Kolkata: Thousands of security personnel dotted every nook and corner of East Midnapore and Cooch Behar districts as polling will be held on Thursday for the sixth and final phase of West Bengal Assembly elections covering 25 constituencies in the two districts.
An electorate of over 5.8 million is eligible to cast their ballots at 6,774 polling stations between 7am to 6pm. In all, 170 candidates, including 18 women, are in the fray for the last phase. Maintaining a tight security cover, the poll panel has deployed 361 companies of central forces who are assisted by a contingent of 12,000 state police personnel. Out of the total electors, 2.78 million are females while the third gender is a small minority of 68 voters. For the first time since Independence, residents of border enclaves in Cooch Behar district will be able to exercise their franchise, thanks to the formal inclusion of the enclaves in the Indian territory last year. There are 9,776 voters in the enclave, for whom special arrangements and awareness programmes have been done.
Among them is 103-year-old Asgar Ali of Madhya Mashaldanga who is eligible to vote for the first time in his life. In East Midnapore, on the other hand, the district administration has taken special intervention to make the elections a disabled friendly one. They have pinpointed 15,500 persons with disability in the electoral rolls.
Each polling premises has a wheelchair, ramp with handrails and braille signage. In the two districts, the commission has so far identified 714 vulnerable hamlets and 1685 vulnerable voters.
Close to 900 trouble-mongers have been identified and action taken against all of them. All eyes will be on Nandigram in East Midnapore district where a violent anti-land acquisition movement had helped uproot the 34-year-long Left Front government. Trinamool Congress, which had won all 16 seats in East Midnapore district in 2011, has now fielded its Tamluk MP Suvendu Adhikari from Nandigram. He is pitted against CPI's Abdul Kabir Sheikh, supported by the Congress-Left alliance. State Environment Minister Sudarshan Ghosh Dastidar is another heavyweight in the fray. He is seeking to defend his Mahisadal seat. Former Trinamool minister Hiten Barman is trying his luck once again from Sitalkuchi seat.
Meanwhile, a day before West Bengal goes to the sixth and last phase of Assembly elections, the main contenders - Trinamool Congress and Left-Congress alliance - on Wednesday sounded confident of forming the next government. Senior TMC leader Mukul Roy rubbished speculation of his party doing badly in the poll, saying he was "relaxed", while CPI-M state secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra said the state would witness a 'parivartan' (change). "I am relaxed. We will form the government under the leadership of Mamata Banerjee," Mukul Roy said adding everyone was well-aware that "our Chief Minister is coming back to power".
Roy refused to comment on the Election Commission's decision to transfer several officers in the state, saying he would speak only after tomorrow.
CPI-M state secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra also exuded confidence that the alliance will win in the elections and said that the state was going through a phase of 'parivartan' (change).
"Ours is an alliance of the people. They prepared the alliance," he told a TV channel. Mishra, the Opposition leader in the outgoing state Assembly, said that on being voted to power they would take action against the accused in the Saradha chit fund scam, 'Narada sting operation' and other cases of corruption. The alliance would also act against those involved in post-poll violence, he said and accused the ruling TMC of it. "Whatever is happening is at the behest of the ruling party," he alleged. On measures being taken by the Election Commission to ensure a free and fair poll, he claimed that many of their complaints had not been addressed. "We are not dependent on anyone. We are relying on voters," Mishra said.