Devotees arrested in temple tussle
Roadblock over campaign row
Four killed in highway crash
Drug peddlers with arms held
Rebel with a grouse
All in family for BJP beacon
Wanted: Coopers Camp for a steal
Tubewells give Trinamul that sinking feeling
AASU seeks Army on Bangla border
15 militants surrender in Tripura

Calcutta, April, 28: 
The factional feud at Iskcon took a decisive turn on Saturday morning with the arrest of 72 devotees. A dozen policemen from the Shakespeare Sarani thana rounded up the devotees, who had been camping both outside and inside the Albert Road temple since Friday, on charges of “unlawful assembly, rioting and assault”.

On Friday afternoon, the dispute had come to a head, with over 80 devotees trying to unseat city Iskcon president Adridharana Das, who has been “suspended” by the Iskcon Bureau, the Mumbai-based administrative body of the Society. After clashes broke out, the police had arrested seven devotees who were later released on bail.

Police had called a meeting between the factions at 10 am. Dayaram Das, one of the devotees appointed by the Iskcon Bureau to take control of the temple, arrived at the police station at the scheduled time, but Adridharana failed to keep the appointment.

“Around 10.30 am, when we saw the crowd was still there, we decided to enter the temple, fearing bloodshed might occur at any moment,” said Prosanta Banerjee, additional commissioner (II), south division. Adridharana said: “The police scaled the walls, and went to every corner of the building, pulling out everyone.” Banerjee was one of the four officers injured in the ensuing tussle.

But Dayaram and the handful of those who have not been arrested are crying foul over the police action. “When devotees were engaged in kirtan within the temple, a posse of policemen suddenly entered and dragged them out and arrested them,” according to Dayaram. “It is our temple... We cannot be refused admission. Adri has been suspended, but he refuses to accept the decision taken by our Bureau,” he said. His fellow disciples are being held at the Lalbazar lockup and are due to be produced in court on Sunday. “They have arrested everyone, except for the one man who no longer has a right to be inside the premises: Adridharana Das,” Dayaram said. The Bureau had suspended Adridharana last month on charges of “embezzlement of money”.

Officer-in-charge, Shakespeare Sarani police station S. R. Ray, however, stressed that they intervened simply to maintain law and order. “We are not concerned with their internal problems, which is a civil issue,” explained Ray.


Calcutta, April, 28: 
The Trinamul Congress and the CPM picked a quarrel on Saturday afternoon at Ultadanga over the choice of venue for a street-corner meeting. Trinamul activists blocked Ultadanga Main Road for nearly two hours, protesting CPM “high-handedness”.

According to police, CPM supporters were erecting a pandal for a meeting, when Trinamul workers protested that the dais was blocking from view a banner for their candidate Paresh Pal. They wanted the pandal to be shifted. At this, the CPM workers allegedly warned them of dire consequences if they interfered. The Trinamul workers went away but returned around 2.15 pm with nearly 200 partymen, led by Paresh Pal. Shouting anti-CPM slogans and armed with sticks, the rally reached the route-15 bus stand, where they staged a sit-in on Ultadanga Main Road.

Fearing an outbreak of violence, shop-owners downed shutters and informed the police.

The sit-in brought traffic to a halt. Around 4.15 pm, officers from Maniktala police station persuaded Trinamul supporters to lift the blockade.

The CPM meeting was held later. A police picket was posted in the area to pre-empt violence.

Inauguration: Rabindranath Tagore International Institute of Cardiac Sciences launched its new unit, Senior Citizens Club, on Saturday. The club aims to take care of the health needs of elderly people at affordable costs.


Berhampore, April, 28: 
Four persons, including a teenaged boy, were run over on Friday night on NH-34, near Berhampore. Three of them were identified as Fazal Sheikh, 14, Khayrul Khan, 34, and Chitaral Khan, 48.

The victims were returning home on a cycle-van, when a truck hit the van and overturned. All four, trapped under the truck, were killed on the spot. The truck driver escaped.

Flights delayed: Four Indian Airlines flights were held up for an hour at Dum Dum airport on Saturday, because of bad weather in the Northeast and north Bengal. Communication between Calcutta and Guwahati was cut off for half-an-hour after lightning struck the Guwahati air traffic control building on Friday night.


