Home truths tumble out of Mamata camp
Corporate red carpet at swearing-in
Pirate panic plagues fishermen
Congress salvo over oath boycott
Sikkim opens doors to foreign tourists
Parched hills wait for poll gift
Victory lessons in Naxalite hub
Arms raid order after violence alert
‘Monkey man’ runs riot in Zen, Sumo
CPM blank cheque to Bengal

Calcutta, May 16: 
Trinamul Congress MP Krishna Bose today held the party’s organisational failure and the “bickering and bargaining” that followed its alliance with the Congress as the two factors primarily responsible for her party’s debacle.

Bose, the first Trinamul leader to voice her feelings after the party’s way-below-expectation performance, said Mamata Banerjee should not have attacked chief election commissioner M.S. Gill the way she did. “It is true that the Election Commission had failed to protect our candidates. But Mamata should not have launched a personal attack against Gill,” she said.

Bose said it was time that Trinamul MPs and Mamata put their heads together to chalk out a reform programme. “After the drubbing the party received, we need to have a serious discussion within the party. We must find out a way to revamp the organisation,” she said.

The MP from Jadavpur said the results proved that Trinamul’s organisation was no match for the CPM’s. “I went around with Madhabi (Mukherjee) on the day of the election in remote areas of Jadavpur where there were no party workers to man the booths. The booth-wise results in some of the districts also show that Trinamul failed to check the CPM’s election machinery. There is no point denying that our organisation is weak,” she said.

Mamata had brushed aside allegations of organisational weakness at a meeting with her party MLAs yesterday.

Bose felt the party would have fared better if it had gone alone instead of allying with the Congress, a view expressed earlier by rebel MP Ajit Panja. “There were only three weeks left for the polls and the bickering and bargaining that followed severely brought down acceptability of the alliance by the hour,” she said.

Bose added that she had already held talks with other party MPs like Bikram Sarkar, Nitish Sengupta and Ranjit Panja and planned to organise a meeting shortly. She, however, reiterated that she had never considered deserting Mamata to rejoin the NDA. “I’m not that type of a person. As far as I know, MPs like Sarkar, Sengupta and Ranjit Panja have never considered deserting Mamata either,” she said.

Bose admitted that there was a communication gap among party leaders. She pointed out that when she was being interviewed by a television channel on result day, she did not know that Mamata had put in her papers as Trinamul chairperson. “I was left there in front of the camera to defend the party alone. I was shocked when the interviewer told me that Mamata had offered her resignation,” she said.

Bose also hit out at the slipshod manner in which the manifesto was brought out. “The copy of the manifesto I received was in Bengali and had some glaring spelling mistakes. It should have been done more carefully,” she said.


Calcutta, May 16: 
It was the face industry wanted to see. The moment it became apparent on Sunday afternoon that he would return to Writers’, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee instructed officials in the industry department to invite corporate czars outside Bengal to Friday’s swearing-in.

Bhattacharjee explained that since industrialisation was a “focus area” in his agenda for the New Left, industry captains should be called as part of the state’s courtesy towards them. “Call those we are doing business with and also the prospective ones,” the chief minister told the officials.

Prominent among the invitees are Wipro’s Azim Premji, Infosys chief N.R. Narayanamurthy, Videocon head V.N. Dhoot, Satyam’s R. Ramalingaraju and Ratan Tata. Besides, invitation cards have been couriered to companies in Bangalore doing business in Bengal.

None of the corporate and infotech bigwigs have confirmed their presence at Raj Bhavan. “The invitations were sent at short notice and we doubt how many of them will be able to make it,” a senior official said. However, Governor Viren J. Shah’s son, Rajesh Shah, will be present.

Even during the run-up to the elections, Bhattacharjee had asked officials to keep in touch with all companies the state was negotiating with. “We have been in touch with Microsoft and Wipro, the two major investments in this field that are coming in,” an information technology department official said.

Microsoft is planning a manufacturing facility and has also agreed to set up information technology related institutes of excellence. The agreement with Microsoft is expected to be signed soon, officials hinted.

Besides the poll promise of an industrially resurgent Bengal, Bhattacharjee, as well as his party, has underscored the need to develop basic healthcare and primary education systems and develop infotech services.

