Panskura hero, Keshpur lifeline
Architect of turf take-back
Date with history & history-sheeter
Dent, not crack, in Left armour
Hoping against hope in shutdown belt
US dash to pat Pak after terror rap
Triple push for snap poll in heartland
Sonia falls back on coterie
Singapore tips to silence MPs
Simmering Dalits turn nemesis for ‘timeserver’

 
 
PANSKURA HERO, KESHPUR LIFELINE 
 
 
BY SUJAN DUTTA
 
Midnapore, May 1: 
Mohammed Rafique climbs the stairs one by one in slow, deliberate strides and by the time he knocks on the door to meet for an interview, his men have staked out the hotel, checked the interviewer’s credentials and told him it’s okay.

Rafique takes the election as if it were a guerrilla war: choop-chaap, phooley chhap. Quietly, vote for Trinamul.

This is the man who Mamata Banerjee believes found the key to winning elections in West Bengal — the “Panskura Line” — which, implemented successfully in the Panskura Lok Sabha byelection last year, ensured a victory for her candidate in a Left bastion. The CPM did not know what hit it.

There is a wind in our favour, Rafique will say, and we just caught it. That wind is blowing this time, too. But Rafique and his men are unsure how much of it they can catch. Their failure — after Mamata claimed on Saturday that the Trinamul-Congress alliance was poised for victory and Midnapore will be the CPM’s comeuppance — will mean the harvesters of the wind can just as easily become windbags.

Rafique is contesting against Sushanta Ghosh in Garbeta East, Keshpur’s neighbouring constituency, which gave Trinamul a lead of 18,000 votes in the Panskura bypoll. But he is from Keshpur’s Sankua village. For Mamata, he symbolised the changing face of rural Bengal. He was said to have been a CPM activist once, who left the party and joined her. Rafique denies he was ever in the CPM; he has been a Congress worker since he passed out of Mugbasan Hokkaniya Higher Secondary School.

Rafique’s importance in Trinamul has declined in direct proportion to Ghosh’s importance in the CPM. What will it take Rafique to win this election if he is to be taken at his word — that there is a groundswell against the Left?

“If the polls are free and fair, I will win by 48,000 votes,” says Rafique. At the same time, he admits, he does not have the organisation to translate the support into votes. “It is not so important because of this wind in our favour.”

Coming from Rafique, this betrays a lack of faith in his own tactics. The “Panskura Line” was hailed by Trinamul as evidence of its ability to pit its organisational might against the CPM’s. If Rafique is now justifying that Trinamul will make up with fervour what it lacks in method, it is evidence of the party’s nervousness.

In Midnapore, though, it is just as surely a sign that resentment against the Left still runs deep. The fear that something could happen just before the elections cannot be wished away. The voter is keeping quiet. And Trinamul’s campaign, too, is not high-decibel.

Rafique, 40, is one of Midnapore’s own. His grandfather and father were both Congressmen. His wife Zorina Begum is from Icchaipur village in Keshpur. He has two children. The elder, his son, goes to the same school he went to. Rafique runs a transport business — he owns two buses that ply the Midnapore-Ghatal and Keshpur-Daspur routes. If there is anyone who can delve into the Midnapore psyche, he should be able to.

“It’s not luck,” says Rafique. “The support for us has come after years of resentment. Take our potato farmers — they are badly off, input costs have gone up but earnings have come down. The CPM says that in Keshpur, jotedars conspired against it. Utter rubbish. There were just three or four landlord families who had ceiling surplus land. That land has been redistributed. It’s still not enough. The (CPM) leaders who barely had two square meals a day are now building double-storey bungalows in the town. The farmers who were supporting the CPM are now our supporters. That is what is happening in all of Midnapore.”

Rafique believes that with a little help from the administration, all those who were forced out of their villages should be able to return. “Our people are shelterless. They have to return home to the villages. I believe they will. You come here on the 10th, the day of the elections, and check for yourself,” he says. “In Midnapore, I believe we will win 19 to 24 seats out of the 37 in the district.”

