Power-cut greets CM on power-eve
Bid on Trinamul winner
Mamata to take ‘terror’ battle beyond borders
Buddha brings e-govt to Bengal
Stalin’s friend put behind bars in Jayalalitha raj
Reform rage unites Left and Right
Crack team to track ‘monkey man’
Alliance with Mamata, olive branch for CPM
BJP divided on Panja return
The burden of protest literature

 
 
POWER-CUT GREETS CM ON POWER-EVE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 17: 
It couldn’t have been a more inauspicious beginning for chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee: his first speech to his constituents after they returned him to power was cut short by a power-cut after it seemed he wouldn’t be allowed to speak by an over-enthusiastic and very-unlike-CPM crowd in front of Jadavpur railway station this evening.

He made amends in what actually was his first public meeting with his constituents a kilometre southeast at the Tarun Sangha Ground at Gangulybagan; he thanked those who voted for him, getting a round of applause in the process, and kept his best wishes for those who didn’t vote for him, getting an even bigger round of applause.

Besides the thank-yous and the abhinandans, the MLA from Jadavpur and outgoing chief minister who is going to become chief minister again tomorrow had very little to say.

Introduced as the chief minister of West Bengal and, more important, as an artist, poet, dramatist and biographer, the chief minister was, however, more business-like than his C-V suggested.

After a cursory reference to the May 10 agnipariksha and how Bengal’s voters had won the battle against darkness, disruption and fundamentalism, he moved to the agenda on hand.

The government would have to take the state forward in agriculture, industry and commerce, Bhattacharjee said, and there was an urgent need to rekindle “lights in homes that were still in darkness”.

It wasn’t clear, however, whether the man who would possibly rule the state for the next five years was referring to the darkness that greeted him near Jadavpur station or the downtrodden who would have to be helped up.

There was an appeal to the Opposition inside the Assembly for cooperation.

The well-meaning appeal, however, sounded incongruous given the situation on the ground and coming merely 72 hours after Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee’s threats of a “democratic dawai” and “tit-for-tat” response to the CPM’s allegedly rigged victory.

But the twin meetings — there was another later in the evening in the same area — will be remembered for the embarrassment caused to the new chief minister by his power department near Jadavpur station; just as he took the microphone and said he would speak for “five minutes” after it seemed there would not be any word from him at all — the uncharacteristically-unruly CPM crowd forced the master of ceremonies to say that Bhattacharjee would not speak as the “ground reality was not conducive to speeches” — the lights, and the sound, went out.

There was another faux pas as well; the bunch of balloons given to him to be released to the skies by the local DYFI unit sank to the ground instead.

But Bhattacharjee wouldn’t give up. The man who discovered the benefits of PR six months ago stood for 20 minutes, accepting gifts from all and sundry — he even took a “child-artiste” who came to congratulate him up in his arms — and traversed the distance between the venues of the first and second meetings in a hoodless Jeep, sending his security personnel into a tizzy.

It was another story, however, after the second meeting. The chief minister took over from the PR-man as he rode to the day’s third — and last — meeting in his bullet-proof car.

   

 
 
BID ON TRINAMUL WINNER 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Barasat, May 17: 
Newly-elected Trinamul Congress MLA from Gaighata, Jyotipriya Mallick, narrowly escaped an attempt on his life yesterday near Kulpukur temple. He has blamed the CPM for the murder bid.

Mallick was returning to his Calcutta residence after attending victory meetings in Gaighata. When he reached Kulpukur, Mallick got off his Santro briefly. While getting into the car, he saw two youths standing beside a Tata Sumo nearby, their hands in their pockets.

“I got nervous, dived into the car and asked my driver to drive fast,” said Mallick. When his Santro passed the Tata Sumo, the youths fired at Mallick’s car but missed narrowly.

Gobinda Das, block Trinamul president, later alleged that it was the handiwork of “Provas Dhali, a criminal under the protection of CPM”.

