NEW DELHI: The high-decibel campaign ended on Saturday in Assam where the BJP is locked in a riveting contest to wrest power from the Congress, with the remaining 61 of the 126 Assembly constituencies going to polls on April 11 in the second and final phase.
In West Bengal, canvassing ended in 31 Assembly seats spread over the three districts of West Midnapore, Bankura and Burdwan, where voting will be also held on Monday in the second part of phase one, which will see many state opposition leaders in the fray.
Prime minister Narendra Modi, who led the campaign from the front for the BJP-AGP-BPF alliance in both the phases in Assam, addressed four election rallies. The issue of infiltration was in focus in this phase. There is a predominant minority population in several of the constituencies spread across Lower and Central Assam.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is being feliciated with Assamese japi during an election rally at Raha, Nagaon district in Assam. PTI
The BJP pledged to resolve the infiltration issue by completely sealing off the Indo-Bangla border while the Congress’ contention was that there were no Bangladeshis in Assam and it was the Tarun Gogoi-led government that took the initiative to update the National Register of Citizens to resolve the issue.
The BJP’s campaign was also marked by an appeal to the electorate to vote for ‘parivartan’ (change) to bring development while the Congress highlighted its achievements, like restoring peace, during the last 15 years of its rule. The two sides also traded charges on issues of corruption and nepotism, with Modi accusing Gogoi of favouring his family while the chief minister attacked the prime minister over the Panama papers.
For the Congress, it was party president Sonia Gandhi, vice-president Rahul Gandhi, state unit president Anjan Dutta along with former UPA ministers Ghulam Nabi Azad, Jairam Ramesh, Salman Khurshid and Sachin Pilot among others who campaigned for its candidates. The Congress chief targeted the BJP over its alleged “communal” politics and accused Modi of “spreading hate”.
A total of 1,04,35,271 people, including 53,91,204 males, 50,44,051 females and 22 others, are eligible to exercise their franchise in the phase to decide the fate of 525 candidates — 477 males and 48 females.
Among the prominent candidates in the fray are Cabinet ministers Rakibul Hussain, Chandan Sarkar and Nazrul Islam for the Congress, former two-time Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) chief minister Prafulla Mahanta, AIUDF chief and Dhubri MP Badruddin Ajmal and former Congress minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who revolted against the chief minister and joined the BJP last year.
The Congress is contesting in 57 seats, the AIUDF, the major opposition party in the outgoing Assembly, in 47, the BJP in 35 while its allies — the Bodo Peoples’ Front (BPF) in 10 and the AGP in 19. The CPM is contesting in nine and the CPI in five.
In West Bengal, altogether 163 candidates, including 21 women, have been wooing about 70 lakh voters, including 33.6 lakh women and 50 of the third gender. For the TMC, party supremo Mamata Banerjee, who is the face of the party, has been campaigning extensively daily.
Besides the Saradha chit fund scam, opposition parties have been targeting the TMC government on the recent Narada sting operation where party leaders were purportedly seen accepting bribes. The TMC is making a determined bid for a second successive term in the state where polling will be held in five more phases after April 11.
West Bengal Leader of Opposition Surjya Kanta Mishra, a five-time MLA from Narayangarh seat, senior state Congress leader Manas Bhuniya (Sabang constituency), whose party is jointly fighting with the Left Front against the TMC, are among the high-profile contestants.
At Dubrajpur in West Midnapore district, a TMC worker was on Friday beaten to death allegedly by a group of Congress and CPI(M) supporters. Fighting an electoral battle yet again at the age of 91 from Kharagpur Sadar seat is sitting Congress MLA Gyan Singh Sohanpal, who is the oldest among all candidates in this Assembly poll.
Bengali actor Soham Chakraborty is fighting from Barjora seat in Bankura, while retired Colonel Diptanshu Chaudhary, who had fought in the Kargil War, is seeking votes on a BJP ticket from the coal belt of Asansol south constituency.
Star campaigners in this phase in West Bengal included Modi, BJP president Amit Shah, Rahul Gandhi, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, home minister Rajnath Singh, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, Union power minister Piyush Goel, actress-turned-Congress leader Nagma and minister of state for urban development and Asansol MP Babul Supriyo. Polling will be held at 8,465 polling stations amidst tight security.
The first phase of the Assembly polls in West Bengal and Assam on April 4 passed off peacefully, with a high voter turnout of 80% and 70% respectively. Polling was held in 18 of the 294 Assembly constituencies in West Bengal and 65 of the 126 seats in Assam.
The last day of campaigning in Assam saw Rajnath Singh, Amit Shah and its chief ministerial candidate Sarbananda Sonowal wooing the electorate for the BJP, while Gogoi along with senior party leaders made a last-minute appeal to the voters.
Other prominent candidates include former BPF ministers in the Congress government Chandan Brahma, Pramila Rani Brahma and Rihon Daimari, former AGP ministers Ramendra Narayan Kalita and Kamala Kalita and their former colleagues who joined the BJP, Atul Bora and Chandra Mohan Patowary.