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Why has battle for West Bengal escalated now? -The Asian Age


Out of the 59 seats that go to polls in the last phase on May 19, only nine are from West Bengal, but the campaign and violence in the state have hogged the headlines in the past few days.

On Wednesday, the violence prompted a "deeply anguished" Election Commission to order end of poll campaigning in the state from 10 pm on Thursday instead of letting it continue till Friday. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's last two rallies in the state are scheduled to end by 7 pm yesterday.

The EC cited "an atmosphere of fear and hatred" and "widely prevalent fear psychosis" in "polling areas" to explain its decision. The nine constituencies are - Dum Dum, Barasat, Basirhat, Jaynagar, Mathurapur, Diamond Harbour, Jadavpur, Kolkata South and Kolkata North.

TMC's big fight: These seats have been a traditional TMC bastion (TMC won all the nine seats in 2014). Among them are Jadavpur and south Kolkata - the home turf of Mamata Banerjee, from where she began her political career. Banerjee had defeated former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee in Jadavpur in 1984 (her most famous victory) and later shifted to south Kolkata (from where she has been a six-term MP). Diamond Harbour is another important seat from where Mamata's nephew is the sitting MP and the party candidate.  BJP's big opportunity:

The BJP had come second on two  of the nine seats in 2014 - Kolkata North and Kolkata South gaining votes at TMC's expense. While the TMC had lost 20.24% vote share from the South Kolkata constituency (it got 36.95% of votes), BJP had gained 21.33% to take its vote share up to 25.28%. In North Kolkata too, although the TMC won the seat, its vote share dropped to 35.94% while the BJP's rose to 25.88% (BJP national secretary Rahul Sinha is the candidate this time). The party has won the Dum Dum seat in the past. In Basirhat, located at the Indo-Bangladesh border and which has a significant Muslim population, issues like smuggling of cows and illegal immigration are expected to help the BJP.

Big rallies, big clashes? In a bid to break the TMC's strongest citadel in Bengal, the BJP has lined up its most prominent leaders to campaign in this phase. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi is holding four rallies (in Dum Dum, Basirhat, Mathurapur and Diamond Harbour), BJP national president Amit Shah is addressing three (at Barasat, Jaynagar and Kolkata North) covering almost all the seats.

In fact, the prime minister has clocked an average of two rallies in every phase of West Bengal polls, second only to three rallies in each phase he has done or Uttar Pradesh. UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath and Union minister Smriti Irani will address another three and two rallies respectively. The high-profile line up from the BJP in the TMC's stronghold in south Bengal has led to a strong push back from the latter leading to the hard campaign and some of the violence (for which both parties have blamed each other).

Meanwhile, Amit Shah says BJP has already crossed the majority mark after the sixth phase and is now contesting to cross 300 seats (of which 23 will come from West Bengal). The results will be declared on May 23.

-AA News Desk/TOI