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62 seats up for grabs in Bengal polls third phase



Kolkata, April 20 : The high-octane West Bengal assembly election reaches an exciting leg on Thursday, with the poll caravan moving to the historic Murshidabad district that was once the capital of the Nawabs of Bengal, Bihar and Odisha, and reaches upto a part of Kolkata in the third phase of the staggered month-long exercise.

Polling will also take place in Nadia district, the birthplace of Vaishnava saint Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and also for some of the seats in Burdwan, considered the rice bowl of India.

Over 1.37 crore (1,37,42,000) voters are eligible to choose their legislators in 62 constituencies across 16,461 polling stations, including 10 auxiliary booths, from a field of 418 candidates — 34 of them female.

All 22 constituencies are going to the hustings in Murshidabad, regarded as a bastion of the Congress, and particularly of its dashing state president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.

Besides, the entire lot of 17 constituencies in Nadia will also be up for grabs. Seven seats in north Kolkata and 16 in Burdwan complete the list.

Murshidabad is a crucial test for the newly formed Congress-Left Front alliance, with the partners locked in a fight among themselves in 10 of the 22 constituencies.

Congress candidates are up against Revolutionary Socialist Party nominees in five constituencies, and take on Communist Party of India-Marxist contestants in four and the All India Forward Bloc in one seat.

The state’s ruling Trinamool Congress is traditionally weak in the district, but political pundits feel the lack of total unity in the Left-Congress camp may give it a boost in a few seats.

Close fights are also on the cards at Nadia, where the alliance has achieved unity in all but the Krishnaganj seat — that pits the Congress against the CPI-M.

The erstwhile ‘red fort’ of Burdwan, that collapsed like a pack of cards in the Trinamool surge in 2011, when the Left Front was ousted from power in the state, is also likely to witness a see-saw battle between the alliance and the Trinamool. Nine constituencies of the district had voted on April 11.

The Trinamool Congress is hoping big on the seven seats in Kolkata north, but the alliance is also keen to pull up some surprises.

In the assembly polls in the 62 constituencies five years back, then allies Trinamool and Congress had captured 45 seats, with the Trinamool taking 29 and the Congress 16.

Among the Left Front partners, the CPI-M had won 14, and the Revolutionary Socialist Party, Samajwadi Party and All India Forward Bloc one each.

In this phase, Ranaghat South in Nadia is the largest constituency electorate-wise, and Ausgram in Burdwan district the biggest in terms of area. Shyampukar constituency in Kolkata (North) has the least number of electors.

Among the major candidates in this phase are state ministers and Trinamool contestants Sashi Panja, Sadhan Pandey, Subrata Saha, former state minister and CPI-M candidates Anisur Rahaman and Debesh Das, Congress legislature party leader Md. Sohrab and former state party presdient Somendranath Mitra and Ritesh Tiwari from the BJP.

Of the 418 candidates in the fray, 61 are crorepatis, 80 have criminal cases against them, with 65 of them declaring serious criminal offences like murder and rape against their name.

So far, voters in 105 of the total 294 constituencies have exercised their right to franchise on three dates — April 4, 11 and 17 — in the first two phases.

West Bengal is having a staggered six-phase election. Polling for the remaining phases will be held on April 25, 30 and May 5.


Rahul Gandhi to launch election campaign in Maharashtra on March 1



Rahul Gandhi

Mumbai, Feb 18: Congress President Rahul Gandhi will launch the national campaign for the coming Lok Sabha elections in Maharashtra with a mega rally in Dhule, a traditional party bastion, on March 1, an official said here on Monday.

Gandhi will begin the campaign at 3 p.m. in the presence of other top leaders.

The same day, as per a tentative schedule, he may even visit Mumbai and address a rally here.

The UPA alliance in Maharashtra will set the ball rolling for the parliamentary elections by its first joint poll campaign rally in Nanded on Wednesday, said state party chief Ashok Chavan.

The rally will see the participation of UPA constituents including the Nationalist Congress Party, the PRP and other parties and their top leaders like Mallikarjun Kharge, Sharad Pawar and Jogendra Kawade.

This will be followed by another UPA rally to be hosted by the NCP’s Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Council Dhananjay Munde, in his home town of Parli, Beed, on Saturday.

According to party sources, Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi is also likely to address some rallies in the state, although the details are yet to be finalised.

Dhule and Nanded are traditional Congress bastions in Northern Maharashtra and the Marathwada regions of the state, with a fair sprinkling of minorities, tribals, Dalits and other sections of population.


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Congress to finalize candidates, manifesto by February




New Delhi, Feb 18 (IANS) With a view to preventing infighting due to ticket distribution, the Congress has directed all its state units to expedite the process of candidate selection as well as state-wise electoral understanding for the Lok Sabha before this month which shall be then approved by the Congress Election Committee.

