D-Day: Wait until dark and decision
Don’t worry, we are coming back: Buddha
Blasts, skirmishes and 3 deaths
The ayes, the whys and those who stayed away
Booth ferries for the old, infirm
Pool users in for civic fee
Forum to block astrology in CU
Learn, earn and stay fit
Exit polls give Cong lead in Assam
65% turnout in Tripura despite rain

Calcutta, May 10 : 
The stage was set, the star was not. In every election, Mamata Banerjee is among the last to cast her ballot at Mitra Institution, on Harish Mukherjee Road. In the 1999 Lok Sabha poll, she had arrived at the polling centre at 3.40 pm, barely 20 minutes before poll time ran out. On Thursday, it was the turn of the Mamata no-show. After keeping the city on tenterhooks through the day, she finally didn’t turn up till late at night.

The Trinamul Congress leader had left for Midnapore on Wednesday night to “stand by partymen” in “trouble-torn” Keshpur, Garbeta and Pingla on poll day. Throughout Thursday, the talking point was when Mamata Banerjee would return to Calcutta to “push the button”.

“She will be back any time between 3 pm and 4 pm to cast her vote,” was the buzz at her Harish Chatterjee Street home. Despite whispers of Mamata “refusing to leave Midnapore” doing the rounds, a crowd began to gather in front of Mitra Institution from 2.45 pm. At exactly 3 pm, two Maruti Gypsys packed with Calcutta Armed Police (CAP) jawans swept into the school. The jawans took up position along the pavement in front of the school. The crowd, a large chunk of it comprising women and children, was growing by the minute. Some boys took up vantage position on trees. Following election rules to the yard, the police asked the onlookers to back off. The Lalbazar police headquarters rushed in reinforcements. At 3.15 pm, several plainclothesmen arrived in vans and minibuses to cordon off the poll centre.

Word about the “police bandobast” had reached Mamata’s residence-cum-party office. With tension mounting outside Mitra Institution, Trinamul general secretary Madan Mitra reached the spot with a band of followers.

“She will not be able to arrive in time to cast her vote,” Mitra tried to explain to the waiting multitude.

This fell on deaf ears. The crowd, especially the women, refused to budge. With the poll clock ticking away, they inched closer and closer to the school. “We have come to watch our Didi cast her vote. We come here every time... We know she’ll be late, but she will definitely come,” said young Papiya Roy, a local Trinamul activist.

The clock finally struck 4, and there was no sign of Mamata. Suddenly, something seemed to give somewhere.

Papiya and fellow activist Mamata Deb rushed towards the school gate, accusing the police and the CPM’s polling agents of “misbehaving” with them. This sparked a surge from other Trinamul supporters on the spot.

A scuffle broke out, with the cops clearly on the backfoot, in the absence of policewomen. The CAP jawans quickly took up position in front of the school gates to prevent an invasion of the polling centre. The collapsible gates were drawn shut. Angry women gheraoed and heckled a group of police officers.

The trouble died down as suddenly as it had started. Realising that Mamata was really not going to show up, her fan brigade beat a silent retreat, a disappointed, disgruntled lot.


Calcutta, May 10 : 
Namaskar, Dhanyabad. With these words, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee left Writers’ Buildings around 6 pm on Thursday, ending his short innings as chief minister with a possibility of starting another. After holding his last official meeting with chief secretary Manish Gupta, home secretary S.N. Roy and IG (law and order) Prasun Mukherjee to review the situation, Bhattacharjee stood up from his wooden chair and told his secretary, A.K. Deb, and private secretary Bhaskar Layak that he would not return till the election results were out.

Stepping out of his air-conditioned office, he paused. The change in temperature had clouded his spectacles. Picking up the corner of his dhoti to wipe them, the 185-day-old chief minister told officers surrounding him: “Don’t worry, we are coming back.’’

He added: “We shall definitely return to power with a comfortable majority, but I do not know whether I shall be the chief minister. Only time can tell.’’ With that, he entered the VIP lift, the stride matching the confidence of his voice.