However, local CPM leaders have categorically denied the allegation.

A party worker said on condition of anonymity: “We have asked the police several times to arrest Dhali but they did nothing. He became furious after Mamata Banerjee threatened to take action (against him) if she came to power.”

Sub-divisional police officer (Barasat) Kalyan Mukherjee said: “We have requested Mallick to take police protection and not to divulge the details of his programmes to party workers.”

Birbhum clash

At least 10 people were wounded in a clash between CPM and Trinamul supporters at Jamuria village in Paruipara in Suri yesterday. Twenty people were arrested in this connection.

Trouble started when Trinamul supporters attacked a CPM victory procession. A few cars were set on fire and houses damaged.

A Trinamul supporter was arrested with a revolver from which he had fired several rounds.

Soon after the clashes, shops downed shutters in the area. People stayed indoors.

Additional superintendent of police, Barun Mallick, and other senior police officers rushed to the spot. A strong police picket has been posted in the area.

“We are continuing raids in the area and more arrests are likely at night,” Mallick said.

Both CPM and Trinamul leaders blamed each other for the violence.

Naresh Guha, a local Trinamul leader, said: “CPM activists who took part in the procession were armed and had plans to attack our party workers.”

Denying the allegation, a local CPM leader claimed that goons sheltered by Trinamul leaders were behind the violence.

Midnapore mishap: Three persons were killed when a tuck carrying boulders hit a matador coming from the opposite direction on National Highway 6 near Dalpatipur this evening.

   

 
 
MAMATA TO TAKE ‘TERROR’ BATTLE BEYOND BORDERS 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, May 17: 
Mamata Banerjee may visit different state capitals to “expose the CPM’s organised terror and rigging” during the Assembly elections.

Mamata today met a number of defeated candidates and urged them not to lose heart and instead maintain close contact with the people in their constituencies. The Trinamul chief said she will convene a meeting of the nominees shortly to discuss the poll outcome and where the party went wrong.

As part of her fight, Mamata is likely to hold meetings in various state capitals to tell the people about the CPM’s “organised terror”.

Sougata Roy, Trinamul legislator from Dhakuria, told reporters that the party would boycott tomorrow’s swearing-in of Left Front ministers at Raj Bhavan to protest against the “unprecedented poll rigging”. “We will observe tomorrow as Black Day and take out a protest march from Subodh Mullick Square to Gandhiji’s statue on Mayo Road,” Roy said.

Asked whether the Congress too will skip the ceremony, he said: “Mamata has conveyed our party’s stand to PCC chief Pranab Mukherjee. It is up to the Congress to take a decision.”

The Congress has not taken any formal decision. PCC general secretary Pradyut Guha said: “Our top priority is to stand by the party workers who were attacked by CPM cadre after the elections.” He added that Mukherjee has given the government 48 hours to improve law and order.

Roy said chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had promised to tackle post-poll violence with a firm hand, but had failed to “keep his word”.

Roy claimed that nearly 25,000 people in the districts have had to flee their homes after the elections because of terror unleashed by the CPM. “The first task of the new Cabinet should be to ensure safe passage to the people willing to return home and to ensure their security,” he said.

Two separate teams of Trinamul legislators visited Khejuri in Midnapore and different areas of North 24-Parganas to get a detailed account of the violence there. Among the MLAs were Pankaj Banerjee, Subrata Bakshi, Dipak Ghosh, Ajit Bhuniya and Nirmal Ghosh. Ranjit Panja, the Barasat MP, accompanied them. The teams will submit reports to Mamata tomorrow.

Roy defended Mamata’s outburst against chief election commissioner M.S. Gill, saying he had failed to ensure a free and fair poll. “Jyoti Basu too had launched a personal attack on (former CEC) T.N. Seshan. But Mamata criticised Gill as he did not respond to her frantic calls on election day,” he said.

