World without Mamata
Patch-up twist to Jodhpur murder
Outpost raided to protest killing
Maidens bowl over Salt Lake seniors
Mamata rattled by rebels in the ranks
Language fracas resurfaces
JMM threatens economic blockade in south Bihar

Calcutta, June 14 
He does not know who Mamata Banerjee is. He has never heard of the roll or chow. He hasn’t read a newspaper or switched on the radio for 45 years. Meet 85-year-old Gopal Ghosh of Paikpara, in Belghoria, in self-exile since the death of wife Tara.

That day in 1965, Ghosh returned from the burning ghat and locked himself up in a room on the first floor of their house. Since then, he has never even descended to the ground floor, leave alone step out of the house.

“My wife was my only companion. When Tara passed away, life became meaningless for me. I became completely indifferent to either joy or sorrow,” says Ghosh. The two were married when she was 11 and he 18 years old.

For decades, the dhoti-clad, slight old man has survived on a daily diet of a cup of tea and two biscuits in the morning, a small bowl of chira (chapped rice) for breakfast, a little bit of rice and fish for lunch, and a handful of muri (puffed rice) at night.

Ghosh used to be one of the biggest milk traders in the area. But the day after his wife’s death, he turned his back on the trade, and on life. “I was only two-and-a-half when my mother died. My aunt and other elders in the family took care of us,” says Bijoy, the youngest among four children.

“Baba never showed any interest in our lives after Ma died. He didn’t even attend our weddings.”

Ghosh’s sons and daughters insist “he is mentally absolutely sound”. He has had no major health problem either. “It’s just a strange disinterest, caused by a deep sense of loneliness. We have often told him to try and get on with life, but he simply refuses to make an effort,” says a relative.

Having removed himself completely from the present, Ghosh has lost touch with the modern times. Images of the pre-Partition riots remain fresh in his mind and Jyoti Basu is the only contemporary politician he has heard of. He has no idea that the paddy fields surrounding his house have long given way to buildings and he stares blankly when told that the steam-engine to Sealdah has been replaced by the EMU local.

These days, however, there’s a hint of a smile on Ghosh’s grim face. The reason is not hard to find: he has been spending time with his grandchildren. They have managed what his children never could: force him out of his room to watch some television on the verandah. At first, he refused to budge, but then the kids had their way.

“But Dadu has no idea about cricket and the last film he saw was the silent Chand Saudagar,” complains one of them.    

Calcutta, June 14 
Apparently irked by 72-year-old Pritimoy Gupta’s decision to return to his wife, a “middle-aged, short but tough man” murdered the retired CESC officer in his Jodhpur Park apartment on Monday.

Police said they had arrived at this conclusion on Wednesday after sustained grilling of Gupta’s wife, Arati, and Smita Mitra, the schoolteacher with whom he had been living for the last 13 years.

On Monday afternoon, Gupta’s body was found in his apartment with his hands tied behind his back and feet bound by a cord. An amount of Rs 50,000 in cash and jewellery was missing.

“From what we have gathered from the two ladies, as well as circumstantial evidence collected from the spot, we are almost certain that Gupta was murdered by a short but strong man,” a senior police officer said. “However, we cannot reveal his identity now, though we have a fair idea about who he is.”

Arati Gupta has told the police that for the past 13 years, while her husband had been staying with Mitra in her apartment, she had been living with her widowed daughter in near-penury on Rashbehari Avenue. Recently, Mitra and Gupta had together been adding two extra floors to the Jodhpur Park apartment.

But after hours of interrogation, the victim’s widow added a twist to the murder mystery by saying that of late, Gupta had been thinking of returning to her, “especially for the sake of our daughters”. Their other daughter is married and lives in Salt Lake.

The couple had even thought of buying a house in south Calcutta, where they could all live together.

Meanwhile, the police on Wednesday detained seven labourers to investigate whether they had helped the “middle-aged man” commit the crime.

“We are sure he was helped by some people, as it could not have been the handiwork of only one person,” an official said.

Interrogation has revealed that though they were not working in the Jodhpur Park house that day, the labourers were aware of a lot of details about Gupta and Mitra’s relationship. The police have not ruled out a “murder for gain” motive either.

“It could well be that,” said the deputy commissioner of police, detective department, Narayan Ghosh, on Wednesday.

But a police officer pointed out that the stolen amount “could well be a red herring to put the police off the trail of the murdered”.

The police have carried out raids in different parts of South 24-Parganas in an attempt to track down the murder mastermind.    

Calcutta, June 14 
A group of irate Trinamul Congress supporters ransacked the sub-divisional police officer’s house in Salt Lake, on Wednesday morning, to protest the murder of a guard.

