Subhas adds drama to show
Truce no damper on rebel fire
Little citizens in the forefront
Buddha pips Manab to infotech chair
Sonia open to ties with Laloo
Firing near Sangma’s campaign site
Rebels ban non-Christian festivals in Tripura dist

 
 
SUBHAS ADDS DRAMA TO SHOW 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb 5 
A show of strength by party detractors of transport minister Subhas Chakraborty drew their main target, but not the crowds.

However, the much-hyped rally caused a complete dislocation of traffic in central Calcutta for at least five hours on Saturday.

Held ostensibly to protest the Centre’s “apathy to the state’s development”, the rally by the Left Front’s North 24-Parganas district committee had deliberately cold-shouldered the minister. He had been kept out of the preparations. The speakers’ list, too, did not include his name or those of his loyalists in the district panel. However, he put in a brief appearance, fuelling speculation that it was stage-managed.

Apart from adopting a memorandum of 51 demands, the rally called for a protracted movement to counter “the terror unleashed by the BJP and Trinamul Congress”. The meeting stalled traffic at Esplanade, on Jawaharlal Nehru Road, Chittaranjan Avenue, Lenin Sarani and S.N. Banerjee Road. Participants sat on the road and the buses they came in were parked at random. Police failed to manage even a single lane for flow of vehicles.

Finance minister Asim Dasgupta was directing traffic police from the dais so the rally buses could reach the venue.

The rally itself was not impressive, despite the district leaders’ efforts at maximum mobilisation and a blitz of publicity in CPM mouthpiece Ganashakti. The poor turnout vindicated Chakraborty’s earlier assertion that the rally would not be a success without his complete involvement.

Chakraborty’s arrival was a boost for the rally, as the party was anxious to put up a show of unity. This was apparent from the manner in which state CPM secretary Anil Biswas welcomed the transport minister to the dais

The crowd rose in cheers as soon as Chakraborty reached the venue. Senior state committee leaders Sailen Dasgupta, Niren Ghosh and Santi Ghatak were present on the dais. A chair was placed for Chakraborty beside Biswas. District secretary Amitava Bose and Amitava Nandi, Chakraborty’s main detractors, exchanged pleasantries with him.

Though Chakraborty loyalists like Gopal Bhattacharya, Nani Kar, Ranjit Kundu, Kamal Sen, Mustafa bin Qashem and Jiten Mondal were at the rally, they were not allowed on the dais. Another loyalist, housing minister Gautam Deb, did not turn up.

Bose and Nandi urged the minister to address the crowd but Chakraborty declined, citing a throat problem.    


 
 
TRUCE NO DAMPER ON REBEL FIRE 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Feb 5 
Rebel leader Saifuddin Choudhury has not budged from his plea for greater inner-party democracy and liberalisation, despite the CPM’s bid to enter into a temporary truce with him before the municipal elections.

A day after the party’s state secretariat claimed the rebel had “regretted his media statements,” a defiant Choudhury reiterated his stand on the “vital issues”, on his arrival here from Delhi on Saturday afternoon.

“There is no question of changing our stand on inner-party democracy, liberalisation and revision of party programme and we will continue to raise the issues in the interest of the organisation,” he said.

“I had warned the party about the BJP’s rise, but the leadership had paid no heed. We have to ponder about the BJP’s phenomenal growth. It is pointless simply to talk about secularism. The party has to adopt a concrete political programme to uphold our secular credentials,” he said.Underscoring the need for fighting fascism, Choudhury said: “Look at what is happening in Austria. Joerg Haider, a staunch Nazi, has come to power there.”

Choudhury’s stand indicates that the impasse between hardliners and rebels is far from being resolved, despite the apparent truce. Choudhury, served a showcause notice in January, in his reply had only “regretted the inconvenience caused by his media statements to the party.”

The one-paragraph press release issued by the CPM state secretariat after Friday’s meeting did not touch on the issues raised by the rebel leader at various fora. Choudhury’s decision to “regret” his airing of views to the press sends the signal that the fight is not yet over. CPM insiders said the party had no intention of making a hero out of Choudhury and turning popular support in his favour, with the municipal polls drawing near.

The hardliners rule out Choudhury’s rehabilitation in the party, saying he has “gone too far with the rebellion for democracy and demand for liberalisation in the party to come back into the mainstream... He was dropped from the central committee and denied a Lok Sabha ticket. How does the question of rehabilitation arise?” asked a state party leader. Insiders do not rule out an eventual split.

The party functionary conceded that the CPM will not try to expel Choudhury or take any drastic action against him, in deference to the wishes of hardliners like Benoy Konar and Nirupam Sen. The leadership intends to avert a fresh controversy which may affect the party’s prospects in the municipal polls.

Choudhury, on his part, does not want to rub up the party the wrong way before the polls and is willing to follow a “policy of wait-and-watch.”

He will address an SFI camp at Mograhat, in South 24-Parganas, on Sunday. He is expected to meet the other two rebel leaders, transport minister Subhas Chakraborty and Samir Putatunda, secretary of the South 24-Parganas unit, to discuss a course of action.    


