George Bengal mission to mollify Mamata
Atal puts govt before minister SA junket
Sibal jumps into fray for Sonia crown
Worried CPM summons rebel
Hazra assault mastermind set to join Mamata
Police hub siege after Trinamul murder

New Delhi, Sept. 6: 
In an effort to buy peace with ally Mamata Banerjee, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee met home minister L.K. Advani, defence minister George Fernandes, attorney-general Soli Sorabjee and solicitor-general Harish Salve at his residence to take stock of law and order in West Bengal hours before leaving for the US.

Mamata is threatening to quit the government unless drastic action is taken by the Centre against the Jyoti Basu government.

As expected, nothing concrete came out of the meeting except a placatory message to the Trinamul Congress chief. It was decided that Fernandes would tour the violence-hit districts to get a spot report. Later, a home ministry team would also visit the state. The meeting decided to consult the Congress state leadership before taking any decision on the issue.

The government is examining all legal and constitutional aspects following the appeals for Central intervention, Advani said, justifying the presence of the attorney-general and solicitor- general.

Vajpayee’s gesture, government sources said, will keep the Trinamul chief in check at least for a fortnight till the Prime Minister returns from his US trip.

Fernandes will visit the state on Friday, Advani said. The defence minister will visit the violence-hit districts to get an on-the-spot assessment and will also talk to the government, he added.

The home minister made it clear the Centre would not go out of its way to oblige Mamata despite her quit threats. It would wait for an “appraisal” report from the state government, which it had sought but was yet to receive, Advani said.

Justifying the meeting, Advani said the government has been getting reports of “increasing violence and lawlessness in parts of West Bengal. There has been a representation by the Opposition parties accusing the ruling party of induling in violence”.

The home minister said the Centre had written to the state for its “assessment”. “We have not got it yet. We received a report from the Governor,” he said.

The home minister said “we had already urged the state government to see to it that violence ends and normalcy is restored. However, in some districts, the situation has been particularly bad - such as Midnapore, Hooghly and Bankura. There were reports of violence even today,” the home minister said.

Advani was asked if he thought the situation in West Bengal was as bad as Bihar. “We are keen to get the state government’s appraisal,” he replied.    

New Delhi, Sept. 6: 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has directed defence minister George Fernandes to call off his South Africa visit to ensure that at least two senior Cabinet ministers remain here in the event of any emergency or crisis.

Vajpayee’s move comes after Cabinet secretary Prabhat Kumar issued a circular a few days ago that in the absence of the Prime Minister, home minister L.K. Advani would chair meetings of the Cabinet Committee on Security if an emergency impinging on the country’s security arose.

Sources said Advani reacted strongly, describing the circular as a “mockery” of the way government ought to function. At the back of his mind was something that the Cabinet secretary, as the seniormost bureaucrat in government, should have known: of the five Cabinet ministers who comprise the security panel, three — committee chairman Vajpayee, foreign minister Jaswant Singh and finance minister Yashwant Sinha — would be away in the US. The other two members are the defence and home ministers, of whom Fernandes was scheduled to leave for South Africa on September 9. Even national security adviser Brajesh Mishra would be in the US with the Prime Minister.

Vajpayee, the sources added, agreed with Advani on the ridiculous circular and is learnt to have asked Fernandes “how he was placed”. When the defence minister replied that he was to go to South Africa, Vajpayee reacted sharply, saying Fernandes will have to cancel his visit and remain in the capital so that Advani and he could jointly take decisions on security issues in his absence.

A hitch, however, remains. There would still be no quorum and “meeting of minds” as only two of the five panel members will have to deliberate on security-related matters. “Is this how government functions? Suppose crises do take place, how many times will Fernandes and Advani call up the Prime Minister or the foreign minister to elicit their views?” asked an exasperated official.

Moreover, Sinha is indisposed and is undergoing treatment in Boston. A senior official felt that it would be “asking for a bit too much” if the finance minister is approached especially when he is undergoing medical treatment.

There are intelligence reports that Pakistan-backed terrorist outfits may try and engineer “demonstrative killings” in Jammu and Kashmir when the Prime Minister is away. While Advani and Fernandes are capable of taking joint decisions, both consult Vajpayee and decisions are, more often than not, taken jointly at the Cabinet security panel meetings. Both Advani and Fernandes are in charge of security forces operating in Jammu and Kashmir, but in security matters related to the state even Jaswant Singh has considerable say because of the Pakistan angle.

Vajpayee’s critics could target him for leaving the question of the number two in the pecking order an enigma. Vajpayee had made it clear earlier this year that he would not have a deputy.

Even now, when his aggravated knee ailment has prompted many to look around for a possible successor and Advani’s name has been doing the rounds, Vajpayee’s aides probably do not want him to take any names. Hence, the focus on Cabinet democracy and the underlining of the need for a quorum. And, the direction to Fernandes that he stay back.    