Though Bhattacharjee is chief minister till the election results are officially declared, he will not attend office or vet any files as he feels he should wait till the verdict of the people is made public.

“If the people’s verdict goes in our favour and the party renominates me chief minister, I shall return to Writers’ Buildings,’’ Bhattacharjee said. “With what responsibility, the days ahead will decide.”

The chief minister entered the state secretariat around 11 am, as usual, and called up the chief and home secretaries to brief him on the voting. His confidential assistant, Moloy Roy, told him that everything was under control.

He spoke to Anil Biswas and party leaders in the districts to gather information on the voting pattern. He stayed in office for about two hours and a half but did not go through a single file. Calls came in from party functionaries about disturbances. In turn, he called the IG (law and order) to look into the problem.

Around 1.30 pm, he left for lunch at home and returned at 4 pm. After holding meetings with senior officers and later with mediapersons, the seventh chief minister of the state since 1947 called it a day. Though looking as fresh as usual, Bhattacharjee appeared a bit nervous. His white, bullet-proof Ambassador left the red building of power silently; no hooter, no pilot. His destination: Alimuddin Street.

Bhattacharjee may have exuded confidence. But Fulchand, the chief minister’s attendant, is worried. He has served five chief ministers, and recently changed Jyoti Basu’s nameplate from the chamber’s door. He is not sure about not having to do it again next week.

The same signs of anxiety were on the face of Osman, Bhattacharjee’s driver who, judging from the repeated questions to mediapersons, is also not sure whose car he will be driving next week — the chief minister’s or that of the leader of the Opposition.


Calcutta, May 10 : 
The odd bomb blast, the stray skirmish shattered the calm of a largely-peaceful poll day in Calcutta. Three persons were killed and 15 injured in CPM vs Trinamul Congress clashes, mainly in north and central Calcutta. Police arrested 45 persons and recovered three revolvers and several cartridges.

Swapan Ghosh, who was injured in an explosion at Dhan Devi Khanna Lane on Wednesday, succumbed to his injuries early on Thursday morning at Nil Ratan Sircar Medical College and Hospital. At around noon, a middle-aged man, with his right hand blown off, was dumped in front of Bishudhananda Hospital, on Amherst Street. The unidentified man was taken to the emergency ward, where doctors declared him dead. According to Raj Kanojia, deputy commissioner, headquarters, he may have sustained injuries while making bombs.

The body of Rabindranath Das, 32, was found floating in Subhash Sarobar at around 2.30 pm, soon after poll clashes broke out in Beleghata. He had, apparently, jumped into the lake to escape police batons. The police, finding themselves hopelessly outnumbered by alleged CPM supporters on the rampage on Beleghata Main Road, called in the Rapid Action Force, which finally restored order in the area. There was fresh trouble in the area late in the evening.

Reports of blasts came in from Jorabagan, Jorasanko, Phoolbagan and Narkeldanga Main Road. Four people were injured as rival camps hurled bombs at each another in the Singhibagan area around 1 pm. On M.M. Burman Street, “more than two dozen bombs” went off at around 2.30 pm. Cops rounded up five miscreants and recovered three revolvers from them on Cotton Street.

Tapas Pal, Trinamul candidate from Alipore, and wife Nandini were allegedly heckled by CPM cadre at the Gokhale Road booth. Pal lodged a complaint with Bhowanipore thana. Trouble erupted at around 2 pm in front of the Beniapukur Debendra Vidyapith booth on Linton Street. The RAF was called into action in front of Lady Brabourne College later in the afternoon, when Trinamul supporters tried to disrupt the poll process. Around 3.30 pm, CPM supporters attacked Tapan Agarwal, general secretary of the state Youth Congress, at a booth near Chandni Chowk. He was admitted to Medical College and Hospital with head injuries. As word spread, over 100 Trinamul supporters rushed to the spot and smashed the CPM stall on Central Avenue.

