Polling is underway for the seventh phase of assembly elections in West Bengal. Voting is taking place for 34 seats spread over five districts in this phase. Voting, which began at 7 this morning, will end at 6:30 PM.
The Election Commission has deployed 653 companies of central forces for this phase. Out of five districts going to the polls, three districts – Malda, Murshidabad and South Dinajpur – share borders with Bangladesh. Deployment of forces in these three bordering districts is far more than in the other two districts, indicating that the poll panel is trying to plug infiltration attempts during the elections. The move is aimed at preventing any kind of violence during the polling and ensuring free, fair and peaceful voting.
The Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) is being used along with Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) at every Polling Station, with a view to enhance the transparency and credibility of the election process and the availability of adequate number of EVMs and VVPATs has already been ensured for the smooth conduct of elections.
In view of the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic, the option of Postal Ballot facility has been extended to the electors who are COVID- 19 positive or suspect as certified by competent authority and are in home or institutional quarantine along with those marked as Persons with Disabilities (PwD) and above the age of 80 years. It has also ensured that every Polling Station is equipped with Assured Minimum Facilities (AMF) like drinking water, waiting shed, toilet with water facility, adequate arrangements for lighting, ramp of appropriate gradient for the Persons with Disabilities.
The special facilities include mandatory sanitization of Polling Station, thermal checking of voters at entry point either by polling staff or paramedical staff or an Asha worker. If the temperature is above the set norms of the Health Ministry, then the elector will be provided with a token and asked to come for voting at the last hour of poll. At the last hour of poll, such electors will be facilitated for voting, strictly following COVID-19 related preventive measures. The polling process is already over in respect of 223 out of the total 294 Assembly seats in the earlier six phases.
During the Seventh Phase, total 268 candidates including 37 women are vying for the 34 out of previously scheduled 36 Assembly seats spread over five districts of West Bengal going to polls today as the poll process in respect of Samserganj and Jangipur was adjourned by the Election Commission following deaths of the candidates in the two Assembly Constituencies. Over 81.88 lakh voters including 39.87 lakh women and 221 Third Gender persons will decide the fate of these candidates. Total 11,376 Polling Stations have been set up for this purpose.
Ruling AITC and Bharatiya Janata Party are contesting for all the 34 seats. Congress, the Left parties and their alliance partner Indian Secular Front are fighting under the banner of Sanyukta Morcha. Bahujan Samaj Party has fielded 25 candidates, Congress has 18, CPI (M) – 12, ISF – four, RSP- three and AIFB – one while there are 63 independents along with 74 others are also in the fray.
The prominent candidates participating in this phase include State Ministers and AITC candidates Subrata Sah from Sagardighi, Firhad Hakim from Kolkata Port, Subrata Mukherjee from Ballygunge,Malay Ghatak from Asansol Uttar along with Sovondev Chattopadhyay who is taking on BJP candidate and actor Rudranil Ghosh from Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s erstwhile constituency of Bhabanipur.
BJP has fielded noted Economist Ashoke Kumar Lahiri from Balurghat and former Mayor of Asansol Kumar Jitendra Tiwari from Pandabeswar while CPI (M) Central Committee Member Abhas Roy Chowdhury from Durgapur Purba, Congress leaders Mostaque Alam from Harishchandrapur, Mainul Haque from Farakka and Abu Hena from Lalgola are also in the fray. In addition, Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union President Aishi Ghosh is the CPI (M) candidate from Jamuria while BJP candidate and Fashion Designer Agnimitra Paul and AITC candidate Sayani Ghosh are vying with each other in Asansol Dakshin.
The high-profile election campaign for the Eighth and Final Phase of the Assembly Elections will conclude this evening. The campaign was largely moved to the virtual platform and airwaves in the remaining phase of the Assembly Elections following directives of the Election Commission in view of the recent spike in the COVID-19 infections in the state.
In the wake of COVID situation, all the prominent political parties decided not to hold big rallies and public meetings in the poll-bound areas and the party workers are focusing on the door to door campaign and corner meetings.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has urged people to exercise their franchise in the seventh phase of West Bengal elections. In a tweet, Mr Modi called upon voters to follow all COVID-19 related protocols.