Two sides in race of confidence
Mamata flashes V and a smile
US brackets Pak with ‘rogues’
‘Others’ at core of Bengal riddle
Centre creates spy hub
Calcutta Weather

 
 
TWO SIDES IN RACE OF CONFIDENCE 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, May 11: 

CPM reconciled to loss of majority

Quiet confidence found a home in Alimuddin Street today. At the headquarters of the CPM, after the apparatchiki were through the arithmetic, the leaders stuck to the claim they have been making in the run-up to the poll: “We will win a comfortable majority.”

But scratch the surface, and on a more serious note in private conversations, CPM leaders are more sombre. Not that anyone will voice a fear of losing. But because many of them have concluded that the party is unlikely to hold on to its majority in the House, for the first time since it came to power in 1977. Whether the Left Front comes to power or not, this will lead to a loosening of the CPM’s grip over the coalition it leads.

Reports on the CPM’s possible poll performance have reached the party headquarters. They indicate that the party is going to lose its absolute majority this time.

The districts where the CPM is apprehensive of a setback are Nadia, Murshidabad, Malda, North and South 24-Parganas, Hooghly and Calcutta.

The party unit in Nadia fears major losses. Its conservative estimate is that it could lose four seats to the Congress-Trinamul. In the 1996 Assembly polls, the CPM had bagged 10 of the 15 seats in the district. This time, the Congress-Trinamul combine could get nine seats from the CPM.

In Calcutta, the Left Front had secured nine out of 24 seats in 1996. This time, the Front’s total is unlikely to exceed seven. However, leaders in the party’s Calcutta district committee are divided in their assessment. While a section feels they will increase their strength in Calcutta, others think differently.

This is how the party leadership sees some of the other districts unfolding:

Howrah: Tally may drop from eight to six out of a total of 16 seats.

Hooghly: Fear of a loss of two seats here also. In 1996, the Front had bagged 14 of the 19 seats.

Midnapore: Count is expected to go down to 26 from 28 out of a total of 37 seats.

North 24-Parganas: Not to yield more than 20. Last time, the Front had secured 24 out of 28.

South 24-Parganas: Score is likely to be 12 — against 16 in 1996 — out of 25. The SUCI, which won two seats in the district, is likely to retain its strength.

Murshidabad: No more than seven and again a loss of two. The district has 19 seats.

CPM state secretary Anil Biswas and politburo member Biman Bose said the Left Front would return to power again. Party managers brushed aside the projections of the DRS exit poll and said the Left Front would bag more than 150 seats and form the government with a “comfortable majority”.

“Exit polls have no scientific or practical basis. In West Bengal, exit polls have never tallied,” said Biswas.

Maintaining a brave front with barely 48 hours to go before counting begins, Biswas appealed to party workers not to get provoked as a number of incidents of post poll-violence had already been reported from the districts.

   

 
 
MAMATA FLASHES V AND A SMILE 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, May 11: 
“We, not the Marxists, are coming to power. This is my last and final word.” Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee was confidence personified today.

Flashing the V for victory sign with her hands, Mamata said her alliance will win and replace the Left Front as the ruling coalition in the state despite “the CPM’s terror tactics and misuse of government machinery to rig the Assembly polls in many areas”.

“The Marxists resorted to murder and terror and exploited the administration to the hilt in favour of party candidates. Even then we are going to win the elections. No one can stop us from coming to power. It will be a people’s victory,” asserted a smiling Mamata at her house this afternoon.

Later in the evening, she let fly an angry letter at the Election Commission which ordered repoll in 90 booths tomorrow. Mamata and the Congress said repoll had been ordered only in those constituencies where the Left is facing defeat. They said they had been given no time to prepare for the repoll which starts at 7 am.

“The CEO has acted in a totally partisan manner,” Trinamul’s letter to the commission said. Mamata left for Khardah, finance minister Asim Dasgupta’s constituency, where repoll has been ordered.

The Trinamul leader declined to comment on predictions made by the exit poll, but insisted that the Independents mentioned by it belonged to the Congress-Trinamul combine. “Anyway, the CPM is not coming back to rule the state,” she said.

