Ghani Khan's death leaves a void in politics

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Special Correspondent

He was a strong advocate of the concept of an anti-Left Front electoral alliance

He was a "distinguished colleague," says Somnath Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Biman Bose, Mamata Banerjee condole deathServed as Minister in State Government, at Centre

Kolkata: Abu Barkat Ataul Ghani Khan Choudhury, veteran Congress leader and former Union Minister, passed away in a Kolkata nursing home on Friday morning. He was 78.

Ghani Khan, admitted hospitalised on April 3 with severe abdominal pain, was suffering from acute pancreatitis. He died following multi-organ failure. He was on ventilator support for the past few days.

Many of his followers and senior party colleagues reached the nursing home on hearing of his death. The body was taken to the West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee office, where it was kept for mourners to pay their last respects to "Barkatda," as he was popularly known. It will be flown to Malda on Saturday and taken to his residence at Kotawali. The funeral is expected to take place later in the day.

The former West Bengal Chief Minister, Jyoti Basu, expressed grief over the death and offered his condolences to the bereaved family. Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee described Ghani Khan as a "distinguished colleague" and recalled his "invaluable services" in various capacities as Minister, MP, and member of various parliamentary committees.

Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, out of the city on electioneering, condoled his death. State Secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Left Front chairman Biman Bose said: "Though he was my political opponent we had a very cordial relationship."

"National loss"

"It is a national loss," said Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi.

His death had left a "void" in State politics, Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee said. She regretted that their joint efforts to forge a "mahajot" (grand alliance) of anti-Left forces in the State had not materialised.

A leading figure in West Bengal politics, Ghani Khan served as a Minister both in the State Government and at the Centre in different stages of his career. He had stints as general secretary of the All-India Congress Committee and president of the West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee. He was a strong advocate of the concept of an anti-Left Front electoral alliance of the Congress and the Trinamool Congress ever since the formation of the latter in the late 1990s after a split in the Congress.

Major setback

The death of Ghani Khan comes as a major setback to the Congress. A pall of gloom descended across his home district, Malda, in north Bengal, as news of the death spread. Local party leaders, including from the CPI (M), suspended all electioneering for the coming two days as a mark of respect. His absence will be sorely felt on efforts to bring together different factions of the party in Malda before the elections.

Ghani Khan held the portfolios of Coal and Energy, Railways and Programme Implementation in the Union Cabinet from 1980 to 1987. He was a Minister in the State Cabinet from 1971 to 1977.

Born on November 1, 1927, Ghani Khan first became an MLA in 1952. He was elected to the Lok Sabha for eight consecutive terms and to the West Bengal Legislative five times.

He contributed in a large way to the development of Malda district and played a major role in the construction of the metro rail in Kolkata.



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