Mamata shows up to spit venom
Jute mill shutdown greets New Left
Old office, young mantra
Keshpur’s ‘clean-sweep’ secret
Sworn-in Jaya swears to be honest
Calcutta Weather

 
 
MAMATA SHOWS UP TO SPIT VENOM 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, May 14: 
Mamata Banerjee had a chance to make amends for yesterday’s no-show after defeat. She blew it.

Emerging with all cylinders firing today from self-imposed exile at home, she ranted at the Vajpayee government, the Left Front and chief election commissioner M.S. Gill.

She accused the BJP-led regime in Delhi of “purchasing” the Election Commission to make sure she lost. She hinted that Gill might have been offered “something as he is retiring shortly”. Finally, there was the inevitable attack on the Left Front — the charge of unleashing of “state-sponsored terrorism” and a comparison with the Nazis.

Mamata came out to demonstrate how poor a loser she is. She could have used the occasion to show she could be gracious in defeat by congratulating Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and telling her supporters and the world that “ebar noyto never” was merely a slogan and that she was going to be around to mount another challenge five years from now.

She chose to act like a child throwing a tantrum for being denied an ice-lolly. And it stood in sharp contrast with what was happening at Writers’ Buildings. Bhattacharjee made an unexpected appearance there to say: “I shall work as the chief minister of the people of Bengal, not of the Left Front. I shall try my best to rectify our flaws.”

It’s easier to be generous in victory, it’s also easy to be arrogant, particularly after a double hat-trick. Bhattacharjee appeared to have left his arrogant past firmly behind.

He also appealed to the Opposition for cooperation. He’s not going to get it, if Mamata goes through with her threat. “We will not accept this shameless government. Our MLAs will give a befitting reply in the Assembly,” she said on this sizzling-hot afternoon, giving the madly jostling crowd of mediapersons soundbites worth just over five minutes.

She answered Bhattacharjee’s call thus: “We will cooperate the way they cooperated with us on polling day.” Asked what exactly her party intended to do in the House, she refused to enter into specifics. “It will be tit for tat in the Assembly.”

From amid the clutter of accusations, what came out by way of signals of her future plans was a firm shutting of the door on the Vajpayee coalition which had adopted a “vindictive stance”. She was no longer a part of the NDA and would never be. The alliance with the Congress would continue. After a meeting with her today, state Congress president Pranab Mukherjee said the two sides would discuss how the electoral pact could be expanded into a full-fledged alliance.

Owning responsibility for the debacle, Mamata had resigned yesterday. But Trinamul’s policy-making rejected the resignation. “She will be our supreme leader,” Pankaj Banerjee said.

Mamata’s harshest criticism was aimed at the poll panel. “This Election Commission should be immediately replaced. It turned a blind eye to the massive rigging by the ruling party. The Central government has been vindictive because I left the NDA, and purchased the Election Commission to ensure my defeat.”

She alleged that in Khardah and Titagarh, election observers were changed on polling day. “Whenever I tried to contact him on the day of the poll and the day after, Gill was either having dinner or attending press conferences. I don’t know whether he has been offered something as he is retiring.” The result, she claimed, did not reflect the people’s mandate. “This is the victory of state-sponsored terrorism.”

   

 
 
JUTE MILL SHUTDOWN GREETS NEW LEFT 
 
 
BY AMIT CHAKRABORTY
 
Calcutta, May 14: 
Reality bites the morning after. The day after the Left Front government stormed back to power with a mouthful of promises about kick-starting an industrial revival, the management of Nuddea Jute Mills issued a work suspension notice that virtually sent its 5,000 workers back on the streets.

The mill, which is in Naihati and owned by the Hemraj Mahabir Prasad Poddar (HMP) group, was forced to shut down after suppliers refused to extend further credit to the mill management. Reports indicate that the mill owed Rs 25-30 crore to the suppliers of raw jute and other inputs.

Angry workers set up a road blockade at the busy Ghoshpara road and disrupted movement of trains at Naihati station in the Sealdah-Ranaghat section of Eastern Railway for an hour and a half.

Newly-elected legislators from the industrial area in Barrackpore subdivision — Ranjit Kundu (CPM-Naihati), Arjun Singh (Trinamul-Bhatpara) and Haripada Biswas (Forward Bloc- Jagaddal) — rushed to the mill premises to express their solidarity with the workers.

HMP group officials could not be contacted for their version of the events that led to the sudden development. However, industry sources said the mill management — which had been notching up losses because of high raw jute costs — had taken the decision realising that they would be able to use their contacts within the Left Front government to cap the lid on the expected furore.

