Acid test for warring rivals
Cellphone call trail nets Behala crimelord
Dolled-up toy train to be Darjeeling top draw
Top Ulfa leader shot
Ethnic clash claims six in Tinsukia dist
NLFT denies hand in Kalyanpur massacre

Calcutta, May 27 
Sunday�s election to the 79 municipalities will be an acid test both for the CPM and the Trinamul Congress. For Trinamul, it will indicate its hold on the urban electorate. The CPM, cleft by internal squabbles, is confronted with the difficult task of retaining its support base.

The polls are being considered significant because they will indicate voter mood before the Assembly elections early next year. Of the 79 municipalities, the Left Front controls 44 and the rest are with the Congress.

While the left hopes to cash in on the failure of the mainline Opposition parties to put up a united fight, Trinamul and the BJP have entered into an electoral understanding for some seats, taking advantage of an erosion in the Congress votebank.

North 24-Parganas, once a CPM bastion, is giving Alimuddin Street sleepless nights because of the party�s intense infighting. Of the 20 municipalities here which go to polls, only three are with the Congress.

But the CPM�s prospects in the district have become a little uncertain, following a tacit understanding between the party�s dissidents and the Trinamul. Besides, the party�s failure to provide proper civic amenities in some areas is expected to take its toll.

Trinamul is banking on what has come to be known as the �Subhas Chakraborty factor� to capture some municipal boards in North 24-Parganas.

The transport minister, who played a key role in the party�s victory in the last municipal polls, was virtually kept out of the poll preparations this time. A number of dissidents are contesting seats in the district with Chakraborty�s indirect backing.

The CPM is not in a comfortable position in Hooghly district, either, where Opposition parties control six of the 11 municipalities going to the polls.

Midnapore will also witness a tough fight, with the Left Front and its opponents controlling four municipal boards each. Out of seven municipalities in Nadia, the Opposition parties hold four.

There are 5,707 candidates in the fray for 1,575 seats. Elaborate police arrangements have been made to maintain peace and order during polling.

Counting for 28 municipalities will be held on Monday and for the rest on Tuesday. There will be a centralised counting of ballots, instead of booth-wise counting, to avert untoward incidents and post-poll violence.

The main planks for the Opposition are misappropriation and diversion of funds, corrupt practices and illegal recruitment of staff. The Left Front, on its part, has highlighted development projects taken up by municipal boards under its control.

Left Front chairman Sailen Dasgupta has urged people to vote without fear. Trinamul chairman Pankaj Banerjee fears large-scale violence and intimidation of voters and has urged the state administration to ensure a free and fair election.    

Calcutta, May 27 
The police on Friday evening tracked down the mobile phone number of an underworld chieftain of the Behala-Thakurpukur area, Bapan Mukherjee, traced him to his hideout with the help of a cellular company and arrested him with six associates.

Police said they had gathered at the hideout to draw up plans to kidnap the son of a local businessman. The gang leader, Bapan Mukherjee, who police records say is wanted for five counts of murder, two dozen extortion cases and 10 dacoity cases, was arrested in the late-night swoop.

Police were on the lookout for Bapan and his gang for the past couple of months. According to police and other sources, Bapan controlled areas surrounding Vidyasagar Hospital, portions of Sarsuna and Parnasree. The 30-year-old criminal had expanded his network recently by recruiting a few students struck off the rolls of a local English-medium school.

Bapan had recently demanded Rs 1 lakh each from three local businessmen. He sent some henchmen last week to the Behala residence of a businessman, where they severely assaulted the security guard and exploded a bomb in the portico.

Police said the businessman was too scared to lodge a complaint with the local thana but met senior police officers at Writers� Buildings and urged them to take action.

The anti-crime squad of Behala-Thakurpukur police swung into action after the successful operation against Behala�s most dreaded mafia don, Laloo Das.