Rafique’s confidence boggles. Here is a party that shows little sign of physical presence in vast stretches of the district — certainly none in Keshpur and scant in Garbeta — but it does not mince words on its expectations.

Rafique’s constituency, Garbeta East, has 1.44 lakh voters. In the 1999 Lok Sabha polls, Trinamul got 70,000 votes. Given that the average voter turnout in a Midnapore constituency is about 1.02 lakh, that is an unbeatable figure. The CPM would say the poll was rigged by Trinamul. Chances are, the party was caught off-guard. Rafique was a fluke at the right moment for Mamata. He’s now trying to prolong the moment.

   

 
 
ARCHITECT OF TURF TAKE-BACK 
 
 
BY SUJAN DUTTA
 
Midnapore, May 1: 
Sushanta Ghosh bounds up the stairs, three at a time, summons Aurobindo Banerjee — his election agent — goes through the papers, takes a telephone call, reschedules a meeting, asks a junior to find out the average rate of polling in Midnapore district, takes another call — this time from his constituency Garbeta East, says he cannot, simply cannot, find the time to go there tomorrow, he has so many commitments elsewhere in the state.

Sushanta Ghosh is a man of action, working on many fronts at once. Yet it is difficult to visualise the CPM’s most recent action hero, stuffing his kurta pockets with handfuls of bullets and slinging a carbine round his neck as he ducks and runs from shelter to shelter, evading enemy fire before letting loose a fusillade from a strategic perch.

For, that is the picture of the man that his detractors in Trinamul sketch. In his own party, too, he is lionised for winning back Keshpur. “I did not win back Keshpur,” Ghosh relaxes for a second. “The party won it. The people have won it back from antisocials who had run amok in the Panskura bypoll last June. Those antisocials have now been driven out. It has been at great cost to our party. So many comrades were killed.”

Ghosh owes it to the party. It has made him. If he is equipped for little else other than party work, it is because the party has left him little time to explore other interests. “My wife Karuna and I have decided not to have children because we are devoted to the party and the responsibility takes up all our time,” says Ghosh. He has been a full-time party worker since 1979. His wife is a comrade, too. She is also a primary school teacher. At 43, Sushanta Ghosh is a bundle of youthful energy, fidgety when he is not on the move. This is the man chosen by the party to keep Midnapore in its bear hug. You won back Keshpur, now ensure Midnapore stays with us, the party has told him.

“We will bury the Panskura Line in Panskura,” Ghosh smiles. The assignment means Ghosh practically lives off his Tata Sumo as he criss-crosses Midnapore. In between, he is summoned for party meetings in other districts where he is advertised as the Hero.

Ghosh is to the CPM what Mohammed Rafique, his chief rival in Garbeta East, is to Trinamul: heroes for their respective parties.

Ghosh’s soul is Midnapori. The family is from Birsinghpur village — in his constituency — and has now shifted base to Chandrakona Road. Ghosh went to study in Ghatal College from where he graduated in 1977. That was the year the Left first came to power. In the first flush of that victory, Ghosh was taken by the swirl of reform unleashed in the villages, organising Krishak Sabha meetings, bringing more and more of Midnapore under Operation Barga. His first major election was in 1985 — a bypoll before which he had contested in and won a panchayat seat. Since then, he has contested and won four elections. Each time, his margin of victory has more than doubled — 6,000 in 1985, 12,000 in 1987, 24,000 in 1991, 52,000 in 1996. That fantastic run was threatened in the 1999 Lok Sabha polls when the Garbeta East segment gave a lead of about 18,000 votes to the Trinamul-BJP.

It was a shock that so jolted the party and Ghosh that they have since hit back with a vengeance that Trinamul was not prepared for. “The highest growth rate in Midnapore district is in Garbeta. What they did in Keshpur and tried hard in Garbeta was doomed to fail. They extorted Rs 2 crore from the villagers; their cadre maltreated women. They looted and they plundered. How long can such oppression be tolerated? Today, you will probably not find a single Trinamul flag,” Ghosh says. He is modest about his role, on how he mobilised the organisation and rallied its activists.

