Citu coal blockade ignites power jitters
Students wield cane on teachers
Provident fund clash turns fatal
Facelift targets tottering death traps
Left buries front, looks for Ahmadi
If it is a secular spoiler, it must be Mulayam
Delhi’s Devdas is unforgiving
BJP finds Gujarat antidote in Kalam
Jagmohan blocks culture cash flow
Drama before trial of strength

 
 
CITU COAL BLOCKADE IGNITES POWER JITTERS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Asansol, June 12: 
Bengal stared at the possibility of a power crisis as a blockade of coal supplies by Citu supporters from the mines of Eastern Coalfields Ltd (ECL) threatened to snap the lifeline of seven big electricity projects.

Citu activists blocked coal despatches from four collieries since yesterday in protest against the ECL’s decision to close the Shamla mine here. The affected collieries were Pandabeswar, Jhanjra, Natunhat and Madaibani.

They also blocked rail tracks and prevented goods trains carrying coal from moving. The Citu leadership said the blockade would continue till ECL authorities withdrew its decision.

Following the blockade, not a single rake or truck moved from the four collieries. Thousands of coal workers under the Citu banner squatted in front of the mine office and roads.

Coal from the four collieries are supplied to seven thermal power projects — Kolaghat, Bakreshwar, Bandel, Santaldihi, Durgapur Projects Limited and the NTPC plants at Farakka. According to officials, all the power projects will be affected if coal is not supplied within 24 hours.

Realising the gravity of the situation, power minister Mrinal Banerjee held a meeting with ECL managing director Ashok Mehta at the New Secretariat.

Banerjee asked Mehta to look into the demand of the workers and reconsider the decision to close down the Shamla colliery.

The minister said Mehta assured him that he would look into the matter and hold talks with the workers.

“What the ECL authorities are doing is not at all good. Their decision to close down mines cannot be supported. The workers are organising a movement in protest against the decision. But as coal is supplied to major thermal power projects from the four collieries, the generation may be affected if supply is blocked. So I have urged Citu supporters to withdraw the blockade and hope they will adhere to the appeal,’’ Banerjee said.

District magistrate Manoj Agarwal also held meetings with local Citu leaders and ECL officials. Agarwal said he had urged the agitating ECL employees to withdraw the blockade.

The minister said he spoke to local Citu leaders and told them to withdraw the blockade as Mehta had promised to look into the problem.

He said all the power projects had coal stock for two more days. But if the supply of coal was not normalised, then there would be a major problem.

ECL officials said 387 employees out of 541 in the Shamla colliery had been shifted to other mines in Khottadihi and Pandebeswar and the rest would be shifted within a day or two.

“The Shamla mine is incurring losses every year. Last year, it suffered a loss of Rs 8.5 crore. It is impossible for us to bear such losses every year,” said ECL spokesman S. Mehta.

However, local Citu leader J.B. Chatterjee, who is spearheading the blockade, made it clear that the agitation would continue.

“The ECL authorities have closed down many mines without consulting us. Despite huge coal reserves in the Shamla colliery, the authorities closed the mines. They did not cite any reason for it. We cannot tolerate it. We know there will be a problem in power generation, but we have no alternative because we want to put pressure on the ECL authorities,’’ Chatterjee said.

   

 
 
STUDENTS WIELD CANE ON TEACHERS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 12: 
The CPM-controlled West Bengal College and University Teachers’ Association today asked the government to take appropriate steps to check incidence of attacks on teachers by students.

Condemning such attacks, the largest teachers’ lobby in the state said that during the past few weeks, two incidents of assault on teachers were reported from Siliguri and North 24-Parganas.

The association said in both the incidents, the teachers were attacked after rebuking the students. The group urged the government to stop such incidents or it would be difficult to maintain discipline in the campuses.

Anil Bhattacharya, the association’s general secretary, today expressed concern over the manner in which police in Darjeeling district failed to take action against two students for assaulting a teacher.

Two students beat up Debabrata Sur, a senior teacher of Siliguri College of Commerce, on May 30 after he caught one of them cheating in the ongoing B.Com examinations. Sur asked the examinee to leave the hall and told him that as per the rules, he would not be allowed to take the examination on that day.

