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West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee's party, the Trinamool Congress, has an edge over the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Samyukta Morcha of the Left-Congress-ISF alliance in the majority of the 31 Assembly seats going to the polls on Tuesday, the third of the eight-phase Bengal elections.
These seats are spread across the districts of South 24-Parganas, Howrah and Hooghly, all of them around Kolkata.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had dented the TMC's bastion of Hooghly to a certain extent but South 24-Parganas and Howrah remained overwhelmingly on Mamata Banerjee's side.
Of these 31 seats, the TMC had won 30 in the 2016 Assembly elections. Going by the trends of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, they were leading in 29 of these 31.
Of these 31 seats, 16 are in South 24-Parganas, eight in Hooghly and seven in Howrah. The TMC in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections had comfortable leads over the BJP in all seven assembly segments in Howrah and the 16 in South 24-Parganas.
However, of the eight seats in Hooghly, the TMC had a significant lead over the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections at Khanakul (14,000), Jangipara (11,000), Dhanekhali 12,000) and Haripal (10,000) but their lead was slender in Arambag (4,000) and Tarakeshwar (3,500). In Goghat, the BJP had a significant lead of 8,000 votes, while in Pursurah the BJP had a comfortable lead of 26,000 votes.
The key seats in this contest include Tarakeshwar, from where the BJP has fielded journalist-turned-politician Swapan Dasgupta, who resigned from the Rajya Sabha to contest in this elections. Dasgupta is considered part of the BJP's think-tank for Bengal.
Amta in Howrah is also being keenly watched, as it is all set to witness a three-corner contest between the Congress' two-term MLA Asit Mitra who is known for his simplistic living, the BJP's Debtanu Bhattacharya who heads a Hindutva organisation called Hindu Samhati and the TMC's Sukanta Pal whose main strength is his party's organisation. The TMC had a lead of 38,000 votes over the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections.
Of the seats in South 24 Parganas, Kultali and Joynagar are expected to see four corner contests, with SUCI(C) as the fourth force other than the TMC, the BJP and the Samyukta Morcha. Raidighi is likely to witness a triangular battle, as the CPI (M) candidate in this constituency, Kanti Ganguly, has his reputations.
However, the most-keenly-watched contests are expected to take place in seats like Canning, Canning West, Magrahat East, Magrahat West, where the Samyukta Morcha seemed to have gained some momentum due to the Indian Secular Front, a newly launched party floated by an Islamic cleric.
The Left and the Congress' alliance with ISF had triggered many controversies but Siddiqui's rallies in these areas have so far drawn significant crowds. The TMC-BJP-Samyukta Morcha battle in these seats with 35 to 60 per cent population may play a crucial role in determining the political balance in the district.
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