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Cong won’t get joke

New Delhi, April 13: The Congress leadership today took care not to rub Mamata Banerjee the wrong way despite its apparent unease over a cartoon episode that led to the arrest of a professor in Bengal.

There were instructions from the top to exercise restraint and spokespersons were told to avoid making any direct comment. At the official briefing, party spokesperson Manish Tiwari repeatedly said he was not aware of the details and making any comment without ascertaining the facts would be undesirable.

He articulated only a general principle that “the Congress otherwise believed in freedom of speech which is intrinsic to the democratic ethos of our country”.

Tiwari took pains to explain that he was not passing judgement on the cartoon episode as he did not know the facts.

The party’s strategic decision to avoid locking horns with Mamata before the presidential election may have forced its leaders to remain silent.

The Congress’s Bengal in-charge Shakeel Ahmed told The Telegraph: “I am not discussing this issue as I don’t know the facts.” Asked if he agreed in principle with such radical responses from any government, he said: “I won’t comment.” Several TV channels invited him to debate this issue but he politely declined.

Many other senior leaders refused to entertain queries. One leader said: “Why should we keep defending Mamata? But we are avoiding any criticism also as there is no political gain in confronting her at this stage.”

The timing is crucial as the Congress is busy garnering the support of all its allies and other secular parties to install a President and a Vice-President of its choice. The crucial finance bill, too, will come up in the second half of the budget session for passage.

The majority of Congress leaders, however, feel this action was avoidable. One leader said: “At times we suspect somebody has advised her to do things in exactly in the same manner the CPM used to do. Otherwise, why should she ban newspapers in libraries?”