Keshpur clash rips poll calm
Heat bombshell after ammo volcano erupts
Tight-fisted last salute to Basu
Delhi invites Dhaka for talks
Astrology has no future in JNU
Calcutta Weather

 
 
KESHPUR CLASH RIPS POLL CALM 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Keshpur (Midnapore), April 30: 
Bengal’s political tinder-box exploded in the first instance of violence in this election as alleged supporters of the Trinamul Congress and the CPM fought a pitched turf-battle in Keshpur in the dead of night.

Adding a menacing ring to the final phase of campaigning, police said a cache of 17 firearms, 180 rounds of live ammunition and 40 spent cartridges were seized .

Police said the clash erupted when around 100 Trinamul supporters tried to shoot their way into three villages at 1.30 am today and “re-capture” them from the CPM. At least 50 houses were ransacked, Midnapore superintendent of police A.K. Maliwal said.

Taken by surprise, the CPM supporters remained inside the houses initially, but started retaliating once a police contingent arrived. In the gunfire that followed, 11 were injured.

The police said 50 Trinamul supporters were arrested after a chase. But Trinamul leader Pankaj Banerjee said in Calcutta no party activist had been arrested in the three villages — Marka, Chechura and Neradul.

Banerjee said several Trinamul candidates from Midnapore had written to Mamata Banerjee pleading helplessness against the CPM’s “terror tactics”.

“Our candidate in Keshpur, Rajani Dolui, sent a fax message this morning saying that he feared that large number of Trinamul workers and supporters will be murdered if he did not withdraw his candidature,” Banerjee said. He added that the party was not satisfied with the role of the Election Commission.

However, CPM state secretary Anil Biswas said that the Trinamul was out to disrupt “the peaceful law and order” in Keshpur as the party had realised that it was not possible to defeat the Left Front.

Asked about his reaction, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said: “This is what is expected from the Trinamul.”

Keshpur, which holds strategic significance in the battle for Bengal, had turned crimson in the run-up to the Assembly polls following a series of clashes between Trinamul and the CPM. Trinamul had managed a toehold in Red-ringed Keshpur during the Panskura Lok Sabha bypoll, but the CPM had regained a lot of ground since then.

The latest round of violence was triggered by the return of the Trinamul supporters who had fled to camps run by the party after the incessant flare-ups.

In Hooghly, Mamata told an election rally that her party workers were returning home in line with the instructions of the election department. “The CPM supporters had attacked them and I will not tolerate such atrocities,” she said. Dolui said in Keshpur the party supporters had no arms with them.

The police said the arms and ammunition seized today had telltale marks of being made in Bihar.

   

 
 
HEAT BOMBSHELL AFTER AMMO VOLCANO ERUPTS 
 
 
FROM GAJINDER SINGH
 
Mamun (Pathankot), April 30: 
Girdhari Sharma had just finished dinner, relishing the last bite of roti laced with gur and home-made ghee, with his family when he heard a loud explosion and felt “the earth trembling”.

For a moment he thought an earthquake had struck. “Run,” he yelled at his wife, sons, daughter and aged parents. But before they could reach the door, two more blasts left them stunned. Huddled together in one corner, all they could do was pray.

“My wife said Pakistan had attacked. My son thought Kashmiri terrorists had attacked the Mamun Cantonment and my daughter started crying,” Sharma said, reliving the horror of bombs exploding at the Simble Chowk arms depot late last night. The next series of explosions stopped the clock-hands at 10.22 pm.

“It was a nightmare. The whole sky lit up. It took a little while for us to realise that the arms depot was on fire,” Sharma said holding up a piece of anti-aircraft shell that had landed on his roof. The blast had also shattered some window panes.

The army’s Northern Command today ordered a Court of Inquiry into the blast. Army sources peg the loss at “over Rs 35 crore” as nearly “500 tonnes of ammunition have gone up in smoke”. The loss includes machine guns, 122-mm tank ammunition and 30-mm anti-aircraft shells.

Senior district officials said high day-temperature led to a “spontaneous combustion” of the ammunition, the explanation given to them by the army authorities. But an officer on duty at the depot said lack of maintenance triggered the explosions.

