PM Modi Chairs BJP Election Committee Meeting Ahead Of Key Elections

Key BJP leaders from Assam and Bengal, including Bengal BJP chief Dilip Ghosh and Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, are at the meeting

PM Modi Chairs BJP Election Committee Meeting Ahead Of Key Elections

PM Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah at the BJP Central Election Committee meeting

New Delhi:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is chairing a meeting of the BJP's Central Election Committee in Delhi, to decide candidates for the first two phases of Assembly elections in Bengal and Assam.

Party chief JP Nadda, Home Minister Amit Shah and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh are among those present, as was Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar - the party's Assam in-charge.

Sources said the names of 86 potential candidates were discussed. A final list has not been released, so far, and a second meeting scheduled for Friday, according to news agency PTI.

Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and cabinet minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, the BJP's go-to man in the northeast, and state chief Ranjeet Kumar Dass voiced inputs for their state, while key leaders from Bengal, including state chief Dilip Ghosh, discussed candidates for theirs.

The first and second phases of Assam and Bengal elections will be held on March 27 and April 1.

Overall Assam will vote over three phases and Bengal over eight.

On Wednesday Mr Ghosh said a shortlist of four to five names per seat had been drawn up for the first two rounds of polling.

One of the Bengal constituencies voting in the second phase is Nandigram, which was the epicentre of a farmers' movement that propelled Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to power 10 years ago, and from which she has said she will contest.

Nandigram is also the former seat of ex-Trinamool leader Suvendu Adhikari, whose crossover to the BJP in December last year sparked a flood of defections from Bengal's ruling party.

The Trinamool and Mr Adhikari have traded angry words and barbs aplenty since; last month the BJP leader accused Ms Banerjee of wanting to turn Bengal into Bangladesh, and earlier the Chief Minister slammed "the most rotten MLAs", in a stinging swipe at Mr Adhikari.

In the high-voltage battle for Bengal, the Nandigram election will be seen many as a potentially election-defining one for Ms Banerjee, particularly if she takes on her once-trusted lieutenant.

The BJP has not yet confirmed if Mr Adhikari will, in fact, be fielded from there.

He, though, has welcomed the challenge, and told PTI he will defeat Ms Banerjee by a margin of "at least 50,000 votes" if fielded from his former constituency.

At least 19 other MLAs have joined Mr Adhikari in crossing over from the Trinamool, including former Forest Minister Rajib Banerjee, who is also expected to get a ticket.

In Assam, where the party came to power for the first time in 2016, the BJP has been pushing hard to retain power, as the Congress joins hands with regional parties to re-capture its old bastion.

Late Thursday night sources said the BJP and its Assam allies had reached a seat-sharing deal. The BJP will contest 92 of 126 seats, leaving 26 for the Asom Gana Parishad and eight for the UPPL.

Polling in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, meanwhile, will take place in a single phase on April 6, with lists for these elections to be released at a later date.

All results will be declared on May 2.

With input from PTI