Bloody blot on Bengal’s business
‘Massacre’ witness in turmoil
Midnapore awaits Atal return
Beware of people, not planets
Calcutta Weather

 
 
BLOODY BLOT ON BENGAL’S BUSINESS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 13: 
In the worst labour violence in living memory in Bengal, two managers of a jute mill were beaten up and burnt to death after a worker was shot dead this morning.

The worker, Bhola Das, died when J.P. Tiwari, a senior executive of Baranagar Jute Mills, pulled out his gun and shot him as a demonstration against a suspension order issued yesterday turned violent.

In the unbridled wave of fury unleashed by the death, Tiwari, general manager, and Gautam Ghosh, personnel manager, were first attacked with iron rods and then their limp bodies were dragged out in the open and set ablaze.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, visiting Malda, ordered a high-level inquiry. “I have heard about the incident and spoken to the chief secretary,” he said.

The director-general of police, Dipak Sanyal, said he had asked the CID to probe the incident. “I have never come across such a ghastly incident,” he added.

Tension had been brewing from Friday evening when the management of the state’s second oldest jute mill decided to suspend two contract workers, Asish Majumdar and Dilip Dhar, on grounds of negligence.

Today’s incident took place around 11.10 am, between the morning and general shifts. At least 500 workers had assembled in front of the mill’s main gate, 200 metres away from its central office, demanding that the suspensions be revoked.

Sheikh Kayamuddin, an injured securityman, said the workers ordered him to open the gate, but he refused. “Suddenly, some workers inside the factory started beating Dayanand Pandey, another security guard, and snatched the keys from him. They opened the gate and, as soon as the mob rushed in, I fled. They started throwing bricks at us. I took refuge in the mill’s dispensary,” Kayamuddin, quivering with fear, said.

Hundreds of workers rushed towards the central office where the managers sit. As soon as news of the workers’ agitation spread, at least 20 officials and clerks fled the central office. The security staff locked the gate of the office. Finding their entry barred, the workers threw stones at the office.

Rajaram Tiwari, in charge of the mill’s spinning and winding section, said: “Four of us, including the president and the general manager, were present in the central office when the workers started throwing stones. I took refuge in the storeroom. Finally, the mob broke open the door of the storeroom. Hundreds of workers armed with iron rods and lathis entered the central office. I begged for mercy. One of the workers hit me with an iron rod and ordered me to leave.”

The workers cut off all telephone lines and stormed into Tiwari’s office and started ransacking it. Some demanded an explanation for suspension of the the two contract workers and tried to drag him out of his office. Tiwari pulled out his .32 Webley Scot revolver and fired. The bullet pierced Bhola Das’ chest. Some workers sent Das to nearby Kamaharti ESI Hospital by the factory ambulance. He was declared dead on arrival at the hospital.

Incensed by the shooting, the workers pulled Tiwari out of his office and beat him with iron rods. An alarmed personnel manager, Gautam Ghosh, called his Bally residence on his cellphone, asking his wife to inform the Baranagar police station. But the police denied receiving any call from the Ghosh residence.

Another group of workers raided the personnel manager’s office located right across Tiwari’s. Ghosh, too, was set upon by the mob as was Manohar Sarkar, production manager. The mob spared Sarkar after hitting his head with an iron rod, concentrating their attack on the two other executives.

The battered bodies of Tiwari and Ghosh were dragged out of the office into the open and set on fire with oil and petrol sprinkled on jute rags. The labourers then set ablaze one of the executive’s cars parked near the office’s main entrance. They also set fire to a portion of the central office.

The police and two fire tenders doused the burning bodies and the vehicle. A search of the ransacked offices by the police yielded the holster but not Tiwari’s revolver.

Kuldeep Singh, superintendent of police of North 24-Parganas, said the entire incident was over in an hour. Policemen arrived at the factory’s main gate as soon as they got news of the violence, but could not enter as it was locked from inside.

