Bengal trio steers team selection
Sonia shoulder for Mamata sorrow
Mamata oath to skip swearing-in
Big bite off pakora purse
Monkey-man phobia turns fatal
Calcutta Weather

Calcutta, May 15: 
An axis of three key CPM leaders in Bengal is structuring the complex business of ministry making, programming a response to a demanding politburo and handling the assertive party factions staking claims to berths in the government as well as the organisation.

The triumvirate of Jyoti Basu, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Anil Biswas, which began to address the three tasks a little before the election, finalised the details in the past 48 hours, party officials said.

The CPM state secretariat formally finalised the names of ministers today. As a result, a Bengal delegation could leave for Delhi to attend the upcoming politburo meeting armed with a definite plan of action.

Among the finalised names were those of incumbent finance minister Asim Dasgupta, transport minister Subhas Chakraborty and a few other high-profile ministers who served in Basu’s government but went into the turbo-charged elections with a big question mark on their future.

Not visible to the unfamiliar eye, one of the major shapers of the state CPM’s approach to structuring the government is Basu. Like before, the patriarch played the arbiter of various contending views on the issue.

Neutralising a powerful lobby, which was holding the brief for a few cornered but important functionaries, Basu secured the space both Bhattacharjee and Biswas required to flesh out their plans.

The politburo is expected to endorse the plans without any changes for three reasons: Basu’s presence, Bhattacharjee’s need for a free hand and the state CPM’s high ratings after the election.

The politburo is also not expected to interfere much in ministry making because each name was finalised in the presence of five politburo members — Basu, Bhattacharjee, Biman Bose, Biswas and Sailen Dasgupta.

After the politburo’s endorsement, the provincial committee of the party will meet on April 17 on Alimuddin Street and formally finalise Bhattacharjee’s Cabinet.

Asim Dasgupta, at the centre of speculation whether he would be able to retain his portfolio, will do so because of the familiar Tina (there is no alternative) factor, officials said.

Dasgupta is the choice of Basu and Bhattacharjee. But neither is unaware of the strong sentiments that prevailed against Dasgupta in the earlier government and still do in the organisation. But the party has accepted Basu’s argument that Dasgupta be retained, albeit with wings clipped, because the handling of Bengal’s parlous finances warrants continuity.

Dasgupta will have to see in the days ahead a shrinkage of the finance ministry, with excise and development and planning departments lopped off, restructured and allotted to another minister. However, it is difficult to say how long Biswas and others will remain silent if Dasgupta continues with the old style of functioning.

In Bhattacharjee’s government, the pecking order will have Nirupam Sen and Surya Kanta Mishra in the No. 2 and No. 3 positions.

There was a move to create a post of deputy chief minister. But Basu is believed to have been quick to shoot it down as he perceived in it a design to encircle Bhattacharjee before he could go out and start his innings.

At one point, a lobby sought to prop up Sen as deputy chief minister. But Basu blocked it as he kept in mind that he himself had appointed Bhattacharjee as his deputy before his retirement to pre-empt a move to open the throttle on the race for the chief minister’s post after his departure.

Among other probable new ministers are Md. Amin (labour) and Md. Selim (minority affairs). Satyasadhan Chakraborty is likely to figure on the list again.

With Biman Bose, a politburo member, and Benoy Konar, a central committee member, playing a vital role in structuring the government in collaboration with the axis, Bhattacharjee’s government will be made up of a number of new faces, many from the districts.

Delhi red carpet

Bhattacharjee tonight flew into a tumultuous welcome in Delhi, where hundreds of party workers braved a shower to greet him with slogans, adds our special correspondent.

The touchdown for the usually staid politburo meeting set the stage for a virtual victory procession in the capital. The party workers welcomed Bhattacharjee and Basu with bouquets and garlands.


New Delhi, May 15: 
Sonia Gandhi today congratulated a whopping winner and consoled a luckless loser.

