percent votes.
Considering the Lok Sabha polls, the TMC now is leading in 19 seats while the BJP became TMC's main challenger, leading in 11 seats. The Left-Congress on the other hand is leading in only five seats.
In this phase, the main focus will be on Birbhum, as all its 11 assembly seats are going to be voted for today. This district is a traditional stronghold of the TMC, which won nine seats against Congress and CPIM's one each in 2016.
But the BJP staged a massive turnaround in the Lok Sabha polls in the two constituencies of the district securing 39.3 percent in Birbhum and 40.9 percent in Bolpur against TMC's 45.5 percent and 48.3 percent respectively.
The TMC won 48.3 percent votes against the BJP's 11 percent in Birbhum in the last assembly elections.
Kolkata is always a tough place for the BJP as the voters in the city, especially South Kolkata, have an exceptional bonding with TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee -- the seven time MP and two times MLA from the area.
But this time around, the BJP is trying its best to woo the voters of the city by offering many of its promises especially to the urban poor, who account for over 30 percent of the city's population.
Over 84 lakh voters will decide the fate of 283 candidates in this this phase. The EC has deployed 641 companies of central forces to ensure free and fair voting.
Voting for the previous seven phases were held between March 27 and April 26. The vote count will take place on May 2.
Meanwhile, the EC has banned all victory processions and celebrations after the results in West Bengal as well as in Tamil Nadu, Assam, Puducherry and Kerala due to Covid-19 health restrictions.