No siren, no convoy, new chair
Dacoits walk off after twin raids
Buddha brushes off security
With noble ideas, teacher tilts at windmills
Teachers under theft cloud
University reinstates sacked employee
Strike brings life to a halt in Manipur
Ulfa leader offers to reveal nexus
Nagas torch Assam border huts
BSP salvo on Jagannath ruffles feathers

 
 
NO SIREN, NO CONVOY, NEW CHAIR 
 
 
BY SHANKAR MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, Nov.7: 
On Tuesday morning. Phoolchand, screwdriver in hand, set about doing something he had never thought he would — take Jyoti Basu’s name off the Writers’ Buildings walls. The man who was ‘khas bearer’ to ‘Sir’ throughout his 24-year tenure at the top, was changing the nameplate outside the chief minister’s chamber.

“See, the door is looking somewhat different,’’ said Phoolchand, gazing at ‘Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’, where ‘Jyoti Basu’ used to be.

At 12.30 pm, there was a buzz about Writer’s. Hundreds thronged the VIP gates, others lined the corridors, waiting for the seventh chief minister of Bengal to arrive for his first day in office.

When a white Ambassador, with red light flashing, followed by a solitary police car, pulled up at the VIP gate, and Bhattacharjee stepped out, he almost took the waiting multitude by surprise. No sirens, no convoy, no traffic alert. Bhattacharjee, not Basu.

Some women employees reacted first, showering petals and chanting slogans. Others jostled for a glimpse from the balconies above. “I want to see how he looks as chief minister,’’ said Utpal Mondal, an employee of the transport department.

First stop, the felicitation organised by the co-ordination committee. Upstairs, the corridor is packed with people. Bhattacharjee heads straight for the chief minister’s office, hands folded, a smile on his face. The chief secretary, the director-general of police, the police commissioner and other officers are waiting to welcome the new incumbent.

It’s just past 1.30 when Bhattacharjee finally takes Basu’s place, but not his chair. A new, wooden chair covered with a white towel has replaced the one used by his predecessor for the past 11 years, and now installed in the ante-chamber.

Bhattacharjee spends his first few moments in the chief minister’s chair in silence, head bowed slightly, hands resting on the table.

Then, work begins. Special assistant T.K. Sengupta forwards the first file — Wipro wants land to set up IT shop. Bhattacharjee puts pen to paper, directing the urban development department to allot a plot on the E.M. Bypass. Even while he is clearing some other files, almost every minister drops in to greet the new CM.

At 2.30, Bhattacharjee steps out for lunch at home. He’s back at 4 pm to meet the press at the rotunda. He occupies the special tall chair in which Basu would sit.

But, for a minute, he forgets that he’s not merely filling in for his chief. “I and the chief minister will meet the chambers of commerce on Wednesday....’’ he starts, only to be stopped by the reporters. Bhattacharjee breaks into a rare smile in front of the media: “It will take some time to forget a practice of so many years.”

Darkness has descended over Writers’ by the time the press meet ends. No Nandan, this evening? “No, I have a meeting on Haldia at 7 pm, then another meeting, then the party office...’’    


 
 
DACOITS WALK OFF AFTER TWIN RAIDS 
 
 
BY DEBASHIS CHATTOPADHYAY
 
Calcutta, Nov.7: 
Barely five hours after newly-appointed chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee stepped out of his car at his Palm Avenue residence, a gang of 20 heavily-armed dacoits struck at two apartments in nearby Kasba, terrorising residents and catching the police unawares.

Early on Tuesday, at around 2 am, the dacoit gang encircled a two-storeyed apartment building at Narkelbagan, in Kasba, as the neighbourhood — and the police — slept. One of the apartments is occupied by a businessman.

First, they disconnected the telephone lines of the area by hacking down the distribution box; then, one by one, they broke the street lights around the house.

The preliminaries over, the dacoits struck. Four of them went to a nearby construction site and gathered a slab of concrete, while a few others picked the lock on the main collapsible gate.

Having opened this gate, they then ploughed through the wooden door leading to the two apartments.

