A day before the crucial panchayat polls in this Congress bastion, which is being held in the shadow of fear and possible terror, the present crop of Congress leaders is fighting comparison with the late messiah of Malda, ABA Ghani Khan Chowdhury, and the challenge posed by his own prodigies from the Trinamool camp.
Congress won the Malda zilla parishad from the CPI(M) in 2003, the year before Ghani Khan Chowdhury’s death.
Congress defeated the CPI(M) by a slender margin in 2008. And 10 years later, there is a perception that Ghani Khan Chowdhury’s successors in Kotwali - Union minister of state for health AH Khan Chowdhury, MP Mausam Benazir Noor and MLA Isha Khan Chowdhury - have not lived up to expectations.
“It is wrong to compare with Ghani Khan Chowdhury. He was a powerful Union Cabinet minister for so many years. He was Indira Gandhi’s close aide. He did all in 50 years, people must also give us time,” said Mausam.
“He is a pioneer who revolutionised villages,” said Isha Khan Chowdhury.
Mausam agreed that many areas of Malda like Gajol, Habibpur, Bamangola, Mothabari and Manikchak are yet to be developed. While the first three places are droughtaffected, the second two are flood prone.
If AH Khan Chowdhury has brought in central floods to prevent erosion in Manikchak, Mausam repaired the 80-km-long Mahananda embankment.
In addition, Kotwali family got funds from different central schemes to lay roads, build houses for the poor, provide drinking water etc.
“Unlike Ghani Khan Chowdhury’s time when funds used to be allocated directly, now everything is tied to the scheme. He gave lot a of jobs, now it is not easy. Development work has slowed down after him,” said Isha explaining the predicament of the family being compared with the Congress’ former Union railways, power, irrigation and coal minister Ghani Khan Chowdhury.
In the last four years, AH Khan Chowdhury and Mausam have got more than R1,000 crore central funds for development work. But the Kotwali family said 10 years is too short a time to turn around a district whose Zilla Parishad was inefficiently ruled by the CPI(M) for 20 years before that.
“Development of Malda is uppermost in the minds of Kotwali,” said AH Khan Chowdhury.
What is making the Congress’ run difficult is the strident challenge being posed by Ghani Khan Chowdhury prodigies - state minister for tourism Krishnendu Narayan Chowdhury and state minister for women development Sabitri Mitra.
Both leading the Trinamool campaign said the House of Kotwali is not living up to the ideals of Ghani Khan Chowdhury and his pro-people policies for Malda.
“Ghani Khan Chowdhury is dead and his successors have failed to serve the people. I was in the Congress. I left it and won the by-election as a Triamool candidate from English Bazar. People will vote for the Trinamool,” said Krishnendu.
Sabitri left the Congress before the 2011 Assembly polls and won the Manikchak seat as a Trinamool candidate and thereafter she has been going for the Congress’ jugular. Both Kirshnendu and Sabitri claimed the central funds were actually part of the state government’s share and therefore Kotwali cannot take the credit for work done with it.
“Ghani Khan Chowdhury’s image and reputation are being misused to fool the people and garner votes by the Congress and the Kotwali family. It will not work,” said Krishnendu. Trinamool is looking for a sizeable number in the 36-seat zilla parishad. A situation to emerge as the largest party in the body to keep the CPI(M) out.
Trinamool in the last two years is aggressively promoting tourism, electrifying, developing town and rural infrastructure, constructed a minority bhavan, a hostel each for boys and girls, etc.
“AH Khan Chowdhury is a bad administrator. We asked for a trauma care unit, ICU and burn unit here, he has done nothing,” said Krishnendu.
He said in the Muslim dominated areas like Kaliachak, Shujapur, Mothabari, Harishchandrapur, Ratua and in the backward areas of Gajol, Habibpur, Manikchak and Bamangola they will upset the Congress. In English Bazar too, victory is certain.
“The CPI(M) is helping the Congress,” said Sabitri.
Reeling under the attack of Ghani Khan Chowdhury’s prodigies, Mausam said these two are former Congress leaders and if they say that the Congress board did nothing they are also demeaning them. “People will see through their opportunism and malicious campaigns,” alleged Mausam.