Cong CPM’s last hope
Police brace for ballot battle
Vasant’s last wish honoured
Scientist dead
There’s nothing official about it
Protest shuts down centre for impaired
Axe spectre on defectors in Manipur
Majuli monasteries wake up to conversion threat
Attack on Bihar judge condemned
Tribals resent official’s killing

 
 
CONG CPM’S LAST HOPE 
 
 
BY TAMAL SENGUPTA
 
Calcutta, June 20 
CPM hopes rest on the Congress in the battle for Calcutta. An internal assessment by the Marxists just three days short of the civic poll indicates that the party can hope to form the next board in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation only with the support of the Congress.

At the moment, this is also the best possible scenario drawn up by the party’s poll managers. They fear that a more realistic scenario gives the Trinamul Congress a clear lead.

The CPM leadership on Tuesday was worried by the statement of state Congress president ABA Ghani Khan Choudhury, who said the party will maintain “equidistance” from both the Trinamul and the Left, in the event of a hung verdict to the 141-seat corporation.

Choudhury’s policy of equidistance was scant consolation for the CPM. Party state secretary Anil Biswas said if the Congress sticks to such a policy, it can hope to improve its poll prospects.

What Biswas and his comrades dread most is the Congress aligning with the Trinamul and the BJP to keep the Left out of power if the verdict is hung.

Ghani Khan Choudhury was enigmatic when asked of such a possibility. Rank outsiders in the race for the Corporation, the Congress leadership is all but convinced that it will have to piggy-back on a larger partner if it has to justify its political existence in Calcutta. Choudhury ruled out the possibility of aligning with the Left, but was not as categorical when asked if he will keep the Trinamul-BJP too at arm’s length.

Even if it signifies a massive erosion in the Left’s support base, the possibility of a hung verdict is keeping the party cadre going.

They are banking on the party’s ability to turn a lost situation into a fighting chance. News within the party has been far from encouraging for them.

The internal assessment made by the state leadership has suggested that the party may lose its control over the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) and, in all probability, the Trinamul-BJP combine will get 80 to 83 wards in the June 25 polls.

On the other hand, the party believes that the Congress will do better in north Calcutta than in the southern suburbs of the city and the Garden Reach-Metiabruz belt.

One CPM leader who is closely associated with the party’s city unit said: “We will face our most difficult electoral battle — since 1977 — on June 25”. In the last Lok Sabha polls, the CPM had lost all three Lok Sabha seats in the city.

A wardwise analysis of the Lok Sabha results put the Trinamul-BJP combine well ahead of the Left in 122 of the total 141 municipal wards.

The party assessment revealed that in case the Trinamul fails to retain its control over at least 40 wards out of 122, 82 wards will still be under its control, which is enough for a majority in the CMC, which has 141 wards. This calculation has worried CPM leadership, many of whom believe that “the political situation in the city has not undergone a major change since the last Lok Sabha polls, conducted about eight months ago.”

CPM cadre are also grudging Jyoti Basu’s absence from the campaign. “Though Basu is not publicly campaigning this time, he is always with us, advising us how to counter the Trinamul-BJP’s campaign for the civic poll,” said Biswas. But that is little solace to the CPM cadre, who see in Jyoti Basu the party’s best votecatcher.    


 
 
POLICE BRACE FOR BALLOT BATTLE 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, June 20 
It’s action stations for the police as the civic poll campaign reaches fever pitch. Reports pouring in from various parts of the city suggest that the June 25 elections in Calcutta and Salt Lake could witness “large-scale violence”.

Though deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya said efforts were under way to ensure that the elections are “peaceful”, police sources admitted that almost all mainstream parties are busy ‘importing’ terror. “We shall not allow any party to create trouble in the city,” Bhattacharya said.

Police continued their pre-poll swoop on anti-socials. Eight armed men were arrested in central and south Calcutta on Tuesday. Six were from Murshidabad, Bankura, Midnapore and Hooghly districts. Ten revolvers and a huge quantity of ammunition were seized from them.