It has been at some cost to his image, though. In Chandrakona, a police outpost was built near his house — as if the police’s task is to be his bodyguard — and Ghosh has come to mistrust an electorate that had misled the party into believing it would forever be loyal. “The votes for the Opposition have gone up because the aspirations and expectations of the people have gone up,” he admits.

This time, Ghosh will be less gullible. He will return to campaign in his constituency, he says, on May 7, three days before the elections. But his instructions are followed to T. Party cadre keep watch in village after village, day after night in the Keshpur-Garbeta stretch, keeping vigil against Trinamul-inspired attempts to win back the influence. Trinamul says its supporters have been branded antisocials and driven out. Unless they are allowed to return home, they doubt if the poll will be fair. Ghosh says the right place for antisocials is in jail or in the jungles. They shall not pass.

   

 
 
DATE WITH HISTORY & HISTORY-SHEETER 
 
 
BY UTPAL BANERJEE
 
Burdwan, May 1: 
His photograph figured in the rogues’ gallery at the GRP (government railway police) outpost at Asansol until recently. Police arrested him last year when he led an attack on the Hirapur thana and sought to ignite communal passions. His business in scrap iron, which has earned him lots of money and a dubious fame, has also landed him in several criminal cases.

Meet Sohrab Ali, a member of Laloo Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal who is the Left Front candidate for the Hirapur Assembly constituency in Burdwan district’s coalbelt bordering Bihar. It’s another matter, though, that he failed to get the RJD’s lantern and is fighting with the table lamp as his symbol.

But Ali is unfazed about the allegations. “I am a businessman dealing in scraps. There may be some cases (against me). But nothing has been proved.” Ask him about his photograph at the GRP post and he tells you about another photograph. “Even Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee posed for a photograph with me the other day at a public rally in Asansol,” he boasts.

But many in the local CPM would not keep him company, let alone be photographed with him. In fact, Ali’s candidature has rocked the local CPM unit and split the party here down the middle. In the solitary such example in the state, the local unit has put up a rebel candidate. And the rebel is none other than Dilip Ghosh, the CPM’s Hirapur committee secretary. His proposers include heavyweights like Sisir Dasgupta, chairman of the CPM-controlled Asansol municipality, two members of its mayor-in-council and seven others. Twenty-five CPM members left the party to protest against Ali’s nomination.

“How can we campaign for such a person?” asks an anguished Dilip Ghosh. “The party’s advice to keep aloof was also not acceptable. Under no circumstances can we accept Ali.”

The CPM reacted by expelling Ghosh, but decided to go slow on 10 others who had proposed his candidature as an Independent. The reason was not far to seek. Taking action against all of them would have led to the loss of control of the municipality on election-eve. The leadership explained to the local unit leaders that Ali’s candidature was due to the “compulsions of national politics”.

If Ghosh’s candidature has rattled the CPM, it has come as a boon for Trinamul candidate, Moloy Ghatak. He has propped up another Dilip Ghosh as an Independent nominee.

This is a “mean game”, complains Ghosh, the former CPM leader. Ghatak denied he is behind this but admits he has a problem. He wanted to contest from either Asansol or Kulti as local Congressmen aren’t too happy about his choice.

But then Congressmen here got the biggest blow from their own leader, Shyamadas Banerjee, who had won the seat in 1996. He then made history of sorts — being the first-ever MLA to have lost his membership on the charge of submitting a false medical bill.

   

 
 
DENT, NOT CRACK, IN LEFT ARMOUR 
 
 
BY PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Jalpaiguri, May 1: 
Take a drive down lush Jalpaiguri, cross its hundred tiny mountain rivers, breathe in its air. You will be amazed how little has changed over the years.

The scenery remains the same — much like the political scenario.

