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|February 23, 1998|
Cakewalk for Indrajit Gupta in Midnapore
Veteran communist parliamentarian and Union Home Minister Indrajit Gupta (CPI) is all set to win this prestigious parliamentary seat for the fourth time in a row.
Gupta was first elected to the Lok Sabha from Calcutta South-West in a 1960 by-election and has been a member of the House ever since, except for a three-year break because of a defeat in the 1977 elections.
He stormed back to Parliament in 1980, defeating Congress nominee Abdul G Quazi by about 95,000 votes from the Basirhat parliamentary constituency. He won the seat in 1984 as well. He fought the 1989 elections from Midnapore and has retained the seat since then.
In a seven-cornered contest in the constituency this time, Gupta faces economist and management expert Dr Nitish Sengupta of the newly formed West Bengal Trinamul Congress, Satish Jana of the Congress and BJP's Dr Monoranjan Dutta.
The other candidates are in the fray are Gajendra Nath Naik (Amrabangali), Kalipada Tudu (Jharkhand Party) and an independent, Sheikh Abu Bakar, none of whom are expected to cut any ice.
Though he won the last elections, defeating Congress candidate Dr D P Roy by more than 210,000 votes, his task is even easier this time with a fractured opposition unlikely to pose any major challenge.
With the emergence of Mamata Banerjee's TMC as the third force, the opposition votes are likely to split. More so, when Dutta filed his nomination despite the BJP's alliance with the TMC. This could affect Sengupta's prospects, said Midnapore district TMC general secretary Ashis Chakraborty.
Although Gupta could expect an easy win, he has been actively campaigning in the constituency, despite his failing health.
Sengupta, who unsuccessfully contested from the Contai Lok Sabha constituency in 1996, is putting up a brave fight in Midnapore. His campaign managers refer to him as a son of the soil, who has spent most of his early career as an economist in the district. They feel he might pull off a surprise win. Though fully aware of the difficulties on hand, both the Congress and BJP nominees also expect victory.
Midnapore goes to polls on February 28 but electioneering is yet to pick up. Following restrictions imposed by the EC, the candidates have given emphasis on street corner meetings and door-to-door canvassing instead of extravagant rallies. The number of cut-outs, banners and graffiti are comparatively lesser, both in towns and rural areas.
Despite the shortcomings, there was no dearth of enthusiasm and excitement among party workers, who are leaving no stone unturned to ensure smooth win for their respective candidates.
Meanwhile, elaborate arrangements are being made by the district administration to ensure a free and fair polling. "Barring one or two minor incidents, the situation is absolutely peaceful," said district magistrate and chief district electoral officer Arun Bal.
Ruling out any special bandobast because the Union home minister is one of the contestants here, Bal said, "We have asked for four companies of central forces for the five Lok Sabha constituencies in the district. In addition, we will deploy about 2,000 state armed police force."
Speaking about the poll arrangements, Bal said 1,449 booths -- 117 more than the last time -- have been set up in Midnapore alone. Of these about 60 per cent would be posted with additional armed police.
He added that nearly 100 people have been taken into custody as a preventive measure. In accordance with the EC's directive, the interstate borders with Bihar and Orissa have been sealed to prevent any unauthorised entry of firearms and other lethal weapons.
About the use of microphones by the contestants beyond the stipulated hours defined by the Calcutta High Court, Bal said only two violations had been reported and suitable action had already been taken against the erring parties.
Regarding the ban on writing on the walls of government buildings, Bal said all the parties had abided by it.
Midnapore is spread over seven rural and semi-urban assembly segments of Pataspur, Narayangarh, Dantan, Kesiari (ST), Kharagpur town, Kharagpur rural and Midnapore.
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