Nitish lights Cong fuse after bandh blaze
No one is man enough to sit beside Shabnam
Rail, Mithun link Basu & Mamata
One comeback, two comedowns

Patna, March 5: 
Falling back on raw muscle power after years of mirth, a dethroned Laloo Prasad Yadav today let loose his fury and marauding supporters on Bihar.

Two of Laloo’s party workers were killed, he was detained and rail traffic went haywire as his bandh against the swearing-in of Nitish Kumar plunged the state into chaos. Several trains scheduled for Monday have been cancelled.

But by evening, Laloo’s battering ram ran into a political barricade erected by Nitish. The new chief minister dangled the bait of Speaker’s post before the Congress, the most vulnerable among Laloo’s allies to poaching.

Nitish said he had not yet discussed the proposal with either his allies or Congress MLAs who are in touch with him, but added: “The Speaker’s office is above petty party considerations.”

Nitish sprung the offer a few hours after Laloo changed his stand on Jharkhand and tried to keep back the 11 Congress MLAs who are insisting on a new state.

Laloo, who had once proclaimed that a Jharkhand state could be set up only over “my dead body”, said this morning: “Everyone has agreed. Why should I stand in the way?”

If the Congress fence-sitters cross over, Nitish will be able to scrape through during the trust vote, expected on Friday. Laloo, unsure of the loyalty of some of his own MLAs, has ordered a virtual “roll call”.

All legislators of his party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), have been asked to visit 1 Anne Marg every evening till the trust vote. Laloo’s fear was compounded when one of his MLAs was fished out from a hotel after he reportedly met leaders of the rival camp.

Nitish also sought to keep his base intact by inducting three ministers — Sushil Kumar Modi of the BJP, Stephen Marandi of the JMM(S) and Pashupati Nath Paras of the Janata Dal(U).

As Nitish tried to consolidate his position, supporters of the RJD went on a rampage across the state, holding up trains, damaging railway tracks and hurling bombs. At least 12 trains were stranded since last night as alleged RJD activists dislodged fishplates and twisted girders.

Unaware of the damage, the Patna-Kurla Express got derailed 10 km from Patna. There was no casualty, however. The AC coach of the Patna-Tata Express was set on fire after it was vacated.

The Eastern Railway said track joints were opened, fittings taken away and formations disturbed by supporters of the bandh. Signal cabins and equipment were tampered with and several coaches damaged beyond repair.

Last night, 500 RJD supporters blocked the Ganga bridge near Maner and exchanged fire with the police. Bhagirath Rai, 35, was killed. In the afternoon, the police fired at a crowd near Hajipur, killing another person.

Around 1,500 persons were arrested. Laloo was detained for three hours after he entered a prohibited area with 1,000 RJD activists near Patna’s Kotwali police station.

On his release, Laloo told The Telegraph that the attacks on railways were not carried out by his men. “It is just to malign my party that the NDA party workers jumped on to the tracks,” he added. Nitish lambasted Laloo and warned that “if the anarchy continues for some more days, I will be forced to undertake harsher punitive measures”.    

Bhopal, March 5: 
Some might ask aren’t they already there in Parliament and Assemblies? Could be, but they are all fake.

The first “real” eunuch will enter such an august house of elected representatives tomorrow when Shabnam Bano takes oath as a member of the Madhya Pradesh Assembly.

Bano, an Independent fielded by her community for the bypolls held last month, won by securing more votes than the total combined ballots polled by candidates of the BJP and the Congress.

But the red faces aren’t in the big two political parties alone. Macho politicians can survive defeat at the hands of a eunuch, but can’t bear to sit next to her in the Assembly. House managers are having trouble finding a seat for Bano, sources said.

Speaker Shriniwas Tiwari, who thinks Bano has emerged as “a challenge to political parties”, insisted that the new legislator would be given all amenities and protection that MLAs get. But the entry into the Assembly could still be the beginning of another round of battle for acceptance for Bano.

Inspired by Bano’s victory, eunuchs in Madhya Pradesh are, however, vowing to show male-dominated politics a thing or two about manhood. After all, the tide of support from voters is swelling into quite a eunuch wave.

Bano is the fifth eunuch in the state to occupy an elected member’s office. Since December, the state has elected a mayor, a municipal corporation president and two municipal councillors.

The beginning was in a particularly cruel prank that is very much a part of the social oppression routinely faced by eunuchs.

Four months ago, some people in the industrial town of Katni, near Jabalpur, fielded Kamala Jaan, or Kamala mausi, for the municipal elections. Kamala Jaan stunned them by winning.

Katni, it appears, was so taken in that it elected Kamala mayor ahead of Congress and BJP nominees.

In Madhya Pradesh, mayors are directly chosen by the entire electorate of the township from among the elected members of the municipality.

Three others of the community were elected consecutively in less than a month. First, a eunuch was elected president of the municipal corporation of Sehora.

Then Hirabai became a councillor in the Jabalpur municipal corporation. A third eunuch was elected a memberof the Bina municipal committee in Sagar.Realising then that there was some popular support behind them, eunuchs decided to take another leap up the ladder of political success.