Trouble broke out at Regent Park, when Trinamul workers ransacked the police station, protesting an alleged assault on their supporters by CPM cadre. Deputy superintendent of police Subhankar Chatterjee ordered a lathicharge to disperse the mob.

Buddhadev Bhattacharya came down heavily on the Trinamul activists and said: “We know how to teach them a lesson.” Police chief D.C. Vajpai held a meeting with senior officers to review the situation.

In Salt Lake, too, there is a growing fear of “large-scale violence” during the polls. Police said the CPM has started bringing in cadre from Barasat, Baranagar, Dum Dum and Birati. Intelligence reports indicate that the Trinamul has mobilised activists from Madhyamgram, Barasat, Belghoria and Khardah.

Senior detectives said several notorious criminals have joined hands with the Trinamul. While Sridhar, Kumar, Tarak Singh, Buro Chaki and their associates are gearing up to unleash terror in Tollygunge, Bhowanipore, Alipore and Chetla, Kala Saha and his associates are likely to hold sway over Kaizer Street and Sealdah.

Sridhar, a key figure in the south Calcutta underworld, has crossed over to the Trinamul camp from CPM. Happy, a dreaded name in the Park Street area, has switched allegiance from the CPM to Trinamul.

Police also fear violence in the port areas, like Ekbalpore and Watgunge. Beleghata and Narkeldanga have been identified as “sensitive zones”.    


 
 
VASANT’S LAST WISH HONOURED 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 20 
Vasant Chowdhury, eminent actor and former sheriff of Calcutta, died at his south Calcutta residence on Tuesday morning.

The news of his death was made public only after he was cremated. This had been his last wish. The 72-year-old film and stage artiste was suffering from lung cancer.

Chowdhury was born in 1928 in Nagpur, where he spent his formative years. Remembered for his crisp voice (which had prompted Uttam Kumar to say: “I wish I had a voice like him”) and imposing screen presence, Chowdhury made his screen debut in 1952 with Mahaprasthaner Pathey.

From godman to autocratic parent, Chowdhury brought rare character and style to each of his roles. He acted in over a hundred films, including Deep Jele Jai, Andharey Alo, Raja Rammohun and Debi Choudhurani. He also acted in Hindi films like Parakh and Ek Doctor Ki Maut.

Chowdhury had to his credit over 2,000 stage performances. Taking to the stage in 1956, he later switched over to acting in radio plays and television serials.

A keen numismatist, he was an expert in art and archaeology. He wrote a number of research papers on the old coins of Tripura, Cooch Behar and Arakan. He had recently handed over his precious collection of 101 Ganesha idols to the Indian Museum.

Besides being sheriff of Calcutta, he was also chairman of Nandan. Jyoti Basu said Chowdhury had “tremendous expertise” in various fields. “We have exchanged notes on many subjects,” the chief minister said.

Deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya said Chowdhury’s death was “a great loss to Bengali culture”.    


 
 
SCIENTIST DEAD 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 20 
Prof. Chanchal Kumar Majumdar, noted physicist and former director of the Satyendranath Bose National Centre for Basic Sciences, died of a heart attack on Tuesday.

He was 62 and is survived by his wife, son and a daughter.

Born in Krishnagar, he studied at St John’s CMC School, Presidency College and Calcutta University. He did his Ph.D at the University of California, La Jolla.

Majumdar worked at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and then as the Palit Professor of physics at Calcutta University. He become the founder-director of Satyendranath Bose Centre in 1987.

A condensed matter physicist, he is famous for the so-called Majumdar-Ghosh Hamiltonian, now included in text books on advanced studies in magnetism.    


 
 
THERE’S NOTHING OFFICIAL ABOUT IT 
 
 
BY BARUN GHOSH
 
Calcutta, June 20 
With less than a week for the civic polls, the rebels are threatening to overshadow official nominees. Dissidents from the CPM, Trinamul Congress and the BJP have been campaigning vigorously against candidates in various wards.

For the CPM, the infighting in ward 60, in the Beniapukur area, has proved to be particularly embarrassing. Here, key party functionary Mohammad Nizamuddin’s daughter-in-law, Zeba Nasreen, is contesting against the CPM nominee on a Trinamul ticket.

