CPM fires civic failure salvo
Mamata copies Left on cadre
Resident shield for highway
Swiss relief in city bylanes
Engineering college in Bankura
Marksheet racket busted
Fake drugs flood Burdwan
Childhood lost to revolution & rifle
CPM sidesteps Beijing blots
Ajit grabs lion’s share of BJP leftovers

 
 
CPM FIRES CIVIC FAILURE SALVO 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Jan. 20: 
The CPM’s Calcutta District Committee today lashed out at the Trinamul Congress-controlled civic board for its “dismal failure” in all sectors concerning basic amenities.

“The civic board has done nothing to improve the upkeep of the city since it took over the reins in July 2000,” alleged Rabin Deb, CPM MLA from Ballygunje and a CDC secretariat member.

Deb said chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was present when former mayor Prasanta Chatterjee placed a resolution in the on-going CDC session highlighting various aspects of the city’s development. Another CDC secretariat member, Mohammed Nizamuddin, seconded the resolution.

The chief minister had also expressed unhappiness over the quality of civic amenities being provided by the board, according to party sources. Unveiling the CPM strategy to launch a “sustained” movement in support of its 59-point charter of demands, the MLA from Ballygunje announced that party workers might stage a sit-in in front of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation headquarters, as they did on July 25 last year.

The CPM leader, however, evaded a question on whether the party would also ask for mayor Subrata Mukherjee’s resignation. “Let us first mobilise public opinion against the Trinamul Congress-controlled board for scrapping development projects initiated by two former mayors — Kamal Bose and Prasanta Chatterjee,” he said. “If the people of Calcutta are with us, we can easily launch a vigorous movement against the present board,” he added.

Deb, however, vehemently opposed Mukherjee’s recent move to reorganise the committees of the 15 boroughs on the plea of initiating decentralisation of the civic administration.

Some of the major demands, including the disbursement of Rs 1,827 crore under the mega-city project, however, relate to the BJP-led government at the Centre, said the CPM leader. “We have already submitted a memorandum to the Union government on the proposed mega-city project, but nothing has been done so far,” he claimed.

Deb alleged that those at the helm of affairs in the present board did not draw up any plan to improve the drinking water supply system, or the drainage and sewerage systems in Behala, Jadavpur and Garden Reach. “The condition of the people of these areas consisting of 41 wards is the worst,” he observed.

The CPM leadership’s mounting criticism of the civic body is indicative of the party’s renewed bid to take control of the board if the Trinamul loses majority in the House.

With three Congress councillors, including the mayor-in-council member in charge of markets and street lighting, possibly coming under the anti-defection law for switching loyalties to Trinamul, the CPM, observers say, is keeping close watch on the developments. The CPM-led Left Front has 61 out of 141 councillors.

The district committee tonight re-elected Raghunath Kusari as its secretary. An 85-member committee, with 20 new faces, was constituted.

   

 
 
MAMATA COPIES LEFT ON CADRE 
 
 
FROM TAMAL SENGUPTA
 
Digha, Jan. 20: 
Mamata Banerjee has decided to take a leaf or two out of the CPM book. The Trinamul Congress chief, who accuses arch-rival Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee of “hijacking” her style of functioning to successfully woo the electorate during the May Assembly elections, now plans to make her party as cadre based as the ruling party.

As a first step, Mamata today proposed to recruit “party whole-timers” by educating select Trinamul activists who will work for the organisation in every block of the state. Like the CPM, the Trinamul chief also proposed to conduct “party classes” regularly at the block levels and plans to form a think-tank made up of Sougata Roy, Partha Chatterjee and Arunava Ghosh, all prominent MLAs.

Mamata told delegates at the inaugural session of the Trinamul Congress’ state council meeting here that her party’s performance in the Assembly polls did not match her expectations. “Large-scale rigging by the CPM was an important factor. But the time has come for self criticism and to explore possibilities for regaining political strength,” she told the delegates.

The Trinamul chief concluded that the CPM, particularly Buddhadeb, had copied her style of functioning just before the Assembly polls. “Buddha suddenly started visiting places and meeting people and used both the electronic and the print media very effectively before the polls. He (Buddha) had practically hijacked my style of functioning, while my party failed to keep contact with the people,” Mamata told her party’s leaders. She mentioned specific cases such as Buddha’s meeting with the family in Kasba whose son was killed by dacoits.