In January, they held a conference in Jabalpur, deciding to field candidates as Independents for the Assembly bypolls.

Eunuchs contested in two of the four constituencies where byelections were held in February. One fought from Jabalpur Central while Bano contested from Sohagpur.

Bano won by a handsome margin of more than 17,000 votes over the nearest BJP rival Lallu Singh.

The Congress, which rules the state, came third. That, too, with a candidate as strong as Brajesh Singh, son of Krishnapal Singh, minister for 17 years and later appointed Governor of Gujarat.

Sohagpur has been a Congress bastion since the sixties. It elected Krishnapal Singh six times from the mid-60s.

In the 1998 Assembly elections, Sonia Gandhi insisted that Krishnapal Singh contest again. He won but died a few months later. His son proved to be not man enough to carry the family flag.    

Calcutta, March 5: 
Laloo Yadav made Mamata Banerjee do a good turn to Jyoti Basu today. Mithun Chakraborty presents Basu with an opportunity to return the compliment.

Stranded at Durgapur as trains from Bihar had to be cancelled because of the bandh called there by Laloo Yadav’s party, Basu came back to Calcutta by a train specially arranged for him by railway minister Mamata Banerjee.

Basu, 87, was about to set off on a gruelling four-hour road journey when a locomotive with a single coach was despatched by Mamata — whose mission in life is to derail the Left regime — swiftly on learning about his ordeal.

“I cannot imagine Jyotibabu, so advanced in age, stranded at a station. Besides, he is the chief political executive for whom time is precious. So, I did what I had to do.”

As a goodwill gesture, Eastern Railway waived the bill for the exclusive ride on the train that is otherwise used for track inspection. On reaching Calcutta, Basu showered praise on Mamata. “I am touched by her gesture. If she had not taken the initiative, we would have had to make a back-breaking road journey. My thanks go out to her.”

The gracious chief minister will get a chance to do more than that. Actor Mithun Chakraborty, who has been nominated by Mamata’s Trinamul for the Rajya Sabha, will shortly call on Basu to drum up support for his candidature.

“I will go and meet Jyoti uncle to seek his blessings. I will do the same with Subhasda (Chakraborty),” he said. Mithun is expected here next Sunday to launch his campaign for the March 29 election.

Mithun said it would not be entirely correct to describe him as a Trinamul nominee because his association with the CPM and its allies runs deep.

That is exactly the point Basu drove home. He said the CPM and other Left parties are fond of “that boy”, but they would find it difficult to support a Trinamul candidate. “His links with Trinamul, if true, will be factored into our decision. Anyway, let him come and talk to us,” Basu said.

Mithun intends to make it clear when he meets Basu that he wishes to be the candidate of all of Bengal. “I am going to be an independent, seeking support from all MLAs,” he said.

The actor, whose appearance on screen is not as frequent as it used to be, is more interested in “development work than politics”.

“Rules require someone nominates... she (Mamata) did just that and nothing more,” he added, to dispel the notion that he had any political affiliation.

Mamata, for one, is not going to stand in the way of Mithun seeking support from her enemy, the Left. “It is up to Mithun to encash on the votes of MLAs belonging to the Left Front and other parties,” she said.

Since her party had nominated Mithun, her only goal was to get him elected.

Without Basu’s help that may not be possible.    

Bangalore, March 5: 
Call it supreme irony or Destiny’s Man getting his own back but, today, the much-maligned Mohammed Azharuddin is being looked up to by all of India.

India’s fate in the second (and final) Test versus South Africa; just how sweet/bitter Sachin Tendulkar’s farewell Test as captain will be; the hope that 30-plus cricketers can nurture... On Azhar hinges so much.

Of immediate interest is whether Azhar (resuming on a superb 73) can help India avoid defeat: for South Africa to bat again, on the fifth day tomorrow, a minimum of 126 runs must be added to the Indian second innings’ 196 for five.

India, of course, trail by 321.

On a day when Sachin and captain-designate Sourav Ganguly failed, getting out in embarrassing fashion, it’s the 37-year-old former captain who held the innings together with whatever support was forthcoming. Authored, in the process, was a cracker of a comeback.

“No, I haven’t proved a point, nor was I intending to. After 99 Tests, there’s nothing left to prove... I’m happy with the runs I’ve got, but saving the Test is more important,” a relaxed Azhar toldn The Telegraph, obviously enjoying his cup of tea.

That he himself wasn’t everybody’s favoured cup till just a fortnight or so back, hasn’t left visible scars. Only, the many months in exile probably made Azhar realise he would have to perform on returning. Playing his first Test in a year, he has done just that.

As a comeback it’s incredible, quite like Arjuna Ranatunga’s the other day. At a time when much younger superstars (Sachin, Brian Lara) seem overwhelmed by the multiple pressures, veterans are holding their own.

In fact, by being on the doorstep of his 22nd hundred, Azhar has left many red in the face. He has ensured the selectors don’t talk about “team of the future” and “need for younger players,” for some time to come, but Azhar himself won’t speak about it.    


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