The legislator alleged that Gill had failed to implement several decisions of the Election Commission. “He had promised to ensure posting of Central forces at sensitive booths and look into any unusually high percentage of polling, which occurred in Keshpur, Arambag, Garbeta East and Goghat. But he did nothing to stop electoral malpractices,” Roy said.

   

 
 
BUDDHA BRINGS E-GOVT TO BENGAL 
 
 
BY DEVADEEP PUROHIT
 
Calcutta, May 17: 
One of the first things expected to happen after Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee takes charge at the head of a new ministry is the debut of e-governance in Bengal.

Sixteen government departments have been chosen for introduction of e-governance following recommendations by consultant PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

“But it would start with health and panchayat and rural development departments. Then we will extend it to the other 14 departments,” said C. Rudra, general manager of IT at the Bengal government-owned Webel, through which the plan is being implemented.

The Rs 1.5-crore pilot project in the two departments will be used to monitor funds with software developed by the Centrally-owned CMC. In the next phase, IBM and Tata Consultancy Services will take the process further in to file tracking and personal information. “They have completed the system requirement study and forwarded us their suggestions,” Rudra said.

After implementing e-governance in the 16 departments that will include finance, home and transport, the government will extend it to all areas of its work in phases.

The PwC study lists the key considerations for e-governance. It recommends prioritisation of projects with a central authority deciding the pecking order. For quick implementation, the report suggests “outsourcing of major activities” and a “common IT budget as opposed to departmental budgets”.

E-mail has been suggested as the preferred method of communication between departments and a portal for making available information. The report recommends adoption of packaged software over customised solutions.

The consultants feel a centralised data centre-based architecture will be more suitable than a private wide area network. For effective communication and sharing of information, it recommends a standard for all applications.

Roopen Roy, executive director of PwC, said: “We have prepared the report assessing the ground realities and we would expect that within three months, a part of the implementation work would be complete.”

Officials at Webel are keen on the project taking off early and hope to get it going next month.

Training has begun. “Around 200 officers from different departments have been trained by Webel. The training programme for IAS officers will be conducted at IIM, Calcutta,” Rudra said.

   

 
 
STALIN’S FRIEND PUT BEHIND BARS IN JAYALALITHA RAJ 
 
 
FROM T.N. GOPALAN
 
Chennai, May 17: 
Cries of vendetta convulsed Tamil Nadu politics today after the former deputy Speaker was arrested and the city police commissioner shifted.

Former deputy Speaker Parithi Ilam Vazhudhi was arrested on charges of rioting on election day, prompting the Opposition to suspect that Jayalalitha has launched her war against the DMK without wasting time.

Vazhudhi has been charged with carrying weapons and attempting to murder rival candidate John Pandian of the Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam, an ADMK ally. Vazhudhi, though not a heavyweight, is considered close to former chief minister M. Karunanidhi’s son M.K. Stalin.

However, DMK supporters claimed that it was Vazhudhi who was assaulted by Pandian’s men. They said Vazhudhi was lucky to escape with his life — he had to be hospitalised.

Yesterday, Vazhudhi, who won by a wafer-thin margin of 84 votes, applied for anticipatory bail, but principal sessions judge Ashok Kumar rejected the plea on the ground that investigations were on.

The clashes took place inside a booth. DMK activists said Pandian’s men ran amok. When the DMK complained, Pandian and his men were taken into custody.

Inquiries reveal there was another clash between the rival groups near a polling booth that day. However, police did not pay heed to Pandian’s complaint about the second clash on polling day.

But after Jayalalitha was formally installed as chief minister, four of Vazhudhi’s associates were taken into custody, after which the former deputy Speaker sought anticipatory bail.

Kumar, who turned down Vazhudhi’s bail appeal, also refused to concede Pandian’s plea for bail. He pulled up the police for doing a “half-hearted” job. “Times may change, men may change, but not the law,” he said.

The new government has also replaced the city police commissioner with an inspector-general. Since the mid-eighties, only officers with the rank of additional director-general of police have occupied the post. The officer heading operations against Veerapan has also been shifted.