“My father-in law approached me twice with a request not to contest the polls as a Trinamul candidate. But I told him clearly that I shall join Didi’s party to expose the CPM,” said Nasreeen.

Her husband, Sagar Ahsen, Nizamuddin’s elder son, too, criticised his father’s decision to contest as a CPM candidate. While participating in a padayatra in support of his wife on Monday, Sagar said: “He (Nizamuddin) is wasting himself, working for a bankrupt party like the CPM.”

The battle for Behala is also turning out to a messy affair for the ruling CPM. Dissidents have even floated an outfit called Voter Dabi Manch (Voters’ Grievances Forum) to expose the communist nexus with promoters and anti-socials. Manch members claim to have made their presence felt in almost all 18 wards, starting ward 115 in the Behala area.

“Our purpose is to ensure the defeat of the Left Front nominees, who have done nothing for the people of Behala during the past five years,” announced Manch leader Sunil Das, a former CPM zonal committee member. He was expelled in June 1999.

“We are urging the people to vote for Trinamul Congress candidates,” said another forum member, Susanta Bose.

The CPM leadership, perturbed by the growing popularity of the rebels, has sent out feelers for a patch-up bid. “We are worried by the dissident activities on the eve of civil polls,” admitted Naren Sen, secretary of CPM’s Calcutta District Committee.

Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress, too, has been fighting rebels in its ranks.

Officials say at least 35 Trinamul leaders have entered the fray under the banner of Trinamul Congress Banchao Committee to embarrass “official Trinamul nominees”.

“We are sure to make a dent in the civic polls,” declares Arun Hazra, a Trinamul functionary leading the committee.

The BJP is facing internal problems in at least 10 wards across the city. Santilal Jain, chairman of the state BJP’s municipal cell, admitted that rebels are contesting a number of wards in north and central Calcutta.

The West Bengal Congress camp is an exception. “This time, there was no scramble for party tickets. So, the question of dissidents entering the fray against official nominees does not arise,” observed a key PCC functionary.    


 
 
PROTEST SHUTS DOWN CENTRE FOR IMPAIRED 
 
 
BY KUMAR SAHA
 
Calcutta, June 20 
On Tuesday morning, years of tortured silence finally found a voice. The physically-challenged employees of Silence, a Calcutta-based rehabilitation organisation, shut down its workshop at the Kasba Industrial Estate, protesting “discrimination and ill-treatment”.

Trouble broke out on Monday, when Abhijit Pradhan, an 18-year-old with speech impairment, was thrown out of the workshop for arguing with a co-worker and forced to stand in the scorching sun for nearly five hours.

To put an end to such “discriminatory and inhuman practices”, allegedly on the rise in the organisation for the past few years, the handicapped employees halted all production and barred the executive members from entering the premises.

They alleged that the officials at Silence are exploiting them “under the garb of social welfare”. They said they are denied provident fund and medical leave. And dignity.

“My father was sick for a few days and I was unable to attend office. I applied for medical leave. Instead, I got thrown out for absenteeism,” said Sanjib Bose, a former employee who has joined forces with the protesters.

The workers claimed that most of them were forced to perform odd jobs, like getting tea, cleaning the floor and so on. “Nobody has any fixed work. If we fail to please the bosses, they taunt and jeer at our disabilities,” cried Soumendranath Chowdhury.

The employees are preparing for talks with the authorities, who were not available for comment.    


 
 
AXE SPECTRE ON DEFECTORS IN MANIPUR 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Imphal, June 20 
The Manipur Opposition today initiated disqualification proceedings against nine Manipur State Congress Party legislators.

In complaints lodged separately with Speaker Sapam Dhananjoy, various Opposition parties sought disqualification of the nine MSCP members, including six ministers, under the anti-defection law.

The complaints were lodged shortly after chief minister W. Nipamacha Singh left for New Delhi via Calcutta to attend a conference. The nine MSCP members against whom proceedings have been initiated had defected to the ruling party from the Nationalist Congress Party, the Manipur People’s Party, the Janata Dal (United) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal after the Assembly elections.