In southern and eastern parts of the city, the violence was sporadic. At around 11 am, the Jagriti Sangha polling station in Kasba was “jammed” by poll activists. Voters were made to wait for about an hour and a half before polling resumed. But the ugliest scenes were witnessed at Islamia School, Beniapukur. With Sultan Ahmed of Trinamul and Md Selim of the CPM engaged in a hard-fought battle for Entally, all hell broke loose around 1.15 pm, when a large number of rival supporters forced their way into the school and tried to seize the EVMs. The ballot centre was turned into a battleground as the troublemakers were lathicharged. A number of people were injured. Md. Selim called for a repoll, while Sultan Ahmed demanded “action after a proper enquiry”. Blasts and police action also marked polling at Anjuman High School, in the Beniapukur area, Pavlov Institute, on Gobra Road, and Khanpur High School and Netaji Nagar High School, in south Calcutta.


Calcutta, May 10 : 
The battle is over, but the war is yet to be won. On Thursday, some eminent Calcuttans made their political statement by their action, others by their inaction. As Bengal waits for their verdict, Metro tested the post-poll city waters, for an insight into Election 2001...

VOTER: Rituparna Sengupta, actress

Pressed the button at: Rashbehari, early morning

Poll peg: Calcutta needs to be returned to its former glory. Anti-social elements have really gone out-of-hand

Change chime: I am an optimist, and I don’t really feel that change for the sake of change makes much sense

NON VOTER: Mamata Shankar, dancer, actress

Didn’t press the button as: Elections are a farce

Poll peg: Politicians are too busy begging for votes. Do they look into the state of education and healthcare? Do they know how the common man lives?

Change chime: People lack the conviction. And even if there are one or two sincere individuals, they are powerless to bring about a change in an overall state of corruption

VOTER: Roopen Roy, executive director, PricewaterhouseCoopers

Pressed the button at: South Point school, 9 am

Poll Peg: No single issue that stands out

Change chime: Every election is fought for change... Even if the ruling party returns to power, a new government takes charge, riding a fresh verdict from the people

NON-VOTER: Raima Sen, actress

Didn’t press the button as: Name not on electoral list

Poll peg: The CPM has been in power for too long

Change chime: Is what this poll is all about. Even though the Left hasn’t been all that bad, people seem to be pushing for a drastic change

VOTER: Justice Bhagabati Prasad Banerjee, former judge, Calcutta High Court

Pressed button at: Administrative Training Institute, Salt Lake, 7.30 am, where the officials at the booth were not checking the identities of the voters

Poll peg: The state of education in West Bengal. The education system should not be politicised

Change chime: It’s not possible to read the minds of the voters and decide whether this is a vote for change or status quo. That’s up to the people to decide.

VOTER: P.K. Banerjee, ex-footballer

Pressed the button at: Belgacchia East, 7 am

Poll peg: From education to sports to the population explosion, I look for a candidate who will work for the betterment of all

Change chime: This is not the mantra of the educated, mature electorate. Doing something drastic is not easy in our country. We need a balanced choice

NON-VOTER: Ganesh Pyne, artist

Didn’t press the button as: Not enthusiastic about voting

Poll peg: Bengal is obviously lagging behind in all sectors even after continuous, stable rule by one party for 24 years

Change chime: Is what everyone is waiting for. The urban-rural divide may prove decisive, though

VOTER: Anjan Dutta, director, musician

Pressed the button at: Entally

Poll peg: Whoever comes to power needs to stop worrying about stability, and start executing. It’s time to get things done

Change chime: Both are promising change, one from within, the other, without. We need someone at the helm who can bring in change in business and education policies

VOTER: Dr K.M. Gun, former professor of obstetrics and gynaecology, Calcutta Medical College and Hospital

Pressed the button at: David Hare Training College, at 7.20 am, as last time I had found that someone had cast my vote

Poll peg: Several aspects of everyday life in Bengal have deteriorated. An improvement in health-care delivery for the people is needed

Change chime: A change is very much required, but will it bring about any change in the quality of life?


Calcutta, May 10 : 
The call from 76-year-old Harekrishna Chowdhury came too late. It was already well past four when the Behala resident noticed the news in the paper.

