Kolkata, Mar 23: Filing of nomination for the West Bengal Assembly elections starts tomorrow as the state goes to polls in five phases from April 17 amid an unprecedented surveillance by the Election Commission.
As the possibility of an opposition alliance fizzled out, a triangular battleline has been drawn with the ruling Left Front taking on a divided opposition comprising the Congress and the Trinamool led 'Gana Front', a 13-party conglomerate that includes the BJP.
Aspiring to retain power for the seventh consecutive term, the Left Front, ruling the state for 29 years, has put up candidates in 290 out of a total 294 constituencies leaving two each for the Rashtriya Janata Dal(RJD) and the Nationalist Congress Party(NCP).
While the Trinamool Congress has so far fielded 193 nominees allocating eight seats for the smaller partners of Gana Front, the BJP released a list of 24 candidates. Struggling to cope with factional feuds, the Congress has so far finalised candidature of 83.
The polling in the state will be held on April 17, 22, 27, May three and eight--in altogether five phases.
Though the election fever is yet to catch up the public mind, the run-up to the polls turned interesting with the Election Commission, pushing through a number of hard measures and a prolonged political drama over a futile bid for Congress-Trinamool-BJP grand alliance.
While the Left leaders resented the EC's decision to hold a five-phase polling, the opposition, crying hoarse with the allegation of 'scientific rigging', welcomed all the measures. However, in a bid to put on a new look, the CPI(M)-led Left Front dropped 72 sitting MLAs, including eight Ministers to induct a young band of 130 new aspirants in the list of nominees.
Out of 290 seats, the CPI(M) alone fielded candidates in 208 seats.
With the Congress enjoying Left support at the centre and playing opposition in the state, the run-up to the polls witnessed quite a flutter when Trinamool supremeo Mamata Banerjee proposed a grand alliance of opposition, including the BJP, to end the 29-year-run of the coalition Front Government.
The Congress spurned the offer after much deliberations objecting to the presence of any ''communal party'' like the BJP in the proposed allliance and invited Ms.Banerjee to quit the Nationalist Democratic Alliance(NDA) to lead a non-Left secular opposition Front.
With the Trinamool leader putting foot down against ditching her old ally BJP, the chances for the proposed grand alliance withered away after two rounds of talks between Pradesh Congress President Pranab Mukherjee and Ms.Banerjee.
However, assuming that a 'covert' alliance between the Congress and the Trinamool was inevitable, Front major CPI(M) raced ahead in selection of candidates and electioneering, besides sweeping under the carpet whatever differences remained among the partners to be ready for a united fight. CPI(M) sources said the party was also expecting the anti-incumbency mood to be more pronounced this time and was taking all possible measures with its well-oiled organisational machinary to cross the hurdles.
With a call to its cadres to ensure a bigger win for the ruling coalition, the Front livewire CPI(M) made development as the main issue putting thrust on employment.
As the support of the urban youth to the Front, especially the CPI(M) was said to be increasing following a spree of development activities, the party gave thrust on generation of more employment through inviting capital for industries and self-help moves.
According to a party analysis, the last Lok Sabha elections the Front had drawn votes from the youth in the age group of 18 and 22 five per cent more than in the previous elections. Despite a growth of votes among the middle class urban youth, the party, however, admitted to having lost a chunk of votes of the urban poor in the last polls and geared up itself for taking measures against unemployment, the main concern plaguing both the Government and the ruling Front.
Similarly, what made the CPI(M) to raise the slogan for ago-based industries in villages,was the lack of job and alarming unemployment among the rural unorganised sector. The party was also facing a near stagnation in its traditional vote bank in villages that so far had been the pillar of the coalition Government following successful implementation of land reforms benefiting landless and marginal farmers.
In both the urban and rural areas, the CPI(M) and its Front partners will also campaign highlighting the move of Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and his Government for attracting investment for setting up new industries in the state.
On the other hand, the oppsoition, for long alleging massive poll malpractices and machinations by the CPI(M), will make the 'overall failure' of the Government as their main plank. Trying to discount the claims of success of the Government, both the Trinamool and the Congress started campaign trying to point out the alleged downslide of the state in overall economy, health, education and law and order.
Though Ms.Banerjee had made an attempt to whip up the proposed acquisition of farm land for industry as a major focal point before the elections, the opposition so far had not been able to shape up their anti-Government campaign.
Apart from the general political rivalry spectre of a Naxalite threat loomed large in three districts with the underground Maoists mounting activities in West Midnapore, Purulia and Birbhum districts.
Carrying out a liquidition programme, the Maoists killed a sizable number of policemen and local CPI(M) leaders and workers over the past one year.Enjoying the support of a section of deprived people in those backward districts, especially in Purulia and West Midnapore, the Maoists kept the administration on tentrehooks by carrying out serial guerilla attacks on targets and setting off landmines in the remote hilly and forest areas, bordering Jharkhand.
With about 35 to 40 assembly seats falling under these areas, the Government has taken extra security measures to ensure a better law and order situation and a peaceful polling.
As under development and poverty were the main reason for the Maoisits to thrive in the belt, the Government had already sanctioned a bounty for different development schemes in the area.
Perhaps to evade any popular backlash of farmers, the Government had recently slashed the sharp increase in electricity charges that irked the agro-based communities depending on pumped irrigation in the state's rural areas.
In what the opposition described as 'populist moves' before elections, the Government also announced recruitment of teachers in state-run schools and colleges after a prolonged freeze.