Mamata, Congress charge Gill with bias
Keshpur not on repoll list of 90
Police blow peace trumpet
Seat forecast cheers up ‘Others’
Left partners brawl after polls, trade blame
BJP finds consolation in Cong shortfall
Political bait for Infosys chief’s wife
Court seeks CBI timeframe for Bofors trial
Shah Bano case revisited
Siwan terror writes thesis

 
 
MAMATA, CONGRESS CHARGE GILL WITH BIAS 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, May 11: 
The Election Commission has ordered repolling in 90 booths across 10 districts in Bengal tomorrow, triggering howls of protest from the Congress and the Trinamul Congress which accused it of bias.

The parties claimed that repolling had been ordered only in those constituencies where the Left Front was facing defeat and complained that they had been left with very little time to prepare for the repoll, which starts at 7 am.

Keshpur and Garbeta, the trouble spots in Midnapore where the Trinamul-Congress combine has alleged largescale rigging and intimidation of voters, have not made it to the repoll list.

In separate letters to chief election commissioner M.S. Gill this evening, state Congress president Pranab Mukherjee and Trinamul general secretary Dinesh Trivedi accused the poll panel of being “partial, selective and partisan” while ordering the repolling.

“I am sorry to point out that the Election Commission, especially you, have tried to impress upon the political parties to give you more power and authority while you have not been able to exercise the power and authority vested in you under the Constitution,” Mukherjee said in his letter.

Trinamul was even more scathing. “We strongly condemn this undemocratic, dictatorial and unethical decision which is a dangerous signal for our democracy of which you are one of the pillars,” the party said.

Coming down heavily on state chief electoral officer Sabyasachi Sen, Trivedi wrote: “The CEO has acted in a totally partisan manner. He has wilfully ignored our factual demands for repoll at several constituencies, including Jadavpur.

“The CEO has ordered repoll in those segments where either sitting members of the ruling party or their stalwarts are facing certain defeat. Where the CEO himself is acting under the direct order of the CPM, we are left with no other option but to strongly protest against such selective and partisan repoll.”

Trinamul had demanded repolling in 3,400 booths in the state. Justifying the Election Commission’s decision to order repoll only in 90 booths, Sen said observers in Midnapore and Hooghly were satisfied with the polling. There were no reports of untoward incidents from Jadavpur either, he said.

“I had asked the observers to check whether election agents were present in the booths, whether Central forces were patrolling the areas and whether presiding officers were checking the identity of voters. I have had no adverse reports,” Sen said.

Mukherjee was officially informed about the repoll only at 7 pm when he received a fax message from Sen.

“Pranabda was very angry as he did not know how to motivate tired party workers to sit in polling booths again at such short notice,” said PCC general secretary Pradyut Guha.

Mukherjee had heard about the repolling announcement around 5 pm. He tried to contact Gill but when he could not, Pranab sent off the letter. He also called Congress leader Oscar Fernandes in Delhi and asked him to confirm the repoll report with Gill.

In his letter to the chief election commissioner, Mukherjee wrote: “Your decision to hold repoll in 90 booths, 41 on the recommendation of the chief electoral officer and 49 on the recommendation of your observers (who were mostly invisible at the time of poll in most constituencies) is partial. Your decision has put us in great difficulty to make the arrangements for polling at such a short notice.”

The state Congress chief also said elections would have been more free and fair had adequate security arrangements been made. Later, the Congress leader told reporters: “I am sorry, I cannot give good-conduct certificates to the observers.”

Trinamul also complained that it was not informed of the repoll till 6 pm. Trivedi wrote a seaparate letter complaining about the short notice given to the party for the repoll.

   

 
 
KESHPUR NOT ON REPOLL LIST OF 90 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, May 11: 
One booth in Calcutta and three in Jyoti Basu’s erstwhile constituency Satgacchia are on the repoll list, but Keshpur and Garbeta in Midnapore are not.