Only when workers opened the gate to take Bhola Das to hospital could they gain entry.

The police seized about 12 blood-stained iron rods from the mill as evidence. Gautam Chakraborty, DIG, said: “We have arrested 27 persons.”

In front of the central office entrance, dotted by dark spots, lay patches of charred rags. Blood blotches covered the steps leading into the office.

   

 
 
‘MASSACRE’ WITNESS IN TURMOIL 
 
 
FROM TAMAL SENGUPTA
 
Garbeta, Jan. 13: 
The Chhoto Angaria incident appears to have upset the mental balance of Abdur Rahman Mondal, the prime witness to the alleged mayhem on the night of January 4.

At the small 15-ft-by-10-ft Trinamul camp in Garbeta, his wife Anisha Bibi said Mondal has become increasingly incoherent over the past few days.

“He is uttering things we have never heard before. What will you talk about?” she said, when asked if her husband could be asked a few questions.

Police, however, said Mondal is pretending to have lost his memory. “He knows it would be a tough interrogation once we start grilling him,” said a local police officer. They are keeping a tight vigil on Mondal, lest he escapes.

CPM leaders here feel Mondal should be taken into custody. “He is an important witness and could even be killed,” a local CPM leader said.

Police today conducted a search in the Jaipur and Haltora forests in Bankura and Patas in Midnapore. The Bankura, Purulia and Midnapore police will meet in the next few days.

But the probe has slackened after the CID team returned to Calcutta on Friday to submit its report to the state government.

However, Garbeta police station officer-in-charge Nikhil Bose said: “We have nothing much to do as the CID has taken over investigations.” The police station is a stone’s throw from the Garbeta camp. All who have taken shelter there are refusing to return to Chhoto Angaria.

   

 
 
MIDNAPORE AWAITS ATAL RETURN 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
New Delhi & Calcutta, Jan. 13: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will take up the alleged carnage in Chhoto Angaria as soon as he returns from his Vietnam-Indonesia trip tomorrow.

Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, also arriving in the capital tomorrow, will call on Vajpayee within two days to apprise him of the “volatile” situation in West Bengal, sources said.

Mamata is carrying with her video cassettes and other “evidence” of the “carnage” at Chhoto Angaria and the murder of student leader Sujata Das at Khejuri, both in Midnapore district, which she will submit to home minister L.K. Advani.

The Trinamul chief, who has repeatedly demanded President’s rule in West Bengal, has rubbished the CID inquiry into the Chhoto Angaria incident and is insisting on a CBI probe.

The Prime Minister will also receive two other reports: from Advani and the NDA team that visited the state. Vajpayee faces the unenviable task of appeasing Mamata at a time when the Congress has stepped up its parleys with her. The Prime Minister and his party are also in a bind over a solution to the Bengal crisis.

The BJP is divided over invoking Article 356 in the state. So far, the party has maintained that since it lacked the numbers in the Rajya Sabha, without Congress support it could not have President’s rule imposed on the state.

However, Bengal Congress president Pranab Mukherjee rubbished the claim, saying since elections are due in three months, the Centre need not wait for the Congress nod as there is no need to get the proclamation ratified by Parliament.

A section of BJP leaders vehemently oppose the idea of Central rule as they feel that if the CPM government is dismissed, it will gain sympathy.

The BJP assessment on whether Mamata will leave the NDA is also not uniform.

A section feels that she cannot afford to quit as her image has taken a beating of late and that the Congress cannot align with her while she is in the saffron camp. Others suspect that she may leave after presenting the rail budget.

Senior BJP leader J.P. Mathur said: “My personal belief is that she will not leave the NDA.”

Minister of state for communications Tapan Sikdar said if she deserts the BJP for the Congress, she will lose her credibility in the eyes of the people as she had earlier dubbed the Congress “as the B-team of the CPM”. He added: “If she goes with the CPM’s B-team, it will be a mahajolt (for her party) not a mahajot.”

