Kolkata, 16 April Conducted in the shadow of five election-related deaths in the previous phase, the fifth phase of the state Assembly elections tomorrow will see a cluster of political heavyweights fighting it out. The fifth phase, covering 45 Assembly constituencies in both south and north Bengal districts, stands out owing to the presence of veteran Congress leaders like Sukhabilas Barma in Jalpaiguri, Shankar Malakar in Matigara-Naxalbari, Sunil Tirkey in Phansidewa, CPI-M’s Ashok Bhattacharya in Siliguri.

It is also being conducted amidst an unprecedented spurt in Covid-19 cases, with the state logging as many as 6,910 fresh cases and 26 deaths while there are 41,047 active cases. Kolkata recorded 1,844 cases and 9 deaths In a phase marked by the near absence of cine stars, Trinamul Congress stalwarts predominate.

They are tourism minister Gautam Deb in Debagram-Phulbari, minister for science and technology Bratya Basu in South Dum Dum, minister of state for Parliamentary Affairs Tapas Ray at Baranagar, to name a few. Ministers apart, several senior political leaders are seeking the people’s mandate like Madan Mitra at Kamarhati, while former Bidhannagar Mayor, Sabyasachi Dutta who has crossed over to the BJP is pitted against state fire minister Sujit Bose.

Another important Left leader, Shankar Ghosh of CPI-M, after having crossed over to the saffron camp is pitted against his one-time leader Asok Bhattacharya in Siliguri. With the fifth phase covering parts of north Bengal, Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee’s game plan of splitting the GJMM may make a difference.

Trinamul Congress is supporting the Bimal Gurung faction of the GJMM. In Nadia, the Trinamul leadership had decided to replace sitting minister Ratna Ghosh with Subhankar Singh in Chakda. Subhankar’s father Shankar Singh, who joined Trinamul from Congress is contesting in Ranaghat (NorthWest).

In Krishnagunj, Dr Tapas Mondal is contesting as a Trinamul candidate where the sitting MLA Satyajit Biswas was gunned down in a soiree. In Rajarhat-Gopalpur BJP’s spokesperson, Samik Bhattacharya. is contesting against Kirtan singer Aditi Munshi who replaced technical education minister Purnendu Basu, the chief minister’s campaign manager at Nandigram.

In Burdwan (South), minister Rabi Ranjan Moitra was replaced by council lor Khokon Das for the TMC. In an almost unprecedented move, minister Siddiqulla Chowdhury has shifted his base from Mangalkot to Monteswar alleging interference by the party’s strongman Anubrata Mondol. Debaprasad Bag is contesting as a Trinamul candidate at Kalna, after Biswajeet Kundu, sitting Trinamul MLA defected to BJP. Dr Saptarshi Banerjee replaced former footballer Dipendu Biswas at Bashirhat (South) as the TMC candidate after the latter received public flak for his role in a communal flare-up.

Voting will be held at 15,789 polling stations in 16 seats in North 24-Parganas, eight each in Purba Bardhaman and Nadia, seven in Jalpaiguri, five in Darjeeling and one in Kalimpong district. Elections have been held in 135 constituencies so far, and the remaining 159 seats are set to go to polls between 17 & 29 April.