During his six-month stint in the hot seat, the chief minister had set in motion an exercise to audit the state of healthcare and education in the districts. “He had inquired into the state of hospital equipment, especially the sophisticated ones lying unutilised here and there,” a bureaucrat said.

Officials believe that the next health minister will have his task cut out. “Once the minister knows that the chief minister means business, he will ask his secretary to deliver and the effect will trickle down to the lowest level,” they said. “Bhattacharjee’s main plank as far as health, education and infrastructure is concerned is to fix accountability,” a senior member of his secretariat added.


Calcutta, May 16: 
These pirates can kill for fish. At large in the Bay of Bengal, they strike daily, and flee with their loot of local fishermen’s catch.

Panic-stricken fishermen allege these pirates belong mostly to neighbouring countries who have entered Indian territory in trawlers. They blame authorities for lack of vigilance.

About five lakh people in the state are dependent on fishing. They use 2,500 mechanised boats and 300 trawlers. But so scared are they of the pirates that they are afraid to take to the seas.

In recent years, at least 70 fishermen have died. Some were victims of natural calamities, while others were killed by pirates. These pirates, say fishermen, are armed: they carry countrymade revolvers, sometimes even sophisticated arms.

“Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacherjee had told a fishermen’s meet at Raidighi that steps would be taken to curb piracy. But nothing has yet been done. We live in constant fear,” said Pranob Kar, president of the West Bengal United Fishermen Association.

The absence of border demarcations in the sea also remains a source of worry for the fishermen. They often stray into other country’s territory unknowingly and are arrested for “trespassing”. “Our demand for identity cards has not been met. Our men have to face other problems also. Often fish is looted on the way to market. Complaints lodged with police yield no results,” alleged Bimal Jena, vice-president of the organisation.

His organisation will soon seek intervention of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to recover 11 fishing trawlers captured by Bangladesh. According to him, the Bangladesh government had taken hostage 105 fishermen and 11 trawlers.


Calcutta, May 16: 
The state Congress today took exception to poll partner Trinamul’s decision to boycott Friday’s swearing-in ceremony of the new Left Front Cabinet.

Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee had announced that her party would boycott the oath-taking ceremony after a meeting with her MLAs at Maharashtra Nivas yesterday.

What made the Congressmen bristle was the request by newly-appointed leader of the Trinamul legislature party, Pankaj Banerjee, that they too boycott the ceremony. “This is not proper. The decision to boycott the swearing-in ceremony should have been announced from a common platform as the two parties forged an alliance before the polls. But we found that the Trinamul took the decision and is now trying to impose it on us,” said PCC general secretary Pradyut Guha.

PCC leaders tried to get in touch with state president Pranab Mukherjee, who is in Chennai, and seek his opinion on the matter but he could not be reached till late this evening.

Guha said instead of making the announcement, Mamata should have informed the PCC leadership that she was about to take the decision.

“We agree with her that the CPM has won the polls by unleashing a reign of terror. Our student wing, Chhatra Parishad, will observe Friday as a black day. But we protest against the way the announcement of the boycott has been made,” he added. Mamata told reporters that the trade union front of the party would bring out a huge procession on Friday, raising “save democracy” slogans.


Siliguri, May 16: 
Sikkim, once considered the last Shangrilla and shielded from travellers, especially foreigners, has decided to open its gates to travellers from overseas.

The state’s tourism sector has welcomed the Sikkim government’s decision to extend the Inner Line Permit (ILP) for foreign tourists to 15 days. Earlier, foreigners were allowed to stay in the city for only two days.

Sikkim tourism secretary and commissioner Karma Gyatso said: “After the Union home ministry’s notification to open up several restricted areas to foreigners was passed, the state tourism department got a clearance to allow a minimum of two foreigners to enter the protected areas of Sikkim. However, the foreigners have to be with recognised travel agents. The protected area permit will be given to groups of two foreigners through these travel agents. They will be allowed to visit areas like the tribal dominated Dzongri, North Sikkim and the famous Tsomgu Lake.”

“The government has also decided to open up the beautiful areas of North Sikkim up to the Thangu and Yumthang in the twin Lachen-Lachungf valleys. The Rangpo tourist office on the Sikkim-Bengal border will issue the 15-day Inner Line Permit to the foreign travellers,” Gyatso said.

