Mamata makes it, only just
Results sound BJP alarm for Trinamul
Basu in fightback vow
Christian marriage Bill on hold
Europe speaks India’s language
Calcutta weather

 
 
MAMATA MAKES IT, ONLY JUST 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, June 28 
Faced with two choices, Calcutta made three. In a civic poll high in thrill value, the city (a) voted out the Left (b) favoured Mamata but added a rider — (c) that she must dump the BJP for the Congress.

In Salt Lake where 23 wards were at stake, the Left and Trinamul were tied when an electronic voting machine apparently conked out, leaving the winner of ward 16 undecided amid a host of unanswered questions.

The tragedy of this election is that even three days after the polls were held, there has been no official announcement of the results. The State Election Commission headed by Anish Majumdar did not make any official proclamation even after counting was over late on Wednesday afternoon. This has created a situation in which none of the parties are confident of the number of seats they have won or lost.

All parties know that a seat or two can make a big difference, but Majumdar did not take calls to clarify the position. What is certain is that the Left has lost its majority.

Chief minister Jyoti Basu, who, in a remarkable act of prescience, had stayed away from the CPM-led Front’s campaign, said: “We did badly in the polls in Calcutta and Salt Lake because of our failure to respond to people’s expectations.”

Flower-power matched sickle-force ward for ward, booth for booth as the results tardily trickled out of the counting centres. It was only in the evening that the fractured mandate for the corporation’s 141-seat council revealed that the anti-incumbency factor had the Left tottering.

Realising the fractured mandate may make it difficult for them to stake a decisive claim to form the CMC board, the CPM and the Trinamul-BJP combine furiously crunched numbers and prepared themselves for what looks like unavoidable horsetrading in the days ahead.

A pointer to the shape of things came from Basu who urged the Congress’ national leadership for a second time in the past 24 hours to help the Left defeat the Trinamul’s claim to the Calcutta civic body.

“I feel that Mamata Banerjee is going to use money power to influence certain Congressmen and form the board.They (Congress) must remain alert to possible horsetrading by Trinamul,” Basu said .

Together, non-Left candidates won in 81 wards, mirroring, with minor aberrations, the trend in voting in the last Lok Sabha polls in which all three Calcutta seats were picked up by Trinamul.

Once again after the municipality polls in district towns, Congressmen surprised themselves by winning in 15 wards. Additionally enjoying the support of an independent, the Congress now holds the key to control over the corporation. In New Delhi, a party spokesman said: “The Congress will maintain equidistance from Trinamul and the Left.”

Asked if such a policy will not drive some councillors away, one leader in Delhi said: “As long as the BJP is part of the TMC set-up, we cannot support it. We cannot stop persons who have made up their mind to leave the party.” Even before the Congress has assessed its own performance, a section of its councillors has indicated it will support the the TMC-BJP.

But the CPM is not giving up. State secretary Anil Biswas said the party would contest the Mayor’s post — a poll to be held among the councillors by secret ballot.

Mamata was in no doubt that her party was forming the board.

“I am delighted with the results,” Mamata said as supporters mobbed her in her Kalighat home and sprinkled green abir. “In Jyoti Basu’s ward, the CPM has lost; in my ward (73), my candidate has polled the highest number of votes. Our candidate for the mayor’s post (Subrata Mukherjee) has been elected. Their mayor (Prasanta Chatterjee) has lost.”

But the Trinamul-BJP combine failed to make the mark on its own. Had Mamata allied with the Congress and dumped the BJP before the polls, she would have gone past the halfway mark with much to spare.    


 
 
RESULTS SOUND BJP ALARM FOR TRINAMUL 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, June 28 
A written-off Congress today retained sway over its Muslim votebank, sending a clear signal to Mamata Banerjee that her ally BJP may prove a liability in Bengal politics.

Wednesday’s civic poll results show that as many as nine of the Congress’ 14 successful candidates won from areas dominated by Muslims. Trinamul’s inability to gain inroads into these pockets were immedietly attributed by observers to its pact with the BJP.

The nine Congress councillors — Iqbal Ahmed, Manzar Iqbal, Shammi Jahan, Ilias Islahi, Ram Pyare Ram, Shami Khatoon, Shamsuzamman Ansari, Mumtaz Begum and Minda Kumar — won the elections from areas such as Taltala, Mullickbazar, Park Circus, Kidderpore, Garden Reach and Kabitirtha.

