Late Ghani Khan, ailing Priya Ranjan relevant in Bengal (Election Special)
Abu Barkat Ataul Ghani Khan Chowdhury passed away this month eight years ago. Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi is incapacitated and hospitalised, unable to speak or recognise people since suffering a cardiac arrest over five years ago. But in Bengal's poll fight, both continue to be relevant, perhaps more than most active leaders.
Relatives of both Congress stalwarts are contesting the Lok Sabha polls. And there is a mad scramble among all parties to reclaim the legacy of the duo in their respective pocket boroughs, which go to the hustings Thursday.
In northern West Bengal's Malda district, the Congress has renominated sitting MP Mausam Noor, Ghani Khan's niece, from Malda North seat, while union minister Abu Hasem Khan Choudhury is in the fray from Malda South.
Hasem and Mausam both belong to the family of Ghani Khan Chowdhury, who never lost an election from Malda.
The district was considered a fiefdom of Ghani Khan, who was widely respected for the development work done here during his several stints in the union cabinet.
Even after his death, Congress politics in Malda have revolved around the Ghani Khan dynasty. Mausam became the Congress legislator from Sujapur of Malda district winning the 2009 assembly by-election after the death of her mother Ruby Noor, Ghani Khan's sister.
Hasem contested and won from Malda South in 2009.
Photos and cut-outs of Ghani Khan are being liberally used by both Mausam and Hasem to boost their election campaigns. Both frequently refer to the late leader in their speeches.
On the other hand, the Trinamool and the Communist Party of India-Marxist are accusing the sitting MPs of not doing their part in developing the constituency and staying away for most of the year.
Chief Minister and Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee has led the attacks.
"I have immense respect for Barkatda. He has done a lot for the people here. But not his successors. The Congress exploits Ghani Khan's name to win the elections, but forgets him once the polls are over."
Hasem countered, again invoking his brother.
"The Trinamool is spreading all sorts of canards. Some people may be a bit aggrieved on some count. But they have always been with our family, with their Barkatda's family. Come polling day, they will back us again, because they know only we can carry forward his legacy," he said.
Mausam said that while her maternal uncle would forever be relevant in Malda, "we are not asking for votes only by taking his name. We are also asking for votes for the work we have done. And whatever we have done is for all to see".
Trinamool candidates -- Soumitra Roy of Malda North and Moazzem Hossain of Malda South -- are also flaunting their personal connect with Ghani Khan.
Roy, a noted Bengali band singer, recalls he had always got the blessings of "Barkat kaka (uncle)" in his musical journey.
Hossain claims to have treated Ghani Khan in his last years.
Similar is the tale in North Dinajpur's Raiganj, the home of former union minister and popular leader Dasmunsi, who is still in a Delhi hospital after the massive cardiac arrest he suffered in October 2008.
Dasmunsi, who began his chequered political career from Raiganj in the late 1960s, won the Lok Sabha seat twice in 1999 and 2004. After Dasmunsi's illness, his wife Deepa emerged victorious in 2009 and is now a union minister.
Deepa has been seeking votes in the name of her husband, saying that she wanted to realise the dreams he "shared with me" about developing Raiganj.
Realising that Priya Ranjan's name still spells magic among a substantial section of the electorate in this backward constituency, Trinamool chief Banerjee has given the party ticket to his younger brother Satya Ranjan, taking the battle to virtually Dasmunsi's home.
In all his rallies, Satya Ranjan has been calling Priya Ranjan his "political mentor", from whom he has learnt a lot. Priya Ranjan's photographs adorn all his campaign materials as Satya Ranjan tells people "we share the same ideology and tradition".
A central issue in Raiganj is the construction of an AIIMS-like hospital. While Deepa has been rooting for the hospital, the state government has said it could not take land forcibly from farmers for the project.
"The Trinamool is insulting the people of Raiganj by using my husband's photos in its campaign," said Deepa.
Springing a surprise, Deepa introduced her 15-year-old son Priyabrata during a meeting addressed by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi Tuesday.
Reading from a prepared script, the teenager spoke in Hindi, emphasising his mother's "pain and sufferings" and attacking his uncle for "crossing over to another party" to fight the polls. "How can such a person serve you," he asked.
He then turned to the AIIMS issue, saying it was his father's dream, which has to be fulfilled.
(Posted on 23-04-2014)