The examinee left the hall, but waited in the corridor along with a friend. As Sur came out of the hall after the examination, the two students caught him and beat him up.

The college authorities reported the matter to the local police. “But nearly two weeks have passed and no action has been taken against the students,” said Bhattacharya.

Going by the rules of the North Bengal University, the student is being allowed to sit for the remaining papers of the B.Com examinations.

But the association members alleged that police inaction against the erring students was setting a bad example. “This is bad precedence as in future, no student will listen to the instructions of the invigilators and will revolt whenever they get caught for adopting unfair means during examinations,” said Bhattacharya.

In a similar incident, a college principal in Habra in North 24-Parganas was manhandled after he punished some students for misbehaving with a non-teaching employee.

   

 
 
PROVIDENT FUND CLASH TURNS FATAL 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Behrampore, June 12: 
Barely 24 hours before chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee places the police budget in the Assembly, one person was killed and three injured in police firing at Baisnabghata village this morning.

Armed forces are patrolling the village under Suti police station, where 14 people have been arrested. The police fired nearly 12 rounds to disperse bidi workers who had clashed with their contractors.

The clash was the result of a long-standing feud between bidi workers and contractors over non-payment of provident fund dues, deputy inspector-general of police, headquarters, Narayan Ghosh said at Writers’ Buildings. The victim has been identified as Mujibar Rahaman, 22, the police official added.

He said the police had initially lobbed teargas shells but were forced to fire when the bidi workers went on a rampage, setting ablaze the house of a contractor, Nur Iman.

No fresh violence was reported from the area after senior officials were posted there, Ghosh said.

Officials in Behrampore said the police had to fire when the mob turned the heat on them. The bidi workers chased the policemen and later set fire to the car of officer-in charge of Suti police station Somnath Banerjee. However, Banerjee escaped unhurt.

District magistrate Manoj Panth and superintendent of police Virendra are camping at the police station.

Eyewitnesses said the trouble started at 8 am when some bidi workers raided the houses of two contractors — Badiruddin Sheikh and Ajaharruddin. When Iman protested, the mob set his house on fire.

Policemen from the nearby Kandua outpost rushed to the spot but were chased away by the mob.

The officer-in-charge of Suti police station then arrived with further reinforcements, only to be greeted with protests.

Rezaul Karim, general manager of a bidi manufacturing company, later admitted that contractors had been denying bidi workers their provident fund dues for years.

“At a meeting held on May 21, it was decided that all dues would be paid. But nothing has been done,” he said.

   

 
 
FACELIFT TARGETS TOTTERING DEATH TRAPS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Raiganj (North Dinajpur), June 12: 
The Raiganj municipality today decided to conduct a survey on the condition of old buildings even as it unveiled a plan to beautify the town.

“There are a number of old buildings in the town of which many may collapse any day, causing a major accident. Our engineers shall prepare a list of those buildings by conducting an extensive survey. We will later take a decision on whether to demolish the dilapidated buildings or not,’’ said Sadhana Chakraborty, vice-chairperson of the municipality.

The municipality’s decision follows the recent death of seven-year-old Shalu Mahato when a decrepit wall collapsed on him. Police said Shalu died on the spot after the wall of an old building collapsed on him while he was walking down a road. The building owner was later arrested.

Local residents alleged that the owner was repeatedly requested to repair the wall as it was on the main road, but it went unheeded.

They added that the accident could have been averted if the wall had been repaired.

According to the residents, there are at least 100 dilapidated buildings in need of immediate attention in the 300-year-old town, which was a port town during British Raj.

Apart from the buildings, there are several boundary walls that may collapse and prove fatal. Many such walls often crash down and obstruct traffic.

“A disaster may take place if preventive measures are not taken immediately,” said local councillor Arun Sarkar.

Municipality officials said the owners of the dilapidated buildings would be given notices to demolish the structures and the boundary walls. If they did not comply, the civic body would take suitable action.

Following Raiganj’s elevation as headquarters of the newly created North Dinajpur district, authorities of the zilla parishad and the civic body have been working on an action plan to develop the town.

“As it is an ancient city, there are a number of old buildings. Some of them can be preserved as heritage buildings but the rest can be demolished. It is not only for the beautification of the town but also to save lives. I expect that the people will co-operate with the administration,’’ Chakraborty, the municipal vice-chairperson, said.

