Cong beats Trinamul to tariff strike
Municipal poll drubbing blunts Mamata edge
Madarsa cell sought in SSC
N. Bengal teachers’ result today
Court boost for food firms
Snap visit nails truant doctors
Blast shatters complacency
Gujarat’s most-wanted in police net
Blushes for guest Modi, not for brides
Sonia opens President’s mind

 
 
CONG BEATS TRINAMUL TO TARIFF STRIKE 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, May 28: 
The Congress today called a 24-hour Bengal bandh on June 14 in an attempt to hijack contentious issues involving farmers, teachers and power consumers of Calcutta and Howrah from Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress.

The party had last enforced a bandh in 1994 over the murder of Forward Bloc MLA Ramjan Ali in the legislators’ hostel. It had called another strike in 2000 in protest against the Keshpur killings, but withdrawn it later. The last bandh in the state was on April 17, called by the Left trade unions in protest against the Centre’s “anti-people policy”.

The June 14 bandh, scheduled for a Friday, adds another holiday to the calendar and affords many an opportunity to watch a few World Cup matches. There are no holidays in sight before August 15.

The call comes a day after Mamata’s threat to organise one in protest against the Madhyamik board’s blunder of issuing certificates with wrong dates.

State party chief Pranab Mukherjee, flush from his party’s success in the municipal polls at Nalhati and Cooper’s Camp, announced the bandh this afternoon. It was called to protest against the distress sale of paddy, a faulty list of people living below the poverty line, delayed payment of teachers’ salaries and the increase in electricity tariff by the CESC, he said.

“The poor people in the state are being deprived. The government doesn’t have money to pay the teachers their salaries. People have lost faith in the Trinamul leaders and Mamata. If the Congress can launch movements over issues related to the people, it will soon emerge again as the principal opposition power in the state,” Pranab said.

Sensing that the strike was aimed at taking the wind out of Trinamul’s sails, leader of the Trinamul legislature party Pankaj Banerjee alleged that the bandh was called under direct instructions from Alimuddin Street. “It (bandh) has been called simply to dilute our movement. The Congress has called it from their office while Trinamul workers were slogging over the same issues on the streets. We not only oppose this bandh, but condemn the way it has been engineered,” he said.

The CPM opposed the bandh, saying it was “unjustified and uncalled for”. State secretary Anil Biswas said the Congress had no moral right to call a bandh as not a single farmer had committed suicide due to extreme poverty.

“What is their (Congress’) government doing in Kerala where hundreds of farmers are committing suicide due to poverty?” Biswas asked.

He added that the government will complete its statistics on people living below the poverty line on May 31, but the Congress has already called a bandh. “Teachers in many Congress-ruled states are not getting their salaries for months. In Bengal they are getting salaries every month. But there may have been some delay,” he argued.

Asked why they were protesting against the tariff hike as the rates are not fixed by the government, a Congress leader said the CESC hike would affect common people. “Whoever may fix the tariff, it is the common people who will suffer,” said Pradip Bhattacharya, PCC vice-president.

   

 
 
MUNICIPAL POLL DRUBBING BLUNTS MAMATA EDGE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 28: 
The municipal poll results announced today handed a whipping to Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress. The CPM-led Left Front was on top of the heap as usual, followed by the Congress, signalling a political turnaround in Bengal.

The Left, which has made a habit of winning elections in Bengal over the past 25 years, swept the polls, also picking up the newly-formed municipalities of Panskura in Midnapore and Dhupguri in Jalpaiguri.

The Dhupguri win is significant as quite a few chinks in the rock-solid Left unity were exposed when the CPM was confronted by two Front partners, the Forward Bloc and the RSP.

The Congress, often scorned by Mamata as the CPM’s ‘B’ team, turned in an impressive performance — judged in the context of its low expectations — securing the new Nalhati municipality in Birbhum and retaining Cooper’s Camp in Nadia.

“We knew we would do well because we have always been working for the people,” said CPM state secretary Anil Biswas. “What is surprising is the Congress’ performance. It is not time yet to say whether it will emerge as the main political opponent in the near future, but they have done well,” he added.

The drubbing at Nalhati, Durgapur and Coopers’ Camp came as a personal blow to Mamata as she had spent a substantial time there to lead the Trinamul campaign.

In Cooper’s Camp, Congress nominee Sankar Singh, a protégé of Somen Mitra who is one of Mamata’s pet hates, won comfortably. The Trinamul chief had accused him of using money, muscle and CPM patronage during the campaign.

Interestingly, Trinamul, which won the Panskura Lok Sabha seat by defeating Gurudas Dasgupta of the CPI, could pick up only four of the 17 seats in the first-ever municipal election there.

