High voter turnout expected in W. Bengal elections Ph-IV

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Fourth phase of West Bengal elections has started Tuesday morning in 63 constituencies spread over Hooghly (18 seats), Howrah (16 seats), East Midnapore (16 seats) and Burdwan (13 out of 25). In the first two hours alone 21 % voting has been registered. In this phase 1.26 crore voters will decide the fate of 366 candidates across 15,711 polling stations of the four districts. The constituencies going to polls during this phase include Nandigram and Singur which began the downfall of the communists in Bengal.

Singur hit the international headlines in 2006 and 2008 for Tata’s Nano car plant shifting. Nandigram became the cradle of Mamata’s ‘wave of change’.

The prominent candidates in this phase include CPI(M) heavyweight and Industry Minister Nirupam Sen, Higher Education Minister Sudarshan Roy Chowdhury, food Processing Minister Mohanta Chatterjee, Minister of State for Information and Culture Soumendranath Bera, Technical Education Minister Chakradhar Maikap, Agriculture minister Naren Dey and Fire Services Minister Pratim Chatterjee.

Nirupam Sen is pitted against retired professor of Burdwan University Rabiranjan Chattopadhyay of Trinamool Congress in the Burdwan South constituency. Trinamool has fielded former IPS officers Rachpal Singh, HA Sawfi and Sultan Singh in this phase.

In this phase as well, the Bharatiya Janata Party which has never registered much presence in West Bengal is contesting all the 63 seats. CPI-M is contesting in 46 seats. The opposition Trinamool Congress is contesting 59 seats while its alliance partner Congress is contesting just 4 seats. Mayawati’s BSP is fighting on 22 seats.

Thousands of security personnel and state police have been deployed in the four districts where voting is being held to ensure the vote passes off peacefully.

Overall in Bengal, Ms Mamata Banerjee of the opposition Trinamool Party has made the economic decline of the West Bengal as the main election issue. She has accused the Communists of failing West Bengal’s 90 million people despite continuously ruling the state for 34 years.

Banerjee’s Trinamool Party has been ranked as favourites in all the poll surveys in recent times but Trinamool has taken no chance and has struck an alliance with the Indian National Congress. The ruling CPI (M) is widely expected to receive a drubbing at the hands of her party.

In the meantime CPM has roped in former Loksabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee. In an interview with a TV channel Mr. Chatterjee said that he is still a Marxist. It’s difficult to predict how effective he would be.

In any case, if Trinamool comes to power, it would represent a momentous shift in Indian politics. It will have a deep impact on the national politics of India as well. Communists form a major pillar of Indian think tank and the only cadre based ideologues who have constantly challenged the RSS-BJP led right wing.

For Bengal Mamta’s economic philosophy hardly seems to be an option than that of Buddhadeb Bhattacharya’s. Her record as the Railways Minister in the central government from 2009 to the present should raise alarm bells. Under her, the railways have seen large losses and have failed to expand the rail network and modernize their antiquated infrastructure.

A week ago Hindustan Times reported that the Northern Railway had a precarious operating ratio of 112.74% in the last year. This is not the first time Banerjee became a railway minister but she has learnt nothing over the years.

Mamata Banerjee always did a populist railway budget focused on Bengal and made no serious attempt to bring one of world’s largest network out of the red. Her excessive Bengal focus resulted in half the railways’ losses accruing in West Bengal. Three terms as railway minister and Ms. Banerjee could never strike this balance as Railways Minister.

Will she be able do this as Chief Minister?

West Bengal voters will decide that in six phase elections. A record 84.11 percent turnout was seen April 18 in the first phase of balloting. There was phenomenal voter turnout is phase II and phase III as well. The last 2 phases will be held on May 7 (38) and May 10 (14).

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