Calcutta, April, 28: 
Five criminals were arrested on Friday night. Revolvers, daggers and 40 grams of heroin were seized from them. The arrested were identified as Vinod Singh, Manoj Singh, Ranjit Burman, Sunil Sau and Ramesh Barman.

The police said the men belong to the gang of Ram Avtar, who was arrested in March. Ram Avtar is in custody at Liluah police station. “Avtar confessed that his gang used to collect protection money from businessmen in Howrah and Burrabazar,” said the officer-in-charge of Bantra police station.

The police received information that the criminals would assemble near Tikiapara railway station. “The peddlers would sell heroin to students there,” an officer said. The area was surrounded and two policemen, posing as customers, caught them red-handed.

“The men have several extortion and murder cases pending against them,” the superintendent of police (Howrah), said. They will be produced in court on Monday.

Two arrested: Two youth were arrested at the Maniktala-Narkeldanga Main Road crossing on Saturday night. Two country-made revolvers were recovered.


Burdwan, April 28: 
Malati Ghosh stares at the graffiti urging voters to back Saifuddin Chowdhury and shakes her head. “I know Saifuddin Chowdhury. I have also voted for him. I think he is a good man but my husband has asked me not to vote for him this time,” she says.

Malati is just one among many women in Nadanghat who want to vote for Saifuddin but will not as he has “betrayed” the CPM.

Nadanghat is one seat in Burdwan district where the CPM has been winning since 1977. But this time the party has dropped Biren Ghosh, its two-time sitting MLA, and nominated DYFI activist Ratan Das.

The CPM concedes that its former Central Committee member and twice-MP from Katwa could spoil the broth in its backyard. “He (Saifuddin) will not win, but he will make it difficult for our candidate to retain the seat,” says a CPM leader in the Kalna zonal committee office.

The outcome in Nadanghat depends on how many Left votes Saifuddin takes with him. In the 1996 Assembly poll, Biren Ghosh had defeated Swapan Debnath of the Congress by 10,968 votes.

The breakaway leader could eat into the CPM’s votebank and make it difficult for the party to retain its stranglehold over Nadanghat.

Former comrades say they are upset with Saifuddin for forming the Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS). “Safida’s only goal is now to defeat the CPM, otherwise he is a gentleman and still acceptable to us,” says a party activist.

It is on Saifuddin’s image that the CPM and Trinamul see eye to eye. Says Debnath, now the Trinamul candidate from Nadanghat: “Saifuddin is one of the few honest politicians and we have nothing to say against him personally. But he is our rival in politics and we will fight him.”

Saifuddin realises that he doesn’t stand much of a chance in winning the seat, but he knows that he could queer the pitch for his former party. He has addressed at least 50 meetings in the constituency, but nowhere has he made a personal attack on Ratan Das.

“He is a sincere and honest party worker. My fight is not against him but against his party,” he was heard saying at a street-corner.

Much like Mamata Banerjee, Saifuddin is his party’s only leader with mass appeal and he has been touring all districts to spread his party’s word.

Born in 1952 at Ichhapur village in Burdwan district, Saifuddin is known to the people of Nadanghat as the Assembly segment is a part of Katwa Lok Sabha constituency which he had twice represented as a CPM candidate. “I’m not worried about my prospects in Nadanghat. People there know me well. I want to expose those in the CPM who, by virtue of their majority in the party, are trying to corner the minority. I think many in the CPM too support me morally but could not come out of the organisation,” he says.


Krishnanagar, April 28: 
Local residents call it Paglachandi Daha: it’s a small canal in Jamalpur, 65 km from Krishnagar, which doesn’t dry up even in summer. Next to it stands an ancient, much-revered Kali temple. On the other side of the canal, across the temple, is Jamalpur’s second pilgrim centre: the house of the Mukherjees.

Come morning and BJP workers make their way to the two-storey bungalow, where Satyabrata Mukherjee holds his durbar every day. Known as Jolu babu because of his sideburns, Satyabrata’s political rise is the tale of the BJP’s progress in the district.

