Hawk turns new age messiah
Partner sees red at berth U-turn
Brother chides Panja, calls for peace talks
Asim for meet with Vajpayee
Bodo top guns in net after Siliguri hotel raid
Convicted Jaya turns corruption buster
Adoption Anita surrenders
Samata threat to BJP on Koijam
PM plays peacemaker in heartland
Stray simian creates chaos in capital

Calcutta, May 19: 
From the iron curtains at Alimuddin Street to boardroom sessions with business barons. Nirupam Sen’s new avatar could well be the first litmus test — as much for himself as for chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and the CPM. He has so far been the ideologue steeped in party rhetoric. He now has to transform himself into talking — and doing — business, with people who would have otherwise found him a usual suspect.

The importance of Nirupam Sen in Bhattacharjee’s — or the CPM’s — scheme of things is evident in the portfolio bag he will be carrying. Not only has he been given commerce and industry, he also has industrial reconstruction, public undertakings and planning and development. The four departments together make his charge the biggest agent for economic development in the state because these will involve some basic policy changes.

While in the planning and development department he is expected to outline the overall development and growth strategies, his handling of industrial reconstruction and public undertakings will show if he presides over the old legacy of loss-making state units or ushers in change by getting these burdens off the government’s shoulder. The policies in these areas will show the government’s promised new priorities, which, in turn, may go a long way to attract private capital in the state.

His first task would be to be recast the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation, in which he has to find a successor to Somnath Chatterjee as chairman and, more important, set the pace for the government’s new agenda.

In propping up Sen’s profile, the party has thought nothing of clipping the wings of finance minister Asim Dasgupta, who is divested of planning and development. Mrinal Banerjee, who held the departments of public undertakings and industrial reconstruction in the earlier ministry, has also been downsized to make room for Sen’s big package.

All this and more for Sen for two basic reasons. Industrial regeneration remains Bhattacharjee’s topmost priority. And the party puts one of its most trusted lieutenants to execute it. This, however, could cut either way, as his choice for the all-important task of the state’s economic facelift would raise a question about the party’s control over the government. “We make no secret that our party — strictly speaking, the Left Front committee — outlines the government’s priorities,” says a senior CPM leader.

Sen’s stature in the new Left Front government is matched by his steady rise in the party hierarchy. The 55-year Marxist took CPM membership in 1964, the year the party was born of the split in the CPI, became state committee member in 1984, Burdwan district secretary in 1989, state secretariat member in 1994 and central committee member in 1998. Before this time, he contested the Assembly polls only once — in 1987 — and was noted as a good speaker. Thereafter, he withdrew into the party shell.


Calcutta, May 19: 
The Forward Bloc’s request for two new departments ministries — forest and tourism — was today turned down by the CPM, which did a volte-face on the issue and decided to retain both the portfolios in the new Left Front Cabinet.

Instead, the Forward Bloc was offered the cooperation portfolio, which the party had held in the previous governments as well.

Observers said the CPM’s stand indicated its “big brotherly” attitude towards smaller partners though the party has lost its absolute majority in the Assembly. The Forward Bloc staked its claim to the two new departments in lieu of cooperation after its tally increased from 21 to 25. The CPM, on the other hand, lost seven seats and ended up with 143, five short of the majority mark.

The Forward Bloc had to reallocate the portfolios among its nominees at the last moment. State party secretary Ashok Ghosh announced this afternoon that according to fresh arrangements, its MLA from Dinhata, Kamal Guha, who was earlier promised the departments of forests and tourism, would get agriculture. Naren De, the legislator from Chinsurah, will be minister in the cooperation department.

The CPM had earlier promised to hand over the two portfolios of forests and tourism to the Forward Bloc leadership after it agreed to concede cooperation. “But today it is a loss of face for us as the CPM has gone back on its promise and taken away the two departments,” Ghosh said this evening. He said he was summoned to the CPM office last evening by former chief minister Jyoti Basu and politburo member Biman Bose and informed about the changes.

“We were left with option but to agree when both Basu and Biman pleaded that they could not part with the two departments due to protests by party functionaries,” Ghosh said, adding that he could not but to oblige “when leaders like Basu regretted the change in the party’s decision”.

Caught unawares, Guha, who was summoned to the party office, said he did not know anything about the portfolio changes. “Till yesterday, I was under the impression that I will have to head forest and tourism,” he said.


Calcutta, May 19: 
Ranjit Panja today called for immediate talks between Ajit Panja and Mamata Banerjee to sort out the problems that arose after his younger brother revolted against the Trinamul leader.