They fanned out in two groups, one taking on the family on the ground floor, the other making its way to the floor on top.

“I heard a loud sound and thought it was a gas cylinder bursting; and that got me up instantly,” said Siddhartha Bhattacharya, a professional musician, who occupies the ground floor. “Then, in the gloom, I could make out the outlines of the dacoits as they moved into the apartment. It was a terrifying moment.”

Bhattacharya, who lives there with his wife and three-year-old daughter, initially decided to hide. But then, he realised it would be useless. The dacoits spotted him, gave him a blow and as the musician fell, a few others pulled him up.

“I though it was the end,” Bhattacharya said. But it wasn’t. The dacoits, instead, decided to tie his hands, while his daughter and wife sobbed in one corner.

“They asked for the almirah keys, but since I fumbled, they held a gun to my daugher’s head and said they would kill her if I did not oblige,” Bhattacharya said. “But a few other dacoits, who were rummaging through the closet drawers, found the keys and promptly opened the cupboard,” he added.

They emptied it of the little cash and ornaments that it contained and, as a parting shot, smashed the television set in the living room. “They must have been unhappy with what they got,” Bhattacharya said.

Meanwhile, on the first floor, the other lot had struck a little more luck at businessman Madhusudhan Roy’s apartment. Roy, like Bhattacharya, had woken up on hearing the din. He was soon overpowered.

“The dacoits tied my father’s hands after beating him up,” said Piyali, Roy’s elder daughter, who lives in the apartment . “

The dacoits picked up all that they could. They made a haul of cash and ornaments, as well as some electronic goods. “The exact amount is being evaluated,” said a relative.

After threatening the family with “dire consequences” if they informed the police, the dacoits walked out into the darkness.

The ASP (industrial) of South 24-Parganas, Gyanbant Singh, said: “We have detained one person and are interrogating him.”    


 
 
BUDDHA BRUSHES OFF SECURITY 
 
 
BY AVIJIT NANDI MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, Nov.7: 
Elaborate plans drawn up by the police to throw a security ring around Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s Palm Avenue residence have come up against a wall, with the newly-appointed chief minister himself saying a firm ‘no’.

Bhattacharya, whose security was upgraded to the “Y” category on Tuesday, has told the police chief he does not want “unnecessary fanfare” around him, sending alarm bells ringing at Lalbazar.

Senior police officers admitted that given the sensitive nature of the state’s top job, it is “imperative” that the security cover be strengthened “many more times”.

Accordingly, they had drawn detailed plans of beefing up police posting both around him and his residence.

They had planned:

Posting of about a dozen armed policemen at his Palm Avenue Government Housing Estate residence, not only to keep a watch on visitors to the building but also to frisk them, irrespective of which apartment they were going to in the four-storeyed building. At present, there is no police posting there.

Sealing all roads leading to Bhattacharjee’s home, along the lines of the security arrangements in place around Jyoti Basu’s Salt Lake residence

Setting up a police outpost near the housing estate

Deploying a convoy of six cars to escort him wherever he chose to travel. For the moment, Bhattacharjee has accepted only a bullet-proof car

However, Bhattacharya has refused to oblige. “This has just increased our problems,” said a harried official.

“He has received threats from some north Bengal extremists and a lot of ultras from the Northeast use Calcutta as a transit point. Why take chances?” he asked.

Police said they had even suggested that Bhattacharya shift residence to Raj Bhavan if he did not want to inconvenience his neighbours. But this, too, has been turned down.

In fact, only too aware of the security needs of the new chief minister, police chief Dinesh Vajpai called on him on Tuesday with a report prepared by the special branch of the city police on threat perceptions. But even this failed to convince Bhattacharjee.

However, undeterred by the chief minister’s refusal, state and Central security agencies are meeting next week to review the security position, especially since the area is “crime-prone” according to records at Karaya police station.    


