There are two prominent statues in Malda, one of Netaji in the city centre and the other of A B A Ghani Khan Choudhury 10 km away, next to the flyover that turns into a road leading to Kotwali. A decade years after the Congress veteran’s death in 2006, he remains central to all politics in Malda.
At a tea stall near Kumarganj railway station in Maltipur, Mohammad Khursheed Ali, 34, had just attended an unofficial TMC meeting. “They can say whatever they want. We will all vote for the Congress, for Ghani Khan,” he said. “This air, this land, the water — Ghani Khan is everywhere.”
Town elders say the continuing loyalty to Ghani Khan can be attributed to the amount of work he had got done, and the jobs distributed during his tenure as minister of state for railways. “There is a famous story about Ghani Khan that every child here knows. When someone approached him for a job, Ghani Khan picked up a matchbox lying in front of him and scribbled something and sent it to an official in his department,” said one elder. “The person got the job.”
Ghani Khan had got embankments built, electricity and irrigation water brought to farmers, schools and colleges set up, madrasas recognised, rural banks and public health care dispensaries set up. And Malda has the Ghani Khan Choudhury Institute of Engineering and Technology.
Next to the institute in Kotwali lies his grave, on the other side stands his faded, sky blue home. The bungalow is modest for a family of “rulers” of generations — first as feudal lords, then as elected representatives.
In a parking shed, his old, dusty Mercedes had sunk into the ground. Outside was a jeep, now broken down, in which he once campaigned, the Congress palm painted on its side. At the entrance of the bungalows were parked two SUVs — one with a Congress flag, the other with the Trinamool tricolor.
Ghani Khan’s family is now a divided one.
His niece Shehnaz Quadery, daughter of his sister, is the Trinamool candidate from Ratua. “My uncle used to take me on rounds of his constituency in his jeep. His children used to live in England, so I guess I filled that void. I learnt politics from him’’ she said.
“I wanted to contest on a Congress ticket but my uncle Abu Hasem (Ghani Khan’s brother) said I couldn’t get one. So I went to Trinamool Congress instead.”
Two other members of the family are MPs, Ghani Khan’s brother Abu Hasem Ghani Khan Choudhury from South Malda and niece Mausam Noor (daughter of another sister) from North Malda, both Congress.
And two others besides Quadery are contesting the assembly elections. Abu Hasem’s son Isha Khan Choudhury, the current MLA from Vaishnavnagar, is the Congress candidate from Sujapur, Ghani Khan’s home constituency. Against him is his uncle Abu Nasar, another brother of Ghani Khan and now the Trinamool candidate.
“We didn’t even know that my brother was switching parties,” Abu Hasem said. “He didn’t even have the courtesy to inform me. I saw it on the news that he was getting a TMC ticket. At least Shehnaz called me and told me of her decision, which I appreciate.”
Sujapur is vital to the Congress and the party. “Since the 1950s, we have never lost Sujapur. My youngest sister Rubinoor was a four-time MLA from there,’’ he said.
“It’s not such a bad thing,” Quadery said. “Our political views are our own. For the first time in history, flags and processions of both the Congress and the Trinamool will leave the compound of the same home.”