Watermelon man to clean-up man
Day of disquiet, cups of tea, and Calcutta is hers
Decider Congress in dreadlock
Bill Gates buttoned down by babudom
Lieutenants let down Mamata
‘Manhole mayor’ falls to minnow
Genetically modified food for Orissa victims
Boy killed, 3 abducted in Tripura
Pak national gets housing loan in Bihar

 
 
WATERMELON MAN TO CLEAN-UP MAN 
 
 
BY BARUN GHOSH
 
Calcutta, June 28 
On what turned out to be a Wonder Wednesday for the Trinamul Congress, there was no doubt who the stars of the show were — supremo Mamata Banerjee and mayor-in-waiting Subrata Mukherjee.

“My priority is to improve the quality of life in Calcutta after assuming office as mayor of this historic city,” smiled Mukherjee, face caked in green abir, kurta drenched by the monsoon showers, minutes after being declared elected from ward 87.

“I will try my best to fulfil all those promises we have made to the people of Calcutta in our party manifesto,” added Mukherjee, once christened “water melon” by Mamata and now labelled “watermelon mayor” by Jyoti Basu.

In the same breath, Mukherjee, who continues to be a Congress MLA from Chowringhee, expressed his gratitude to Mamata Banerjee for projecting him as Trinamul’s mayoral candidate.

“This is a challenging job for me, because I will have to clear the mess the CPM has created in the Corporation since 1985,” announced Mukherjee.

He then hit the streets to “thank the people”. Leading a victory procession near Rabindra Sarobar stadium, he waved to the crowds and said: “I had come to seek your support before the polls, now I come to thank you for voting me to power.”

Trinamul Congress MLA Shovandev Chatterjee was on hand to greet Mukherjee with a garland. Barely a month ago, Chatterjee had voiced his opposition to the party’s choice of Mukherjee for the mayor’s chair. “Let us resolve today to work for the welfare of the people of Calcutta together,” Mukherjee said.

A little later, sipping a cup of tea at a makeshift party office near Gariahat crossing, Mukherjee unveiled grand plans to “beautify this city of joy”.

“For the past 15 years, the CPM has done nothing concrete to improve the city’s age-old defective drainage system or modernise the ineffective garbage-collection system,” he observed, pledging to right the civic wrongs that the people of Calcutta had suffered under Left rule.

Convinced that he would be able to prevail upon the Centre to allot more funds for the city’s development, Mukherjee said he would approach the Prime Minister through Mamata at the earliest. “I feel that there will be no problem in getting funds from the Centre if we seriously work for the people of Calcutta,” he said.

Mukherjee also promised “stringent action” against “unscrupulous promoters” engaged in grabbing land in and around the city. Multi-storeyed night shelters for the homeless, modelled on the lines of Mumbai and Delhi, also figures high on Mukherjee’s mayoral agenda.    


 
 
DAY OF DISQUIET, CUPS OF TEA, AND CALCUTTA IS HERS 
 
 
BY SUVRO ROY
 
Calcutta, June 28 
Time: 4.30 pm. Place: Mamata Banerjee’s residence at 30B, Harish Chatterjee Street. The mood: ecstatic.

A Prussian blue Tata Sumo screeches to a halt in front of the dilapidated single-storeyed house. Mamata emerges in trademark crumpled grey sari with a jhola slung over her shoulder, only to be mobbed by her men.

Ek dui teen char, CPM puncture.” The most popular refrain of the triumphant hour rends the air. Green abir hangs over the area like a cloud. Garlands of rajanigandha are strewn everywhere.

Once inside her house, the railway minister heads straight for her mother. “Ma, aami perechhi. Corporation aamader,” she whispers, her voice choking with emotion, before stooping down to touch her feet.

Outside, victory processions are arriving from various wards, causing traffic snarls everywhere. “Hare Krishna Hare Hare, Trinamul ghare ghare...

It’s past 5 pm when Mamata finally comes out to mingle with her supporters. Flanked by the Trinamul’s mayoral candidate Subrata Mukherjee and party MLA Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay, she wears the smile of a victor.

Ignoring the commandos deputed to cordon off the rail minister, Mamata steps into crowd.

The sea of supporters parts magically as Didi heads for the makeshift media enclosure. “I am elated with the results. We will form the board at the CMC,” she declares.

This is not the tense and silent Mamata of Wednesday morning. Normally a late riser, she was up and about by 7 o’ clock in room no. 10 at Nizam Palace. The first thing she did was dial for Mukul Roy, her Man Friday, in room no. 3.

