The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cycle and Qualis clash

Englishbazar, May 5: Two modes of personal transport, a bicycle and a Toyota Qualis, typify the contest in this Malda town.

There is the sitting MLA, Samar Roy, 64, of the CPM in old-fashioned, giant-leg pyjamas and cotton kurtas, pedalling the two-wheeler. His glasses are not the type designed for window display at an optician's and his slippers are of a piece with the rest of his get-up.

And there is the challenger, Krishnendu Chowdhury, the scion of a local zamindar family, formid-able in a district where the Congress rivals the CPM in organisational strength and seat count.

The diamond, the ruby and the red coral on his fingers, his passion for branded clothes and fondness for luxury vacations, good food and, umm, drinks place him in a different league.

Roy could well have been a character from R.K. Narayan's fictional small town Malgudi, where life is uncomplicated and laid-back. A man on a bicycle cannot be in a hurry. And the former government employee and district secretary of the Co- ordination Committee is an unhurried man.

Public life has not made him publicity-hungry. In his unpretentious, single-storey house stay his wife, a retired elder brother and sister-in-law. Roy's son, an engineer, is based in Delhi.

He is a teetotaller, non-smoker and averse to cellphones, though whether that makes him a better peo- ple's representative is open to question.

But anyone in Englishbazar ' a part-urban, part-rural constituency about 335 km from Calcutta ' can walk into his house with a complaint or accost him on the road because he wants his constituency to keep in touch with him directly; it doesn't matter who they vote for.

'I'm the original caveman,' Roy guffaws.

Like the man, his politics is simple, at least on the face of it. 'If I have been able to satisfy the constituency, I will win again.'

In 2001, the CPM had to run a few extra laps to get him introduced to the voters. Five years on, Samar Roy enjoys top-of-the-mind recall ' an engineering college, the revamped drainage system and scores of better school buildings, libraries and health centres bear his stamp.

'His calling cards don't scream, yet they convey a powerful impression,' a Congress functionary concedes.

Chowdhury is aware that his show of wealth might not go down well with every cross-section of voters. 'What puts off many people is the realisation that they can't, whereas I can,' he puts it bluntly, like a feudal lord.

The muscle of his money, observers say, fuels his political aspirations. Not all Congress leaders disagree. Critics say not all that he flaunts or hides have been handed down by his family.

Chowdhury was chairman of the Trinamul Congress-BJP-run Englishbazar municipality from 2001 to 2005. A Mamata Banerjee lieutenant then, he had been a Ghani Khan Chowdhury aide before. Back in Ghani Khan's party, his calling card again invokes the late Malda monarch's legacy.

A section of the Congress does not trust the 48-year-old with a goatee. Chowdhury had tried to take on Ghani Khan riding the Mamata wave until he was cut to size in the 2001 Assembly elections.

The Congress's Gautam Chakraborty, who was 'like a son' to Ghani Khan and was fielded at his insistence defying a Congress alliance with Trinamul, secured 38,557 votes and the BJP candidate 9,313. Chowdhury was pushed to the third place as the CPM's Roy romped home.

After his defeat in last year's municipal elections, Chowdhury's association with Trinamul came to an end.

Wedged between Roy and Chowdhury this time is Trinamul's Chaitali Sarkar. It's now her turn to bank on 'Mamata magic'.

In Chaitali's bid, the number crunching appears to be following the same pattern as Chowdhury's.

'I am confi- dent,' says the Congress candidate, but he knows that Chaitali could do to him what Chakraborty had done in 2001.

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