Buddha stems Left slide in city
Green signal for private tech park
Para gangs up to punish pariah-lover
Results spark cadre clashes
Giant killer strikes in Dispur
Mission impossible for AGP-BJP in Assam
Homecoming for former Ulfa militant
Tripura Left dents Cong stronghold

Calcutta, May 13: 
A Bangali bhadralok at the head of a red army vs a belligerent woman leading a hastily-cobbled-together coalition. The showdown on Bengali Ballotground 200l turned out to be something of a no-contest on Sunday. The man of the moment — Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who has even managed to arrest the Left Front slide in Calcutta.

Every pre-poll survey predicted that the anti-incumbency syndrome would hold sway over the urban middle-class voter. But by Sunday evening, it was clear that despite “a mood for change”, the “clean, sincere, Tagore-mouthing” chief minister had done enough during his 185 days in Writers’ to halt the Trinamul juggernaut in the city.

The Greater Calcutta scorecard, however, reflects a near-status quo in the number of seats won and lost. Mamata’s much-hyped slogan, Bodley din, Paltey din, resulted in nothing but a reshuffling of seats. Four constituencies — Jorabagan, Shyampukur, Vidyasagar and Entally — have been wrested by the Left, Jorabagan, for the first time. The Trinamul-Congress combine has snatched three seats from the Left — Behala East and West, and Dhakuria — while retaining 12.

Bhattacharjee won Jadavpur by almost 29,000 votes. With a pro-industry, people-friendly image, Buddhadeb had made it a point to project a ‘new Left’. One which was ready to admit its mistakes, work towards righting the wrongs and take Bengal on the fast track to development.

“Forget the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee of a year back. This is a new Buddhadeb. Approach me directly if you have any problem relating to the development of industry in the state,” he had told a gathering of industrialists recently. And Bhattacharjee meant business. On his first day in office as chief minister, the first file he had signed was an allotment of land to IT giant Wipro. “He has gained popularity not only among the middle class but also in industry circles,” said industrialist S.K. Todi. Unlike predecessor Jyoti Basu, he’s been here, there, everywhere — from dacoity-hit areas of Kasba to hi-tech hubs of Saltlec. He even took a rickshaw-van ride to reach victims of violence in the suburbs.

His spartan lifestyle — a two-roomed flat on Palm Avenue and movement minus sirens — have endeared him to the people.

On Sunday afternoon, when three cameramen tailed him home from Alimuddin Street, and requested him for a photo-op, the once-inaccessible, stand-offish CPM leader waved securitymen aside and welcomed them in. “Oder kichhu dao, ora amay aajke chhaarbe na (Give them something, they will not let me go today),” the CM called out to wife Mira. “Amar barite ei achhey, apnara khan,” (This is all that I have at home),” she said, offering the photographers balushahi and sandesh.

Bhattacharjee played cricket with the youth of his area, he recited poetry with students at a college and broke several previous barriers, so much so that the younger generation started seeking his autograph, which he did not refuse. He quickly became a bridge between the old and the new Left. The result is out now, in black and white.

In Calcutta, one of the most startling gains for the CPM has been the wresting of the Jorabagan seat. Party nominee Sudhangshu Sil, former councillor in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, has defeated Trinamul Congress youth front president Sanjay Bakshi by 2,400 votes.

Another major upset has been in Entally, where CPM MP Md Salim has unseated Congress-turned Trinamul stalwart Sultan Ahmed by 6,468 votes. In Vidyasagar, former Left Front chief whip Lakshmi Dey, who lost the seat in 1996, returned by defeating Mohua Mondal, daughter of rebel Trinamul MP Ajit Panja.

Dhakuria has been a major setback for the Left Front, with PWD minister Kshiti Goswami losing to Trinamul candidate Sougata Roy.


Calcutta, May 13: 
IT is my top priority: That’s one of the lines that chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee used effectively to project a new image that swept the party back to power.

Now, the information technology sector in the city is ready to receive a further boost with its third software technology park — the first in the private sector. IT Theme Park will be developed by the Calcutta Infrastructure Infotech Projects Limited on 16 acres of land in Behala. The cost of the project, to be implemented in three phases over three years, is pegged at around Rs 300 crore.