Medical Bank, a voluntary organisation in north Calcutta, was offering to transport the infirm and the ailing to the polling booths free. Cursing his luck, Chowdhury reached for the phone. “The booth at Vivekananda Women’s College was too far off,” he told D. Ashis, secretary of Medical Bank, an organisation based in Sovabazar.

He still blessed the organisation and said he would avail of their services if he was alive during the next polls.

Most of the 19 elderly and sick voters that Medical Bank did help are not sure whether they will be able to vote again, but are grateful that they could do so this time.

Two ambulances of Medical Bank were at the ready through the polling hours on Thursday. The first call came from the Banerjee family of Balaram Ghosh Street. At 95, Gouri, the oldest member, was very enthusiastic about exercising her franchise. So, her son rang up the organisation and the nonagenarian was taken to Duff School nearby. She was the oldest voter to have pushed the button (she was shown how) at the booth. “I am thankful to those people,” she told this correspondent in a quivering voice.

Though the service was limited to the city, a call from far-away Panchasayar, behind Peerless Hospital, was attended to as it was from an old age home. Sadhan Bose, 72, with an ailing heart, could not go all the way to Netaji Nagar High School. He did not believe that the ambulance would come until it honked downstairs. The retired Oil India accountant has promised to donate “something” to the NGO the next time he gets his pension.

Pratibha Modak, 87, Ratan Mondal, 76, and Umesh Chatterjee, 82, were among the others who were able to vote because of the service. The youngest, perhaps, was Swapan Roy, 50, from Bagbazar. He had fractured his leg and was grateful that he did not miss out on his chance.


Calcutta, May 10 : 
The civic body plans to impose a nominal fee on members of its swimming pools, managed by various swimming clubs, in different parts of the city. The civic accounts department recently pointed out to mayor Subrata Mukherjee that the swimming clubs charge high entry fees but don’t share their income with the Corporation. The civic body spends more than Rs 50 lakh a year to maintain the pools.

A certain swimming club paid Rs 11 to the CMC every three months for the pool, but charged its members between Rs 150 and Rs 270 per month. “If each member pays Rs 150 every month, why can’t the club pay Rs 25 to the Corporation?” asked Shankar Datta, a finance and accounts department official. Some clubs charge by the hour as well.

The pools maintained by the Corporation are at Tallah, Shyambazar (Deshbandhu Park), Hatibagan (Hedua), College Street, Puddapukur (Lansdowne), Kidderpore-Padmapukur and Watgunge. Work on two others is in progress at A.P.C. Park, on Ramakrishna Samadhi Road, and Santosh Mitra Square.

“The project will require about Rs 50 lakh,” said Nilangshu Bose, chief engineer (project and development).


Calcutta, May 10 : 
The Calcutta University Teachers Association, Bangiya Vijnan Parishad and Paschim Banga Bigyan Mancha are against the introduction of astrology and Vedic studies in Calcutta University.

The ministry of human resources and development had recently suggested to the University Grants Commission (UGC) that astrology and Vedic studies be introduced at the graduate and post-graduate levels of all universities in India. The associations, in a letter to the UGC, have urged it not to implement the proposal, as it “corrupts the minds of students.”

Satyajit Chakraborty, general secretary of the Bigyan Mancha, said the associations had set up a joint platform at a recent convention at Darbhanga Hall of Calcutta University “to block the introduction of such subjects. Eminent scientists like J.V. Narlikar and Yash Pal have pledged their support for our movement,” Chakraborty added.


Calcutta, May 10 : 
National Highway 34 ambles northward, dust and disorder giving way to lush greenery with every passing mile. After a ride of an hour and a half, the car takes a right turn and hurtles down a brick-and-clay lane, leading into a maze of banana trees that keeps the wayside mud huts from view.

This is Duttapukur, known by its proximity to the town of Barasat. A little ahead, nestled amid the sprawling garden villas of heavyweight politicians, is Matri Ashram. It doesn’t have a signboard to proclaim its existence, but any villager would tell you it’s part of theirs. This ashram, which turned 10 this year, caters to all sections of the largely-impoverished populace in neighbouring villages.

