Over one crore voters in West Bengal will decide the political fate of 342 candidates on Saturday, when 45 assembly constituencies go to polls in the fifth phase, amid a raging second wave of COVID-19.
Security measures have been heightened for phase five in view of the violence in the previous phase, which witnessed the death of five people in Cooch Behar, including four in CISF firing.
The Election Commission has decided to deploy at least 853 companies of central forces to ensure free and fair voting, an official of the poll panel said.
It will also put in place measures to ensure strict adherence of COVID-19 protocols during the voting process, he said.
West Bengal on Thursday recorded the highest single-day spike of 6,769 coronavirus cases and at least 22 more fatalities.
Prominent names in the fifth phase include Siliguri Mayor and Left Front leader Ashok Bhattacharya, state ministers Gautam Deb and Bratya Basu and BJP’s Samik Bhattacharya.
Voting will be held at 15,789 polling stations in the 45 constituencies 16 seats in North 24 Parganas, eight each in Purba Bardhaman and Nadia, seven in Jalpaiguri, five in Darjeeling and one in Kalimpong district.
The phase is crucial for the ruling Trinamool Congress, which is hoping to better its 2016 tally of 32 seats, even as a resurgent BJP looks to make inroads.
The Left-Congress alliance had bagged 10 seats in the assembly elections five years ago.
TMC chief Mamata Banerjee, who had Thursday urged the EC to consider conducting the polls for the remaining assembly seats at one go in the wake of the emerging COVID-19 situation, held several public meetings and roadshows in most of the seats in the run-up to the fifth phase.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah led the campaign blitzkrieg of the BJP, which has fortified into TMC”s main challenger in this election.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, too, has held two public meetings in north Bengal as part of his first campaign in the state for the assembly polls.
Campaigning for the fifth phase ended on Wednesday with the EC having increased the “silence period” from 48 to 72 hours in view of the Cooch Behar violence.
Elections have been held in 135 constituencies so far, and the remaining 159 seats are set to go to polls between April 17 and 29.