Micro race turns mega spectacle
26300 cops to wait and watch at 141 wards
Trinamul vs BJP in Salt Lake
Cablemen split over STAR issue
Rampant theft at Science College
MCC threatens to kill Bihar engineer
NLFT militants waylay vehicles, abduct six
Manipur front on verge of split
Indian Oil to revive Ranchi depot

 
 
MICRO RACE TURNS MEGA SPECTACLE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 22 
Riding a groundswell of support, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress on Thursday looked set to make a deep assault on the ruling Left in Sunday’s civic polls.

The worst scenario sketched by Mamata’s campaign managers is that of a photo-finish if the Congress cuts into the Trinamul’s support base. As if fearing such a possibility, Mamata has been asking voters to “annihilate” the Congress. The Congress itself has risen from the ashes and despite the disarray in its ranks, its candidates’ spirited fightback might still check the party’s slide into oblivion.

The Corporation election has caught the attention of the country and watchers will be on tenterhooks till Wednesday, after this Sunday’s poll. The decibel level of the campaign, and Mamata Banerjee’s shrillness in particular, have raised the level of the fight from a local poll to a national event.

The Trinamul believes this is the precursor to the showdown between Mamata and the CPM in the 2001 Assembly elections. Whatever the outcome, it is certain that the results will be showcased.

Advertising her cheap cotton sari, a shoulder-slung jhola and Hawaii chappals, Mamata has scoured the city and Salt Lake for votes. Her public meetings, at least eight every day for the past 10 days, have drawn enthusiastic crowds.

One Trinamul functionary, known in the party as a sceptic, insists that the party will reach the magic number of 71 required to achieve majority with the barest of support from ally BJP.

The presence of dissident Trinamul candidates, however, is an irritant for Mamata.

In last October’s Lok Sabha elections, Mamata’s party had a lead in 122 of the 141 wards. Mamata’s campaign managers insist that nothing has weakened her votebank in eight months.

Unlike Mamata, the Left’s main votecatcher, Jyoti Basu, has been largely absent from the campaigning. CPM activists were disappointed he kept away from the hurly-burly of the election. They fear this could prove dear. During the 1995 polls, Basu was not active and the Left won in only 67 of the 141 wards. The Congress bagged 66.

The CPM pressed deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya and politburo member Biman Bose into the campaign, but cadre doubt if they are a match for Basu’s charisma or Mamata’s ‘glamour’. So desperate were party workers for Basu that this week, CPM secretary Anil Biswas had to make a public statement to assure them the chief minister was not staying away on purpose. “He is advising us every day and is holding meetings with leaders and suggesting strategies,” Biswas said.

The atmosphere is taut with tension. This is the first truly triangular contest in years. The civic poll dominates conversation everywhere.    


 
 
26300 COPS TO WAIT AND WATCH AT 141 WARDS 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, June 22 
The special branch of the city police has warned Lalbazar headquarters that both the CPM and the Trinamul Congress may resort to muscle power on the day of the civic poll on June 25.

“We are taking no chances and deploying almost the entire force of 26,300 policemen. We think all the 2,585 booths are sensitive,” said deputy commissioner of police, headquarters, Nazrul Islam.

Police intelligence reports have emphasised that both the Left and the Trinamul-BJP combine have mounted high-decibel campaigns that could incite their supporters to turn violent.

State CPM secretary Anil Biswas said police intelligence reports indicating the possibility of violence appeared to be credible. He alleged the Trinamul has a “violent bent of mind.”

Biswas told The Telegraph: “CPM cadre will resist, with the assistance of the people, all Trinamul attempts to terrorise voters.”

Such statements have been made by CPM and Trinamul leaders while campaigning and the police fear such provocation can easily incite violence.

The lists of “sensitive” and “super-sensitive” areas drawn up by the police cover most parts of the city. Among the localities mentioned are Narkeldanga, Ultadanga, Cossipore, Shyampukur, Burrabazar, Bhowanipore, Tollygunge and Ekbalpur.

Significantly, in a departure from the past, the special branch of the police has refrained from predicting the poll prospects of political parties. Insiders say it is fighting shy of making adverse comments on the CPM’s prospects.