A 24-year-old guard, Bikram Mondal, was gunned down in AJ block of Salt Lake late on Tuesday night while he was on duty.

At around 10 pm, as soon as Mondal started patrolling the streets around the block, three youth approached him and started shooting at him from point-blank range.

Even after Mondal fell to the ground, they did not stop and kept on pumping bullets into him.

They then walked away from the spot,with Mondal lying in a pool of blood.

While the cause of the killing is not yet clear, Trinamul supporters claimed that the guard was a supporter of their party and had been gunned down by members of “a rival party”.

Around noon on Wednesday, about 200 Trinamul supporters gathered in front of the SDPO’s office, raising slogans against the murder.

Soon, their ranks swelled and tempers rose, till the mob tried to storm the office, claiming that the police were taking no action against the killers as they enjoyed the patronage of the “ruling Marxists”.

When the police tried to prevent them from entering the office, a scuffle broke out and some securitymen took a beating.

The police finally had to resort to a mild lathicharge to disperse the mob. At the end of the skirmish, the police arrested 12 Trinamul supporters.

The police claim that the night guard was not as innocent as the the Trinamul supporters are making him out to be. They said he was part of a “crime nexus”” and that he was a victim of a “mafia-style vendetta strike”.

Parveen Kumar, additional superintendent of police, North 24-Parganas, said: “This is a clear case of one mob bumping off a member of a rival gang. We have investigated Mondal’s background and he certainly was involved in criminal activity.”

Police also countered the Trinamul allegation that no action had been taken against the guilty. “We are conducting massive raids in the neighbourhood and are confident of nailing the culprits in the next few days,” Kumar said.

Four held for robbery

The police arrested four persons on Wednesday on charges of looting Rs.6.55 lakh from Metro Dairy employees. The robbery took place two months ago on BT Road when the dairy employees were going to a local bank to deposit the money.    

By Shankar Mukherjee 
Woman power is the name of the numbers game in Salt Lake. Home to the city’s political establishment, citizens of Salt Lake have generally been known to slam their doors on election campaigns.

Not this time, though. With 50 female candidates in the fray — most making their maiden appearance — the Salt Lake municipal polls slated for June 25 is proving to be a top draw.

The Trinamul Congress and the BJP have armed young and enthusiastic freshers with party tickets, while the CPM has played it safe, nominating “senior” women, except in one or two wards.

BJP nominee Mahua Dutta has already caused a stir among residents of ward 12. Keeping her little son with her in-laws, Mahua has hit the streets, going from door to door to make her debut count.

As she goes around petitioning her “dadus, kakimas, didas and mashimas”, the response is spontaneous.

“I have known Mahua since she was a little girl. She used to come to my house every afternoon and go up to the terrace to play. Now, she is a candidate for the municipal polls! I just cannot decided whether to vote for little Mahua or for a particular political ideology,’’ said P.B. Sarkar, a senior citizen of AK Block.

Student Soma Pramanik (CPM), lawyer Tulsi Sinha Roy (Trinamul), and housewife Pragati Pramanik (Congress), have already forced the people of Salt Late to sit up and take notice.

With their personal touch, they are all turning the candidate vote seeker-voter stereotype on its head.

“I steer clear of anything political. On Tuesday morning, when I found some people with jhandas approaching my house, I shut the doors. But then I found Soma standing with folded hands. How can I drive her away? I have seen her since her birth,’’ said Pratima Mondal of Mahisbathan.

“A young woman candidate is seen to be dynamic, hard working and more acceptable to the people. So, we decided to nominate young women for many seats,’’ explained BJP MP Tapan Sikdar.

The Trinamul and BJP leaders were taken aback when hundreds of women responded to the idea of contesting the polls, a far cry from 1995, when finding a suitable woman candidate was tougher than winning the seat.

So what explains this sudden surge into the political arena? It’s a combination of women starting to assert themselves and the Mamata factor, feel political observers. “I have taken up the Trinamul flag inspired by what didi has achieved,” says Tulsi.

But Mahua’s role model is A.B. Vajpayee. “I believe in the ideology of the BJP, led by the Prime Minister. I shall prove the party is not communal,’’ she vows.

In the previous 23-seat municipal board, there were four women councillors. This year, the figure may well be doubled. Also, if voters choose the “young, dynamic women’’ over the “veterans”, the battle of the ballot in Salt Lake could well take on a whole new look.    

Calcutta, June 14 
Trinamul Congress supremo and railway minister Mamata Banerjee is worried about the growing dissidence in the party. The dissident faction has put up candidates for at least 35 wards in the civic poll.

Under the banner of Trinamul Congress Banchao Committee, rebels, expelled on charges of irregularity, are publicly campaigning against official party nominees in parts of south, central and north Calcutta. The ruling Left Front has decided to cash in on this rift in the Trinamul ranks.