The defections were recognised by former Speaker Karam Babudhon on March 5 and 7. However, the Opposition contested the move, saying Babudhon was no longer the Speaker. It said Rishang Keishing was the pro tem Speaker and the onus was on him to take a decision on the issue.

Irrespective of the controversy, the nine legislators took oath on March 8 and signed the relevant documents in the name of their original parties. Their defection to the MSCP was finally recognised by the new Speaker on April 11.

The Opposition’s insistence on disqualification of the nine legislators is aimed at toppling the Nipamacha Singh government. BJP leader R.K. Dorendra Singh is orchestrating the campaign against the United Front of Manipur ministry. Despite the Opposition putting up a united fight, the chief minister appears to be confident of weathering the crisis.

Before leaving for New Delhi today, he told a news conference that the 39 legislators comprising the United Front of Manipur reposed faith in his leadership at a meeting here last night.

Denying that he was not on good terms with the Speaker, Nipamacha Singh accused his detractors of spreading malicious rumours. He also denied any move to remove Dhananjoy from the Speaker’s post.

The UFM meeting convened by the chief minister last night was attended by 36 legislators. Three other legislators of the ruling coalition were out of station.

A “signature campaign” was carried out at the meeting, which was followed by a dinner hosted by the chief minister. The Speaker was also present at the meeting-cum-dinner.

Sources said Dhananjoy might issue show-cause notices on the nine legislators whose disqualification has been sought. The legislators are Thangminlen Kipgen, T. Hangkhanpao, Onjamang Haokip, Md. Alauddin, S. Chandra, K. Tomba, L. Jatra, Zatwan and C. Doungel.

Killers identified

Two militants of the banned Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (Oken group) were responsible for the assassination of renowned Manipuri theatre personality Arambam Somorendra, chief minister W. Nipamacha Singh said today. Somorendra was killed on June 10 at Khurai Salanthong here. He was the founder general secretary and former chairman of the United National Liberation Front .

The award-winning Sahitya Akademi playwright had come overground in 1974 after a decade-long association with the dreaded UNLF. The chief minister said as per the police reports, the two rebels have been identified as self-styled lieutenant Sharungbam Open and Meisnam Gopeshore.

The involvement of KYKL (Oken) in Somorendra’s killing and the identity of the gunmen were revealed by surrendered militants of that group during interrogations. The militant, one M. Jugeshwore, surrendered before Assam Rifles with two weapons and a hand grenade on Saturday.

Bandh total: A 14-hour bandh called by three voluntary organisations in protest against the killing of Somorendra affected normal life in the state today. Educational institutions and markets remained closed throughout the day, while attendance in government offices were thin. However, Indian Airlines and Jet Airways operated their flights.    


 
 
MAJULI MONASTERIES WAKE UP TO CONVERSION THREAT 
 
 
FROM PULLOCK DUTTA
 
Jorhat, June 20 
A spate of religious conversions on the world’s largest river island of Majuli has set the stage for a major confrontation between the upholders of Vaishnavaite culture and the Church.

Home to almost all the major satras (Vaishnavaite monasteries) in Assam, Majuli has a large population of Mising tribals who are being increasingly drawn towards Christian ideals. In several villages on the island, Christianity is well on its way to becoming the major faith.

“The failure of the satras to keep the Misings in their fold has given Christian missionaries the opportunity to convert them,” the satradhikar (head abbot) of Na-Kamalabari Satra told a newspaper recently.

The issue was raised again yesterday at a function commemorating 130 years of the Asam Bilasini, a newspaper published by the Auniati Satra.

Addressing the function in Majuli, former Asam Sahitya Sabha president Nagen Saikia said the newspaper was the brainchild of satradhikar Duttadev Goswami, who imported a printing machine from Calcutta and established the Dharmaprakash Press in Majuli on June 19, 1871.

“The satradhikar’s primary aim was to counter the threat from Christian missionaries, who had just launched the first Assamese newspaper Arunodoi,” Saikia said.

