The countdown is set to begin for the high-voltage ''Khela'' (game) of power in West Bengal with the second phase of polling commencing Thursday.
In phase-II, a total of 30 Assembly constituencies from the districts of South 24 Parganas, Bankura, Paschim Medinipur and Purba Medinipur are heading in to vote.
Out of the 171 candidates in the fray 152 are men and the remaining are women. It means only 11 per cent of the candidates are women.
Among these candidates, two are undoubtedly the most prominent figures, that is, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her former ministerial colleague Suvendu Adhikari, who had joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in December last year. Nandigram is all set to witness the most high-profile contest with Banerjee and Adhikari taking on each other.
The stakes are high with Adhikari pledging that he would quit politics if he does not defeat Mamata by 50,000 votes in Nandigram.
The Left Front has fielded Minakshi Mukherjee, the state president of the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) from Nandigram against Banerjee and Adhikari.
Apart from Nandigram, another high profile seat that will witness polling in this phase is the Debra constituency. BJP has fielded former IPS officer Bharati Ghosh against Trinamool Congress'' Humayun Kabir, also an ex-IPS officer.
Notably, Ghosh once happened to be close to Mamata Banerjee. She joined the BJP ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Kabir, on the other hand, joined TMC ahead of this Assembly polls.
Many popular faces from the entertainment industry are contesting in the second phase of polls, with actors Soham Chakraborty and Sayantika Banerjee representing TMC and standing from Chandipur and Bankura respectively while actor Hiranmoy Chattopadhyay from BJP is contesting for the seat in Kharagpur Sadar in Paschim Medinipur. Incidentally, union minister Amit Shah had campaigned for Chattopadhyay.
In Tamluk, TMC has fielded Soumen Mahapatra and is pitted against BJP''s Harekrishna Bera and CPI''s Goutam Panda. In the Moyna constituency in Purba Medinipur, BJP has fielded cricketer Ashok Dinda against TMC''s Sangram Kumar Dolui and Congress'' Manik Bhownik.
In Haldia, sitting MLA Tapasi Mondal who was earlier with CPI(M) is now the BJP''s candidate agaisnt TMC''s Swapan Naskaran and CPI(M)''s Manika Kar Paik.
The total number of electorates in the second phase is 75,94,549. The smallest constituency is Bishnupur with 2,18,690 electorates whereas Daspur in Paschim Medinipur is the biggest constituency with 2,97,849 electorates.
There are 17 NRI voters and 13,118 service voters in the second phase of polling in the state.
800 companies of security forces have been deployed to ensure law and order during polling.
The Election Commission has designated 10,620 polling stations for this phase with 8333 primary stations and 2287 auxiliary stations.
Some of the major issues in South 24 Parganas, Bankura, Paschim Medinipur and Purba Medinipur are unemployment, lack of industrial growth and economic backwardness, with several small-scale workers and artisans facing hardships since the imposition of the Covid-19 lockdown. This has propelled both top parties to woo voters in their support.
Once a bastion of the Left Front, these constituencies have voted in favour of TMC in the last two elections. But, the air of anti-incumbency against the ruling government can also play a decisive role during polling. Also, Purba Medinipur is considered to be a stronghold of the Adhikari clan. TMC is levelled on some of its welfare schemes like ''Duare Sarkar'', ''Swastho Sathi'' and ''Kanyashree'' to garner votes.
However, the power-packed campaigns involving stormy rallies and mega roadshows were mostly dominated by the ruling TMC and the BJP. The third front, that is, the coalition of the Congress, Left Front and Indian Secular Force, has been observed to be on the back foot when it comes to fierce campaigning.
The ambitious BJP has done intense campaigning with the goal to topple the incumbent TMC government in the state. To continue its stride in Bengal especially after an overwhelming result in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in the state, the party has roped in Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and many others into the campaign fray.
The first phase of the West Bengal Assembly elections concluded with an estimated 79.79 per cent voter turnout and covered 30 seats from Purulia, Jhargram, Bankura, Purba and Paschim Medinipur.
The polling for 31 seats in the third phase of the 294-member state Assembly will be held on April 6.
Elections for 44 seats will be held in the fourth phase on April 10.
Further, in the fifth phase on April 17, 45 seats will go to polls.
The sixth phase is scheduled for April 22 when elections for 43 seats will be done.
In the seventh phase on April 26, polling will be held for 36 seats. Finally, the eighth phase is scheduled for April 29 when 35 seats will go for polling.
The counting of votes will take place on May 2. (ANI)