The tourism secretary said: “Gone are those days, when a traveller had to go back without visiting places of their interest. These days, permits for the Tashiding and the Khechopalri, two places of tourist interest, are being issued along with the ILP. Now, a foreign tourist need not waste time on getting endorsements for visiting these places. Extension of permit for foreign tourists have been further simplified. The government has empowered the superintendents of police of the North, South and West districts to extend the inner line permit to a period of 15 days. Earlier, only the Foreigners’ Registration Office could do this. Sikkim has been successful in getting the extension of the ILP to a total number of 45 days, in three consecutive requests.”

Welcoming the government’s decision, president of Travel Agents’ Association of Sikkim Paljor Lachungpa said, “People engaged in tourism are impressed with the government’s positive handling of the situation. This has helped tourism immensely. The state government’s effort to simplify the permit system has boosted tourism in Sikkim.”

“The government’s decision has helped a large numbers of travel agents, taxi owners, lodge owners, yakmen, porters and general public. Considering the travel revolution brought in by the Internet, the department of tourism is moving on the right path. Technology has changed the face of tourism in Sikkim. The rich and the famous like to engage local agents to get the ultimate taste of ecotourism. Earlier, many foreign tourists could not visit the protected areas because of the restrictions for the permit,” said TASS secretary Satish Bardewa.


Siliguri, May 16: 
Polls over, thirsty Darjeeling is now looking at the “New Left” to fulfil its election promise of adequate water supply.

Residents, reeling under an acute water shortage, hope the government will clear the Rs 40-crore Balason project to augment supplies.

But not many are optimistic of an early end to the crisis. Though D.K. Pradhan, chairman of the local municipality, won the Assembly polls, residents are not sure the state government will act fast enough.

Local people fear the water crisis will deepen as the summer tourist season peaks. Even officials of the civic body are apprehensive of what would happen once hordes of holiday makers reach the hills. Pleading “helplessness”, an official said: “The situation is here to stay and the town will continue to depend on supplies being brought up on handcarts and hired trucks from neighbouring natural springs. But even they are drying up.”

The civic body has pressed into service some 18 lorries to ferry water collected from natural springs in the area. The municipality is distributing water to residents in 34 municipal wards in the town.

“There has been no piped water supply in the town for the past few weeks after the water level in the town’s main reservoirs at the Senchel Lake below Tiger Hill dropped. Things have come to such a head that last month we had to request the state authorities to declare Darjeeling a drought-hit area. We even sought financial assistance of Rs 15 lakh to meet the expenses incurred by the municipality on hiring lorries to supply water to residents,” the official said.

Though the body has spent over Rs 10 lakh form its own kitty, the state government has yet to respond to its request for funds.

“Neither is the state government releasing funds to solve the water crisis nor is it clearing the municipality’s proposed project to augment supplies. Though we proposed the Rs 40-crore Balason water project to augment supplies over a year back, the state has yet to clear it,” the official alleged.

Local people are now paying Rs 10 for a bucket of water. “As the water supplied by the municipality is insufficient, we have to make do with water supplied by the local ‘waterman’. Each bucket or jerrycan costs around Rs 10. But for them, we would not have any water,” a resident said.


Kankrajhore (Midnapore), May 16: 
The victory of the CPM in Naxalite-dominated Binpur was not so much a win for the party as much as it was a vote against the People’s War Group (PWG) and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) which have struck terror in the region.

Residents of the area defied the poll boycott call given by the Naxalite outfits and came out to vote in large numbers. Almost 69 per cent of the electorate cast their votes in the constituency; more important, the turnout was over 50 per cent in the Naxalite nerve-centres in the hill hamlets of Jujurdhara, Amjharna, Amlasole and Chakadoba.

The CPM owes its victory to Dohor Sen, a young local leader and member of the district committee who began laying the ground for neutralising the Naxalite factor at least a year ago. His persistence paid off: the party got back the seat it had last won in 1987. Sombhu Nath Mandi defeated twice-MLA Chunibala Hansda of the Jharkhand Party (Naren group) by over 7,000 votes. Hansda had wrested the seat from the communists in 1991 and held on in 1996.

Sen was appointed the CPM’s election agent for the entire Jhargram subdivision and specially entrusted with the job of marginalising the Naxalites and convincing the people to come out and vote.

