Rush for death’s poll spoils
After the stench, the shock
Crimelord arrest sparks protest
Extortionist walks into police trap
Forsaken state fights for flights
Partyman vs Person Ganguly
48-hour law breather for Waldorf
Friday date set to break church-teacher feud
82 militants surrender in Assam
Ghising’s party spreads wings in Sikkim

Calcutta, May 2 
Having sniffed a “scandal” so close to the municipal polls, both the Trinamul Congress and the Congress went on the offensive on Tuesday, trying to force an embarrassed CPM on to the backfoot.

Congress Legislative Party chief Atish Sinha and the party’s chief whip in the Assembly Abdul Mannan, along with Trinamul leader Panjak Banerjee, demanded a “high-level probe” into the “death under mysterious circumstances” of state commerce and industry minister Bidyut Ganguly.

“There has to be a probe into Ganguly’s death, as the CPM will try and cover up any wrongdoing on the part of party functionaries,” said Sinha.

“Let the skeletons in the CPM’s cupboard tumble out; let the people know the nature of the party ruling this state,” said Banerjee.

This was double trouble for the CPM leadership, already under attack from party dissidents.

But on Tuesday, state party secretary Anil Biswas ruled out any high-level probe into Ganguly’s death. “The police are holding an inquiry and that is enough as far as I am concerned.”

Sensing the embarrassment potential of the Ganguly case, Biswas tried to go on a counter-offensive by charging the Congress of “wrongdoing”. Implying that the state unit of the party has been hobnobbing with the BJP, he said: “It is the Congress party which should go in for a post-mortem.”

Despite such apparent nonchalance, the CPM is deeply worried about the fallout of the Ganguly case on the party, especially in the run-up to the civic polls.

While Biswas has already mentioned that Ganguly was “deeply disturbed” before his death, some other party leaders, especially those from North 24-Parganas, are maintaining a studied silence over the minister’s death.

Amitava Nandy, district secretariat member of the CPM, chose to refer to the incident as a “tragedy”. On whether Ganguly’s “disturbed” state of mind could have led to the minister taking his life, all that Nandy would say was: “How can I tell?”

Nandy and some other senior leaders have realised that they could well be walking into a trap by repeatedly stressing that Ganguly was “mentally disturbed”.

“The next question that the Opposition will ask us is that if Ganguly was so mentally disturbed and for such a long time, why did the party allow him to continue as the minister in charge of such an important portfolio?” one party leader said.

With some worms sure to crawl out of the can, party leaders are convinced that Ganguly’s death will harm the party’s poll prospects, specially in Bhatpara and its adjoining municipalities in North 24-Parganas. As many as 21 municipalities in this district go to the polls on May 28.    

Calcutta, May 2 
“Something is burning,” Snigdha Saha thought as she sat watching TV a little after 8 pm on Sunday.

She crossed over to the window facing Banerjeepara Road, in the northern suburb of Bhatpara, and asked a neighbourhood youth to find out what it was.

The smell was unusual. A little later, when the youth had not responded, she went to the roof to find out for herself.

This was the second time that evening that she had done so.

Earlier, while taking a stroll on the roof, she had heard the Gangulys arguing in the house next door. The raised voices were not unusual, and so she had not paid much attention. But the second time around, she was in for a shock.

Seeing smoke coming out of the window of the Gangulys’ first-floor room, she called out to some youth on the road below: “The minister’s house is on fire; do something, quick!”

The youth rushed to the entrance of ‘Sarvamangala’, industry minister Bidyut Ganguly’s home. “No one else seemed to be at home at that point,” recalled Shakti Banerjee, an office-bearer of the local club, told this correspondent.

Finding the ground-floor door open, the local youth headed straight for the single room on the roof.

Four youth then broke down the door, which had been locked from inside.

“For a few seconds, we could not comprehend what had happened,” said Somnath Bose, one of the four youth to enter the room on the roof. “Once it sank in, we rushed to fetch Burnol and a doctor.”

As word spread that the “minister’s house” was on fire, hundreds of people descended upon Banerjeepara Road. A team from the Jagatdal police station arrived in half-an-hour’s time. A fire engine also arrived, but by then there was little to be done.

Realising that the minister’s condition was too serious for the Bhatpara state general hospital, just a few kilometres away, to handle, district CPM leader and Naihati MLA Ranjit Kundu “decided to rush him to SSKM Hospital”, some 40 km away.

The ambulance, with a police escort, reached the central Calcutta hospital around 11.30 pm.