Jaswant Singh, chairman of Calcutta Infrastructure Infotech Projects Limited, said: “During meetings with the government, we have clearly stated that we do not need financial help from them. We only want administrative support to ensure success of the project. Both WBIDC and the IT department have assured us every assistance.” A sum of Rs 114 crore would be required in the first phase over 18 months. Work will start with an initial capital of Rs 5 crore pumped in by the company, with the rest being raised through bank loans and ‘advance’ from tenants. “Several NRIs and global IT companies have already shown interest in booking a place in the Theme Park,” added Singh, a former director of Allahabad Bank and ex-director of Cosmopolitan Hotels Ltd, Delhi, which promoted Sofital Surya.

“The industrial scenario in Bengal is changing rapidly and the IT field is really booming. A large number of IT-preneurs from all over the country and even abroad are eyeing Calcutta. We, too, want to avail of the business opportunity here,’’ said Vimal Goel, managing director of the company.

Welcoming the proposal for a private tech park, IT secretary Jaya Dasgupta said the project would be “certainly be viable” if implemented properly. “Nearly seven lakh square feet of floor space built up by Webel for IT industries has almost been filled up and more and more entrepreneurs in knowledge industry are looking for space. To cope with the growing demand, we have plans to provide another eight lakh square feet of space. We welcome private enterprise in the IT infrastructure sector and are ready to provide all assistance to them, ’’Dasgupta said.

IT Theme Park is billed to be the “biggest IT complex under one roof” in town. There will be “clusters of air-conditioned buildings” providing a total floor space of 10 lakh square feet in the first phase. Depending on demand, the floor space will be expanded to 30 lakh square feet in the second and third phases.

Besides space to be rented out to entrepreneurs setting up IT shops, an institute, a computer training centre and a distant-learning education centre will also be set up within the complex. Uninterrupted power supply, a dedicated telephone exchange, a modern fire-fighting system, satellite connectivity, Internet data transfer facilities and video conference systems will be provided. A shopping complex, an auditorium and an entertainment centre are being planned. The blueprint even includes “improvement and beautification” of the surrounding area and widening of Motilal Gupta Road in Behala.


Calcutta, May 13: 
A minor altercation over feeding stray dogs in BB block of Salt Lake led to a woman being manhandled and her driver being beaten up by some people of that neighbourhood last Friday.

Ever since she moved into her Salt Lake house about four years ago, Renu Talwar, whose husband, Vijay, manufactures furniture for exports, has regularly fed stray dogs near her home and the area around it.

She says that she carries food for them in bowls and feeds about 10 to 12 of the canine species in BB block, four to five in BC block and two in CA.

Besides, she takes them for ligation, gets them treated whenever they are ill and arranges for them to be put down when they are in agony. She even keeps them in her own house or her friends’ while they are recuperating.

But the ugly face of this apparently peaceful neighbourhood revealed itself last Thursday evening, when, about 50 yards from her home, a man came out of his house and warned her that she was not to come back again and feed dogs in front of his house. When Talwar protested that she would clear the refuse, the man would hear nothing of it and renewed his threat.

Nonetheless, Talwar returned around 9.45 pm the next evening and chose a spot near a construction site to feed her wards. Suddenly, three young men on a motorbike “hit my hand” and the bowl of dogfood went flying. The frail woman caught hold of one of them by his shirt, when they grabbed her arm, which is still bruised.

They said they would not allow her to feed the dogs because they were a menace. A man, who said he was a former judge, joined forces with them. Herd instinct came to the fore as they stressed that she couldn’t get away with any and everything in a Bengali para.

Soon, there were 15 men against a lone woman. They threatened to tie her hands to a lamp post, and when they “dragged” her to the post, her driver, Pankaj Shaw, arrived on the scene and intervened. He was beaten up, and initially, the mob would not let him drive away. He was allowed to do so only after awhile.

Talwar restrained her husband from confronting the crowd. A passing patrol van of North Bidhannagar police station was called, and an FIR was lodged. Talwar and Shaw were given first aid at hospital.

On Saturday evening, it was quiet as usual in BB block. Most neighbours have seen no evil, heard no evil and will spoke no evil either. Going by nameplates, A. K. Chakravarty, a former judge of Calcutta High Court, does live there. One of the young men who manhandled Talwar said everything happened in the heat of the moment. The woman had been warned repeatedly, that she used abusive language, called Bengalis names and even flew at the ex-judge, a charge which Talwar denies.

Police have not taken any action yet, but this is chauvinism of the worst kind.