The phone call carried no words of wisdom to Jayalalitha, while Sonia took the opportunity to calm down Mamata Banerjee, blaming “bad luck” for the drubbing and asking her to take it in her stride. A sympathetic Sonia said all was not lost and underlined the need to gear up for the challenges ahead.

Preparing ground for a possible reunification of the two Congresses, she described Mamata as a member of the Congress family and told her that together they will bring back the “good old days”. She asked her to visit Delhi.

Mamata spoke bitterly about “Leftist goons” and the Election Commission’s failure to check rigging. Sources close to Sonia said the Congress chief “understood” the pain and anguish in the defeat and asked her not to lose heart.

Barring the Trinamul Congress leader’s direct attack on chief election commissioner M.S. Gill, Sonia echoed Mamata’s view that polls were not free and fair in Bengal.

The sources said the “shock defeat” held out a few lessons for the combine. First, there was a need to build a well-oiled organisational machinery from block to the district level.

Senior Congress leaders like Digvijay Singh, who had campaigned in Bengal, told Sonia that Mamata failed to capitalise on popular support due to lack of organisational backup.

Though a direct reunification offer is yet to come, the Congress believes a one-party campaign would reduce factionalism.

Sonia deputed Pranab Mukherjee to Chennai tonight to call on Jayalalitha.

Armed with Sonia’s goodwill message, the former foreign minister’s mission includes getting the ADMK leader’s support for Pondicherry, where the party is dependent on Jayalalitha to continue in office.

The Bengal party unit chief will also meet Tamil Maanila Congress chief G.K. Moopanar and press for reunification.

Mukherjee is enjoying his new role as Sonia’s special emissary. He met Sonia today to thank her and explain why the alliance failed to do well in Bengal.

Poll panel riposte

The Election Commission dismissed as “beneath contempt” Mamata’s “despicable” remarks against Gill, who was accused by the Trinamul chief of not checking rigging in West Bengal under “influence” of the Vajpayee government.


Calcutta, May 15: 
If you can’t beat ’em, don’t join ’em. First came the offer to resign as her party’s chairperson, then came the vitriolic attack on chief election commissioner M.S. Gill; today, Mamata Banerjee said her legislators will boycott the swearing-in of the new Left Front government at Raj Bhavan on Friday.

“This government has not come to power through a free and fair poll. It is terrorism which has emerged victorious. We are not going to attend the swearing-in ceremony of such a Cabinet,” Mamata said after a meeting with Trinamul legislators and other functionaries at Maharashtra Nivas this afternoon. Over 40 MLAs attended the meeting.

The Chhatra Parishad, the Congress’ student-wing, has decided to observe a “black day” on the day the new ministry is sworn in. Though an official decision is yet to be taken, it is unlikely that Congress legislators will attend the function.

After the meeting at Maharashtra Nivas, Mamata announced that Pankaj Banerjee, legislator from Tollygunge and chairman of the party’s policy-making body, will be the leader of the Trinamul Legislature Party. Ambica Banerjee, MLA from Howrah (Central) will be the deputy leader and Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay, legislator from Rashbehari, has been named the chief whip.

Jatu Lahiri, another Howrah legislator, has been appointed treasurer and Kalyan Banerjee, MLA from Asansol, will be the secretary.

At the meeting, the names of four party MLAs — Subrata Mukherjee, Sougata Roy, Nirmal Ghosh and former IAS officer Dipak Ghosh — were suggested for chairing the different House panels like the Public Accounts Committee and the Assurances Committee. The chairmanship of one of the committees is likely to be offered to the Congress.

Trinamul MLAs who attended the meeting said that unlike yesterday, Mamata’s mood was better today. “We are a three-year-old party. From three MLAs in the Assembly, we have increased our tally to over 60. Is it not an achievement? We will improve our position in the future. If our present position does not suit anyone, he or she is free to join any other political party like the BJP or the CPM,” Mamata asserted.

She also told the legislators that it would be wrong to say that Trinamul’s dismal performance was because of organisational weakness. “State-sponsored terrorism was totally responsible for the poor showing,” she is learnt to have said.