Wife Hashi, who had gone to her parents’ home following heated arguments with her husband, was informed of the tragedy. She was restrained from going to the hospital by relatives and neighbours.

When the news of Ganguly’s death reached at 8 am on May Day, a pall of gloom descended over the area.

But Bhatpara hasn’t stopped talking about “how” and “why” the minister “took his life”.    

Calcutta, May 2 
In a meticulously-planned pre-dawn operation, sleuths of South 24-Parganas police stormed the hideout of crimelord Mahesh Sharma on B.L. Saha Road, near the Siriti crematorium, and arrested him on Tuesday.

Police said Sharma and his henchman, Nata Shankar, were held in connection with the murder of Guddu Bhattacharya and Raj Kumar Karar, two members of a rival gang. Sharma’s arrest triggered off a series of protests on B.L. Saha Road and M.G. Road, near Karunamoyee, with his political godmother, local CPM legislator Kumkum Chakraborty, blocking the intersections with her cadre.

Shopkeepers downed shutters and the area became tense immediately after news of Mahesh’s arrest spread. Local CPM leaders heckled the police, shouted slogans against officers and threatened them with dire consequences.

‘Operation Nightstorm’ was launched on Monday midnight. Early on Tuesday, five police jeeps were deployed, and one of these drove towards Mahesh’s den near an oil mill on B.L. Saha Road. Other teams kept a look-out for his henchmen. An informer pointed out the double-storeyed building in which Mahesh was hiding. Police surrounded it. Before its occupants could realise what was happening, police had stormed the building.

They kicked open the door of the room in which Mahesh was sleeping. Realising he could not escape, Mahesh immediately called up his political mentors. Police grilled him and took him to Jadavpur police station.

As the officers were getting ready to leave, CPM leader Basudev Chakraborty arrived with Mahesh’s brother. Chakraborty argued with the officers and demanded that Mahesh be released immediately. When officers refused to oblige, he threatened them. An hour later, another CPM local committee member, Sadhan Bhattaraj, arrived, accompanied by criminals Jyoti and Sujoy and others.

They held sit-ins on B.L. Saha Road, near Siriti crematorium, and on M.G. Road, at Karunamoyee. Local CPM legislator Kum Kum Chakraborty, too, came, demanding Mahesh’s release.

The blockade at Karunamoyee was lifted at 9 am, while the one in front of Siriti crematorium was cleared at 12.30 pm.

Guddu was murdered near Siriti Jewels Club, close to the crematorium, on Sunday morning. According to Behala police station sources, Mahesh allegedly ordered the murder and it was executed by his henchmen Hari, Bolku, Pocha and Kachi. In a running battle over turf, Mahesh’s rival had killed this crimelords’ right-hand man and dumped his body near Siriti crematorium.

One of Behala’s most dreaded gangsters, Mahesh had over the years edged out rivals and built a vast crime empire with the help of some local CPM leaders. He was produced in court and remanded to judicial custody till May 16.    

Calcutta, May 2 
A wanted extortionist was arrested in Bally on Tuesday for forcibly extracting money from city businessmen over the past few months.

Shambhu Shukla was arrested from Bally on a complaint lodged by a businessman, according to deputy commissioner of police, detective department, Narayan Ghosh. “Shukla demanded Rs 15 lakh from Mr Ajoy Agarwal, a scrap iron dealer of New Alipore,” Ghosh said.

Agarwal, after receiving repeated threat calls, lodged a complaint with the police, saying the extortionist had threatened to kidnap him if the amount was not paid.

Officials of the anti-rowdy section traced the calls to a public booth in Bally, the owner of which gave them the criminal’s whereabouts. A trap was laid near the booth and Shukla walked into it.

During interrogation, he confessed to collecting money from businessmen of Burrabazar, Jorasanko, New Alipore and other parts of south Calcutta. “He also tried to kidnap a city trader who refused to comply,” an officer added. Investigation revealed that Shukla was running a small army of criminals which targeted city traders, who usually shunned the police.

Mercury dips

The third major nor’wester of the season swept through the city on Tuesday evening with a windspeed of 75 kmph, according to the met office, says a staff reporter. The temperature dipped by 11.5°C.

An Indian Airlines flight from Mumbai failed to land and was diverted to Bhubaneswar. A Jet Airways flight from Delhi circled over the airport for some time because of bad weather conditions.    

Calcutta, May 2 
Stung by the proposed pullout of British Airways from Calcutta, the state government has begun a damage-control exercise to underscore that “operational difficulty” and not “lack of traffic” was to blame for the BA’s flight from the city.

