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Election vs king’s selection
- Cooch Behar town that has seen yesteryear royalty seeks court minister-like MP

The celebration of democracy that the Lok Sabha elections are touted to be does not interest Amiyo Deb Buxi.

He has seen better ministers and leaders, he says, though all of them in a king’s court.

Buxi, 83, would rather answer to Duar Buxi — a title he had in the Cooch Behar royal court.

He was the royal representative for all religious occasions in the princely state of Cooch Behar. His job was to assist the royal family during puja. Buxi does the same job even now. He initiates religious festivals such as Durga Puja in the palace, Holi in the Madanmohan Temple and the Rathyatra for the royal family, which is now just another family. He draws an honorarium from the state government.

“We embraced democracy in 1949 but I find it disappointing to see that people who lack competence, do not have any qualifications and are dishonest are elected as MPs and even included in the Union cabinet as ministers now. The comparison with the old days leaves me frustrated,” he says.

When Buxi says “we”, he does not mean the country that is in the throes of its biggest election. He means the princely state of Cooch Behar that was merged with the state of Bengal in 1949.

“Only erudite and competent persons were selected as ministers in the council then, which was headed by the king. I have been working as Duar Buxi of the Cooch Behar royal family since 1948 and have seen several ministers working in the state then. The king, Jagaddipendranarayan Bhup Bahadur, had served in the British forces and was an excellent administrator,” Buxi recalls.

Jagaddipendranarayan Bhup Bahadur, the last king of Cooch Behar, was the brother of Gayatri Devi, the late queen of Jaipur.

When Cooch Behar was under the king, Buxi recalls, law-and-order problems were rare.

To prove the point that the older days were better, he recounts an incident.

“In the early 40s, there was a skirmish among some college students with couple of military cadets. In retaliation, Kumar Purnendu Narayan, who was from the royal family and was a captain in the king’s force, had attacked the students’ hostel, ransacked the building and tortured them. After the king learnt about it, he condemned the incident and held an open trial of the accused persons at Lansdowne Hall. The captain had to spend two months in jail,” he says.

“Nowadays, it is hard to think that such a thing may happen. People holding positions in the administration and government are allowed to move freely even after scams. Punitive action is taken only against a few,” he says.

Chandrasekhar Paul, a septuagenarian in Cooch Behar town and a known chronicler of of the royal family, says the king’s ministers “used to make field visits, listen to people and delegate responsibilities. They used to see to it that expectations of both the king and residents of the state are met. We expect MPs and MLAs elected from north Bengal, and in some cases, inducted in the state or Union cabinet, to follow in the footsteps of these people and deliver on their responsibilities.”

But the “sense of commitment, unlike yesteryear, is absent among the peoples’ representatives now. We hardly find an MP or an MLA approaching us to know our problems or solve them. Every activity of these people is politics-centric,” says 71-year-old Paul.

When asked about what were the good things the kings did for Cooch Behar, many residents point to the roads and drainage system.

“Anybody visiting Cooch Behar finds the drainage system and roads much better than other places. But with rapid urbanisation, several roads are getting narrower…. Cooch Behar was famous for its all-round development right from administration to civic services to sports and culture,” Paul says. But it suffered because of “the non-performance of elected representatives since 1949”.

The senior residents, however, appreciate some of the recent decision taken by the Trinamul government.

“The kings had developed schools and colleges. There was an emphasis on education. After a long gap, the present state government has opened a university and soon, an engineering college and a medical college would come up,” another senior resident of the town says. “The state’s decision to set up a Rajbangshi academy is another welcome step as it can help in the conservation and promotion of the rich cultural heritage of Rajbangshis.”

Kuddus Ali, a retired government employee, says employment was not a problem back then. “In the days of the king, there were assigned jobs for everybody.” He agrees that the population was less then. “Since Partition, people came and settled here and the population ballooned. However, none of the governments, whether those in the state or the Centre, has tried to create more employment avenues. Agriculture continues to remain the main source of income.”

Those who do not want to farm have to leave the district, sometimes even the state, to look for jobs as labourers. “It is disappointing, this migration, particularly when we think of the peace and prosperity that Cooch Behar has seen during the king’s days,” Ali says.

The youth of Cooch Behar would rather elect their MP than let a king select a minister for them. But some of them also echoed Buxi when they said they would like “educated and competent MPs”.

Nafisa Ahmed, a third-year student of South Calcutta Government Law College, whose family is based in Cooch Behar, says: “We always appreciate democracy. But yes, voters should see whether the MPs are educated and competent. It is we who can stop such people from getting elected.”

Pritha Das, a first-year MA student and a resident of Dinhata, also favours the democratic process, but added that “the selection process of royals was appreciable as they would always choose competent and educated people”.

Rabindranath Ghosh, the Cooch Behar district Trinamul president, feels a lot has been done by the current state government for the district.

“Cooch Behar was always neglected by the Left Front and the Congress. Despite having MPs, MLAs and even ministers, nothing much was done for this district which is the farthest administrative area of the state,” Ghosh says.

“However, since our government was formed, several initiatives have been taken to promote education, develop infrastructure and conserve the culture.”

“We have to walk several miles as the problem of unemployment persists. People, however, have realised our seriousness to develop the region and have expressed confidence in us in the 2011 Assembly polls and in the rural polls last year. We are confident of winning the seat and would make sure that our MP takes up key issues of the district at the Centre with other Trinamul MPs,” Ghosh says.

The four candidates for the Cooch Behar seat are all teachers or former teachers. Renuka Sinha, who is the Trinamul’s face, is a retired high school teacher and a former vice-chairman of Cooch Behar municipality. Hemchandra Burman of the BJP is a retired primary schoolteacher. Dipak Roy, contesting from the Forward Bloc, is a high school teacher and the Congress’s Keshab Roy, who is the sitting MLA of Sitai Assembly seat in Cooch Behar, is a former high schoolteacher.

Whether the candidates qualify the broad yardstick of “educated and competent” is tough to tell now.

Buxi has said he will vote, and he will not use the Nota (none of the above) option.