According to municipal officials, the roads will be repaired and proper traffic routes arranged for smooth movement.

Besides, the administration is arranging for proper lighting in the town after receiving several complaints of defunct streetlights.

“We are not sitting idle. We also have many plans to beautify the town, but it needs a lot of money which the civic body cannot afford. No major work can be done with the tax amount we receive. However, we are keeping no stone unturned for the town’s development and have urged the government to provide funds,’’ Chakraborty said.

   

 
 
LEFT BURIES FRONT, LOOKS FOR AHMADI 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, June 12: 
After a night and half-a-day of scouting, the Left today zoomed in on former Chief Justice A.S. Ahmadi as a possible presidential candidate in case the Congress agrees to enter into a contest with the BJP.

The suggestion for Ahmadi’s candidature came from academic circles close to the Left. Its leaders have informed senior Congress MP Manmohan Singh and he has given his assent.

Deputy Speaker P.M. Sayeed is the other name doing the rounds. The Left wants to field a Muslim or a Dalit candidate to beat its rivals in their own game.

As of now, it is not known whether Ahmadi will agree to contest. The former chief justice left for Canada yesterday and the Opposition will contact him there.

The Left is banking on the Congress to open a line of communication with Ahmadi. However, the main Opposition party will have to decide on a contest first.

Some senior CPM leaders believe the Congress has no other choice but to go for a contest after yesterday’s fiasco at the People’s Front meeting.

With Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, a known Congress-baiter, walking out of the anti-BJP alliance, the Left is likely to work in closer tandem with the Congress.

The Left is hoping for a positive response from the Congress, which, a Left leader said, is “trembling in its shoes” at the prospect of a contest.

CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet has confirmed the collapse of the front. “The front is no more there. It will be reorganised and some other forces will come,” Surjeet told a news conference this afternoon.

“If the Front convenor (Mulayam) first supports President K.R. Narayanan and then changes stand to support the NDA candidate, how can the front continue to exist,” Surjeet said, adding that “we will continue to work towards a third alternative”.

“We will announce the name of our candidate only after the Congress Working Committee takes a decision,” Surjeet said.

A section of Left leaders, however, is sceptical about the outcome of the meeting.

The CPM leader was non-committal on whether the Left would field a candidate if the Congress decides against a contest. “Why should we say anything now? The Congress is yet to take a decision,” he said.

Sources indicated that Left leaders would not go for a contest if the Congress ditched them. They will not vote for A.P.J. Abdul Kalam under any circumstances. If it came to a crunch, the Left might decide to abstain.

Surjeet said once the Congress makes up its mind, the CPM will start getting in touch with other parties.

The People’s Front might have collapsed but the Left is not giving up hope of bringing together third front parties on a common platform.

   

 
 
IF IT IS A SECULAR SPOILER, IT MUST BE MULAYAM 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, June 12: 
Mulayam Singh Yadav has lived up to his reputation of being the sore thumb of Opposition unity just when a front seemed like coalescing against the ruling establishment.

This time it took him just 48 hours to crush the Left’s hopes of bringing the Opposition together to field a joint presidential candidate against the NDA nominee and underline the ideological and political divide.

From declaring last Sunday — ironically outside Rashtrapati Bhavan — that his party would back the Opposition nominee “unambiguously and irreversibly”, Mulayam, by Tuesday, had reneged and asserted he would go along with the NDA and back A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

Mulayam joined the group of politicians who boasted they were the first to float Kalam’s name. Mulayam opted out of the People’s Front he had tenuously cobbled with the Left parties in the hope of expanding it to a third alternative against the BJP and the Congress.

However, keeping the big picture before him while crafting his political strategies was never Mulayam’s style. His politics has been dictated by the expediency of short-term gains.

Though he projected himself as a national-level leader with aspirations of becoming the Prime Minister, Mulayam has been bogged down in the akhara-level politics, in which he started, when it came to taking a stand during critical moments.

This time, the immediate spin-off of backing Kalam was to show to the Muslims in Uttar Pradesh how “committed” he was to their interests.

Sources in his Samajwadi Party claimed that Muslims had become indifferent to Mulayam in the last couple of elections.

