Daughter gone astray is separated from son
Sailen murder suspects picked up
Buddha breaks Trinamul Writers’ blockade
RSS praise and Opp. flak for Atal
Battle of bigamy and bribery
Calcutta Weather

Calcutta, Aug. 20: 
As a police officer read out the charges in a gruff voice in a hushed courtroom, the woman in pale yellow salwar-kameez sneaked glances at the door and beyond.

In the second-floor corridor, lost in a swarm of people, stood a little boy clutching the hand of an elderly woman, his lost eyes looking for a home to land.

On her way out of the Mumbai court, Swati Pal — arrested in connection with the kidnapping of Parthapratim Roy Burman, owner of footwear-maker Khadim’s — picked up the child of about three years. “He is my son... only mine,” she said.

Back in Calcutta, Swati’s mother, Shobharani Pal, also had a brush with the law. She was brought to the CID headquarters at Alipore by police to collect information about her daughter.

This mother described her daughter as a “spoilt brat”.

Nonetheless, around the time Swati had started working on Roy Burman’s abduction with her associates, her mother was quietly shifted from her humble home at Baguihati’s Baguipara to an ashram in Salt Lake.

For the police, the jigsaw pieces in the kidnap puzzle have begun to fall into place. This ashram was run by Rabindranath Das, also arrested in the same case.

“I don’t know anything. How will I know what she has been doing in another land in the company of people unknown to me?” Shobharani asked.

Swati told her interrogators in Mumbai that she had made 15 calls to Das’ ashram in the week leading up to the abduction. Shobharani moved to the ashram a month before the kidnapping.

“We are certain that Swati had stayed there when she came down to meet some of the facilitators to the kidnapping,” a police officer said.

Officials said during interrogation, Swati had apparently disclosed that for over a month she had been keeping tabs on Roy Burman to establish a pattern in his routine.

Shobharani was asked why she became an inmate and stayed in an ashram that was raided by the police a week after the abduction. Disclaiming any knowledge of the kidnapping, or even Das’ connection with the Dubai-based gangster who had masterminded the crime, she said the only reason she had moved was her family’s association with “holy places” and the calm atmosphere at the ashram, from where she was picked up today.

Reticent at first, she began talking about her “estranged” daughter on persuasion by the police. Shobharani said that in recent years her meetings with her daughter had been few and far between and that Swati would not meet her even when she was in town.

Taking a break to sip a little water, Shobharani said with some difficulty that from childhood her daughter had been “wayward”. At a young age, Swati ran away from home with a man from the locality to Mumbai.

The two others arrested with Swati in Mumbai were both her husband, one former and one current. In Mumbai the joint commissioner of police (crime), B.S. Mohite, said she was arrested with her husband, Abdul Rahman, from their home at Bandra. Jamil Ahmed, her first husband, who was in the house at the time of the raid, was also arrested.


Calcutta, Aug. 20: 
Police today came close to scoring their second consecutive success by picking up two of the suspected killers of CPM leader Sailen Das.

The North 24-Parganas police raided a house at Baguihati today, grabbing Partha Ghosh alias Poltu, and his associate Debu Das. Poltu is suspected to have pulled the trigger on Das, chairman of the Dum Dum municipality, on August 13.

Yesterday, the CID had unravelled a large part of the plot to kidnap footwear-maker Khadim’s owner Parthapratim Roy Burman with the arrest of three people in Mumbai.

Dum Dum police claimed Poltu and Debu had been arrested but senior officers chose to use the term “picked up”.

“He (Poltu) is an accused in seven murder cases,’’ a senior officer said. “We have evidence to believe that he was one of the three killers. We are piecing together facts gathered in the course of investigations,’’ he added.

Earlier, another suspect, Ibrahim, was arrested from Sandeshkhali. He was believed to be the last owner of the motorcycle on which the killers had travelled to Das’ house on the morning of the murder.

A senior officer said investigators had begun to work on some leads provided by a source, Asgar. The police said it had become clear over the last few days that killers were hired to murder Das.

