Political parties bracing for the crucial April-May assembly polls in West Bengal have put up a number of new faces, marking a departure after many years in the composition of candidate lists. The ruling Left Front, facing its toughest battle since 1977 when it came to power, leads the pack by injecting fresh blood in almost half of the total 294 constituencies, throwing out some prominent, but tainted names.
Veteran Left Front leader and general secretary of the state Forward Bloc, Ashok Ghosh, told mediapersons that some ministers against whom there was public resentment on account of their non-performance have been dropped.
''Similarly, some sitting members of Parliament of the Left Front and leaders against whom there were complaints of high-handedness, the opportunists and those who worked for personal aggrandisement behind the people's back were denied nomination,'' Ghosh said.
Ghosh, the senior-most leader in the Left Front, however, pointed out that in some cases legislators faced with old age and health complications have been replaced by fresh blood. Communist Party of India-Marxist general secretary Prakash Karat said recently the broad rule was that those who had two terms in the assembly would not be put up again.
But, exceptions were made in the cases of chief ministers of West Bengal and Kerala, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and V S Achuthanandan respectively, taking into account their vast experience in running state governments.
The Left list has 149 new faces including Fuad Halim, son of outgoing speaker Hasim Abdul Halim, in the prestigious Ballygunge constituency, and 25-year-old Shatarup Ghosh in Kasba constituency who is the Left Front's youngest candidate.
As many as nine ministers, including four junior ministers, are among the 80 sitting MLAs who have been dropped from the candidate list. Of them, the Forward Bloc's Rabindranath Ghosh and Communist Party of India's Nandagopal Bhattacharjee have been denied tickets because of ill-health.
While senior CPI-M minister Partha De from Bankura volunteered to skip the polls, tourism minister Manab Mukherjee relinquished his claim on Beliaghata to make way for Anadi Sahu, the labour minister. The changes are expected to blunt the sting of the opposition parties' campaign on the so-called lavish lifestyle of ruling Marxists, Left Front insiders said.
The Left Front introduced new faces in most of the 14 seats in Maoist-hit Jangalmahal. Controversial faces such as former Haldia strongman Laxman Seth, Lagandeo Singh from Howrah and Majid Ali from Sashan in North 24 Parganas district were dropped.
"By injecting new blood in 149 assembly seats, the Left Front has conceded a moral defeat to the Trinamool Congress well before the coming assembly polls," leader of the opposition in the state assembly and senior TMC leader Partha Chatterjee said.
The TMC candidate list also contains not only new, but also exciting faces like Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry secretary general Amit Mitra, former chief secretary Manish Gupta, two former Indian Police Service officers Rachpal Singh and Sultan Singh, as well as seasoned politicians such as Subrata Mukherjee, ex-city mayor, and present mayor Sovan Chatterjee.
''Our list has more than 100 new faces. The idea is to infuse new blood,'' TMC general secretary Mukul Roy said. Interestingly, Mukul Roy's son Subhrangsu Roy, a graduate in electrical engineering, is also in the fray.
The TMC is contesting in 226 seats leaving 65 seats to its ally the Congress, two to Socialist Unity Centre of India and one to Nationalist Congress Party. Another TMC leader Saugata Roy said, ''People want to see fresh faces who are not tainted by politics. Accordingly, Mamata has brought in people who are new to politics, but otherwise established leaders in different walks of life.''
Making a comparison between the Left Front and the TMC, Roy, who is the Union minister of state for urban development, said, 'The 'Left Front's new faces have no identities, except for their inclination to the Leftist ideology.''
''The promise of Parivartan or change for the better was reflected in Mamata Banerjee's ideas, and the list of candidates selected by TMC had amply borne this out,'' Derek O'Brien, vice president of the TMC and a well-known host of quiz shows, said.
''I am delighted to be a soldier of change led by Mamata Banerjee. It will be a historic moment when Mamata becomes chief minister of West Bengal,'' said Mitra who is pitted against finance minister Asim Dasgupta in the Khardah assembly constituency.
Manish Gupta, who has been fielded in the Jadavpur seat against West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, was chief secretary to both CPI-M leader Jyoti Basu and Bhattacherjee. He retired in 2001.
Three other former IPS officers -- Abani Joardar, H A Safwi and former Central Bureau of Investigation joint director Upen Biswas -- are also among the new faces in the TMC list, besides Nure Alam Chowdhury, a former judge of Calcutta high court, and playwright Bratya Basu.
State Congress chief Manas Bhuniya said their candidate list contained 36 new faces. "Out of the 65 seats we are contesting, 36 are new faces,'' Bhuniya said.