Shah takes stock of troubled district
Metro Dairy workers looted on way to bank
Trinamul-BJP poll talks keep mahajot hopes
Bandh-hit Hills brace for backlash
Rebel-backed party trounces Tripura LF
Orissa asks Centre for return of Bihar areas
Tripura rebels behead woman

Midnapore, May 5 
Governor Viren J. Shah on Friday said he had taken note of the law and order situation in certain areas like Keshpur and Garbeta in Midnapore and promised to do “whatever is needed in the interest of the people of the area.”

Despite the state government’s misgivings about the governor’s visit to a district where many lives have been lost in frequent clashes between the Trinamul Congress and the CPM, Shah pushed ahead as he felt that he had “the right” to keep himself “informed”.

Deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya, however, said at Writers’ Buildings that the government was taking all administrative steps to combat the situation. “I have visited Keshpur earlier and, if necessary, I will go there again,” he said.

Bhattacharya said the government would provide the governor with all the information he sought about the goings-on in Keshpur and other areas.

In Midnapore, talking to reporters about the situation in Keshpur and Garbeta, Shah said: “I can’t directly instruct anybody to take action. I may, of course communicate this situation to the President.”

“Leave it to my judgment. I have already made my own assessment. I shall definitely do whatever is needed,” he added.

At the Circuit House during the day, the governor met a string of deputations which echoed one another that the law and order was virtually non-existent in places like Keshpur, Garbeta, Debra and Pingla.

District Trinamul Congress, Congress and BJP leaders alleged that such was the reign of terror unleashed by the CPM that a minister of state was openly bringing in arms in his car.

Primary teachers’ organisations told the governor how school buildings had been turned into police camps denying thousands of students their regular classes.

The district chambers of commerce reported killing of at least 20 traders over the past few years.

The district CPM, which was busy gearing up to celebrate the birth anniversary of Karl Marx and had thought better of meeting the governor, suddenly sent in three of its MLAs from the disturbed areas of Keshpur Garbeta West and Debra —— Nandarani Dal, Krishna Prasad Duley and Jehangir Karim respectively.

The police said the three MLAs virtually barged into the room without an appointment. They demanded immediate arrest of antisocials who were stocking unlicenced arms. They also urged the governor to arrange police protection to thousands of CPM supporters who have fled their homes.

Observers feel that the CPM decided to send emissaries to the governor because, it thought, he get an one-sided version of the situation, otherwise.

CPM MLA from Garbeta East, Susanta Ghosh, the minister against whom the Trinamul-BJP combine has levelled charges of carrying arms, was not present.

The CPM MLAs, however spoke highly of the district superintendent of police, Gaurav Dutta, while the Trinamul, BJP and the Congress demanded his immediate suspension.

The Opposition parties accused the SP of conniving with the ruling party and ganging up against the Trinamul supporters in the area.

Asked to comment on why he chose not to visit Keshpur, Shah said: “I have received full details about goings-on. There is no use of my going there at present. Let me see what I can do.”

Reacting to chief minister Jyoti Basu’s reported comment that the governor is free to go anywhere, but should report the situation to the chief minister on his return, Shah said: “I do not believe the chief minister has said so. He is a matured politician and has dealt with at least 10 governors before me. However, if he has said so, it is wrong.”

Shah, however, did not comment on the allegation against the minister.    

Calcutta, May 5 
Armed criminals robbed two men of Rs 6.55 lakh near Chuni Babu market in north Calcutta on Friday morning.

Police said two employees of the Metro Dairy cash office were on their way to a nationalised bank nearby to deposit Rs 15 lakh.

At around 10.45 am, their Ambassador was intercepted by some armed youth. One of the employees was hit on the head and hand with the butt of a revolver as soon as he got down from the car near the bank. His briefcase, stashed with Rs 6.55 lakh, was snatched away by the robbers who fled the scene in two-wheelers parked nearby.

The driver of the Ambassador told the police that he rushed back to office in order to save the rest of the money which was in the car. “I fled the site so that the entire amount could not be looted,” he said.

According to the police, the operation was “meticulously planned”. “We are trying to find out if the tip-off was given by an insider,” said a sleuth.

Raids were conducted in several parts of the city to try and track the criminals down. But no arrests have been made so far.    

Calcutta, May 5 
The Trinamul Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) held talks on seat-sharing in the coming Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) elections on Friday.

At a meeting in the state BJP office this afternoon, both parties were hopeful of a mahajot (grand alliance) with the Congress to take on the ruling CPM in the civic polls.

Trinamul Congress leaders like Pankaj Banerjee and the party’s newly-elected Rajya Sabha member Jayanta Bhattacharya said that the mahajot is on and discussions on a grand alliance in the civic polls are in progress.

Trinamul leaders, in their first-ever meeting on BJP turf on Friday, said both parties had agreed to seat adjustments on the basis of the candidate’s strength on paper.