In the 1996 Assembly polls, the Left won 11 of the district’s 12 seats. In the 1999 Lok Sabha elections, it was a clean sweep for the front. In the two years since, not much seems to have changed.

That is why senior CPM leader from Jalpaiguri Manik Sanyal can sit back in his chair and dismiss Trinamul, the Congress and the BJP without a shadow of doubt. “The Opposition’s tall talk of paribartan is all humbug. Their so-called winds of change will bypass Jalpaiguri. It will neither shake nor rattle this Left stronghold — not even by an inch,” says Sanyal.

Brave words spoken with confidence. The words of a man who knows it’s all over but the signing.

Tell that to the bodley deen, paltey deen brigade, and they begin to fume. “We’ll make a big dent in the Left’s share in the district this time,” says Anupam Sen, sitting Congress legislator from Jalpaiguri and Trinamul nominee. In 1996, Sen had won by 3,700 votes from the Jalpaiguri seat.

Dent — that is the operative word for the Opposition. Nobody is talking of toppling the Left, but everybody is saying that the Left will lose ground. “People want a change and we are here to give it to them,” says Sen. “It will no longer be a cakewalk for either the RSP or the CPM.”

The combine has fielded 10 Trinamul nominees and two Congress candidates in this tribal-dominated district of 18.84 lakh voters. Five seats are reserved for the STs and four for SCs.

“Besides retaining the Jalpaiguri seat, we are confident of wresting Kalchin from the RSP. The Left is also in for a shock in Kumargram, Alipurduar, Falakat and Mal constituencies,” adds Sen. He is banking on the Intuc-affiliated unions in the 165-odd tea estates to mobilise support. But it is not just the Trinamul-Congress mini-jot that is throwing a spanner in the Left’s works. The front has also to reckon with the Kamtapur People’s Party, which is focusing on the Rajbanshi-dominated areas, as well as the BJP.

Kamtapuri leader Atul Roy is “confident” of victory in the five seats his party is contesting from.

The BJP had bagged 31.12 per cent of the votes from Alipurduar in 1999. Says Dwipendra Nath Pramanik, the BJP nominee from Jalpaiguri: “We may not be in a win-all situation, but we are definitely establishing ourselves here.”

More dents in the Left armour. But that is not giving Sanyal sleepless nights.

   

 
 
HOPING AGAINST HOPE IN SHUTDOWN BELT 
 
 
BY SUNANDO SARKAR
 
Barrackpore, May 1: 
Calsilks used to make garments.
BMC used to make railway parts and do sundry repairs.
Wiresworth Pvt. Ltd used to make safety-pins and nails.

A small stretch of Barrackpore Trunk Road, which used to contribute heavily to the air pollution in the Khardaha-Panihati belt, separates the three factories. But they share a common present: none of them has made any contribution to the area’s air-pollution for the past few years; all of them have been shut down with no hopes of producing a single thread or a single nail.

BMC was the first to turn away workers from its gates. Shivnath Sau (name changed on request) last entered the factory’s gates sometime in 1986. He doesn’t even remember the month. He doesn’t want to, he says.

Sau used to hope that the gates would reopen to let him enter and work in his ground-floor foundry once again. He gave up hoping some time in 1993. That was the year he set up a small barber’s shop on BT Road. “BMC will never reopen,” he says.

Bablu Karmakar of Calsilks isn’t afraid to give his name. “Write whatever you want to and quote me,” he says belligerently. Sau, hearing about Karmakar’s courage, says he was like that once upon a time. “Now I know better.”

Karmakar doesn’t yet know what fate awaits him if he gives his name to a reporter who can make him say anything. He’s also different from Sau in another way: he still has the courage to hope, though he knows he has already been fed the first dose of empty promises on March 6.

