Rosogolla toast to gravy train
Honour for Ram, search for Water
Budget silences CPM
CPM wrests Cong seats
Subhas swaps socialism slogan for nationalism
Petrol pump strike put off
Manipur sticks to tradition
AGP wins Majuli byelection
ISI opens cell in Dhaka to liaison with militants

 
 
ROSOGOLLA TOAST TO GRAVY TRAIN 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 25 
Hazra Park, near Mamata Banerjee’s Harish Chatterjee Street residence, was a riot of colour on Friday afternoon as Trinamul Congress workers and supporters sprinkled orange and green abir on one another.

Thrilled with the ‘Bengal’ rail budget that their beloved didi had presented in Parliament, they distributed rosogolla and kalakand among residents and passers-by.

“We are proud of didi. She is the first woman railway minister in the country. Hers is a journey from the streets of Calcutta to the Rail Bhavan. And what a pro-people budget she has given us,” beamed Samir Sutradhar, Trinamul youth leader in south Calcutta.

In the morning, Mamata had been anxious to find out the pre-budget mood at home. At 8 am, she rang up her mother at Kalighat. “Ma ashirbad karo (Mother bless me),” she told her mother emotionally.

“Tears rolled down her (Mamata’s mother) cheeks as she whispered, ashirbad korchhi, bhalo theko,” said a member of the rail minister’s family.

The Trinamul youth wing had organised a big do at Girish Park where on-the-spot budget analyses was being conducted by economists and financial experts who answered telephone calls from the common people on the budget proposals. Calls poured in from places like Kharagpur, Jagachha and Howrah apart from all corners of the city. A city-based private satellite television channel telecast the programme ‘live’.

“We advertised our telephone numbers for the past four days seeking public response and it really was overwhelming,” said Trinamul youth wing president Sanjoy Bakshi.

Trinamul Congress functionaries had set up colour televisions at no less than 30 major points to beam the Mamata budget speech live to Calcuttans. A 53 cm colour set found pride of place beneath the Sealdah flyover.

Other sets were placed near the taxi stand at Howrah station, the Shyambazar five-point crossing, Hatibagan, Sovabazar, Dunlop Bridge, Burrabazar, Vivekanda Road and Rabindra Sarani crossing, Gariahat, Bhowanipore, Tollygunge and Behala.

The Trinamul roadshow proved a huge hit in areas like Girish Park, Hazra Park and the 8-B bus stand at Jadavpur where giant video beam screens were erected to telecast the budget speech. As Mamata announced one pro-Bengal proposal after another, the cheers grew louder.

“We all wanted to project this as a mega event. And such a popular budget will give us an edge over the ruling CPM in Calcutta before the civic polls,” said Trinamul youth leader Tapas Dutta.

At Mamata’s house in Kalighat, supporters and loyalists thronged the small party office since morning. “Our office reception is so small that at one point it seemed as if the roof would collapse. But no one was ready to miss the big day,” said Shekhar Guha, one of Mamata’s trusted lieutenants.

At 4 pm, the railway minister rang up her office secretary for nearly 20 years, Manick Majumdar to enquire about the public reaction to her first budget in her city.

Most Calcuttans welcomed the budget, the immediate reaction being one of relief as there had been no hike in train fares.

“The budget appears to be the best in years. Mamata Banerjee has lived up to our expectations,” said Krishna Dhar, a daily passenger from Shantipur to Sealdah.    


 
 
HONOUR FOR RAM, SEARCH FOR WATER 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 25 

After laying out the red carpet for Deepa Mehta on Thursday and providing her with special security on Friday while she checked out some locations for Water, the state government has decided to felicitate Kamal Haasan for Hey Ram.

This comes in the wake of Congress-led attacks on city halls screening the film.

Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty said, on Friday, that Haasan, along with other members of his unit, will be felicitated on March 7 at Netaji Indoor Stadium.

The film will also be screened in the stadium during the function organised by the West Bengal Sports Council in association with IPTA, the cultural wing of CPM.

“Kamal Haasan has made a really good film for which he deserves proper acknowledgement. This is a film that highlights the unity-in-diversity theme,” said Chakraborty.

The minister, who saw the film at Priya, spoke to Kamal Haasan on Friday. The director has, apparently, agreed to be present for the function.

“The attacks on Hey Ram were carried out by some ignorant barbarians with ulterior motives. Nowhere in the film was Gandhiji denigrated. It is the handiwork of those who want to turn a “krishi desh” (land of peasants) into “rishi desh” (land of sages),” said Chakraborty.

