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Ex-babu vs Buddhababu

It is a tough fight and he knows it. If enthusiastic supporters wave to the former bureaucrat, then make no mistake, there are others who turn away in this polarised constituency.

kolkata Updated: Apr 01, 2011 17:59 IST

It is a tough fight and he knows it. If enthusiastic supporters wave to the former bureaucrat, then make no mistake, there are others who turn away in this polarised constituency.

At 69, Manish Gupta, former chief secretary during the tenure of Jyoti Basu and also chief minister and his present opponent Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, is not a man to be browbeaten by anyone, not least Bhattacharjee who has won five times from Jadavpur on a trot.

Times have changed and both candidates know it. In 2006, pitted against Bhattacharjee, actress Madhabi Mukherjee was routed by 58,130 votes. The once impregnable bastion of the Marxists has changed courtesy delimitation and winds of change. In the 2010 civic polls, the CPI(M) fell behind the Opposition by 1,400 votes.

Gupta, who was the former chief executive officer of National Textile Corporation Ltd, seems comfortable in his new politician avatar. The over 6-feet candidate with a body of an athlete meets his constituents at Baghajatin in casuals and trousers. Like FICCI secretary general and Trinamool candidate from Khardah Amit Mitra, the former chief secretary is more comfortable in sneakers as he meanders through the alleys of his constituency meeting voters.

"I'm enjoying my new role. I served people earlier in my capacity as an administrative officer. Now, I am relishing my chance to serve them again," Gupta told HT, while waving at the windows and balconies of different housing societies in Chittaranjan colony area.

Gupta even during his time as a bureaucrat was a reticent speaker. He still speaks little, with occasional interaction with voters and Trinamool activists. Gupta though is an excellent communicator and moves ahead to meet the elderly, the middle-aged and the young. He makes eye contact with voters who will decide his fate on April 27.

When he noticed an elderly woman waiting to see him at Baghajatin station Road, Gupta immediately walked towards her, bowed and touched her feet, seeking blessings for a victory. "Apnader ashirbad shob thik kore debe (Your blessings will determine everything)," he told the woman, placing her right hand on his head. The woman was all smiles.

A few minutes later, he spotted the smiling face of another elderly man standing by the road. "Apnara achhen, tai ami nischinto (You all are here, so I'm relaxed!)," said Gupta.

Isn't it a real tough task to take on the chief minister? Gupta smiles. "You are watching everything, how the people are coming ahead to greet me. Their enthusiasm is infectious and is indicator of what lies ahead," said the seasoned administrator.

Gupta has already chalked out his development plans for the area. "Everybody can see what is the problem. I want to bring real development here," said the former bureaucrat who is stressing on creating job opportunities, resettlement of refugees and arranging for shelters for the homeless.

His Trinamool supporters are upbeat and around 300 workers were led by councillors from ward no 99 and 104, Mitali Banerjee and Tarakeswar Chakraborty. The Trinamool is so sure of a victory that they start celebrating when they run into a Left rally coming from the opposite end of the small lane. Gupta's foot soldiers start chanting "Bam Front kupokat! (Left Front will be toppled)" which is countered by "Bam Front zindabad (Long live Left Front!)" slogan.

The tension was palpable on everybody's face. The local Trinamool leaders manage to keep control and the Left rally passes peacefully. Gupta is relieved and thanks his supporters. "Please try to stay and take charge when we take out any rally. It was all in order and rallies should be held this way everyday," he said.