The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Chopper draws more crowd than Priya

Phansidewa/Siliguri, April 30: Ajoy Burman, who runs a tea stall near Phansidewa Madhyamik School, was extremely excited. 'I've never seen a helicopter from so close.' Indeed no one in Phansidewa, a small rural town about 35 km from Siliguri, had before today.

When senior national Congress leader and Union minister for information and broadcasting Priya Ranjan Das Munshi stepped out of the white and olive green-coloured machine with registration mark VT-PPR, it was the first time that a chopper was used to boost the poll prospects of a party candidate in this region of Darjeeling district.

A very small segment of the 2.2-lakh Phansidewa electorate turned up at the grounds opposite the school to hear what Das Munshi and other Congress leaders, including candidate Mamla Kujur, had to say. Still, the approximately 4,000-plus gathering was quite big, compared to other poll meetings held so far, thanks to the 'huge bird from the sky'.

The chopper came in at 5.23 pm, amid deafening noise and a swirl of dust.

Darjeeling MP Dawa Narbula, district president Shankar Malakar, senior trade union leader Aloke Chakraborty and Kujur were waiting for a tired-looking Das Munshi. The Union minister had already made a chopper-stop tour of Cooch Behar, Kumargram, Banarhat and Jalpaiguri before coming to Phansidewa.

Das Munshi, who was accompanied by AICC observer for Bengal Nitin Rath, started off by saying that the TV channels would not be happy with what he had to say. 'A Left Front government is not returning in Bengal. All the exit polls the TV channels have been showing will prove to be wrong. When the actual results are out, they will say there was a last minute mood change.'

He went on to explain why. 'The people have begun to realise the failures of 29 years of Left Front rule and they simply want a change.' Holding up the CPM's election manifesto released in Calcutta, Das Munshi said: 'I have read this booklet at least 40 times, more than the number of times Asok Bhattacharya has.

'This booklet mentions nothing about north Bengal, which makes me sad, as I have been born and brought up here. On the part dealing with industrial growth, it mentions Rajarhat, Dankuni and Howrah. But nothing about north Bengal.'

The Congress MP from Raiganj also talked about the lack of health facilities and the plight of workers of closed tea gardens. 'Whatever basic development has taken place here has been by the Centre during the Indira and Rajiv Gandhi eras,' he claimed. 'So this is the right time to go in for a change.'

At another meeting held later at Rathkhola Maidan in east Siliguri, Das Munshi repeated the same thing, only adding that this lack of development could be 'seen on the Internet'.

The Human Development Report for West Bengal written by no less than Amartya Sen and Joyita Ray mentions that the number of the rural poor were increasing and primary education not all that far reaching. Health services too lagged behind.

One of the few differences at the Siliguri meeting, attended by about 3,000 people, was that the dais set up for candidate Nantu Paul was costlier than that of Kujur's.

Flags and balloons with Congress colours and a decorative railing in front of the stage, were among the luxuries that the party had indulged in here.

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