Based on reports of returning officers and poll observers on violence, rigging, intimidation of voters and voting machine failure, the Election Commission ordered a repoll in 90 polling booths

In Calcutta, Ramnagar Vidyamandir in Tollygunge is the only booth that will have a repoll. It falls under Regent Park police station.

Three booths in Jyoti Basu’s erstwhile constituency, Satgachhia, will vote again.

In South 24-Parganas, eight booths in Bishnupur East, where Trinamul Congress supporters were lynched, will go back to polls tomorrow.

But Keshpur, Garbeta and Sabong, the most trouble-torn seats in Midnapore, have been given a clean chit by both the district administration as well as the Election Commission’s observers. Instead, repolling has been ordered at seven booths in Nandanpur, Mukberia, Midnapore town and Moyna in the district.

Some booths in Burdwan, Jalpaiguri, Murshidabad, Howrah and Purulia will also have a repoll.

By noon, the returning officers had recommended 41 booths for repoll to chief electoral officer Sabyasachi Sen. The observers sent their list of 49 booths to chief election commissioner M.S. Gill.

According to preliminary reports available with Sen, the voter turnout in Keshpur and Garbeta was over 85 per cent. In Sabong, it was a record 90 per cent, the highest in the state. The lowest turnout was in Chowringhee, where only 42 per cent votes were cast. On the basis of the figures in 88 seats, Sen said polling was above 75 per cent.

Sen said presiding officers had been told to check voters’ identity thoroughly for the repoll. “I have had reports yesterday that in some booths, people were not being allowed to vote without the photo-identity cards while in other booths, it was just the reverse. I will not tolerate any such thing tomorrow,” he said.

The North 24-Parganas observer had sent a list of 18 booths in Titagarh and 17 in Khardah where there was violence and allegations of rigging. Mamata Banerjee tonight reached Khardah to oversee the repoll.

The chief electoral officer said police would announce the repoll over loudspeakers in the evening. “I have also contacted the CPM, the Congress and the Trinamul Congress so that they can prepare for repolling which is between 7 am and 4 pm tomorrow,” Sen said.

Trinamul leader Pankaj Banerjee met Sen and handed over a letter containing allegations of rigging and violence by the CPM . Banerjee said he had demanded a thorough investigation into the death of Topi Das in Beliaghata on Thursday. Das fell into Subhas Sarovar and drowned after being chased out of a nearby booth.

   

 
 
POLICE BLOW PEACE TRUMPET 
 
 
FROM KUMARESH GHOSH
 
Midnapore, May 11: 
With Thursday’s elections closing without any incident of violence in volatile Midnapore, police are rushing to claim credit.

“This district is larger than some European states in size. The media was here to scrutinise our performance. Mamata Banerjee was personally present throughout the day and wanted action on some of her complaints.

“We think we have been able to please everybody by holding a violence-free election here. We maintained an action-taken log book to keep a record of all the complaints received and the action taken on them,” superintendent of police A.K. Maliwal said.

However, neither the Trinamul Congress nor the CPM appeared happy with the police arrangements. Mohammad Rafiq, the Trinamul candidate from Garbeta East, said rigging took place in at least 70 booths in his constituency with police help.

CPM district secretary Dipak Sarkar was also critical of the police, but was more critical of Mamata. “I wrote to chief election commissioner M.S. Gill in Delhi the night Mamata arrived and said she has come here to influence the police. She wanted to create violence here. But the people of Midnapore did not fall victim to her conspiracy,” he said.

Asked how many seats he expected the CPM to get in Midnapore, Sarkar said: “The Left Front got 28 seats here out of 37 in 1996. This time, we will get more.”

In response to the same question, Rafiq said: “Had there been no rigging, we would have secured 24-27 seats. Now we are confident of 17.”

