Mamata takes war to Buddha lair
Derby day horse stabbed in stable
Police twiddle thumbs as politicos play police
Hardline hit on Ayodhya initiative
Gore stamp on Bush crown
Calcutta Weather

 
 
MAMATA TAKES WAR TO BUDDHA LAIR 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Jan. 7: 
Undeterred by the lack of proof to back the Chhoto Angaria massacre claim, Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee today sought to take the battle to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s camp and relaunched the campaign for a grand alliance with the Congress.

Addressing a modest rally at Esplanade, Mamata unveiled plans for a month-long campaign against the CPM, which will be kicked off on Tuesday from Jadavpur, Bhattacharjee’s constituency since 1987.

The railway minister made it clear that she planned to engage Bhattacharjee in a frontal showdown, especially over law and order. “I am not in a hurry to go back to Delhi,” she thundered. “I will stay back here to mount a campaign against the communists who have unleashed terror across Bengal.”

The speech was high on such rhetoric and calculated to energise her supporters who have been on the defensive ever since Bhattacharjee introduced his “responsive governance”.

Mamata tried to squeeze Chhoto Angaria at two levels. At one, she began preparations to sculpt the name on the public consciousness and project the hamlet as another Keshpur, one of the most politically-inflammable belts in Bengal.

At another, she drew upon the emotions generated by the explosive charge to restart the drive for the mahajot (grand alliance) of all non-Left parties, especially the Congress.

Mamata, who derided the Congress till the other day as the ruling CPM’s “B” team, acknowledged its support for the Friday bandh and the visit by Somen Mitra and Priya Ranjan Das Munshi to Chhoto Angaria.

“I want them (the state Congress) to keep up its anti-CPM stand and not to budge an inch. We will fight the CPM united in the coming elections,” she said.

The response from the Congress was guarded. Mitra acknowledged the need for a grand alliance but said her BJP connection could stand in the way.

Mamata, who could not climb the podium due to an injury in her foot, addressed the rally sitting on a chair in front of the dais. Trinamul insiders said Mamata was aware of the fact that the Chhoto Angaria “massacre” could not be milked much without producing the bodies. The roadmap of her agitation suggests that she is now in a hurry to get into the slipstream of the heat and publicity the controversy has generated.

A day after the agitation inaugural at the chief minister’s constituency, the Trinamul will organise a mass hunger-strike near the Gandhi statue in the Maidan. On January 10, Mamata’s supporters will gherao police stations across the state to highlight the “growing lawlessness”.

On January 15, Trinamul parliamentarians, legislators and councillors will demonstrate outside district magistrates’ offices and police stations. A rally is being lined up for January 24 in Hooghly. Two conventions have been planned for February 4 and 11.

The highpoints of the events are its spearhead: Mamata, who is scheduled to take part in all the programmes, and the target: Bhattacharjee, who oversees law and order. The administration is keeping its fingers crossed and indicated that violence could not be ruled out during the protests.

The CPM said it had taken note of the essence of her programme and asked its supporters not to get provoked. “Our experience is that she uses violence when she finds she is losing public support,” said CPM state secretary Anil Biswas.

   

 
 
DERBY DAY HORSE STABBED IN STABLE 
 
 
BY PRAVESH GUPTA
 
Calcutta, Jan. 7: 
Alvarada, the second favourite for the Calcutta Derby, was stabbed last night in the Royal Calcutta Turf Club (RCTC) stables and could not run today.

The filly was one of the nine aspirants to the premier event in RCTC’s racing calendar. Trained by Vijay Singh and owned by industrialist Deepak Khaitan, Alvarada (picture above) was expected to finish close to Altimara, the untroubled winner today. She was stabbed above her knee at the RCTC-run Hastings stables, exposing the lack of security there.

“I’m too shocked to react. Let the police now take over,” Vijay Singh said. An FIR was filed with the Hastings police station this morning, but the probe could start only in the evening after Derby day races.

The wound inflicted on the filly’s left cannon bone is about an inch and a half deep, according to stable sources. A similar injury a little lower in the leg may have finished her career.

“It’s a skin injury. It may heel in 10 days or so,” said a veterinary source. “A sharp razor-like instrument could have been used to rip the flesh apart,” the source said.

Allegations of sabotage have been flying around in the stables. Last November, Bharath Singh’s horse, Lockers Park, failed the drug test and the trainer thought an outsider had entered the stable to inject the drug. Vijay Singh, too, is facing suspension for one of his wards, Aloritz, failing the drug test. Security in the stables has been tightened since.

But last night’s incident proves that it’s still not adequate. It also shows that if someone can sneak into the stables to stab a horse, it should not be too difficult to inject drugs either.

