Any which way, Bengal braces for historic verdict

The fate of West Bengal's 34-year-old ruling Left Front, which is facing a determined charge from the Trinamool Congress of Mamata Banerjee, will be known as votes are counted for elections to the 294-member state assembly.

A defeat of the Left Front will give the culturally rich eastern state its first woman chief minister in Banerjee, while the combine's win will once again generate awe about its ability to buck the anti-incumbency wave.

With an overwhelming majority of pre-election surveys and exit polls predicting the collapse of the 'red fort' and a victory of the Trinamool Congress-Congress combine, the results of the six-phase staggered April 18-May 10 elections have generated global attention.

The Left Front, now a 10-party coalition spearheaded by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), came to power in 1977 riding on the popular discontent over the excesses of the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi.

In subsequent years, the combine has won six back-to-back state assembly polls, but this year's elections are being generally regarded as its toughest test.

The vote count would decide the destiny of 1,792 candidates, including Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee (Jadavpore constituency), Industries Minister Nirupam Sen (Burdwan South), state Congress president Manas Bhuniya (Sabong), Leader of Opposition in  outgoing assembly and Trinamool heavyweight Partha Chatterjee (Behala West), and Kolkata Mayor and Trinamool leader Sovan Chatterjee (Behala East).
Trinamool has also fielded several cultural figures and eminent people from other fields like singers Anup Ghoshal (Uttarpara) and Parikkhit Bala (Sainthia), film stars Chiranjeet Chakraborty (Barasat)  and Debashree Roy (Raidighi), theatre personality Bratya Basu, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) secretary general Amit Mitra and former chief secretary Manish Gupta, who is opposing the chief minister in Jadavpore.

The votes will be counted in 83 centres, each of which will be guarded by three companies of the central paramilitary troopers, apart from state police personnel.
"We will have eight to 12 rounds of counting," an election official said.
Though the official figures are yet to be given, at least 82 percent of over 56 million eligible voters have cast their votes in the poll held in 70,156 polling booths spread across 19 districts.

Contrary to earlier instances, the politically volatile state had a peaceful election without a single incident of grave violence. All political parties have generally expressed satisfaction with the conduct of the poll.

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