However, Mamata is now all set to turn the tables on the CPM and reorganise her party on the Marxists’ lines. The network of “party whole-timers” she plans to create will be her main source of strength in her fight against the communists.

Like the CPM, the Trinamul chief has also made it mandatory for the party’s Members of Parliament and Members of the Legislative Assembly to submit income-tax statements to the leadership. “All the MPs and MLAs should inform the party about their sources of income and provide details about the income tax they pay to the government,” she announced.

While announcing that her party will be with the 18-party National Democratic Alliance (NDA) that is now ruling the country, Mamata said she is not ready to give up the freedom to criticise the BJP-led coalition on important issues.

Trade union leader and party MLA Shovandeb Chatterjee even convinced Mamata that Trinamul should oppose the Centre’s decision to privatise public sector undertakings indiscriminately in the interests of the working class in Bengal.

Though Mamata described her alliance with the Congress during the May polls as a “blunder”, she did not categorically rule out an alliance between the Congress and Trinamul during the 2003 panchayat elections. “The Congress has re-established itself by taking advantage of its poll alliance with us. At the same time, it caused considerable damage to our party by providing indirect support to the CPM,” the Trinamul chief said.

“But an alliance between the two parties (Trinamul and Congress) in the panchayat polls does not depend on the state leadership of Trinamul. It is difficult to force the grassroots workers to forge any alliance with Congress in the panchayat polls,” she mentioned.

Mamata also demanded declaration of an economic emergency in the state in the wake of reports by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India indicting the state government of financial irregularities.

The session was attended by 760 delegates. Strangely, only 25 of the 60 Trinamul MLAs attended the session today, antagonising Mamata. Mayor Subrata Mukherjee was also absent till 4.30 pm.

   

 
 
RESIDENT SHIELD FOR HIGHWAY 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Behrampore, Jan. 20: 
Murshidabad district police have started forming transport protection committees to prevent bus and truck dacoity, hijacking and extortion on state and national highways.

Police will provide lathis, torches and uniforms to members of these committees — consisting of local youths, members of clubs and mass organisations — to guard designated stretches of highways at night. They will watch over stranded vehicles and ensure free movement of trucks and buses. Mobile police vans with armed police will patrol the highway.

Members of the protection panel will be paid out of subscriptions from truck owners and operators, bus owners and petrol-pump owners. According to senior district police officials, each committee will consist of 40-50 people and will guard a 10-15 km stretch.

“We have already formed a committee to guard the 5-km Dakbungalow-Pakur Road stretch under Samserganj police station and are getting excellent results. There are 52 youths on the job and dacoity on the stretch, which was a regular feature, has dramatically declined. Forty of those in the committee earlier were criminals,” said district superintendent of police Rajesh Kumar.

The highway, according to the police, is also the only one connecting the district with neighbouring Jharkhand.

The decision to form such committees come in the wake of chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s directive to the district administration to curb border crime and highway dacoity. During his visit to the district last month, Bhattacharjee asked the district magistrate and police superintendent to take stern action against the criminals and take steps to put an end to hooliganism.

“Despite additional forces it is impossible to make Murshidabad a crime-free district without the involvement of the people. So we planned to form transport protection committees and have sought the co-operation of all political parties in this venture,” the police official said.

On Saturday, police drove away from the Dakbungalow–Pakur Road people extorting truck operators for the last few months, Kumar said.

   

 
 
SWISS RELIEF IN CITY BYLANES 
 
 
BY SUNANDO SARKAR AND DEBASISH CHATTOPADHYAY
 
Calcutta, Jan. 20: 
It’s a Switzerland-born son’s journey to discover the bylanes of Dorjipara, his Bengali father’s birthplace. Helping him along is his Swiss mother. The by-product: a charitable project, named after his grandmother, set up to look after the health-care needs of people who spend half their lives on Calcutta’s pavements and the other half in one of the rooms of the neighbouring red-light area “entertaining” unknown faces.

Chandan Chattopadhyay, an MD in paediatrics from a Swiss medical college and president of the International Federation of Medical Students’ Association, will be — in his own words — “in seventh heaven” when Governor Viren J. Shah inaugurates the S.B. Devi Charity Home tomorrow.

The address Shah will visit, at Gulu Ostagar Lane opposite Sonagachhi, the city’s largest red-light area, will force him to get out of his car more than 100 yards away — it is too narrow to accommodate the first citizen’s car.