That day, his representative in the Assembly and finance minister Asim Dasgupta, came visiting the factory, shut since October 1999. Dasgupta shook Karmakar’s hands — and the hands of several others — and promised that the factory would reopen on March 7. Several others, who were from Bihar, came down to Khardaha the next day after hearing of the “development” on TV. But they have gone back, leaving Karmakar — and those who shook Dasgupta’s hands — waiting for March 7, 2002. But before that, they are going to vote on May 10, 2001, they add in a warning to the minister.

The shut gates of Wireworths, which manufacturers pins and nails, sum up the picture best. Beside the closure notice is another piece of graffiti, asking everyone to vote for Asim Dasgupta and stamp on the star-hammer-sickle symbol. But will “everyone” oblige?

   

 
 
US DASH TO PAT PAK AFTER TERROR RAP 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, May 1: 
Within hours of releasing its annual report on global terrorism which contains adverse remarks on Pakistan, the US state department yesterday moved swiftly to dispel any notion that the Bush administration may be contemplating action against Islamabad for supporting terrorist outfits.

In a detailed briefing on the report, Edmund J. Hull, the state department’s acting coordinator for counter-terrorism, complimented Pakistan for its cooperation with the US in fighting terror.

“The Pakistanis do provide significant assistance (to the US) in the area of counter-terrorism,” Hull said. “They have been instrumental in some of the legal prosecutions and renditions of crimes against Americans.”

He detailed Islamabad’s assistance to Washington in counter-terrorism by citing a case last month where Pakistani officials were made “available that were important in the ongoing trial in New York of some of those accused of bombing our embassies in East Africa”.

“They also provide a considerable amount of security for our embassies and other presence in Pakistan. That is all to the good.”

Hull categorically denied that Pakistan was “a stone’s throw away” from being listed as a state sponsor of terrorism. He described Pakistan as “a challenging case for us” in dealing with terrorism.

He admitted that there were a “number of areas in which we have problems with Pakistan’s position, their support for groups engaged in terrorism in Kashmir, the Harkat-ul Mujahideen and other groups we are watching”.

On the US concern about terrorism, Hull said the biggest problem is Pakistan’s “traditional support for the Taliban”.

But even here, the Bush administration gave Islamabad a long rope by arguing that it had pledged to respect the UN Security Council resolution imposing sanctions on Afghanistan’s Islamic militia.

“I think that it is an important commitment on Pakistan’s part and we want to do everything we can to encourage Pakistan to fulfil that commitment,” Hull said.

Secretary of state Colin Powell, introducing the report, referred to the recent cooperation between India and the US in fighting terrorism. “We continue to work closely with India” on counter-terrorism, he said.

The report which named Pakistan chief executive Pervez Musharraf for supporting “Kashmir insurgency”, said “South Asia remained a focal point for terrorism directed against the US”.

It said the trend of terrorism had shifted from the Middle East to South Asia where the Taliban continued to provide a safe haven for international terrorists.

   

 
 
TRIPLE PUSH FOR SNAP POLL IN HEARTLAND 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, May 1: 
The BJP is “seriously” considering holding Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh in October or November, though it has so far maintained that the constitutional tenure of the legislature lasts till March 2002.

BJP sources said three considerations prompted them to look at a mid-term election in Uttar Pradesh. First, a public interest litigation was recently filed in Allahabad High Court, challenging the validity of the BJP’s position on the Assembly’s term. Though a ruling was still awaited, sources said “rather than get the issue embroiled in a legal mess”, the BJP might opt for polls in the third quarter of the year.

Second, there was a perception that the initial “feel-good factor”, arising out of Rajnath Singh’s appointment as chief minister was waning.

“The government has failed to deliver its assurances to farmers after the initial show of enthusiasm. The power and water situation is terrible. Before things get worse, even the chief minister has told his confidants he would prefer to dissolve the Assembly and face the people,” said sources.

Third, the BJP was also keen that in case elections were deferred till March, the Opposition may start a negative campaign, projecting the party and its leaders as “power hungry and unwilling to face the voters”.

Though the BJP and the Election Commission have stated on various occasions that the state legislature’s term lasts till March 2002, Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party sources contested the view, saying the Assembly would be treated as coming into being from the date on which it was constituted and not from the date on which it held its first sitting.

