The first phases of the Bengal and Assam Assembly elections have started, with 30 seats in Bengal and 47 in Assam voting. In Bengal, the ruling Trinamool and the opposition BJP – who have waged a high-stakes, sometimes shrill and often vicious campaign over the past few weeks – will both be eager to make a strong start. The Congress-Left alliance – widely expected to finish a distant third – is also in the mix. In Assam the BJP faces a challenge from the Congress-led ‘mahajot’, or ‘grand alliance’ to retain power. In the 2016 Bengal election the Trinamool won 26 of these 30 seats. In Assam, the BJP produced a similar performance to win 35 of 47 seats. Polling booths across both states opened at 7 am and closes at 6 pm; timings have been extended by an hour due to the Covid pandemic.
Here are the top 10 points in this big story:
Over 73 lakh voters from five districts – all of Purulia and Jhargram, and parts of Bankura, West Medinipur and East Medinipur – will vote in the around 10,200 booths of the first phase of the Bengal election. In Assam, around 81 lakh people will vote across Upper Assam and parts of Central Assam, with over 11,000 booths and nearly 2,000 auxiliary booths being set up.
Of the 30 seats in Bengal, the BJP is contesting 29; one has been given to the All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU). The Trinamool will also contest 29 and support an independent candidate for the other seat. The Congress, perhaps chastened by recent catastrophically poor election performances, will contest only five seats. Its alliance partner – the Left parties – will contest the majority, of which the CPM will fight 18 and the CPI 4.
In Assam, the BJP is contesting 39 of the 47 seats in this phase and ally AGP (Asom Gana Parishad) 10. The two parties will go head-to-head in a “friendly contest” in two seats. The Congress – at the end of a ‘mahajot‘ (grand alliance) – will contest 43 seats, with one each for the AIDUF of Badruddin Ajmal, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the AGM and the CPIML. A third option for voters is the fledgling Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP), which was formed last year by the All Assam Students’ Union and the Assam Jatiyatabadi Yuva Chatra Parishad.
Jhargram, Medinipur, Patashpur and Ramnagar are among the big seats in Bengal in this phase, with Medinipur of particular interest because it is the home turf of Suvendu Adhikari – the ex-Trinamool MLA and close aide of Mamata Banerjee, whose defection to the BJP triggered a furious row with his former party. The Trinamool has fielded Bengali actor June Malia from this seat against the BJP’s Shamit Dash.
In Jhargram the Trinamool has fielded Santhali actor – Birbaha Hansda – against Sukhmoy Satpati of the BJP. In Patashpur the Trinamool’s Uttam Barik will face Ambuj Mahanti. And in Ramnagar the Trinamool’s Medinipur district chief, Akhil Giri is running against the BJP’s Ranjan Nayak.
In Assam, Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, state Congress chief Ripun Borah and Speaker Hitendranath Goswami are among the biggest names on the ballots today. The Chief Minister will hope to retain his Majuli seat on the back of development work over the past five years. Mr Sonowal has not been confirmed as the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate. His opponent will be three-time former Congress MLA Rajib Lochan Pegu.
Elsewhere, outgoing Speaker Hitendranath Goswami will face former MLA Rana Goswami of the Congress in Jorhat and Assam Congress chief Ripun Borah will face sitting BJP MLA Utpal Bora for Gohpur.
Another big name on the ballots today is activist and Raijor Dal chief Akhil Gogoi, who is contesting as an Independent from Sibsagar because the party was not registered in time. Mr Gogoi, in jail for his alleged role in the 2019 anti-CAA protests, this week alleged torture while in custody.
Also voting is Titabor – the seat held for four successive terms by former Chief Minister and Congress veteran Tarun Gogoi, who died in November last year. One of the tallest leaders in the state, his seat will see the Congress’s Bhaskar Jyoti Barua and the BJP’s Hemanta Kalita fight it out.
The results of the Bengal and Assam elections, as well as that of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and the Union Territory of Puducherry, will be declared on May 2.