“Our talks have just started. The process will continue,” Banerjee said.

State BJP president Asim Ghosh said his party would ensure a “100 per cent seat adjustment with the Trinamul”. He also appealed to the Congress to “come and make the mahajot a success”.

“We hope the Congress will respond to our appeal and help us oust the CPM from the city civic body,” Ghosh said.

Meanwhile, Congress and Trinamul supporters held a joint rally in Nadia during the day to protest the murder of a Congress supporter two days ago.

Congress MLA Shankar Singh threw his weight behind the mahajot at the rally and said that the sentiment among the people against the CPM was “overwhelming”.

“Let us not waste this opportunity,” he said.

Trinamul Rajya Sabha MP Jayanta Bhattacharya said that irrespective of the high command’s instruction, mahajot was already in place at several municipalities.

Attempts are still on to strike a grand alliance in more municipalities through announcements in favour of the mahajot in leaflets.

Meanwhile, in a last-ditch effort to stitch together a grand alliance with the Trinamul, state Congress president A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury, has requested the All India Congress Committee (AICC) not to field a candidate in the byelection to the Panskura Lok Sabha seat next month.

“We have requested the high command to give Trinamul a chance to contest the seat one-to-one against the Left Front. If we don’t field a candidate, the Trinamul will have a fair chance to bag this seat as the late Gita Mukherjee had won it by a slender margin of 46,000 votes in the last election,” a senior Congress leader said.    

Siliguri,May 5 
Protest marches and angry slogans against the Kamtapur agitation, marked the Left Front-sponsored 12-hour bandh that brought life to a standstill in Jalpaiguri district and neighbouring Siliguri subdivision of Darjeeling district on Friday.

The strike had been called to protest the murder of Pranesh Pal, a member of the CPM’s Jalpaiguri district committee, by two suspected Kamtapur activists at Ghogsapara village near the Bengal-Assam border on Thursday morning.

The north-east, Sikkim, Darjeeling hills, western Bhutan remained cut off from the plains throughout Friday. Several trains, including the Calcutta-bound Teesta-Torsa Express, were detained at various places in Jalpaiguri district. Most of the 300-odd tea estates in the Dooars and the Terai remained shut.

District magistrate (Jalpaiguri) Subroto Gupta said the situation was under control. CRPF, Eastern Frontier Rifles and state police personnel guarded the sensitive areas.

“While efforts are on to identify the assailants, preliminary reports indicate the involvement of the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO),” added Gupta. According to him, the eight spent cartridges found near the spot of the attack appeared to have been fired from automatic weapons like AK-47 or AK- 56. No arrests have been made so far.

The Kamtapur People’s Party (KPP), the All-Kamtapur Students’ Union (AKSU) and the banned KLO have been campaigning for a separate state for Rajabanshis in north Bengal.

KPP central committee member N. Burman and AKSU president S. Das claimed that no Kamtapur supporter was involved in Thursday’s attack. Burman alleged that the CPM would use the incident to incite people against the Kamtapur activists.

The incident provoked immediate retaliation from Marxist cadre who burnt down the houses of two alleged Kamtapur supporters at Barobisa, close to the site of the killing.

Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) activists also blocked National Highway-31 that links Bengal with Assam.

Left Front supporters raised slogans like “Punish the killers” and “Kamtapuri hoshiar” as they marched with their respective party flags through Jalpaiguri town, Alipurduar, Mal, Dhupguri, Moynaguri and numerous other small and big settlements during the bandh. Similar demonstrations were organised in Siliguri subdivision and parts of adjoining Cooch Behar district where protest marches were held on Thursday as well. Pro-Left teachers’ organisations took out separate processions as Pal was headmaster of the Ghogsapara State Primary School.

“The response to the bandh was tremendous and spontaneous. Hundreds of people took to the streets to express resentment over the dastardly act of the Kamtapuris,” Manik Sanyal, secretary of the CPM’s Jalpaiguri district committee, told The Telegraph. “The way the people responded today makes it clear that they are ready to help us oppose the secessionist agitation at Kamtapur. We want to tackle the problem politically, not with the help of police,” added Sanyal.    

Agartala, May 5 
The Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) is leading the ruling Left Front by 12 seats to eight in elections to the state’s 30-member Autonomous District Council.

The newly-formed party is expected to win at least eight more seats, ensuring it a comfortable majority. The constituencies from which IPFT candidates have been declared elected are the Damcherra-Jampui, Karamcherra, Chhawmanu, Maharani-Chelagang, Ganganagar-Gandacherra, Kulai-Champahaor, Asharambari- Halati, Ampinagar, Killa-Bagma, Demcherra-Kachucherra, Pe-kuarjala-Jamjejaynagar and Manu-Chhailengta seats.

The prominent losers include chief executive member Ranjit Debbarma of the CPM. He lost the Ramchandraghat constituency, a Marxist bastion, to IPFT rival Benoy Debbarma by over 4,000 votes. The Congress, which contested 18 seats, has drawn a blank.