Mamata had skirted Panskura during canvassing because the party workers defied her whip and stitched an alliance with the Congress, which bagged one seat. The new municipality went under the control of the two communist parties — the CPM and the CPI.

The CPM retained Durgapur, the largest civic body outside Calcutta, and consolidated its position in the Howrah civic body, retaining two seats in the byelections. The Congress won the other one.

   

 
 
MADARSA CELL SOUGHT IN SSC 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 28: 
A delegation of the Paschimbanga Madarsa Sikshak Samity today met chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and demanded a special cell under the School Service Commission to recruit teachers for madarsas. Nearly 500 posts of teachers are lying vacant in the institutes.

The seven-member team, which held an hour-long discussion with the chief minister, also demanded abolition of posts under the SC/ST quotas. They wanted 25 per cent of jobs in government and non-government organisations to be set aside for those passing out of madarsas.

Samity secretary Nurul Haque told reporters that Bhattacharjee had assured “cooperation” and was “sympathetic” to their demands. The chief minister promised to expedite the process of granting recognition to nearly 600 madarsas. There are now 560 government-recognised madarsas.

The memorandum submitted to the chief minister tried to clear the “misunderstanding” following his observation on unauthorised madarsas, saying “the very syllabus approved by the secondary education board for all other schools is followed in the madarsas. The only difference is that Arabic of 100 marks is taught in junior high and high madarsas. There is no reason to believe students from madarsas become fundamentalists”.

Haque said they were not averse to introducing computer education and vocational training. He stressed the need to introduce vocational training to generate self-employment for the unemployed youths.

Youth run over

A 28-year-old youth Naimul Islam was run over by a truck at Nischintipur near Rampurhat on the state highway.

Police said the truck crushed Islam when he was walking along the road.

The truck driver fled with his vehicle.

   

 
 
N. BENGAL TEACHERS’ RESULT TODAY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 28: 
The School Service Commission will publish the results of the north Bengal region tomorrow. The results will be put up in the district magistrate’s offices in Murshidabad, Malda, North Dinajpur, South Dinajpur, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar.

The results of the western region will be published on May 31.

Commission chairman Arun Kiran Chakraborty said the commission will name a panel of about 1,700 candidates, who had cleared the written examinations and interviews. Teachers in various north Bengal schools will be recruited from this panel.

Malda is the headquarters of the northern region.

“This is the first time we are going to make the results available in the offices of the district magistrates. Side by side, the successful candidates will be receiving appointment letters,” Chakraborty said.

The commission decided to put up the results in all the districts following a request from candidates. Earlier, it used to display the results at the regional headquarters.

“We have responded positively to the request and decided to display the results at the office of the district magistrates,” Chakraborty said.

   

 
 
COURT BOOST FOR FOOD FIRMS 
 
 
BY OUR LEGAL REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 28: 
Thousands of small and medium-scale industries in West Bengal got a fresh lease of life after Calcutta High Court directed the health directorate to bring the protean food products under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954.

In 1995, the directorate had issued a notification, declaring that food supplements, vitamins and minerals would come under the purview of the Drug and Cosmetics Act, 1940.

The announcement had landed thousands of manufacturers of food supplements like salsa in trouble. They needed to obtain fresh licences from municipalities and panchayats. But they declined to issue the licences, pushing such firms to the brink. Moreover, the owners faced harassment due to police raids.

The Protean Food Manufacturers’ Association then filed a case in the high court, challenging the notification. The petitioners’ counsel, Mujibur Rahman, argued against the state’s move, showing that the Central food department had decided to bring the food supplements under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act in a special meeting in 1995.

Justice K.J. Sengupta, in his judgement, asked the health directorate to test the products in question and consider bringing them under the PFA Act within 12 weeks if they were found to be food supplements.

The judge also directed that the police should not raid these firms till the tests are over.

   

 
 
SNAP VISIT NAILS TRUANT DOCTORS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Behrampore, May 28: 
The Murshidabad district zilla parishad health committee today recommended suspension of five medical officers and issued showcause notices to another 10 medical officers and 15 employees of the state-run Behrampore New General Hospital for dereliction of duty.

The decision was taken after the doctors and hospital employees were found absent during a surprise visit by a three-member district task force.

The task force, comprising Sachidananda Kandari, zilla parishad sabadhipati and chairman of the district health committee, district magistrate Manoj Panth and chief medical officer Niharendu Deb, arrived at the hospital at 9 am and found the employees concerned missing. All of them have been asked to give reasons for their absence.

The hospital’s outdoor department is supposed to open at 9 am. But the task force members were surprised to find the eye, dental, orthopaedic, surgery and general wards locked with hundreds of patients waiting outside. The wards could not be opened for another hour in the absence of doctors and other hospital staff.

The district magistrate ordered Sultan Sardar, husband of Class IV employee Zaheda Bibi, who came to work as her “replacement” to leave the hospital immediately.