“Mukul, what is the scene? Are our boys ready to leave for the counting centres? Make sure every worker keeps a close watch,” she told the party general-secretary.

Then began the long vigil till the first results began to trickle in at 11.30 am. “Didi, we have won wards 1 and 7 in Salt Lake.” Mukul burst into the makeshift office-cum-control room of Trinamul.

“Don’t get excited. This is just the beginning. Find out whether our boys have had breakfast before they camp at various counting centres,” is Mamata’s stoic response to the first good news of the day.

Mamata, herself, did not have a bite. Her diet for the day: water and endless cups of tea.

By afternoon, she could be heard grumbling about her party’s poor showing in north Calcutta and the Salt Lake tie.

“No one understands that we are a fledgling party. Everyone expects us to form the board at the Calcutta Corporation,” she muttered, clearly under stress.

It was around 4 pm when Mamata broke her fast with buttered toast and an omelette. And an hour later, tension had been swept away by triumph: “Calcutta is ours.”    


 
 
DECIDER CONGRESS IN DREADLOCK 
 
 
BY RANJIT ROY
 
Calcutta, June 28 
For the Congress in Bengal, it is a moment of glory and a moment of fear. On one hand, it has emerged victorious in 14 wards, despite the strongest basket of odds the party has faced in years. On the other, these 14 seats raise the dreaded question: how many of these councillors will break away?

But while the elected Congressmen worried over their own and their party’s next move, Mamata Banerjee was already on the job. She detailed a senior leader of the Trinamul — a recent entrant from the Congress — to network with the elected Congressmen.

Till late on Wednesday night, confabulations were on in the south Calcutta residence of the leader. The objective is to get a section of the elected Congressmen to make a public statement on Thursday expressing support to the Trinamul-BJP combine.

Though no one will go on record, every Congressman spent Wednesday wondering what the 14 who hold the key to the Corporation would do next.

State Congress president A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury has called a meeting of the party secretariat, as well as the newly-elected councillors, on Thursday to decide who to support in the new CMC board.

The Congress, which is yet to recover from the ignominious defeat in Panskura, has made it clear that, like the Trinamul, it wants an anti-CPM board in the Corporation. “Mamata should approach us and seek our support. She should not try to engineer another split in the Congress,” said state Congress general secretary Sultan Ahmed.

Congressmen know that some of the 14 will not be able to turn down offers of berths in the mayor-in-council. A section of the leadership tried to send across a warning signal to the elected councillors. “They will not disobey the party line,” a leader said.

If the Congress wants to sit in the Opposition, it will have to sit with the Left Front, which will be embarrassing.

It is equally difficult for the Congress to keep a safe distance from the Trinamul-BJP combine. The Congress is fully aware that in such a situation, the party’s electoral prospects in the Assembly elections will be jeopardised.

The state Congress leaders are yet to decide on their post-election strategy. They have opted for a wait-and-watch policy.

They made it clear that the Congress would wait to see what the other parties have to offer.

The Congress cannot support the Trinamul unless it snaps its ties with the BJP. This political compulsion of the Congress really makes things more difficult to constitute the board in the CMC.

Naturally, this unique situation will encourage horse-trading and lucrative offers may come to allure some of the Congress councillors to gain control of the prestigious civic body. In this case, the defections in the Congress is the most possible outcome in the post-poll era.

If at all some Congress councillors defect, this would be in favour of the Trinamul, which is in a better position to woo the Congress councillors, as it has clearly established itself as an alternative power to the ruling Left Front at least in the city.

With the Assembly elections round the corner, it is but natural that most Congress councillors may feel safe under the Trinamul flag.    


 
 
BILL GATES BUTTONED DOWN BY BABUDOM 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 28 
Salt Lake is poised tantalisingly at 11-11, but Bill Gates has lost to Bengal’s babudom. For the first time in its short life in India, the electronic voting machine appeared to have gone on the blink in Salt Lake’s ward 16.

Mysteriously, it happened at the decisive moment when ward 16 was about to break the deadlock between the Left and the Trinamul-BJP in the race for the Salt Lake municipality.

With 500 votes to be counted in one booth and the CPM leading by 80-odd, the machine died in the hands of the counting official. Anxious faces of the two candidates — Banani Sanyal of the BJP and Gita Biswas of the CPM — watched nervously as buttons were pressed repeatedly, but the machine did not throw up the result everyone was waiting for.

