Bengal's poll carnival moves into Maoist heartland (Curtain Raiser)

Kolkata, May 6 (IANS) Amid the opposition gunning for the Election Commission over its "failure to curb massive rigging", six constituencies in four districts of West Bengal go to the hustings Wednesday as the Lok Sabha poll carnival moves into the Maoist heartland.

An electorate in excess of 88 lakh - including 42 lakh female voters - is eligible to exercise its franchise in 11,321 polling stations to decide the fate of 72 candidates in the fray covering West Midnapore, Purulia, Bankura districts, besides a part of Burdwan.

Incidentally all the seats - Jhargram, Medinipur, Asansol, Bishnupur, Bankura and Purulia - are held by the CPI-M led Left Front.

Peeved at the poll panel rejecting repeated demands for repoll in a large number of booths in constituencies that voted April 30, the opposition Left Front, Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party have unanimously attacked the commission and even demanded the removal of special observer Sudhir Kumar Rakesh.

Giving boost to the opposition claims of massive rigging against the ruling Trinamool Congress, BJP's prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi launched a scathing attack on the commission during an election rally at Asansol Sunday.

Unperturbed by the opposition charges, the Trinamool is hoping to dent the red bastion on the strength of its impressive performance in the 2011 assembly and 2013 rural polls.

Among the six seats, Asansol has been generating considerable interest among poll watchers where BJP's candidate Bollywood singer Babul Supriyo is hoping for the lotus to bloom even as Trinamool's trade union president Dola Sen hopes to make a mark in this industrial belt.

However, CPI-M's two-time MP Bansa Gopal Choudhury seems confident of retaining the seat which has been electing a Marxist nominee since 1989. There are 12 candidates in the fray including youth Congress leader Indrani Mishra.

Eyes will also be on Jhargram - for long the epicentre of Maoist violence - Purulia and Bankura, parts of which are affected by the Left extremism.

Making development the fulcrum of its campaign, the Trinamool is aspiring to bag the three seats.

CPI-M's Pulin Behari Baske and Forward Bloc's Narahari Mahato are fighting to retain Jhargram and Purulia respectively.

Though no records of any subversive activity has been reported from the region, the administration and the Election Commission have taken no chances and put up elaborate security arrangements including ending the polling process in six assembly segments two hours prior to the schedule time.

While the ultras have not called for a poll boycott this time, they have urged people to use the NOTA (None of the above) option available on the electronic voting machines.

Inspector General OF Police (Western Zone) S.N. Gupta told IANS that strict vigil was being kept at the Bengal-Jharkhand border, with check-posts at strategic locations.

"We will conduct air surveillance and sanitise routes to the polling booths using anti-landmine vehicles," he said.

Attacks on polling personnel in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh - two other Maoist-affected states - have claimed 21 lives.

Besides setting up 10 satellite phone terminals in Junglemahal, the poll panel will use roving camera-mounted vans ferrying security personnel for live monitoring of sensitive booths and transmitting the feed to the commission offices in Kolkata and New Delhi.

A fascinating contest is in the offing in Bankura where nine-time CPI-M MP Basudeb Acharia is facing a challenge from Trinamool star candidate, actress Moon Moon Sen.

Daughter of Bengali screen legend Suchitra, Moon Moon is making her debut in politics under her real name Sreemati Dev Barma.

The BJP has nominated gynaecologist Subhas Sarkar, while Nilmadhab Gupta represents the Congress in the battle that has a total of 14 combatants.