The Telegraph
Thursday , April 24 , 2014
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Merciless sun is kinder than the frying questions

In Malda, it all seems to depend on how much sun one is taking. The big guns can come and go. Mithun Chakraborty, for example, led to a new saying when he visited Disco Mor on April 16, accompanying Mamata Banerjee, to a meeting in support of the Trinamul candidate, Bhumi singer Soumitra Roy.

Disco Mor in Bulbulchandi is a hotspot, famous for its Disco tea stall, which serves a sweet, creamy tea in a generous bhand. It’s cool to visit the tea stall for the boys on a bike. They come in droves.

So much so that the place reports several deaths every year. The youths, apparently high on other brews consumed before the tea, are prone to swinging their bikes at a speed that is way beyond the safe limit.

But Mithun made Disco Mor cooler. The chief minister spoke, and Mithun danced. Which led to a new local saying: “Mithunda’s disco at Disco Mor!”

The next day, Mamata Banerjee came again to Malda, and left in a huff, complaining bitterly that a conspiracy involving an AC was hatched to kill her. On April 19, Rahul Gandhi came, but did not leave in a huff.

The point is, all of the heavyweights sat in a shaded dais.

The local candidates have been left to brave the famous Malda sun, the same one which is so required to mature and ripen the over 350 varieties of the mangoes in the district, including Langda and Surma Fajli, but is not so good for the human skin.

But still, the candidates are doing well.

Mausam Noor, Congress candidate and sitting MP from North Malda, has been travelling in an open-hood Chevrolet Tavera for the last 40 days on roadshows, ever since her name was announced by her party again. The young Mausam, a law graduate, a former La Martiniere student, mother of a toddler and a scion of the Ghani Khan Chowdhury family, has been out every day from morning to late evening, trying to cover as many of the 8,000 villages in her constituency as possible.

The day Mamata is to suspect a conspiracy, Mausam is campaigning in Habibpur, an impoverished, Santhal tribal block.

Mausam, according to her opponents, did not deliver, either in the constituency or in Parliament, and was just not around. They feel she is facing a tough challenge, especially from the CPM candidate, Khagen Murmu

But according to another section, she has an edge over the others, with the Ghani Khan connection still a strong factor.

If the sun factor alone is taken into account, she is doing rather well.

As her car plunges into the bumpy red-earth road that runs helter-skelter through the block, where empty fields burn in the sun, she leans over towards the crowds and reaches out, clasping their hands in hers.

The area suffers from permanent drought. It is on a higher level and below there is a layer of hard rock, making water so scarce that tubewells do not work. They stop functioning after a while. “Habibpur is a drought-prone area,” Mausam says.

Her constituency is schizophrenic: four of the 10 blocks in her area are drought-prone, the rest are flood-prone, and Malda is on the most backward district list of the country.

But Mausam pushes ahead, with a dupatta covering her head, and a white cap sitting on top of it. “Ashun,” she calls everyone. “Haate haat melan,” she says, and joins her hand with theirs.

The fields are mostly barren, except patches of corn shooting up here and there. Apparently rice, wheat, mustard and pineapples also grow here, along with mangoes, but, at the most, the plots are one-crop. Hundred days’ work provides a little hope, otherwise people migrate.

Water tanks installed in the area recently, some of them at Mausam’s initiative, are helping some neighbourhoods, but they are just not enough.

In Binakail village in the block, a young man rushes towards Mausam. “Haat milao,” she says.

“There’s not a single water tank nearby. The nearest is two kilometres away,” he says.

A young girl with a severely burnt face is stringing together yellow kolke flowers to make a garland for Mausam.

“Can you do something for her?” asks a woman.

Raasta, raasta (roads),” cry other women.

“People die on their way to the hospital. Pregnant women suffer terribly,” they say.

Electric poles are not sighted too much either. Surprise of surprises, mobile ringtones don’t go off either.

Mausam tries Santhali speech: “Ti chinere vote empe (Vote for the hand symbol).”

She says she has picked up the language from her travels within the district with her mother who used to be the MLA from Sujapur.

Aar khaoa? Khaoa kothar theke hobe? (And where will we get our food from?)” asks an old woman in the appropriately named village Akalpur 2. “We haven’t had a proper meal in three months.”

The lack or roads works another group into a fury. Mausam smiles and stares ahead. Her people say that she is building the main roads — it’s the duty of the panchayats to build the smaller roads.

“Where were you so many days?” asks another woman.

Mausam claims many achievements in the past five years, foremost of which is roads. She had 1,500km of roads built in her constituency under the PMGSY scheme (Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana), 16 of them in Habibpur itself, proof of which lie in long dug-up stretches in the villages.

She also rattles off her other achievements: Rs 133 crore sanctioned under the Rajiv Gandhi Gramin Vidyutikaran Yojana, Rs 85 crore sanctioned to widen and repair NH 81 from Gajole to Harishchandrapur, Rs 290 crore sanctioned for NH 131-A for Ratua Nakatti bridge, which will connect Bengal and Bihar, Rs 33 crore from the BRGF (Backward Regions Grant Fund) to prevent erosion by Mahananda, Rs 32 crore for Samsi railway overbridge, 302 units at Rs 12.5 lakh each sanctioned for units for arsenic-free water.

But these are all sanctions. Mausam agrees.

She adds that no project can be implemented in her constituency because of the lack of co-operation from the state government.

A few hours later, a half-an-hour drive away, Mamata descends on Aiho Bakshinagar, to address a meeting at a mango grove, after which the incident involving the AC takes place.

In a striking coincidence, she claims credit for all the projects that Mausam says have been sanctioned: the roads, the bridges, the overbridges, the arsenic-free water, same to same. Mamata also claims that in her three years she has distributed 2 lakh pattas to farmers in Bengal, when in its 34 years, the Left had managed only 2,500.

Soumitra Roy, singer of the band Bhoomi, doesn’t speak a word, but sings a song. A paean to Mamata, a line from the popular baul song “Tomaye hrid majhare rakhbo”, replacing the words “Sonar Gour” with “Sonar Didi”.

But his face is completely sunburnt. He has been on a roadshow for 40 days too.

The CPM’s Khagen Murmu is not lagging either. He is out every day, with a combination of car travel and walking to places in the interiors. He is also said to be hoping that with Trinamul eating into the Congress voteshare, he will have the edge.

Only the BJP candidate, Subhas Krishna Goswami, is not out so much. But then the BJP is said to be consolidating a lot of Hindu votes, just by being there.

So, there’s no saying what is going to happen in Malda. It all depends on the sun.

Malda North votes on April 24