   

 
 
REFORM RAGE UNITES LEFT AND RIGHT 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, May 17: 
In this escalating battle for the mantle of “economic nationalism”, the Right and the Left are on the same side of the arena and are putting together their resources to pull down a common enemy: the World Trade Organisation regime.

The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), a fraternal organisation of the Sangh parivar, and the CPM-backed Centre of Indian Trade Unions (Citu) have never been so thick as on the eve of the Indian Labour Conference (ILC) beginning in the capital tomorrow. “Till now we were on the defensive. But with the BMS’ active entry into the battle, we can show our full aggression,” says Citu general secretary M.K. Pandhe.

The BMS has gone public with its battery of charges against its own government — tarring it “anti-national” and “anti-people”. It is using the Citu’s language to hit out at the Vajpayee dispensation and the finance minister in particular. Here politics and trade unionism are forking out on different paths, targeting different adversaries at different levels.

“There is no contradiction between our having different political beliefs and sharing the same platform against liberalisation,” says BMS general secretary Hansubhai Dave. Tomorrow’s ILC, underlines the trade union leader, will not be a routine affair. The trade union’s future actions will depend on Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s response to the issues they had raised at a meeting with him last week, he added.

Vajpayee, who will inaugurate the conference, is expected to walk a tightrope between upholding his government’s economic policies and pacifying rebellious trade unions — one of them being a part of the Sangh parivar.

The BMS is not the only organisation to have raised a war-cry against the Centre’s liberalisation policies. These have also been criticised by the Shiv Sena and the Hind Mazdoor Kisan Panchayat (HMKP), a trade union headed by George Fernandes.

For the first time, the BJP is contending with rebellion from its own trade union front. The BMS appears to be more on the offensive than the Congress-backed Indian Trade Union Congress (Intuc).

The Left and the Right are bitter political enemies in Parliament and outside — every second day, the Left threatens to bring down the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government. However, on the economic front, their unions are as thick as thieves.

The Citu general secretary believes the sheer desperation of the economic situation is forcing trade unions of different political hues and ideological roots to stick to each other. “In Mumbai, the Shiv Sena and HMKP led by George Fernandes joined other trade unions in a strike last month,” explains Pandhe.

The BJP and the CPM have shared the same views on economic liberalisation, despite their deep-seated ideological differences. In the past, trade unions of the CPM and the Sangh parivar had joined forces on economic issues. “But the BMS refused to join a one-day all-India strike in 1991 and since then they moved away from the rest of the trade unions,” says Pandhe.

However, the implementation of the WTO agreement and the Vajpayee government’s refusal to backtrack on liberalisation has bridged the growing gap between the Left and the Right trade unions. The finance minister’s announcement to streamline the Industrial Disputes Act and the privatisation of the defence ministry seem to have been major catalysts in pushing the BMS closer to Left trade unions.

   

 
 
CRACK TEAM TO TRACK ‘MONKEY MAN’ 
 
 
FROM AMBEREEN ALI SHAH
 
New Delhi, May 17: 
Delhi police have announced a reward of Rs 50,000 for information leading to the apprehension of the “monkey man” even as it struck after a day of lull, injuring 18 persons.

Delhi police chief Ajai Raj Sharma has mobilised a crack team of investigators from the east and north-east district police forces to probe the mystery. It will go into the details of the mischief-maker’s modus operandi and study the injuries. The team will consult doctors and veterinarians to find out whether the injuries were inflicted by an animal or a human being.

The police is also planning to crack down on hoax calls and rumour-mongers. Over 100 calls were made to various police stations last night. Of these, only 16 were found to be genuine.

After keeping people guessing for a day, the “monkey man” struck in a big way in north-east Delhi, injuring seven people. Eleven calls were received from west, central and north-west Delhi and one person was injured when he fell down while fleeing after seeing a mysterious figure.