Orthopaedic surgeon Amiya Bera, outdoor department in-charge, was found in his chamber, engaged in private practice. When asked why he was not in hospital, Bera said: “I am attending my chamber after completing a round in the hospital in the morning.”

Hasina Bibi, a resident of Kaladanga village, told Panth Bera had asked her to bring her son to his private chamber for treatment of a fractured finger. Bera allegedly said her son would not get treatment in the hospital.

Zilla parishad officials said they had recommended action against the errant doctors and hospital employees to the health department through the chief medical officer because they did not have the powers to take direct action.

   

 
 
BLAST SHATTERS COMPLACENCY 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, May 28: 
The daring attack on paramilitary personnel near Bhutan Ghat on Sunday had caught the security forces off guard and exposed their complacency, said a senior police official.

“It was something that was only waiting to happen. The incident is a clear signal from the Ulfa, Kamtapuri and Bodo militants not to take them for granted. The Ulfa-NDFB-KLO has made their presence felt. The blast was a warning that the security forces should not mess around with the combine. Our complacency was too evident in the fact that we had so far overlooked (the possibility of) such an attack,” he told The Telegraph.

Intelligence officials based in Siliguri said repeated warnings to the police that the militants were relocating their camps closer to the state boundary and were increasing their activities in the wildlife sanctuaries went unheeded.

“Though a few CRPF camps were established in the region in the wake of heightened insurgent activities, no counter measures were taken. Sunday’s blast was the handiwork of the Ulfa, which has perfected such operations and has been using them to devastating effect in Assam. It was a typical Ulfa operation,” an intelligence official said.

He added that earlier it was thought that the militants were using the dense Buxa Tiger Reserve, Jaldapara, Chapramari and Mahananda wildlife sanctuaries only as a corridor to cross over to Siliguri to procure arms and supplies. But the blast and the fierce encounter last month in the Jaldapara sanctuary point to the fact that the region is turning into a hotbed of extremism.

“The Ulfa-KLO-NDFB combine has relocated at least four of its camps from Kalikhola on the Bhutan side (of the border) westwards to Bhutan Ghat and the Jayanti hills. The militants have a free run of the dense forests south of their camps within Indian territory,” the official added.

   

 
 
GUJARAT’S MOST-WANTED IN POLICE NET 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Ahmedabad, May 28: 
Exactly three months after the Naroda-Patia carnage, police claimed to have arrested Babu Bajrangi, the Ahmedabad district Bajrang Dal chief and leader of the mob that burnt alive more than 90 people in Naroda-Patia on February 28.

Ahmedabad VHP general secretary Parmindersinh Rajput and BJP activist Kishan Torani have also been arrested. All three were named in the Naroda-Patia case and had been absconding. They were rounded up last night after a raid by the police.

According to the police, Babu Bajrangi, alias Babu Patel, who was also accused of being involved in the 1998 riots, was arrested from his house along with Rajput.

Torani was also picked up from his house. An active BJP member known for his passion for cars, Torani used to drive home minister L.K. Advani’s car whenever he was in town.

Sources said the three accused had actually surrendered. However, the police insisted that they were arrested.

The arrest is being labelled as the “biggest crackdown” since the arrival of the chief minister’s security adviser, K.P.S. Gill, who had announced that the accused would be arrested irrespective of caste, creed and political affiliation.

With Gill coming into the picture, a message had been sent out to those members of the VHP and the Bajrang Dal whose names figure in the FIRs to surrender or face the consequences.

The three accused surrendered after the VHP and the Bajrang Dal directed them to do so. There is no way they could have evaded arrest, sources said.

Reacting to the “arrest”, state VHP vice-president Haresh Bhatt strongly defended Bajrangi’s innocence, claiming he had been falsely implicated under a conspiracy to malign the VHP and the Bajrang.

Muslim leaders, however, dismissed the arrest as an “insignificant development” and an “eyewash”.

“Can the police arrest the big fish? We will be satisfied only when state VHP joint secretary Jaydeep Patel and BJP MLA from Naroda-Patia Mayaben Kodnani, are arrested. Their names also figure in the FIR. Let the police arrest them,” said Mohsin Qadri.

Sources said the police were unable to arrest Bajrangi and the others because of pressure from state home minister Gordhan Zadhaphia and a top VHP leader. However, their luck ran out with Gill’s arrival.

The situation in Godhra, where indefinite curfew was clamped following group clashes and arson on Friday, was peaceful today. There was no report of any untoward incident from any part of the town, police said.

However, tension prevailed in Danilimda area of Ahmedabad last night after some miscreants burst crackers, creating panic among the residents. Precautionary night curfew continues in 10 police station areas of the city.