The 565 ballots still to be counted were from FD block, which has a large non-Bengali population. The CPM, however, claimed that it would have wrested this booth, since its candidate is from the same block. Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty also lives there. The BJP would have opened its account in Salt Lake had ward 16 fallen to it.

Mechanics were sent for twice but both times they failed to set the machine right. Rules demand that a mechanic be present throughout counting, but no one was. The state election commission said it didn’t have so many mechanics.

Sal Lake retired for the night not knowing who will be its civic ruler. So did the technology that goes behind the voting machine, waiting to be rescued on Thursday morning, when technicians from Chandrababu’s Hyderabad, where the manufacturer ECIL is based, are expected to arrive in Jyotibabu’s city.

“If they can repair it without affecting what’s inside, well and good. But if the repair is not possible, a repoll will have to be ordered,” an official, who did not want to be named, said.

“The machines performed well in the recent bypoll in Panskura,” an official pointed out. This is the first time since they were introduced (in the Lok Sabha polls last year) that they have broken down.

It was not in Salt Lake alone that the machine had to eat humble pie. On Tuesday, the election authorities had promised that all results would be known by 4 pm at the latest. When night fell, there was no official tally, but much rejoicing by Trinamul-BJP who thought they had won.

Four of the five booths in ward 16 had already been counted at the time of breakdown. Most results were known when the collapse occurred on the third floor of Kendriya Vidyalaya in Salt Lake.

Unofficially, it had become known that the CPM had won the ward, only to be jolted back to reality when it appeared that ballots in one booth hadn’t been counted. Victory rallies by supporters had already started from the venue of counting, but had to wind their way back on realisation that Salt Lake’s fate hung in the balance.

Dilip Gupta, chairman of the outgoing municipal board, sat with other party activists on the steps of the school, their abir-smeared foreheads bearing the coloured sign of victory.

The other side, Trinamul-BJP, was by then confronted with the uncomfortable truth that had they entered the fray as allies and not adverseries, they would have romped home. Allies in Calcutta, they fought against each other in 11 Salt Lake wards. The pattern of results indicates that a full-fledged seat adjustment could have returned their nominees in 13 seats.

In the last municipal elections, the Congress had bagged 10 seats. This time, it has been wiped out.

The CPM suffered a loss of face in the defeat of Nandagopal Bhattacharjee, Subhas Chakraborty’s brother-in-law.    


 
 
LIEUTENANTS LET DOWN MAMATA 
 
 
BY SATTAM GHOSE
 
Calcutta, June 28 
Trinamul Congress’ relatively poor performance in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation elections in north and central Calcutta clearly belied Mamata Banerjee’s expectations.

While her intensive campaigning in the south and on the southern fringes stood her in good stead, she had to pay the price for being over-dependent on her lieutenants and party MPs, Ajit Panja and Sudip Bandopadhyay, on the selection of candidates and electioneering in Calcutta North-east and Calcutta North-west. Neither was present at triumphant Mamata’s south Calcutta residence till late on Tuesday.

The Trinamul supremo addressed comparatively few election rallies in the north-east and north-west, though her presence was badly needed. Sources close to Mamata said the party’s unimpressive showing in these two zones was partly due to “poor manning” of booths on the poll day. This enabled CPM cadre to resort to “large-scale booth-jamming and false voting.”

She had expected at least 30 out of 65 seats falling within the two Lok Sabha constituencies to achieve a comfortable majority to form the municipal board. But barely 20 nominees were returned from the areas.

Sources said Panja’s long absence from the election scene and the presence of a large number of Trinamul dissidents in north Calcutta affected the party. Panja was abroad playing Sri Ramakrishna during campaign time. His absence was fully exploited by rival Sadhan Pande, who was not too happy with the selection of candidates in a large number of wards.

Bandyopadhyay too apparently failed to undertake an organised campaign in the absence of proper coordination with the BJP. Youth Congress chief and MLA Sanjay Bakshi was busy campaigning in ward number 25, where his wife Smita was the party nominee.    


 
 
‘MANHOLE MAYOR’ FALLS TO MINNOW 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, June 28 
After holding centrestage for a decade, mayor Prasanta Chatterjee looked a forlorn figure as he laid down office on Wednesday, bowing to ‘pretender’ Swapan Samaddar, a relative newcomer who has been councillor only for the past five years. It was a giant-killing act by Samaddar, a largely nondescript cog in the CMC wheel, and the Chatterjee camp had thought it would be a cakewalk for its candidate.

