Malda: Two cousins battle it out from a constituency, while the father of one of them is in the race from a neighbouring seat. It seems all within the family in West Bengal’s Malda district, but that’s not all.
All three claim to be flag bearers of the legacy of a well known Congress leader who is still revered by people in Malda for the developmental work he had initiated in the northern Bengal district. Nearly 13 years after Abu Barkat Ataul Ghani Khan Choudhury or, in short, the much loved Barkatda, passed away, it’s a must for every candidate in Malda district to swear by him.
Ghani Khan was elected seven times to Parliament from Malda constituency and served as Minister for Railways in the 1980s under Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress governments.
Such was his pull, that after his death, members of his family continue to be elected as Congress candidates from the district.
Ghani Khan’s brother, Abu Hasem Khan Choudhury, and niece, Mausam Benazir Noor, are MPs from the district’s two Lok Sabha seats – Malda South and Malda North. Both had won on Congress tickets.
However, in late January, Mausam crossed over to the Trinamool, saying she was “inspired” by the massive development ushered in by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and wanted to work under her.
Thirty-nine-year-old Mausam has again bagged the Trinamool Congress ticket for Malda North – which elected her twice.
Opposing her is Isha Khan Choudhury of the Congress, Abu Hasem’s son, and eight years her senior.
Ghani Khan is Isha Khan’s uncle – and Mausam’s maternal uncle.
The 81-one-year-old Hasem has been renominated as the Congress candidate from Malda South, though there were rumours sometime ago that he too would join Trinamool.
“Not even over my dead body! I am a Congressman, and I carry my brother’s legacy. How can I leave Congress,” Hasem has said repeatedly.
The division in the Kotwali – the palatial residence of the Khan Choudhuries – has turned close family members into political rivals, but Isha Khan says they keep politics and family relations apart.
However, in course of his campaigning, Isha Khan has been referring to Mausam’s change of loyalties and terming it a “betrayal” of Ghani Khan’s legacy as also the Congress, which is “my uncle’s party”.
But Mausam has a different take.
“The majority of the Congress leadership which had closely worked with my mama (maternal uncle) is now in Trinamool. They have crossed over as they realised that Trinamool is the right party to serve the people the way Barkat Ghani Khan had done. Trinamool is also the right platform to take on the autocratic BJP,” she explained.
“I had joined politics inspired by the dream of Ghani Khan. Barkat Saheb was a man of work. He served the people so well that they have still not forgotten him. In Trinamool Congress, under Mamata Banerjee’s leadership, i can carry out projects which I could not during my two stints so far,” added Mausam, a law graduate.
The BJP candidate is another turncoat, Khagen Murmu, who recently crossed over from the CPI-M. The CPI-M has nominated Biswanath Ghosh.
In Malda South, Abu Hasem is up against Trinamool’s Md. Moazzem Hossain and Sreerupa Mitra Choudhury of the BJP. The CPI-M has so far not fielded a candidate for the seat, indicating its support to Abu Hasem.
“It would have been better for us in Malda had the Congress-Left front seat adjustment talks succeeded. In Malda North, that would have helped us,” said Hasem.
Moazzem Hossain, a gynaecologist, is an old warhorse of the Trinamool. He had secured the fourth position five years back. That time, Hossain had gone around telling people of his closeness to Ghani Khan.
It remains to be seen whether Ghani Khan’s legacy can still swing votes in Malda. Whether the Congress can still claim a monopoly over that legacy is another moot question.
The two Malda seats go to the hustings on April 23, in phase three of the seven-phase polls in West Bengal. The vote count is on May 23.