Bengal final phase amid chit fund scam ruling (Curtain Raiser)
The final phase of the Lok Sabha election in 17 constituencies of West Bengal will be held Monday in the shadow of the Supreme Court's order to the CBI to probe the Saradha chit fund scandal that has cast a shadow on the ruling Trinamool Congress.
Monday's balloting involving 2.56 crore electorate will cover seven districts including Kolkata.
It will be perhaps the most crucial phase for the Trinamool which had won 14 of the seats in 2009. The Congress, the Socialist Unity Centre of India-Communist and the Communist Party of India won one each.
A total of 188 candidates are in the fray including millionaires, cultural figures and political heavyweights. Monday will mark the end of the state's five-phase - and India's staggered -- parliamentary election.
The Monday contest will be spread over Murshidabad, West Midnapore, Nadia, North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas, Kolkata and East Midnapore. Polling will take place in 37,670 stations.
The Supreme Court Friday asked the Central Bureau of Investigation to take over the probe into the Saradha muddle from the Special investigation Team constituted by the Mamata Banerjee government.
Having strongly opposed any CBI role in the scam, said to involve over Rs.2,600 crore and more than 17 lakh depositors, the state government was forced to "welcome" the apex court verdict. Finance Minister Amit Mitra caustically mentioned that it had come "two days before the polls".
Chief Minister Banerjee, who has drawn flak from the over her party's alleged links with Saradha, declared that her government had nothing to fear from a CBI probe.
But she quickly added that the CBI would now have to bear the responsibility of returning the money to the duped depositors - mostly poor people who lost their life's savings by parking their funds in the company's schemes which offered huge returns.
The scam broke out in April last year when the company downed shutters, unable to repay the depositors.
Stiff contests are on the cards in many constituencies.
In Dum Dum, two former union ministers, Sougata Roy of the Trinamool and BJP's Tapan Sikdar, face a challenge from CPI's Asim Dasgupta, who was the state finance minister for 24 years.
In Krishnanagar in Nadia, outgoing Trinamool MP and famed Bengali film actor Tapas Pal faces a tough fight from former union minister and BJP'S Satyabrata Mukhopadhyay - who won from the constituency in 1999 - and CPI-M's Shantanu Jha.
Firebrand trade unionist Subhashini Ali of the CPI-M takes on Trinamool heavyweight and former railway minister Dinesh Trivedi in Barrackpore.
CPI-M's pharmacologist Sujon Chakraborty is pitted against Netaji's grand nephew Sugato Bose (Trinamool) and painter Samir Aich (Congress) in Jadavpur in what seems like a cliff-hanger.
Among other notable aspirants of the Trinamool are Bengali matinee idol known only as Dev (Ghatal), Mamata Banerjee's perceived political heir and nephew Abhishek Mukherjee (Diamond Harbour) and former union minister Sudip Bandopadhyay (Kolkata North).
The Congress has fielded state president and outgoing MP Adhir Chowdhury (Baharampur) and seasoned campaigner Somen Mitra in Kolkata North. The BJP has nominated state chief Rahul Sinha from the same constituency.
Famous magician P.C. Sorcar Junior is fighting on BJP ticket from Barasat.
With the opposition accusing the Trinamool of indulging in electoral malpractices in the third and fourth phases, the Election Commission has promised fool-proof measures to ensure free and fair polls.
(Posted on 10-05-2014)