Laloo, 27, wanted in more than two dozen murder and extortion cases, was killed in an encounter in Howrah last week. Three of his associates were arrested during the shootout.

One of the arrested criminals told police that Bapan and Laloo were working together and splitting the booty. The miscreant broke down during sustained interrogation and gave Bapan�s cell phone number to the police.

The officer-in-charge of Behala police station, Subir Chatterjee, said anti-crime officers started tracking down the calls and the spot they were being made from.

Chatterjee said the control room of the mobile phone company helped them track down the spot. �It can be done on cellular phones,�� Chatterjee said.

The police team reached the spot in an Ambassador and parked the vehicle in a field behind. Around midnight, Bapan and his associates arrived in two cars. Bapan was barking instructions to some others on his cellphone.

While they were busy chalking out their strategy, police officers surrounded them. There were 12 men in the gang. Officers said six managed to escape, while Bapan and rest were arrested. They were brought to the police station for interrogation.    

Calcutta, May 27 
The toy train, which got a fresh lease of life after Unesco declared it a world heritage site six months ago, is set to re-emerge as the mainstay of tourism in Darjeeling.

The British-built Queen of Hill Stations is facing tough competition from neighbouring Sikkim, which opened its doors to visitors a little more than a decade ago.

Lately, the railway authorities have initiated a series of schemes to restore the glory of the toy train as a major tourist draw. According to chief public relations officer, Northeastern Railways, Utpalparna Hazarika, Rs 12 lakh have been spent on renovating and decorating each of the eight coaches with wall-to- wall carpets, antiques, paintings, special furniture and cane interiors.

President K.R. Narayanan is expected to dedicate the toy train to the world some time next month. The railways hope the introduction of the two diesel engines, flagged off by railway minister Mamata Banerjee last Sunday, will help popularise the train rides.

Hazarika said: �A diesel engine will take about six hours to reach Darjeeling from New Jalpaiguri, while an steam engine covers the 80-km stretch in about eight hours.�

Besides, the former can pull five coaches at a time, while the latter does not draw more than three bogies.

The rest of the 13 steam engines, the oldest being the 1881-built Hillbird, will run short distances, so that their preservation is not hampered. At the moment, two pairs of steam-hauled trains run between Darjeeling and Kurseong and Darjeeling and Ghoom, the latter basically a, eight-km joyride.

Apart from converting eight coaches into heritage bogies, the railways plan to restore to their past glory all stations between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling. A British architect, P. Tiller, has already submitted a report recommending the restoration of the stations to their original layout and colour schemes. This apart, he has suggested upgrading the toilets, waiting rooms and catering services.

The railway minister has announced that a rail museum will be set up at Ghoom, the highest station in the country.

The railways is likely to seek the assistance of private tour operators to popularise the toy train among visitors from different parts of the country.    

Jorhat, May 27 
Ulfa assistant publicity secretary Swadhinata Phukan alias Kabiranjan Saikia was shot dead by Jorhat police at Gandheli village in the Garumorah area under Pulibor police station late last night. His body was handed over to his father Hemo Saikia this evening.

Phukan is the third central committee member of the Ulfa to have been killed in Jorhat district this year. His death has dealt a major blow to the banned outfit as he was the brain behind the outfit�s propaganda strategy.

Jorhat superintendent of police Gyanandra Prasad Singh said they had information from a top Ulfa leader that Phukan was in the neighbourhood. �He was using the area as a corridor to cross over to the North Bank,� he added.

Singh said the police laid an ambush in the area at 1.30 am and challenged the Ulfa leader who was riding a bicycle. The latter fired two rounds at the police who retaliated, killing Phukan.

A China-made automatic pistol, three computer floppies and incriminating documents were recovered from Phukan�s possession. An identity card in the name of Biman Bora, a research scholar at Jadavpur University in Calcutta, was also recovered. It bore Phukan�s photograph.