Once a Left stronghold, Nadia has since tilted right. The BJP has made striking progress, reflected in Satyabrata’s stunning victory from Krishnagar in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections. From a mere 8.06 per cent of the votes in the 1996 Assembly polls, the party’s share leaped to almost 16 per cent in the 1998 general elections and improved to around 19 per cent in the polls the following year. Of course, the BJP was then in alliance with the Trinamul Congress, but even then the party has done enough to push back the Left.

The CPM office in Nakashipara reflects the Left meltdown. It’s desolate. There’s not a single chair, only a broken table.

Bolstered by his victory, Satyabrata has fielded his family in the battle for the Assembly to make the BJP’s presence felt: wife Urmibala is contesting from Kaligunj and son Soumendranath is trying his luck at Nakashipara. All three are barristers at Calcutta High Court and for most of the year stay in their house at Ballygunge.

A short prayer, followed by a quick breakfast and the family is off for the day. Satyabrata, who is the Union minister of state for chemicals and fertilisers, is overseeing the campaign. “I am helping them as far as I can. I have to perform my duties as minister but I have taken a few days leave from my party to help my son and wife run their campaign. They need my guidance,” says the man who beat the CPM’s Dilip Chakraborty by 22,234 votes in 1999.

Soumendranath, who has a first class M.A. (Economics) degree from Calcutta University and studied law at Cambridge, says if it hadn’t been for his profession, he may have been a prospective Sourav Ganguly. “I captained the Doon School cricket team. But I can’t practise cricket as I now practise law. But remember, sportsmen have a strong determination and I’m contesting the election to win it,” says the 45-year-old.

“Initially, my father had objected to my candidature as too much involvement in politics might harm my profession. But he has managed both jobs pretty well. I’m following in his footsteps and I believe I will also win.”

His 66-year-old mother is depending largely on her husband to run her campaign. “I visit my constituency with my husband every morning as he knows the locality better than I do. I don’t know whether I’ll win but the people in my constituency are listening to what I’m telling them,” says Urmibala.

Satyabrata says he is confident of a good performance as he has been nourishing his constituency for a long time. “In Kaligunj, I have sanctioned Rs 1.53 crore from my MP’s quota. In Nakashipara, I’ve given Rs 1.40 crore for development work,” he says. Both Assembly segments have seen a flurry in road construction, tubewell installation and electrification work over the past few months.

But his rivals disagree. “It will not be very easy for the BJP to purchase votes this time. People want a change in government and they know that the BJP has hardly any existence in the district,” says Kallol Khan, Trinamul’s Nadia district convener and candidate from Nakashipara.

If Trinamul is upbeat, the CPM realises that it will be difficult for its sitting MLA Sheikh Khabiruddin Ahmed, who won by a little over 1,400 votes in 1996, to retain the constituency. But Ashu Ghosh, the CPM’s Nadia district secretary, puts up a bold front. “It will not be very difficult for us to defeat the Congress and Trinamul this time,” he says.


Krishnanagar, April 28: 
The amount is not much — Rs 82,114 — but at Coopers Camp, a refugee settlement in Nadia, this could be enough to decide which way the votes will go.

This was the money the Congress-run Coopers Camp Notified Area Authority was to pay 42 census workers — many of them CPM men — but the money got “stolen”.

The theft theory is the Congress version. The CPM, though, believes it was more than mere theft. And therein hangs a campaign that could fetch the Marxists some 16,000 votes.

The main target for the CPM is notified area authority chairman Prasanta Sarkar. On April 9, Sarkar asked a grade IV staff of the civic board, Nanigopal Biswas, to encash a cheque of Rs 82,114 to pay the census workers. Nanigopal went to the bank, withdrew the money, and then — this is his version — “lost” it on the way back.

Sarkar says he got a call from Nanigopal saying the money was missing. He had kept the notes in a small pouch which he left on his cycle when he got off to drink water. He parked his bicycle near a sweet shop close to Ranaghat Phari. But when he came back, the money was gone. That was when he called Sarkar. He also went to the police station to give his version.