Commonwealth

Britain has made it clear that the Commonwealth is not the right forum to deal with the recent violence in Gujarat, reports PTI from London.

“The Government of India has strongly condemned the violence in Gujarat and has given assurances, which we welcome, that they will take action to bring to justice the perpetrators of the attacks. In the current circumstances, we do not believe that the Commonwealth is the right forum to deal with this issue,” Baroness Amos, parliamentary secretary, foreign and Commonwealth office, said in the House of Lords yesterday.

   

 
 
BLUSHES FOR GUEST MODI, NOT FOR BRIDES 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, May 28: 
Marriage is a gamble — who doesn’t know that. But why should guests get a stage fright? They can, if the wedding card is from a relief camp and the man invited is Narendra Modi.

The Gujarat chief minister will have to think twice, maybe even thrice, before he decides whether to attend or skip the samuh-vivah (mass marriage) at the Sonal relief camp in Juhapura where 25 couples from different shelters will tie the knot on May 30.

If he does go for the wedding, Modi could well invite the wrath of hardliners who are bound to read signs of “Muslim appeasement”. Even if they choose to ignore it, Modi does not know how the riot victims, who blame him for destroying their lives, are going to react to his presence.

Modi’s aides don’t want him to go. “He should not visit the camp to bless the couples,” said one. “The riot victims living there are not going to welcome him. It would be embarrassing if he is hooted out by the inmates” — a possibility even the camp organiser concedes.

In the last three months, the chief minister has visited only two relief centres, that too when Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee came to the state on April 4. Though he had wanted to go to one of the camps before Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s visit in March, the camp’s organisers had told him it would not be safe as the inmates were still seething in anger.

“There is no certainty that Muslims will not be provoked on seeing the chief minister,” said Nazir Vora, the in-charge of the Sonal camp.

Besides Modi, the organisers have invited Congress leader Amarsinh Chaudhary and Shankersinh Vaghela, both former chief ministers. “If all three turn up, we will utilise the opportunity to show them what Muslims had to face in the area,” Vora said.

The camp in-charge intends to take Chaudhary and Vaghela around the locality to show them the burnt houses and spots where Muslims were “butchered”, but ruled out taking the chief minister with them. “But we certainly want him to come and see our condition, the ordeal Muslims have to go through,” he said.

Banobibi, a camp inmate is, however, least bothered whether the dignitaries come or not. Her 18-year-old daughter Sabnambano is one of those tying the knot. For a widow who lost everything in the carnage, her daughter’s marriage is the sole silver streak in a grey world — and the presence of Modi and Co. hardly matters.

Sabnambano had met the boy, Nashir, just three days ago in the camp. A tailor by profession, Nashir had expressed his willingness to marry a girl living in some relief camp. On Saturday, he was shown a couple of girls in the Sonal camp and selected Sabnambano. The girl also liked him, said Mumtaz Bano Ajmeri, a social worker.

Except for Sabnambano, who would move to a house in Juhapura, the other girls who are getting married — like Nurjahan and Yasmeen — will move from one relief camp to another. But they are all grateful to Vora, who is organising the mass wedding.

   

 
 
SONIA OPENS PRESIDENT’S MIND 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, May 28: 
The stage is set for an acrimonious trial of strength between the National Democratic Alliance and the combined Opposition over who the next President will be.

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi today formally extended support to incumbent K.R. Narayanan while the President said he had an “open mind” on running for a second term. All eyes are now fixed on the Telugu Desam Party, the ADMK, the Trinamul Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party and other smaller parties which hold crucial chunks of votes that can make or mar Narayanan’s second bid.

Those who know the President’s mind say Narayanan would contest if he is reasonably sure of victory. “Otherwise, there is no reason why an incumbent President should run for a second term,” a source close to Narayanan said.

Sonia today called on Narayanan and formally placed her party’s request that the President should seek a second term in office. According to well-placed sources in the Congress and Rashtrapati Bhavan, Narayanan said he had an “open mind”.

The Congress and the Left are hoping that smaller parties and some NDA allies like the Desam would back Narayanan, who hails from the weaker sections of the society. However, there has been no sign of any such movement in favour of Narayanan so far. The Bahujan Samaj Party, which shares power with the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, has already declared its support for a BJP nominee. The parliamentary forum of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe MPs is vertically divided on political lines.

The Vajpayee government has zeroed in on Maharashtra governor P.C. Alexander. Like Narayanan, Alexander comes from Kerala and has a bureaucratic background. If Alexander is elected, he would become the country’s first Christian president.

A section of the Congress fear that if Alexander moves to Rashtrapati Bhavan, the BJP and the Sangh parivar would launch a “whisper campaign” against Sonia becoming Prime Minister on the ground that the two top constitutional functionaries should not be from a minority community.

   
 

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