The recent Assembly polls, particularly in Rajasthan, saw a lot of infighting in the Congress over ticket distribution, causing embarrassment to the central leadership. Several disgruntled party leaders staged protests and over a dozen contested as independents, denting the party’s showing.

In order to avoid a repeat of a similar situation, the state units have been told to expedite the procedure of candidate selection and submit the lists before the month end.

One of the major issues discussed during the recent Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s meeting with general secretaries and state unit chiefs was ticket distribution.

“Ticket distribution has always been a contentious issue with all the parties. But this time it has been decided that ticket distribution will be finalized only after names recommended are approved. All state units will prepare their candidate lists before end of February,” a Congress leader who did not want to be identified by name told IANS.

The leader also said that the Congress will announce most of its candidates by the end of March, allowing them sufficient time to campaign. The Lok Sabha election schedule is expected to be announced by the Election Commission in the first week of March.

“Soon after the schedule is announced, the candidate lists will be published gradually and we expect to complete the process by the end of March,” said the leader.

Besides giving more powers in term of candidate selection, the state units have been asked to provide details of local issues and feedback on the central issues that are to be included in the election manifesto.

Along with the key issues of unemployment, agrarian distress, attacks on democratic institutions and “Rafale scam”, suggestions from the Indian diaspora across the globe has also been taken to incorporate their views in the manifesto expected to be released in March.

The Manifesto Committee, comprising key party leaders P. Chidambaram, Jairam Ramesh, Salman Khurshid, Shashi Tharoor and Sam Pitroda among others, so far has held 176 consultations in 56 cities taking public feedback on the issues to be incorporated in the manifesto.

Among the major highlights of the manifesto will be Gandhi’s mega poll promise of “minimum income guarantee”. With consultations from renowned economists that reportedly include former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan, the manifesto will provide the blueprint of the scheme touted by the Congress as a “game-changer”.

Involving the party’s various wings including women, students and youth, the Congress has also taken the views of transgenders. An advocate of transgenders rights, Apsara Reddy was appointed the General Secretary of the Congress women wing in January.

The party has also been seeking ideas from the public through a dedicated website for the manifesto where netizens can submit their ideas and issues.

The meeting of the CWC – the Congress’ highest decision making body – will be held on February 26 in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state Gujarat. The meeting, presided over by Rahul Gandhi, will also be attended by newly-appointed General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi, UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh among others.

Besides the strategies and roadmap for the election battle, the party leaders will also discuss and chalk out a draft of the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) of the anti-BJP front of opposition parties.

Following a meeting on February 13, opposition parties decided to have a pre-poll pact and Rahul Gandhi was tasked to circulate a draft CMP among the opposition parties.

“As has been decided by all the opposition parties earlier, the major agenda in the CMP will be unemployment, agrarian crisis, attacks on democratic institutions and the abuse of central agencies to stifle the opposition and dissenting voices,” said a Congress leader.

(Anurag Dey can be contacted at [email protected])

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After tough posturing, Sena and BJP to seal alliance

The Sena is the biggest and oldest saffron ally of BJP – without break for nearly three decades, barring a brief snap-off before the 2014 Assembly election.



Amit Shah Uddhav Thackeray MH

Mumbai, Feb 18 (IANS) Tottering on the brink for months, the Shiv Sena managed to bulldoze its way with the BJP, paving the way for a pre-poll alliance for the Lok Sabha and in all probability even the Assembly polls later in the year, party sources said on Monday.

“It is finalized. It will be closed around our proposed formula of 25-23 seats for BJP-Sena respectively in Lok Sabha and 50-50 in the Assembly. We shall announce the details formally this evening,” a top Sena leader told IANS requesting anonymity.

However, the ticklish issue of Sena’s demand for the post of Chief Minister remains unresolved and various options are being put forth by the BJP on this front. It will depend on how many seats each partner bags in the 288-member Assembly.

The two parties are expected to address a joint press conference with Sena President Uddhav Thackeray and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis expected to be present, besides the possibility of BJP President Amit Shah joining them, on Monday evening.

The developments came after weeks of adamant public posturing on both sides, though second channel talks were secretly conducted between senior leaders of the two parties, culminating in the reported alliance.

The Sena is the biggest and oldest saffron ally of BJP – without break for nearly three decades, barring a brief snap-off before the 2014 Assembly election.

A couple of months after the BJP formed the government headed by Fadnavis, the Sena, which sat with the opposition, walked over to the ruling side.

Embarrassing the ruling NDA, during the entire tenure, the Sena remained the sharpest critic of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Shah and Prime Minster Narendra Modi on various issues ranging from demonetization to the state of the economy.

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