Holy dip in a sea of people
Scent of plot in mill violence
Mystery of disappearing witness
Atal blows hot and cold on Pak
Calcutta Weather

 
 
HOLY DIP IN A SEA OF PEOPLE 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
Kumbhnagar, Jan. 14: 
The silhouette of a naked ascetic, trident in hand, suspended in mid-air as he prances to the Sangam, is caught in a freeze frame at sunrise; and the millennium Mahakumbh erupts in full bloom to the riotous ecstasy of the world’s cameramen.

The charge of the ash-smeared Naga sanyasis. Click.

Godmen in saffron robes arriving in ornate howdahs mounted atop decorated jeeps. Click.

A woman in red waving dry a green sari that forms a canopy over the expanse of the crowded multi-hued Sangam. Click.

A mother, thick, red vermillion on her head bathing her shivering toddler. Click.

Scantily-robed sadhvis rushing to the water. Click.

Akharas marching through a pontoon bridge in a haze of dust. Click.

There is a breeze and windchill is high. But no mist, no fog.

Just the Sangam and the sea of people that become one. The horizon is here, the horizon now, the horizon is all around.

There is no poison in the prasad, no bitterness, no rancour. Just people; simple, courteous, humble people.

“What do you think of India’s humanity?” the question is asked of a Finnish lady by a group of Allahabadi youth. She is stupefied.

“I don’t know what to say,” she admits.

The youth lead her by the hand to the water. When they are knee-deep, one takes out a bottle from his bag, bends down, fills it and gives it to her.

“Take it home and keep it. It is the water of the Ganga,” he shoves it into her satchel.

On the water’s edge, Mariano, a photographer from the Republico, Rio de Janeiro, clicks away. His cigarettes are lost; so is a shoe — he still carries the other.

“There is so much energy here.”

Leong Ka Tai from the South China Morning Post magazine, Hong Kong, a red tika on his forehead, changes lenses.

It is only 9.30 in the morning and he has lost count of the number of rolls he has exposed in five hours.

“Amazing, amazing. I fear I will run out of film,” and he rushes to capture a posse of mounted police escorting another procession of sadhus.

Some of them wanted to come on elephants but the administration did not allow it because pontoon bridges may not be reliable enough. But each akhada — all 13 of them — had used the howdahs on tractors and jeeps as thrones, their leading godmen have pride of place. They come up a road that is exclusively for their use.

The state accords them the pomp they claim is their due. They are showered with flowers. The Allahabad commissioner, Sadakant Mishra, receives each at the Sangam head. They garland him with marigolds.

It is as if the state is bending over backwards to keep the sadhus happy. Maybe it has to do with the VHP’s dharam sansad later this week: keep the holy men happy, they won’t rock the boat.

Cries of “Har har Mahadev” and “Jai Siya Ram” drown in the incessant cacophony of the public address system. “Munni ki Ma, Ram Avtar of Pilibhit, Jamna Bai from Ahmedabad, please come to the TV tower, your relatives are waiting for you.”

Somehow, anyhow, the people take precedence. They are so many in number — 80 lakh (and still counting) by 6 pm, according to official estimates.

It is also a day of triumph for the civil service. When the recent administrative history of the country is written, the chapter on crowd-control will point to the Mahakumbh as exemplary.

The bathing began just after midnight. It is still continuing. It is a flowing crowd, not demonstrative or protesting. Many lose their way. Most are found; others will be found when the sandy banks of the Sangam start emptying.

Faith moves millions and administration in India is all about managing the numbers.

Prayag by plane

As the Prime Minister headed home from his foreign trip, the aircraft made a slight detour and flew over the Triveni confluence in Allahabad where lakhs took a dip on Sunday.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee said on board his aircraft that he had wanted to visit the Kumbh Mela, but couldn’t. As if on cue, the aircraft turned. “I wanted to go to the Kumbh. Yesterday was Lori in Punjab, and today it is Makar Sankranti,” he said wistfully.