So confident was Chatterjee of victory that he was discussing development plans even when he trooped into office on Tuesday. He also pointed out that four new mayors-in-council (MIC) will be inducted after the board is formed by the first week of July.

Since 1985, there has been only one woman MIC and the mayor, who had never shown adequate respect to Opposition women councillors in the house, had promised to look into that area as well.

His shock defeat signals the end of an era. Those close to the mayor feel he has been stabbed in the back by the party itself. A CPM wholetimer, Chatterjee never believed in excess and remained loyal to the institution till his last day in office, living well within his means.

Chatterjee had promised Calcuttans a swank, new-look air-conditioned New Market with traders’ participation. But, to rid himself of the stigma of ‘manhole mayor’ which stuck with his name since that fateful evening in 1998, Chatterjee probably had to deliver a lot more than just an air-conditioned New Market. His remark that mothers, too, should be more careful with children after the tragic death of a kid who fell into an open manhole at Ultadanga, had triggered an angry backlash.

The return to the city of the virulent malignant malaria was another black spot in his mayoral career, since he himself monitored the health department.

On a political plank, the mayor had other shortcomings too. Thanks to his obsessive attachment with the Calcutta district committee of the CPM, he could scarcely address broader issues in the right perspective and often remained myopic in his views. Chatterjee can be held largely responsible for the failure of ‘Operation Sunshine’ to rehabilitate street hawkers.

Often, he would thwart a pavement eviction drive at night, driving away police personnel. He was, thus, at loggerheads with member, mayor-in-council, Kanti Ganguly, and the two rarely saw eye-to-eye.

It is also public knowledge that the mayor himself had little contribution to all the development projects which have come up in the city during his 10-year stint. Most of the projects have been the brainchild of commissioner Asim Barman and other members, mayors-in-council, with the Mayor simply ‘inaugurating’ them with fanfare.

Two more heavyweights to bite the dust were Mohammed Yakub, Forward Bloc MLA from ward 78, and Dinendranath Bakshi of CPM in ward 68. Both had held office since 1985.    


 
 
GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOOD FOR ORISSA VICTIMS 
 
 
FROM NITHYA SUBRAMANIAN
 
New Delhi, June 28 
Should one look a gift horse in the mouth? The question has come up with the distribution of genetically modified (GM) foodgrain to the Orissa cyclone victims.

Angered Indian environmentalists are planning to take up the issue of dumping GM foodgrain to the UN World Food Programme and other such international platforms. They are planning to form an alliance with other countries which have been used as dumping grounds by the US for such genetically-tampered foodgrains.

The US, which has provided food aid worth nearly $4.15 million towards the cyclone has been air-dropping GM corn-soya blend in the state through Co-operative Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE), the nodal agency for all American relief.

According to Ashok Emani, research associate with Delhi-based Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE), “Dumping of GM foodgrain has taken place in East Timor and Mozambique and this is becoming a dangerous trend. It will have to be taken up at the international level.”

The organisation has already started a good food campaign and has started taking endorsements from people against the supply and use of such foodstuffs. “The need to know what is in our food is our democratic right,’’ Emani said. “Any tampering of the basic genetic structure is harmful and can trigger off different reactions which could be harmful,” he added.

The RFSTE collected samples from the supplies made to the flood victims and sent them to a lab in the US. “We had asked US-based Genetic ID to test the sample of foodgrain supplied to the Orissa victims and found genetically modified DNA in soya (in the corn soya blend),” he added.

This report prepared by Genetic ID will now be reviewed by the Orissa government, after which the next course of action would be decided. The revenue secretary of Orissa has admitted that such foodgrain was distributed to the people. As a first step towards increasing awareness, the foundation has alerted NGO groups across the state. This will be taken up at the national level later, said Emani. The GE foodgrains have been rejected by consumers in the West especially in Europe due to health hazards. Various big foodchains have also dropped such products from their shelves and demanded full product details from the manufacturers. The foundation has asked the US government to stop using money meant for relief to the poor for subsidising the biotech industry.    


 
 
BOY KILLED, 3 ABDUCTED IN TRIPURA 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Agartala, June 28 
A teenaged boy was killed and three persons were kidnapped by militants in separate incidents in Tripura during the past 24 hours.