However, that has not prevented the charity home from being associated with a project that has the stamp of the University of Basel, Switzerland.

Chandan’s father, Kanailal Chattopadhyay, studied in Scottish Church School and then College, before moving to Switzerland, finding a job and then a soul mate, Ursula. But he kept coming back with his wife and son to his Dorjipara residence, the frequent visits ultimately transforming into a son’s resolve to give his father’s colony — its seamy underbelly et al — a health-care project that the most posh neighbourhood in the city would have been proud to call its own.

Chandan’s resolve took shape in 1990 when the charitable clinic employing all three branches of medicine popular here — allopathy, homoeopathy and ayurveda — treated its first patient. Tomorrow, after Shah inaugurates the new project running from a three-storeyed building with 3,000 square feet of space, it will be the only one in the city to have a machine than can — in 10 seconds — tell the patient’s weight, height, water-content, fat-content, the number of calories in the body and the number it needs.

“The project also includes a unique doctors’ interaction programme,” says project general secretary Shekhar Chattopadhyay, Chandan’s uncle. Doctors from Switzerland mostly come here to study tropical diseases and doctors from Calcutta go to Switzerland. It’s here — when fresh medical graduates who have not stepped out of the state enter Basel — that Chandan’s Bengali father and Swiss mother are indispensable. From teaching Bengalis the basics of German — people in Switzerland speak German and French and Italian — to telling the wide-eyed Bengali 20-year-old the “basic survival techniques” needed in a country that is different from Dorjipara.

More than two dozen medical graduates from city colleges teaching the three branches of medicine have already visited Switzerland for their post-graduate studies. “Their entire trips are sponsored,” Chandan said. “More than 60 Swiss graduates have, in turn, visited Calcutta institutions like the School of Tropical Medicine,” he added.

Chandan, bitten by wanderlust, has travelled all over Bengal, keeping a close eye on the state’s health-care institutions. “From centres that don’t have the basic services to hospitals aglitter with five-star polish, I have seen them all,” he says.

And the verdict: “A lot remains to be done, but there has been a definite improvement in the last decade.”

   

 
 
ENGINEERING COLLEGE IN BANKURA 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Bankura, Jan. 20: 
An engineering college run by the private sector is coming up in Bankura district.

The college, the Mallabhum Institute of Technology, is expected to start functioning from the next academic year. The Mallabhum Human Resource Development Trust has been formed to run the institution and the college buildings have been built on 200 bigha of trust land, according to the secretary of the trust, Dhurjati Banerjee.

Of the 300 seats of the college, 285 will be filled up from the merit list of the joint entrance examination. The remaining 15 will be reserved for non-resident India students. Sixty of the seats will be reserved for women.

The subjects include information technology, computer science, industrial engineering and management. Banerjee said former IIT professors and Jadavpur University teachers would be among the staff.

The secretary of the trust said the Burdwan University had already given its approval and the state government had given “no objection’’. Approval from the AICTE is expected by the end of the month.

   

 
 
MARKSHEET RACKET BUSTED 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Midnapore, Jan. 20: 
Police have busted a Madhyamik marksheet racket in Paschim Midnapore district and arrested two of the brains behind the operation.

A huge number of fake marksheets, admit cards and certificates have been recovered from them.

The police started an investigation to trace the people behind the racket after receiving complaints from authorities of the Industrial Training Institute at Kharagpur that two students from Keshpur had procured admission to the institute by producing fake Madhyamik marksheets.

The police arrested the students who confessed that they bought the marksheets and certificates from one Prabhas Patra, owner of a tutorial college.

A special police force raided different places in Midnapore and Calcutta and arrested B.P. Singh, the kingpin, from Taltala area last night.

   

 
 
FAKE DRUGS FLOOD BURDWAN 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Burdwan, Jan. 20: 
Police officials are leaving no stone unturned in their efforts to check the manufacture of fake medicines that have flooded the district headquarters.

Spurious drugs have swamped medicine shops in Burdwan, especially in the rural areas. Though the racket has been going on for some time, police failed to trace the culprits.

The district administration woke up only when a child fell ill after consuming spurious drugs here last week. District police then raided medicine shops in the area and recovered huge quantities of fake medicines. It has been learnt that the miscreants used to imitate popular drugs such as polybion, hemfer, dexorange and various cough syrups.