The Asam Bilasini is no longer in publication, but a new computerised printing press was inaugurated by current Asam Sahitya Sabha chief Chandra Prasad Saikia at the Auniati Satra yesterday. Religious texts will be published in the new printing unit. Also in the pipeline is a book on Majuli’s history.

Majuli came into prominence in the 16th century, when Srimanta Sankardev and his disciples set up satras on the island to propagate Vaishnavaite philosophy. There are 22 satras in Majuli at present.

With Christianity making inroads into the island, all major satras have been shaken out of their complacency.

A campaign is underway to bring back Misings who have turned to Christianity back into the Vaishnavaite fold.

A bhaona (traditional play) was staged in the Mising-dominated Jengrai area recently to restore the tribals’ faith in Vaishnavaite culture.

CRPF men killed

Two Central Reserve Police Force personnel were killed in an encounter with militants at Ghugulani village under Naharkatia police station in Upper Assam’s Dibrugarh district last night.

A joint police and CRPF team was on its way to the village for a combing operation when the militants opened fire. Havildar Bhagebisukh and constable Narayan Pradhan were killed on the spot, sources said.

In another incident, security forces apprehended a United National Liberation Front militant in Motinagar tea estate under Geleky police station on the Assam-Nagaland border in Sivsagar district today.

An M-21 rifle and 12 rounds of ammunition were recovered from the militant, identified as Ratan Sharma. Ratan told interrogators that he and four other militants were on their way to Manipur from Hoyak on the Indo-Myanmar border.    


 
 
ATTACK ON BIHAR JUDGE CONDEMNED 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Dhanbad, June 20 
The Bihar State Judicial Officers’ Association has condemned the attack on additional chief judicial magistrate, Ghatsila, Kamala Prasad and the abduction of his son by criminals at Koderma near Giridih.

Prasad was on his way to Samastipur with his family to take up his new posting.

Police have not been able to trace the judge’s abducted son. The abductors are yet to establish contact with the hostage’s family.

Members of the association convened a meeting here to condemn the incident and protest against the deteriorating law and order situation. The association has requested the Patna High Court to look into the matter.

The members, mostly senior judicial officers, said judicial officers and their families had suffered in the past because of heightened criminal activities.

Two years ago, a CBI special judge was threatened by an accused. The accused had allegedly threatened to kill the judge down in court. Following the incident, security of judges in the district was beefed up.    


 
 
TRIBALS RESENT OFFICIAL’S KILLING 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Agartala, June 20 
A 12-hour Khowai bandh called by the CPM today to protest against yesterday’s killing of Autonomous District Council official Sanjib Purkayastha at Champahaor by NLFT militants passed off peacefully. The bandh was total as it was not opposed by any party.

The killing of Purkayastha, son of veteran CPM leader Ranjan Purkayastha, has sparked resentment among the tribals.

The victim’s father was one of the founders of the district organising committee of the undivided CPI in 1948.

He married a tribal woman from Champahaor in Khowai subdivision and consolidated the Communist base along with Nripen Chakaborty and Dasha-rath Deb. He is still a member of the CPM state committee and a proponent of ethnic amity.

An idealist by nature, Ranjan Purkayastha married his slain son to a tribal girl from Champahaor. Police sources here said unlike other autonomous district council employees, Purkayastha, a zonal officer, had refused to pay the NLFT. This irked the outfit and led to his killing.

Purkayastha was earlier shot at by militants near his office at the ADC headquarters in Khumlung on March 22. He had managed to survive the attack.

But militants kept tabs on his movements. Police sources said the NLFT had launched a poster campaign at Champahaor ordering all Bengalis to leave the village. But the residents defied the whip incurring the wrath of the outfit. Nearly 10 NLFT cadre cordoned off the Chamaphaor market disguised as Assam Rifles jawans and fooled the people into thinking that they had come to provide security to traders on the weekly market day.

Two militants fired at Purkayastha, who was standing near the CPM local committee office, from point blank range.

Sources said a few hours before his killing, Purkayastha had met CPM legislator from Khowai Samir Deb Sarkar and Assam Rifles commandant of a nearby camp A.K. Sachdev to inform them about the NLFT fiat.    

 

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