“The bombs are kept 120 feet below the ground on wood plinths and covered with water-proof tarpaulin sheets. The temperature there is relatively cooler than the surface. Last year, the Bharatpur depot had been rocked similarly. Some probe was held, but we have not heard of the report,” he said.

Sources said the fire was ‘‘nothing’’ compared to last year’s blast at the Bharatpur depot which destroyed 16,000 tonnes of ammunition, but conceded that hardly any lesson has been learnt.

‘‘The inquiry into the Bharatpur fire threw up several recommendations. But little has been done... More care should have been taken, especially because Pathankot and nearby areas experience summers with high temperature,’’ an army officer said.

District officials said the devastation in Mamun would have been total had the dump stocked missiles and mortars. The blasts sparked off an exodus from Mamun, Sieunti, Manwal, Lamini and Redhwa, areas around the cantonment. “Those who could, left for Pathankot and the hills of Himachal Pradesh,” said Kulbir Singh of Sieunti. “It was panic all around.” About 2.5 lakh residents of Pathankot came out on the streets. Lamini, a village of 10,000, was deserted within minutes.

   

 
 
TIGHT-FISTED LAST SALUTE TO BASU 
 
 
FROM TAMAL SENGUPTA
 
Satgachhia, April 30: 
Both the storm and the darkness were gathering thick and fast by the time Jyoti Basu arrived. Here he was at his very own Satgachhia, which elected him five times, for what was possibly the very last time. But storm clouds, rain and a thin crowd botched Basu’s last bow to Satgachhia.

If nature was unkind, his folks were hardly any better. A little over 2,000 people, not excluding the village children who made up the front rows, assembled at the Bawali football ground that had seen 10,000-strong rallies.

There were the usual salutes of “Jyoti Basu lal salam” and “bam front zindabad” as Basu’s motorcade stopped by the ground nestling in the midst of a vast, green stretch of paddy fields.

But the wind grew stronger as the 86-year-old patriarch climbed the stairs to the dais and was greeted by Diamond Harbour MP Samik Lahiri and the CPM candidate for Satgachhia, Gokul Bairagi, who had been Basu’s election agent since 1982. At six, as Basu rose to speak, the wind knocked one tube lamp off its pole near the dais. Lahiri and Bairagi looked up at the sky above and the thinning crowd in front.

Basu began by expressing his gratitude to Satgachhia and quickly went over to launching his customary attack on the “communal” BJP and the Trinamul-Congress alliance.

He was scathing in his onslaught on Mamata Banerjee who, he alleged, was misleading the people with false promises. “But simple people are taken in by her promises and vote for her without knowing what they are doing. We have to go to the people and tell them all this. But there is very little time.”

There was very little time for Basu today. He was in a hurry to deliver a message — for Bairagi. He didn’t have time for that, too. The rain was now falling hard, forcing most of the thin crowd to leave the ground for cover.

He wound the speech up in just six minutes and immediately came down the wooden stairs, the carpet on them now wet and slippery, and walked cautiously to his car.

Tulsidas Majhi, Bairagi’s election agent, attributed the poor turnout to two more CPM rallies within the Satgachhia constituency around the same time — one at Budge Budge, the other at Bishnupur (West).

Dilip Datta, a local party supporter, had a more plausible explanation: “We had voted Basu all these years. But Bairagi is not Basu.” Satgachhia was getting less and less kind to Basu anyway — with victory margins of over 38,000 in 1977 and just 11,000 in 1996.

One sunny winter afternoon this January, the people gave him a rousing reception at Nodakhali on his retiring as chief minister. Basu has had better times at Satgachhia.

   

 
 
DELHI INVITES DHAKA FOR TALKS 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, April 30: 
Keen to calm the eastern frontier, India has asked Bangladesh to send an official delegation to Delhi next month to discuss all “pending issues relating to the boundary”.

The foreign minister conveyed the request to the Bangladesh high commissioner here this evening in a verbal note. The message asked Dhaka to send a delegation between May 22 and 25 or suggest alternative dates to discuss the boundary issue.