A chorus of Amra Sabai Raja is heard from afar. Classes in the ashram’s non-formal school are on. Sunday is reserved for extra-curricular activities and songs are followed by solo recitation. The rest of the class sits back as 12-year-old Robin rattles off Tagore’s Birpurush. Robin’s father is a plumber, while his mother works as a domestic help. His family shares a deep bond with the ashram. While Robin attends “tuitions” six days a week, his mother and aunt come here for sewing classes.

This day is special, as there’s a feast lined up after classes. So everyone is decked in their Sunday best. Says Madhabi Sengupta, one of the executive members and former principal of Basanti Debi College, who has come to attend the occasion: “Our objective is all-round development of the villagers.”

A boy comes with his mother to seek admission. Shiban, as he is called, studies in Class III in a neighbouring school, but being a first-generation literate (like most others in the class), he needs “outside coaching”. Jhumpa Haldar, who has been teaching at the ashram since its inception, asks him to come over next Sunday. The ashram provided Jhumpa, a local girl, her first job after she passed Madhyamik in 1993. “I wish such help was available when we were students. But it’s good to see our brothers and sisters profiting by the classes here,” she smiles.

Though the classes aim to supplement school teaching, monthly tests are held and scholarships awarded twice every year. At the feast, all members of the ashram are present. Sandhya Sain, who learnt to stitch here and is now a sewing teacher herself, and Debiprasad Roychowdhury, a well-to-do villager who runs the ashram on behalf of the board, serve khichdi.

The women, who attend the tailoring classes, also have a chance to earn, as the products — jute bags, folders, slippers, petticoats as also other handicrafts like pickles and bodi — are sold in the city, through dedicated members who provide supplies of raw materials and work orders.

The ashram is also the villagers’ first stop for cure. Two physicians attend to patients for a nominal fee, while medicines are distributed free. Occasionally, seminars are held on healthcare where villagers interact with doctors and dieticians. At present, a survey is being conducted to ascertain the diseases prevalent in the area. Jharna Pal, the 21-year-old ashram accountant, travels far and wide on her cycle to collect data. Her target is 10,000 houses. “People here mostly suffer from allergy and nutritional deficiency. I advise them to come and meet our daktarbabu,” the sprightly girl says.

The ashram, set up at the initiative of Amita Ganguly, is so popular that villagers pitched in to construct the road in front. Ganguly, 81, has lost her mobility, but retains contact with her creation and prospective donors over phone. Far from the public eye, bereft of big-time donations, it is this personal touch that keeps Matri Ashram going.


Guwahati, May 10: 
The ruling Asom Gana Parishad’s hasty — and tempestuous — relationship with the BJP seems to have boomeranged as exit polls tonight signalled a virtual rout of the alliance in the Assembly polls held today.

The worst fears of the AGP also seemed to be coming true as the Congress appeared most likely to head the next government by virtue of emerging as the single-largest party. The predictions gave the Congress 60 seats. In such a case, it will need just three more MLAs to get a simple majority.

The exit polls said the AGP-BJP combine will win just 33 seats, a far cry from the 75 to 80 seats it had hoped to garner. The polls have clubbed two other partners of the AGP-BJP alliance — the Absu-BPAC combine and the Autonomous State Demand Committee (Holiram Terang faction) — in the “others” category which account for 32 seats.

For the AGP-BJP combine, however, the tally will not be more than 43 seats if it is considered that the Absu-BPAC will win all eight seats and the ASDC two seats. The predictions gave a three per cent margin of error.

However, chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta dismissed the predictions as “Congress mischief” and asserted that the combine will form the next government.

“This (the exit polls) is a Congress campaign carried out with the help of anti-AGP media groups,” Mahanta told The Telegraph at the party office tonight.

He also mocked the pre-poll surveys which had given the Congress a tally of nearly 80 seats. “Why has the figure come down so quickly? These figures are all bogus,” he reiterated.

The mood in the AGP office looked sombre, with Mahanta huddled with his close aides including Birendra Prasad Baishya, Arun Sharma and Kartik Hazarika for an apparent poll “analysis.”