According to police sources, tribal militants stormed into the house of one non-tribal labourer Akhil Sarkar in College Square area under Jiraniya police station at around 8.30 pm last night and hacked to death Sarkar’s 12-year-old son Indrajeet.

The militants fled the scene after a large number of people of the locality rushed towards Sarkar’s house upon hearing cries for help, the sources added. Sarkar was seriously injured in the scuffle with the rebels.

In a separate incident, National Liberation Front of Tripura militants raided the house of one Sudip Pal in Ramcharra village under Ambafa police station and kidnapped him.

Two neighbours, who were in Pal’s house at that time, were severely beaten up by the rebels, the police sources added.

The police picked up two tribal youths — Satish Debbarma and Subir Debbarma — in connection with the abduction. Suspected All Tripura Tiger Force militants abducted two non-tribal labourers — Parimal Sarkar and Jatindra Sarkar — from Bhumiheen Colony under Jiraniya police station yesterday. According to sources, the labourers have gone to work in a nearby rubber garden but failed to return home in the evening.

All the kidnapped persons are still untraced. The abductions have triggered ethnic tension in communally-sensitive Jiraniya police station area, the sources added.    


 
 
PAK NATIONAL GETS HOUSING LOAN IN BIHAR 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Ranchi, June 28 
A routine review of the Indira Awas Yojana in Bihar’s Ranchi district has revealed that a Pakistani citizen was given a loan to build a house in Pirutola village under Kanke block.

Subdivisional officer Sunil Kumar Singh, who conducted the study, stated in his report to the district deputy commissioner that one Idul Joha and his son Israt Ansari were given a housing loan of Rs 18,000 without any scrutiny of their citizenship.

The loan was released in three instalments, the report said.

The matter came to light when Singh found no evidence of any construction at the site mentioned in the loan applications.

It transpired that Israt Ansari was a resident of Pakistan who had relatives in Bihar.

The loan applications submitted by both Ansari and his father were approved by a block welfare officer, a jan sewak and a panchayat observer.

Two other officials endorsed the applications. Several other irregularities in disbursement of loans were detected by the subdivisional officer.

One Islam Ansari was sanctioned a loan of Rs 20,000 to construct a house in Ichapiri village, but Singh discovered that the plot of land he claimed to own actually belonged to someone else.

Islam later admitted that he built a house in Konki village, which is far from Ichapiri.

Singh accused a block-level agriculture officer, Vijay Bahadur Singh, of helping Ansari to get the loan.

The subdivisional officer said except for constructing two-feet high walls, nine other persons who received loans under the Indira Awas Yojana utilised the money for other purposes. “Government officials were hand-in-glove with these people,” he added.

Client murdered: A person was found murdered while waiting for his lawyer at the latter’s office-cum-residence here today.

Jaggu Singh, 27, a resident of Bero under Ranchi district, had come here to consult his lawyer Ambuj Kumar Singh in connection with criminal cases pending against him.

Jaggu reached his lawyer’s office at North Market Road in the heavily-congested Upper Bazar area of Ranchi at 11 am. Singh’s family members told him that he had left for the court and would be available at his residence only in the evening. He could, however, meet Singh at his official chamber in the court premises, they added.

Jaggu reportedly told them that he would attend to some personal chores and return to Singh’s residence for consultations. When he returned at 3 pm, they unlocked Singh’s office and asked him to wait there.

No one knows what transpired in the next hour when Jaggu was all alone in Singh’s chamber. Family members rushed downstairs after they heard desperate cries for help.

Singh’s son, who was the first to enter his father’s office, said Jaggu was already dead when he found him. His neck was slit on his neck and blood was splattered all over the place.

There was no one in the office or in the vicinity. Neighbours and shopkeepers on the North Market road denied having seen anyone entering or leaving Singh’s office.

Sources said Jaggu had a long criminal record and his enemies, having got wind that he was all alone at Singh’s chamber, may have taken advantage of the situation to get rid of him.

MLA shot at

Jharkhand Mukti Morcha legislator Shashi S. Bhokta was shot at by unidentified gunmen when he was on his way to the station in his native Deoghar district to reach the Vidhan Sabha this morning for the ongoing monsoon session, reports our special correspondent from Patna.

According to sources, the news of the incident raised a storm in the state legislative Assembly, reports our special correspondent. Rashtriya Janata Dal leader and former chief minister Laloo Prasad Yadav assured the House that the legislator would be airlifted to Patna for treatment.    

 

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