   

 
 
SEAT FORECAST CHEERS UP ‘OTHERS’ 
 
 
BY SUNANDO SARKAR
 
Calcutta, May 11: 
The DRS exit polls might not have brought cheer to the two main contenders for power in Bengal, but they have buoyed up the ‘others’.

The BJP and the Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS) are the top contenders for the 12 per cent vote-share given by the exit polls to the ‘others’ conglomerate.

The PDS would not say how many seats it expected to win but hoped to be the “deciding factor” if neither the Left Front nor the Trinamul-Congress combine got an absolute majority.

The BJP gave itself around 15 seats but did not see a “constructive role” in the next Assembly. Party leader and Union minister Tapan Sikdar was certain the Left Front would get an absolute majority and the ‘others’ would not have much to do.

The PDS is hoping for the formation of new political combinations in case of a hung Assembly. The Left Front and the Trinamul-Congress combine might break up if neither gets a majority, a senior PDS leader said.

The party would wait for the results and not take any hasty step based on the exit polls, he added.

The PDS has, however, ruled out joining hands with any combine that takes the BJP’s help to form the government.

It would not support the Left Front or the Trinamul-Congress combine in their “present form” either.

“The question of propping up a government supported by the communal BJP does not arise,” PDS candidate from Ballygunge Tapas Basu said.

The party would not support the Left Front in its present form, PDS president Saifuddin Chowdhury added. The party would do everything possible to accelerate a political reorientation in Bengal, he said.

“Our main thrust was against the Left Front and we are going to do everything to hasten its decimation,” he added.

The Trinamul, “as it was now”, was not an option either. The party’s decision to sever ties with the BJP was not guided by any ideological change but by political compulsions, Basu added. The PDS would wait and see how things shaped up, he said.

The BJP insisted it would remain equidistant from both the Left Front and the Congress, its principal enemies in Bengal and Delhi, respectively.

State BJP leader Muzaffar Khan did not rule out the possibility of the BJP supporting none of the leading contenders for the chief minister’s chair.

Sikdar, however, refused to say if the BJP would team up with the Trinamul again if it ditched the Congress.

“A great load is off our backs,” he iterated, referring to the break-up with the Trinamul. The BJP could have done much better had it got more time to work alone, he said.

“We didn’t get time to even reach publicity material to all our candidates,” Sikdar added.

Though Sikdar did not say it in as many words, it would still be pay-back time if the BJP abstains from voting in a hung Assembly.

   

 
 
LEFT PARTNERS BRAWL AFTER POLLS, TRADE BLAME 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Basanti (South 24-Parganas), May 11: 
A day after the Left Front faced its biggest challenge yet in Bengal, two constituents of the alliance clashed with each other in Uttartalda village here.

RSP supporters damaged more than a dozen houses belonging to CPM activists and set fire to haystacks. Villagers, some of them women, were beaten up. The attackers also allegedly fired from revolvers and hurled bombs, injuring several persons. Trouble had erupted yesterday while polling was on.

RSP MLA Subhas Naskar denied that his party workers were behind the violence and blamed it on miscreants close to the CPM.

“Last night, some anti-socials raided the houses of CPM workers. But now the blame is being put on our party,” Naskar said.

However, CPM leader Sudarshan Samal disagreed. “Some RSP supporters always indulge in violence. Yesterday, some of their supporters cast votes using unfair means. When they were warned against doing so, they threatened our workers. This ultimately led to the violence,” he said.

The RSP and CPM have clashed before in the area. “After the last parliamentary elections, there was tension at Kalagachia, where four of our workers were killed, and the wound took a long time to heal,” an RSP worker said.

Canning sub-divisional police officer Dilip Adak is camping in the area with other senior officers.

“Yesterday, trouble was brewing throughout the day. Adequate forces were deployed and timely intervention by the police saved the situation. Otherwise, there could have been a bigger trouble. A strong police picket has been posted in the area and they will be there till counting is over,” Adak said.