PCC general secretary Sultan Ahmed, who was in charge of the elections in this belt, said the wards had a total of 5 lakh voters and nearly 70 per cent belonged to the minority community.

“Mamata should now approach the Congress to help her form the board at the CMC. Together, we can form a formidable secular democratic force,” said Ahmed.

But Mamata inisisted today that the BJP is her party’s ally and there was no question of her severing ties with it. Party insiders, however, said Mamata’s public position favouring the alliance with the BJP should not be mixed with her private anger at the ally.

According to them, Mamata is angry with the BJP on account of its economic reforms, its efforts to stymie her in the state and , above all, its negative image with the minority voter.

The 23-ward Salt Lake municipal board was locked in a tie till tonight with result of one ward held up due to technical fault in the electronic voting machine. “We have won these 11 wards even after having to contest against BJP in those 11 wards. If there was a complete alliance with the BJP, Trinamul would have swept to victory. Don’t you think Mamata does not realise it?” asked a senior Trinamul leader.

The civic poll verdict has again swivelled the arclights back to Mamat’s mahajot proposal. But the big question was whether she would dump BJP for an alliance with the Congress.

“There is no question of forming the CMC board with the Congress. We had to fight against both the Congress and the CPM in the civic polls. But individual councillors from the Congress are welcome to join Trinamul,” she said.    


 
 
BASU IN FIGHTBACK VOW 
 
 
BY BARUN GHOSH
 
Calcutta, June 28 
Jyoti Basu today vowed to be the marathon man for his party. In defeat, the chief minister, who will turn 87 ten days from now, hadn’t lost his sense of humour. “I will call Subrata (Mukherjee) the watermelon mayor,” Basu said, with a hint of laughter in his voice.

Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee used to call her current mayoral candidate Mukherjee watermelon Subrata when he was not her side.

Basu hadn’t campaigned in the civic elections, even though he had declared he would. Party leaders had requested him repeatedly and a few meetings had been scheduled, too, but the chief minister stayed away.

His absence from campaigning fuelled speculation that the veteran of many poll battles had abstained because he knew the Left couldn’t win this election. Basu admitted tonight that his absence might have affected the Left’s chances, but said that “acute backache” did not permit him to take the ring.

“But this thing will not be repeated during next year’s Assembly polls,” Basu said. “I shall definitely campaign,” he added, with the qualification, “if my health permits.”

“I’m strictly following the doctor’s regimen and I will try to keep myself fit.”

His body may be failing, but Jyoti Basu remains the consummate politician he has always been. After yesterday’s statement in the Assembly that the Congress should atone for its compromises with communal forces and joing hands with the Left to form the civic board in Calcutta, he followed it up after the results were announced with a similar appeal.

Alerting the Congress leadership against possible horsetrading of its councillors by Trinamul Congress, Basu said, with its secular credentials, the Congress should not join forces with the “dangerous combine”.

The statement is clearly aimed at sowing confusion in the Congress ranks with its Sonia Gandhi-led high command already groaning under the dilemma of whether or not to support Mamata.

Basu said he had heard about Mamata Banerjee “spending a hefty amount to purchase a number of councillors to form the civic board in Calcutta”.

“But I firmly believe that the Congress’ all-India leadership will rise to the occasion to intervene and prevent the state Congress from joining the combine,” he added.

Basu said the Left would put up its candidate for the mayor’s election. “The mayor is elected through a secret ballot and we are hopeful of sailing through.”

Basu claimed that if the Trinamul-BJP combine was allowed to form the civic board, “there will be more violence in the city”.

The Left partriarch said he would take stock of the situation after returning to Calcutta on July 18 after a fortnight-long trip to Israel and London.

Basu has already been approached by senior leaders to spearhead the campaign in the Assembly elections. “Although I have no plans to contest the polls, I will try to lead the Front’s campaign,” he said.

“It is true that I am ageing but I have now realised that I should work for the party till my death,” Basu said, adding with a smile, “Communists do not retire till they die.”    


 
 
CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE BILL ON HOLD 
 
 
FROM R. VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, June 28 
The Centre today decided to shelve the Bill to amend Christian law on marriage, divorce and inheritance.

“It is a collective decision of the Prime Minister and the home and law ministers,” sources said. They added that the Bill, drafted after consulting Christian leaders, will not be introduced in the monsoon session of Parliament.