Asked about the dharam sansad’s plans to announce a schedule for the Ram temple construction, he said: “The VHP is an independent organisation and they draw up their own dates and programmes.”

   

 
 
SCENT OF PLOT IN MILL VIOLENCE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 14: 
Hundreds of people began to gather from the morning around the family of the worker shot dead in a jute mill yesterday to receive his body as investigators claimed that the violence was organised.

Bhola Das died when Baranagar Jute Mills’ general manager J.P. Tiwari fired on him after being attacked by a group of workers. In the volcanic aftermath of the shooting, Tiwari and Gautam Ghosh, personnel manager, were beaten up and set afire.

Police today handed over Bhola’s body to his family in tension-filled Chinipatti in the factory neighbourhood, about 15 km from the city centre.

“How dare he (Tiwari) kill my son? They have done what they ought to have done,” his bitter mother, Gita said, alluding to the gory retaliation.

The district intelligence branch probing the incident is blaming Bhola. “If we look at the blow-by-blow account, it becomes fairly clear that it is a case of organised violence. Bhola took a leading role in starting the violence,” said a senior intelligence official.

The questions investigators are raising are:

Why was the factory gate locked after the workers had gone inside the general manager’s office?

Why were the workers carrying iron rods?

Why was there no banner under which workers had gone to protest in spite of the fact that there were nine unions?

The duration of the violence was about 45 minutes. It appears the workers began to ransack the office immediately on entering and were in no mood for dialogue.

The incident has daubed Bengal’s already tattered reputation in blood and a police report saying the violence was organised would be even more damning.

“Business and industry will once again lose confidence in the ability of the state to provide a positive work environment,” said C.K. Dhanuka, president of the Indian Chamber of Commerce.

A notice has been put up at the factory gate, saying: “All work in the factory will remain suspended indefinitely.” The administrative staff of the factory are spending every minute in fear of a recurrence even though the place was crawling with policemen today.

“I was hiding in a bathroom when they were beating our general manager and personnel manager with iron rods,” said Sitaram Pande, welfare officer of the mill. Pande said he managed to sneak away after the workers set the two executives ablaze.

The management admitted to efforts to cut the workforce once the factory re-opened on December 23 after a nine-month closure. “We were trying to cut the production cost,” said Ravi Thapa, production manager.

There are 3,128 workers on the rolls against the full strength of 4,200. The rest of the workload is borne by 700 casual workers who are paid Rs 240 daily if they are called for duty. But casual workers alleged that they were not paid more than Rs 150.

“We were not given any work even though we had been told that we would get work every day. Even if they decided to give some work to us, they would never pay us adequately,” said Sambabu Sau.

“Some unknown people have been threatening us repeatedly after we chargesheeted two workers, Ashish Majumdar and Dilip Dhar, after they were found tampering with costly machines,” added Thapa. They were chargesheeted on December 13 and sacked last Friday.

Strangely, no one has yet come forward as the owner of the factory. The administrative staff could not say who the owner was.

“Maybe it’s Govind Sarda or some Chakraborty,” a senior official said. Even Baranagar police station is in the dark.

   

 
 
MYSTERY OF DISAPPEARING WITNESS 
 
 
FROM TAMAL SENGUPTA AND KUMARESH GHOSH
 
Chhoto Angaria, Jan. 14: 
Just before a scheduled CID interrogation of Abdur Rahman Mondal, the whereabouts of the prime witness to the Chhoto Angaria incident became shrouded in mystery.

Local Trinamul Congress leaders said Mondal was being shifted to Calcutta as “he is indisposed and requires medical care”.

“The party high command has instructed us to send Mondal immediately to Calcutta. His pressure is dropping and he is complaining about serious pain in his chest and head,” said Chanchal Roy, Trinamul Congress president in Garbeta.

A CID team from Kharagpur was supposed to interrogate Mondal today. The Garbeta police and CID officials feel Mondal was shifted because Trinamul leaders did not want him to be interrogated.

But whether he had at all been moved out of Garbeta was not clear as Trinamul leaders in Calcutta refused to confirm that he had been shifted.