Police said the extent and frequency of the attacks pointed to the involvement of more than one person or creature. Delhi chief minister Sheila Dixit supported the view that a “gang of more than one person” is behind the attacks.

The Union home ministry has received ominous intelligence reports saying that people might be settling personal scores under the garb of the “monkey man” and the attacks are likely to become more vicious in the coming days.

The sleuths believe that a mentally disturbed but clever man initially attacked some people in Ghaziabad. The idea soon caught on because of rumours and the media hype.

They have ruled out the involvement of criminal gangs in the attacks. “Why should criminals just scratch people? They would either loot or kill,” said a senior intelligence official. But it is feared that anti-social elements might take advantage of the phobia and start harassing people.

An engineer added another dimension to the attacks, saying in Mumbai that it could be a human being using crude electronic equipment to scare people, added PTI.

He could be using a simple electronic equipment which can convert Direct Current supply to Alternate Current and also from low voltage to high voltage.

The “monkey man” holds the victim and passes the high voltage current with his metal hand. As soon as the high voltage current is passed through the victim he falls unconscious, he explained.

   

 
 
ALLIANCE WITH MAMATA, OLIVE BRANCH FOR CPM 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, May 17: 
Sonia Gandhi may have described Mamata Banerjee as a “soulmate”, but Congress spokesman Jaipal Reddy today refrained from attacking the Left as part of his party’s “strategic approach” with an eye on likely political realignment at the Centre.

Reddy’s confusing signals once again highlighted a division in the main Opposition party about its future ties with the Left and Trinamul. Restless party leaders from western and northern India favour closer ties with the Left to grab power and dislodge the Vajpayee regime at the earliest.

But Sonia Gandhi, who has the last word, and a section of party leaders want to woo Mamata as part of the Congress’ long-term objective to restore its primacy in national politics. In Sonia’s scheme of things, reunification with Trinamul and the Tamil Maanila Congress would help bring back days of one-party rule as envisaged in the Panchmarhi declaration.

Asked to comment on CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet’s charge that the Congress went all out to defeat the Left with an “opportunistic alliance” with Trinamul and had a “tacit understanding with the RSS” in Kerala, Reddy said: “The CPM is yet to come out of its campaign rhetoric. With all its ideological follies, the CPM is a genuine secular party. We believe that the BJP is the biggest threat to secular polity.”

Reddy’s remarks may not be music to the ears of the Trinamul chief, who is still licking her wounds. But the party spokesman was not much concerned about Mamata or the leadership’s efforts to woo Trinamul for a possible merger. His responses made it clear that if forced to chose between the Left and Trinamul, the main Opposition party will opt for the former to keep “communal forces” at bay.

The Congress seemed divided on ties with the Left and Mamata. While a section of the party, including Sonia, is sympathetic towards Trinamul, others consider her a liability in the formation of an alternative government in case the Vajpayee regime falls.

The problem before Sonia is that the Bengal party unit is sharply divided on aligning with Mamata. The Congress chief is waiting for Mamata to send some “signals” for reunification. However, a powerful section of the party is trying to scuttle Mamata’s homecoming. They feel closer ties with Mamata will come in the way of a Congress-Left rapprochement.

Reddy also chose to ignore A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury’s criticism of party general secretary in charge of Bengal Kamal Nath. He said such “minor contradictions” were part and parcel of a vibrant party like the Congress.

   

 
 
BJP DIVIDED ON PANJA RETURN 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 17: 
The BJP is still pondering over the “political wisdom” of splitting the Trinamul Congress and welcoming Ajit Panja and company and aligning with Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal in Uttar Pradesh.

Sources said there was an emerging opinion in the BJP that rather than splitting Trinamul and isolating Mamata Banerjee, she could be “persuaded” to sever her links with the Congress and return to the NDA fold. Panja and four MPs have indicated that they were ready to part company with Mamata and come back to the NDA in return for ministerships and other positions. These MPs have given the impression that they were just waiting for the Prime Minister’s green signal.

