Mamata and Left in dead heat
Mamata push in decider district
Mr Responsible, in power or out
Plus all the way for Buddha, minus CPM
Bhuj fundraiser wanted for fraud
Calcutta Weather

 
 
MAMATA AND LEFT IN DEAD HEAT 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, May 8: 
With Tuesday evening’s thundershower pulling the curtain down on the campaign heat, the skies seemed to split wide open on whether Mamata Banerjee sails with the wind into the corridors of Writers’ Buildings. She can. But never before in the state elections has victory and defeat hung on such heart-in-the-mouth balance.

It would have been easier to go along with the arithmetic if it were a numbers game and no more. In fact, that’s what Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee hinted when he said, at his interface with the media this afternoon, that two ones do not always add up to two.

Adding up the West Bengal tally has been as difficult a job for opinion pollsters and psephologists this time. They too have been even-handed — with India Today and Outlook giving the Left Front a thin edge and Zee TV and The Week making it over to Mamata. Even The Economist of London plays it unusually safe. Mamata, it says in its latest issue, “has a good chance to end 24 years of communist rule. Most observers, however, think she will just miss”.

The West Bengal enigma has even stopped Development and Research Services (DRS), which has had a stunning record of bang-on predictions of seats in 1998 and 1999 Lok Sabha elections, from making it that close. In fact, a DRS survey has rarely kept the range of seats as wide as it has done for West Bengal this time.

The reasons are two-fold, says DRS director G.V.L Narasimha Rao. One, as the roll of dice may not be fair, the percentage of votes, in which it has given the Congress-Trinamul alliance a 1 per cent edge over the Left, need not be reflected in the number of seats. Second, there is a three percentage point error margin in the poll.

“You need to be lucky to get it bang on,” says Shiloo Chattopadhyay of Mode, which has done the first poll for The Week. “Weather is still predicted but they don’t hit the bull’s eye everyday.”

The problem with opinion polls, according to him, is that on many occasions people do not want to speak about their political preferences. “And we speak to about 200 or 300 people in one constituency. In a constituency with several lakhs, that can be a very small figure.”

Some others cite mathematical logic to point out fallacies. The argument goes like this. In an indirect election like ours, we are not merely voting for the party; we may also be voting for the individual. In popular imagination, the two might appear to be the same. In strict mathematical sense, it need not be so.

In the Chowringhee Assembly constituency, for instance, the Trinamul vote would have an element of the personal Subrata Mukherjee vote. A different Trinamul candidate would have got the Trinamul vote, but not necessarily Mukherjee’s personal vote. He or she may therefore get more or less than Mukherjee.

Mathematicians frown at the idea of aggregation. They would draw a parallel, for the sake of simplicity, with the game of cricket. Sourav Ganguly’s India played three test matches against Steve Waugh’s Australia this time. India won the rubber because it won two of the Test matches and not because we scored more runs in the six innings that we played. Political rubber, like in cricket, is won by winning the maximum number of constituencies, goes this logic.

If all this sounds somewhat complicated, that precisely is the scenario for the number crunchers. There is no denying, however, that Indian elections have seen yawning chasms between percentage of votes and number of seats.

This has happened in West Bengal as well as in other states. The undivided Congress in the state has polled 40 per cent or more votes in all elections except in 1977. But the vote share was not reflected in its share of seats.

Even in 1977, when the Left Front came to power, it polled 45.97 per cent of the votes, only 1 per cent less than its vote in the 1999 parliamentary elections, but won 178 seats. The Congress and the Janata Party together polled 43.35per cent of the votes (Congress 23.34 and JP 20.01 per cent), but their share of seats was only 49 (20+29).

More than 1977, the spectre of 1967 is being evoked this time. With an unusually close call, some analysts predict, we may see the 1967 history repeating itself. In that election, the Congress was down to 127 in a 280-member Assembly and the combined opposition — the CPM-led United Left Front and the Bangla Congress-led People’s United Left Front — adding up to 133.

