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|February 9, 1998|
Maneka Gandhi striving to re-enter LS from Pilibhit
Pilibhit, the Lok Sabha constituency in Uttar Pradesh bordering Nepal, will witness a keen contest between former Union minister of state for environment Maneka Gandhi and her old rival Dr Parshuram Gangwar.
Maneka entered the Lok Sabha for the first time in 1989 on a Janata Dal ticket, defeating Bhanu Pratap Singh (Congress) by 125,000 votes. She was also the first Lok Sabha member from the constituency who went on to become a minister.
In the 1991 election, she lost to Bharatiya Janata Party candidate Dr Gangwar by 7,500 votes. But in 1996, she bounced back and defeated Dr Gangwar by a huge 283, 310 votes, winning 59.83 per cent of the vote.
This time -- she was expelled from the Janata Dal in September 1996 when she questioned then prime minister H D Deve Gowda's stand on the Cogentrix project -- Maneka is contesting as an Independent, supported by the BJP. Dr Gangwar, on the other hand, has entered the fray as a Samajwadi Party nominee.
Another rival is former Uttar Pradesh legislator Haji Riyaz Ahmad, contesting on a Janata Dal ticket. Ironically, Ahmad was once a close friend of Maneka. Both of them were members of the Sanjay Vichar Manch, which was set up in the early 1980s, to keep alive the memory of her late husband, Sanjay Gandhi.
Other candidates in the fray are Dr Roop Kishore Shastri of the Congress and Anees Ahmad Khan of the Bahujan Samaj Party.
As many as 1.13 million voters are eligible to vote in Pilibhit and 13 candidates are trying their luck in this constituency where polling is due to be held on February 22.
The constituency comprises the Pilibhit, Barkhera, Bisalpur and Puranpur Vidhan Sabha constituencies in Pilibhit district, and the Puvayan Vidhan Sabha seat in Shahjahanpur district.
The large Kurmi farming community has invariably had a say in the politics of the constituency in the 11 elections held so far. Till date, Kurmis have been elected seven times from this constituency.
Gangwar's campaign has been boosted with Maneka's cousin and former Puranpur legislator, Veerendra Mohan Singh, joining the Samajwadi Party just before the campaign began.
Affected by the problems of seeds, fertiliser, water and electricity supply, Pilibhit, like the other three districts in Bareilly division, is counted among the backward districts in the state and Maneka is highlighting this point in her campaign.
The reported conflict within the BJP's district unit on the issue of support to Maneka has quietened down. Party workers have begun appealing to the electorate to vote for her, help the BJP win and see Atal Bihari Vajpayee as prime minister.
Some say the BSP candidate is the dark horse. Anees Ahmad has been on a door-to-door campaign and if he can win both the Muslim and Jatav votes, he could spring a surprise on Maneka and Gangwar. The BSP won 88, 750 votes or 13.42 per cent of the vote in 1996.
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