Government officials held a closed-door meeting on Tuesday with officials of foreign airlines operating out of the city, like Singapore Airlines, Royal Brunei, Royal Jordanian, as well as representatives of the Airports Authority of India and some leading travel agencies like Sita and Thomas Cook. There was no one from British Airways.

The government was represented by West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBIDC) managing director D.P. Patra and commerce and industries secretary Jawhar Sircar.

The chief minister will be handed over a final report on the scenario. He will then place it before the Union aviation ministry to further streamline foreign airline operations to and from Calcutta. The civil aviation ministry has recently spent about Rs 22 crore to revamp the international terminal at Calcutta airport.

“A lot of things concerning the overall airport facility will have to be looked into,” a senior government official said. Matters like touts harassing foreign tourists, delays in luggage clearance, emigration and customs were also under discussion.

British Airways South Asia head Alan Briggs had announced in New Delhi on April 28 that the carrier would no longer touch Calcutta from October 30, till “market conditions permit”.

With British Airways on its way out and Air-India having withdrawn its flight 305/306 to Tokyo and back (said to be due to “shortage of aircraft”), the meeting reviewed the increase of flights out of the city by other airlines. Singapore Airlines is increasing its flights from three to four a week. Royal Jordanian has plans to increase flights coming in from Amman from a single flight a week to a tri-weekly service.

The talks, sponsored by the Indian Chamber of Commerce, will resume once the relevant data concerning the air-traffic demand and tourism potential is put together. This will be handed over to Basu before the British Airways departure deadline.

Meanwhile, representatives of British Airways employees in the city meet chief secretary Manish Gupta on Tuesday and urged him to take up the matter with the chief minister. Gupta is scheduled to hold talks with the BA management in Calcutta on Wednesday.

Air-India employees, too, are known to have got in touch with Writers’ Buildings to express their concern over “the truncated service” from the city.    

Calcutta, May 2 
Depression, from which Bidyut Ganguly was suffering, was partly due to his strained relationship with the state CPM bosses.

The party had censured the industry minister last year after a full-scale inquiry into his lifestyle, which did not conform to the party constitution.

Ganguly, however, felt he had been denied justice, as the inquiry committee consisted of some of his detractors within the party, like Niren Ghosh.

The party had also probed his family life, which was “not a happy one” because of his “lifestyle”. The CPM top brass had issued several warnings to him but Ganguly had failed to “rectify” himself.

Sources said the party was planning not to nominate him for the 2001 Assembly polls as his “ways” had “tarnished the party’s image”.

A specific complaint against Ganguly referred to the lavish reception he had hosted for his younger daughter’s marriage a couple of years ago.

The party had then accused him of taking the help of some industrial houses to arrange for food and beverage for thousands of invitees to the reception. CPM sources maintain that Ganguly could not come up with a “satisfactory explanation”.

The industry minister was a heavy smoker, but it was his “addiction to liquor” which proved to be the prime problem. This set him on a collision course with the party top brass on numerous occasions. He often skipped important public meetings because of his drinking problem.

Ganguly’s “misconduct” at a public function in Dhaka last year had prompted the state CPM to give him a “final warning”.

However, the minister had not been able to overcome “his problems”.

Ganguly was also unhappy over the way he was treated by the party bosses and the Cabinet, despite his seniority and the importance of his portfolio.

Sources said the minister did not like the manner in which he was often bypassed on important industrial issues.

He particularly resented chief minister Jyoti Basu’s tendency to consult WBIDC chairman Somnath Chatterjee and ignore him on vital matters relating to his department.

Ganguly, who had joined the undivided Communist Party in 1959, was not even made a member of the state committee and had to remain satisfied as a member of the North 24 Parganas district committee.

The late commerce and industry minister also fell out with Alimuddin Street mandarins after he shifted loyalty from the Amitabha Nandi camp to that of the North-24 Parganas dissidents, led by transport minister Subhas Chakraborty.

Of late, Ganguly would often leave party meetings in a huff.

This is exactly what happened at a meeting of the North 24-Parganas district committee on Saturday and also at the last party gathering he attended at Bhatpara on Sunday.

So, Bidyut Ganguly’s relationship with the party he had served for four decades had reached its nadir by the time he met his tragic end.    

Calcutta, May 2 
Waldorf, facing closure following an eviction suit filed by promoters, got a two-day lease of life with a temporary stay being granted by Calcutta High Court on Tuesday.

