People's farewell for Basu
Stadium too small for fan brigade
Ambulance crashes into van, 2 killed
A loathing for limelight
Under the grand chandeliers, the glitterati
Month-end signal for Part I results
New fares in abeyance till Thursday
CESC-police crackdown on power theft
Money-lender angle to Howrah family murders
Train robbery

Calcutta, Nov. 6: 
Monday, 3.50 pm, Indira Bhavan.

Jyoti Basu steps out for Raj Bhavan to witness Buddhadev Bhattacharya being sworn in. “So many people!” he exclaims. Thousands have queued up, flowers in hand, outside the gates.

“You will find such crowds all the way. They have been waiting for hours,” replies confidential assistant Joykrishna Ghosh, seated, as always, beside Basu.

The convoy slows down near Central Park, in Salt Lake, where about 200 students from local kindergarten schools have gathered to shower petals on the passing convoy. “Tumi moder andhakarey prajjalita dhrubatara’’

“Drive slowly, just look how many children are on the road,’’ Basu tells the driver.

It’s ‘house full’ on balconies and rooftops, too. Many shower the convoy with red roses. Pather Panchali, the organisation headed by Subash Chakraborty’s wife Ramala Chakraborty, has ensured that every ‘island’ in Salt Lake is draped with red flags, covered by banners.

Next speedbreaker: Near Salt Lake stadium, where a number of dhakis turn the street into their stage. Basu waves, with a smile.

The convoy hits E.M. Bypass. The pilot car’s siren is drowned by drumbeats. The Bypass proves to be too narrow at Parama island, flooded with frenzied folk. The police have been instructed not to force the issue (read: no lathicharge). Basu greets the people with folded hands. The crowds part, the convoy rolls on.

After the Park Circus bridge, it’s noisier, more crowded. There are festoons and posters, garlands and balloons, drums and conchshells. The cavalcade comes to a crawl at Shakespeare Sarani. Students, factory-workers, rickshaw-pullers, hawkers and housewives with kids line the street. Several cars join in, at a safe distance behind the police cars, but close enough to be a part of history.

Red Road is a riot of colour. School kids in uniform, women in ‘lal par sada sari ’ form a human chain with flowers and banners in hand. Behind them, thousands of onlookers.

From Victoria Memorial till Raj Bhavan, Basu has a helicopter filming his last ‘official’ ride. It was supposed to shower petals, but the plan was shot down for “security reasons”. The police had also requested Basu not to roll down the window of his bullet-proof Ambassador.

The longest-serving chief minister of India allows himself a faint smile as he sees a colossal ‘cutout’ of himself in front of Akashvani Bhavan. The convoy, which usually takes 12 minutes to reach Writers’ Buildings from Indira Bhavan, has taken over 40 to travel the 10-km stretch. But then, today’s not just another day.

4.20 pm, Raj Bhavan. Basu gets out of his car and walks, as briskly as ever, into Raj Bhavan.    

Calcutta, Nov. 6: 
“I don’t think you saw Jyotibabu taking the oath as chief minister in 1977. I was there. The crowd was huge then. But today’s turnout is bigger,” says an elderly man, rubbing shoulders with a teenager outside Netaji Indoor Stadium. Both had come from Jadavpur, just-sworn-in-chief-minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya’s constituency. Both were there to catch a glimpse of Jyoti Basu.

Suddenly, there’s a surge from thousands of CPM supporters, jostling for a place in the stadium. The police struggle to stave them off. A cop, from inside the gates, spots the desperation on the elderly man’s face. “Head for the Fire Brigade gate...”

He rushes to that entry point, but it’s too late. More than 5,000 people crowd the gate, some of whom have managed to breach the iron fence. But the police arrive before too much damage is done. A swift lathicharge disperses the crowd.

“Why has the party organised such an important function here? This is too small to accommodate the people,” cried one die-hard Basu man.

Faces in the crowd: panchayat and land reforms minister Suryakanta Mishra and minister of state for mass education Anju Kar. The crowd, more than 50,000, settles down outside the gates. Raising slogans (“Jyoti Basu Lal Saalam”), buying Basu books, memorabillia, photographs and posters, from partymen.

A roar goes up, at 6.45 pm, signalling the arrival of Basu in characteristic <>dhoti-kurta and sleveless jacket. The entire stadium rises to applaud, to thank, to say: So long, farewell.    

Calcutta, Nov. 6: 
An ambulance collided with a Matador van on Vidyasagar Setu on Monday afternoon, killing two persons, including the driver of the ambulance. Deepak Shaw, 25, and his helper succumbed to their injuries at SSKM Hospital late in the evening, police said.

The front of the ambulance was smashed after it hit the rear of the Matador, which suddenly switched lanes. Karuna Naskar, a 38-year-old patient of Howrah, her family and the ambulance staff were all seriously injured.

