Malda candidates pray for dead Congress stalwart's 'Barkat'

 “Put up a poster with the name of Barkat sahib on any lamppost in Malda, and that lamp post will win the election,” said rickshaw-puller Sujan Mondal, fastidiously pedalling despite the late morning heat. His is in many ways the representative statement of most voters in Malda.

A page out of history, this age-old town once found mention in the annals of Panini as Gourpura. The town was also apart of the Mauryan empire. Relics of the past are strewn all over the district town, which is trying to juxtapose the benefits of modern civilisation with the somewhat-lost gravitas of the past.  All that, however, has been erased from public memory; at present, it is the town of A B A Ghani Khan Chowdhury, or “Barkat sahib”.

Khan Choudhury, who passed away in April 2006, still holds sway over the region. A lifelong Congress loyalist, he was railway minster from 1982 to 1989, cutting across the regimes of both Indira and Rajiv Gandhi. The memory of this eight-time MP from Malda—from 1980 till death—works as the catalyst where the charm of his family members might fail.

His name has been enough to send niece Mausam Benazir Noor to Lok Sabha in 2009 from Malda North. It has also served his brothers Abu Hashem and Abu Hasnat win subsequent political battles in both the Parliament and the state Assembly. It is this memory that is expected to draw dividends for Mausam once again, as it could do for Abu Hashem in the neighbouring Malda South constituency.

It is no wonder that people of Malda talk about the Khan Chowdhury family in a hushed, reverential tone. Hardly a negative word passes if a casual passer-by asks. 

“Barkat sahib” has done much for the district, and whatever development one sees has mostly happened during his time. “People believe us and our family. They know only we will carry forward his legacy of development,” said Abu Hasem.

Khan Chowdhury’s family members aren't the only ones using the myth to spur their prospects; even the Trinamool Congress (TMC) is hoping to take advantage. Although Soumitra Roy, the TMC candidate against Mausam in Malda North, claims no such association, Dr Moazzem Hossain in Malda South hopes his status as Barkat’s personal physician would fetch votes.

“I learnt to serve people from Barkat 'da'. I am proud to have treated him for in his last days,” said Hossain.

Even TMC chief Mamata Banerjee introduces Hossain as the “personal doctor of Barkat da”

The party's district president and sate minister Sabitri Mitra does not deny the importance of the “Ghani factor” either. Once a close aide of Barkat, she said, “We all learnt from him what development means, but his family is now busy using his name for personal interests. We are his true followers. Had he been alive today, he would have joined the TMC,” she said.

While there's no predicting how the Barkat myth will help the candidates associated with him, Soumitra has no such advantage in Malda North.

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