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|September 29, 1999||
Mentor battles protégé to garner minority votes
Nationalist Congress Party general secretary Tariq Anwar is facing the peculiar predicament of having to fight his protégé Mubarak Hussain from this constituency which has sent him to the Lok Sabha four times.
The guru and sishya had parted ways when Anwar quit the Congress along with Sharad Pawar and Purno A Sangma on the foreign origins issue. Hussain preferred to remain with the parent party. Way back in 1980, Anwar had handpicked Hussain to manage the district Congress politics.
The other adversary of the NCP leader in the three-cornered contest this time is the Bharatiya Janata Party's Nikhil Chowdhury, whom Anwar had defeated in the last two elections. While Anwar is trying hard to retain his sway over the traditional minority vote bank, Hussain wants to make sure that the Congress party's organisational base remains intact.
Anwar had managed to win the seat in 1996 despite an anti-Congress wave throughout the state when he defeated former home minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who was supported by Laloo Prasad Yadav. In the last election, however, he had banked on Rashtriya Janata Dal support to retain the seat.
Katihar has a chequered history where favouring the Congress is concerned. In the 12 Lok Sabha elections held so far, the Congress won this seat seven times while the Opposition made it five times. Anwar said he was confident of victory because of his personal rapport with all sections of the electorate, his contribution for the development of the area and his emotional attachment with the minorities.
''My fight outside the Congress cover would make no difference in the election as I have brought the issue of national pride to the forefront,'' he claimed. Hussain, who is a member of the state assembly, claimed that the minorities were not going to support a party which may ultimately go over to the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance after the election for the sake of power.
Branding his NCP rival as a ''traitor'' for challenging the authority of Sonia Gandhi, he said the electorate would deal a ''befitting punishment'' to Anwar because of their emotional attachment to the Nehru-Gandhi family.
Out of the 10,37,246 strong electorate, about 35 per cent belong to the minorities. Both Anwar and Hussain have, however, made local development their major poll plank and are promising improved road communication in the district.
Meanwhile, according to political observers, the possible split in the minorities vote bank may benefit the BJP candidate. The presence of former MLA Ramprakash Mahato, who recently resigned from the Samata Party has made the scene more complicated.
Mahato is trying to seek support from the backward classes which might erode the BJP's vote bank to some extent. While the voters are more concerned with the after effects of the recent flash floods in the region than with the election, they are also aware of the need to choose someone as their representative who will deliver the goods where long term development is concerned.
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