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All eyes on Coochbehar in first phase polls to three north Bengal seats

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KOLKATA, April 18: All eyes will be on Coochbehar constituency which goes to polls on Friday along with two other seats in north Bengal in the first phase of Lok Sabha elections in West Bengal.

Union Minister of State for Home Nisith Pramanik is taking on TMC’s Jagadish Chandra Barma Basunia in Coochbehar (SC), which saw the death of four people in firing allegedly by central forces in Sitalkuchi during the 2021 assembly elections, that has been made an issue by the TMC in the current poll campaign also.

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Jalpaiguri (SC) and Alipurduars (ST) are the other two constituencies which will go to polls in the first of the seven-phase elections in West Bengal, which has 42 Lok Sabha seats.

The public gaze will, however, be on Coochbehar, which has seen sporadic clashes between supporters of the BJP and TMC in the run-up to the elections.

A long-standing rivalry between Pramanik, who was with the Mamata Banerjee-led party till he joined the BJP after the 2018 panchayat polls in the state, and TMC’s Dinhata MLA and North Bengal Development Minister Udayan Guha seems to have contributed to the palpable tension in Coochbehar over the elections.

Both Sitalkuchi and Dinhata are assembly segments within the Coochbehar Lok Sabha constituency which shares its southern and western borders with Bangladesh.

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The EC is deploying 112 companies of central forces along with 4,500 state police in Cooch Behar, almost double compared to the forces deployed in the other two constituencies, which have remained more or less peaceful during the campaign period.

In view of the death of four people in a firing allegedly by CISF personnel at a booth in Sitalkuchi during the 2021 assembly polls, the EC has decided not to deploy any personnel of that force there.

The poll panel has decided to deploy 2,454 state police personnel alongside 63 companies of central forces in Alipurduars, he said.

There will be 75 companies of central forces and 3,077 state police in Jalpaiguri, the official added.

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With both the BJP and the TMC going all out to woo voters in these north Bengal seats, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed public meetings in Jalpaiguri and Coochbehar while TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee and the party’s number two Abhishek Banerjee also held several rallies and road shows in these places.

While PM Modi trained his guns on “corruption” by ruling party leaders in the state and law and order issues including the Sandeshkhali atrocities on women and villagers, the TMC leadership focussed on alleged denial of central funds to the state, the 2021 Sitalkuchi firing, CAA and a recent tornado in Jalpaiguri that claimed five lives.

All three constituencies were won by the BJP in the 2019 general elections. In the 2021 assembly polls, Coochbehar and Alipurduars remained BJP’s stronghold with the party winning five of seven segments in the first and six in the second constituency. In Jalpaiguri, the TMC had the upper hand, winning five and the saffron party managed to win two.

The BJP has renominated Jayanta Roy in Jalpaiguri and Pramanik in Cooch Behar, but replaced last time’s winner John Barla with the party’s Madarihat MLA Manoj Tigga in Alipurduars.

The TMC has, however, changed candidates in all three seats, fielding Prakash Chik Baraik in Alipurduars, Nirmal Chandra Roy in Jalpaiguri and Sitai MLA Basunia in Coochbehar.

The Left Front and the Congress party are fighting in a seat-sharing alliance in the state in the 2024 elections. Having fought separately in 2019, candidates of the Left parties and the grand old party could manage only single-digit vote shares in each of the three seats.

In the first phase, a total of 56,26,108 voters – 28,62,494 men, 27,63,506 women and 108 third-gender – are eligible to exercise their franchise in 5,814 booths. (PTI)

 

 

 

 

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