Mamata brings battle to Bengal
Minorities out of focus in Modi poll picture
Train tickets a click away
Welcome, but not welcome
Roots draw celebs to Calcutta canvas
Kalam clan sets out on capital mission
Calcutta Weather

 
 
MAMATA BRINGS BATTLE TO BENGAL 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, July 21: 
Mamata Banerjee’s fight is with Delhi, but she has made Bengal her battlefield.

At a huge rally in the centre of Calcutta, choking the city’s main north-south corridor on a rain-washed afternoon, the Trinamul Congress leader thundered an ultimatum towards Atal Bihari Vajpayee. If the division of Eastern Railway and South-Eastern Railway is not stopped within 48 hours, she will shut Bengal down for 72 hours.

Rakto debo, rail debona (we will give blood, but not railway),” Mamata, the former railway minister, cried. Taking the cue, her supporters started chanting the new slogan.

“We will wait for two days. If there is no response, I will announce a 72-hour Bangla bandh at a press conference (on July 24),” she said, adding that she would not visit Delhi until the issue is settled in Bengal’s favour.

To whip up passion, Mamata compared the bifurcation of Eastern Railway to the partition of Bengal as she said Trinamul saw in the plan a move to split the state for a second time.

“We are resisting the conspiracy to carve up our state and will continue to do so.”

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was the epitome of reason. He criticised Mamata for seeking to pit Bengal against the Centre on a complex issue like the creation of new railway zones and asked her to desist from milking it for personal interest.

“We must give the Prime minister and the deputy Prime Minister time to examine the complex issue in the Cabinet,” Bhattacharjee said. “Bengal does not need a conflict with the Centre at this point.”

For Mamata, the slogans — rakto debo, rail debona and Banga bhanga rukhchhi, rukhbo (we will stop the division of Bengal) — are aimed at dispelling the perception that the objective of her current campaign is to force the Centre to create a situation in which she can return honourably to the Cabinet.

“We have shown enough restraint for a month and seven days. We will now launch a statewide agitation against the bifurcation. There is a limit to being deprived. Now is not the time to join any ministry, it is time to fight for our rights.”

Mamata sought to co-opt Bengal’s mainline political parties, especially the ruling Communists and the Opposition Congress, as well as the states of the Northeast into the anti-Centre campaign and demanded that the zonal headquarters of North-Eastern Frontier Railway be created in Siliguri.

“We will have to fight together to destroy the conspiracy against Bengal,” she said.

Lambasting railway minister Nitish Kumar (without naming him) for his decision to bifurcate the railway, Mamata called upon the Prime Minister to stop the move or else, she said, the unity of the country would be threatened.

“I urge Vajpayeeji and deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani to immediately ask the railway minister to stop acting according to his whims. Ask him not to play with fire.”

She arrived in the city from Delhi yesterday with no assurance of stopping the bifurcation. Mamata announced at the rally — organised by the party’s youth wing every year on this day to commemorate the death of 13 workers in police firing a decade ago — that Trinamul workers would demonstrate against the bifurcation at every railway station in Bengal on Wednesday.

Mamata presented former cricketer and BJP MP from Bihar, Kirti Azad, in an attempt to drive home her point that she was not against Bihar but only against the railway minister’s move.

“We also want development of Bihar but not at the cost of Bengal’s prestige.”

Occasionally slipping into Hindi, Mamata asked those in the audience who hailed from Bihar and were against the bifurcation to raise their hands. After a number of hands shot up, she said: “Look, our friends from Bihar too don’t want a bifurcation, so the message is clear.”

   

 
 
MINORITIES OUT OF FOCUS IN MODI POLL PICTURE 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, July 21: 
If the Gujarat Assembly elections are held in October as desired by chief minister Narendra Modi, a large section of the minority community may not be able to vote.

Not merely the 20,000-odd inmates residing in 10 official and an equal number of unofficial relief camps, but also hundreds of thousands of riot victims, who have either migrated from the city or are living in rented houses or putting up with relatives, will be deprived of their democratic right.

Camp organisers say it is next to impossible to rehabilitate all the inmates in two months. Even a section of the BJP opposed to early elections agrees with the Congress and the camp organisers that so long as there are refugees, the situation cannot be described as normal.

On paper, only 10 camps are functioning in Ahmedabad after some were shut down by the government to demonstrate that the riot victims were returning home. However, unofficially and without government assistance, 10 more are operating. “The condition of some of these is bad,” said Shauketkhan Pathan, secretary, Kaumi Relief Committee.

Election is the last thing on the minds of the riot victims still living in relief camps, partly because they have no expectation from it. In the last polls, many from the minority community had voted for the BJP, which had promised a riot-free state.

With the Congress taking up the cause of relief camp inhabitants who, without an address, might not be able to vote, those in charge of the camps — and speaking on behalf of the community — said they would ensure that the BJP is defeated.

The Congress has already brought the issue to the notice of Governor S.S. Bhandari. Tomorrow, it will narrate the situation to the Election Commission, which will decide when the elections are to be held.

