SILIGURI: For Siliguri mayor and former minister Ashok Bhattacharya it is a fight to stage a comeback after his surprise defeat in the 2011 assembly election as he takes on former Indian football captain Baichung Bhutia, who has taken the field as a Trinamool Congress nominee.
Bhattacharya had mobilised opposition forces and defeated TMC in last year's election to Siliguri Municipal Corporation, which has come to be known as a "Siliguri model".
It is being replicated in the assembly poll where Left and Congress have joined hands to fight TMC.
Aware of the celebrity status of Baichung, 66-year old Bhattacharya is leaving no stone unturned.
"After I lost in 2011 election, I did not flee. I stood with the people and fought for them," he said.
TMC has fielded Baichung this time in place of Rudranath Bhattacharya, the dean of North Bengal Medical College who had defeated the CPI(M) stalwart in 2011, to encash on his celebrity status and get the support of young voters.
Baichung, who had campaigned for Bhattacharya in 2011, appeared in a new role this time and is toiling hard to cement his mass contact by mingling with the people. Many young voters are seen taking selfies with him.
Exuding confidence, he said "We are working unitedly. My team is doing well. Hope the people will vote for me".
Of the 47 wards of Siliguri Municipal Corporation, 33 wards were included in this assembly constituency of which Left Front holds 15 and TMC 11. Congress which has formed alliance with the Left has 4 and BJP 2 wards.
Political observers say that though Bhattacharya has slight advantage, his main political opponent TMC is also leaving no stone unturned to retain the seat.
They say apart from maintaining lead in 11 wards, TMC, which had finished either in second or third position in the remaining 22 wards in the municipal poll, has to establish lead in those wards so that its candidate sails through.
Party supremo Mamata Banerjee has campaigned in this constituency and ridiculed the 'Siliguri model', saying "ask the comrades what have they given to the people".
Banerjee, who frequently visited North Bengal, said that her government has initiated development of the region and urged the people to defeat Bhattacharya.
Bhattacharya, who made it a point to visit every ward in his constituency, said, "I know the people's problems. When I visit various wards as a candidate, the people open up to me. Seeing their sponteneous response I am confident of victory".
Observers say that unlike in south Bengal, Congress still has a sizeable presence in north Bengal and the Left alliance with the party is likely to benefit Bhattacharya.
Baichung, however claimed, "Congress is losing steam. That is why Congress leaders are trying to save themselves by forging alliance with the Left but the grassroot workers did not accept it."
Observers said the Left-Congress combine has launched its campaign against corruption in Siliguri-Jalpaiguri Development Authority, Saradha chit fund scam and later Narada sting operation against TMC leaders gave them further ammunition.
BJP has fielded Gita Chatterjee who is fighting her first elctoral battle. A doctor by profession, she is banking on the Modi factor in the Assembly poll.
"The Left Front did not do anything for the state during its 34 year rule and the people had brought in a change in the form of Trinamool Congress in 2011. But now the people have lost confidence in them," she said.