Ghani Khan

  • Jaideep Mazumdar, PTI, Malda
  • |
  • Updated: Apr 13, 2004 14:40 IST

It's all very old, but all very regal. The sprawling mansion set amid acres of mango orchards with an old model Mercedes parked majestically in the porch - quite like the person inside.

Malda's monarch may be old, needs help to move, is hard of hearing and his speech may be garbled, but he's still the monarch.

A steady stream of his subjects bring their problems to him every day. He barely listens to them, but they leave confident that their troubles would be taken care of. Barkatda, as the monarch is fondly called, is god here.

"My people love me. I've always worked for them," says Abu Barkat Ataul Ghani Khan Chowdhury. And hence, his aides and hangers-on surmise it is necessary to send Barkatda to the Lok Sabha for the eighth time. Never mind that he attended the 13th Lok Sabha for just a few days and when he did, he never opened his mouth. Never mind that after Indira Gandhi passed away in 1984, he hasn't been able to get a single major development project for Malda.

Leave aside his supporters--and they number in lakhs - even his political rivals seem to be in awe of him.

"Barkatda is not judged for what he's done for Malda in the recent past. What he had done earlier has endeared him to the people and that'll never die away. He provided jobs to more than one lakh people here. His gifts to Malda are innumerable - the NTPC project, the railway divisional headquarters, the roads, bridges and other projects," said Trinamool leader and chairman of Englishbazar municipality Krishnendu Choudhury.

"We don't dispute what Barkatda has done for Malda. But he can't do any more because of his age, and we want the baton to be passed on to the younger generation," said Malda's CPI(M) candidate Pranab Das.

In any other poverty-stricken and under-developed constituency, a candidate doing the rounds in an air-conditioned Mercedes wouldn't have stood a chance.

Not so in Malda. Monarchs are, after all, expected to live and travel imperially.

At election meetings he is helped on to the dais, people cheer him, a Maulana or priest appears and recites a prayer, Barkatda waves at the crowd, eliciting more cheers before he is whisked away. His subjects are happy - Barkatda was in their midst and they'd be privileged to vote for him. In fact, they can't even dream of voting for anyone else - that will be treason.



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