 
 
WITH NOBLE IDEAS, TEACHER TILTS AT WINDMILLS 
 
 
BY SUMIT DAS GUPTA AND DEVADEEP PUROHIT
 
Calcutta, Nov.7: 
Five-foot nothing. Thick, old-fashioned spectacles, out-of-fashion safari suit, hearing aid in left ear. Meet Malay Chaudhuri, 62, who gave the city something to talk about on Tuesday morning.

“From a teacher in a classroom, I now see myself as a teacher on a mass stage,” says the man behind the widely-circulated advertisement announcing the birth of Manav Vikas Party, ‘a party for human development’, which will contest the Assembly elections in Bengal.

Unveiling an elaborate agenda of higher economic growth rates, employment, improved education facilities, health care — all for the “80 per cent bottom of Indian society” — Chaudhuri vehemently opposes it being called “Utopian”. “Careful research has helped us conclude that if resources to the tune of Rs 7.5 lakh crore can be mobilised by adjusting excise duties, making small but significant changes to things like the electricity tariff structure, and then utilised properly, all this is definitely achievable,” asserts Chaudhuri. “People called me mad when I quit as IIM (Bangalore) professor to set up the Indian Institute of Planning and Management in New Delhi in 1974 to create “young managers with social commitment. They’re calling me mad again today. But I know what I am doing.”

It is his students who inspired him to reach out to 200 villages of Midnapore and 50 of Balasore in 1994, under the Aurobindo Smriti Manav Vikas Kendra (named after his younger son, who died in an accident at age 19). And it is on them that he is banking now “to change the political pattern, combat criminalisation of the system and ensure development”.

Starting point, Assembly Poll 2001 in Bengal. The student of Presidency College (history) in the 50s, who went on to do his doctorate in political economy from Berlin, encouraged by P.C. Mahalanobis, feels the “time is just right to light the first mashaal (the party symbol he is gunning for) of a revolution”.

“The CPM is beyond redemption, and if these so-called Marxists rule for another five years, nothing can save Bengal. There’s still some hope surrounding Mamata, who does seem to have her heart in the right place, but lacks any sort of structured vision,” says Chaudhuri, who hopes to field candidates in all 294 seats.

The mathematics — according to the economist whose philosophy “is basically Marxist but goes beyond Marx” — is simple. A hundred of his students have already queued up. Another 200 youth are needed. They’ll go through an intensive leadership training programme over the next three months and be ready to mount a challenge.

And the funds? The network of students, the corporate goodwill that his institute and his consultancy firm has earned, founder-member fees of Rs 10,000 per annum, and ‘donations’, he hopes, can help raise the Rs 10 crore needed to put up a decent fight in these elections.

“I am pragmatic enough to realise that unless we have some influence or control over the budget, we can’t achieve anything. So, even if we can just spark an awarenness among the young and the restless this time, it’ll be a significant start,” says Chaudhuri, whose vision of the future is symbolised in the name of his one-year-old grandson — Che Kabir (“revolutionary goal, non-violent path”).    


 
 
TEACHERS UNDER THEFT CLOUD 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Nov.7: 
Teachers of Rajabazar Science College are taking university property home. At least, the students and security staff claim so.

Concerned at the increasing number of complaints to this effect, the Calcutta University authorities have decided to beef up security arrangements on the college campus. Last Saturday, a teacher of the chemical engineering department was caught making away with a computer. This was the second such incident in the past two months.

“Incidents of theft are definitely on the rise on the campus. We are seriously concerned,” said M.K. Sengupta, secretary of the Science College campus, adding that the matter had been brought to the notice of the CU registrar and vice-chancellor.

“We are chalking out measures to remove the lapses in the existing system,” an official in the university’s security department said. Henceforth, all cars belonging to university teachers and officers may be checked when they leave the campus, sources said.

On Tuesday, students and security staff were up in arms, demanding immediate action against the teacher. University sources said he was caught “red-handed” by a gatekeeper, who spotted him placing a computer in a taxi.

However, ignoring the guard’s objections, he took the computer away, claiming that it was his own and he had brought it over for repairs.

In September, too, a teacher of another department had accused a member of the security staff of having stolen a television set from his laboratory. Later, investigations revealed that it was the teacher who had taken the set home.