 
 
LITTLE CITIZENS IN THE FOREFRONT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb 5 
A wonderful two hours capped seven months of sincere, enthusiastic and dedicated work by over 50,000 schoolchildren during the Better Calcutta Contest awards ceremony on Saturday.

And at the end of it, the adults at the packed Science City auditorium had a lot to learn. For the children, representing 30 institutions from across the city, showed how action was possible in a variety of ways that would make Calcutta a better place to live in.

The children, from primary and senior schools and institutions for the handicapped, took part in a wide variety of activities. Be it educating street children, organising blood donation drives, beautifying the environment, creating awareness about diseases and hygiene or holding anti-drug rallies, each child had contributed to improving life in Calcutta.

“I hate to love Calcutta... disrupted cricket matches, burning buses, closed factories... But today, for the first time, I’m extremely proud to be a Calcuttan. And all because of you... You are cleaning up the mess that we adults have made,” said Victor Banerjee in his keynote address, as applause rang out from the audience.

“I thank you, and your parents and principals, for having allowed you to work on your projects. I also thank the organisers for having the gumption to realise that children can do better than adults. Please continue to make Calcutta a city all of us will be proud of.”

The increasingly-popular contest is organised annually by the ICC Calcutta Foundation to promote greater social and environmental awareness among the adults of tomorrow, involving them in projects that inculcate a sense of responsibility.

This year, the contest was sponsored by the Foundation, Britannia Industries and The Telegraph. The main prizes were in three categories.

The Telegraph Trophy first prize for social excellence was bagged by Loreto Day School. Besides running Rainbow, a school for Sealdah station’s platform children, the students also held a massive polio awareness drive.

The second prize in the category went to Aditya Academy Secondary School, while a joint third prize was awarded to St Xavier’s Collegiate School and Carmel Primary School.

The ICC Trophy for creative excellence went to Calcutta International School for spreading awareness on pollution through a door-to-door campaign and conducting a survey of problems in the city. The second and third positions were bagged by St Joseph & Mary School and Future Foundation, respectively.

By conducting workshops on food, malaria, TB and leprosy with the help of experts, students of Sreegopal Vidyamandir learnt and taught others how disease could be prevented. They won the first prize in the Britannia Trophy for healthy living category.

The second spot went to St John’s Diocesan Girls’ School, while Sanat Roy Chowdhury Institution bagged the third prize. In addition, five special prizes and 15 merit awards were given away. Among the recipients were the Centre for Special Education of the Institute of Cerebral Palsy, the Chowringhee KG and High School and Disharee Montessori.

As the function closed to the strains of Heal the World, sung by students of various schools, one felt the children had not participated in the contest only for a prize. They really wanted to make Calcutta “a better place for you and for me.”    


 
 
BUDDHA PIPS MANAB TO INFOTECH CHAIR 
 
 
BY KUNAL SENGUPTA
 
Calcutta, Feb 5 
Deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya will head the state’s new information technology (IT) department. The rules of business are being formulated, which sources in the state secretariat said should be ready by the middle of the month. Once the process is completed, the new IT department will be opened formally.

Initially, state environment minister Manab Mukherjee was tipped to take over as the first IT minister of West Bengal. But, sources said, the responsibility was entrusted to Bhattacharya because he is senior to Mukherjee.

Bhattacharya will don the mantle under instruction from chief minister Jyoti Basu. Despite assurances by senior Left Front leaders that computerisation did not mean an erosion of employment, there is still an undercurrent of doubt among employees.

The state government’s IT policy promises to network the entire state and district operations. A senior bureaucrat said almost all the district and zilla parishad offices had computers installed.

“It’s not going to be difficult to hook them on to a network, and if some machines need to be upgraded, it shall be done,” he said.

The IT department will engage consultants to draw up a detailed plan on networking. Several surveys have been completed to assess the extent to which the government’s functions need to be computerised.

The state finance department has been extensively computerised. The National Informatics Centre has provided the software for full, on-line budgeting for the state’s annual plan.

Sources said the government will build a thorough database of land records, tax and revenue collection. Key sectors like healthcare and urban affairs will be monitored from a centralised computer hub.

Bhattacharya’s other department, police, is an area the state wants computerised. “This is a vital sector and the sooner we can do it, the better. Data on crime and criminal activity can then be readily available,” the official said.    


 
 
SONIA OPEN TO TIES WITH LALOO 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Daltonganj, Feb. 5 
The Congress in Bihar has kept its options open for a post-poll alliance with the ruling RJD if the latter ends up within striking distance of cobbling together a majority in the 364-member House.

The party, which is contesting all the Assembly seats on its own after snapping ties with Laloo Prasad Yadav, has kept its anti-Laloo tirade low-key. Instead, it has launched a vitriolic attack against the BJP, often joining issue with the RJD in the process.