The seats won by Left Front candidates include Silacherri-Manubankul, Birchandranagar Kalsi, Jirania, Maharani-Teliamura, Machhmara, Kathalia- Mirza and Simna-Tamakari.

The CPM earlier won the Purbamuhuripur-Bhuratali seat uncontested. In the last elections to the district council in July 1995, the Left Front had won 27 of the 28 seats at stake.

Counting of votes began today amid a bout of mudslinging between the IPFT and the Left Front. CPM leaders charged the IPFT, believed to be the political wing of the banned National Liberation Front of Tripura, with rigging the elections with the help of militants. The fledgling party retaliated by accusing CPM cadre of terrorising its activists and counting agents.

Despite the two main contenders engaged in a war of words, counting progressed smoothly, official sources said.

The CPM is, however, yet to react to the poll debacle. Party leaders, including chief minister Manik Sarkar, held meetings throughout the day.

Former chief minister and veteran Congress leader Samir Ranjan Barman said it was premature to say whether the IPFT would become a major force in state politics. Elections to the district council were held in two phases.

Non-tribals flee

The withdrawal of security forces after the completion of elections to the Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council has sparked a largescale exodus of non-tribals from certain areas in Kanchanpur subdivision.

Hordes of terror-stricken non-tribals have already deserted Laljuri, Jayasri, Satnala, Kashirampur, Laxmicherra and Anandabazar villages. These villagers are taking shelter in schools and government offices in other areas.    

Bhubaneswar, May 5 
The Naveen Patnaik government today decided to press the Centre for “reunification” of Bihar’s Kharsawan and Seraikella areas with Orissa.

A Cabinet meeting chaired by Patnaik observed that the majority of the people in Kharsawan and Seraikella spoke Oriya and wanted to “reunite” with their native state. It said the time was ripe to make such a demand as the Centre had agreed to carve out a separate state of Vananchal from the south Bihar districts.

The erstwhile princely states of Kharsawan and Seraikella merged with Bihar in 1948.

A section of the Opposition, including state Janata Dal (Secular) president Ashok Das, had demanded that the government convene a special Assembly session to discuss the issue.

Das also wrote to President K.R. Narayanan, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Union home minister L.K.Advani in this regard last month.

He urged them to merge the areas, which are now under Bihar’s Singhbhum district, with Orissa as soon as possible.

Observers feel the Biju Janata Dal-led government’s decision to demand reunification of Kharsawan and Seraikella with Orissa is aimed at stealing the Opposition’s thunder.

The move may also endear Patnaik to the people and blunt criticism of his alleged inability to speak Oriya.

Former chief minister Biju Patnaik had made a similar demand in 1993, but the Centre turned it down.

However, observers feel it will be difficult for Vajpayee to reject the fresh demand because the BJD is a constituent of the BJP-led coalition government at the Centre.

The government has, however, declined to hold talks with the Bihar government on the issue. “It is the Centre’s prerogative to take a decision. Our neighbouring state has no role to play in it,” chief secretary S.M.Patnaik told newspersons after today’s Cabinet meeting.

“The state government plans to convene an all-party meeting on the issue soon,” he added.

The chief secretary said the Cabinet decided to constitute two committees to look into the grievances of Oriyas living in other states and spread Oriya language and culture. He said a committee comprising the additional chief secretary and the secretaries of three departments had been directed to do the spadework in this regard.

A four-member ministerial committee was also constituted today to promote Oriya language and culture in other states. A sum of Rs 20 lakh was earmarked for the purpose.

The committee, which will draw up schemes and suggest ways to utilise the funds, comprises revenue and law minister Biswabhusan Harichandan, finance minister Ramkrushna Patnaik, schools and mass education minister Bhagabat Behera and health minister Kamala Das.

The Utkal Sammilani, which was instrumental in the creation of Orissa, also held a meeting today to discuss the reunification issue.    

Agartala, May 5 
Militants beheaded a 60-year-old non-tribal woman at Mendi village under Kamalpur police station in Tripura’s Dhalai district yesterday.

The widow was the lone non-tribal in the area. Mendi’s population was mixed not long ago, but a series of militant attacks forced all non-tribals to flee the village and take shelter elsewhere.

The victim, Shanti Nama, reportedly stayed back at her ancestral home because she had no one to turn to for help.Her husband Rajbihari passed away last year, while two of her relatives died in militant custody.

Sources said a group National Liberation Front of Tripura militants raided Shanti Nama’s house yesterday and bullied her. She responded to the militants’ taunts by daring them to shoot her dead.

The rebels subsequently beheaded the woman in the courtyard of her house and escaped.

Assam Rifles jawans from a nearby camp reached the spot almost two hours after the incident took place, the sources said.

In another incident, Raghuram Reang, son of CPM legislator Binduram Reang, was arrested in Kanchanpur yesterday on charges of having links with militants.    


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