Sources said Asgar had informed the police that he had overheard a conversation that a “big crime will be committed in the neighbourhood and Poltu and Biswanath, two notorious criminals, are probably being engaged for the job’’. Asgar told the police that Poltu and Biswanath were seen with a promoter-rival of Das five days before he was murdered. Asgar, too, has been detained by the police.

Working on the information provided by him, the police first raided Poltu and Biswanath’s Dum Dum hideout. In subsequent raids on Sunday, the police detained five of their associates, one of whom broke down during interrogation and gave details of the place where Poltu and Biswanath were supposed to be hiding.

The police claimed that Poltu, who initially feigned innocence, cracked under sustained interrogation and took them to a house in the Arjunpur area of Baguihati. There they found Debu, who Poltu claimed to be an accomplice.

Some confusion still exists about the identity of Debu, the police believing him to be Biswanath Burman, one of the main accused in the case. Later in the evening, Biswanath’s brothers, Satya and Alok, were picked up from a Tiljala slum.

“We have reasons to believe Satya and Alok know a lot about the murder plan and the persons behind it. Police are working on some vital leads provided by the brothers,’’ an officer said. They are also looking for a person named Tapa.


Calcutta, Aug. 20: 
Politics of confrontation rocked the seat of power in Bengal today as the Trinamul Congress laid siege to the chief minister’s chamber at Writers’, forcing the government to match muscle with muscle late tonight.

Twenty Trinamul legislators, who squatted outside Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s room for over eight hours demanding an explanation for the crime spiral in the state, were bodily lifted out of the area by police. Some MLAs tried to resist and alleged that they were hurt in the melee that followed.

High drama preceded the crackdown as the MLAs insisted that they would budge only after Bhattacharjee met them. The chief minister had left for the CPM headquarters after meeting Ratan Tata an hour before the blockade started at 12 noon.

Minister after minister and several top officials, including the chief secretary, were cut off from the usual passages by the “line of control” formed by the protesting MLAs outside the first-floor corridor leading to the chief minister’s office. The Trinamul legislators had entered Writers’ in small groups to escape police attention.

But the No. 2 in the Bengal Cabinet, Nirupam Sen, refused to change his route and had his way.

Sen first implored the MLAs: “You have come to meet the chief minister. Then why are you trying to block my path? I would have been ready to give you a hearing if you wanted to meet me. But you have not come to see me. Please let me go as I have a lot of work.”

Asked to take a route that minister Mohammed Salim had used, Sen shot back: “This is the route I use and I will do so today also.” Salim had reached his room through Bhattacharjee’s ante-chamber.

As the legislators refused to relent, Sen tried to force his way through. Some policemen then cleared the way and helped Sen walk through, leading to a scuffle with the agitating MLAs.

But minister for water resources development Nanda Gopal Bhattacharya and his department secretary Ranu Ghosh, who were going to their chamber, went back when they came across the scene.

The siege comes almost eight years after Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, chaperoning a deaf and dumb rape victim, threw Writers’ into turmoil by seeking an appointment with then chief minister Jyoti Basu.

Another incident had occurred in 1984 when a group of Congress MLAs, led by Subrata Mukherjee, besieged the Assembly the day before the budget session was to commence. They, too, were bodily lifted and taken to Lalbazar after midnight.

This time, however, senior Opposition leaders like Mukherjee, Sougata Roy and Sovandeb Chattopadhyay did not participate in the protest.

The chief minister later described the Trinamul MLAs’ conduct as “undesirable”.

“I had met the MLAs in Midnapore on August 18 without any prior appointment. I am again scheduled to meet their leader Pankaj Banerjee on Wednesday. It will be wrong to consider our attitude towards the Opposition parties as a sign of our weakness,” Bhattacharjee said in a statement.


New Delhi, Aug. 20: 
As “the hidden agenda” returned to haunt the Prime Minister in Parliament today, the RSS displayed its newfound camaraderie with Atal Bihari Vajpayee by praising his statement on conversions.

