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Businessman exits race

Calcutta, March 28: Industrialist Bipin Vohra, the Congress candidate for the Burdwan-Durgapur Lok Sabha seat, today said he would not contest the election, prompting the party to claim the owner of a Rs 4,000-crore group opted out under duress.

Vohra had been named as a Congress candidate along with two others from Bengal in the last of the Congress’s Lok Sabha poll lists, released a week ago.

“I will not contest the Burdwan-Durgapur seat as a Congress nominee,” Vohra, 52, told The Telegraph this evening. “There has been considerable opposition from within my family. I told Adhirda (state Congress chief Adhir Chowdhury) about my wife’s and two married daughters’ reservations about me joining the electoral fray,” he said.

Vohra said he wrote to Chowdhury yesterday and also spoke to the Bengal Congress chief over phone about his decision.

Vohra’s nomination as a Congress candidate had surprised many as never before had an established industrialist in Bengal decided to contest on an Opposition ticket.

Moreover, Vohra is known to share a good relationship with the Trinamul leadership, especially former industries minister Partha Chatterjee.

Vohra has at least two manufacturing units in Durgapur, including one of the flagship firm SPS Steels Mill Rolling Ltd that produces TMT bars under the brand name Elegant. SPS Metal Cast & Billet Ltd, which produces steel intermediaries billet, also has a factory in the region.

Vohra’s business ventures expanded rapidly in the last decade, piggybacking on the metal boom, and diversified into several sectors such as shipping, entertainment and real estate.

“Usually, businessmen like us do not join Opposition parties at the peak of our career as going against the ruling establishment creates problems. So, I was surprised with his (Vohra’s) decision. I think he has taken the right step by opting out of the contest,” said a Calcutta-based businessman who did not wish to be named.

State Congress chief Chowdhury alleged that Vohra quit the fray because of “pressure” from the Trinamul establishment. “How can a businessman defy pressure from the government? He was being threatened by the ruling party, so he decided against contesting the elections,” Chowdhury said.

A Trinamul minister said the party did not know why Vohra chose to contest and why he opted out.

Vohra, however, ruled out the allegation of threats and said he had good relations with all political parties.

“I have a medical college, a steel plant and a management college in Durgapur. Papers regarding some pending work related to the medical college were cleared even yesterday. So, the allegations of threats are politically motivated,” he said.

A senior office bearer of a leading chamber of commerce said businessmen in Bengal had to depend on various state government departments for clearances. “If a government decides to be hostile against a group, it becomes difficult for it to do business,” he said. He refused comment when asked what could have prompted Vohra to step down.

A section of Congress leaders demanded that MP Pradip Bhattacharya contest the Burdwan-Durgapur seat. Bhattacharya, who has refused to contest citing age and organisational responsibilities, said today: “I have been assigned a bigger responsibility of steering the campaign.”