|HOME | ELECTION | CONSTITUENCY|
|October 2, 1999||
MP for life
There is a joke doing the rounds in Malda: "Why does Chowdhury sahib take a long nap in the afternoons while his rivals are passing sleepless nights before polling day?'' The answer is: "He is tired of winning."
Chowdhury sahib, more popularly known as Barkatda to his followers, is none other than Abu Barkat Ataul Ghani Khan Chowdhury, who has won six successive elections from the Malda parliamentary constituency in West Bengal.
Chowdhury's popularity is such that let alone criticise the veteran Congressman his adversaries are actually showering praise on him.
Says the Communist Party of India-Marxist nominee in Malda, Sailen Sarkar, who will perform a hat-trick by losing for the third time to Chowdhury, "the people of Malda are grateful to Ghani Khan. None can belittle his contribution to the development of Malda, but ..."
Even CPI-M workers acquiesce in the fate of their candidate. Their only hope is to wait for Chowdhury's demise because of his age and ill health. Till then they know Malda remains Chowdhury's fief.
Bharatiya Janata Party candidate Muzaffar Khan's pitch is, "Chowdhury sahib has crossed 70. His health is failing. Please give me a chance to complete his unfinished agenda."
Even Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee during his campaign in the last election had attacked Chowdhury only regarding his indisposition. He had remarked, "Congress ka Khanbudda hain, hamara Khan jawan hain. Usko vote dijiye." But the people of Malda preferred the "buddaKhan" last time and in all likelihood it will remain so.
Chowdhury became a minister first in the Congress government in West Bengal in 1972 and handled the power portfolio. His first task was to provide employment to thousands of youths from Malda in the state electricity board.
In 1980 Chowdhury was inducted by Indira Gandhi into her Cabinet as the railways minister. He continued with his task of providing jobs to the youth of Malda.
He has literally changed the face of the predominantly backward agricultural constituency along the Indo-Bangladesh border. He boasted that whatever pleasure the people of Calcutta could have his people in Malda too would enjoy. From a dingy town he turned Malda into a big clean town with children's parks and fountains and made it the divisional headquarters of the railways. He became a legend in his lifetime.
In the last parliamentary election he was the only Congressman to win from West Bengal, defying the popular wave in favour of the fledgling Trinamul Congress.
While his adversaries spent the last month sweating it out in this sprawling Muslim-majority constituency to garner support for Sunday's poll, Chowdhury feasted on biryani in his opulent palace in the heart of Malda and enjoyed his post-lunch siesta every day.
He campaigned only twice a week and addressed election meetings only in the evening when the sun was about to set. He doesn't make any election speeches. He has nothing to say about the BJP's communalism, the CPI-M's violence or how Sonia Gandhi can lead the nation to great heights. All he says in Bengali in his typical Malda accent is, "I do not want to waste your time nor mine. You know me well enough, if you think you should vote for me then do it." Period.
However, at some places, where not too many voters had stamped on the 'hand' symbol in the last election, his speech was slightly longer: "I have no grudge against you and will not mind even if you don't vote for me. But don't forget to place a few flowers on my grave after I die," he quips in a plaintive tone. Many in the crowd wept while others roared, "long live Barkatda."
Since 1980, when Chowdhury first got elected to the Lok Sabha from Malda, his position has become unassailable. His image is of a man who delivers the goods and prefers to be known as the 'minister for Malda.'
Prime Minister Vajpayee skipped Malda this time. Jyoti Basu, who has ruled West Bengal for 22 years, addressed meetings virtually everywhere in north Bengal, but did not go to Malda.
Only Sailen Sarkar, the CPI-M candidate and secretary of the party's district unit, has not given up hope. He thinks if the BJP-Trinamul combine can eat into Chowdhury's vote bank then by default he can scrape through.
Last year, Chowdhury survived the Trinamul Congress 'wave' which drowned every Congress candidate except him. This time he has to contend with a unified Trinamul Congress-BJP onslaught on his citadel. Moreover, his party has almost disintegrated in West Bengal and some Congress leaders are working overtime to sabotage his prospects.
Chowdhury's larger-than-life image dominates the election in Malda, pushing burning issues like recurring floods, bad roads and chronic power and drinking water shortage to the sidelines. And to the dismay of his rivals like Sarkar, Chowdhury has made it clear that he will contest elections till he dies.
ELECTION 99 |
SINGLES | BOOK SHOP | MUSIC SHOP | HOTEL RESERVATIONS | WORLD CUP 99
EDUCATION | PERSONAL HOMEPAGES | FREE EMAIL | FEEDBACK