Calcutta, May 14: 
The declaration of election results on Sunday was marred by fierce clashes that broke out between Trinamul Congress and CPM supporters since noon. Police said 20 persons, including a police officer, were injured and five vehicles damaged in the violence. A lathicharge was made at six places and teargas shells were fired to separate the warring parties. Rapid Action Force personnel were deployed to quell the violence.

Trinamul and CPM supporters clashed in front of Viharilal College, on Judges Court Road, one of the counting centres, around noon. A rude remark made by some CPM activists against Sonali Guha of the Trinamul sparked off the clash. The Trinamul men threw bricks and stones at the CPM supporters, who promptly struck back. Passing cars and private vehicles caught in the streetfight were damaged.

Policemen on the spot were outnumbered and were forced to retreat towards Alipore thana as the stretch of Judges Court Road from Alipore court to Gopalnagar turned into a battlefield. Passersby scurried into the highrises, where gate-keepers downed the collapsible gates to keep out the clashing activists. In the melee, officer D. Burdhan was hit by a brick and collapsed on the road.

In another incident at Charaktala, in Behala, Trinamul men fired two rounds at a jeep carrying CPM supporters returning from counting centres.

In Ekbalpore, Forward Bloc men attacked a jeepful of Trinamul workers celebrating the victory of Ram Pyare Ram from Kabitirtha. Five Trinamul supporters were injured.

Trouble broke out on Deshapran Sasmal Road, in the Charu Market police station area, when Trinamul supporters attacked CPM councillor Khokan Ghosh Dastidar and his associates.

Sporadic clashes were also reported from Beleghata, Jorasanko, Vidyasagar and Entally.


Guwahati, May 13: 
The Gopinath Bhavan here was quiet throughout the day. There was no sign of the impending storm.

Congress candidate Robin Bardoloi, who had taken on two heavyweights — chief minister and AGP chief Prafulla Kumar Mahanta and sitting MLA and Trinamul Gana Parishad leader Atul Bora for the prestigious Dispur seat, took a break for a quiet lunch with his wife at home. The “nail-biting” counting underway at the Cotton Collegiate School had sapped his energy.

There were just four persons at the Gopinath Bhavan between 1 and 3 pm. By 6.45 pm, it was clear that the calm was the proverbial lull before the storm. Congress workers in cars, buses and two-wheelers overran the bhavan with the man of the moment, Robin Bardoloi.

The third son of Assam’s first chief minister Gopinath Bardoloi, Robin created a flutter by defeating the two stalwarts on his electoral debut. The winner, however, went str-aight to his mother — nonagenarian Surabala who was glued to the television. On the way, he was hugged by his wife. Younger brother Bolin was equally “relieved and ecstatic.” After all, the Bardolois had silenced the doubting thomases by making a triumphant return to state politics.

The “hard-earned” victory by a slender margin of 2,410 votes was all the more sweeter for the Bardolois because it was a resounding slap on the faces of those within the party working against the “winner.” Moreover, a last-minute campaign splurge by his rivals had harmed his prospects.

Bardoloi, 58, dubbed his victory “historic. It is a great victory. A giant act. I can’t believe that I have defeated both the chief minister and the sitting MLA. I am grateful to everyone, who contributed to my success.”

As for the future, Bardoloi said he would “conduct” a socio-economic survey of his constituency and adjoining areas. A ministerial candidate in the new Congress government, Bardoloi said he would “prefer” the public works department (PWD) portfolio because the rural areas had poor infrastructure.


Guwahati, May 13: 
It is introspection time for the AGP-BJP combine. But leaders of the two allies will not be asking, “What went wrong?”

The alliance itself was a “big mistake”, and “verdict 2001” has proven the doomsayers right. The only surprise is that the BJP has turned out to be a bigger loser than the AGP in this Assembly elections.

A force to reckon with till just a month ago, the BJP committed the mistake of boarding the AGP’s sinking ship. The result? It plunged into the depths of political wilderness. No matter what the BJP leadership says now, the fact remains that the party will have to start from scratch in Assam.

The electorate’s verdict has undoubtedly hurt the BJP, but what probably rankles even more is the embarrassing “split” in the party prior to the polls. Dissension in the saffron party rendered it a considerably weaker force going into the elections. The deserters included some of the most dedicated grassroots-level workers of the party.

