KOLKATA: The stage is set for a three- cornered contest in the Kolkata Port constituency, where minority votes could be a deciding factor, among the ruling TMC's Firhad Hakim, Awadh Kishore Gupta of the BJP and the CPI(M)-Congress-ISF combine's Mohammed Mukhtar.
Over 40 per cent of the 2,35,854 electorate in the constituency are Hindi-speaking minority voters, and a majority of them swear by their "ghar ka ladka" (family member) Hakim as custodian.
The area is dotted with huge banners in favour of the city's outgoing mayor and lifelike cutouts of him along with Trinamool Congress flags.
"I am not an outsider here. This is my home. I come here regularly unlike other MLAs who visit their constituencies only when the elections approach. 'Kuch bhi problem ho main hoo na. Ghumao number aur Bobby Hakim is there; Sab ke paas mera number hai (Any problem here, and I am there. Everybody has my number. I am a ring away," Hakim, 62, told PTI.
The two-time MLA and urban development minister, who has been campaigning in the constituency for weeks, listed 24 major developmental works, including setting up a government college for women in Ekbalpore and an English-medium school, a logistics hub at Garden Reach and facilitating vocational training for the youth.
"Bobby bhai has done everything that others could not do for several decades. He is like a family member," said 73-year-old Ismail Mukhtar, a resident of Ramnagar Lane Basti in Garden Reach area.
First-time voter Ahmed Hossain from Dhankheti said Hakim is like a hero for them.
"Basic amenities have improved a lot under his watch. We now have schools for boys and girls with good infrastructure," Hossain said.
The BJP's Awadh Kishore Gupta, however, said there are issues regarding sanitation and a culture of extortion in the area is rampant.
"What about the sanitation problem and the existing syndicate raj here. People share common bathrooms. Implementation of the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana is not seen here. Mr Hakim has totally forgotten about these issues," Gupta, 68, told PTI.
Sources in the saffron party said that Gupta, a businessman, was fielded as the BJP candidate for the second time from the seat following the arrest of Rakesh Singh in a narcotics case.
In the 2016 assembly elections, Gupta had finished third from the Kolkata Port constituency with 11,700 votes, while Hakim bagged over 73,000 votes.
Singh, who had contested on a Congress ticket and later switched over to the BJP, managed over 46,000 votes five years ago.
The TMC had emerged victorious in the seat in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, too, with its candidate Mala Roy polling over 82,000 votes, followed by BJP's Chandra Kumar Bose.
The nominee of the CPI(M)-Congress-ISF combine, Mohammed Mukhtar, 52, exuded confidence that people of the locality are looking for a change and he was their "choice".
Kolkata Port goes to polls on Monday in the seventh phase.