Police officers have been asked not to take action against bogus voters till their help is sought by presiding officers. This was made clear to senior officials and officers-in-charge of police stations during a briefing by police commissioner D.C. Vajpai and his deputies overseeing the preparations for the June 25 civic polls.

Vajpai told his officers their duty was only to ensure peaceful polling. “Keep a watch on trouble-makers who may try to create disturbances during the polls.”

Officers who attended the briefing said nearly all the trouble during elections starts with allegations of false voting. “If the police do not take action on their own against fake voters, trouble may break out and we will be blamed,” they complained.

The officers were also told not to allow journalists and photo-journalists inside the booths.

Vajpai, however, asked the police officers to be on alert on poll day, as he apprehends violence this time.

Deputy commissioner of police, headquarters, Nazrul Islam, said genuine voters, if prevented from exercising their franchise, can always inform the police stations and the Lalbazar police control room. “Action will be taken immediately,” he added.

He said local residents should inform the police at the first hint of trouble.    


 
 
TRINAMUL VS BJP IN SALT LAKE 
 
 
BY SHANKAR MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, June 22 
With 72 hours to go for the municipal polls, the day-long drizzle did little to dampen the high-pitch election campaign in Salt Lake.

The idyllic township was caught in a cacophonous crossfire as allies Trinamul Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took potshots at each other on Thursday.

“Don’t waste your valuable vote on the BJP candidates here. It is much better to cast it in favour of the CPM,’’ Union minister and Trinamul leader Ajit Panja declared while campaigning for the Trinamul candidates.

In other words, going against all tenets of a political alliance, Panja, with the approval of party supremo Mamata Banerjee, was exhorting the voters to dump the BJP.

BJP’s Union minister Tapan Sikdar reacted sharply: “This is a pointer to the Trinamul’s attempts to undermine the alliance. I am shocked at what Panja has said. I cannot understand how he can ask the voters not to back the BJP when he is a still minister of the Vajpayee government.’’

During the day, the BJP leadership even brought the Trinamul leader’s tirade against the BJP to the notice of the central leadership.

In Salt Lake, the BJP, perceived to be a relatively dominant force, has fielded candidates in several wards independent of the Trinamul. Of the 23 wards, candidates from the two allies are pitted against each other in 12 wards.

Their failure to reach a seat-sharing arrangement will, of course, work out to the CPM’s advantage.

Panja said as the Trinamul was pitted against the BJP in many wards of the township, there was no point asking the voters to side with the BJP if they did not like Trinamul.

“We have an alliance with the BJP at the Centre. But in Bengal, our strength is greater than that of the BJP, whose leaders have come to the limelight riding piggyback on us. They are aware of it, but are behaving as if we are dependant of them,” Panja said.

While Trinamul leader Arunava Ghosh said the BJP’s “abnormal demands” had prevented a pre-poll understanding, Sikdar blamed Ghosh for the talks between the parties falling through.

“When the seat adjustment did not take shape, we told the Trinamul Congress that let it be a friendly fight, but we both will have to ensure that our political relations are not affected. But I cannot imagine how a veteran politician like Panja can actually ask people to vote for the CPM.

“I am not mean like Panja, so I would not mind urging the electorate to vote for Trinamul if they don’t vote for us. After, all we are on the same boat,’’ said Sikdar.

According to informed sources, Trinamul’s assault on the BJP was provoked by election speeches delivered by Sikdar and some other local BJP leaders over the past 48 hours, in which they openly ridiculed the Trinamul and made digs at Mamata.

There is no doubt who will emerge stronger from the Trinamul vs BJP skirmish in Salt Lake — the ruling CPM, which, by Thursday night, looked confident of retaining the township.    


 
 
CABLEMEN SPLIT OVER STAR ISSUE 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, June 22 
Even as a section of the cable TV operators is campaigning for a state-wide boycott of the STAR network to protest its “unilateral decision to blank five of its channels”, quite a few independent operators, as well as some under the RPG ambit, are keen to swim against the tide.