Karuna was being taken to SSKM Hospital from Nalpur for emergency treatment. She was accompanied by son Subol and sister-in-law Rekha Naskar. The ambulance, a Maruti van, was speeding along at 80 kmph when the errant Matador van suddenly switched lanes and came in front at the middle of the bridge.

“The Matador was hugging the extreme left lane, but all of a sudden, swerved 70 degrees to the right to come in our way,’’ Prabir Santra, who was in the ambulance, said while being treated for severe head and chest injuries at the SSKM.

Witnesses said the ambulance spun off its track after colliding against the rear of the Matador and hit the side railing of the bridge, before screeching to a halt. The Matador driver, sensing trouble, stepped on the accelerator and sped away.

A couple of NVF volunteers posted on the bridge were witness to the accident. Another Maruti van and a car trailing the ambulance braked in time to avert a ripple collision. The occupants got off and rescued Karuna, Rekha and the others trapped inside the ambulance.

D.K. Chandra, an officer of Hastings police station, said: “I saw the smashed ambulance, but no one could trace the fleeing Matador. A case has been lodged against an unknown vehicle.’’    

Calcutta, Nov. 6: 
If it had its way, the new First Family would have stopped the photograph and the accompanying report from going into print. Such is their loathing for limelight.

Buddhadev Bhattacharya and his family follow a code of life that puts a premium on high thinking, privacy and anonymity.

The family comprises Bhattacharya’s widowed mother Lila Devi, wife Meera (a librarian in a private organisation) and daughter Suchetana, now a first-year student of political science at Presidency College.

His mother and wife attended the investiture at Raj Bhavan, partly amused, partly embarrassed because the spotlight was on them. But Suchetana gave the waiting cameras at Raj Bhavan the slip, as she chose to go to Netaji Indoor Stadium instead. From the stands, she saw her father bid an emotional farewell to Jyoti Basu. “I am happy where I am,” she said .

Soft-spoken, unpretentious and firmly rooted in reality, Meera is clearly the driving force of the family. She divides her time between office, where she is the universal “Meeradi”, and her world in a small, spartan flat on Palm Avenue, in south Calcutta.

Meera has unshakeable faith in her husband, his honesty, his intellectual ability, his sense of fairness.“I know him, a rare human being, for so long that it is enough for me to be known simply as Buddhadev’s wife,” she once told a family friend.

Her deep respect and admiration for Bhattacharya flow from an appreciation of his spartan lifestyle and intellectual pursuits.

In Meera, the new chief minsiter has a perfect companion who stands by him in times of need. Not many know that after his only sister, Chitrangada, a few years senior to him, died of malaria a few months ago, Bhattacharya was inconsolable. At Writers’, he was the stone-faced administrator, but back home, he would cry like a child. It was Meera who helped Bhattacharya to overcome the loss.

The family’s obsession with anonymity was evident last year , when Meera and Suchetana stood in a queue for about an hour and a half to collect an admission form at Presidency. Suchetana was eligible for admission to Jadavpur University, too, but opted for Presidency because her father had studied there.    

Calcutta, Nov. 6: 
Large dollops of glamour marked the swearing-in of chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya. There were actors, singers, writers, film directors and industrialists, along with sportsmen and high-voltage politicians.

The main function, which was a relatively small affair, began at about 4.30 pm. However, the celebrities — glamguests, to use party parlance — started arriving well in advance. Policemen were on the edge as cars swept into the wide, pebbled driveway to deposit the guests. Information officers, too, were present, so the glamguests had no problem entering Raj Bhavan.

The banquet hall of Raj Bhavan, venue of the ceremony, was decorated for the occasion, with huge chandeliers brilliantly lighting up the sprawling area. There was a separate enclosure to the right of the main dais for the culturati.

Bhattacharya, who is very much at home with writers and artistes, chatted with guests from the opposite poles of commerce and culture. Among the industrialists present were Sanjeev Goenka, Rajive Kaul, Harsh Neotia and S.K. Todi. Bhattacharya greeted all of them with smiles. He went forward to wish almost each one of the glamguests with extended hands. For some it was a namashkar, for others a namaste.

The city’s culturati seemed only too happy to get a younger chief minister, himself a poet and playwright. Bhattacharya went over to Suchitra Mitra, one of his favourites, and inquired after her health: “Suchitradi, bhalo aachhen?” he asked.

Also present was Ruma Guha Thakurta, whose renditions of ganasageet have become an integral part of many a Left Front rally. Bhattacharya spent a few minutes with her, too.

He greeted filmmaker Mrinal Sen, whose films he rarely misses. He grabbed the hands of stage actor and director Bibhas Chakraborty, whose performance as Shoaik in the eponymous Brecht play, is something Bhattacharya remembers to this day.

