The high-decibel campaigning for the fifth phase of the ongoing West Bengal Assembly elections concluded at 6 pm on Wednesday, as leaders of the political parties taking part in the high-stakes polls left no stone unturned to woo the voters of the state.
The campaigning ended early today as the Election Commission (EC) on Saturday had decided that the silence period for the fifth phase shall be extended to 72 hours and no campaigning shall be permitted during 72 hours before the close of the poll in order to ensure the conduct of free, fair and peaceful elections, following a violent incident in Sitalkuchi, Cooch Behar district where four people were killed after security personnel opened fire, which became a major topic of the phase V campaigning process.
Campaigns ahead of the upcoming phase were marked by the divisive reactions on the EC imposing a ban on Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee from election campaigning for 24 hours on Monday due to her 'highly insinuating and provocative remarks'. While some leaders like Samajwadi Party's (SP) Akhilesh Yadav and National Congress Party's (NCP) Nawab Malik condemned the ban, BJP leaders such as G Kishan Reddy and Zafar Islam supported the decision and said she must be held responsible for the incident.
The EC also banned Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate Rahul Sinha for 48 hours on Tuesday for his remarks on the Sitalkuchi violence, while issuing notices to Dilip Ghosh and Suvendu Adhikari.
To protest against the 'unconstitional' ban, Banerjee sat on dharna in Kolkata's Gandhi Murti on Tuesday. After her ban, Banerjee lashed out at the BJP for using central agencies to stop her and blamed it as Home Minister Amit Shah's incompetence for the rising COVID-19 infections in the country.
The intense campaigning reached its peak today as Banerjee, BJP's national president JP Nadda and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi entered the fray. Banerjee, who met the family members of the deceased in the Sitalkuchi violence, said the culprits will be punished no matter who they are.
"The culprits will be punished no matter how big they are. Justice will be done. After the election, five statutes will be made in the memory of the deceased. I appeal to you to consider me as a daughter of your home. On the birth anniversary of Babasaheb Ambedkar, I pray for the victory of guards of democracy over the murderers of democracy," she said while addressing a gathering in Mathabhanga.
Meanwhile, Gandhi lashed out at the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), accusing them of intensifying hatred among people wherever they go.
"People of Assam say their history and culture are being attacked. Tamil Nadu and Bengal are facing the same thing. Wherever BJP, RSS go, hatred starts to intensify there," said Gandhi at a rally in Darjeeling, while hitting out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the mismanagement of COVID-19 pandemic in the country.
"Narendra Modi said 'bhaio-bheno', beat thaali and corona will go. He said ghanti bajaao. After that, he asked people to take out their mobile phones and switch on flashlights. This man is the PM of India. Rather than helping labourers, he asked them to ring bells," the Congress leader further said.
Meanwhile, Nadda remarked that the Trinamool Congress' (TMC) has exposed its 'anti-Dalits' face and this should be understood by the people and the party should be cast out of the state in the ongoing elections.
"However, while we salute Ambedkar, I also feel the anti-Dalit feelings by Mamata didi. This is unfortunate even after several years of independence. Just now, a TMC leader used a word for our Dalit brothers. I cannot use the word at this stage. She said that Dalits always keep asking," said Nadda at a public gathering in Mangalkot.
"I feel sad that Mamata di, who has been the Chief Minister for 10 years, has not spoken a word to condemn this. This is TMC's anti-Dalit face that we should understand," he added.
Other leaders, however, did not miss out on any chance to sway voters in their favour, with AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi on Tuesday calling both the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister "the two sides of the same coin".
On Tuesday, Amit Shah held intense public rallies in North 24 Parganas and Darjeeling.
Taking a swipe at BJP's main political opponents in West Bengal, Shah in Bidhannagar said that "Communists, Congress and Trinamool Congress have vote banks in 'infiltrators', and only BJP can stop infiltration in Bengal".
"If things continue the same way, Kolkata will face the problem of infiltration as well in the nearby time. Communists, Congress and Mamata Didi all have vote banks in these infiltrators. Only BJP can stop infiltration in Bengal," said the BJP leader.
He also promised to provide the status of Scheduled Tribe (ST) to 11 castes of the Gorkha community. "11 leftover Gorkha sub-castes want Scheduled Tribe status. The matter has been pending for years. The BJP government wanted to resolve this, but Mamata Ji did not attend any meeting on this issue. Change Mamata Didi and bring a BJP Chief Minister, the party will provide the status of Scheduled Tribe (ST) to 11 castes of the Gorkha community," he said.
The BJP also launched a new election strategy in West Bengal and roped in Mohun Bagan footballer Arindam Bhattacharya in the party on the day before the conclusion of the campaigning. Shah himself will launch public outreach programme in Kolkata and more than 2,000 small 'potho sabhas' will take place in over 40 Assembly constituencies in and around Kolkata.
The campaigns were also marked on divisive reactions on TMC candidate Sujata Mondal Khan's alleged remarks on Dalit community members.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Monday that Mamata Banerjee has waged an open war against the state's Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST) and Other Backward Caste (OBC).
"Didi has waged an open war against Modi as well as my brothers and sisters from SC, ST, OBC in Bengal. She has started a campaign to discredit the ordinary voters of Bengal," PM Modi said while addressing an election rally ahead of the fifth phase of the Assembly polls.
He also accused Banerjee of insulting SCs and Dalits by staying tight-lipped on offensive remarks about the community by her party leaders.
Polling for the fifth phase of the West Bengal elections will be conducted on April 17. A total of 319 candidates, including 39 women, will contest for 45 constituencies across six districts - Jalpaiguri, Kalimpong, Darjeeling, Nadia, North 24 Parganas and Purba Bardhaman.
The sixth phase of the elections will take place on April 22.
( With inputs from ANI )
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