What the central BJP leadership, which overruled the state unit and forged an alliance with the AGP, forgot was that the party was emerging as an alternative to both the Congress and the Prafulla Kumar Mahanta-led coalition.

The anti-incumbency factor was going to work against the AGP anyway, but the BJP’s central leadership viewed things from Delhi’s perspective.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced that the Assembly elections in four states and Union Territory would be a referendum for the BJP, and it was in Assam that his party had a realistic chance of forming a government. But the BJP leadership also knew that the party was not in a position to form a government on its own steam.

The search for a “ladder” brought it to the AGP’s doorstep. The regional party was more than willing to accept the BJP’s proposal, knowing fully well that it had nothing to lose. It appears that the AGP was destined to lose the elections. No party has won back-to-back polls in Assam since 1978.

To make matters worse for the party, it had been a “miserable failure” on all fronts — “five years of non-performance”, as the Congress puts it.

Nothing exemplifies the people’s anger against the AGP than the chief minister’s humiliation in Dispur constituency, where he finished a poor third behind Atul Bora of the Trinamul Gana Parishad and Robin Bardoloi of the Congress.

From the electorate’s point of view, especially the minorities, the AGP and the BJP’s friendship was a dangerous development. The voters saw it as a potent cocktail of AGP “chauvinism” and BJP “communalism”. The minorities, who had voted for the AGP in 1996, shifted en bloc to the Congress camp.

Even the caste Assamese Hindu voters, who had always backed the AGP, switched allegiance to the Congress camp.

The main reason for this is the Mahanta government’s failure to improve the law and order situation. The AGP had no answer to the series of killings in the state, but the people had: replace the people at the helm. The AGP’s last hope, a sympathy wave in the wake of repeated Ulfa attacks on its workers, evaporated when Congress activists faced similar attacks in the run-up to the elections. It left the electorate wondering whether there was even an iota of truth in the AGP’s allegation that the Congress had a nexus with the Ulfa.


Jorhat, May 13: 
The “homecoming” of former Ulfa leader Jiten Gogoi is complete.

The electorate of Bokakhat constituency in Golaghat district has elected him as their representative, preferring him to sitting Congress MLA Bhupendra Nath Bhuyan by an overwhelming margin of over 7,000 votes.

Gogoi’s is one of the stunning wins for the Congress along with Robin Bardoloi, who beat chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta and sitting MLA Atul Bora in the Dispur seat. This apart, though four former rebels contested in the elections, he is the only one to have won.

It was a sweet revenge for Gogoi who had lost to Bhuyan in the last Assembly elections in 1996. He had polled over 10,500 votes.

“He may be a former Ulfa rebel but he is the only person who has been working for us untiringly over the years. The others come just before the elections,” said Lilaram Deuri of Dhansirimukh.

The other three former rebels who are in fray are Chakra Gohain from Chabua, Jayanta Hazarika from Thowra and Sekhar Barua, who is contesting from Kalaigaon in Darrang district.


Agartala, May 13: 
The ruling Left Front retained its electoral supremacy in Tripura by winning the Banamalipur Assembly constituency for the first time since 1978. The counting of the ballots for the crucial byelection began at 8 am.

CPI candidate Prashanta Kopali, who led in all three rounds of the counting, defeated his Trinamul rival Ratan Chakraborty by a margin of 1,393 votes. Chakraborty secured 4,911 votes to forge ahead of Congress candidate Mahitosh Saha.

The byelection had been necessitated by the assassination of sitting Congress MLA Madhusudan Saha, brother of Mahitosh Saha.

The victory of the CPI candidate made it evident that there was a vertical split in the non-Left votes between the Congress and the Trinamul.

The combined votes of the two parties stand at 9,800, 3,496 more than the number secured by Kopali.

Senior CPM leader Piyush Nag, who supervised the Left Front’s campaign, admitted at the end of the counting, that “but for the split in anti-Left votes, we would have certainly lost the seat by a big margin”.

Senior Trinamul leader and party candidate Ratan Chakraborty attributed his defeat to the “treacherous backstabbing by Sudhir Ranjan Mazumder who forged a document and campaigned for the Congress candidate and the heavy rainfall on May 10 which led to a fall in polling percentage.”

Chakraborty said had the polling percentage been at least 80, he would have won this triangular contest convincingly. He said the Trinamul high command would be informed of Mazumder’s “betrayal and anti-party activities”.


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