Apart from chairing the legislators’ meet, Mamata stayed indoors at her Kalighat residence. She briefly came out to attend her cubby-hole office around 1.30 pm to meet several MLAs, especially those from South 24-Parganas where Trinamul performed well.

Trinamul sources said that a number of supporters who fled their villages in Bankura, Hooghly and Midnapore visited Mamata. She met the people, who alleged that they had fled fearing attacks by CPM activists.


Lucknow, May 15: 
Pity the public servants of Uttar Pradesh, “penny-pinching” has finally caught up with their power pakoras.

If chief minister Rajnath Singh has his way, each of his colleagues will henceforth be given Rs 15,000 “only” every month to splurge on tea and pakoras. The pocket money of Rs 15,000 month is chicken feed for most ministers, some of whom are used to burning close to Rs 9.5 lakh a month on petrol and snacks.

Rajnath decided to bite the bullet after his pakora-munching ministers devoured as much as Rs 4.35 crore in the 10 months from January to November 2000. The total pocket money of the 85 ministers far outstripped their 10-month salary of Rs 1.40 crore.

The pakoras worth their weight in gold and their patrons had left such a bad taste in the state’s mouth that starving school teachers had hit the streets of Lucknow with begging bowls seeking alms to foot the ministers’ snacks bill.

The state will save nearly Rs 15 crore if Rajnath succeeds in pushing the puny pakora allowance down the parched throats of his ministers. The initial reaction to Rajnath’s “harsh decision” has not been very appetising. Some ministers, one of whom is known for spending 10 times the new allowance, was blunt: “Rs 15,000? That’s not enough.”

Others are complaining openly that they have been left with crumbs in the name of thrift. Minister Amarmani Tripathi went to the extent of saying that the “wrong decision” would “force ministers to adopt other means to meet their expenses”.

Uncomfortable questions in the Assembly had ripped the veil off the ministers’ generosity when “guests” call on them. June was the most lavish month, with the ministers’ bill clocking Rs 85.17 lakh. The most tight-fisted month was March when they could splurge only Rs 22.64 lakh.

There are ministers who have spent amounts ranging from Rs 64 lakh to 95 lakh in 10 months on petrol for themselves and snacks for their guests. In 1999-2000, Rajnath’s brothers-in-arms spent Rs 1.5 crore on tea and Rs 5 crore from their pocket money to meet other expenses.

Rajnath’s pakora crackdown comes close on the heels of his drive to cut VIP security to size. The chief minister had earlier announced that VIPs would have to live without their “security trappings”. The move, which is yet to become a rule, was expected to help save Rs 10 crore a month.


New Delhi, May 15: 
A pregnant woman died in the capital today as she ran to save herself from the mysterious “monkey man” that strikes people after dark.

At 2.30 am, Suman heard people screaming in her East Delhi locality. Panic-stricken, she ran towards the staircase, where she slipped and fell.

Suman was admitted to hospital, where she was later declared dead. This is the first such death in Delhi. On Sunday, a worker leaped from his terrace in the industrial township of Noida and died soon after.

Fear and panic is spreading fast in the capital over the sudden appearance of the mysterious creature. Both deaths were caused not by the attack, but by the fear of it. Some people claim to have seen the creature attack others, but say that it moves so fast that they do not see the face.

“Twenty-eight distress calls were received from Northeast Delhi between 8 pm yesterday and 7 am today. Of these, 12 were confirmed reports,” said joint commissioner of police Suresh Roy. “Seventeen panic calls were made from East Delhi.” Victims have head injuries and bite marks on their feet.

In Mansarovar Park in Northeast Delhi, where a man sustained injuries, an FIR under Section 452 and 323 has been lodged.

“Doctors believe the injuries have not been caused by humans and animals,” said Roy. The “object”, which had spread terror in Ghaziabad town of Uttar Pradesh over the last few weeks, has struck at over 65 places in Delhi since Saturday.




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