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Tussle of the two ‘good doctors’

Bapi Dutta, 27, is caught in a cleft stick. The elections are less than 48 hours away and he doesn’t know whom to vote for ' his Doctor Uncle or Doctorda.

His daktar jethu (doctor uncle) had cured him of that spell of nausea and pain in the left knee the year before last; daktarda (a doctor who is more like an elder brother) had helped him get rid of the hacking cough last year.

“It is not going to be easy for many like me,” says Bappa.

In this predominantly rural pocket in Birbhum, Dr Motahar Hossain and Dr Qamre Elahi are both considered “good doctors” and “good human beings”.

Elahi is 42 and the sitting CPM legislator. He has done masters in surgery. Hossain, the Congress candidate, is 73 and studied medicine years before.

In 2001, Elahi had won by a margin of less than 2,000.

A former zamindar, Hossain was a minister in Siddhartha Shankar Ray’s cabinet and had represented Muraroi, 300 km from Calcutta, in the Assembly between 1972 and 1996.

In 2001, the only time he lost an Assembly election, he had been a Trinamul Congress candidate.

Before switching allegiance, the “aristocrat” had not noticed how a young doctor ' a former SFI leader ' had started burrowing into the predominantly minority constituency by treating the poor for free and also educating conservative Muslim families about the value of family planning.

Caught up in politics and ageing, some say Hossain doesn’t have the time and energy to treat patients any more.

Last election, Elahi secured 46.63 per cent of the votes and Hossain 44.86 per cent.

After the reverse, the veteran switched sides again and returned to “my mother, Congress”.

“He (Hossain) is a traitor, an opportunist, finish him off on May 3,” Mamata Banerjee tells a public meeting here.

Her explosion is not without reason ' Hossain has re-emerged as the main challenger for Elahi. Trinamul’s Ghulam Mujtaba is looking a distant third.

“We are going to win, win, win,” Mamata thunders. Mujtaba, standing a few feet away, is mute and almost surprised.

Mamata’s cry for blood does not ruffle Hossain’s starched and ironed dhuti-panjabi. The benign ' and sometimes bewitching ' smile never deserts him. A little past seven in the morning, he steps out of his mansion, steps into his gleaming white Ambassador and is driven to the villages, with a convoy of supporters travell- ing in cars, jeeps and trekkers.

The caravan stops outside a thatched hut, Hossain steps out and begins a relaxed conversation with the head of a large family whose members soon surround his car.

“Like the Left Front, I am also asking you to send me to the Assembly for the seventh time,” he says. “But unlike them, I promise to stop after completing the seventh term. There’ll be no comeback, so don’t send me empty-handed.”

Elahi knows it’s not going to be easy. “Although he is an unconventional doctor with unconventional methods, he can’t possibly say ‘chal Mamu, dikha dete hai buddheko kaun hai kiska boss (come Mamu, we’ll show the oldie who’s the boss)’,” says one of his poll managers, Nazim Sheikh, referring to Munnabhai MBBS. In the blockbuster by the same name, Munnabhai is a don who wants to be a doctor.

Sheikh continues: “His strength lies in his Munnabhai-type informality, which make the voters feel easy. Motaharda is attacking him, but we are trying to show voters the big picture of Bengal’s future with which Muraroi's is linked.”

But that is not enough. The CPM also hopes that Mujtaba will cut into Hossain’s votes.

A combination of factors, however, appears to be favouring the Congress ' Hossain’s popularity among both Hindus and Muslims, his role in ensuring harmony and ability to cement divisions in the party.

Moreover, as long as the bridge on the Banshloi ' connecting Muraroi with Pakur in Jharkhand ' stands, the people here would thank Hossain. Built during his tenure as MLA, it also shows his access to the likes of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Jyoti Basu.

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