Violence again in India’s Bengal in last round of voting


International desk, May 19: West Bengal of India remained tense after reports of violence as people in seven states and one Union Territory voted in the final of the seven-phase national election on Sunday. North Kolkata’s BJP candidate Rahul Sinha said he was attacked by a group of men.

Stones were thrown at the cars of two other BJP candidates, Anupam Hazra and Nilanjan Roy. BJP and Trinamool Congress workers had clashed in the eastern state earlier this week, following which the Election Commission cut short electoral campaigning amid protests by opposition parties, ndtv reports.

Among the main contestants in this phase of the election is Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is contesting from Varanasi.

Voters across 59 Lok Sabha constituencies in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand and Chandigarh will decide the fate of as many as 918 candidates in the final phase of the elections. The BJP has the most at stake in this phase, having won 30 of these seats in the 2014 polls. While the party will face off against a grand alliance of opposition parties in Uttar Pradesh, its main rivals in Bihar, Punjab and West Bengal are the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Congress and the Trinamool Congress respectively.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi faces the Congress’s Ajay Rai and grand alliance candidate Shalini Yadav in Varanasi, which he had won by over 3.7 lakh votes in 2014. Although PM Modi is not believed to face a major threat here, the spirited rallies led by Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in the run-up to the polls could make the battle intense. It was earlier rumoured that Priyanka Gandhi would stand against PM Modi from the constituency.

The most heated battle is being seen in West Bengal, where the BJP hopes to make unprecedented gains in order to balance out a perceived loss of seats in heartland states such as Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Both the parties had engaged in clashes on Tuesday evening, after BJP chief Amit Shah took out a rally through North Kolkata. The state commands 42 seats in the Lok Sabha — the second-highest after Uttar Pradesh.

Voters in Bengal’s Basirhat protested outside a polling booth alleging that Triamool workers were not allowing them to vote. BJP candidate Sayantan Basu was also present at the spot. “100 people were stopped from voting. We will take them to cast their vote,” he said.

An explosion was also reported from a polling booth in Islampur where assembly by-election is being held. Security has been heightened at polling booths in Bengal.

Gorakhpur had always been a BJP stronghold until the grand alliance in the state — comprising the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) — defeated it in a surprise upset in the bypolls held last year. Today, few can predict which way the balance of power tilts when the results come out on Thursday.

The BJP is hoping that its gamble of fielding Sunny Deol, who starred in a number of patriotic films such as Border and Gadar, pays off when Punjab’s Gurdaspur votes today. The actor-turned-politician’s candidature comes at a time when the BJP is hoping to come to power on the back of nationalist fervour generated by the Balakot air strikes. His main rival is sitting Congress parliamentarian Sunil Jakhar.

Another keenly watched constituency in Punjab happens to be that of Amritsar, which had seen the Congress win even at a time when the general mood seemed to favour the PM Modi-led BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. While Congress candidate Gurjeet Singh Aujla hopes for a repeat performance, his BJP rival — Hardeep Singh Puri — is banking on resentment over the 1984 riots to snatch a decisive victory.

In Bihar’s Patna Sahib, actor-turned-politician Shatrughan Sinha takes on Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad. Although Mr Sinha had contested on a BJP ticket to win the previous election by over 4.85 lakh votes in 2014, he is being fielded as the joint Congress-Rashtriya Janata Dal candidate this time.

Chandigarh, the lone union territory going to the polls in the seventh phase, will witness a high-stakes triangular battle between the BJP’s Kirron Kher, Congress candidate Pawan Kumar Bansal and Harmohan Dhawan of the Aam Aadmi Party. Although the Congress has won the Lok Sabha elections from Chandigarh seven times out of the last 13, it lost to the BJP by nearly 70,000 votes in 2014. The results of the elections will be declared on May 23.