But the Trinamul MP felt his brother should not have broken party discipline. “Ajit did not do the right thing by attending the swearing-in ceremony when our party decided to boycott it,” he said.

“Ajit is one of the founder-members of the party and his grievances need to be addressed as he is one of us. There may have been some misunderstanding with him, but this can be removed once a proper dialogue is initiated with him,” Ranjit Panja said.

Sources said Mamata was non-committal about Ranjit Panja’s proposal but does not rule it out completely.

The elder Panja, who attended a meeting of Trinamul MPs at Krishna Bose’s south Calcutta residence last night, ruled out a split in the party and pledged his loyalty to Mamata despite her poll debacle. “I am with Mamata. There is no question of my deserting the party. If I really decide to leave Trinamul I will quit politics and go back to my professional work,” Ranjit Panja, a noted skin specialist, said.

He felt it would be wrong to blame Mamata alone for the party’s electoral defeat. “We are also part of the whole show and must share the responsibility,” he said.

He felt several factors, including wrong selection of candidates, lack of funds and proper planning, and the presence of BJP candidates sealed the fate of Trinamul nominees in 54 Assembly constituencies.

He conceded that his brother’s acts and utterances on the eve of the election affected the party’s poll prospects in some areas falling in his constituency, Calcutta Northeast. “Mamata toiled a lot, but did not get the desired result,” he said.

“She should have consulted the party conveners in all the 42 Lok Sabha constituencies over selection of candidates before finalising the list. We lost both Bongaon and Deganga to the CPM due to wrong selection of candidates. Besides, Congress workers did not help us in many areas in my Lok Sabha constituency (Barasat),” he said.

Trinamul MPs, who met at Krishna Bose’s residence last night, condemned Ajit Panja for defying Mamata’s directive and issuing statements against the party’s interests before and after the elections.


Calcutta, May 19: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will skip a crucial meeting on the economy with Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Delhi on Monday as he will be busy setting in order his new council of ministers.

The chief minister has deputed Asim Dasgupta to represent Bengal at the meeting on World Trade Organisation and its impact on the farm sector.

Dasgupta was the only minister present today at Writers’ Buildings to work on his presentation for the meeting.

“Please do not write finance minister before my name as the portfolios are yet to be announced officially,” Dasgupta requested reporters minutes before the portfolios were announced.

“The Indian government had no business to sign the WTO agreement without consulting the states. Agriculture is very much a state subject,” Dasgupta said.

“The absence of quantitative restrictions on 700 agricultural items will have a tremendous impact on the economy,” he said.

Dasgupta will also oppose the Centre’s move to dissociate itself from the public distribution system.

“The Centre cannot wash its hands of the public distribution system,” he said.

Dasgupta left Writers’ Buildings around 5 pm. The state secretariat, which was a hive of activity on Friday after the swearing-in of the sixth Left Front government, looked deserted today.

As the Left Front delayed announcing the portfolios, it was not immediately known where the various ministers would sit.

But as soon as the portfolios were announced, PWD officials rushed in to fix nameplates on the rooms. There will be hectic readjustments of rooms at Writers’ tomorrow.


Calcutta, May 19: 
Three militants of the National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB) were arrested from a hotel in Siliguri last night, confirming fears that the Northeast rebels are using the commercial town as the main transit point for procuring arms from neighbouring Nepal.

Inspector-general of police (intelligence branch), north Bengal, P.N. Saha said a team, made up of officials from the Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling police, raided a hotel in the town last night following a tip-off that an arms deal would be struck between a gun-runner and three top NDFB militants. The officials swooped down and arrested the militants, who gave their names as Raju Moachari, Janardhan Basumataray and Shivram Basumataray. However, no arms were recovered from the trio. A linkman, Shiman Iswari, too, was arrested.

“The three rebels have been arrested in connection with an arms conspiracy case registered against them at the Matigara police station on the outskirts of Siliguri,” Saha said, but refused to elaborate on what the conspiracy was.

Revealing that the militants had come to Siliguri to procure arms through a “linkman”, he said: “Though we did not recover any arms from the militants, we recovered Rs 1.93 lakh from them. We believe the money was part of the advance payment to be made to arms dealers. The militants have, however, maintained they had come here to buy computers.”

Assam IGP (special branch) Khagen Sarmah said in Guwahati that the state’s officials were in touch with their Bengal counterparts and a team will leave for Siliguri soon “to bring them back to stand trial”. A team is expected to leave on Monday. Asked if the Assam police database had any information on the names provided by the Bengal police, Sarmah said: “They are definitely NDFB militants.”

