Preceded by weeks of violence, intense court battles and alleged use of muscle power to prevent opponents from filing nominations, the West Bengal panchayat polls are all set to be held on Monday, which will give a clearer picture of the battle lines ahead of the 2019 general elections. Polling will begin at 7 am on Monday and end at 5 pm. The counting will take place on May 17. Around 1,500 security personnel from Assam, Odisha, Sikkim and Andhra Pradesh are in the state to reinforce security arrangements for the polls. They will aid around 46,000 personnel of the state police and 12,000 of the Kolkata Police, while the state government would use close to 2,000 security personnel from the departments of excise, prison and forests in manning the booths. Security forces conducted route marches on Sunday in various parts of the state as part of security arrangements.
West Bengal Panchayat polls | WB gets security personnel from Assam, AP, Odisha and Sikkim - Know the security scenario
Around 1,500 security personnel from four neighbouring states like Assam, Odisha, Sikkim and Andhra Pradesh will be guarding West Bengal for the panchayat elections scheduled on Monday.
West Bengal panchayat elections: State election commission announces April 23 as extended date for nominations
While ten companies (each company comprising of 80 personnel) of forces will be from Andhra Pradesh, four companies will be present from the north-eastern state of Sikkim.
Besides, two companies each from Odisha and Assam will also be deployed West Bengal. In addition to around 46,000 personnel of the state police and 12,000 of the Kolkata police, the state government would use close to 2,000 security personnel from the departments of excise, prison and forest in manning the booths during voting for three-tier panchayat bodies on May 14.
West Bengal Panchayat polls: Know the political scenario
The election this time witnessed an unprecedented legal tussle between the SEC, state government, ruling TMC and the opposition BJP, Congress and the Left Front. The run-up to the single-phase panchayat polls was marked by intense campaigning. The ruling Trinamool Congress was engaged in a bitter war of words with the opposition BJP, Congress and the Left Front over the violence that erupted during the filing of nominations for the polls.
The opposition had accused the ruling TMC of letting loose a reign of terror during the nomination process. The TMC rubbished the allegations, saying the opposition did not have a mass base and ware trying to evade the polls.
The filing of nominations, which was held from April 2 to April 9 and then again on an extended date on April 23, was marked by violence and clashes between the ruling TMC and opposition parties that led to several deaths.
Although top leaders of all parties campaigned for the polls, TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee refrained from it. She appealed to the people to vote in favour of the development ushered in by her government.
According to West Bengal SEC (State Election Commission) sources, of the 48,650 seats in 3,358 gram panchayats, 16,814 were uncontested and of the 9,217 seats in 341 panchayat samitis, 3,059 were uncontested.
In the 20 zilla parishads, 203 of the 825 seats were uncontested, the SEC said. According to the SEC sources, the election will be held in 621 zilla parishads and 6,157 panchayat samitis, besides 31,827 gram panchayats.
West Bengal Panchayat polls | Rural polls bring to the fore intense battle within families
The three-tier polls, spread across over 58,000 seats scheduled for Monday, have several instances where a father is pitted against his son, a mother is being challenged by her daughter, a son-in-law is taking on his father-in-law and a brother is slugging it out in the poll battlefield against his sister.
Prominent parties including the TMC, the BJP and the Left have obliged competing relatives by fielding them on their symbol to capitalise on the family popularity in the respective areas.
For instance, in Alipurduar district, a retired school teacher Bhognarayan Das is contesting on a TMC ticket against his son Amal, who is a BJP candidate. Das, 68, had asked his son to refrain from contesting the polls as it might cause animosity within the family, but he refused to withdraw.
In North 24 parganas district's Jagulia gram panchayat, two daughters-in-law of the same family are contesting each other. While Rima Das is in the field on a TMC ticket, her elder sister-in-law Bulbul Das is contesting as an Independent candidate. However, the two are of the opinion that politics did not create a rift in their family as "politics has nothing to do with personal relationships".
In Nadias Taldaha-Majhdia gram panchayat, three members of the same family are pitted against each other but poll rivalry has not soured their bonding. Bablu Roy, the sitting TMC candidate, is fighting against his sister-in-law Aduri Roy, who is a BJP candidate, while his uncle Laxman Roy is fighting as an Independent with support from the Left Front. The three, who are part of a 10-member strong joint family, make it a point to have their lunch and dinner with other family members after a day's campaign, just as it used to be earlier.
There are also examples of family rivalry where relatives are taking on each other in the polls to settle score. Partha Pratim Das, a TMC Zilla Parishad candidate from East Midnapore district, is miffed that his wife Lipika contesting on a BJP ticket in a nearby seat. Lipika, on the other hand, said she wanted to teach her husband a lesson as her pleas to shun politics for several years have fallen on deaf ears. "We are living separately for the past few years," Das said.
In Alipurduar district, two sisters-in-law -- Tushi Roy Sarkar and Aripta Roy Sarkar -- are fighting from Chaporerpar gram panchayat seats with Tushi as a TMC candidate and Arpita as Independent nominee. According to their father-in-law Dhananjay Roy Sarkar, a TMC loyalist in Alipurduar district, Arpita is contesting as an Independent as she was denied a ticket despite being an old timer.
According to political leaders of various parties, rural polls in West Bengal, since its beginning in 1978, has witnessed a peculiar trend where family rivalry results in kin contesting against each other either on a party ticket or as Independents.
(With PTI inputs)