Bengal’s Bitter Campaigning Ends Today

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It will be curtains for the bitter West Bengal campaign on Monday, which saw chief minister Mamata Banerjee rallying around the state in a wheelchair for the last 44 days while BJP brought in all its big guns from Delhi led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for over 20 rallies.

Covid has dominated the discourse at the fag end of the election campaign, with Banerjee accusing the Centre of “sleeping at the wheel” as the second Covid-19 wave hit the country and last week promised free vaccination for all Bengal residents if voted back to power. The BJP had to follow up the very next day with a similar promise. Attacks on the Centre over the Covid issue have come unabated from the chief minister. She accused the Centre on Sunday of “diverting oxygen supply of West Bengal to Uttar Pradesh” and said the Centre exported vaccines when India was in dire need. National BJP president JP Nadda instead blamed Banerjee for mishandling the Covid situation in West Bengal and skipping the prime minister’s review meetings on Covid.

Three candidates have died due to Covid during these assembly elections while over half a dozen are infected. Banerjee has put the blame for the spread of Covid in Bengal on over one lakh cadre of BJP which she claims has camped here for over a month and nearly two lakh security forces who came from outside. West Bengal touched nearly 88,000 active cases on Sunday, with a projection of crossing one lakh active cases by the time the last vote is cast here on April 29.

The campaign for the last two phases was also marked by a virtual-heavy campaign by the BJP while Banerjee has opted for press conferences with her candidates in the various districts to send across a larger message, since the Election Commission’s ban on roadshows and big physical rallies. The last two phases of the West Bengal elections comprise 71 seats, with 36 seats polling today and 35 seats on March 29 but the campaign for the last phase will also end today given the extended 72-hour silence period fixed by the Election Commission. Muslim-dominated districts of Malda and Murshidabad, 11 urban seats of Kolkata and the Birbhum district are polling in the last two phases, with 22 seats in Murshidabad, 12 in Malda and 11 in Kolkata, where TMC made good ground in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

With Home Minister Amit Shah away from West Bengal for the last two days, Nadda has taken over the mantle of the campaign in the last two phases and held three virtual rallies in the state on Sunday. He will hold three more virtual rallies today for the last phase before ending the BJP’s campaign with a press conference in Kolkata. BJP state president Dilip Ghosh, Suvendu Adhikari and Mithun Chakraborty have however continued with their physical public meetings in the state, which BJP claims did not involve more than 500 people but the Trinamool Congress has alleged that the Election Commission guidelines have been violated by these BJP campaigners.

Banerjee held a press conference in Bolpur with all candidates of Birbhum district on Saturday, one in Murshidabad with the candidates of that district on Sunday and will hold another one on Monday in Kolkata.

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