An intelligence source in Guwahati said the Bodo outfit had a “very well-stocked arsenal” which the rebels replenish frequently. Of late, the banned outfit has been under pressure following the liquidation of many of its cadre by security forces. Prior to the Assembly elections, intelligence agencies had warned of joint strikes by the Ulfa and the NDFB to disrupt the polls.

Intelligence sources in Siliguri said the arrests confirmed that Siliguri is increasingly being used as a transit point by these militants. “The Siliguri- Naxalbari-Kakarvitta stretch along the Indo-Nepal border is being used as the main transit route by northeastern militant outfits for travelling to either China or Pakistan from Kathmandu. This apart, Siliguri has over the years become a key centre for arms deals. Sophisticated arms are smuggled into Siliguri from Nepal and Bihar. From here, the arms are re-routed to Northeast outfits by a network of international arms dealers in coordination with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence,” a source said.


Chennai, May 19: 
Tamil Nadu’s new chief minister and ADMK chief Jayalalitha’s political career is replete with ironies. A Brahmin by caste, she heads a Dravidian party presumed to be the champion of non-Brahmin interests.

Jayalalitha was sworn in by the very Governor who had sanctioned her prosecution on charges of corruption. And now, to top it all, the chief minister has kept the prevention of corruption portfolio for herself. The prevention of corruption ministry is usually part of home, which has been held by the chief minister of the day for years.

The ADMK chief was barred from contesting the polls after her conviction in a corruption case.

Asked whether she had decided on the constituency she would seek election from, Jayalalitha said: “Not yet. All the 234 constituencies are mine.”

The senior-most among the rest, C. Ponnaiyan, an old-timer who is believed to have warmed his way back to Amma’s favour through her aide Sasikala Natarajan, has got finance.

Former Union law minister M. Thambidurai got education. Thalavai Sundaram, a lawyer who was rewarded with a Rajya Sabha berth for his zest in collecting crowds to heckle Subramanian Swamy in the high court is the minister in charge of public works. He was elected from Kanyakumari.

B. Valarmathi, a rabble-rouser who gives DMK chief M. Karunanidhi an earful every time she gets a mike, is in charge of social welfare.

Nineteen more ministers were sworn in today. The Cabinet strength has risen to 24 against the 25 of the previous DMK government.

Most are new faces — long-time party faithfuls with little mass base. They have the advantage of a relatively clean public image.

The first decision of the new Cabinet was to dissolve all co-operative societies. The Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) has been raising allegations about various irregularities in these co-operatives, which were in control of DMK men. Jayalalitha announced today that fresh elections to all the co-operative bodies will be held in September.

In Pondicherry, P. Shanmugham, the leader of the Congress-TMC coalition, is being retained chief minister.

Between them, the two parties have only 13 seats in the 30-member Assembly. But the ADMK, with three seats, has offered support to the Congress-led government. The ADMK had, however, fought the elections as a PMK-ally. The PMK has drawn a blank.

The Congress high command’s observers, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Motilal Vora, said party president Sonia Gandhi, who had been authorised to name the new chief minister, has cleared Shanmugham’s name.

His anointment comes after six days of intense political wrangling within the Congress. Even before the final announcement today, there was a drama of intrigue.

Last night, the choice had narrowed between Pondicherry Congress chief V. Narayanaswamy and Shanmugham.

The other contenders, V. Vaithilingam and Farook Maraikayar’s son, Shajahan, had been given the short shrift. But, it still remained a difficult choice. Narayanaswamy and Shanmugham had their own backers, though they had avoided the elections.

Even as Azad and Vora were hearing out the Congress MLAs, Shanmugham received a call from Chennai around 11 am. It is not clear who the caller was. Perhaps someone from the Tamil Nadu Congress or TMC leader G.K. Moopanar. But it was this call which sealed the issue and Narayanaswamy had to opt out.

“Shanmugham’s choice has been cleared by Sonia Gandhi, the party MLAs and the allies,” was all that Azad would say.


Hyderabad, May 19: 
The fortnight-long hunt for Anita Sen, main accused in the child adoption racket, ended today with her surrender this morning before a city court.

The director of the illegal adoption centre, Precious Moments, was remanded in judicial custody till May 30 by metropolitan magistrate N. Anand Rao. The CID has moved an application for her custody to complete their investigations. Both her sons, Monty and Stephen, were with her when she surrendered.