The situation in Uttar Pradesh was complicated by the 1996 elections throwing up a hung Assembly, which remained in suspended animation for nearly six months as no party or combination mustered the numbers for a majority. It was much later that the BJP and the BSP signed a pact to form a government.

The recent PIL has argued that as the legislators got their salary and other perks from the date on which the Assembly was constituted, which in turn was as soon as the election results were notified, it was “unconstitutional and illegal” to extend the legislature’s term by six months and allow them to enjoy the benefits for the extended period.

Though Rajnath Singh, who was elected to the Assembly in a bypoll only last month, was initially reluctant to go in for an early poll, BJP sources said he was “slowly getting convinced” that it was politically expedient to opt for one. “Apart from the non-governance factor, the caste factor, too, seems to be at work. As the chief minister is a Thakur, his community people have begun lording over other castes and the worst hit seem to be the Brahmins and Banias,” explained sources.

The caste-based Vaish sammellan, organised in the capital on Sunday by Loktantrik Congress Party leader and Uttar Pradesh power minister Naresh Aggarwal was interpreted by BJP sources as a “direct challenge” to the traditional stranglehold it had maintained over the Bania trading community.

“Aggarwal is positioning himself as a Bania leader and apart from the traditional business community, he has also roped in backward castes involved in trade and commerce. This is not good news for the BJP,” admitted sources.

Indeed, the party’s feedback is that Aggarwal is “exploring” other options like striking a pact with either the SP or the BSP and forsaking the BJP.

   

 
 
SONIA FALLS BACK ON COTERIE 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, May 1: 
The Congress is limping back to the “combative Bangalore mode” with Sonia Gandhi falling back on her trusted coterie, marginalised since her re-election as the Congress chief.

During the Bangalore plenary in March, Sonia had vowed to “wage every war, fight every battle to expose” the Vajpayee regime over Tehelka but her party failed to translate them into action, surrendering tamely to the government’s tough Parliament stand.

The goof-ups in Parliament have now triggered off a chain reaction marking the return of the old guard of lieutenants like Arjun Singh, Natwar Singh and Makhan Lal Fotedar. There are indications that Sonia’s private secretary Vincent George would also be resuming duties soon.

George had gone on leave following the CBI decision to name him in a disproportionate assets case. There is a view in the party that his absence had a bearing on the party’s sloppy political management. In the Congress set-up, George’s role involved acting as an interface between Sonia and the leaders and workers.

In the past few days, Arjun has emerged as Sonia’s key trouble shooter favouring a “decisive ideological battle” against Vajpayee and the Sangh Parivar. According to him, the main Opposition party should not expect a “reasonable” action from the government on the Tehelka-tainted.

Arjun is critical of the party’s tendency to leave out Vajpayee while attacking the BJP and the NDA. Dubbing Vajpayee a “true swayamsevak”, Arjun said he was carrying out RSS diktats.

“True to the fascist strategy of the RSS, where character assassination, peddling of half truths and outright falsehood is an art mastered by itself, Vajpayee has been talking about in different languages and tones since the Tehelka,” he said

The AICC’s department of policy, planning and coordination has prepared an “analysis” of the Tehelka fallout to “educate” party cadre.

   

 
 
SINGAPORE TIPS TO SILENCE MPS 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, May 1: 
Emerging out of the “most disturbed” Parliament session in which the country lost Rs 4.66 crore in adjournments and disruptions, managers are looking to Singapore for tips to silence raucous members.

A 15-member delegation of chief whips of both Houses, led by parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan, is set to leave for a tour of Singapore, Australia and New Zealand on May 18 to study parliamentary proceedings in these countries.

The chief whips, 10 from the Lok Sabha and five from the Rajya Sabha, are particularly eager to learn from hi-tech Singapore where the presiding officer can silence a recalcitrant MP by switching off the member’s microphone. All he has to do is press a button from his own seat.