The Opposition patched up a total of 153 when Ajoy Mukherjee met Governor Padmaja Naidu with his claim to form the government.

But all this is footnote to the poll arithmetic. The text may yet be scripted the way Mamata turns her numerical advantage into a political lead on polling day.

   

 
 
MAMATA PUSH IN DECIDER DISTRICT 
 
 
FROM KUMARESH GHOSH
 
Midnapore, May 8: 
Mamata Banerjee wrapped up her campaign for the Bengal elections from the Midnapore minefield which resounded today with the footfall of Central forces, inspiring confidence in her partymen.

Trinamul Congress’ Keshpur candidate, Rajani Dolui, who had cried off the contest yesterday saying Trinamul supporters were unable to enter the constituency, jumped back into the ring at Mamata’s prompting under the security cover of forces not answerable to local police.

Aware that with its 37 seats, Midnapore could well make the difference between victory and defeat, Mamata is camping here to keep attention focused on the district where, she fears, polls may not be free and fair.

“I have booked accommodation in a lodge in Midnapore till May 13, the day of counting. Calcutta is only a two-and-a-half hour journey from here. Any irregularities will bring me here at once,” she said.

Underlining her stakes in the district, Mamata touched “the sacred earth of Midnapore, which drove away the British from Indian soil” and called upon people to shake off Left Front rule.

“You drove away the British from this soil. Drive away the Left Front now, which has failed to develop the state and has imported violence and terror. Start your second freedom movement here to drive the Left Front government from Bengal,” she cried.

Sending Dolui back to Keshpur, she told him: “Don’t leave the battlefield. Don’t behave like a coward soldier. Go to the people. Stay with them.”

“I have talked to Sabyasachi Sen (chief electoral officer). He has instructed the district magistrate and the superintendent of police to go to Keshpur and stage a flag march. You take along your people and start campaigning for the last few hours,” Mamata told him on the phone at midnight last night.

Mamata started for Midnapore after speaking to Dolui and reached the Rani Siromani Guest House at 2.30 am. Dolui tried to contact her again, but failed.

Mamata sent instructions to him to proceed straight to Keshpur and turned down his request that she visit the constituency. She also refused to grant him permission to share the stage at her Midnapore meeting.

Disappointed, Dolui left for Keshpur with about 1,000 supporters who had been ousted from their villages nine months ago.

Trinamul supporters living in relief camps at Garbeta, Sabong, Keshpur, Danton and Pingla to also returned to their villages with police protection.

Addressing two large gatherings, Mamata came down heavily on police officers in the district. “All policemen are not bad. But there are officers here who are interested in their promotions after the elections, expecting Buddhababu to be back in power. Remember that people will not vote for his government this time. It is we who are coming to power,” she thundered.

The final warning was reserved for the CPM cadre: “This election is a fight between the people and the CPM. If you don’t allow even one voter to cast his vote, you will face the consequences. I don’t want to elaborate.”

   

 
 
MR RESPONSIBLE, IN POWER OR OUT 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, May 8: 
It’s the season of self-doubts: chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today promised the Left Front would give a responsible Opposition to West Bengal but he does not really envisage such a situation.

The Left Front, he was sure, was going to sail through with a “comfortable majority” in Thursday’s polls. But, if his party lost, it would try to play the role of a responsible Opposition.

That situation, however, would be “disastrous” for the state: “Kintu amra birodhi doley gele ei rajyer sharbonash hobey (But it will be disastrous for the state if the Trinamul-Congress combine comes to power),” he said.

But he isn’t sure whether Trinamul would reciprocate the Left’s Opposition role. He is sure the Trinamul-Congress combine would get enough seats to form a decent Opposition but does not know if it will be able to give up its image of a “hullagulla” party.

These are excerpts from a session the chief minister had with the media today where a seemingly confident Bhattacharjee was forced to admit that the Left was facing its most difficult challenge; the government had failed to live up to the expectations of people, especially the poor and the middle class in urban and semi-urban areas where the anti-incumbency factor was very strong.

