PRISONER OF REBEL SHADOWS 

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By BY SUNANDO SARKAR in Murshidabad
  • Published 26.04.01
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Murshidabad, April 26 :    Murshidabad, April 26:  A black iron gate followed by a collapsible gate followed by a waiting-hall followed by a collapsible gate: his home would have done Murshidabad's security-paranoid nawabs proud. Like the erstwhile nawabs of Murshidabad he, too, has a darbar. It's 9 am to 11 am for hoi polloi every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Saturday and Sundays are reserved for those talking politics. But the present nawab of Murshidabad, Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Choudhury, doesn't think he's living in a fortress. It's more like a prison, he says. "I'm a prisoner of the situation," he explains. The nawabdom is also facing a threat, though the nawab wouldn't give the attacker much chance; Mamata Banerjee has attacked before but hasn't done too well. But the nawab is feeling threatened, threatened enough to organise a revolt: Congress MLAs forced to give up their seats for the alliance's sake are now fighting as Independents against the official nominees. The nawab will take some of the blame: "Yes, the rebel candidates of Naoda, Bharatpur and Hariharpara have my moral support." And he has a reason for his revolt: "I didn't want to give the enemy, the Left Front, a cakewalk." The explanation is followed by some nawab-speak: "If the Trinamul gives up some seats even now, I'll ensure a thrashing for the Left." It's not mere bragging: the nawab, who started life as a Naxalite, was once RSP leader and former irrigation minister Debrabata Bandyopadhyay's minion; today, Bandyopadhyay steers clear of him. But the nawab, who's behind Behrampore's pothole-free roads and Lal Dighi's fountains, won't accept he's behind every rebel. "Do you expect my former mastermoshai Md Sohrab (rebel candidate from Suti) and five-time MLA Habibur Rahman (rebel candidate from Jangipur) to listen to me?" The answer comes five seconds later as the phone rings again. On the line is Atish Sinha, raja of Kandi and seven-time Congress MLA, saying hello and trying to ensure he has the nawab on his side before he takes on the Left. Choudhury blames the media for building an image that belies his five-and-a-half-feet frame. But Murshidabad Congressmen feel Choudhury is being modest. They say he's the only person in Left-ruled Bengal to have dished out a 23-0 blanking to the Left in a poll; despite that, he has lost out in the battle for more seats to "leaders" like Priya Ranjan Das Munshi who, they say, are more effective supine than standing. The man evokes strong reactions. His opponents, who have tried to bump him off, say the man who began as an extortionist is now behind a contractor raj and earns crores. His proponents, however, argue that his income goes to his constituents. But Choudhury is tense, notwithstanding his good - and bad - deeds. His brother-in-law, Arit Majumdar, may be the Congress candidate in Nabagram but his shadow looms up behind half-a-dozen Congress candidates fighting the Left and at least three others who are unofficially fighting the Left and the Trinamul. But he has faced such situations before: when Mamata called him a goonda and opposed his candidature to the Assembly, he won the election and gave a prepared speech in English in the Vidhan Sabha; when it seemed that the 2000 flood would sink him, he reached out to his marooned subjects in a country-made boat even before the administration knew what had hit it; when the Congress ceased to exist in south Bengal, it was the Choudhury wall behind which the party took shelter north of Nadia. But things are not so simple this time. He's fighting against the Left but he's also fighting against his own party's uneasy ally; he's fighting against an "undemocratic" ruling party but he's also fighting against an "unreasonable" seat-sharing. But things aren't that difficult as he's making them out to be: if he wins this battle, he'll breathe easy for some time. But there's hope for him even if he loses: he'll just have to ensure that Mamata loses as well.