Apart from paying token obeisance to the Muslims, courtesy Kalam, Samajwadi sources said Mulayam could not be seen in the Congress’ company even at the cost of sacrificing a common presidential candidate.

Their political turf — especially the one inhabited by the Muslims — was common and, therefore, the Congress and the Samajwadi could not be seen to consort in Delhi and quarrel in Lucknow, sources argued.

Other occasions when Mulayam had turned his tail:

In 1987, when the Uttar Pradesh Opposition came together to support V.P. Singh in the historic Allahabad byelection against the Congress’ Sunil Shastri.

Mulayam, who was leader of the Opposition, was expected to make a fiery speech against the government in the budget session and set the ball rolling against the Congress. Instead, he trained his guns on Singh and a trust he had floated in Lal Bahadur Shastri’s memory;

In 1991, when he ditched V.P. Singh and withdrew his MPs from his government, reducing it to a minority.

Mulayam threw in his lot with Chandra Shekhar and formed the Samajwadi Janata Party with him. In the process, the Mandal votes got split in the general elections that followed and paved the way for the BJP’s entry in Uttar Pradesh;

In 1993, after winning the Assembly elections with the BSP and forming a coalition government, he attempted to split his ally. When the BSP smelt foul, he allegedly set his goons on Mayavati, then the party’s general secretary. The infamous state guest incident eliminated all chances of a Samajwadi-BSP rapprochement;

In 1999, after egging on the Congress to believe he would back a Sonia Gandhi-led dispensation once the ADMK pulled out of the government, Mulayam upped and ditched her.

The Left-Mulayam split has come as a double bonanza for the BJP. On one hand, it would prevent a Congress-Samajwadi alternative from shaping up in Uttar Pradesh as a counter to the BJP-BSP alliance.

On the other hand, a splintered Opposition will ensure that the ruling coalition is not up against any odds in the monsoon session of Parliament.

   

 
 
DELHI’S DEVDAS IS UNFORGIVING 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, June 12: 
It is a dead sober “Devdas” ruing the loss of his “Paro”.

Comrade Harkishen Singh Surjeet this time has to come to terms with the loss of his one-time trusted lieutenant Mulayam Singh Yadav, who walked out of the People’s Front yesterday without much remorse. And all because of the NDA’s presidential candidate.

For Surjeet — the leader Yadav so often hailed as his “mentor” but jilted at the most critical hours — the cut of the knife was as sharp as it could be.

At a news conference today, the Marxist leader carried his heart on his sleeve and looked doubly hurt at the second-time betrayal by Yadav and for the first time, publicly-hit-out with an abandon against him.

Unlike “Devdas”, however, the CPM general secretary did not betray any signs of rushing to “Paro’s” doorsteps to seek reconciliation.

On the contrary, he made it clear that Yadav, this time, had transgressed the borders of friendship and violated the code of political honour. And that there would be no mercy.

“Mulayam’s behaviour is strange. Inside the People’s Front meeting, he said (A.P.J. Abdul) Kalam was not his candidate. But outside he claimed him as his own,” said Surjeet.

For Surjeet, the wound cuts deeper than for the rest in the Left fraternity — even within his own party. The CPM general secretary’s stubborn acceptance of all of Yadav’s faults — his political waywardness and his untrustworthiness — had always bewildered his own comrades and colleagues. If they looked at Yadav with suspicion, they positively disliked his junior Amar Singh. But Surjeet was undeterred in his patronage of the Samajwadi Party leader.

There was a time when the camaraderie between Yadav and Surjeet had reached such heights that the Samajwadi even talked about becoming a “comrade”.

The CPM general secretary laid great hopes on the door of the Samajwadi leader to fight the BJP tooth and nail and that, too, despite indications that Yadav would never back the Congress, the main Opposition party.

Though Surjeet had a bitter taste of Yadav’s politics in 1998, he seemed to have forgotten everything in the past four years. The Samajwadi leader’s behaviour yesterday seemed to have dredged up all memories.

Surjeet’s criticism of Yadav today was more acerbic than that four years ago when the Samajwadi chief blithely reneged on his commitment to the-then United Front at the eleventh hour to keep the BJP at bay.

Again, Surjeet was perhaps the only leader in the United Front who hoped against hope that Yadav would honour his promise.

