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Fugitive in open, cops in hiding

Balurghat/Calcutta, Oct. 28: Narayan Biswas, the fugitive minister, could have been arrested today had Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's police wanted to honour a court order.

They did not.

In a cheeky display of contempt for the law of the land, Biswas, the minister of state for cottage and small-scale industries, appeared at a news conference in Balurghat this afternoon to announce: 'I am being branded an absconder. I want to make it clear here that I am not on the run.'

The South Dinajpur sup-erintendent of police, Barun Mullick, said he had 'no comment to make'.

The impromptu news conference took place at Rabindra Bhavan on the sidelines of a convention of members of the CPM's South Dinajpur unit. One of the attractions at the convention was Biswas, who went out of sight three weeks ago following the rejection of his bail petition by the district court. After the petition was rejected, it was widely expected that the police ' overseen by the chief minister himself ' would put him behind bars.

'I am not a minister who is absconding,' thundered Biswas at the convention. 'You all know that our party leader- ship is being criticised in connection with a few cases that involve me. Certain newspapers are distorting facts while reporting them.'

Biswas, who was over the past few weeks more heard ' he was available to everybody on the mobile ' than seen, had been attending meetings at the district party office.

Asked about the goings on today, housing minister Gautam Deb, the state CPM leader in charge of the district, allowed media persons a peek into the venue of the meeting where Biswas was to speak.

Like before, he was introduced at the convention as a minister. And like always, he arrived at the venue in his white ambassador fitted with a red beacon and accompanied by a security guard.

In the city, state CPM secretary Anil Biswas said: 'Wait for two-three days more for the Narayan Biswas episode to reach a logical culmination.'

Although Biswas did not say it in as many words, it is believed that the minister, dictated by the party, would take a final decision on surrendering around the time the high court reopens after the Puja vacation on November 7.

Narayan Biswas admitted that he had been charged with attempt to murder. 'I have secured bail in a case by appearing personally before the court. I have also appeared before the court in four other cases. In connection with cases I am aware of, I have either gone to court or sent appeals. My bail plea is under scrutiny in the high court, but the media have branded me absconder,' he said.

The district and sessions court rejected last month Biswas's bail plea in connection with the torching of 22 houses on March 27, 1988, at Ratanpur village in Gangarampur. The minister challenged this order in the high court and the verdict is pending, but there is no legal hurdle to arresting him.

In 16 years, he did not go to court once in connection with the rioting case.

Deb, who spoke before Biswas, said the CPM would challenge the Election Commission decision to strike off names of voters with arrest warrants against them.

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