Admitting certain lacunae in government functioning, the chief minister said the administration needed to be more “dynamic and responsive”. The enthusiasm of 1977 had waned and there needed to be greater scrutiny on attendance, work-culture and performance to rectify this.

There were problems in the health and education sectors as well, he admitted. Increasing pay-packets had failed to bring about a corresponding improvement in the quality of teaching, he felt.

But a win in West Bengal was necessary for improving the health of the third front and toppling the BJP-led NDA, he said. Even the Congress was not untouchable and its help could be sought to decimate the BJP.

But a question about the Left’s “togetherness” with the Congress had Bhattacharjee bristling. “Oil and water don’t mix,” he said, implying that he was averse to going any further with the Congress than was necessary to topple the BJP-led government.

The man behind the chief minister, who once gave up the minister’s chair in the early 1990s, came out when he was asked about the politician’s tendency to forget his voters after elections and the consequent mushrooming of a class of fixers and brokers. “I’ve always evaded power-brokers and will do so in the future,” he said.

The chief minister was in an equally confessional mode when asked to speak about the police department. “The police here still suffers from a colonial hangover,” was how he explained the average cop’s conventionally rude behaviour with people. The police needed to better its behaviour with the public and be harsher with anti-social elements, he said.

Refusing to go into details of major policy-changes if voted back to power, Bhattacharjee, however, was candid enough to admit that the emphasis would be more on private entrepreneurship.

The chief minister was uncharacteristically coy when asked to rate Mamata as a person. “You have put me in a spot,” he said, but managed to wriggle out of the situation with a face-saver. “We are not concerned about individuals. This election is about people,” he added.

Though he wouldn’t admit that he was forced to spend more time on his constituency, Jadavpur — “I spent more time there in 1996” — the chief minister was a tired man when he had finished with the media.

   

 
 
PLUS ALL THE WAY FOR BUDDHA, MINUS CPM 
 
 
BY SUJAN DUTTA
 
Calcutta, May 8: 
Let’s toss Jadavpur about a bit. What if Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was the Trinamul candidate and Madhabi Mukherjee the CPM’s, give or take a Samir Putatunda?

Jadavpur would be a no-contest zone. Going by the arithmetic plus his newfound charisma, Bhattacharjee will have won hands down.

Bhadralok + Mamata + Congress + arithmetic is probably the most potent formula for winning elections in Bengal right now.

Now turn it the other way round — Bhattacharjee plus CPM minus Mamata — the way it is. Or, say, Bhattacharjee + Jyoti Basu + CPM?

What happens? The new chief minister’s prospects get bleaker.

In other words, Bhattacharjee must win in Jadavpur despite the CPM and Basu.

Now, consider this with the results of a quick survey conducted at the Jadavpur 8B bus stand on Tuesday morning between 9 am and 10 am. Twenty commuters — all voters in Jadavpur — were asked two questions each: Who do you think will win here? and Who do you think will win in Bengal?

Eight out of 20 said Bhattacharjee will win in Jadavpur. Three said there is a mood for change and Madhabi Mukherjee stood a fair chance. Seven said they didn’t know and two refused to respond.

On the elections in the state, 12 said the race was too tight for them to predict. Four said, it looked like the Left will scrape through. Three said the yearning for change was strong and one refused to respond.

Again, what do we get? Bhattacharjee is better placed to win in Jadavpur than the CPM is to win in Bengal. Even so, more than half the respondents were not sure of his prospects. Never before have the prospects of a chief ministerial candidate been doubted so much. There was nary a doubt when Basu contested from Satgachhia. (It might have been different this time, though, had he contested because his former election agent, the CPM’s Gokul Bairagi, is nervous with Mamata pitting companion Sonali against him).

The only chief minister to have lost in the Assembly election was Prafulla Sen (Congress) who was beaten by Ajoy Mukherjee (Bangla Congress) at Arambagh in 1967.