Meanwhile, Deepa Mehta spent the day visiting several spots in and around the city, under tight security, to try and select a site for shooting Water.

According to senior police officers, the filmmaker and some members of her unit made a trip to banks of the Hooghly in Barrackpore. She also went to Gandhighat, Ranighat, Shibghat and Rani Rashmanighat near Dakshineswar Kali temple.

Mehta then returned to the city and headed for the waterfront. She took a launch ride down the Hooghly to several spots like Outramghat, Babughat, etc.

Deputy commissioner of police, headquarters, Nazrul Islam said that elaborate security arrangements had been made for the Canadian citizen during her day-long recce.

The special branch of the city police was also asked to gather information about the possibility of demonstrations being staged if and when she starts shooting in Calcutta.

Sources close to the filmmaker said Mehta had “liked some locations”, but had not yet decided whether she would finally shoot the film in the state.    


 
 
BUDGET SILENCES CPM 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 25 
Finding no apparent holes in Mamata Banerjee’s maiden please-all rail budget, her main detractors, West Bengal’s ruling CPM today took recourse to the familiar “no-comments” drill.

“We neither welcome nor denounce the budget,” was all that CPM state secretary and politburo member Anil Biswas would say. Biswas said there are provisions for a lot of new projects in the budget. “But we don’t understand from where the money will come,” he said.

Front constituent Forward Bloc, on the other hand, observed that Mamata had tabled the budget with an eye on the forthcoming civic elections and next year’s Assembly polls. “This is purely a well-orchestrated political budget to gain people’s confidence before the elections,” complained Forward Bloc state secretary Ashok Ghosh. “But past experiences have shown that projects mentioned in the budget have never been implemented,” he added.

Two other Front constituents — RSP and CPI— today praised Banerjee for her pro-people budget. “Mamata’s budget will benefit poor and middle class people as there is no provision for a fare hike,” observed CPI state secretary Manju Kumar Majumdar.

He said that the introduction of a number of trains will also help people in the districts to come to Calcutta.

RSP state secretary and state irrigation minister Debabrata Bandopadhyay said one cannot criticise the budget as it provided relief to the people. “It is good that Mamata has not increased the train fare keeping in mind the financial hardship of people in Bengal,” he said.

Senior Congress leader and PCC vice president Pradip Bhattacharya said that the railway budget is “praiseworthy” from the Bengal point of view. “But, I want Mamata Banerjee to translate the projects mentioned in the budget into reality. If the proposals are implemented they will definitely benefit people of the state.”    


 
 
CPM WRESTS CONG SEATS 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Feb. 25 

The ruling CPM won in two out of three Assembly seats where bypolls were held on February 17. The third seat was bagged by Congress-backed Jharkhand Party.

The CPM has wrested Nabagram and Suri from the Congress but lost Binpur to the Jharkhand Party.

In Nabagram, Nripen Chowdhury defeated Shyamal Roy of the Congress by 8,309 votes. Brojo Mukherjee defeated Trinamul’s Suniti Chattoraj in Suri by 17,121 votes. Jharkhand Party nominee Chunibala, widow of Naren Hansda, retained Binpur.

CPM state secretary Anil Biswas said the party’s victory in the two Congress strongholds reflected its “growing mass support”.

While the CPM is preparing to take out victory rallies in Nabagram and Suri on Saturday, both the Congress and the Trinamul Congress have decided to take a closer look into the causes of their poor showing.    


 
 
SUBHAS SWAPS SOCIALISM SLOGAN FOR NATIONALISM 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 25 
CPM rebel Subhas Chakraborty today said the future of socialism in India was very bleak and he had tried to convince senior party leaders like H.K.S. Surjeet of this.

“I told Surjeet that the CPM leadership had failed to feel the pulse of the Indian society. It is very difficult to carry out any political mission in the country by ignoring religion and casteism,” the controversial West Bengal minister said at a seminar organised by the Centre For Marxian Studies at Jadavpur University.

Chakraborty admitted to having lost faith in socialism. “Once I had a dream of bringing socialism to my country, but now I feel it is next to impossible,” he told the gathering of teachers, scholars and students.

The minister suggested that the new slogan of the day should be based on nationalism instead of socialism.

“Even socialist countries do not deny the basis of nationalism. Our first and foremost job is to protect our motherland,” he added.

Going against the Marxian doctrine which decries individualism in any communist outfit, Chakraborty said “there must be a leader of leaders”. “Had it not been for Lenin, there wouldn’t have been any revolution in Russia. So, the history of socialism does not deny the concept of individualism,” he pointed out.

