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WEST BENGAL

In Jhargram, Red brigade has royal fight on its hands

Friday 14 April 2006, by NAGCHOUDHURY*Subrata

Jhargram (West Midnapore), April 13 : He isn’t so different from you and me. If you are looking for the quintessential royal touch, Jhargram Maharaja Sailendravijoy Malladeb wouldn’t even be in the reckoning - the self-effacing, mild mannered man in his early 50s wears the common man’s apparel and slogs it out from dawn till midnight in his chappals.

Yet, he is different. Sailendravijoy Malladeb (or Durgesh, as he is known to all and sundry) comes from an illustrious lineage - he is one of the two sons of the last Jhargram Maharaja, the departed Birendravijoy Malladeb. And Malladeb hasn’t merely inherited a great lineage, he has inherited his father’s inclination towards politics, as well.

Malladeb, a popular figure in Jhargram town, is contesting the April 17 battle of ballots from Jhargram Assembly constituency on a Congress ticket and is pitted against CPI(M)’s Amar Bose, who, though a seasoned hand in politics, is a debutant in the elections.

Malladeb has taken up the cudgel almost 22 years since his father Birendravijoy lost a poll battle in 1977, after winning two successive terms in the West Bengal Assembly from 1969.

Though much of the Jhargram maharaja’s pomp and wealth, royalty and tradition have faded into the past, Jayanta Bhattacharya, the family’s chief accountant, says history goes that Sailendravijoy is the 22nd generation of royalty. According to Bhattacharya, the first was Sarbeshwar Malla Ugal Sanda Deb, who migrated here from Rajasthan in 1572, and after a pilgrimage to the Puri temple he moved to extend his territory in Jhargram and set up his dynasty.

At its prime, the kingdom spread over 1,200 square miles, which shrunk to about 252 square miles when the Estate Acquisition Act was enacted in 1954.

Now, confined to barely 100 acres, the ?royalty’ is epitomised by the imposing palace shared by Malladeb and his younger brother Joydip.

The family has now converted a part of the palace into a resort in collaboration with the West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation - 80 percent of the revenue earned from tourism going to the family account, with the rest going to the WBTDC.

But besides the palace, the entire Jhargram town has a generous sprinkling of the royal family’s property - the Jhargram Raj College, the Kumud Kumari Institution Higher Secondary School, Raja Narasimha Malla Academy in Ragra, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar Polytechnic being some of the academic institutions established by the family.

But gone are lifestyle, and the riches, and royal gun salutes are performed rarely to mark special events. Even the businesses the two brothers run today are mundane: four brick kilns, a bar-cum-restaurant, a petrol pump and a weighbridge.

But the real excitement strikes when you find Malladeb walking amid the crowd. Like a commoner. Locals say a solid vote bank for him is the large number of rickshaw-pullers in the town, who call him by his first name “Durgesh”. And for all you know, it might just be the right weapon for a maharaja’s son to take on the Marxists.

See online : The Indian Express

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