Sources said the Prime Minister decided to go slow as he did not want to provoke the community at a time when it is seething at the spate of attacks on missionaries and churches. The sources added that the Bill would “certainly” be taken up later and Christian leaders would be consulted to find a consensus.

The move is a blow to law minister Ram Jethmalani, who was one of the moving forces behind the Bill. While acknowledging that changes were necessary to the 1869 Act, the Christian leaders objected to some of the amendments on inter-community marriages and on divorce.

According to the draft Bill, a marriage between a Christian and a non-Christian will be brought under the Special Marriage Act instead of the Christian Marriage Act. The draft also said that district courts can henceforth be the final arbiter of divorce. So far, a ruling on divorce had to be upheld by the high courts.

Some Christians also frowned on the move to grant “gender equality” while deciding on divorce. A woman has to prove any two of the three grounds of insanity, cruelty and adultery to seek dissolution of marriage, while a man is required to cite only one.    


 
 
EUROPE SPEAKS INDIA’S LANGUAGE 
 
 
FROM DIPTOSH MAJUMDAR
 
Lisbon, June 28 
The first-ever Indo-European Union Summit declared a convergence of views on combating international terrorism, showed an understanding of the Indian position of deferring a dialogue on Kashmir with Pakistan and appreciated India’s ongoing efforts to evolve a broad consensus on signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

The meet also paved the way for removing curbs on Indian textile exports, though subject to certain conditions.

The summit, a rare privilege so far restricted to only five other major powers, set in motion a process of future diplomatic exchanges. The next summit will be held in New Delhi in 2001.

There was also substantial progress in talks on increasing trade volumes, but this was the first step as India explained its need to cut down on red tape to ease foreign direct investment.

Though the summit did not provide major breakthroughs, Indian officials in this Portuguese capital reasoned that nothing was expected to happen overnight.

They pointed out that despite Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s impassioned plea for India’s inclusion as a permanent member of the Security Council, the EU replied that it could do little as a collective body.

“The EU per se can do little about it,” Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres said. “Portugal is in favour of expansion of the permanent membership quota. But particular states within the union have different views.”

Pressed on the CTBT issue, Vajpayee told a Portuguese reporter at the crowded press conference that his country was waiting for a consensus to emerge. “We are having talks. Parliament will discuss the issue in July... (and an) effort is on to evolve a broad national consensus,” he said.

Guterres said though his country was in favour of every country banning tests, he did realise that India was evolving a mechanism to be in a position to sign the CTBT.

The joint declaration was an affirmation of India’s stand on international terrorism. It said: “We share the conviction that terrorism remains a major threat to regional and international peace and security, and constitutes a serious violation of the rights of innocent individuals and of the integrity of states.”

The declaration reaffirmed the EU’s “unreserved condemnation of terrorism in all its forms” and promised to cooperate “in preventing and combating terrorism, guided by the principles of international law and relevant UN conventions”.

To achieve that end, it agreed “to strive for a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism”.

The statement welcomed India’s voluntary ban on nuclear explosive testing and its willingness to move towards a de jure formalisation of this basic obligation of the CTBT.

“India remains ready to bring these discussions to a successful conclusion based on the creation of a positive environment as it works towards building the widest possible consensus domestically,” it said.

In another significant development regarding textiles, the union agreed to allow Indian imports of 3,500 tonnes with immediate effect. According to an agreement signed between the two sides in 1994, Indian exporters were supposed to send over 8,000 tonnes annually.

Curbs on the remaining quota would be lifted within the next three months, once India slashes import duties on 71 specific items exported to the subcontinent by European countries.

The EU also appreciated India’s progress in the info-tech sector, agreeing in principle to assist India in key areas of telecommunications, energy, transport, roads, airports and ports.

It recognised “the mutual benefit of a substantial increase in the flow of investment, technology, expertise and service providers between the EU and India in the new knowledge-based economy, particularly in the areas of information technology, telecommunications and biotechnology”.

A joint working group on information technology was created to facilitate cooperation. The EU said it was important to address all obstacles blocking its investments in India.

It was a meet designed to send out the best signals of the newfound camaraderie between India and this collective body of nations.    


 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 
Temperature: Maximum: 33.2°C (normal) Minimum: 27.3°C (normal) RAINFALL: 6.2 mm Relative humidity: Maximum: 92%, Minimum: 65% Today: One or two showers or thundershowers Sunset: 6.23 pm Sunrise: 4.57am    
 

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