“Promode Dasgupta had also realised this and projected Jyoti Basu as a prominent CPM leader. Promodeda told a party gathering with Basu next him that one day he (Basu) will lead us,” recalled the minister.

“But our leadership did not allow him to become Prime Minister though 12 national parties approached him to lead the government in Delhi,” said Chakraborty.

He told the audience that many in the CPM doubted his sincerity and integrity because he was vocal about these issues. “But I have to say all this, because I still believe the party would have to adapt itself to the changing situations,” he said.    


 
 
PETROL PUMP STRIKE PUT OFF 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 25 

Petrol pumps in the state will reopen tomorrow as the indefinite strike has been suspended till March 7.

The strike, which started today, was put off following talks between dealers and the government.

After a meeting with transport minister Subhas Chakraborty at Writers’, the West Bengal Petroleum Dealers Association president, Kalyan Bhadra, said it the union’s demands were not met by March 7, the strike would be resumed.

The association had called the strike to protest the alleged highhandedness of petroleum companies and cancellation of dealership without any reason.    


 
 
MANIPUR STICKS TO TRADITION 
 
 
FROM OINAM SUNIL
 
Imphal, Feb. 25 
Manipur is heading towards a hung Assembly again. The ruling Manipur State Congress Party (MSCP) was lagging behind in the race for power, winning six seats, while the Opposition shared 12 of the 18 seats, results of which have been declared today.

Counting in Thangmeiband constituency was stopped abruptly following differences among election agents of the candidates. Congress Legislature Party leader Radhabinod Koijam was leading by over 1,400 votes when ballots of only three booths were left for counting. Violence broke out in this constituency among workers of the Congress, MSCP, FPM and the BJP. Imphal West district administration has imposed prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the CrPC to prevent further clashes.

Manipur is following its past trend of sitting MLAs failing to retain their seats. At least nine sitting MLAs have already lost their seats. Early trends had indicated that the Congress-led Secular Democratic Front (SDF) was going neck-and-neck with the ruling United Front, comprising of the MSCP and the Federal Party of Manipur (FPM). Both the SDF and the United Front had bagged four seats each.

The BJP-led Manipur Democratic Alliance (MDA) has won two seats, with one going to the Samata Party. Samata Party president W. Basantakumar who has been elected said pre-poll alliances may crumble as the state is headed for a hung Assembly. The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) candidates won three seats and are likely to play a pivotal role in the formation of the next government.

Surprisingly, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) has opened its account from Chandel.

Prominent leaders who failed to retain their seats include Speaker in the outgoing Assembly Karam Babudhon Singh. He was defeated by Manipur People’s Party (MPP) president Okram Joy Singh by 207 votes in Langthabal constituency. Joy Singh’s is expected to play a major role in government formation.

The anti-incumbency wave has not been confined to the ruling MSCP alone. Congress heavyweight Th. Debendra Singh has failed to retain his Jiribam seat. He lost to the MSCP’s A. Biren Singh. MPP’s sitting MLA from Wabagai seat, Abdul Salam, was defeated by M. Manihar Singh of the Congress.

Among those who managed to retain their seats include Chongkhokai Doungel of the NCP, irrigation and flood control minister in the Nipamacha Singh government H. Bidur Singh, Thangminlen Kipgen of the NCP, L. Jonathan of the Congress and Hangkhanpao of the RJD.

The biggest margin of victory was in Saikul, where NCP’s Doungel beat M. Keishing of the FPM by over 10,000 votes.

The BJP has opened its account in this election. Its candidate, Chandra Singh has won the Sekmai seat defeating MSCP candidate N. Biren Singh by 138 votes, the lowest margin so far.

Th. Bira Singh, elder brother of Union minister of state for youth affairs and sports Thounoujam Chaoba Singh, won the Nambol seat. He has defeated sitting MPP legislator N. Loken Singh by 820 votes. Bira Singh was fielded by Chaoba Singh on an MSCP ticket as he was eyeing the chief minister’s post.

K. Tomba Singh of the MPP has wrested the Khundrakpam seat from I. Lala of the MSCP by a margin of 482 votes. Hidam Bidur Singh of the MSCP was declared elected from Keirao constituency defeating his nearest rival Th. Gerani Meitei (BJP) by 1,884 votes. Laishram Kerani Singh of the Congress was elected from Moirang constituency, defeating his nearest rival Salem Gopal Singh of the FPM by a margin of 388 votes.

Former chief minister Rishang Keishing of the Congress was declared elected from Phungyar constituency, defeating his nearest rival Somi Keishing (Samata Party) by a margin of 1,934 votes. Rishang Keishing has been elected eight times consecutively from Phungyar in Ukhrul district since 1969. The Congress retained the seat.