Local residents, however, said Phukan was residing at the house of Manjurani Devi, a doctor with Upper Gorumora public health centre. They said he had been staying there for the past two months. Police picked him up last night, they added. He was known in the area as Biman Bora.

Phukan, who hails from Milanpur in Nagaon district, was a key functionary of the Ulfa. He was the link person between the media and the outlawed organisation and was responsible for bringing out Ulfa newsletter Swadhinata (freedom) and hosting the Ulfa website.

Phukan had a narrow escape in Meghalaya last year when several of his accomplices were apprehended and the Ulfa central publicity cell busted.

Sources said Phukan had been frequenting Majuli for the last couple of months as the Ulfa planned to set up its central publicity office there.

This was revealed by two functionaries of the Ulfa�s central committee � Bhaskar Dutta and Samiran Bhuyan � who were arrested on March 27 by Jorhat police.

Sources said Phukan had to flee the island following recent tightening of security. Although the Army had suspended operations in Jorhat district since 1997, it was operating in the island, a subdivision of the district, following information that senior Ulfa functionaries were camping there.    

Jorhat, May 27 
Unidentified gunmen shot dead six Nepalis at Mugongpathar village under Pengeri police station, 35 km from Digboi town in Tinsukia district at 1.30 am last night, reports our correspondent.

The victims have been identified as Krishna Bahadur Karki (50), his wife Devi Karki (45), their son Bhakat Bahadur Karki (35), Sher Bahadur Dahal (30), Chandra Sonar (30) and Bal Bahadur Bhujel (30). The latter three were guests at Karki�s house.

�The militants might have suspected that the Karkis were police informers as several militants were killed in the area recent times,� deputy inspector-general of police, (Upper Assam), Umesh Kumar, told The Telegraph.

Sources said Karki, a small tea grower, had not paid heed to Ulfa�s extortion demands.    

Agartala, May 27 
The National Liberation Front of Tripura has denied involvement in the recent massacre of 25 non-tribals in the Bagber and North Maharanipur areas under Kalyanpur police station early this week.

NLFT publicity secretary D. Bekreng said in a release, �The NLFT is in no way connected with the massacre of non-tribals in Kalyanpur on May 20. Our organisation is struggling for a free Tripura and there is no question of killing innocent and unarmed people.

�The NLFT believes that people have the right to live freely and fearlessly in their land. We strictly adhere to the human rights charter of the United Nations,� he added.

Blaming the state government and the media for launching a �baseless campaign� against the NLFT, Bekreng said it was a government design to isolate the organisation from the international fora.

The NLFT statement comes at a time when evidence regarding the All-Tripura Tiger Force�s hand in the massacre is emerging. Official sources said the initial feedback was that the NLFT was responsible for the killings, but �now things look different,� they added.

Sources said the Tiger Force was the most active organisation in the Bagber and North Maharanipur areas and was involved in all the previous massacres. It also had a hand in the April 15 massacre of 12 Bengalis in Khas Kalyanpur.

The CRPF, under fire for dereliction of duty, has denied all allegations. In a statement issued yesterday, CRPF authorities said they have been working under particular police stations, carrying out orders. However, official sources dismissed the statement as a �face-saving device�. They said the role of CRPF jawans of the 89th battalion posted in Dushki and Balaram Kobra camps was �extremely dubious�.

CM visits troubled area

For the first time since assuming office, chief minister Manik Sarkar today visited a major spot of militant violence. Keeping his visit a secret from the media, Sarkar reached Bagber, North Maharanipur and Balaram-thakurpara under Kalyanpur police station which witnessed ethnic riots from May 20-22.

Sarkar was escorted by security forces in 14 vehicles. He met the local residents of Bagber refugee camp but was met by slogans at Kalyanpur. Official sources here said Sarkar�s visit followed instructions by the CPM Politburo.

Yesterday, health minister Keshab Mazumder and CPM MP Samar Chowdhury faced violent crowds at the Kalyanpur High School refugee camp from where they had to be rescued by security forces.    


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