In a repeat performance this time, Yadav led the CPM general secretary up the garden path, walked with the entire Opposition to Rashtrapati Bhavan and hailed President K.R. Narayanan as the Opposition’s candidate.

Then, in his usual style, he did a Brutus — stomped out of the Front meeting and refused to look back.

It may take the CPM leader a bit of time to reconcile with the loss of his friend — the man he believed to be a torch-bearer in the fight against the BJP. But as the cliché goes, there are no permanent friends or enemies in politics. Therefore, no permanent “Devdas” or “Paro”.

   

 
 
BJP FINDS GUJARAT ANTIDOTE IN KALAM 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 12: 
Though P.C. Alexander was the BJP’s first choice for the President’s post, the party backed the NDA nominee, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, primarily because he had Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s approval.

If the real reason behind rooting for Alexander was that a Christian in Rashtrapati Bhavan could scuttle Sonia Gandhi’s “dream” of becoming Prime Minister, in Kalam’s nomination, the BJP could counter the charge of being anti-minority, particularly after Gujarat.

“The fact that Vajpayee personally assured a Muslim would become the President would go a long way to dispel the notion of the BJP being anti-Muslim. It’s like this: between 1998 and 1999, the Muslims not only refused to vote for the BJP, they hated us. After 1999, the hatred was neutralised to an extent, thanks to Vajpayee, and the fact that ministers like Shahnawaz Hussain and Omar Abdullah were given so much importance,” said a BJP functionary.

He, however, admitted that the killings and violence unleashed against Muslims under the Narendra Modi dispensation had brought the situation to square one.

“It looked as though not only would they not vote for us in the Assembly elections, but Muslim leaders could also have worked overtime to ensure the BJP’s defeat wherever they could,” he added.

The feeling in the BJP was that while Kalam’s ascendancy to the presidentship would not fetch them Muslim votes, it could help lessen the community’s hatred towards the party.

Asked if the pro-minority spin in Kalam’s choice could antagonise the BJP’s Hindu backers in Gujarat, sources replied: “No, they know where we draw the line.”

When it was pointed out that by the same yardstick, the support for Kalam was mere tokenism, sources claimed a senior Muslim member, Mukhtaar Abbas Naqvi, was so happy that, for the first time since Gujarat, he said he would “fearlessly” visit a mosque in his hometown Rampur in Uttar Pradesh and say the namaz without looking over his shoulder.

The party conceded that the Vajpayee government’s image abroad had taken a massive beating after Gujarat and left its carefully calibrated foreign policy in tatters. Kalam’s choice was a “major” step towards damage control.

From the BJP perspective, Kalam is the “ideal” Muslim. “He is well versed in the Upanishads, reads the Bhagwat Gita religiously and loves Carnatic music,” said a leader. He went to the extent of describing Kalam as a “ Muslim with a Hindu soul”.

But what endeared the NDA’s presidential nominee most to the BJP was his commitment to the nuclear programme and the assessment that he was not apologetic about India going nuclear. The fact that Kalam was the government’s scientific adviser when the Pokhran tests took place made him a “symbol of true nationalism” in the BJP’s eyes.

BJP workers distributed sweets at the BJP headquarters today as a gesture of their appreciation for Vajpayee’s choice.

   

 
 
JAGMOHAN BLOCKS CULTURE CASH FLOW 
 
 
FROM ELLA DATTA
 
New Delhi, June 12: 
Union minister for tourism and culture Jagmohan has ordered the stoppage of funds to a dozen schemes and institutions supported by the culture ministry, setting off tremors in the department.

In a major restructuring exercise, Jagmohan has decided to review the efficacy of the grants. The grants are to be restored only after Jagmohan gives the green signal after some hard stocktaking.

Among the institutions marked for scrutiny are Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts, National Gallery of Modern Art, Central Institute of Buddhist Studies, Leh, and the science cities.

The schemes to be examined are fellowships to outstanding artists, scholarships to young workers, emeritus fellowships, presentation of books and art objects, grants to institutions/individuals engaged in literary activities, assistance to persons distinguished in arts, development of cultural organisations and the national mission for preservation of manuscripts.