More than a week into the impasse after STAR took five of its channels off air demanding payment at revised rates, subscriber pressure from some areas has forced cable operators to mull a stop-gap solution. Thus, while S.P. Saha of Alipore is already showing the blacked-out channels to his viewers by procuring decoders for those, enquiries about these magic boxes are pouring into STAR TV’s city office.

“Operators from Dum Dum, Entally, Kidderpore, Kasba and Salt Lake have been calling us up to check out the modalities of obtaining decoders for the channels, which are currently out of bounds in RPG areas,” a senior STAR TV official said on Thursday. A decoder can be procured by depositing Rs 5,000 with STAR, to be refunded once the service resumes on the RPG network.

Meanwhile, Cable Television Operators’ Association (CTOA) secretary Supratim Halder has written to STAR, demanding a channel-wise break-up of rates, as well as a restructuring of the bouquet system. “We can’t thrust down viewers’ throats channels that they don’t want,” said Halder.

STAR, however, maintains it is not forcing the operators to buy the entire basket of five channels for Rs 16.75. “They can even take three, for instance, but must pay the rates specified for those three and we won’t climb down on that,” said the STAR official.    


 
 
RAMPANT THEFT AT SCIENCE COLLEGE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 22 
A series of thefts on Calcutta University’s Rajabazar Science College campus has prompted the authorities to call in the police.

On Thursday, senior teachers, students, research scholars and employees demanded “immediate action” against those involved in the theft of valuable apparatus and a costly camera from the university’s physiology department laboratory on Wednesday.

They also stressed the need for “proper security in the laboratories” and urged the authorities to initiate “a police inquiry” into the pilferage.

“This is the sixth incident of theft on the campus in the past four months and the authorities have failed to resolve the matter,” complained a senior scientist working at the institute for more than 20 years.

Scholars complained that research activity was suffering due to the loss of vital equipment.

“A case has already been referred to the local Amherst Street police station,” said Manab Sengupta, secretary of the science faculty and in charge of security on the campus.

“Appropriate measures are also being taken by the university to prevent such incidents,” Sengupta added.

Departmental heads submitted a detailed report on campus thefts to university registrar T.K. Mukherjee and urged him to start a “thorough probe” by the police.

Apart from laboratory equipment, computers, cellphones, gas cylinders and other valuable apparatus have gone missing over the months.    


 
 
MCC THREATENS TO KILL BIHAR ENGINEER 
 
 
FROM SALMAN RAVI
 
Dhanbad, June 22 
The banned Maoist Communist Centre has directed the block junior engineer of the Peertand block office in Giridih district of south Bihar to leave the area within 10 days. The outfit has threatened to “hack him to death” if he does not obey their diktat.

This has sparked panic among state government employees posted at the Peertand block office.

The diktat, pasted as a poster right at the entrance of the block office, has sent ripples in official circles with most of the employees fleeing their place of work.

All assurances by senior officials to restore the confidence of the employees, particularly the junior engineer, have failed.

The banned Naxalite outfit has accused the junior engineer of taking 10 per cent commission from contractors.

“Leave the area within 10 days or you will face the same consequences as that of the police informer, Chamtu Patel,” the poster warned.

Chamtu Patel was killed last year by the MCC. His throat was slit in broad daylight and the body was kept at a temple just 100 metres away from the Peertand police station. Fear-stricken employees of the block have pleaded for adequate security.

Even 24 hours after the poster was put up at the entrance of the office, no employee had dared to remove it. The hand-written poster has also sparked panic in several villages adjoining the Peertand block office.

Peertand is believed to be the headquarters of the north Chhotanagpur regional area committee of the MCC, which operates under the banner of “Lalkhand,” Nari Mukti Sangh and Mazdoor Kisan Sangram Samity. The Peertand jungles of Giridih district, on the borders of Dhanbad makes policing a tough task. Hardcore MCC cadres seeking shelter there can spot a police vehicle entering the area from a distance of at least two kilometres.

A police task force last year arrested David, a self-styled regional “commander” of the MCC and a self-styled “deputy inspector-general” of the outfit, Dasrath Mahato, from the Peertand area.