Naren Sen, secretary of the CPM’s Calcutta District Committee, said this will help them “expose Mamata and her party.”

Admitting it was an embarrassment for the party, Trinamul spokesman Pankaj Banerjee said efforts to dissuade the dissidents from contesting the polls have failed. “We are aware of this unfortunate development, but nothing can be done, since they are no more with us,” Banerjee regretted. The spokesman added that Mamata will campaign intensively in those wards where “dissidents are contesting.”

Dissidents, however, claimed that they will fare well in the elections. “We are confident of winning a number of wards, defeating Mamata Banerjee’s candidates,” said a spokesman for the dissidents’ forum.

The BJP’s West Bengal unit is also fraught with factional feuds and the party leadership admitted that campaigning has been affected by this. “It is unfortunate that our leaders are more tied up with the organisational polls,” said a senior BJP functionary.

The central leadership has decided to send former minister Sushma Swaraj to the city some time next week to discuss the issue with state leaders. The trouble centres around the post of state president, for which both the present incumbent, Asim Ghosh, and veteran Sukumar Banerjee are staking claim.    

Silchar, June 14 
After lying low for over a year, the Nikhil Bishnupriya Manipuri Students’ Union and the Bishnupriya Manipuri Gana Sangram Parishad have threatened to launch a fresh agitation in protest against the delay in introduction of the Bishnupriya Manipuri language as a medium of instruction in select primary schools in Assam.

The proposed agitation in the three south Assam districts of Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi will begin with a 501-hour rail and road blockade from June 28.

The Assam government had signed an accord with the two Bishnupriya Manipuri organisations on June 2 last year. The agreement cleared the decks for introduction of the Bishnupriya Manipuri language as a medium of instruction in schools in south Assam.

The accord was signed by Assam education minister Thaneswar Boro and representatives of the Nikhil Bishnupriya Manipuri Students’ Union and the Bishnupriya Manipuri Gana Sangram Parishad.

Observers feel the state government would have issued the relevant notification long back had the Manipur government and the All-Assam Manipuri Students’ Union (Amsu) not opposed its decision to grant official recognition to the Bishnupriya Manipuri language.

This is the third occasion since 1983 that the Assam government has found itself in a fix. The feud between the Meiteis and the two lakh Bishnupriya Manipuris in Assam date back to the early part of the last century.

While the Meiteis claim to be of Mongoloid stock, the language spoken by the Bishnupriya Manipuris is of Indo-Aryan origin.

The Assam government has reportedly sought a clarification from the Gauhati High Court on the status of the Bishnupriya Manipuri language in a bid to strengthen its position before issuing a notification regarding implementation of the accord signed last year.

Red alert

The Army and the police have been placed on maximum alert in North Cachar Hills district following a militant attack on a village on the outskirts of Maibong town in Manipur last night.

One person was killed and two seriously injured in the incident. Police sources in the district headquarters town of Haflong said the victims were non-tribals. The militants raided the village a couple of hours after dusk and opened fire indiscriminately.

While one Kalijoy Roy was killed on the spot, two other villagers were seriously injured. The police suspect the involvement of Dima Halam Daoga, a Dimasa outfit active in the North Cachar Hills.    

Ranchi, June 14 
The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha today threatened to enforce a total economic blockade in south Bihar districts if the Centre failed to pass the State Reorganisation Bill during the monsoon session of Parliament.

Newly-elected JMM chief Shibu Soren told newpersons here that the party was in no mood to wait for an indefinite period for a separate state. The JMM leader warned that the party would stop outflow of minerals including coal, iron ore and bauxite from the south Bihar mines if the new state was not carved out. Elaborating the party’s plan to continue with its struggle for a separate state, Soren said all JMM cadre have been asked to visit the villages and plant at least five trees in every village.

To consolidate the party’s grassroots base, volunteers have been asked to monitor development projects in their respective villages and stem corruption associated with such projects, Soren added. All large projects and dams, which are either under construction or at the survey stage, would be opposed by the JMM, he said. Further work at the Koel Karo Hydel Project and the Tudurma Dam in Ranchi and Gumla districts respectively would not be allowed, Soren added.

While opposing the Netarhat field firing range in Gumla, the JMM leader said his party would also prevent the Army from building an alternate firing range at Chatra. Commenting on the recent Supreme Court judgment granting property rights to women, Soren ruled out conceding any rights over land to tribal women. The JMM would, however, stand against all forms of exploitation of women, he added.

Describing land as the only property of tribals, Soren said empowering women with property rights would trigger further division of land. He alleged that outsiders, contractors and even government servants were “robbing” the tribals of their property. Any effort to alienate tribals from their land would be opposed, he added.    


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