“Nobody dared enter their den. I personally took the risk and visited villages like Jujurdhara, Amlasole, Amjharna and Chakadoba which are supposed to be their hideouts. I talked to the villagers, who are mostly Bhumijs and Sardars, and spoke separately to the women. They stressed on lack of basic infrastructure like roads, primary schools, drinking and irrigation water and healthcare. But what we could not support was their thinking that bullets, and not ballots, can solve their problems. We had at least 50 sessions and at last we could persuade them to fall in line. They said this will be the last time they will go to the booths. But definitely they will not go again if their demands are not met,” Sen said.

Three days before the polls, Sen, along with Jhargram MP Roopchand Murmu, was stopped at Bhulaveda by the Naxalites. Hansda, too, met with a similar fate. They were taken deep inside the forest by the PWG-MCC activists and were told to sign a “promissory note” saying that ballots cannot solve the tribals’ basic problems. They were threatened with dire consequences if they did not sign. But soon a messenger came with information that a Punjab commando team was coming that way, prompting the Naxalites to release their hostages.

Sen acknowledged that the government needed to take a sympathetic look at the tribals’ problems. “Unfortunately, we had little dialogue with them in the last few years, leading to a communication gap. The divisive forces took advantage of this. Having won this seat, we should carry on this dialogue and solve their day-to-day problems,” he said.

The CPM leader agreed that the presence of the Punjab commandos helped restrict the movement of the Naxalite cadre and he feared that the outfits might renew their activities. “But what will happen after the Central forces are withdrawn?” Sen asked. “Our organisation is not strong enough. Unless we are able to help them, the problem will remain and the area will continue to remain a happy hunting ground for the PWG-MCC.”


Chinsurah, May 16: 
The home ministry has directed the Hooghly superintendent of police to conduct raids on the stockpiles of arms and explosives made by criminals under shelter of different political parties.

The direction came following an intelligence report that political activists in Arambagh, Khanakul, Goghat, Pursurah, Pandua, Rishra and Konnagar may resort to post-poll violence.

Intelligence officials have reported that after their debacle in the elections, a section of political leaders in Arambagh started to renew their contact with People’s War Group activists.“We have started night raids in different parts of the district and a number of arms are being seized,” the police superintendent said.

Most of these arms had come from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and they included guns, revolvers, pistols and cartridges. Revolvers and pistols were recovered from Howrah, Burdwan and Nadia districts.


New Delhi, May 16: 
It’s like X-files being enacted in the Capital and its outskirts.

The elusive “monkey man” has continued with its reign of terror in Ghaziabad, Noida and east and north-east Delhi while the poor and the unlettered are fantasising about its shape, size and abilities.

Sample this: a mob spotted the “monkey man” driving a white Maruti Zen last evening. They fired at the car, but the “monkey man” drove past. A complaint was lodged at Loni police chowki. Someone had even noted down the number plate which read UP 14J6149.

Minutes later, another caller rang up at the same station. This time, the monkey man was spotted driving a white Sumo. But the terrified crowd didn’t dare to attack the ‘super-acrobat’ who, some say, can spot-jump high into the air.

Unlike in Ghaziabad, where the monkey-face — or, as some say, bear-faced — creature attacked residents even during day, in Delhi, the shadowy figure has only struck at night, choosing his victims carefully from low-income group people living in jhuggis.

On a cool windy night, in a Delhi awash with rains, we went surveying the localities where this mysterious figure had struck. It was eerie as we made our way into the narrow bylanes of east and north-east Delhi.

Some were in total darkness. There was not a single human face around as our car turned into the narrow alleys. Only a few dogs barked in the still, ominous silence. We had rolled down our windows hoping to spot the creature if he was hiding in the dark.

At 11.45, we stopped in Old Seelampur, where the shadowy figure had gone on a rampage yesterday. Around this time, Nirmala Sharma, a young woman, had spotted a strange creature slinking across her house.

He looked like a bear, his eyes glowing like red bulbs and his face criss-crossed with wire. He was jumping in the air like a “frog”, but seconds later had scampered into the dark lane. Petrified, Nirmala had fainted on her balcony.