Justice Shyamal Sen, senior judge in the appeal case, passed the stay order, valid till Wednesday midnight, before releasing the case on “personal grounds”. If the chief justice doesn’t assign the case to another judge immediately, the landmark Chinese eatery on Park Street will be forced to down shutters on Thursday morning. “We will abide by the court order,” said Charles Mantosh, partner of the restaurant.

However, the 100-odd employees of the restaurant, present at the court hearing on Tuesday, have vowed to “fight till the end”.

Said Waldorf veteran Nur Mohammed: “We are planning a full-fledged agitation from Wednesday to try and save our jobs and families.” It is learnt the Citu-affiliated union will hold a demonstration on Park Street.    

Calcutta, May 2 
The head of the Church of North India (CNI) in Calcutta has convened a meeting with agitating teachers on Friday to try and end the stalemate at the nine CNI-controlled Anglo-Indian schools in the city.

A crisis arising out of teachers’ demands for full implementation of the recommendations of the Fourth Pay Commission is looming over the institutions for the past few weeks.

Sources in the Church said that Bishop Raju, CNI head in the city, will meet a delegation of teachers from the nine schools to discuss ways to arrive at a solution to the problem.

An emergency meeting between the Bishop and heads of all nine schools held last week had failed to resolve the impasse.

Teachers of the nine CNI schools — St Thomas’ Church School, Howrah, St Thomas Boys School, Kidderpore, St Thomas Girls’ School, Kidderpore, St James School, Pratt Memorial School, St Pauls, Mission School, La Martiniere School for Boys and La Martiniere School for Girls — have called a meeting on Wednesday to discuss their next course of action.

The teachers’ demands include special increments after completion of 10 and 20 years of service; exclusion of perks and other allowances from gross salaries; payment of 20 per cent of basic and dearness allowance as house rent.

Meanwhile, members of the association of teachers of Anglo-Indian schools met last Sunday and threatened to launch an “intense movement” if the Church failed to resolve the crisis within the next few days.

“We strongly believe that the Church will consider our demands and the problems will be sorted out at Friday’s meeting between the Bishop and the teachers’ representatives,” P G Dutta, a senior teacher of St Thomas Boys’ School, Kidderpore, and president of the association said, on Tuesday.

As per government rules, the pay scales of Anglo-Indian school teachers should not be less than their counterparts in state-funded schools.

A spokesperson of the heads of schools said most CNI institutions were already paying salaries to their teachers in accordance with the recommendations of the Fourth Pay Commission and hoped to maintain the scales in the future, even though the state government paid only a fixed amount of dearness allowance for the teachers.

“A very steep hike in pay-scales had been effected after the implementation of the Fourth Pay Commission,” he said.

In state government-aided schools, the pay-scales of CNI teachers were normally revised after every three years, the spokesperson added.

The government provides only a portion of the teachers’ salaries and most schools have to depend on the tuition fees of students to pay off the teachers.    

Guwahati, May 2 
Altogether 75 activists of different underground outfits today laid down arms in Goalpara and pledged to return to the mainstream. The surrender ceremony was organised at the Circuit House by the district administration.

Of them, 54 belonged to the Ulfa, 12 to the Rabha National Security Force, eight to the Multa and one to the Koch Rajbongshi Protection Force. The surrenderees also included four women activists of the Ulfa.

Prominent among those who surrendered included self-styled Sergeant Major Dharma Kanta Das alias Biman Deka and the “controller” of the Ulfa’s cultural wing Jaidev Nath alias Udayaditya Medhi. Both these militants were active members of the Pancharatna Anchalik Committee of the Ulfa.

Another hardcore militant of the Rabha National Security Force also came overground.

The four women cadre are Swapna Hatu alias Namita Boro, Punya Rabha alias Kiranmoyee Devi, Manju Rabha alias Jonali and Sarojini Rabha alias Kanaklata. Two US-made carbines, a heavy Thomson carbine, eight hand-made revolvers, three shot guns, a pistol and some ingredients for making bombs were deposited by the militants.

Apart from Goalpara deputy commissioner Khagendra Nath Buragohain and superintendent of police Deepak Kumar Rabha, senior functionaries of the Rabha Hajong Autonomous Council and leading citizens were present at the ceremony.

In another ceremony, seven militants, led by a former bodyguard of Ulfa commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah, Dhem Deuri alias Rajani Duwarah laid down arms before the Tinsukia administration this evening. The rebels, six Ulfa and one belonging to the National Democratic Front of Boroland, Nayan Kumar Bodo, handed over a 9 mm sten gun, a .3 revolver and 14 rounds of AK-47 bullets, reports our Jorhat correspondent.