“They waited for the poll results. If the Congress-Trinamul combine had won, they would not have dared take such a drastic step so soon after the elections,” said a jute trader.

Nuddea Jute has had a history of work suspensions. The mill had reopened in 1992 after a 42-month lockout. Another HMP group mill — Gouripore — has been closed for several months.

Although the workers were agitated, the union leaders were less truculent. Leaders of the Bengal Chatkal Majdoor Union, the Citu wing in the jute industry, said they were aware that the operations of the mills had become uneconomical because of high raw jute prices.

Sources say, on an average, the mills are losing Rs 3,000 per tonne of production. The TD-4 grade raw jute is ruling around Rs 1,600 per quintal while sacking production costs have risen to Rs 27,000 per tonne. However, they are able to sell their produce in the market for only Rs 23,500-24,000 per tonne.

   

 
 
OLD OFFICE, YOUNG MANTRA 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, May 14: 
On the day Bengal voted, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had left Writers’ Buildings for the last time as chief minister of the outgoing government, not knowing if there was going to be a next time.

“I would return only if the people’s mandate went in our favour,” he had said in a voice filled with anxiety.

He returned with far greater alacrity than anyone in the red building Mamata Banerjee had vowed to annex had expected. Just before noon he walked in to be greeted with a shower of congratulations.

Hands folded in a namaskar, he said, smiling: “Nothing is new, it is the same for me.” Not quite. The last time it was for six months, future uncertain. This time, it’s for five years.

Before he takes over for that term, though, Bhattacharjee spelt out his agenda — much the same he has been saying during the campaign. “My responsibility has increased. It’s going to be a tough task. My priority is to do something for the youth, the talented and the promising. It does not matter who they have voted for, they will be our future.”

He was closeted with chief secretary Manish Gupta and home secretary Sourin Roy, discussing arrangements for the swearing-in at Raj Bhavan at 11 am on Friday.

Before that, he and the CPM, as the largest partner in the Left Front, would have to tackle the clamour among allies for berths in the ministry, all the more shrill this time since they have increased their portion of the cake from 53 in 1996 to 56 this time while the CPM has been the loser, its tally dropping by seven and going below the majority mark of 148.

“We have fared better. So, our demand for more ministerial berths is genuine,” state Forward Bloc secretary Ashok Ghosh said. Ghosh acted evasive to questions whether his party would insist on having a deputy chief minister. The Forward Bloc also wants a common minimum programme. Another candidate for a larger role in the ministry is the CPI.

The CPM will settle these demands in bipartite talks with partners tomorrow. The party’s state secretariat met today to discuss ministry composition. Nirupam Sen, Mohammad Selim, Kanti Ganguly and Sudhanshu Sil are expected to be among the new faces.

Another of those could be that of Debesh Das, who won from Taltola. In keeping with Bhattacharjee’s emphasis on information technology, a portfolio is likely to be created and Das is the person in consideration for the post. He teaches computer science at Jadavpur University.

Bhattacharjee left Writers’ to return next Monday with these words: “Our feet are planted firmly on the ground and our heads are in the 21st century. The youth will take to information technology to flourish.”

   

 
 
KESHPUR’S ‘CLEAN-SWEEP’ SECRET 
 
 
FROM KUMARESH GHOSH
 
Midnapore, May 14: 
If she is the darling of the Marxist masses, he is their man of destiny. Together, Nandarani Dal of Keshpur and Sushanta Ghosh of Garbeta East have emerged as new symbols of the CPM’s show of power, but theirs isn’t exactly a tale of glory. The CPM’s victory story in the twin terrains of terror was scripted on poll day in booth after booth in these two constituencies and many more in Midnapore.

The plot is simple. In numerous booths in Keshpur, Garbeta East, Pingla and Chandrakona, CPM candidates walked away with practically all votes, leaving ridiculous numbers to rivals and nothing to chance. No breach of peace, no protest flawed the script as there was none to do any of that. For the administration and the paramilitary forces who were supposed to put the fear of law in malicious minds, the poll was a big non-event as nothing ever happened outside the booths.

Inside the booths, the story — of Keshpur and its kind — unfolded quietly. Dal’s Trinamul rival Rajani Dolui knew it by heart. That’s why, he says, he neither sent his agent to any of Keshpur’s 199 booths on polling day nor to the counting centre yesterday.

The result : Dal won by an unprecedented margin of 1,07,000 votes, the highest-ever for an Assembly poll candidate in West Bengal even in the Left raj. She claims this is an all-India record, which, Dolui quips, “should go into the Guinness Book of Records”. Dal polled over 1,19,000 votes, compared to Dolui’s 12,000.