Officials in the high commission here said a formal response from Dhaka was expected on Wednesday as tomorrow, May Day, is a holiday.

However, Bangladesh high commissioner Mostafa Farooque Mohammed struck a positive note, saying: “We should always talk and never use arms to settle our differences. We must cross our hearts and vow not to cross the border.”

However, it has not yet been confirmed whether Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will stop over in Delhi on her way back from Europe next month. Officially, India has maintained that “there is a standing invitation to the Bangladesh Prime Minister”.

Relations between Delhi and Dhaka had strained following recent border clashes in which 16 BSF jawans were killed. India had accused the Bangladesh Rifles of “unprovoked and unwarranted” action which led to the death of its security personnel. Dhaka, on the other hand, maintains that the BSF had entered its territory and tried to occupy an outpost.

The Indian message has not been explicit whether the talks will be held at the foreign secretary-level or between junior officials of the two governments.

The last meeting between the foreign secretaries of the two countries in December 2000 had led to the formation of two working groups to tackle border disputes.

Of the 4,000-km-long Indo-Bangladesh border, a stretch of 6.5 km is yet to be demarcated. Besides, the two sides have a number of common enclaves and areas “under adverse possession” . The flashpoints of the border flare-up fall in the last category.

One working group has been set up to look into the 6.5-km stretch along Muhurirchar in the Tripura sector. The other deals with the manner in which the enclaves and areas under “adverse possession” could be exchanged.

Delhi has already submitted a draft terms of reference for the two working groups. Once Dhaka agrees to this, demarcation along the boundary and exchange of enclaves and areas under “adverse possession” could be completed.

According to official estimates, nearly 3,000 acres of India are under Bangladesh’s “adverse possession”, while 3,500 acres of Bangladesh are with India. The number of Indian enclaves within Bangladesh totals 111 and those within India 51.

Dhaka feels Delhi has not been accommodative enough to settle the issue, often used by the Opposition Awami League in Dhaka to derive political mileage.

   

 
 
ASTROLOGY HAS NO FUTURE IN JNU 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, April 30: 
Jawaharlal Nehru University has rejected the University Grant Commission’s proposal to include astrology and Vedic purohitya in its syllabus.

“We had a meeting of the deans of various schools in the university and all of them unanimously rejected the proposal,” head of the institute Harbans Mukhia said.

The university has, however, accepted the UGC’s proposal to start a course that would make Sanskrit easy to learn and speak. “It would be an option for all students who want to learn Sanskrit — they could be studying life science, history or economics,” Mukhia added.

Neither Mukhia nor D.K. Bannerjee, dean of the school of environmental sciences, agreed with the UGC and the human resources development ministry’s perception that astrology could be treated as a branch of science. “We are dealing with science based on empirical conclusions and astrology does not come under its purview. There is a basic distinction between astronomy and astrology,” Bannerjee said.

JNU, he said, was an institution of higher education and research and there was no reason why it should adopt astrology as part of its syllabus. “It is a vocation and there are other places which can teach it,” he added.

The proposal to include astrology, Sanskrit and Vedic purohitya in the syllabus came from UGC chairperson Hari Om Gautam. In his letter to JNU, Gautam said there was a demand for trained Hindu priests for performing rituals. The UGC head said the course could also be a lucrative foreign exchange earner as the priests would be paid in dollars when they were hired abroad.

JNU received the letter on February 23. “By March 15, we had sent off our reply,” Mukhia said. He added that JNU had a tradition of structuring its syllabi and did not accept a syllabus prescribed by others. “By and large, all major institutions of science have refused to accept the proposal,” Bannerjee said.

A total of 100 scientists — including several from institutions like the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai — have issued a statement rebutting the UGC and the human resources development ministry’s claims to treat astrology as a science.

Though the proposal came from the UGC, human resources development minister M.M. Joshi and higher education secretary M.K. Kaw are the brains behind it.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 34.5°C (-1)
Minimum: 28.7°C (+3)

Rainfall:

4.6 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 85%,
Minimum: 65%

Today

Partly cloudy sky. Possibility of thundershower towards afternoon or evening.
Sunrise: 5.07 am
Sunset: 6.00 pm
   
 

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