Congress spokesman Hasmukh Patel said: “The ground situation is not conducive for holding elections. Not just because thousands of riot victims are yet to be rehabilitated, but electoral rolls have not been revised. The process is on and it will take a couple of months. Besides, only 1.25 crore people have voter identity cards. If elections are held without voter identity cards, there are chances of bogus voting.”

Inamul Iraki, in charge of the Dariakhan Ghummat camp, which has 1,500 residents, said: “There is no question of these people participating in elections. Most of them have lost someone in their families, they have no home to return to and they are yet to get compensation.”

At Shah-e-Alam relief camp, with over 4,000 people, Safibhai Memon said that even those who have left the camps have not all returned home out of fear. Many of those who have will be afraid of going out to vote.

Mohammed Hakimuddin Qasmi of Jamiat-Ulema-I-Hind Relief Committee suggested that the Election Commission should prepare a separate electoral roll for riot victims and give them voter identity cards.

   

 
 
TRAIN TICKETS A CLICK AWAY 
 
 
FROM M. RAJENDRAN
 
New Delhi, July 21: 
Anyone who has spent an agonising two hours in a queue for a train ticket is going to love this: the railway plans to kick off an online ticketing system next month.

Initially, only credit card holders will be able to buy the tickets online. If you don’t have a credit card, don’t fret: the railway will soon unveil a branded card or its own railway card for the purpose. The railway is ready with the system and has tied up with banks to accept payment for tickets.

“We will soon launch two new schemes — one for the reserved segment, another for the unreserved segment. In addition, there will be many other information technology-related services that will be launched during this year,” said P.K. Goel, executive director, passenger amenities and marketing, in the railway ministry.

“We have five servers — one each in Delhi, Calcutta, Chennai, Mumbai and Hyderabad — connected to 3,000 terminals spread over 700 cities. In addition, there is one web server in Delhi which has undergone the necessary test and is ready for launch any day,” he added.

To book a ticket online, you will have to go to the railway website — to be announced soon — and get registered. Once you are able to access the online ticketing service, the next step is to decide the train you want to travel on and check for availability of berth.

So, click on the online reservation form, fill in the details and submit it. If seats are available, the computer will ask for your credit card details.

After you key those in, the details will be sent to the bank and the credit card company for validation. If valid, the transaction will be completed in two to three minutes and you will be given a password that can be exchanged for the ticket.

“The delivery of ticket can be made either by courier or in person at a designated station or various reservation centres where a specific counter can be allocated. The passenger can go to that counter, show any identification card and password and get the ticket. We have not yet finalised this; we hope to do so in a few days,” said Goel.

The railway has not forgotten its 12 million passengers who travel on unreserved tickets either. Automatic teller machines will soon be set up at railway establishments to issue unreserved tickets. Return and advance tickets can also be booked.

The railway is yet to fix the number of days for advance booking, but may settle for anything between 15 to 30 days.

   

 
 
WELCOME, BUT NOT WELCOME 
 
 
FROM LOKENDRA PRATAP SAHI
 
London, July 21: 
Respecting the “sentiments” of some quarters, Wisden and Electrolux Kelvinator have withdrawn the invitation to Mohammed Azharuddin for Tuesday’s Indian Cricketer of the Century function at the Wembley Convention Centre. The former India captain is one of 16 nominees for the award.

However, while this U-turn — which must have hurt Azhar only marginally less than the ban imposed on him by the BCCI — has not been denied by those associated with the event, it’s not clear whether the invitation had gone from Wisden or, unilaterally, from the sponsors (Electrolux Kelvinator). Sources said this embarrassing move was apparently initiated after “some cricketers and others” felt Azhar’s presence would “vitiate the evening”. Moreover, there was this fear that sections of the media could focus on Azhar and match-fixing, thereby largely ignoring the show itself.

As of now, then, Azhar will be one of the only two living nominees — the other being Vijay Hazare — who will not be present. Hazare, in his late 80s, is keeping indifferent health.

While C.K. Nayudu, Vinoo Mankad, Vijay Merchant, D.B. Deodhar and Lala Amarnath are no more, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, Bishan Singh Bedi, Gundappa Viswanath, Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Kapil Dev, Sachin Tendulkar and Anil Kumble complete the nominees’ list.

This shortlisting was done by a 35-strong jury and, apart from “excellence in cricket”, the criteria included leadership, character and “impact on the public”.

Azhar, it may be recalled, was at the centre of a public appearance-controversy, not too long ago, when he turned up at an iftar hosted by Andhra chief minister Chandrababu Naidu. Though the invitation was sent by a government department, Naidu chose to dissociate himself by insisting he “personally” wasn’t aware of the list of invitees.

But while the BCCI and Wisden are obviously keen on maintaining a distance from the tainted Azhar, his own home association, Hyderabad, had no qualms about inviting him to a function (around mid-May) to mark the allotment of 16 acres of government land for an exclusive cricket stadium.

Meanwhile, as predicted by Vishy the other day, the Indian Cricketer of the Century will either be Gavaskar, Kapil or Sachin. This must, indeed, have been visualised very early by both Wisden and Electrolux Kelvinator, as all three don’t figure on the judges’ panel.