“After Nanigopal called me, I received a call from the phari and the police official informed me about the incident. I doubted Nanigopal’s statement and asked the policeman to take him in custody. Nanigopal was arrested. The CPM is now trying to gain political mileage out of the incident, though this is a clear case of theft,” claims Sarkar.

The two CPM councillors in the 12-member civic body, Sidhir Sikdar and Sabita Das, however, smell a rat. The payments, they say, were supposed to be made on April 10. But Nanigopal was sent on April 9. Why?

“It is very strange that Sarkar had withdrawn the money one day before the payment,” one of the CPM councillors said.

But Sarkar brushes aside the charges. “The CPM is now trying to make it a political issue because of the May 10 Assembly polls.”

But campaign or no campaign, the missing amount has generated much talk among the 28,000-strong population in this refugee camp. For the people, the “stolen” money is as much of an issue as a “self-defence” camp organised by the Azad Hind Volunteers Council.

This autonomous body organised a 12-day training programme — starting April 16 — on karate and lathi khela for the local youth. Seventy-eight of them enrolled.

Somnath Ghosh, the trainer, says: “We believe in the ideologies of Subhas Chandra Bose and we organise nationwide training programmes for youths from our headquarters at Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh.” And, no, he does not support the Forward Bloc.

But the camp has ruffled many a feather in the locality. “I have no specific idea about the activities of the council. But we are keeping a close watch,” says Sikdar. Sarkar echoes the CPM councillor.


Murshidabad, April 28: 
Lal Dighis — and tubewells — could recur in Mamata Banerjee’s nightmares if she finds herself short of Writers’ Buildings on May 13.

There’s an easy explanation for the possible recurrence of the Lal Dighis. One of them is in Calcutta and if Mamata wants to reach the red building from her Harish Chatterjee residence, she must first cross it. But before she reaches the vicinity of Calcutta’s Lal Dighi, there’s another to be crossed; this one is in Behrampore, has musical fountains — courtesy Murshidabad’s monarch Adhir Choudhury — and is located within a mile of his residence.

This Lal Dighi is singing a different tune: if Mamata finds that the alliance she leads has finished second-best in a closely-fought race, it could be because of Murshidabad, which has 19 seats and where Choudhury and other Left-baiters such as the Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS) aren’t overjoyed with seat-distribution.

Trinamul asked for, and got, seven seats in Murshidabad, where it doesn’t have an organisation worth talking about. The result: several tubewells have been sunk in the district. And Choudhury isn’t averse to taking credit for some of them.

These tubewells aren’t part of any of Choudhury’s development schemes; they are the floating symbols most of the rebel Congressmen have asked for.

The tubewells have the potential to sink at least some of the alliance’s official candidates. Some of the tubewell-owners are sitting Congress MLAs who have taken on the Left and, above all, have Choudhury’s backing.

Three of the rebel Congressmen have his overt “moral support”: Debashis Chatterjee, the dissident from Bharatpur; Naoda rebel and Congress panchayat samiti president Abu Taher Khan and Hariharpara rebel Niamat Sheikh.

But Trinamul men say they don’t believe Choudhury when he says he’s not behind the other rebels in Suti, Murshidabad and Jangipur. Choudhury, perhaps, hasn’t been left with any choice. Just one example should suffice: the Trinamul nominee from Suti is Shis Mohammad, who was with the RSP eight weeks ago, and wasn’t known for his tolerance towards political opponents. “We’ve been asked to campaign for a man who has given us years of sleepless nights. Isn’t it asking for too much?” asks Mohammad Jamil, a Congress activist.

That — “asking for too much” — is the problem with an alliance which, for the first time in many years, has the ruling front on the mat in most of Murshidabad. With Trinamul returning compliments — it has put up rebels in most of the 12 seats the Congress is contesting — the Left finds itself with some breathing space. But then there’s the PDS. No one’s discounting them, not Choudhury, and definitely not the Left.


Guwahati, April 28: 
The All-Assam Students’ Union today threatened to go for a statewide bandh on May 2 if the Centre did not deploy Army personnel along the Assam-Bangladesh border immediately to prevent infiltration.