However, a section within the BJP took a long-term view of the post-poll scenario in West Bengal and felt Mamata should not be allowed to “submerge” herself in the Congress.

“Though she lost these elections, the fact is that she is still the only rallying point of the anti-Left forces. If she is allowed to go with the Congress, she will get finished in its factional politics. We feel her Trinamul must be allowed to stand on its own feet and we on our part can help her revive her fortunes,” said a BJP functionary.

Sources also hoped that the Congress’ “ambiguity” vis-à-vis the Left — in view of it needing the Left and the People’s Front support to prop up an alternative government in case the NDA coalition fell — will help Mamata make up her mind faster. “There is no way she will tolerate any softness on the Congress’ part towards the Left,” stressed sources.

As for the RLD, sources said its pact with the BJP had run into problems on the issue of seat sharing for the Uttar Pradesh elections.

   

 
 
THE BURDEN OF PROTEST LITERATURE 
 
 
BY CHANDRIMA BHATTACHARYA
 
Mumnai, May 17: 
His shirt could do with a wash. So could his trousers. He stoops under the weight of the two huge bags he is carrying — they weigh about 35 kg and are full of books.

Salim Sabuwala, 41, is a roving bookseller with a particular bias — he sells only protest literature. A former Marxist student-activist who does not belong to any party now, he goes from one Left or Dalit meeting to another, carrying his ware of about 100 books.

At the ground, while the speakers are at it, he sets up his humbly-priced paperbacks, ranging from Ambedkar’s writings to Chintan, Baliraja to Rabindranath, on a piece of blue plastic sheet that he carries. Some days the business is good — Sabuwala had done quite well with the privately-printed copies of the Srikrishna panel report in 1998.

There are 200 men like Sabuwala in Mumbai. But what distinguishes him are his keen eyes, bright smile and attachment to Marxist ideology — and the fact that he was hauled up by the BJP for being a Muslim and daring to sell a critique of Ramayana.

Two weeks ago, Sabuwala, who also works as a lawyer’s clerk, had gone to the Kherawadi Ambedkar Jayanti meeting and set up “shop”. The meeting had started. A man came up and asked him a lot of questions. The next moment, a number of policemen, accompanied by BJP activists, rounded him up. Sabuwala was taken to the Nirmal Nagar police station. His books were seized.

One book in particular had invited the wrath of the Hindutvawallahs. It was Sacchi Ramayana — the True Story by Periwar Ramaswamy, a translation of the epic. The book was banned in 1969, says Sabuwala, but adds that it was lifted in 1972. It sees the epic from a Dalit’s point of view.

It possibly added to Sabuwala’s crime — selling a book on Ramayana despite his religion. “They called me a goonda and pushed and shoved me around,” he says. “They asked again and again: ‘Why should a Muslim sell such books?’”

The activists also lodged a police complaint saying Sabuwala sold objectionable literature. The bookseller was dragged by the police from one room to another by the scruff of his neck and detained at the police station till 3 in the morning. After that, a police van dropped him in front of his house in interior Andheri with the warning that he should behave in future.

Sabuwala’s story, however, took another turn when Mumbai’s eminent citizens — including filmmaker Anand Patwardhan — and several Left and Dalit activists took up his cause. The Nirmal Nagar police station issued an apology. Many of the books, including all his copies of Sacchi Ramayana, are with the policemen.

The police, however, are reluctant to discuss Sabuwala. “It’s over. I don’t want to talk about it,” said P.N. Suryavanshi, the inspector who issued the apology. The BJP said it was unaware of the incident.

Sabuwala feels reassured by the way things turned out, but is also a little wary. “I want the matter to be forgotten. I have to get on with selling the books anyway.”

He says he has to sell the books to supplement his income. “I love books, but the money-factor is important, too. Of course as I was part of the movement it was easier for me to access both people and books,” Sabuwala modestly says. “But I have to make a living out of this. I hope the matter ends here.”

His well-wishers hope for that, too.

   
 

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