Each stable at Hastings has a closed enclosure, which is shuttered by collapsible gates and locked. But being old, the gates have rusted and developed yawning gaps in places, allowing entry through them. The trainer’s own employees guard individual stables and security for the entire area is looked after by RCTC staff.

   

 
 
POLICE TWIDDLE THUMBS AS POLITICOS PLAY POLICE 
 
 
FROM TAMAL SENGUPTA AND UMARESH GHOSH
 
Garbeta, Jan. 7: 
As “evidence” of the alleged massacre at Chhoto Angaria went on public display in Calcutta today, police ended another fruitless day of search for the 11 persons said to be missing since Thursday night.

None of the 10 persons named in the FIR registered by Abdul Rahman Mandal, a Trinamul Congress supporter whose house was allegedly torched that night, has been found either.

Evidence of and clues to the “massacre” have been easier to come by for politicians than for investigators. Mamata Banerjee sat at Esplanande in front of a table, laying out the “evidence” she had collected from the spot, letting the people to judge for themselves.

The other competing team of sleuths from her parent party, the Congress, has already despatched the result of its investigation to Delhi for Sonia Gandhi to judge for herself. Neither side has handed the “evidence” over to the police, as would have been required under law.

As Mamata alleged that the Left Front government had not bothered to even conduct a primary inquiry, the police here were asking how they could be expected to find any evidence or clues that politicians have already carried away with them.

Nearly 300 people visited Mandal’s house yesterday. “Newspersons, Trinamul, BJP and Congress leaders and supporters freely went about the house. Trinamul leaders, like Nirmal Maji and Mohammad Rafique, conducted a thorough search. They removed burnt portions of the house, dug the floors and had made it difficult for forensic experts to collect evidence,” a district police official said.

A third team of politicians-cum-investigators will reach Chhoto Angaria tomorrow. Accompanied by Trinamul MP Sudip Bandopadhyay, the National Democratic Alliance’s four-member delegation reached Midnapore today and expressed hope that they too would be able to “throw some light on the incident”.

Under law, removing evidence from the scene of crime is an offence. But the police did not even try to stop politicians from playing Sherlock Holmes, not to speak of now filing cases against them for removing “evidence”.

“What is left for us to investigate?” asked the official as investigators expressed annoyance with Mamata and Congress leader Priya Ranjan Das Munshi for taking away used cartridges claimed to have been found in the village and the “portion of a skull”. After Mandal filed the FIR on Friday morning, the police reached Chhoto Angaria within a couple of hours, but did not find any of the evidence the politicians stumbled upon the next day.

J.R. Bhagat, inspector-general (western range) said: “We sent the DSP (administration), A.K. Saha, and the officer-in-charge of Garbeta police station, Nikhil Bose, to the spot. They searched the entire house and the adjacent area, but found nothing to prove there was a violent incident, excepting burning of the house.”

Mamata has accused the police of being part of a cover-up. In that case, they are doing an amazingly incompetent job, leaving “evidence” lying around for politicians to pick up on short visits to the scene of crime. Even the person who filed the FIR appears to be out of bounds for the police. “Mandal is now in the Trinamul’s custody and we could not interrogate him,” said an officer.

   

 
 
HARDLINE HIT ON AYODHYA INITIATIVE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 7: 
Hardliners today lined the tortuous road leading up to the Ayodhya talks with tough posturing. A belligerent Vishwa Hindu Parishad declared that the Ram temple would come up at the disputed site “no matter what” and an equally fiery All-India Babri Masjid Action Committee threatened “consequences more dangerous than those seen in the post-Babri mosque demolition period”.

Striking a posture tougher than the one adopted by Acharya Giriraj Kishore, VHP chief Ashok Singhal today waved away as pointless the talks set up between Bajrang Dal chief Vinay Katiyar and the principal litigant in the Ram temple controversy, Hashim Ansari, later this week. Three rounds held during P.V. Narasimha Rao’s tenure had been to little avail, he said, and there was no reason to see light at the end of the tunnel now.

BMAC spokesman Zafaryab Jilani voiced a similarly tough line after the urgent meeting this afternoon. Pointing out “no concrete outcome” could be expected from the talks, he said the only way to resolve the temple tangle was by a court settlement.

Throwing caution to the winds, Jilani warned there would be stiff resistance if the VHP surged ahead with its construction plans. Any such attempt would lead to a renewal of violence, which could be of a scale larger than that seen in the demolition aftermath, he threatened.

The spokesman said if such a train of events was sparked off, the entire responsibility would lie with the Centre and the Uttar Pradesh government. He added that Ansari had not been authorised to hold talks.

Jilani urged secular parties, including BJP allies, to adopt resolutions in Parliament and the Assembly, requesting the Supreme Court and the high court to speed up the temple dispute cases. He said efforts should be made to end litigation in a year so that curtain could be rung down on the controversy.