In view of the sensitivity of the area, a permanent camp of the Bihar military police and paramilitary forces has been set up in Peertand.

The junior engineer named in the MCC poster is in charge of the development work of the eastern region of Peertand block, specially at Simarkodni, Harladih, Badri, Sobranpur, Konilya and Chirki panchayats.

The villagers of these panchayats had earlier written to the authorities alleging that the junior engineer charged a commission of 10 per cent of the total amount sanctioned for a development work as commission from local contractors.

But the authorities reportedly did not take any action on the petitions of the villagers.

Giridih superintendent of police Ajit Joy confirmed the incident and said the police have taken steps to provide adequate security to the staff of Peertand block office.    


 
 
NLFT MILITANTS WAYLAY VEHICLES, ABDUCT SIX 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Agartala, June 22 
Five persons were abducted by suspected National Liberation Front of Tripura militants in South Tripura today. Police sources said the militants fired at and stopped two passenger jeeps at Aloycherra on the Udaipur-Santirbazar road in South district at 7 am. The jeeps, bound for Santirbazar in Belonia sub-division, had left Udaipur half-an-hour ago.

The militants abducted the two drivers and four passengers and escaped into the jungles.

After travelling a little distance, one of the drivers managed to escape. Though the rest of the hostages are yet to be identified, sources said they include three traders and a bookshop owner.

In another incident yesterday, suspected All-Tripura Tiger Force militants abducted the wife of an Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura activist. Police sources said the militants had attacked Basanta Debbarma, a former CPM activist who joined the IPFT before the Autonomous District Council elections, at his residence in Mungiabari village under Teliamura police station on Tuesday.    


 
 
MANIPUR FRONT ON VERGE OF SPLIT 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Imphal, June 22 
The Secular Democratic Front (SDF) in Manipur is likely to be a casualty in the process of realignment of political forces in the state.

The front comprises the Congress, the Manipur People’s Party, the Janata Dal (Secular) and the CPI. Sources said the majority of Congress legislators might defect to the BJP-led Manipur Democratic Alliance, which has emerged as a major threat to the W. Nipamacha Singh ministry. The JD(S) and the MPP are also likely to rally round the alliance.

Of the 13 SDF legislators in the 60-member Assembly, 11 are from the Congress and one each from the MPP and JD(S). The CPI does not have a single legislator in its ranks.

The MPP had won four seats in the last Assembly elections, but three of its legislators defected to the ruling Manipur State Congress Party. With the oust-Nipamacha campaign orchestrated by former chief minister R.K. Dorendra Singh gaining momentum, most Opposition legislators are trying to be part of the action.

Except for veteran Congress leader Rishang Keishing, all Congress legislators could desert their party to ensure that a BJP-led government replaces the Nipamacha Singh ministry.

The Opposition camp is particularly upbeat because Speaker Sapam Dhananjoy appears to be just as opposed to Nipamacha Singh’s continuation as chief minister. Dhananjoy is expected to serve show cause notices on nine MSCP legislators in response to petitions seeking their disqualification on charges of violating the anti-defection law.

The nine legislators, including six ministers, defected to the ruling party from the MPP, the Nationalist Congress Party, the Janata Dal (United) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal.

The defections received former Speaker Karam Babudhon’s sanction on March 6 and 7. However, the Opposition contested the decision, saying that Babudhon ceased to be the Speaker after losing the Assembly polls.    


 
 
INDIAN OIL TO REVIVE RANCHI DEPOT 
 
 
BY AMIT CHAKRABORTY
 
Calcutta, June 22 
Indian Oil Corporation has decided to revive its Namkum oil depot near Ranchi in Bihar to cater to the small industrial customer of petroleum products in the state.

The decision, yet to be made public by the IOC, is likely to bring peace to a large number of small and medium entrepreneurs.

A large number of factories in Bihar , which use furnace oil and other petroleum products in their production process had become jittery following a ban on inter-state marketing petroleum products effected from June 1. The management of Indo-Asahi Glass, which has its main production unit near Ranchi, is also worried that the factory might have to be closed down any day if refilling is not done immediately.    

 

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