Congress spokesman Pradyut Bordoloi also found fault with the exit polls, claiming that it “did not take into account all parameters of state politics.”

“Had they been exhaustive, we would have been projected to win at least 68 seats,” Bordoloi said.

A jubilant PCC president and chief ministerial candidate Tarun Gogoi said, “I had always maintained that there was a Congress wave.”

Bordoloi said with the exit polls bound to turn into reality (“and more” for the Congress), “there is no question of anyone else in the party staking claim to the post of chief minister except Gogoi.”

A pre-election opinion poll conducted by Prantik, a popular vernacular magazine of the state, had also given the Congress an edge over the AGP-BJP combine though no party was given an absolute majority. Jatindranath Talukdar, the psephologist involved in the Prantik poll, said, “Like pre-poll surveys, exit polls also have a three to four per cent margin of error.”

If the exit polls tally with the final figures — after taking into account the error margin — the Congress will have to scout for partners among the other likely “big groups” — the CPI, the CPM and the Samajwadi Party.

Though the earlier attempts of the Congress to forge a tie-up with the CPI had failed, the Left may now back the former just to keep the “communal” AGP-BJP out of power. The CPI and CPM are likely to retain their five seats.

The Trinamul Gana Parishad’s Atul Bora has already made his intentions clear. “We will go with the Congress if necessary to keep Mahanta out of power,” Bora said.

65 % turnout

Sixty-five per cent voters braved militant threats in Assam to exercise their franchise for the Assembly polls. Eleven people were killed, ballots snatched and rigging alleged in seven constituencies and a contestant was injured and another detained.

A CRPF jawan, a police official and a havildar were killed and another injured by suspected United Peoples’ Democratic Solidarity militants at Deohari under Bokajan police station of Karbi Anglong district. The militants attacked polling station number 7A and opened fire, killing the CRPF personnel on the spot and injured two other personnel and assistant sub-inspector L.P. Laskar.

The assistant sub-inspector and the havildar later succumbed to their injuries. In another incident in Kokrajhar district, two persons with intentions to rig the polls were overpowered by the local people and lynched to death at Hasrabari in Gossaigaon sub-division of Kokrajhar district, deputy commissioner J.I. Kathar said. Another person was killed in a retaliatory attack later in Gossaigaon, the police added.

Five persons including two BSF men and one assistant sub-inspector of police were killed and three BSF jawans injured in a bomb explosion by suspected Ulfa activists at Somari in Sivasagar district tonight, official sources said. They were escorting the polling party from Sussry to Somari in a private truck, the sources said.

Three others were killed in a separate incident.


Agartala, May 10: 
The byelection to the Banamalipur Assembly constituency in the heart of Agartala town was held peacefully today. Nearly 65 per cent of voters exercised their franchise despite inclement weather. There was rainfall of more than 30 mm between 8.30 and 11.30 am.

Barring an incident in which two Congress workers tried to attack senior Trinamul Congress leader and former minister Motilal Saha in front of the Prachya Bharati School booth, polling was peaceful. Jawans of the Special Task Force chased away all troublemakers.

Voters in this urban constituency gathered in front of all booths before 7 am, the scheduled time for voting to start, but a heavy pre-monsoon shower drove many voters home. It took at least three more hours for polling to pick up momentum.

The rain was so heavy that polling had to be suspended for some time in Hariganga School booth. Polling resumed only after fire brigade personnel pumped out water from the booth.

Trinamul office secretary Dulal Das, who was in charge of the party’s control room, said polling was more or less peaceful. He added that despite grave provocation from Congress workers, his party activists kept their cool.

Das alleged that two Congress workers had tried to assault Trinamul leader Motilal Saha in front of the Prachya Bharati School booth but the police dealt firmly with the situation. Trinamul state convenor and party candidate Ratan Chakraborty, who toured the constituency throughout the day, said, “Apparently polling has been peaceful despite provocation from the Congress but the percentage of votes could have been more than 80 per cent without the rainfall.”


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