This has sparked a controversy at the college. Students claim a complaint had been lodged with the secretary, who is also head of the campus, immediately after the incident. But no action was taken. They pointed out that it was illegal to take any university property off the campus. The secretary refused to comment.    


 
 
UNIVERSITY REINSTATES SACKED EMPLOYEE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Nov.7: 
Calcutta University on Tuesday decided to reinstate Barin Bhattacharya, an employee of the university and a former member of the university’s Senate, dismissed three years ago on charges of “abusing” the vice-chancellor.

The decision was finalised on Tuesday at a meeting of the members of the Syndicate — the highest policy-making body of the university.

Three years after his dismissal, the Calcutta University authorities considered Bhattacharya’s reinstatement and discussed the issue at Tuesday’s Syndicate meeting, following a directive from Calcutta High Court. “The reinstatement was approved by the Syndicate in accordance with the court order,” said Anil Bhattacharya, senior Syndicate member, after the meeting.

Barin Bhattacharya, a leader of the university’s pro-Naxalite employees’ union, was dismissed in September 1997. In one of the previous year’s issues of the bulletin, which Bhattacharya published himself, he had written an article containing comments which apparently “hurt” the prestige of the university.

Bhattacharya, a senior assistant and leader of Calcutta University Employees’ Unity Centre, had moved the high court, complaining that his dismissal was “illegal.”

CPM members of the CU Senate had taken strong exception to Bhattacharya’s article. The issue was raised at one of the Senate meetings in 1996. There, the members had come down on the article and demanded that the authorities take punitive action against Bhattacharya. The CPM members claimed that the allegations made by Bhattacharya in his article were “baseless.”

Later, the Calcutta University authorities had set up a one-man inquiry committee to find out whether Bhattacharya’s allegations were true or not. The committee carried out the probe for a year and finally found Bhattacharya guilty. He was dismissed in September 1997.

The Congress-dominated Calcutta University Employees’ Association and the Calcutta University Employees’ Unity Centre had launched movements to protest Bhattacharya’s dismissal.

The CPM employees union, however, chose not to react to the issue.    


 
 
STRIKE BRINGS LIFE TO A HALT IN MANIPUR 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Imphal, Nov. 7: 
A 17-hour statewide general strike in protest against the killing of 10 civilians by Assam Rifles completely paralysed normal life in Manipur today. The general strike was called by six organisations, including the All-Manipur Students Union.

Reports from all districts said the strike was total. Markets and educational institutions remained closed throughout the day. Functioning of all government offices was also affected. Transport stayed off the roads.

Police and Manipur Rifles personnel were deployed in all the sensitive areas. Though the government issued strict instructions to employees to attend office, most of them failed to turn up.

Ten civilians, including a woman, were killed when Assam Rifles personnel fired indiscriminately at Malom village near Imphal airport on November 2 after their convoy was attacked by suspected militants with a bomb. More than 40 villagers were hospitalised after they were assaulted by Ass-am Rifles troops in a combing operation at Malom after the incident.

Malom and its adjoining villages are still tense, but the situation was under control. Senior police officials said there were no untoward incidents during the strike which began at midnight last night and ended at 5 pm this evening.

Besides the Amsu, the other organisations which called the general strike include the National Identity Protection Committee, the Apunba Manipur Kanba Ima Lup, Manipur Keithal Nupi Marup, Zeliangrong Women Society and Kuki Mothers’ Association. The strike was also supported by various organisations from the hills and the valley.

The proscribed United National Liberation Front strongly condemned the Assam Rifles’ firing, terming it a cowardly act. The outfit urged the people to condemn such action saying “Indian forces were continuing with its human rights abuses”. Another rebel outfit, the Revolutionary People’s Front, also condemned the killing of civilians.

Union joint secretary, home (in charge of Northeast), G. K. Pillai is arriving tomorrow to assess the law and order situation. During his visit, Pillai will also attend a seminar on development in Tamenglong district.