Mamata charged chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee with “masterminding the rigging” at Jadavpur yesterday. “He acted like a mafia boss and prompted the party cadre to resort to unfair means to win the election. People of Jadavpur could not vote. We again urged the chief electoral officer today to order repoll for the entire constituency as its voters have been denied justice,” she asserted.

The CPM was angry with Mamata’s comment that Bhattacharjee acted like a mafia don. “She has given expression to her taste,” said party leader Anil Biswas.

Mamata described the CPM’s “poll atrocities” as a “shame on the democratic system”. Referring to the drowning of a Trinamul worker in Subhas Sarovar at Beliaghata yesterday, after he was “beaten and chased by the police”, the Trinamul leader described it as a “gross violation of human rights” and said she would take up the matter with the National Human Rights Commission. Mamata directed Paresh Pal, the Trinamul candidate from Maniktala, to help the bereaved family. The relatives of the worker met her in the afternoon.

She re-stated her party’s demand for repolls in Jadavpur and other constituencies where CPM workers “openly resorted to false voting and booth-capturing”.

“We had urged the Election Commission not to treat West Bengal in the same way as other states like Tamil Nadu and Kerala as the CPM here has mastered the art of rigging elections,” she said.

   

 
 
US BRACKETS PAK WITH ‘ROGUES’ 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 11: 
Sticking to the pro-India tilt in Bill Clinton’s South Asia policy, US President George Bush today said he would urge Islamabad to create conditions for “productive dialogue” with Delhi even as his special emissary stopped just short of calling Pakistan a “rogue” state.

US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage, who is visiting India, today handed over a letter from Bush to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee. Bush praised Vajpayee’s initiative to begin talks with Kashmiri leaders and accepted his invitation to India saying it would broaden bilateral relations.

Emerging from a half-hour meeting with Vajpayee, Armitage said: “We have questions about Pakistan. It is well known and even better known to you. These we refer to as hard cases.”

Asked to specify the countries he dubbed “rogue” states, he said: “Iraq, Iran and Libya... they are well known as states involved in proliferation. You have some in this neighbourhood.” Without naming them, Armitage pointed at Pakistan and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

“These states would have another option. Defence rather than offence,” Armitage added after wide-ranging talks with Vajpayee, foreign minister Jaswant Singh and national security adviser Brajesh Mishra. Armitage said the nuclear missile defence programme — envisaged as moving farther away from the development of offensive missile technologies — had four aspects: non-proliferation, counter-proliferation, limited missile defence and the US’ willingness to reduce its strategic nuclear arsenal “unilaterally, if necessary, beyond the levels envisaged in Start II”.

Spelling out India’s status in the defence paradigm, Armitage said the plan “will make unnecessary some states producing their own missiles as a response to a threat from a neighbour”.

In his first comments on Bush’s offer last week, Vajpayee welcomed the US initiative for steep reduction in nuclear arsenal, but made it clear that India sought a credible minimum deterrent. The Prime Minister was speaking at an awards function for defence scientists on the third anniversary of Pokhran II.

There are several reasons why Delhi has become important to the US. The Bush administration is aware that Beijing is totally opposed to the nuclear-shield plan. Given the nature of the Sino-Indian relationship, the US knows it can seize the diplomatic initiative on the missile defence system from Delhi. This is why Jaswant jumped the gun to approve the US plan.

Vajpayee used the opportunity to plead India’s case. Aware that Delhi had not been granted the status of a nuclear power by the big five nations, he sent out the message that his country had a right to maintain a minimum nuclear deterrent. Backing from Washington will buttress Delhi’s demand for nuclear status.

   

 
 
‘OTHERS’ AT CORE OF BENGAL RIDDLE 
 
 
BY MAHESH RANGARAJAN
 
New Delhi, May 11: 
The DRS exit poll threw up no surprises with the possible exception of West Bengal. In every other state that went to the polls, the prediction is of an Opposition victory.

If the poll is to be believed, the Left Front alone bucks the trend. It is set for a return to office for an unprecedented sixth time in a row. The two rival formations led by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Mamata Banerjee respectively are locked in a tie with equal shares of the popular vote but are apart by just a half a dozen seats.

But the assumption that needs to be questioned is the impact of such a narrow lead in the votes and the way in which it translates into seats.

