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Battle for Barkatda

Malda, May 3: Ghani Khan Chow-dhury is no more. Who says'

In Malda, going to the polls on May 8, the late Congress leader is on every lip, even the Trinamul Congress's and the CPM's.

The Congress, a trifle uncertain about whether it would be able to retain its iron grip on Malda, is desperate to make the most of a sympathy wave in the wake of Barkatda's death. No wonder his is the most-seen face (in photographs) and most-heard name in party programmes.

But Mamata Banerjee is not far behind. On a whirlwind trip to Malda on May 1, the Trinamul chief attended six meetings and invoked the 'legacy of Barkatda' as solemnly as his own party, the Congress, did.

'It's because of Barkatda that I didn't concentrate too much on Malda earlier. Now he is no more, but don't think that you are without a guardian. I'll from now on be giving more time to Malda,' Mamata said in rally after rally.

'Barkatda', like her, was an advocate of a 'grand alliance' of anti-Left parties, she said. 'But his own party tried to gag his voice.'

Ghani Khan's brother, Abu Hashem Khan Chowdhury, is the Congress's Kaliachak candidate.

'Dada brought me into politics and I have to fulfil his dreams. Please remember him and vote for me,' says the sitting MLA.

Ghani Khan's sister, Ruby Noor, is contesting from Sujapur. She's also an MLA, but is leaving nothing to chance ' or performance ' and playing the Dada card to the hilt.

She is pinning badges with photographs of Ghani Khan on her sari. 'Dada to apnader bolei gechhen je aami onar uttarsuri (Hasn't Dada told you that I will be his successor),' says Ruby.

Krishnendu Chowdhury in English Bazar and Sabitri Mitra in Araidanga are no exceptions, though they cannot flaunt family ties.

But as it tries to make the most of the wave, which other parties say is absent, the Congress is grappling with a surfeit of leaders who claim to have been 'blessed by Dada'.

In Manikchak, three Congressmen have filed their nominations. Queering the pitch for Rampravesh Mondol, the official candidate, Englishbazar councillor and Intuc leader Biswanath Ghosh has thrown his hat into the ring because Ghani Khan 'told me to do so'. Prakash Singh Singhi, the cashier of the party's district unit, is also claiming that.

All this has given the Left Front a stick to beat the Congress with but its leaders realise that even minus Ghani Khan, Malda may remain out of reach.

State CPM secretary and front chairman Biman Bose visited Ghani Khan's house at Kotowali in Malda town on May 1, stayed there for nearly an hour and even visited his grave. 'I went to the private hospital in Calcutta where Ghani Khan was admitted. But after he died, I could not place a wreath on his body. So I had promised myself I would visit his house and pay my tributes. He had a big heart,' Bose said.

In its campaigns, the CPM, which feels it has a chance if the Opposition votes split, is lashing out at the Congress dubbing it communal but adding in the same breath that Ghani Khan was different.

'The front is used to getting minority votes across Bengal, but it was different in Malda because of Barkatda. Who knows, things might change now,' said district CPM secretary Jiban Moitra.

Sailen Sarkar, the food processing minister, is thus describing the late Union minister as a 'kaajer manush (an enterprising man)' in Ratua. He adds: 'But he did not get his due in the Congress. Why will you then vote for that party'

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