A regional political party, Democratic Revolutionary People’s Party has demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in connection with the killing at Malom.

The W. Nipamacha Singh government has imposed the Prevention of Seditious Meetings Act, 1911, to prevent protest meetings against the Malom killings.

SDPO suspended: The sub-divisional police officer of Jiribam, Achou Singh, has been suspended in connection with the rebel raid on the Jiribam police station on October 20 and subsequent snat-ching of weapons. Guerrillas of the banned People’s Liberation Army had overpowered the policemen and snatched 36 weapons. Singh was in charge of the police force in Jiribam sub-division.    


 
 
ULFA LEADER OFFERS TO REVEAL NEXUS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Guwahati, Nov. 7: 
Incarcerated Ulfa vice-chairman Pradip Gogoi today claimed that he could blow the lid off the much talked about militant-politician nexus in Assam if the state guaranteed him safety.

Gogoi told The Telegraph at the designated court premises here that he had “such vast knowledge” about the militant-politician nexus that revelations by him would “cost several ministers their jobs”.

However, the Ulfa leader said he had decided to restrain himself as any disclosure might lead to his extermination. “I will neither disclose the name of any politician nor any political party having links with the Ulfa till I am assured of safety,” he added.

A prominent member of the Ulfa thinktank till his arrest in Calcutta in 1998, the Ulfa ideologue dropped enough hints to suggest that a very thin line divides insurgency and politics in the state.

He claimed that the recent mass killings in Nalbari and Upper Assam were the handiwork of a “major political party”, but were being attributed to the Ulfa “to settle political rivalries”.

The Asom Gana Parishad has accused the “Congress-Ulfa combine” of being behind the massacres. The Congress has countered the allegation by claiming that the Ulfa used an AGP activist, Nripen Das, as a linkman to carry out the massacre of members of a particular community.

Ten non-Assamese people were killed in Nalbari and at least 15 in the two Upper Assam districts of Tinsukia and Dibrugarh recently. “It may be the Congress, the AGP or some other political party which masterminded the recent massacres. But it was certainly not the Ulfa,” Gogoi said.

The ailing rebel leader, who leant on a policeman’s shoulder as he entered the court, said, “The Ulfa does not indulge in mass killings. It only targets those who try to prevent creation of a sovereign Assam.”

On the arrest of “Ulfa linkman” Nripen Das in connection with the Nalbari massacre, Gogoi said, “This does not prove that the Ulfa is behind the killings. I can say that Prafulla Kumar Mahanta has links with the Ulfa as all of us shared the same platform during the Assam agitation. But will it be considered as proof?”

The rebel leader said he had urged the chief minister to call off operations by the unified command when the latter met him at Guwahati jail to discuss ways to resolve the insurgency issue.

Gogoi said the Ulfa was ready for peace talks, provided the government agreed to discuss the issue of sovereignty, hold the negotiations in a “third country” and allow a representative of the United Nations to monitor the process.    


 
 
NAGAS TORCH ASSAM BORDER HUTS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Jorhat, Nov. 7: 
Unidentified men from Nagaland torched several houses at Bongaon in the disputed B sector along the Assam-Nagaland border in Golaghat district this morning.

Official sources said the attackers raided the village at 6.30 am and ordered the residents to vacate their homes before setting the huts on fire. Houses of Kanai Baruah, Romen Hazarika, Babul Hazarika and Dubewar Hazarika were gutted. However, no casualty was reported.

Top police and district administrative officials have rushed to the spot and security tightened.

According to reports, Naga people from across the border had directed the villagers in the disputed areas to vacate the land a few days ago.

The gaonburah (village head) of Jahaji Basti in the B sector was abducted by Naga marauders on Sunday. He is still untraced. Assam and Nagaland have been a waging a protracted war ever since the latter was declared a separate state in 1963. Nagaland alleged that Assam was illegally occupying Naga areas.

Though the Centre set up several commissions to settle the impasse, no solution could be found.

The Nagaland Students’ Federation recently directed the Oil and Natural Gas Commission to pay royalty to Nagaland for its activities along the disputed areas along the border. The ONGC pays royalty to the Assam government for its operations in the disputed areas of Golaghat.