The inquiry report on the Grinder Muivah case was submitted in the Gauhati High Court today by Mizoram advocate-general P. Pathak.

The inquiry was conducted by the Mizoram government following a High Court order on the basis of a petition filed by Grinder Muivah who sought that the case registered by the Mizoram government be quashed.

Grinder Muivah was taken into custody in Calcutta after one Ranju Rangan “confessed” that he was planning to hijack an Indian Airlines aircraft from Lengpui airport in “furtherance of a conspiracy hatched by Grinder”.

Justice A.K. Patnaik of the Gauhati High Court had ordered constitution of a committee comprising of the Mizoram home secretary, the law secretary and the director-general of police to probe the issue and submit the report by May 2.

The petitioner is a nephew of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) leader Thuingaleng Muivah. Accused Ranju Rangan had stated to the police that he was tortured by the intelligence officials and compelled to implicate the petitioner.    

Siliguri, May 2 
When Sikkim gifted Darjeeling to the British in 1865, little did it realise that its gift would keep it on its feet 165 years later.

An atmosphere of uncertainty and suspicion prevails in the tiny Himalayan state since yesterday with the setting up of the Sikkim unit of Subhas Ghising’s Gorkha National Liberation Front. The event took place six years after the Gorkha leader declared that he would bring Sikkim and Nepal under his party’s flag.

As Darjeeling and Sikkim observed May Day, Ghising, like a warlord of the past, despatched half-a-dozen of his party councillors to Singla, a small settlement on the Sikkim-Darjeeling border, to officially hand over the GNLF flag to a group of Sikkimese who have set up the party’s unit in Gangtok. The GNLF’s Sikkim wing is headed by Satish Rai, who, as the Sikkim Sangram Parishad nominee, gave the ruling Sikkim Democratic Front a run for its money in the last Lok Sabha elections.

The new converts later marched with the flag towards Gangtok through Jorethang, Melli and Singtam where SDF president and chief minister Pawan Kumar Chamling had earlier addressed a workers’ rally. GNLF activists from Kalimpong had gathered at Melli to welcome their new comrades.

“Our friends from Sikkim do not like other multi-coloured flags. We are helping them to keep all those flags under the green flag (colour of the GNLF flag),” the GNLF leader said. The colour of the SDF flag is red, blue and yellow while that of the SSP is red and white. Earlier, Ghising had unsuccessfully tried to get a toe-hold in the state. He personally campaigned in Gangtok and Pakyong in east Sikkim in 1994 when his candidates lost in the Assembly elections.

Around the same time, he set up the Nepal Gorkha National Liberation Front mainly to highlight his views on the 1950 Indo-Nepal Treaty. But he received little response in the world’s only Hindu kingdom. In spite of this, a group of people uprooted from Bhutan floated the Gorkha National Liberation Front (Bhutan), expecting active help from him.

Compared to his earlier attempts, his latest bid in Sikkim has caught attention because of the involvement of the Sikkimese themselves. Many of these Sikkimese converts earlier belonged to the Opposition SSP headed by former chief minister Nar Bahadur Bhandari.

In its memorandum to Union home minister L.K. Advani in Gangtok last month, the GNLF’s Sikkim unit extended full support to Ghising’s demand for a separate Gorkhaland state.

Despite the expulsion of Rai and others from the SSP for joining the GNLF, leaders of the CPM’s Sikkim unit termed the state’s GNLF wing as the “junior team of the SSP.” What has made them and some SDF leaders suspect Bhandari’s involvement is the fact that the GNLF’s unit was formed about four months after Bhandari and Ghising met in Darjeeling. In the late Sixties, the two were college mates and even ran a Darjeeling-based youth organisation called Tarun Sangh.

To keep the GNLF in good humour, some of SDF leaders also met in Darjeeling later. Like Bhandari and Ghising, Chamling has also refrained from making comments on the GNLF’s activities in Sikkim. But, the chief minister’s followers and bureaucrats fear that it could create bad blood between the people of the state and Darjeeling. Some SDF leaders are worried that Bhandari might use the GNLF to promote his political interests.

A journal published from Gangtok said the situation might become more complicated if the recently-formed Sikkim Rashtriya Mukti Morcha, which is campaigning for the merger of Sikkim and Darjeeling, joins hands with the GNLF.

Significantly, SSP supporters in some areas had put up GNLF flags atop their houses after violence broke out between them and SDF activists after the Assembly elections in October last year. This was generally seen as a bid to deter ruling party workers from attacking them.    


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