Sen, the wife of Andhra Pradesh additional director-general of police Swaranjit Sen, had been on the run ever since the lid was blown off the racket in the city and neighbouring Rangareddy district last month. The involvement of a high-ranking police officer’s wife had sent shock waves across the state.

With Sen remaining elusive, the government — under attack from the Opposition which alleged a cover-up — had issued a non-bailable warrant against her. It also announced a cash award of Rs 5 lakh for information on her whereabouts and alerted all airports to seal off possible escape routes. Last Thursday, Sarita, a close associate of hers, was arrested and remanded in judicial custody.

Documents seized from Precious Moments during last month’s police raid revealed that the centre had engaged in illegal adoptions, misusing permission from the Juvenile Justice Board to take in destitutes and co-ordinate their rehabilitation.

The government has asked the Child Adoption Resource Agency and the Voluntary Adoption Coordination Association to scrutinise all cases of inter-country adoptions handled by Precious Moments and the Indian Council of Social Welfare in the past five years. Sources said about two dozen cases of adoptions by residents of the US and Australia are being traced.

Sen’s husband and sons had been summoned before the CID for interrogation. It appears that the police were aware of Sen’s whereabouts but had allowed the IPS officer’s wife to come out on her own and surrender.


New Delhi, May 19: 
The most trusted ally of the Vajpayee government, the Samata Party, has threatened to withdraw from the NDA government if the BJP played a double game in Manipur.

The Samata Party has convened a meeting of its national executive on the party’s participation in the NDA government at 11 am on Monday. This follows the BJP’s refusal to issue whip to its 26 MLAs in the Manipur House to vote in favour of chief minister Radhabinod Koijam who is facing a confidence vote on Monday.

They had earlier threatened to withdraw support to the Jharkhand government if BJP became party to the toppling game in Manipur.

A question mark now hangs over the fate of the three-month-old Koijam-led People’s Front ministry. The ongoing battle between the state units of the Samata Party and the BJP has engendered a situation where imposition of President’s rule is a distinct possibility.

Another partner of the NDA at the Centre, the Manipur State Congress Party (Chaoba) led by Union minister of state for food processing Thounaoujam Chaoba Singh, has decided to support Koijam during the vote of confidence.

The other faction of the MSCP, led by Nipamacha Singh, has also decided to vote in favour of the confidence motion moved by the Koijam ministry.

Despite the decisions taken by both factions of the MSCP, Koijam is still short of a majority for surviving the revolt by dissidents inside the ruling People’s Front. Though the Central BJP leadership has directed its state unit to support the Koijam ministry, the dissident camp led by BJP legislature wing leader R.K. Dorendra Singh appears determined to oust Koijam.

With Speaker Sapam Dhananajoy now putting his lot with the dissidents, Koijam is neck-deep in trouble. So far, the chief minister has managed to survive because of strong backing from NDA convener George Fernandes.

The continuation of the Koijam government is a prestige issue for Fernandes as it happens to be the only Samata government in the country.


New Delhi, May 19: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has signalled that Uttar Pradesh will henceforth head his list of priorities.

Whether it is a decision on who would be nominated for the Rajya Sabha vacancy that has arisen in the state or sealing a pact with the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), Vajpayee is believed to have plunged himself into the affairs of the state.

Vajpayee has called a high-level meeting on May 23 to defuse the crisis brewing on who would fill the Rajya Sabha vacancy that has come up after Rajnath Singh resigned to take over as chief minister. BJP sources said Singh had promised to give the seat to Surendranath “Puttu” Awasthi, a former Congressman who quit his Assembly seat, Haidergarh, to enable the him to contest.

They admitted that given the state’s caste-fractured polity, winning Haidergarh would not have been a “cakewalk” for Singh. Thanks to Awasthi’s vigorous campaign among the upper castes, especially the Brahmins, the chief minister sailed through comfortably.

State BJP chief Kalraj Mishra has reportedly insisted that he should be given the nomination as a “consolation prize” for sacrificing his Cabinet post in the state to work for the party. Sources said Mishra is eyeing the Union surface transport minister’s post, earlier held by Singh. His reported keenness to shift to Delhi, they said, was an indication that the BJP may not return to rule Lucknow after the Assembly elections.

Vajpayee is likely to take a decision based on inputs from Uttar Pradesh and the Central leadership’s assessment before leaving for Manali for his annual vacation. The Rajya Sabha vacancies have to be filled up during June and July. The Hindi heartland is also likely to dominate discussions at the two-day meeting of the BJP’s Central office-bearers in Mussourie beginning tomorrow. One of the major issues to be discussed will be whether the polls should be held in October or March.