Ex-minister beaten up

Former minister and senior Congress leader Anjan Dutta was assaulted by Asom Gana Parishad workers at Jalukgaon under Amguri constituency in Sivsagar district today.

Jalukgaon is the native village of state transport minister Pradip Hazarika. Dutta lost to Hazarika in the last Assembly polls by a narrow margin. Three Congress workers were also injured in the attack. Sources said Dutta along with party workers and four personal security guards had gone to the village to attend a meeting organised by the block Congress committee.

The Tata Sumo they were travelling in was stopped by about 30 AGP workers near the approach road to the village. Two AGP workers allegedly assaulted Dutta and his companions. However, Dutta’s PSOs managed to bring the situation under control. Congress workers, who had gathered at the venue, later escorted Dutta to the meeting. The Congressman lodged a complaint at the Amguri police station. Dutta’s wife was also threatened during the Pujas.    


 
 
BSP SALVO ON JAGANNATH RUFFLES FEATHERS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Bhubaneswar, Nov. 7: 
An “intemperate” remark about Lord Jagannath by a Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) legislator from Chhatisgarh has evoked sharp reactions in Orissa.

At a rally here yesterday, BSP Legislature Party leader from Chhatisgarh Dauram Ratnakar termed Lord Jagannath as lula (handicapped).

“Aaapka Jagannath lula hai, langda hai. Woh kya aapke dukh sunenge (Jagannath is handicapped. How will he alleviate your woes),” the BSP leader said oblivious of the statement’s repercussion.

He said the people of the state had a better chance of redressing their problems through Naveen Patnaik than the “Lord” himself.

The BSP’s Oriya supporters at the rally clapped as the Dalit leader continued with his “broadsides” against Lord Jagannath. BSP supremo Kanshi Ram was also present at the rally.

Condemning the Ratnakar’s “irresponsible” remarks, president of the state BJP unit Manmohan Samal said the BSP leader had hurt Oriya sentiments. “Lord Jagannath is revered not only in Orissa but all over the world. Though parties like the BSP accuse the BJP of mixing religion with politics, the irresponsible statements show who is actually mixing religion with politics,” Samal told The Telegraph.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) was also irked by the remarks. Arabinda Rout of the VHP’s state unit said by criticising Lord Jagannath the BSP has hurt Hindu sentiments. “In the name of Dalit politics, the BSP is actually working for the missionaries. The sole aim of the party is to divide the Hindu society and garner votes. They are fomenting hatred among the weaker sections of society,’’ said Rout, the prachar prasar pramukh of the organisation. He demanded that the BSP leader withdraw his statements or else the party would launch a statewide agitation.

The Congress also came out strongly against the BSP. “Lord Jagannath is the lifeline of Orissa. The statements by Ratnakar reflect his stupidity. Getting publicity is one thing but he cannot get away with hurting Oriya sentiments. Oriyas are not that stupid,” said Arya Gyanendra, a PCC spokesman.

Socio-cultural organisations like the Utkal Sammilani and the Nilashaila have also condemned Ratnakar’s remarks. Secretary of the Utkal Sammilani Gopa Krishna Srichandan said the BSP leader was not aware that the ancestors of Lord Jagannath’s Daitapatis (servitors) at Puri were Dalits. “If the BSP is championing the Dalit cause, it should know that some of the rituals at Jagannath temple are drawn from tribal religious mores,” he said.

The Utkal Sammilani leader said there would be agitations in protest against the BSP leader’s statement over the next few days.

Rajkishore Raj, president of the Nilashaila, said the remarks were an attack on Oriya culture. “The derogatory remarks about Lord Jagannath have hurt innocent Oriyas. It is a black day for the state,” Raj said demanding withdrawal of the remarks by Ratnakar.

However, another Oriya organisation, Vishwa Oriya Sammilani, said there was no cause for alarm. “It is a free country and anybody can air personal views,” said Yudhistir Das of the sammilani.    

 

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