New Delhi, Sept. 6 
Sonia Gandhi is set to face a triangular contest in her attempt to retain her post of AICC chief after Kapil Sibal decided to join Jitendra Prasada in challenging her leadership.

Besides forcing an election for the party president’s post, the dissidents are planning to challenge Sonia’s nominees for the CWC and state unit chiefs. “If she selects her navratnas, we will have our list of credible and popular leaders,” said a rebel member masterminding the anti-Sonia operation.

According to him, Prasada and Sibal were forcing a contest to check, what he called, the rise of a coterie (Arjun Singh, Vincent George and K. Natwar Singh) around Sonia.

Senior leaders like Manmohan Singh, Pranab Mukherjee, Ahmad Patel, K. Karunakaran, Vijaya Bhaskara Reddy and C.K. Jaffer Sharief are unhappy with Sonia’s style of functioning and the way decisions are taken by 10 Janpath.

With the AICC polls promising to be a repeat of 1997, when Sitaram Kesri trounced Sharad Pawar and Rajesh Pilot, some CWC members have launched a “peace initiative” to prevent what they say would not be in the “interest of the party”.

Sources close to the two challengers, however, stressed that the three-cornered fight should not be seen in the context of a leadership challenge. “It is for restoration of inner-party democracy and transparency,” a rebel leader said, pointing out that even Gandhiji and Jawaharlal Nehru had faced opposition.

By their calculations, even if Prasada and Sibal manage to get a quarter of the votes cast, the coterie would be edged out as Sonia would then be forced to recognise the sentiments of party workers.

Sibal’s entry is surprising as he was an integral part of Sonia’s team during the 1999 elections. However, the noted lawyer is on a high following his election as CPP secretary when he edged out the favourite, Suresh Kalmadi.

Though the Sonia camp is confident of retaining its hold over the organisational set-up, the embarrassment of a contest are driving her managers to work overtime to quell the challenge in case the two refuse to withdraw from the fray.

The entire poll process, including the appointment of district and state-level returning officers, is being monitored by general secretaries and other functionaries.

According to her managers, talk of resentment against Sonia was exaggerated. “Being in the Opposition, there are times when some persons are not fully satisfied. But that is not a rebellion or a sign of revolt. The Congress is a big parivar and by the end of the day everything will be sorted out amicably,” said a general secretary.

Some leaders, she explained, were unsure of their position in the organisational set-up and added that after the polls there could be “drastic changes”. “A generational change — the old guard is unwilling to pave the way for the young — that is the problem,” she said.

Sonia is counting on the support of younger leaders like Digvijay Singh, Ashok Gehlot, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, Kamal Nath, S.M. Krishna, Rajasekhara Reddy, Harikesh Bahadur, Salman Khurshid and Girija Vyas who are all eager for a CWC slot.    

Calcutta, Sept. 6: 
Worried about the dissidents’ alleged move to launch a new party, the CPM state leadership last night summoned South 24-Parganas district committee secretary Samir Putatunda and sought a clarification.

CPM state secretary Anil Biswas and politburo member Biman Bose met Putatunda at the party’s headquarters to discuss his alleged bid to “reorganise party workers in several districts to launch the new outfit”. Deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya was present for some time.

Putatunda denied there were any efforts to split the party. “We were in the party and we will be in CPM,” he told Biswas and Bose.

Putatunda did not deny having met the secretariat members but refused to give details. “It is true that we met senior party leaders. But I will not tell you anything about the meeting,” he told reporters.

Biswas is in Malda and not available for comment. However, a senior state party leader said Biswas and Bose gave Putatunda a patient hearing and “discussed party organisational matters”.

The state leadership was unhappy as Putatunda was planning to hold a meeting with Saifuddin Chowdhury, the “think tank of party dissidents”, and transport minister Subhas Chakraborty on Friday. Chowdhury is in Delhi and will reach here on Friday.

Party leaders are worried about the proposed meeting because Putatunda is popular in the district unit, which will make it difficult for the leadership to “isolate” him if he decides to float a new outfit. Moreover, Putatunda has a “very clean image” and there are no “adverse” reports against him.

The leadership is, however, not worried about Subhas Chakraborty because the minister is facing a party inquiry, which might go against him.

“Chakraborty is not our headache because his credibility is not above question and many party members are aware of this,” said a senior state party leader.

The dissidents are planning to project Putatunda as their leader even though the South 24-Parganas secretary is pushing Chakraborty. At a recent public meeting in Usthi, Putatunda told supporters that Chakraborty will be their leader and “we should have more leaders like Chakraborty”.

Party leaders are giving importance to Putatunda and Chowdhury because of their “clean image”. Leaders feel many party members might join the dissident camp if Chowdhury and Putatunda jointly lead it. Chowdhury’s relations with Buddhadev Bhattacharya are excellent and a cause of concern for state party leaders.

The state leaders are, therefore, “apparently happy with Putatunda as he had ruled out possibility of launching any new outfit immediately”.    

