Hundreds of thousands of people queued up to vote in the fifth phase of the West Bengal Election Phase 5 on Saturday as 45 seats go to polls with more tha 300 candidates in the fray.

Polling is being held amid a nationwide surge in the cases of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) even as the Election Commission of India decided to limit the time of campaigning for the remaining three phases and extended the silence period to 72 hours for each of the phases.

Voting is being held at 15,789 polling stations across these 45 constituencies covering the districts of Jalpaiguri, Kalimpong, Darjeeling and a segment of Nadia, North 24 Parganas and Purba Bardhaman in Phase 5 of the West Bengal Assembly Election 2021.

The West Bengal Election Phase 5 is being seen as a key battle for the ruling Trinamool Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is looking to win more than 200 seats in the eastern state. The BJP has maintained a stronghold in 13 constituencies from north Bengal and chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s party has been in a comfortable position in those in south Bengal.

Authorities have tightened security for West Bengal Election Phase 5 and deployed 1071 companies of central forces for ensuring a peaceful election. They said 15,790 state police officials will also be on duty on Saturday and as many as 118 companies have been deployed for Quick Response Team (QRT), sector office, post-poll situation and strongrooms.

Several people have expressed concern over the rising Covid-19 cases in the state, including West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar. West Bengal’s Covid-19 tally mounted to 643,795 on Friday after the highest single-day spike of 6910 cases was reported in the state, according to the health department.

The Election Commission said that it has noted several instances of poll meetings and campaigns “wherein norms of social distancing, wearing of masks have been flouted in blatant” disregard of guidelines. The poll body said it has also taken a serious view against repeated violations by star campaigners, political leaders and candidates “who are supposed to be torch bearers for the campaign against Covid-19”, grossly violating the health protocols, exposing themselves as well as the public to the danger of the infection.

The decision came on a day when the state’s chief electoral officer held an all-party meet in Kolkata where he stressed on adherence of Covid guidelines issued by the poll panel. The Trinamool Congress (TMC) said the remaining three phases should be clubbed into one to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease and the BJP said that the issue was not on the agenda.

Key candidates

The CPI(M)’s Ashok Bhattacharya is the key contestant against BJP candidate Shankar Ghosh and TMC’s Omprakash Mishra in the Siliguri constituency. Senior TMC leader and minister in the state government Bratya Basu is contesting from Dum Dum against the CPI(M) candidate Palash Das and the BJP’s Bimal Shankar Nanda. The key contestant in the Kamarhati constituency is TMC heavyweight Madan Mitra against the BJP’s Anindya Raju Banarjee and the CPI(M)’s Sayandip Mitra. Actor Chiranjeet Chakraborty will contest from Barasat on the behalf of TMC against BJP candidate Shankar Chatterjee and Forward Bloc candidate Sanjib Chattopadhyay. In Bidhannagar constituency, the TMC’s Sujit Bose and the BJP’s Sabyasachi Dutta are in the fray.

The BJP has fielded Anandamoy Barman from the Matigara-Naxalbari constituency, Congress has fielded sitting MLA Sankar Malakar and TMC Captain Nalini Ranjan Ray. Malakar has been representing the Matigara-Naxalbari assembly constituency since 2011. In the Memari constituency in Purba Bardhaman district, the TMC’s Madhusudan Bhattacharya is the strong contender against the BJP’s Bhismadeb Bhattacharya and CPI(M)’s Sanat Banerjee. Sitting Marxist Forward Bloc MLA Samar Hazra is up against the TMC’s Alok Kumar Majhi and the BJP’s Balaram Bapari in Jamalpur constituency.

In Rajarhat Gopalpur, TMC has fielded singer Aditi Munsi against BJP’s West Bengal spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya and CPI(M) candidate Subhajit Dasgupta. TMC candidate Goutam Deb, the state tourism minister, the BJP’s Sikha Chatterjee and the CPI(M)’s Dilip Singh are fighting it out in the Dabgram-Phulbari constituency. The TMC has not fielded its candidate in Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong constituencies as the GJM is backing the ruling party.

Th next phase of polling will be held on April 22. The first four phases were held on March 27, April 1, April 6 and April 10 respectively. Votes will be counted on May 2.

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