AASU general secretary Amiyo Kumar Bhuyan said here this morning that the Army personnel should also help in “pushing back” infiltrators who are already living in the state.

Bhuyan said a memorandum had been sent today to President K.R. Narayanan with copies to the Prime Minister, the home minister and the defence minister.

Terming the “goof-up” in the Mancachar sector as a failure of the Border Security Force, the student leader said the Army’s deployment would help prevent recurrence of such a situation.

“We had demanded 16 years ago, when the Assam Accord was signed, that the border should be sealed and Army personnel deployed,” AASU president Prabin Boro said.

He added that before the BSF was handed over the task of manning the Assam-Bangladesh border, the Assam Police Border Force had “done a far better job”.

Assam shares a 262-km border with Bangladesh, of which 92 km is riverine.

The student leaders, including AASU adviser Samujjal Bhattacharyya, came down heavily on the Asom Gana Parishad-led government for not taking any “concrete steps” to solve the foreigners’ problem.

“The AGP has betrayed the people,” Bhattacharyya said.

Reiterating that the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act must go, he demanded that the clause in the Citizens Act — which grants voting rights to children of illegal migrants who came till 1986 — must also be scrapped.

“Unless the Assam Accord is implemented within a specific time-frame, the problems of the state will continue,” he added.

The AASU leaders also asked the political parties to make their stand clear on the burning problems of the state like floods and erosion.

“The flood problem must be declared a national problem,” Bhuyan asserted.

Regarding the education scenario, the AASU demanded that the educational institutions must be “freed” from the clutches of political leaders.

“What business do politicians have in the managing committees of the educational institutions?,” Bhuyan asked.

“The task of managing schools and colleges should be given to learned men who know what they are doing”, he added.


Agartala, April 28: 
Fifteen National Liberation Front of Tripura militants surrendered yesterday before state Governor Lt. Gen. (retd) K.M. Seth and CRPF inspector-general Vageesh Misra.

The group, led by Manindra Debbarma, laid down arms at the CRPF’s second battalion headquarters in Narsingharh near here. They would get rehabilitation benefits under a Union home ministry programme.

The militants deposited an AK-47 assault rifle, two self-loading rifles, a 7.62 bolt action rifle, a 303 rifle, four countrymade guns and a large quantity of ammunition.

The CRPF inspector-general said he is expecting more surrenders in the coming days.

CRPF sources said the surrendered militants belonged to the official NLFT faction, led by Biswamohan Debbarma.

They contacted CRPF personnel in Gandhacerra after fleeing their base camp in Mayani reserve forest in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh five days ago. “It’s a four-hour walk through hilly terrain to reach Gandacherra from our camp in Mayani reserve forest,” a militant said.

The 15 hardcore rebels had joined the outfit between 1992 and 1995. They were involved in several killings, abductions and extortion, sources said.

However, they decided to lay down arms after a rift in the NLFT rank and file over the “luxurious lifestyle” of their leaders. The outfit’s leaders enjoy a cosy lifestyle, while the cadre were given only two sets of uniform and two square meals a day, the surrendered rebels said.

“Our leaders stay in luxurious hotels in Bangladesh and other foreign countries. But we have to suffer in the jungles,” a militant said. The ordinary cadre of the outfit are frustrated with the “aimless insurgency”, he added.

The division within the NLFT came to light in the first week of March when senior commander Nayanbasi Jamatya left the outfit’s headquarters with a large number of followers.

Since then, more than 20 militants belonging to the official and dissident factions of the NLFT had died in group clashes. More than 80 rebels had surrendered before security forces over the past three months.

Combing operation: Massive combing operation is underway at Kantakobrapara and its adjoining areas in West Tripura district, where militants of the banned National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) killed eight security personnel and a civilian on Thursday, adds UNI quoting official sources said.

Joint teams of Tripura State Rifles (TSR), CRPF, Assam Rifles and state police have fanned out in different parts of the district and launched massive combing operation to flush out the insurgents involved in the killing, sources said.

The Border Security Force has been put on maximum alert to prevent the militants from escaping into neighbouring Bangladesh, West Tripura superintendent of police Anurag Mathur said.


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