We reached the Loni police chowki at 1.00, passing through uninhabited stretches dotted by a few roadside dhabas. The five men in the small chowki had received two calls about this shadowy creature who drove two different cars.

“I think this creature is nothing but a rumour, fear has psyched the people,” they said, just as the lights went off plunging the area in total darkness.

At 1.35, we heard people screaming from a jhuggi at Indrapuri. A few boys standing on the road rushed with sticks towards the house where the scream had come from. It was pitch dark and we had to switch on our flashlights as we entered the house. Inside was a family of five.

Eleven-year-old Babita had felt a shadowy figure shaking her hands. Her brother Arjun had also felt a vibration. But her mother, sleeping in the same room, had not seen a thing. Neither did we.

At 2, we were stopped at the police check post at the Delhi-Ghaziabad border. All of us were searched thoroughly. Security had been beefed up to nab the mysterious assailant.

In Old Seelampur, where people go to sleep early, the last few days have kept all the men awake.

Yesterday, the place was teeming with people even at 2.30 am. All the men and boys were out in the narrow lanes, with sticks and cricket bats, to catch the mischief maker who had made an appearance five minutes ago.

Women were looking out of balconies and the boys scampering all over the road. The monkey man, they said, was first spotted on a tree and, around the same time, was seen on top of a mandir in a parallel lane. Another girl saw the creature on her terrace.

The lightning-fast stalker was seen in this area at three different spots at the same time. The boys feel there are not one but two hairy, robot-operated figures that are spreading terror.

We combed the lanes and the mandir for one hour, but saw nothing. The police were smarter. After a search, they produced a puppy that was scampering around in the area.

Fear, police say, has stumped even robbers as people are keeping vigil round the clock. The thieves are simply petrified.


New Delhi, May 16: 
A confident CPM politburo today said it would leave the task of forming the Cabinet in West Bengal in the “able” hands of the state committee which took the party to lofty heights of glory.

“We have approved the basic outline but are not interfering in Cabinet formation,” said politburo leader Prakash Karat after the CPM top guns met at the party headquarters this morning.

They had much to rejoice about. The humiliating defeat in Kerala had faded in the face of the Left Front’s spectacular return to power in Bengal. The politburo members did introspect on the southern disaster, but what overwhelmed everything was the CPM’s victory — and its skill in guarding the fortress it has ruled for 24 years.

If Marxist leaders in Bengal breathed a sigh of relief after the results, the communist diaspora outside the state got a fresh lease of life. Had the CPM lost Bengal, it would have lost its sole claim to fame.

For Marxists outside Bengal, especially those who are active players in national politics, retaining Bengal was important. After all, for years, Bengal — not Kerala or Tripura — has been the CPM’s beacon of light.

This time, the leaders had feared the light would dim. Though they were confident of holding on to Writers’ Buildings, party bosses did not expect such a mandate. Confronted with the alliance of two of its main adversaries, the CPM had already started calculating its losses.

Kerala was another stronghold, so was Tripura, but neither ever matched Bengal’s credibility because in both states, the rule of the Left alternated with Congress rule.

In Kerala, a government headed by the Left Democratic Front could easily be replaced by the Congress-led United Democratic Front. But Bengal brooked no such change. It was the Left’s best political mascot — a symbol of prestige it could flaunt before adversaries who were flitting in and out of power in other states.

Here, the Left remained comfortably ensconced, looking up to one leader, who has become synonymous with the state.

Jyoti Basu grew in stature with the Left Front government. It did not matter that his party was unable to break new ground and was confined to just three states. What mattered was the Left Front’s unbreachable stability when other states were frequently convulsed by changes and chief ministers lumped together as “aya rams gaya rams”.

Bengal gave the CPM its arrogance of power and credibility of stature. When Basu was offered prime ministership of the United Front government, his Front colleagues cited his uninterrupted tenure as chief minister as one of his “main qualifications”.

Within the party hierarchy, the Bengal unit was always the dominant voice — a voice that could never be ignored. At every meeting, during every campaign, the party’s main focus in the list of its achievements was Bengal. Politburo and central committee members in Delhi drew their main political support from the state that seemed to defy the logic governing the rest of India.

If the CPM had lost Bengal, it would have suddenly lost its feet. The leadership was sure there was no question of a defeat— but even a drastic slashing of margin would have hurt the prestige of the party.


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