The RSS also openly proclaimed that the government was striving to “saffronise education” and applauded human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi for “doing a good job”.

However, Joshi found it difficult to accept the compliment. Faced with fire from friends as well as foes in Parliament, the minister contradicted the RSS tonight and dismissed the Opposition charges of “saffronisation”. He said the government has not made any changes in the 1986 national policy on education.

Referring to Vajpayee’s statement on Saturday at a book release function attended by RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan, Sangh spokesman M.G. Vaidya told PTI: “The Prime Minister has endorsed our stand that Christian missionaries are engaged in forced conversions.”

The Prime Minister had said he “appreciated the Christian missionaries’ spirit of social service but not the conversions”. The meeting, where Vajpayee showered praise on the RSS, had set the stage for an undeclared truce between the Prime Minister and the RSS leadership.

“We are not against conversions to Buddhism or other Indian religions but conversion to Islam and Christianity turns a tolerant person into an intolerant person,” Vaidya said today.

But what was music to the ears of the Sangh hardliners on Saturday struck a jarring note in the House today. “How can the Prime Minister make such a comment?” asked the Congress’ Priya Ranjan Das Munshi.

Opposition members, led by Das Munshi, insisted that Vajpayee, who was not present in the House, must clarify his statement.

Das Munshi said the issue was important in the light of the Prime Minister’s earlier commitment in the House that his government was not pursuing any agenda except that of the NDA. The Congress chief whip alleged that Vajpayee’s remarks have again “exposed the hidden agenda” of the government. BJP members soon joined the fray, Vijay Kumar Malhotra “congratulating” the Prime Minister.

The All-India Christian Council termed Vajpayee’s remarks “unfortunate”.

On the charges of “saffronisation of education”, Vaidya said: “We are happy that the education ministry is working in that direction and Joshi is doing a good job. We are for saffronisation and value-based education. Saffron denotes purity, activity and renunciation and we want that the whole national life should be imbued with it.”


Guwahati, Aug. 20: 
Prafulla Kumar Mahanta tonight loaded his defence-rifle with ammunition provided by a news portal which claimed that a Congress heavyweight had “bribed” Sanghamitra Bharali to slap the “second-marriage” charge on the former chief minister.

AGP sources said Mahanta, forced on the backfoot by the allegation, “may have at last” found the answers to charges levelled by his detractors who are questioning his “moral integrity”.

“...Sanghamitra went across to the Congress and was paid Rs 1,500,000, handed to her by Sarat Barkatoki, a minister with the Congress government in Assam, to spill the beans of her roaring affair with Mahanta. The photographs of her and Mahanta together were allegedly handed over to the press by Barkatoki himself,” claimed the report — “Assam sex scandal: genuine stinker or political vendetta?” — posted in the news portal yesterday.

An angry Barkatoki tonight threatened to haul the website to court for “publishing” defamatory news “which says nothing except that I paid a hefty amount to Sanghamitra”. He added that he would consult chief minister Tarun Gogoi tomorrow to finalise the modalities for the legal suit.

A Congress spokesman, however, termed the news portal report “bogus” and argued that had the party “distributed” the photograph to the press, it would have appeared in all newspapers on the same day and not just in one. The photograph, showing Mahanta and Sanghamitra sitting side by side at a public function, was carried by The Telegraph on August 17.

According to the sources, Mahanta will be present at tomorrow’s crucial executive body meeting — convened to discuss the scandal — and give a “point-by-point” reply to the charges against him.

“Till now, the onus was on Mahanta to prove Sanghamitra wrong. But with the Congress leader facing the bribery charge, he will have to disprove the allegation,” a Mahanta aide said tonight.

The former chief minister is facing a virtual revolt by a section of partymen who want his “ouster” from the AGP. At a meeting of the AGP office-bearers this morning, angry members raised the demand for Mahanta’s removal from the post of president in the wake of the bigamy allegations. Mahanta’s supporters argue that his removal will do more damage to the party’s image.




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