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Cong hill candidate

Calcutta, March 18: The Congress today picked a councillor of the Siliguri Municipal Corporation as the candidate for the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat, leaving a section of leaders wondering about the decision as he was considered low profile and didn’t belong to the hills.

Sujay Ghatak, 43, is a member-mayor-in-council (public works) of the Congress-run SMC.

Ghatak, who is also the Youth Congress’s general secretary in Darjeeling district, said he would try to “put up a tough fight” for the Darjeeling seat “despite my not being a resident of the hills”.

“Since the party has assigned me the responsibility to contest the Darjeeling seat, I shall leave no stone unturned to give a tough fight,” he said.

In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the Congress had chosen the party’s vice-president for Darjeeling district, Dawa Narbula, for the Darjeeling seat. The BJP nominee Jaswant Singh, backed by the Morcha, won the election by a margin of over three lakh votes.

Many in the Congress believe a resident of the hills should have been the candidate to bag more votes. “I wonder how Ghatak, a Siliguri councillor, has been chosen for Darjeeling. It appears the party is conceding its defeat by fielding a low profile Siliguri leader for the Darjeeling seat,” said a senior Congress leader.

The hill voters have traditionally decided the winner of the Darjeeling seat because they poll for one candidate en bloc.

Although areas in the plains have more voters, the voting is fractured.

While the Trinamul Congress has fielded footballer Bhaichung Bhutia for the Darjeeling seat, the BJP has chosen its high-profile leader S.S. Ahluwalia, who is being backed by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.

The CPM’s candidate is former MP Ananda Pathak’s son Saman Pathak.

With the announcement of its candidate for Darjeeling, the Congress is yet to announce its nominees for the remaining 24 Lok Sabha seats, including Balurghat.

However, state Congress president Adhir Chowdhury had claimed earlier in the day at the state Congress headquarters that a list of the 25 candidates in Bengal would be announced tonight.

The Congress had announced its candidates for 17 Lok Sabha seats on March 8.