“This is due to the double fault of Mamata Banerjee and Rajani Dolui,” argues Dal.

“Mamata declared Keshpur will be CPM’s Seshpur (place of extinction). This was insulting the people of Keshpur. Rajani enacted a drama for two days before the poll, withdrawing (his candidature) in the morning and returning to the fray in the evening. How could Keshpur take this. Hence my landslide victory. ”

Dal however isn’t carried away. To her, more important than the victory lap is keeping the Keshpur peace.

In neighbouring Garbeta East, minister of state for transport Sushanta Ghosh mauled Mamata’s Midnapore hero of year 2000, Mohammed Rafiq, by over 75,000 votes. Rafiq cried off the campaign with just 21,000 votes. In 1996, Ghosh had won the seat by a margin of 51,000 votes. In the 1999 Lok Sabha elections, however, the CPM candidates trailed their Trinamul rivals at Keshpur and Garbeta by 6,500 and 12,000 votes.

It then was Rafiq’s — actually, Mamata’s — story when the Panskura Lok Sabha bypoll came in 2000. Everything in Keshpur and around went upside down. Trinamul candidate Bikram Sarkar rode the “Panskura Line” — as then railway minister Mamata put it — to the Lok Sabha. That time, Rafiq played out the skit scripted by Mamata. Keshpur gave Sarkar a lead of 18,500 votes, Garbeta East 12,000 and adjoining Pingla pitched in with 30,000.

The CPM then cried foul (In Calcutta, a party leader said this election’s script was repeated in the Panskura poll of 2000 in 89 of Keshpur’s booths, over 60 of Garbeta East booths and nearly 80 at Pingla.) and the Election Commission said it was all fair.

History, especially of the Keshpur variety, gets repeated, says the CPM and shows it too.

   

 
 
SWORN-IN JAYA SWEARS TO BE HONEST 
 
 
FROM T.N. GOPALAN
 
Chennai, May 14: 
The law that barred Jayalalitha from the election could not keep her away from the throne.

A new chapter was added to the grey annals of Indian politico-legal lexicon when the politician, convicted and barred from elections, was sworn in chief minister this evening on the strength of a sledgehammer mandate.

But a debate raged on whether she would be eligible for contesting polls within six months, which is mandatory for continuing as chief minister.

Asked about the issue at her first press conference after assuming office, Jayalalitha said: “You all wrote me off. But I am before you as the chief minister again with the blessings of the people, whom I consider God, and my mentor MGR. I will cross all hurdles before me, wait and see.”

She is expected to move the Supreme Court, and her party is hoping that the massive mandate would tilt the legal scales in her favour. Jayalalitha promised a “clean and honest government” and said she would not be “vindictive” towards anyone.

Once her ADMK crossed the simple majority mark on its own, Jayalalitha’s 132-member legislature party passed a resolution “unanimously” selecting her its leader.

She soon met Governor M. Fathima Beevi, a former Supreme Court judge, and staked claim to form the ministry. Minutes later, the Governor invited her to form a government, and by evening, Jayalalitha and five others were sworn in.

The speed with which Jayalalitha was invited fuelled speculation whether the Centre played a role. Jayalalitha, who has been keeping her options open on a return to the Central coalition, had spared the BJP and concentrated her firepower on the DMK during campaigning.

One of the first pledges she made after the landslide yesterday was not to adopt a “confrontationist” posture towards the Centre. Today, too, she stonewalled questions on the issue. Asked whether there could be a realignment, she said after a moment of hesitation: “Nothing on the cards”.

On whether she saw the severe drubbing of the DMK-led front as a setback to the BJP, the chief minister said: “Well, their tally has increased from one to four in the Assembly.”

The fact that the Governor was a former judge made it difficult for the Opposition to launch a tirade. The BJP described the move as “odd”, while other NDA allies were a little more vocal in their criticism. Karunanidhi said if the decision was “right”, Laloo Yadav should also be allowed to become chief minister of Bihar.

Laloo, who had to resign as chief minister after he was chargesheeted in a fodder scam case, was among the first to congratulate Jayalalitha, saying in Patna that the Governor’s decision was a manifestation of “respect for the people’s mandate”.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 34.8°C (-1)
Minimum: 25.9°C (0

Rainfall:

Nil

Relative humidity

Maximum: 92%,
Minimum: 52%

Today

Partly cloudy sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 35°C
Sunrise: 4.59 am
Sunset: 6.06 pm
   
 

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