“They used to sell medicines after making a few spelling changes. The designs of the labels and the packaging were also done so carefully that they were almost impossible to differentiate from the original. We have started combing operations at various places and the miscreants will be arrested soon,” said a senior district police officer investigating the case.

   

 
 
CHILDHOOD LOST TO REVOLUTION & RIFLE 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Somewhere along the Orissa-Jharkhand border, Jan. 20: 
There’s not a hint of a smile on that young face, no fun in those eyes. He means business, this kid. He’s 11, but some years ago he left his childhood behind.

Manoj left school when he was in Class III. His parents couldn’t pay his fees. That’s how it all began. That’s why you would see slung across his shoulders not a schoolbag but a semi-automatic rifle.

He fixes you with his adult gaze as he tells the story in his high, childish voice. A small, simple story, with a neat message. There was this tiger in his village that mauled two people. The villagers later killed the big cat. “But I don’t want to kill tigers. This,” — he pats his rifle, the pride peeping into his eyes — “is for the enemies of society. Yeh kranti layega (This will bring about the revolution.)”

This kid means every word he says.

But sometimes, quite unawares, childhood catches up with these neo-converts. Fifteen-year-old Jitendra looks almost happy, if a little lost, as he handles his small walkie-talkie. He could be fondling a shiny new toy.

He fiddles with the buttons for a long time till the walkie-talkie crackles to life. “Jisko aana tha, woh aa chuke (Those who were supposed to come have arrived),” he shouts. And then, in a difficult accent: “Do you hear? Do you hear?”

The man at the other end does, but faintly. “Change your battery” comes the advice.

This could all be some big, elaborate game, played by a gang of grim teenagers. Only, it is chillingly real, down to the last detail.

These are early days for Manoj and Jitendra. Soon, they will learn the secret code system, they will take part in “people’s raids” — or attacks on police stations and the houses of rich landlords. Now, they are learning to live the hard life.

Eighty per cent of the PWG’s new recruits are teenagers with girls making up for some 25 per cent of them. “We realised the need to induct youngsters. They grow up getting used to the group’s culture,” says Sharavan, a central committee member of the PWG.

That would mean breakfast of wet channa and molasses, lunch of chapati and sabzi, and dinner of rice and dal.

“There are times when we have to go without a bath for days. But then, if there are rivers to cross, how can you resist?” says Atish. He’s 12.

For him it’s a simple bath, for Karim, it was a girl. Karim’s 18. He was recruited a year ago and became commander. But he also fell in love with 15-year-old Anita, who joined around the same time he did.

“I told my superiors about my feelings for her. They said fine,” says Karim.

So they were married in a simple ceremony with both of them taking their vows with their hands on the Red Book.

Sometimes they don’t get to meet for days. “But we make up on off-days, when we can stay outside the jungle,” says Anita, soldier-like in her uniform.

Ask Karim why he joined the People’s Guerrilla Army, and he tells you frankly that it was either this or sure death from malaria.

But surely not too many people die of malaria. “See, there were no doctors in the village. Sooner or later…. Better to die fighting, no?”

And Anita? She was with her mother in a school run by the PWG. “But when she died, there was nowhere to go….”

Sushmita is from Bengal though she’s spent most of her life in Ranchi. She was married, but her husband deserted her. She left home, joined a trade union movement in Dhanbad, and then the PWG.

She’s 25, a sturdily built woman who’s been trained in Andhra Pradesh. She’s taken part in a number of operations. “I have deep respect for my leaders. Here, they respect the dignity of women.”

Sushmita is among the older lot, an adult among teenagers playing grown-ups with SLRs and Kalashnikovs.

“The young play an important part,” says leader Santosh Kumar. “They grow with the cadre, and then are inducted into the ranks based on their merit.”

But, like all teenagers, don’t they want to have some fun? That’s when you hear the first rippling giggle, clear and loud.

“We are not allowed to watch films,” says one of them. “We dance to the beat of tribal tunes. But five years ago, I watched a Shah Rukh film….”

   

 
 
CPM SIDESTEPS BEIJING BLOTS 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, Jan. 20: 
Every political party is selective about the facts it chooses to highlight regardless of ground realities. The CPM is no exception.

The party’s new political resolution, to be discussed at the forthcoming congress in March, lauds China’s economic achievements but does not say a word on the widening gulf between the rich and the poor.

Instead, it talks at length on how the process of “restoring capitalism” in former socialist countries has led to a “fall in the living standards of the people, increased poverty, unemployment and violent ethnic conflicts”.