L. Jonathan of the Congress won from Karong, beating the FPM’s P.S. Henry Paotei by 1,645 votes. N. Nimai Singh of the Congress was declared elected from Kakching constituency defeating his rival Th. Tomba Singh of the CPI by 1,432 votes.

The results indicate that a hung Assembly is in the offing. Manipur has always witnessed hung Assemblies since it attained statehood in 1972. No government has so far been able to last its full five-year term, which has resulted in instability.

In the state’s electoral history, the highest number of sitting MLAs who could retain their seats was 21 in 1984. In the 1995 polls, only 15 of the 60 members managed to retain their seats, while the remaining 45 lost the elections. The state has always witnessed an anti-incumbency wave.    


 
 
AGP WINS MAJULI BYELECTION 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Guwahati, Feb. 25 
Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) candidate Jogeswar Doley won the bypolls to the Majuli Assembly seat, results of which were announced today, defeating his Congress rival Rajiv Lochan Pegu by 5,488 votes.

Official sources said the AGP candidate polled 22,981 votes while the Congress and BJP candidates secured 17,493 and 17,048 votes respectively. The total votes polled were 74,000.

The bypolls had been necessitated by the death of sitting AGP legislator Karuna Dutta. The AGP needed to win the bypolls desperately as it had drawn a blank in the last two successive Lok Sabha elections.

In the last parliamentary polls, AGP candidate Sarbananda Sonowal had polled the highest number of votes in the Majuli Assembly segment —20,020 votes. His rival and winner of the Lok Sabha elections, Rani Narah of the Congress had bagged 18,564 votes.

One killed

One person was killed in an exchange of fire between the Army and militants at Longpi village in Manipur’s Tamenglong district last evening, reports UNI.

The militants fired on an Army column which was proceeding towards a village. The Army retaliated and in the ensuing encounter one person was killed.

Mithi pledge: Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Mukut Mithi today said his government would accord priority to the development of the people living in the state’s interior and border areas.    


 
 
ISI OPENS CELL IN DHAKA TO LIAISON WITH MILITANTS 
 
 
FROM SANTANU GHOSH
 
Silchar, Feb. 25 
Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence has opened a secret cell in Dhaka to establish links with militants of the Northeast, now hibernating in Bangladesh.

According to an Indian intelligence agency’s classified document, the cell has been constituted to execute a long-term plan, code-named K-3, for the Northeast. The cell is headed by a colonel of the Pakistan Army and comprises three officers of the ranks of Lt. Colonel and Major and eight junior commissioned officers.

The document says the K-3 plan aims at broadening the scope of the earlier K-2 plan, hatched by the ISI after the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war to avenge its defeat by destabilising and disintegrating India. The strategies under the K-series were code-named after the Karakoram range.

The document revealed that the cell operates from Wireless Gate, a locality in Dhaka, and has links with militants of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), the People’s Liberation Army and the United Liberation Front of Asom who have leases in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and selected pockets under Sylhet division in Bangladesh.

What assumes significance is the startling disclosure that the ISI agents even use facilities of the Bangladesh Military Academy in Dhaka for training the militants. According to senior intelligence officials, apart from the top brass of the Bangladesh Army and the defence ministry, few people know of such goings-on at the academy.

According to the report, the ISI’s main objective is to force the Centre to deploy security forces to the Northeast so that it is unable to mobilise adequate troops to combat militancy in Jammu and Kashmir.

The reports also indicate that the ISI is training cadre of the Islamic Sotobir Sangha, a militant wing of the Jammat-e-Islami in Bangladesh and is in touch with the Islamic fundamentalists operating in Assam and Manipur.

The document says the Joint Intelligence Bureau, the largest wing of the ISI which functions under the deputy director-general (political) of this agency, oversees all ISI activity in India, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast.

The ISI has been using Indian smugglers, other Indian nationals visiting Pakistan with valid travel papers and Pakistani citizens visiting India as either their couriers or to escort its agents.

The Indian nationals, used by the ISI to obtain intelligence, are trained in an array of jobs including map reading, collection of intelligence through observation and the art of communication through the “drops” of domestic codes, wireless in ciphers and photography.

The ISI has a vast network with a cadre strength of nearly 20,000. Many of its agents are drilled in the newly-opened training centre of Pakistan’s Corps of Intelligence at Muree near Rawalpindi. Army sources said the ISI runs as many as 50 training centres for Kashmir militants. Some of these are located at Abottabad, Chak, Narkot, Chakothi, Jhelum, Langrial, Jaffarwal and Narpwal.    

 

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