The BJP’s stand — endorsed by the Election Commission — is that, constitutionally, the Assembly’s tenure extends till March next year. Although elections were held in October 1996, the unclear verdict made it impossible for any government to come to power for nearly six months.

Politically, the BJP’s feedback is that its main opponent, the Samajwadi Party, is planning to launch a major campaign on how the state government is “dying to cling to power by hook or by crook”.

A public interest litigation has been filed in Allahabad High Court on the Samajwadi Party’s behalf, challenging the legality of extending the Assembly’s tenure beyond October. Legislators have been drawing salaries and perks from the day the results were notified. So, it was “unconstitutional” to stretch their privileges beyond the stipulated five-year term.

There is also a feeling that the longer the government lasted the more “discredited” it would be on all major fronts, like law and order, failure to redress farmers’ woes, bad power and water situation.

The session will also decide on the poll strategies. It has been more or less decided that the BJP would stick to its present allies like the Loktantrik Congress Party (LCP), Jantantrik BSP and Janata Dal (United). But there were fears that the LCP and JBSP may try and do business with the Samajwadi Party and the BSP, which seem to be on a surer wicket than the BJP right now.


New Delhi, May 19: 
The capital continued to reel under the monkey-man menace as thousands of hysteric people thronged the gate of Geeta Colony police station in East Delhi.

The crowd wanted to find out whether a monkey captured by the police was the same creature that was giving them sleepless nights for the past few weeks. The crowd was proved wrong. It was stray monkey of the kind found in plenty in the capital.

Kishan Lal, a dairy owner, was delivering milk packets on his bike. He was allegedly followed by an impish monkey for three hours. It even scratched Lal.

Lal went to the Geeta Colony police station. The monkey in a playful, perhaps angry mood, refused to be disciplined by the police officials. Three monkey trainers had to be called in to capture the animal.

As the news of a captured monkey spread, people wanted to catch a glimpse. The presence of mediapersons and TV cameras made people believe that the monkey man had been nabbed. The angry mob started pelting stones injuring the station house officer.

DCP, East, Manoj Kumar Lal said: “Lack of occupation has led bored and unemployed people into trying to get some excitement into their lives.” He has ordered the monkey to be released.

Amid the chaos, the captured monkey sat on a table at the police station door, feeding on bananas.

All this while, rumour and reality swirled and mingled as migrant labourers in the capital and its suburbs started going back to their villages fearing they might become the next victims of the elusive monkey man.

Rehmat, who was living in Loni on the Delhi-Ghaziabad border, packed off his wife and children to his native town, Muzzafarnagar.

Shyam, a 16-year-old student in Loni, now moves only with a group of friends. He said his father, a shop-keeper, is planning to send the family back to Uttar Pradesh till the panic subsides.

“All of us are psyched. My father is planning to close his store and return to our village. We will return to Loni after a month or so. By then we hope the monkey man will have stopped scaring us,” he said.

“We have stopped going to the bathroom alone. We insist that our parents accompany us,” said Hashim, a 14-year-old, in Old Seelampur.

“My mother has stopped complaining because for the past one week I have not loitered around on the roads,” he said.

Housewives have stopped cooking in the evening for fear that the stalker might attack when they are alone in the kitchen. Some of them are cooking in groups of three or four. Women are even having their baths together.

Asma, a young weaver in a handloom unit, said she was “woken up” this morning at the factory by what she thought was an “electric shock”. She even found scratch marks on her right arm.

Factory workers, especially young boys, have started leaving for home early and shopkeepers are downing shutters an hour earlier. In Noida and east Delhi, rickshaw-pullers have stopped ferrying passengers after dark.

“Earlier, I would earn Rs 150 a day. But, for the past one week, I am only making Rs 70, because I refuse to step out of my house after 7 pm,” said Alok, a Bengali rickshaw-puller.

A worker of a textiles shop said buyers have stopped coming even during the day. “Earlier, we would sell materials worth Rs 40,000 every day. After the monkey scare, our sales have dropped to as low as Rs 15,000.”

But not all workers can go home early. Taxi-drivers, for instance, are still expected to be on call 24 hours, monkey or no monkey. “We have armed ourselves with lathis and talwars,” said Baljit Singh, who runs a taxi service in east Delhi’s Patparganj.

In Seelampur, residents have armed themselves with pistols and rifles.

However, political parties have evolved their own ways of responding to the monkey man. The Youth Congress performed a monkey mukti yagna at Jantar Mantar. Subhash Gupta, a Youth Congress leader, was the main organiser of the yagna.


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