The last named project presents a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. The top-level order to halt the release of funds came even as newspaper advertisements across the country invited proposals for a scheme for financial assistance towards preservation of rare manuscripts.

Of course, the project is poised for a takeoff and plans are on for upgrading the scheme into a full-fledged national mission.

Most institutions have major building projects on hand. The NGMA, Bangalore, is coming up and the NGMA, Delhi, is up for building extension.

The IGNCA, which received Rs 100 crore last year to finish the project, has asked for more than Rs 600 crore. A science city is coming up in Jalandhur. The ministry has restored the release of grants to the Central Institute of Buddhist Studies.

Jagmohan wants to monitor the scope and impact of the government grants. However, the bureaucrats, flustered by the recent stoppage of grants, are wondering if this is not a signal for centralising the decision-making process.

The message has gone out that the minister wants to be apprised of every significant development and decision in the department.

Recommendations for budgetary allocations are not made in an arbitrary manner – they are preceded by an intensive exercise. It is being said that Jagmohan is looking for funds for some of his pet projects that will contribute to tourism promotion.

Curtailment and diversion of already sanctioned funds may cause complications. The budgetary allocation for the department of culture with Rs 205 crore for plan expenditure and Rs 281 crore for non-plan expenditure amounts to a little over 0.1 per cent of the total budgetary allocations.

However, some officials add that the minister is also keen on proper utilisation of funds and has urged for early release of money to be spent during the year.

Jagmohan has also reversed the decision of the previous minister, Maneka Gandhi, and ordered the closure of the exhibition of Nizam’s jewels at the Salar Jung Museum in Hyderabad. The exhibition, which drew thousands in Delhi, will be wound up by the end of this month.

Maneka had suggested that the exhibition be taken to all metropolitan centres, making it possible for people all over the country to appreciate India’s exquisite craftsmanship.

Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu had made a strong case for keeping the Nizam’s jewellery at the Salar Jung Museum as a permanent collection.

However, the chief minister’s plea is being overruled and the jewellery is being sent back to the vaults of the Reserve Bank of India, where they nestled in oblivion for several years.

   

 
 
DRAMA BEFORE TRIAL OF STRENGTH 
 
 
FROM CHANDRIMA BHATTACHARYA
 
Mumbai, June 12: 
A “kidnap” drama unfolded on the eve of the trust vote that will decide the fate of the Vilasrao Deshmukh government in Maharashtra tomorrow.

In a stunning revelation, Congress MLA Padmakar Walvi alleged that he had been illegally detained for the past few days at Matoshree Sports Club, a Shiv Sena hub, till he managed to “escape” today. It was initially thought that Walvi had defected to the Shiv Sena-BJP combine.

At a news conference addressed by the chief minister and deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal, Walvi, accompanied by his wife and daughter, protested his innocence. He said he had walked into the Opposition “trap” when he went to meet a friend at the club. “The Sena spread the news that I was in their camp. I realised that I was trapped,” he said.

Detailing his repeated attempts at escaping from the “heavy security” zone, he said last week, Shiv Sena activists had caught him fleeing in an autorickshaw and forced him to return after beating him up. Since then he had written letters to the chief minister, describing his predicament, and plotted ways to escape.

Today, when Walvi came to the Assembly to answer the disqualification notice served on him, he sneaked into the room of the Speaker’s secretary on the pretext of going to the lavatory and “blurted” out the truth to the Speaker. The latter immediately deployed marshalls for his security and assured him of police protection.

As for an earlier interview in which he had declared he was with the Sena-BJP combine, Walvi said it was given under “pressure”. The chief minister said action would be taken against those who had kept Walvi in “illegal confinement”.

The NCP-Congress front exuded confidence before the trust vote. Deshmukh said his front would win the motion by at least a margin of nine votes. The House has 298 members (including a nominated member).

Sena leader Bal Thackeray was more low key. He seemed uncertain and said fate would decide. “We have thrown a dice and let’s see what happens. I would not suffocate without power. But there’s no harm in trying to topple the Democratic Front,” he said.

In a last-minute setback to the front, the five members of the Peasants and Workers Party, on whose support Deshmukh was banking on, said they would abstain from voting. A question mark also hangs over the votes of the eight MLAs, including Walvi, who face disqualification.

   
 

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