Sources said Mahajan, who is also information technology minister, is keen to use technology to improve the functioning of Parliament in the world’s largest democracy.

The four-day trip is awaiting the Prime Minister’s clearance, which is likely to be given in a day or two.

Unlike in the good old days when Parliament witnessed serious debates by titans, presiding officers today are at their wit’s ends controlling members representing 40-odd parties.

Some of them, with scant respect for the Chair, spring up and interfere in every issue. The presiding officer can do little else but shout repeatedly that “nothing will go on record”.

The Singapore model can silence the habitual offenders. But it cannot ensure smooth functioning of Parliament or enforce decorum and discipline. A device that can stop memb- ers from rushing into the Well of the House is yet to be invented.

Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi had called several meetings of the Business Advisory Committee and leaders of political parties last year to evolve a code of conduct.

Concerned over the loss of almost a fortnight over Tehelka in the budget session which was adjourned sine die before time, Balayogi has decided to call a meeting of chief ministers, presiding officers of state Assemblies and leaders of all parties to find a solution.

During the truncated budget session, which Balayogi described as the “toughest and most disturbed session in parliamentary history”, about 52 hours and Rs 4.66 crore were lost in disruptions and adjournments.

Between February 23 and May 17 last year, about Rs 8 crore was lost due to disruptions in Parliament.

The winter session that followed was no better. The 25-day session ended almost without transacting any business. The loss was Rs 4.68 crore. The Prime Minister had called an all-party meeting in December to discuss a way out, but nothing has changed.

   

 
 
SIMMERING DALITS TURN NEMESIS FOR ‘TIMESERVER’ 
 
 
FROM T.N. GOPALAN
 
Tuticorin, May 1: 
Dalit leader K. Krishnaswamy seems all set to lose in both the constituencies he is contesting — Ottapidaram in the south and Valparai in the west.

Krishnaswamy, who heads the Pudhiya Thamizhakam, which is a constituent of the DMK-led front, is considered a rank outsider in Valparai, a plantation area. Reports indicate that he is distrusted by the residents and could be defeated by the TMC candidate.

The Ottapidaram (Reserve) constituency could, however, prove more embarrassing for the Dalit leader, whose party has been allotted 10 seats in the front.

Krishnaswamy could be said to have entered the big league in politics from Kodiyankulam in Ottapidaram constituency riding on the anger against the police excesses on the Pallars at the fag end of the Jayalalitha regime.

Krishnaswamy, who then headed the Devendra Kula Vellalar Federation, had won the 1996 Assembly polls despite a pro-DMK wave.

Subsequently, the federation was converted into a full-fledged political party, which was strongly supported by the Pallar community in the last two Lok Sabha elections.

However, the firing on unarmed plantation workers on the banks of the Thamirabarani river in 1999 could prove his undoing this time in these polls.

The Dalits are angry because Krishnaswamy has joined hands with the very DMK who government “massacred in cold blood” 17 workers.

Paupathy Pandian, a Dalit leader who is contesting as an independent from Ottapidaram, has criticised his rival for his “opportunism”.

“In Kodiyankulam it was a question of damage to property, but at least no lives were lost. In the plantation firing case, adequate compensation has not been awarded and the judicial inquiry proved an outrageous eye-wash. How dare he join hands with Karunanidhi who is yet to apologise for the barbaric firing on our people?” asked Pandian, who is likely to split some Pallar votes.

Besides, Vaiko’s MDMK is reportedly preparing to throw its weight behind the ADMK in this constituency.

Some MDMK functionaries have even been seen engaged in an animated discussion with ADMK leaders, though both sides denied that the meeting held any significance.

Communities such as the Thevars, Nadars and Reddiars are also upset with Krishnaswamy’s abrasive rhetoric.

To add to Krishnaswamy’s woes, a pro-Jayalalitha wave seems to be sweeping the district. Observers believe that at least five of the seven seats could go to the ADMK.

   
 

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