   

 
 
BJP FINDS CONSOLATION IN CONG SHORTFALL 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, May 11: 
With the DRS exit poll not bringing good tidings for the BJP, party officials have begun invoking Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee’s campaign “refrain” that the Assembly polls are not a referendum on the Centre’s policies and performance.

“From the beginning we did not have great expectations as we have little or no presence in any of the five states. So whatever we get will be a gain, and if we don’t open our account it will not amount to a loss,” BJP sources said.

The BJP has only eight sitting MLAs in Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry and Kerala and was hoping to increase its number of MLAs by three or four times.

The only consolation the BJP has drawn from the exit poll projections is that the Congress has not emerged a clear winner. For instance, in Assam, where the Congress was perceived as a frontrunner, it is falling short of majority. The picture is as fuzzy in Tamil Nadu where the Jayalalitha-led front was expected to throw out the ruling DMK front. In Bengal, where the Left Front was expected to return, “poetic justice” had been done with Mamata Banerjee’s projected defeat, BJP sources said.

“This is what comes of the kind of blatant opportunism she indulged in,” they claimed. There was more than a streak of triumph when the sources stressed that the party had managed to “contain” the Congress in Assam, keep its former ally Jayalalitha “on tenterhooks” in Tamil Nadu and keep Mamata down in Bengal.

“Directly or indirectly, we are responsible for all the three scenarios. Had we not aligned with the AGP, it would have been a clean sweep for the Congress. In Tamil Nadu, the DMK has gained from Atalji’s presence in the campaign. In Bengal, Mamata, we hope, realises the folly of ditching us and going along with the Congress,” said sources.

At the moment however, the BJP is not answering uncomfortable queries like the projected failure of its alliance with the AGP to deliver the goods or its inability to hold back the Trinamul to dislodge the Left Front.

While M. Karunanidhi’s return will not upset the DMK-BJP equation in Tamil Nadu, fears are being voiced on what will happen if he is trounced. Anti-DMK voices in the BJP are already speaking about the “wisdom” of persisting with the alliance.

“The scenario we foresee is that the DMK will loudly start blaming us for its rout. This will force us to review our alliance with them,” said Tamil Nadu BJP sources.

However, the central unit’s view is that the DMK’s support is crucial to the NDA, particularly because it had proved itself a “far more steadfast ally” than Jayalalitha. With the PMK having quit the NDA, sources admitted there was “no way” the BJP could lose one more Tamil Nadu constituent. “As far as we are concerned, there is absolutely no question of ditching the DMK whether it wins or loses,” said sources.

Apart from the state of its alliances, what is worrying the BJP is that a resurgent Congress may turn aggressive on Tehelka and Ayodhya in the monsoon session. “We will have to devise ways and means of putting the Congress on the defensive again,” sources said. One time-tested strategy, they said, could be to divide the Opposition to take the sting out of the Congress offensive.

There is also concern at the RSS’ attitude to the Vajpayee government post-Assembly polls. “It is up to the Prime Minister to assert his authority and give the impression that he is on top of the situation irrespective of the poll outcome. If signs of nervousness are betrayed, it is quite possible that the Sangh may start exerting pressure on the economic front,” said BJP sources.

   

 
 
POLITICAL BAIT FOR INFOSYS CHIEF’S WIFE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Bangalore, May 11: 
Karnataka chief minister S.M. Krishna is pushing for the nomination of Sudha Murthy, wife of Infosys chairman N.R. Narayanamurthy, to the Legislative Council, though she appears reluctant.

Sudha, who keeps a safe distance from politics, has earned a name for promoting social causes. She is also a Kannada writer. “Her name is under serious consideration. The chief minister will try to persuade her,” sources said.

Some seats in the Upper House have fallen vacant following the retirement of five nominated members on Friday. The members whose six-year term expired are writer Siddalinaigh, advocate and writer Saritha Kusumakar Desai, retired bureaucrat H.L. Nage Gowda, activist Mahadeva Banakar and academic Yejasuddin.