In Mathura, Kishore, too, sounded adamant, making it clear that it was the responsibility of Islamic groups to adopt a conciliatory approach to the talks. He added that the temple would be constructed at the disputed site regardless of the talks.

The VHP has all along said — despite Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Kumarakon musings on the need to maintain status quo on the temple — that it will decide construction dates at its dharam sansad later this month.

Singhal said in Lucknow the dharam sansad’s decision would be binding on the VHP. There are two reasons why he has adopted this stance. One, he does not wish to send out any signal to Sangh hardliners that the VHP is suddenly relenting on the issue.

Two and more important, Singhal is determined to send out the message to Muslim bodies —- given that the All India Babri Masjid Action Committee and the All India Muslim Personal Law Board has already taken a defiant stand —- that the VHP does not see any future for the talks.

But the fact remains that Vinay Katiyar is the Bajrang Dal chief and the group is quite active, having taken a strong stand during the anti-Christian campaign only a year ago. Since Katiyar himself is going to take part in the exchange of ideas with Ansari it does indicate that what Kishore is now saying is more like tough posturing. Katiyar also may hold his ground during the talks and adopt a similar hardened stand.

There are some indications that the proposed Katiyar-Ansari dialogue has the blessings of the government. It is indeed not just a mere coincidence that the announcement of talks was made within a month of Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee making a statement both inside and outside the Parliament on the need for a dialogue between the interested parties. As Vajpayee has indicated the court decision is not the only way out of the problem. It is also significant that the principal litigant has been asked to be the interlocutor on behalf of the pro-Masjid camp. As Kishore stressed in Mathura, only 15 of the nearly 200 witnessed involved in the Ayodhya case have been examined till now. The VHP is unwilling to wait that long. For the government, it is difficult to appear interested in the dispute because it is sub-judice.

   

 
 
GORE STAMP ON BUSH CROWN 
 
 
BY K. P. NAYAR
 
Washington, Jan. 7: 
In a fitting finale to a bizarre presidential election, the defeated democratic party candidate, Al Gore, yesterday certified his Republican rival George W. Bush as the new President of the US to be sworn in on January 20.

The certification, following the counting of secret electoral votes from America’s 50 states and the District of Columbia is normally a routine procedure.

But this year, it was anxiously awaited by the incoming President. Cross-voting by just three members of the Electoral College could have upset the apple-cart for Bush and made Gore the President, although Gore had declared during the disputed election that he would not accept a victory brought about by floor crossing.

This is the first time in 36 years that a defeated candidate had to certify his rival’s election victory.

Gore, as Vice-President till January 20, had to preside over yesterday’s joint session of the Senate and the House of Representatives at which the electoral votes are counted and the victor formally announced.

The last Vice-President to similarly lose an election and put the official seal on his rival’s win was Hubert Humphrey. the last time a candidate who, like Bush, lost the popular vote and became President through electoral college majority was in 1888 when Benjamin Harrison was declared President after counting the electoral votes.

Like everything associated with the presidential election 2000, yesterday’s vote-counting session of the Congress was not without controversy.

For nearly half an hour, the Congress witnessed unruly scenes, seldom associated with Capitol Hill, as black Congressional members objected to the award of Florida’s 25 controversial electoral votes making Bush the President.

It was left to Gore to restore order in the House and reject objections from members of the Congress who were actually fighting for the defeated Vice- President’s cause. the black members finally walked out of the session that declared Bush as President.

Objections from members of the Congressional Black Caucus could not be sustained because not one Senator was willing to support the cause of the Caucus, whose members are all from the House of Representatives. The Senate does not have even one black member.

“It is a sad day in America when we can’t find a Senator to sign this objection”, Congressman Jesse L. Jackson Jr of Illinois, son of black civil rights leader of the same name, said taunting rows of Senators, including Democrats who wanted the divisive election to be over with.

Black Congressmen also tried to block the final act of the presidential election by arguing that the joint session lacked quorum, but were shouted down by Republicans.

In a way, the black protest on Capitol Hill was an augury of things to come. the new senate, which is evenly divided 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats has agreed to a complicated power sharing agreement.

Under this political pact, republicans have reluctantly agreed to have an equal number of members from both parties on every committee.

Although republicans will hold all committee chairmanships, the agreement curb’s each party’s capacity to block legislation from their rivals. “It is difficult for me to see how two people can drive one car at the same time”, Republican Senator Don Nickles, said of the arrangement.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 23.5°C (-4)
Minimum: 10.9°C (-2)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative humidity

Max: 95%
Min: 38%

Today:

Mainly clear sky. Possibility of fog in some parts. Minimum temperature likely to be 11°C

Sunrise: 6.24 am
Sunset: 5.03 pm
   
 

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