Incidentally, five nominees — Hazare, Pataudi, Bedi, Vishy and Vengsarkar — are themselves on the jury. Only, their appointment was made well before the shortlisting.

By the way, quite a few here believe the award should go to Kapil. Yet, some others feel the Manoj Prabhakar episode could actually affect the phenomenon’s chances.

Whatever, the suspense will end not many hours from now.

   

 
 
ROOTS DRAW CELEBS TO CALCUTTA CANVAS 
 
 
FROM AMIT ROY
 
London, July 21: 
Former England batsman Ted Dexter and Professor Amartya Sen, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, were among the celebrity guests who attended a London art exhibition which is intended to demonstrate that, despite reports to the contrary, “Calcutta is a beautiful city”.

The exhibition called “City of Hope” features 22 examples of acrylic on canvas by Calcutta-based artist Sunita Kumar.

It is being held at Indar Pasricha Fine Arts on Connaught Street, a prestigious art gallery.

Dexter, who is now the MCC president — he reckoned England could have won the NatWest final against India at Lord’s if it had bowled a bit tighter and fielded slightly better — was the first to buy a painting, depicting a purple-hued view of a house-front near Royd Street.

Others who attended included Lady (Mary) Archer, who has also been a Cambridge don and is the wife of novelist Lord (Jeffrey) Archer, the Rajmata of Jaipur, the Dowager Rothermere, whose husband’s family owns the Daily Mail newspaper and Lady (Clarissa) Eden, widow of Sir Anthony Eden, once Prime Minister of Britain.

Many of the English guests had some Calcutta connection or the other, and could travel down memory lane as they studied views of the Victoria Memorial Hall, the Marble Palace, paintings of gul mohur and laburnum trees in bloom and everyday street scenes.

Dexter’s wife, Susan, who was born in Calcutta, is the daughter of Tom Longfield. “He founded the Calcutta Cricket Club,” Kumar said.

Kumar and her husband, former tennis player Naresh Kumar, themselves live on Middleton Street, not far from Loreto House, where Sunita was educated.

She said she would not like to make exaggerated claims on behalf of Calcutta but added that compared with Mumbai and Delhi, “it is a happy place”. It was also, as its residents knew, a place with many beautiful aspects.

She rejected the view that Mother Teresa’s close association with Calcutta had perpetuated the image in the eyes of foreigners that it was a city for the dead and dying.

Kumar, who was for many years a devoted follower of Mother Teresa and published a book of photographs on her in 1998, said: “I never saw it like that. She just said ‘do good and be kind to people’.”

She said Sen was on a flight to India with her and her husband. “We talked about the Nobel Prize, his and the Mother’s.”

The Mother Teresa connection also established their friendship with Lord and Lady Archer. Their son, William, who is now 29, came to Calcutta to work for Mother Teresa. “He fell ill so we took him home,” said Kumar.

She has tried to capture the essence of Calcutta in her paintings. “Most of the people like to come to India but they say Calcutta is the only place which has soul,” Kumar said.

   

 
 
KALAM CLAN SETS OUT ON CAPITAL MISSION 
 
 
FROM M.R. VENKATESH
 
Chennai, July 21: 
Rameshwaram is usually the last destination in the average Hindu pilgrim’s progress. But this is a “reverse pilgrimage”.

For a 36-member group comprising family members and friends of next Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, travelling to Delhi to witness their “son of the soil” being sworn in on July 25 is no less than that.

Members of the group led by the missile scientist’s God-fearing elder brother, 86-year-old Muthu Mohammed Marakayar Meeran, were beaming as residents gave them an affectionate send-off at Rameshwaram station this evening. They boarded the Sethu Express to Chennai en route to the capital.

Sources in Ramanathapuram said 19 members of the group are Kalam’s relatives. Not surprisingly, they are “excited” at the prospect of one of their “noble and successful” family members making it to the highest office in India. “It is all God’s grace,” Muthu Meeran said before boarding the train.

The entourage includes the president of the Rameshwaram mosque, Jamat; a poor Brahmin from Rameshwaram, Venkatasubramania Sastrigal, whose family has been close to Kalam’s; and the librarian of the local government library, Durairaj.

Though the Central government had reportedly agreed to foot their travel and boarding expenses, Kalam ruled it out. The missile man “is funding the trip in full”, said sources.

But down south, hero-worshipping Kalam is not restricted to the group. Much like the larger than life film stars, he has a “fan club” in Sivaganga. Balasubramani, a farmer, heads the club that is 21-strong and growing.

“We started the club to show his unselfish ways to the youth. He lives a simple life and is a guide to today’s youth,” Balasubramani said. “He has used all his expertise and knowledge for the benefit of the nation.”

For the group headed for Delhi, too, to be witness to the swearing-in would be as much an emotional reunion as a vindication of Kalam’s “hard work” and “achievement”.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 30.5°C (-1)
Minimum: 26.5°C (+1)

Rainfall

36.8 mm

Relative Humidity

Max: 97%
Min: 81%

Sunrise: 5.05 am

Sunset: 6.21 pm

Today

Occasional rain, with one or two rather heavy showers
   
 

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