Krishna has not given any indication on the probables for fresh nomination to the House. He is under pressure from various groups to accommodate their candidates.

At least six Congress functionaries are in the running for the nominations. They include former minister and chairman of the state finance commission B.A. Hasannaba and party general secretary C.R. Narayanappa. “Pulls and pressures have started. The final list will be cleared by the high command,” party sources said.

They added that Krishna was keen to reward Sudha for her social work through the Infosys Foundation, which she heads. The foundation promotes literacy and has conducted health programmes in rural areas. It has also donated Rs 6 crore for the construction of toilets in slum areas here.

Though nominations to the Upper House are strictly based on “special knowledge or practical experience in literature, science, art, cooperative movement and social service”, it has acquired political overtones over the years, the sources said. Krishna wants merit to be given its due by nominating Sudha.

However, caste and political considerations do matter and Krishna will have to use his political and persuasive skills to have his say. Several senior ministers have been lobbying for their own candidates.

All the 11 Legislative Council members, including medical education minister Nafees Fazal, whose elections were quashed by Karnataka High Court last month, have filed a petition before the apex court to set aside the high court order. The first hearing of the case is scheduled for tomorrow.

The high court had declared the election of the 11 members null and void on a petition filed by former MLA Vatal Nagaraj.

   

 
 
COURT SEEKS CBI TIMEFRAME FOR BOFORS TRIAL 
 
 
FROM OUR LEGAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 11: 
The Supreme Court today declined to grant relief to the Hinduja brothers, who are seeking to go abroad, but asked the CBI to let it know by tomorrow the time it needs for completing the trial in the Bofors pay-off case.

A division bench of Justice M.B. Shah and Justice Y.K. Sabharwal posted the matter for tomorrow for further hearing, while seeking the CBI’s reply.

The billionaire brothers — Srichand, Prakashchand and Gopichand — who were present in the court, argued through their counsel Kapil Sibal that as many of the witnesses against them were foreign-based, the trial would take years to complete.

But the bureau told the court that it feared the brothers might not return to India for the rest of the trial if they are allowed to go abroad. While Prakash Hinduja is a Swiss citizen, the other two are British citizens.

Sibal said the brothers are ready to abide by any condition imposed on them by the court and the investigating agency.

The lawyer pointed out that the court had earlier passed an order allowing Ottavio Quattrocchi, another accused in the case, to come to India on the condition that he would not be arrested if he cooperated with the trial, despite a red- corner alert being issued against the Kuala Lumpur-based Italian businessman.

Sibal said there were 95 witnesses against the Hindujas, out of whom 40 were based in foreign countries. Saying this would drag the trial for years, he asked the court: “How long will the Hinduja brothers be kept in India?”

The CBI said that on available evidence, it would be able to “nail” the brothers. CBI counsel Natarajan said Delhi High Court had allowed them to separately try the Hindujas and, hence, their part of the trial should be over within six months.

Natarajan said that going by the track record of the Hindujas, it was difficult to believe they would come back to the country to be present at the trial.

The Hindujas had filed petitions in various courts in Switzerland, including the Geneva cantonal court, to block the transfer of bank documents to India.

Sibal countered the argument, saying that the Hindujas have investments of over Rs 10,000 crore in the country and several financial interests as well as social roots in India. The argument, he said, was baseless.

Sibal argued that the court could “test the bonafides” of the Hinduja brothers by allowing them to go abroad till July and then see whether they return to India or not. The case will resume tomorrow.

   

 
 
SHAH BANO CASE REVISITED 
 
 
FROM OUR LEGAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 11: 
In a case reminiscent of the Shah Bano controversy, the Supreme Court today issued notices to the Centre on a petition by a divorced Muslim woman seeking a ban on polygamy in the community. The woman’s husband had divorced her by invoking the Shariat-sanctioned “irrevocable triple talaq”.