The Left Front wins many seats by huge margins. It had a lead of over 20 per cent in 53 of the 189 Assembly segments in which it led in 1999. This is especially true of rural southwest and the north, which together account for as many as 174 seats.

Here, the LF not only retained the lion’s share of the seats and polled over one of every two votes cast. The former in particular may turn out to be the saviour in terms of seats, even if it skews the picture in terms of votes. For the ruling coalition then, the implications are both positive and negative. Only a huge surge by the Trinamul-led alliance can take over these bastions. A dent is not enough: it has to be a knockout.

This is easier said than done. No ruling party in India, except perhaps for Devaraj Urs’ Karnataka in the 1970s or the Congress in western Maharashtra, has had such a stranglehold on a rural region.

The reverse side of the coin should bring some cheer to Congress hearts. A slender margin in the state as a whole may not give the Front a majority in the Assembly. Save for Greater Calcutta — defined not as the limits of the metropolitan authority but as those seats that are part of the urban agglomeration — the Opposition has not led by huge margins.

If the two sides tie with roughly equal shares of the vote, it may well be Mamata who ends up with the trumps in hand. Though too close to call in terms of a prediction, this may well turn out to be an axiom of politics.

Put differently, the spread of votes, though thinner than that of the Left Front, may give her the edge in many seats. This holds true only if the vote shares are roughly equal.

This takes one to the third and most crucial finding of the exit poll. The DRS suggests that 12 per cent of the vote will go to neither alliance. These voters may well decide the outcome of the election.

The figure is tantalisingly similar to the percentage of votes polled by the Congress in the general elections when it came a distant third.

Who will be hurt by them and how much? Beyond a point, given the close race, local factors will come into play.

In a handful of seats in the border districts, the BJP may well eat into Mamata’s vote and let the LF candidate in. The not-so-covert civil war in the alliance with the Congress strongmen in Malda and Murshidabad may throw up surprises in many triangular fights.

For the ruling front, the impact of inner party strife and the outflow of office-bearers to Saifuddin Chowdhury’s new party will be worrisome. Internal fissures tend to come out into the open when a ruling front is fighting a rearguard action.

Even if it wins by a whisker, there is no doubt; this is a tough battle for the Left Front. The unity of its partners and its lead in the 74 Reserved seats, something the exit poll did not point to, may turn out to be crucial.

But the margins are close. It is reasonable to assume an error margin of 3 per cent in any poll or survey. And one per cent can mean as many as 15 seats. The implications are obvious.

This is an election in which pollsters and pundits may stake their reputation. But their prognosis may be undone by a small ‘swing’ in the vote.

If there is a tip for counting day, it’s a simple one. There are 147 seats which the Left has held on to in every poll since 1977. If it starts falling behind in them, it may well be in trouble, as these will not be easy to ‘make up’ elsewhere in the state.

The vote may have been cast, and the pollsters retired from the field. But the fate of West Bengal hangs in the balance. If anything the exit poll should serve as confirmation.

   

 
 
CENTRE CREATES SPY HUB 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 11: 
The government today decided to set up a national intelligence board which would coordinate the activities of all intelligence agencies, but deferred appointing a chief of defence staff till it consults the Opposition and NDA partners.

The Cabinet Committee on Security also decided to “integrate” the three services for closer coordination among the army, navy and the airforce.

“Service headquarters will be integrated headquarters of the ministry of defence rather than attached offices,” home minister L.K. Advani said after a meeting of the committee. Advani said integration would lead to progressive delegation of powers to service headquarters.

The committee also decided to set up a National Defence Procurement Board, especially in view of the Tehelka revelations.

A defence intelligence agency will be formed to promote greater integration of intelligence collected by the intelligence directorates of the three services.

The principle of ‘one border, one force’ will be adopted to preclude conflict in command and control arising from multiplicity of forces.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 31.2°C (-5)
Minimum: 24.3°C (-2

Rainfall:

3 mm

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 85%,
Minimum: 70%

Today

Cloudy sky. Possibility of light rain, accompanied by thunder, towards evening
Sunrise: 5.00 am
Sunset: 6.05 pm
   
 

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