All eyes were on Aparna Sen as she walked in, to be followed shortly by Indian cricket skipper Sourav Ganguly, sporting a designer stubble. Much to the disappointment of the TV crew, his wife Dona was not with him.

Later, over tea and pastries, novelist Buddhadev Guha was heard saying that this was a memorable moment when a poet and a writer had taken over the reins of the government.

CPM politburo member Sitaram Yechury left his seat from the front row facing the dais to have a word with Ruma Guha Thakurta and Suchitra Mitra.

Also in the front row were nonagenarian Hiren Mukherjee, veteran Communist parliamentarian advocate-general N. N. Gooptu, Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim, Somnath Chatterjee and Politburo member Biman Bose.    

Calcutta, Nov. 6: 
The Calcutta University (CU) authorities on Monday announced that the results of this year’s B.A. and B.Sc Part I examinations will be published by the month-end.

Publication of the results has been pending since September, and nearly 80,000 examinees, who wrote the test this year are anxiously waiting to know the possible date of the announcement of the results. The examinations were held in May 2000.

Concerned over the delay, students and guardians are making anxious queries at the university’s result section every day. This prompted vice-chancellor Ashis Kumar Banerjee to make the announcement on Monday.

He attributed the delay to the recent floods, which he claimed had inconvenienced several hundred examiners in assessing scripts of students and submitting the marks to the authorities in time. Another reason, he said, was the “enormous increase in the number of examinees this year.”

The number has increased four-fold because of the need to hold the B.A. and B.Sc Part I examinations for both the new (three-year) and old (two-year) regulations together this year.

Last year, approximately 20,000 examinees had appeared in the B.A. and B.Sc Part I examinations. The examinations under the new three-year regulation were held for the first time this year.

Sources in the university’s examination department said many examiners were from the flood-hit districts, like Murshidabad and North 24-Parganas, and they were unable to submit the marks.

Given that 80,000 students took the examinations this year, the university is required to examine nearly 800,000 scripts, as each examinee was required to answer 10 papers. What compounded the problem was that examiners are already scarce.

The sources said of the 800,000 answerscripts, the marks of 48,000 scripts have not yet reached the university. “The examiners concerned have been asked to submit the marks as early as possible,” the sources said.    

Calcutta, Nov. 6: 
Buddhadev Bhattacharya’s swearing-in kept in abeyance the hike in bus fares, with the state government deciding to announce new fares on Thursday.

Though transport minister Subhas Chakraborty and his officials met several bus-owners’ bodies on Monday morning, no decision on the new fare structure was arrived at.

Fearing that Bhattacharya’s first day as chief minister would be sullied by the announcement of raised transport fares, the government bought time by not declaring the inevitable. Chakraborty was scheduled to declare the fare structure on Monday.

After the meeting held in the Writers’ Buildings Rotunda, Chakraborty said that the fare structure would be unveiled on Thursday. The new fares will be effective from Friday.

Even though the structure is still under wraps, transport department sources said that the initial fare for bus and minibuses will be Rs 2.50 and Rs 2.75, respectively. The minimum taxi fare will be Rs 13, up by a rupee.

The Central hike in fuel prices had sparked protests both from the government and transport operators, who demanded an immediate hike in rates.    

Calcutta, Nov. 6: 
Two persons were held in a CESC-police crackdown on power theft on Monday.

CESC sources said Ram Narayan Sonar was arrested at Titagarh, in North 24-Parganas. Sonar illegally supplied power to 50 houses in his area for a price. Mantu Seikh, the other man arrested, was from Akra Phatak, in the Maheshtala area of South 24-Parganas. Mantu was supplying power to 20 houses.

Earlier ,on November 2, Ranjit Singh was arrested from Malipanchghara, in Howrah, for power theft. He was allegedly adept at tampering with meters. He was caught redhanded.    

Calcutta, Nov. 6: 
The police on Monday sealed the Dolui residence at Bagnan, in Howrah district, where a family of three — Pannalal, his wife Bharati and sister-in-law Tarabala — was hacked to death early on Sunday. A relative, Hemanta Dolui, too, was killed later.

A man detained on Sunday in connection with the murders was released on Monday. No arrests have been made so far. The police are still in the dark about the motive. Nothing was stolen from the house. Sniffer dogs were brought in on Monday morning to hunt for clues. Forensic experts visited the site and took fingerprints.

Preliminary investigations have revealed that Pannalal Dolui would lend money at steep interest rates. Police suspect that this could be an important aspect. A large police contingent has been posted in front of the house.    

Calcutta, Nov. 6: 
Armed youth snatched ornaments and cash worth about Rs 75,000 from trader Santosh Jalan while he was travelling on a train to Calcutta on Monday. Railway police sources said Jalan was coming to Posta from Hind Motor. No arrests could be made.    

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