Kolkata, May 6: The campaign heat for the West Bengal Assembly elections finally died down at 1700 hrs today as six northern districts go to the fifth and last phase of polling on May eight.
As the political parties remained busy campaigning elsewhere in the state due to a marathon poll schedule, there was a late burst in electioneering in North Bengal with it picking up momentum after the fourth phase polls on May three to reach a crescendo in the last two days.
A total of 816,4210 voters, including 389,7456 women, will exercise their franchise in 49 constituencies across Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Cooch Behar, North and South Dinajpur and Malda districts.
The fates of 306 candidates, including seven Ministers, are at stake.
Prominent among the aspirants are Municipal Affairs Minister Ashok Bhattacharya, Forest Minister Jogesh Burman, Relief Minister Hafiz Alam Sairani, Jail Affairs Minister Biswanth Choudhury, Civil Defence Minister Srikumar Mukherjee, Food Processing Minister Sailen Sarkar and Minister of State for PWD Dasarath Tirkey -- all seeking re-election as Left Front nominees.
Former Minister Narayan Biswas, who was made to surrender by his party, CPI(M), in connection with a murder case, Ms Ruby Noor, sister of late Congress leader A B A Ghani Khan Chowdhury, Union Minister P R Dasmunsi's wife Deepa Dasmunshi and state Agriculture Minister Kamal Guha's son Udayan Guha are the other contestants drawing attention.
Lying between Bangladesh on the east and Bihar on the West, the region that stretches from the hilly areas of Darjeeling down to the Gangetic plains of Malda, has strategic importance as it borders Nepal in the North-West, Sikkim in the north and Bhutan in the North-East.
Negligence and under development, unemployment, the beleaguered tea industry, the separatist movement for a Greater Coochbehar and the Ganga erosion were the major issues that dominated the campaign.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi was the star campaigner for her party, addressing two election meetings in Kaliachak and Malda, while Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee spearheaded electioneersing for the Left candidates in a whirlwind schedule in the last few days. Matching his tight itinerary was Trinamool Congress Chief Mamata Banerjee and West Bengal Pradesh Congress President Pranab Mukherjee.
While developmnent was the main plank for the Left campaigners, it was the other way round for the opposition leaders. Pointing out that North Bengal had received a total of Rs 5,000-crore for industrial development in recent times, the Chief Minister highlighted his Government's success in boosting the marketing of mango and vegetables, grown in the region.
He also promised implementation of a bigger programme for improvement of agriculture and industry and development of roadways and air connectivity.
On the other hand, Ms Banerjee and Mr Mukherjee emphasised on the ''ong-standing negligence'' of North Bengal, its overall backwardness and the plight of tea garden workers following acquistion of garden areas for industry and housing.
While the CPI(M) has put candidates in 28 seats, Left Front partners All India Forward Bloc, Revolutionary Socialist Party and the CPI have fielded nominees in nine, eight and three constituencies respectively. The Congress has candidates in 44 seats, Trinamool Congress in 35 and the BJP in 12 seats while the Nationalist Congress Party has stake in one seat. Other registered parties, including Gorkha National Liberation Front(GNLF), which has sway in the Darjeeling hills, have put candidates in 37 constituencies.
Siliguri in the Darjeeling plains is the largest Assembly Constituency with 2,70,339 electors while Manikchak of Malda is the smallest having only 1,35,573 voters.
The highest polling station in the state and the third highest in the country is Srikhola under Darjeeling assembly constituency. This polling station in remote Srikhola, a small hamlet at an altitude of 11000 feet, is just below Sandhakphu , the famous trekking spot in the Singhalila range.
A maximum number of eleven candidates are in the fray in Raiganj in South Dinajpur while Kumargram(ST), Chopra and Islampur have only three nominees fighting it out.
Altogether 9089 polling booths and 1097 Electronic Voting Machines have been installed for polling.