There were rumours that he would be admitted to the government-run SSKM hospital. But Trinamul leader Pankaj Banerjee said the party had yet to make up its mind on where to put him. Other Trinamul sources suggested that Mondal had been spirited away to a Garbeta leader’s house.

Chayan Mukherjee, DIG, CID, said he had no knowledge Mondal had been brought to Calcutta. The only thing that was clear was that for the countless time in the Chhoto Angaria incident, political parties had taken the law into their own hands — first by tampering with “evidence” at the site and now by taking the key witness away.

Earlier, Mondal was interrogated thrice by the CID and Garbeta police. CID sources said he was to give them some crucial clues to the “exact happenings” in his house on the night of January 4.

“We did not interrogate him yesterday because the Trinamul leadership had submitted a doctor’s prescription suggesting rest. But we contacted the local doctor who had written the prescription and he told us Mondal was mentally fit to face another round of interrogation,” said a CID official.

Yesterday, Mondal’s wife Anisha had complained that he had become increasingly incoherent over the past few days. He was not allowed to talk to the media.

In her Chhoto Angaria house, Kulsum Bibi, Mondal’s mother, denied knowledge of her son’s whereabouts. She said: “Please don’t ask me any question about the ghastly incident on January 4 night. I was not present in my house,” she said, shutting the door.

Sahida, Mondal’s sister-in-law who is staying with Kulsum Bibi, also refused to speak. Sahida was present on that night.

The police and CID team today carried out another futile search for bodies at Kharikashuli, deep in the forest about 20 km from here. The CID team said they were aware of the existence of only four out of the 11 persons reported missing by the Trinamul.

   

 
 
ATAL BLOWS HOT AND COLD ON PAK 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Jan. 14: 
For the first time in months, the Vajpayee government put the blame for the violence in Kashmir — not on the military regime in Pakistan, but on “certain elements” in the country.

It may be too early from the remark to jump to a conclusion on the resumption of Indo-Pakistan talks, but it suggests a move to lay the groundwork for renewing contacts with Islamabad.

The Prime Minister said the effect of the ceasefire in Kashmir was mixed. “People want the ceasefire to be there. They want peace and normalcy to return. But certain elements in Pakistan have developed a vested interest in terrorism. They continue to pursue the policy of violence in Kashmir and elsewhere in India.”

The ceasefire, declared in November, will end on January 27.

The Centre has started talks with All-Party Hurriyat Conference leaders. There are also indications that the Hurriyat leaders will soon be allowed to go to Islamabad to meet the Pakistani leadership. The final decision on issuing passports to the Hurriyat leaders will be taken on his return, Vajpayee said in Bali a few hours before leaving for India.

A recent PTI report from Berlin quoted foreign minister Jaswant Singh saying he might travel to Pakistan this year provided Islamabad stopped cross-border terrorism.

The remarks indicate Delhi is reaching out for Pakistan. The level at which it will be done is yet to be decided, but the “exploratory steps” that India has talked about suggest this is being pursued seriously.

However, the signals are also clear from South Block that it will keep the pressure on Islamabad to rein in elements supporting violence against Delhi. The Prime Minister’s national security adviser Brajesh Mishra said on Friday that Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf cannot escape responsibility for militant activities being launched from Pakistan.

The Centre is arguing that it is in a win-win situation.

After the ceasefire ends, it will assess the situation in Kashmir. If there is no major incident of violence by then, it may extend the ceasefire indefinitely. But if the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen launch a major offensive against Delhi, the Centre can restart military action in Kashmir. This South Block feels will put India in a position where it will not be blamed by the West or other key international players. On the other hand, Musharraf’s inability to establish his command over the “certain elements” can convince the world that he is not the right choice for peace in South Asia.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 25.4°C (-2)
Minimum: 13.1°C (-1)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative humidity

Max: 89%
Min: 35%

Today:

Mainly clear sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 12°C
Sunrise: 6.25 am
Sunset: 5.07 pm
   
 

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