Calcutta, Sept. 6: 
Proving yet again that in politics there are no permanent enemies, the man who had once masterminded a murderous attack on Mamata Banerjee appears set to join her party.

Notorious for the August 1990 assault at the Hazra Road crossing, Badsha Alam, a key CPM functionary at that time, is likely to join Trinamul by the middle of this month. He had joined the BJP three years ago, but decided to quit after realising that “this is a party of crooks busy in personal self aggrandisement”.

Claiming that Trinamul was the only alternative to the CPM in Bengal, Alam said 2,500 BJP workers, mostly from his own community, would follow him soon. “I believe that nearly 80 per cent of BJP workers are ready to join the Trinamul Congress,” he said.

“We have all decided to join Mamatadi’s camp because she is the only anti-CPM force in Bengal. Today, I want to make it clear that Mamatadi is my leader who can oust the corrupt CPM from here,” he said.

Trinamul spokesman Pankaj Banerjee welcomed Alam’s decision. “His presence will definitely help us discredit the CPM more,” he said and added that he would arrange a meeting between Alam and Mamata once she returns from Midnapore.

With Assembly polls just months away, Alam’s statement has come as a nasty shock to the BJP leadership, especially as it comes close on the heels of general-secretary Paras Dutta’s switch.

According to BJP sources, the threat of a probable exodus also comes as an embarrassment, as party chief Bangaru Laxman had promised to induct more Muslims into the organisation. The sources said Laxman has sought a report from the state leadership.

“We are upset by Alam’s decision,” said state vice-president Muzaffar Khan, before leaving for Delhi in the evening. He, along with state unit chief Asim Ghosh, will call on Laxman and home minister L.K. Advani tomorrow.

Alam and his brother Laloo, then a member of the CPM’s youth wing, had shot into limelight after the leadership found them guilty of engineering the attack on Mamata. Later , they were expelled on charges of anti-party activities.

However, Alam today claimed that he had documents to prove that he was falsely implicated by the CPM. “I want to expose those key CPM leaders who then hatched the conspiracy against Mamata with a clear motive to kill her,” he said.

Alam said he would hand over the lengthy correspondences, including a copy of the chargesheet served on him, to Mamata. “They will be handy enough to prove how the CPM had used me against her,” he said.

He also demanded a fresh probe into the incident to bring to light why some important CPM leaders, including a minister, had assembled at the Hazra Road crossing the night before the attack.

“I requested the leadership to probe the matter a number of times before I was expelled, but it did not have the guts to do so,” Alam said.

He said he would use the issue to campaign against the ruling communists in the run-up to the polls.    

Calcutta, Sept. 6: 
Mamata Banerjee today camped in front of the Kotalpur police station in Bankura district till late in the evening to protest against the death of a party worker who was killed when CPM and Trinamul Congress supporters clashed at a camp in Sihor village early this morning.

Mamata, who was accompanied by Trinamul MP Sudip Bandopadhaya, demanded the arrest of those involved in the attack.

Contacted over phone, district superintendent of police Basudev Bag said the clash, which lasted several hours, broke out around 2 am with both sides using bombs and firearms.

According to him, Mamata had gone to Kotalpur after addressing a party meeting at Chandrakona Road in Midnapore. He said the police had already arrested two CPM “ring leaders” in connection with the attack.

“We have recovered a revolver, some empty cartridges and a motor cycle from two CPM leaders — Mannan Kotal and Azizur Rahaman — who we have been looking for,” he said.

The situation was tense in the village, following the clash. RAF and state police personnel have been deployed.

Trinamul leaders, led by spokesman Pankaj Banerjee, today met deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya demanding an end to the continuing attacks on their supporters. They alleged that a Trinamul relief camp, housing around 2,000 supporters who had fled their homes in other districts, was attacked by armed CPM goons.

The camp is one of the three run by the party to shelter supporters who have left their villages to escape the CPM’s terror.

Banerjee said the authorities should ensure their safe return to their homes. The delegation also demanded relief for the camps’ inhabitants, which included a large number of women and children.

Though he admitted that the Sihor incident was unfortunate, Bhattacharya said the Trinamul too was inciting violence in many districts.

He, however, refused to comment further he got reports from the district police. “I will comment only after I have the detailed report,” the deputy chief minister said.

“They have adopted the Panskura line to foment trouble and there will be fallouts,” he said, urging Trinamul leaders to exercise restraint.

Regarding resettling the people driven out of their homes, Bhattacharya said that the CPM too had people on the run. “We will have to settle this matter at the local level and no amount of meetings among the state leadership will solve the problem,” Bhattacharya said. Bhattacharya has asked the Trinamul leaders to make a list of the people uprooted from their homes.

The Trinamul leaders said that they had demanded the transfer of the police chiefs of Midnapore, Bankura and Hooghly districts. They alleged that a large number of licensed arms were missing from police stations. Bhattacharya said that police was making regular arms seizures in the districts.



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