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Siblings' best bet sympathy

Malda, May 7: Being the siblings of a stalwart has its advantages. And it is no different for Ruby Noor and Abu Hashem Chowdhury.

The late Ghani Khan's sister is seeking a fourth term in the Assembly and brother Abu his third.

The ground under their feet may not be as firm as it used to be and clambering up the pedestal left vacant by the veteran might be a tall order, but winning the election matters more at the moment and they are doing their best to piggyback on the late 'bhaiya'.

Ruby Noor, 57, the Congress candidate from Sujapur, an agrarian constituency off national highway 34 about 300 km from Calcutta, is also the district Congress president and a businesswoman.

She has three daugh- ters. Two of them, Saleha, who has done her MBA, and Mousumi, a law graduate, had come over from Calcutta to camp-aign for their mother. Sonia, a doctor, is now in the US.

Ask Ruby Noor about her daughters and she plays the proud mother. Ask her about her prospects and she plays the proud sister.

Her margin in 2001, when Ghani Khan was alive but unwell, was over 11,500 votes, but about 20,000 less than in 1996.

The Congress sees a surge of sympathy foll-owing Ghani Khan's death keeping Ruby Noor afloat.

She divides time between real estate, politics and her daughters, though not necessarily in that order.

Nearly 30 km south of Sujapur, in the direction of Calcutta, lies another rural constituency, Kaliachak. Here, Abu Hashem, 59, who owns a biscuit company near How- rah, is in the fray.

Abu Hashem had won by more than 10,000 votes in 1996 and around 7,000 votes five years later.

His son Isha Khan, 34, who looks after his father's business, is also in the town for the polls. Beaming, the son says his father's good work will see him through, but the MLA's managers are not so certain.

'Give us Suja- pur and Kaliachak,' Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee exhorted voters of the two constituencies on Saturday. 'When Barkatsaheb was alive, I did not make this request because he was truly a great leader. But the current crop is ordinary, it won't be able to do much.'

But the people, Congress leaders here believe, would vote for Barkatda, if not his brother and sister, and the party will win.

There is nothing wrong in using the dead bhaiya's name to garner votes, feels Ruby Noor. 'He would have approved of it.'

'The falling margins will tell you that the Barkatda saga is over. His siblings, who claim to be his heirs, do not have it in them to retain their seats,' says Sailen Sarkar, the food processing minister, the CPM candidate in nearby Ratua.

Surya Sinha, Ruby Noor's chief poll manager, rubbishes the possibility. The margin matters for him, but in a different way ' it should be bigger. 'The ground situation has changed,' he says.

The Congress now controls the Malda zilla parishad.

Abu Hashem's arithmetic is more complicated. The Ghani Khan sympathy wave has to drown the many charges levelled against him.

The Kaliachak MLA is allegedly difficult to approach because a coterie cocoons him. He also apparently has the knack of reward-ing 'wrong people' with contracts. Mostly away from Malda, he is believed to be unaware of the growing resentment over the lack of roads, electricity, water, health facilities and jobs.

The Cong- ress-run panchayats have not made it any easier for him.

The CPM has fielded old war-horse Biswanath Ghosh, who, it is believed, would have been able to pull off a surprise if Ghani had not died in between.

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