A division bench of Justice K.T. Thomas and Justice R.P. Sethi issued notices to the husband as well. The woman had also filed a separate petition seeking quashing of her talaqnama.

Lily Thomas, appearing for the woman, said Hindus, who constitute the majority, are governed by the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 which prohibits polygamy and extra-judicial divorce. “Therefore, the custom and usage of polygamy and extra-judicial divorce allowed to be practised by Muslims is a denial of equality, personal liberty and human rights guaranteed to all citizens by Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution.”

Thomas argued that the woman refused to live with her husband after he married another woman in 1991. “This is the direct casualty of polygamy,” Thomas contended. The petitioner married Fazal Khan in 1989 at the age of 20 but left him after Fazal’s second marriage in 1991.

The petitioner said once the talaqnama was granted, Fazal had moved for cancellation of the grant of maintenance, which was being given to her from 1993 at the rate of Rs 400 a month. Madhya Pradesh High Court had allowed the application.

Thomas said the woman’s plea before the Supreme Court for restoration of the maintenance was pending since 1999 and she was “living in a state of penury”.

The woman’s counsel said the system of triple talaq was also practised “through telegram” and backed up the argument with a newspaper clipping that described how “triple talaq” is effected through telegrams.

“This would put the lives of millions of Muslim women in jeopardy,” the counsel argued.

The petition sought a declaration that “polygamy practised by Muslim community is illegal, unconstitutional and void. It should be substituted by monogamy”.

The petition also sought a declaration from the apex court that Muslim women could also dissolve a marriage under the Muslim Marriage Act, 1939. It sought “equality with Muslim men”, so that the provisions of the Muslim Marriage Act could be “invoked equally by either spouse”.

The petition asked the court to strike down the provisions of talaq, ila, zihar, lian and khula, which Muslim men invoke for extra-judicial divorce.

   

 
 
SIWAN TERROR WRITES THESIS 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Muzaffarpur, May 11: 
Mohammad Shahabuddin is master of Bihar politics, both its practice and theory. Armed with 21 criminal cases and a gold medal in post-graduation, the Siwan MP now aspires higher. He wants a doctorate.

The flamboyant 35-year-old, whose name spells terror in Siwan, has filed his research project in Ambedkar University, earlier known as Bihar University. His subject: “The Experiment of Coalition Government in Bihar and its Effect”.

Shahabuddin, an MP in Laloo Yadav’s party, will trace the history of coalition governments in Bihar since the mid-seventies and study their impact on politics.

The MP had approached the university two years ago. After approving the subject, it gave him two years to submit the thesis. When he failed to do so, the university issued a reminder. He is learnt to have sought more time.

Shahabuddin faces charges of murder, attempt to murder, carrying illegal arms and rioting. Police seized AK-47 rifles from his house, following a case filed against him in March.

Sources said the MP had wanted to do his post-graduation in political science from Ambedkar University in the early nineties. During the exam, the MP asked for a separate room, saying he was ill. But the request was turned down and Shahabuddin dropped out. Later, he shifted to Jayprakash Narayan University in Chapra and passed with a first class and a gold medal.

Before the storm raised by the gold medal had died down, Shahabuddin applied for the doctoral research project. His detractrors, especially the CPI(M-L), accuse the MP him of bending rules, terrorising academics and using political clout to obtain degrees.

The Bihar People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has moved Patna High Court, listing the 21 cases against the MP, and the slow progress of investigation.

“It is a shame on the part of any University to allow him to do the thesis,” said Kishori Das, general secretary of the PUCL.

But the registrar of Ambedkar University, R.N. Kumar, is unfazed. “He is a gold-medallist in political science from a university and if he approaches us, under what law can we deny him?” he asked.

“He is a politician and a people’s representative. He automatically becomes a participant observer. Who is better suited to carry on the research other than the Siwan MP?” he added, smiling.

   
 

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