In Calcutta today, Mamata ruled out quitting the NDA, saying she was confident of bringing all anti-CPM forces, including the Congress, on a common platform before the Assembly elections in West Bengal.

   

 
 
BEWARE OF PEOPLE, NOT PLANETS 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
Kumbhnagar, Jan. 13: 
When the Sun enters Capricorn tomorrow, beware of the poison in the prasad.

Believers come to terms with the siege of a religion from within and without as Hinduism’s largest carnival peaks for Makar Sankranti at the Mahakumbh early on Sunday.

Roving electronic eyes, a terrorist threat, a schism in the clergy and continuous announcements over the public address system urging the lakhs of pilgrims in Kumbhnagar not to accept food from unknown people even if it is offered as prasad are features of the faith’s Jagat Kutumbakam — global village.

Hindu astrology dictates that the Mahakumbh should coincide with one round of Jupiter through the zodiac. It starts with Jupiter in Vrishabh (Taurus) and peaks when the Sun enters Makara (Capricorn).

This will happen after midnight Saturday-Sunday. The summit of the mela will be scaled on January 24 when the moon, too, enters Makara. This nexus of cosmic energy converges every 144 years over Prayag, bringing dramatic changes in the destiny of humanity.

The auspicious planetary position comes with forebodings that intimidate but do not dampen the zeal of the multitude that has descended here. Their fervour mocks at the atheist, carries with it the agnostic.

In near-freezing temperature, men, women, the old and the young will stay overnight on the sandy bank under open sky to bathe in the Ganga at sunrise. Mothers will dunk year-old infants in the polluted water in the belief that it is amrit, the nectar of immortality.

Fathers will pray to wash away ancestral sins and seek support — any support — for fortitude, for survival. Survivors will plead for prosperity and the prosperous will seek continued blessings.

This opera of faith will be played out under 15 remote-controlled closed-circuit television cameras monitored from a special police control room and installed over the past week.

Intelligence inputs had suspected a Lashkar-e-Toiba strike at the Mahakumbh.

Helicopter-borne cameras will record the event for television channels.

Passengers in trains clanging through the bridge on the Ganga will see, too, how millions on the dry river bed between Akbar’s fort on one bank and Arail on the other make up one single, unified, mega Hindu soul trying to purify itself with manic determination.

What they will not see is the tensions tearing at it.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad has inspired a split in the Akhada Parishad, the apex body of the 13 Akhadas — orders of ascetics — that is at the core of the Kumbh Mela.

Acharya Mahamandaleshwar Parmanandji Maharaj split from the parent body and announced an Akhand Akhada Parishad on Friday.

This has further intensified bickering among the seers who were already arguing over the sequence in which the Akhadas would bathe.

The institutionalised clergy that makes up the nebulous spine of the faith at Kumbh comprises four Shankaracharyas (Badrik Ashram or Jyotishpeeth, Dwarika, Puri and Shringeri. A fifth — Kanchi — is partly recognised by the others) and the Akhadas.

The Akhada Parishad split after some sages designated themselves Shankaracharyas in the run-up to Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s dharam sansad that is to decide on the Ram Janmabhoomi temple. It is slated to meet here from January 19 to 21.

A few of these self-styled Shankaracharyas, like Swami Adhyokshanand, have spoken out against the VHP.

Should this trend catch on, the VHP’s effort to showpiece the dharam sansad and itself as the representative of the larger Hindu world will be marred by bitter infighting.

The politics of religion, however, is swamped by the zeal and the fervour of an estimated 80 lakh people that will turn out here on the morrow.

Faith is set to move millions just as millions move it.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 24.4°C (-3),
Minimum: 11.5°C (-3)

Rainfall:

Nil

Relative humidity

Maximum: 88%,
Minimum: 40%

Today

Partly cloudy sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 13°C
Sunrise: 6.25 am
Sunset: 5.07 pm
   
 

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