So far, AICC president Sonia Gandhi has only differed withthe RJD on the statehood issue. Reiterating her party’s stand on Vananchal, she said the Congress was committed to the formation of a separate state. She accused the BJP of adopting a carrot and stick policy on the issue. In her election rallies at Hazaribagh, Daltonganj, Gumla, Jamshedpur and Chaibasa, she refused to mention Laloo Prasad Yadav’s name while referring to militancy and caste conflicts in the state.

At Ranchi airport, she maintained a studied silence on the issue of a post-poll alignment with Laloo Yadav and said, “In case of a hung Assembly, Congress will take a appropriate decision on which party to align with”.

[However, AICC spokesman Ajit Jogi today denied any secret poll pact with the RJD to keep the BJP at bay. He said the Congress had not entered into any poll alliance in the state and fielded candidates in all the 364 seats, adds our Ranchi correspondent.

[He said barring the issue of the imposition of President’s rule in the state at the behest of the BJP-led government in 1998, the Congress had never sided with the ruling RJD.]

Like all other election campaigns, Sonia Gandhi stuck to her written speech, which lasted barely 10 minutes. “Terrorism and statehood were the only two subjects on which she was briefed in Delhi”, said a senior Congress leader in Palamau. Though her rallies proved to be major draws, the crowd remained uninspired.

According to estimates, over 50,000 people attended her rallies in Jamshedpur and Chaibasa, 45,000 in Hazaribagh, 30,000 in Gumla and 25,000 in Daltonganj. However, for local party leaders, the response was overwhelming.

The crowd occasionally broke into titters when Gandhi mispronounced names of local leaders. Mohsina Kidwai had a tough time remembering the name of the Garwah district president much to the amusement of the people.

At Palamau, Sonia Gandhi dwelt on the lawlessness of the state and the sense of fear that has gripped the region.

She said people of the district were still poor despite the region’s rich mineral resources. “Besides giving a stable government to the Centre, it is the Congress alone that is capable of ensuring a separate state,” she said. Though she warned against social fragmentation by political parties, she refused to dwell on the nitty-gritty of the caste conflict.

She hinged her speeches on development issues and said her party was largely responsible for the state’s progress. “That is the reason why the Congress tally went down to 114 from 144 in the last Lok Sabha polls,’’ a local resident pointed out.    


 
 
FIRING NEAR SANGMA’S CAMPAIGN SITE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Imphal, Feb. 5 
Suspected militants today opened fire near Saikul’s community park when former Lok Sabha Speaker and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) general secretary Purno A. Sangma was attending an election meeting.

No one was injured in the incident, but people panicked and ran helter-skelter. Police and Manipur Rifles swung into action, but the militants managed to flee. Police sources said two motor-cycle borne youths had opened fire from automatic weapons.

Sangma had gone to Saikul, 35 km from here, to address an election meeting of NCP candidate Chungkhokai Doungel. Sangma later said it was a “thrilling experience.’’ NCP youth wing president, Kh. Iboyaima said he took Sangma inside the SDO’s office as soon as the firing started.    


 
 
REBELS BAN NON-CHRISTIAN FESTIVALS IN TRIPURA DIST 
 
 
FROM SEKHAR DATTA
 
Agartala, Feb. 5 
The All-Tripura Tiger Force and the National Liberation Front of Tripura have imposed a ban on Hindu and Muslim festivals in the interior areas of the state. The outfits have even banned the celebration of Saraswati Puja. According to official sources, more than 200 schools and 500 clubs have decided not to organise the puja this year. All the schools in the interior areas of Khowai, Kanchanpur, Longtarai valley, Gandacherra, Amarpur and parts of Bishalgarh subdivision have been asked not to celebrate the puja.

The Tiger Force threatened school authorities in Tulashikar, Rajnagar and Ramchandraghat in Khowai subdivision with dire consequences if they organised the puja in defiance of the ban.

The militants directed the recipients to warn other institutions that if “any other festival was ever observed in these schools except Christian ones, they would be meted out severe punishment.’’

The militant fiat has put the teachers in a fix because subscriptions for Saraswati Puja has already been collected from the students.

Authorities are planning to suspend festivities and refund the money. Official sources pleaded helplessness saying, “What can we do? We are short of security forces and our demand for the same is yet to be fulfilled by the Centre”.

Over the past three years, militants backed by the Church imposed bans on non-tribal religious festivals. But this is the first time Muslims have also been targeted.

Coming in the wake of the gangrape of several Muslim women in the remote Raiabari village under Udaipur subdivision, the ban on religious festivals has become a major source of concern of the minority community.

SDO’s bodyguard killed

In the first major incident of militant attack in this capital city, suspected United Bengali Liberation Front (UBLF) rebels killed the personal security officer of SDO Sadar Sukram Debbarma here tonight. The condition of the SDO and his driver, who were injured in the incident, is stated to be critical.

Police said the suspected militants had been lurking in the vicinity and hurled bombs just when Debbarma was about to get into his car and leave for home. With this attack, the UBLF has killed 13 people in five months.    

 

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