In Jadavpur, a primarily middle-class constituency of mostly Bengali speaking gentry, Bhattacharjee has a lot of pluses: a) The ability to quote from Tagore at random; b) His current form, in which he is a benign face of the party, willing to accommodate criticism; c) His consistent and wilful line of criticising the Congress-Trinamul without naming Mamata Banerjee and refraining from personal attacks.

The CPM has a lot of minuses: a) Basu, who comes across as more forceful than erudite; b) Jyoti Basu, who cannot address a meeting without referring to Mamata and her allegedly dubious academic record; c) The apparatchiki, who the people of Jadavpur — many of them refugees from erstwhile East Bengal know well — and whom many of them have seen prosper at their expense; d) the party’s representation of stagnation as stability as opposed to Mamata who represents change, for better or for worse.

The Trinamul has one big minus: its candidate Madhabi Mukherjee who has shot her mouth off to the discomfiture of Mamata Banerjee. But for this, Madhabi, with Mamata Banerjee, might have been a far more challenging opponent than she is right now. She has been Ray’s muse, star of Charulata and Mahanagar and Kapurush. A formidable cultural background for a politician who is also an aficionado.

Madhabi thinks she has another big plus: a fifth column led by Samir Putatunda. At a meeting in Mukundapur, where Mamata was expected but did not turn up on Monday, every Trinamul worker insisted that Putatunda still had a lot of support within the CPM but “his boys” were afraid to come out in the open. One never knows what they will do inside the polling booth on election day.

The remnants of the network that Putatunda built as the South 24 Parganas district secretary of the CPM must surely remain. But they are not, even a PDS functionary says, in a position to ensure a victory for him.

Madhabi’s workers believe if he is able to get about 15,000 votes, the Left vote will be split and she will scrape through. Bhattacharjee won the 1996 poll with a margin of about 36,000 votes. In the 1998 and 1999 Lok Sabha elections, the Trinamul led from the Assembly segment by 15,000 and 6,000 votes. In the 13 civic wards of the constituency, the Left won in 10 wards, the Trinamul in three, with Kanti Ganguly to thank for it.

But this time he is not here. People still recall his private battle with Bhattacharjee within the CPM.

Also, the man who lost the Lok Sabha polls and was tipped to be Calcutta’s Mayor if the Left had won the corporation elections, is fighting his own tight contest in Mathurapur, South 24 Parganas. He is also believed to have taken away with him some of his dedicated cadre.

The best thing that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee could have done under the circumstance is to be in Jadavpur as he has been in the rest of the state in the run-up to this poll.

The persona of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, unadulterated by the CPM, and the prospect of electing the chief minister can be an effective counter to the vibrancy of Mamata’s campaign, Madhabi or no Madhabi.

It is a pity that the cadre who consider themselves more loyal than the king should work on extra-constitutional means to secure his victory.

   

 
 
BHUJ FUNDRAISER WANTED FOR FRAUD 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 8: 
An American citizen who raised funds for the Gujarat quake victims but is wanted for bank fraud has given the CBI the slip.

Sant Singh Chatwal, who allegedly cheated Bank of India’s New York branch of about $9 million in 1994, flew out of Mumbai yesterday after a one-week stay.

Chatwal is believed to have come to India thrice in the last two months, the first time in February in connection with Bill Clinton’s Gujarat visit. He played a big role in raising funds through the American-India Foundation.

A CBI investigator said immigration officials had been asked to bar Chatwal — who became a US citizen much after the fraud — from leaving the country. “But he managed to slip through,” he said.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 34.3°C (-2)
Minimum:25.7°C (0)

Rainfall:

17.5 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 85%,
Minimum:65%

Today

Generally cloudy sky with possibility of light rain accompanied by thunder in the evening.
Sunrise: :5.02 am
Sunset: 6.03 pm
   
 

FRONT PAGE / NATIONAL / EDITORIAL / BUSINESS / THE EAST / SPORTS
ABOUT US /FEEDBACK / ARCHIVE 
 
Maintained by Web Development Company