“China’s steady economic growth of around 8 per cent annually stands out strikingly in the present global scenario. US imperialism, after having blocked China’s entry into the WTO for nearly a decade, has had to relent,” says the political draft.

It does not waste time on the dark side of the Chinese economy — the complete absence of labour laws in the export processing zones, the use of child labour — or the strict code of work ethics and professionalism enforced in workplaces.

There is just a line on the “negative consequences” of the economic reforms. “We hope China’s efforts to combat the negative consequences of economic reforms will further strengthen the world’s biggest socialist country,” says the CPM. On the other hand, the party has a lot to say on how disastrous capitalist policies have been in the erstwhile socialist countries.

“In these countries, the process of restoring capitalism was accompanied by one of the biggest loot of economic resources in recent history,” the political resolution says. It goes on to add that the disastrous results were reflected in declining living conditions and increasing poverty.

Disaffection with these economic policies, according to the CPM, has led to a resurgence of Communist parties. “In Russia, the Communist party has emerged as the largest group in Parliament in successive elections. The revival in the influence of the Left parties reflects popular discontent with the process of capitalist restoration.”

The political resolution ignores the fact that the socialist economy had failed to deliver and the erstwhile Soviet Union, one-time bulwark against capitalism, was steeped in recession. Instead, the resolution makes sweeping generalisations that do not fit in with the genesis of the fall of Socialist countries.

The party’s attack on the US is as unbridled as ever. The draft says America is seeking to replace the “struggle against terrorism” with the slogan of “struggle against communism”.

   

 
 
AJIT GRABS LION’S SHARE OF BJP LEFTOVERS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 20: 
The BJP today capitulated to the pressure of its allies and decided to contest 320 of the 403 seats in the Uttar Pradesh elections.

Of the remaining 83 seats, Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) has bagged the largest chunk with 37 while Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party is expected to get nine seats. Maneka Gandhi’s Shakti Dal is likely to get five or six seats.

Fifteen seats have been given to the Janata Dal (United) to “reward” its leader Sharad Yadav’s “success” in spiriting away Yadav MPs of the Samajwadi Party. The remaining seats are reserved for the breakaway groups of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

The BJP had originally pegged its claim at 325 plus, but was forced to climb down after Ajit Singh stuck to his demand for 60 seats and threatened to field rebels. RLD sources said even now they would be forced to accommodate some aspirants who were left out of the BJP list by putting them up as Independents with Ajit Singh’s “blessings”.

BJP sources from western Uttar Pradesh — where the alliance with the RLD is expected to work — admitted to resentment among the cadre because sitting seats were given away. For instance, three of the BJP’s sitting seats in Bulandshahar went to the RLD. Ditto for Meerut, Muzaffarnagar and Baghpat. Even the Govardhan Assembly constituency in Mathura, regarded as a “sure-fire” BJP seat, was given to the RLD.

A BJP Jat MP said: “The RLD’s record has been anything but spectacular. In Bulandshahar, for example, its candidate could not poll more than 23,000 votes in the last two Lok Sabha elections.” He added that he did not expect the alliance to produce the kind of “miracles” the Delhi leaders hoped for.

“Our activists are disappointed. The leaders will have to use all their persuasive skills to make them come out of their homes and work for the alliance,” the MP said.

Opinion was not unanimous within the BJP on obliging its allies. Some leaders, notably state party chief Kalraj Mishra, felt that the BJP should contest the maximum number of seats to better its chances of emerging as the single largest party.

He reportedly argued that if the party fell short by 40 or 50, the BJP could have a post-poll arrangement with the BSP and form the government. Mishra has a good rapport with BSP leader Mayavati.

Besides, Mishra contended that parties like the Lok Janshakti and Dal (U) have a track-record of being “unreliable”. Though their leaders are ministers in the Vajpayee Cabinet, he is believed to have expressed doubts on their ability to rein in their legislators if it looked like a close call for the BJP and its principal adversary, the Samajwadi Party.

State chief minister Rajnath Singh, on the other hand, was apparently against any truck with Mayavati, given the fact that he was instrumental in breaking up her party after the BJP and the BSP severed their alliance in 1998.

BJP sources said Singh was “remarkably resilient” when it came to dealing with disparate allies. The sources added that from his standpoint, it made mores sense to have more smaller partners than one big one like the BSP.

   
 

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