There is a saying that Malda prefers to live in its past and this is the reason why dynast of Congress leader (late) Abu Barkat Ataur Ghani Khan Choudhury, fondly remembered as ‘Barkatda’, still dominates this bordering district of Bengal which was once governed by Buddhist king, the Hindu rulers and the Muslim Nawabs, nearly 1,400 years ago.
From 1957 (when Barkatda was first elected as an MLA to the West Bengal state legislative Assembly) to getting elected to the 7th Lok Sabha in 1980 from Malda and representing the same constituency for eight straight terms speaks a lot about his political clout in West Bengal politics. Such was his political dominance that in 1982 (till 1984), he was made the Minister of Railways during the Congress government at the Centre.
Since then a lot of water has flown under the bridge and till today, 15 years after Barkatda’s death, his family members from their ancestral palatial ‘kothi’ in Kotwali continue to hold the keys in Malda politics and refuses to share a slice of its famous succulent mangoes (which grows abundantly in this part of Bengal), despite ‘bodol’ (change) in 2011 when Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee came to power in the State ousting the 34-year rule of the Left Front government.
Three years later, in 2014 when BJP came to power at the Centre, the BJP intensified their focus on West Bengal under vision ‘Purvodaya’ (rising east) and in less than seven years the saffron brigade has turned out be Mamata’s biggest bête noire with their exponential growth in the State after winning 18 out of 42 Lok Sabha seats in 2019.
However, despite Mamata’s thumping victory in 2011, Malda prefers to live in its past because in 2016, out of 12 Assembly seats, including seven seats (Habibpur, Gazole (SC), Chanchal, Harishchandrapur, Malatipur, Ratua and Malda) in North Malda and five seats (Manikchak, English Bazar, Mothabari, Sujapur, Baisnabnagar) in South Malda (though Farakka and Samserganj is in South Malda but these two seats falls under Murshidabad Assembly constituency), Trinamool Congress won none.
The saying (Malda prefers to live in its past) was once again proved evident when sitting MP Mausam Noor, former Congress MP but fought the last Lok Sabha on TMC ticket, lost to BJP’s Khagen Murmu in Malda North.
Many felt that Noor ditched the legacy of Barkatda and she paid a heavy price for it and BJP left no chance to capitalise this golden opportunity.
However, the Malda South seat was secured by Ghani Khan Chowdhury’s brother Abu Hasem Khan Chowdhury (Congress), popularly known as ‘Dalu da’. He won the seat by defeating BJP’s Sreerupa Mitra Chaudhury. TMC’s Md Moazzem Hossain stood third with 27.47% vote share.
In simple words, those (Dalu) who contested on Congress ticket managed to win, and those (Noor) who shifted to TMC camps from the Congress were seen as traitors.
Speaking to News18.com, senior Congress leader in Malda, Enarul Hoque, said, “BJP won the Malda North Lok Sabha seat because of Noor’s wrong decision in the last Lok Sabha. This gave BJP a good platform in all the seven Assembly seats in Malda North. This is the reason why BJP’s National President JP Nadda is here in Malda today. BJP central leadership sensed it well that they have good prospects this time in the upcoming Assembly polls in Malda.”
Due to poor influence of ruling TMC and Noor’s blunder, as believed by the district Congress leaders, the BJP over the years forced Malda to believe in present and not in the past as they managed to make significant in-roads in Malda, Habibpur, Gazole (SC), Baishnabnagar and in English Bazar Assembly seats.
In 2016 Assembly polls, out of 12 seats in Malda, the Congress won eight seats, while the TMC secured one seat after CPI(M) winning candidate Dipali Biswas from Gazole (North Malda) switched to TMC in 2016.
In 2020, Dipali Biswas quit TMC and joined the BJP and insiders claimed that she is finding it difficult to work in the BJP. Political experts feel that this internal rift is going to help CPI(M) to secure the Gazole seat this time.
The CPI(M) candidate Khagen Murmu, now in the BJP, won the Habibpur seat while BJP’s Swadhin Kumar Sarkar won the Baishnabnagar seat. In Malda, this time it will be a direct contest between the Congress and the BJP as the ground situation for the TMC in Malda is not so favourable except in English Bazar, if TMC field heavyweight leader Krishnendu Narayan Choudhury.
Not the least in the last Lok Sabha in 2019, the TMC lost both the two seats covering 12 assembly seats to BJP. In nutshell, the TMC has never won any constitutional seats in Malda till date except that fact that post 2016 state poll, four MLAs shifted to the TMC including one Independent, one from the CPI(M) and two from the Congress. In 2014, BJP’s vote share in north Bengal was around 22% but it increased to 46% in 2019.
A close look behind the TMC’s failure in North Bengal revealed that party’s internal rift is giving a platform to the BJP to make significant advances in North Bengal despite having Muslim population of nearly 50 per cent.
Post 2016, many leaders from CPI(M) and the Congress jumped to the TMC and formed their own lobby, which is locally known as ‘Congress Trinamool Lobby’ and ‘CPI(M) Trinamool Lobby’.
Some of the local level leaders switched to the TMC to save themselves from police action as they were allegedly involved in cattle smuggling, fake currency racket, banned drug racket, etc. It was often noticed that people from these two lobbies are fighting among themselves over area domination while running these rackets.
Therefore, the central BJP leadership and President JP Nadda has selectively picked up Malda for mega public shows in recent past through rallies and ‘parivartan yatras’.
Now sensing that BJP’s strong base in Malda is going to have its significant impact in all the 54 Assembly constituencies in the entire North Bengal, the saffron brigade has decided to send Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to wrap up the parivartan yatra from Gazole in Malda district.
Primarily, Gazole is dominated by the tribal people but with the siding of two important tribal fronts – Adivasi Sengel Abhiyan (ASA) and Jharkhand Disom Party (JDP) –towards Mamata, it will be interesting to see BJP’s game plan to secure all the 12 Assembly seats in Malda.