The disturbances drove away voters but deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya clai-med nearly 70 per cent polling. The fear of violence combined with the sultry weather to discourage voters in parts of the city and Salt Lake.
A 58-year-old heart patient, Ranjit Dey, died of shock when a bomb exploded near him as he was walking home at Jorasanko in north Calcutta.
Brimming with confidence, the CPM was the only party that proclaimed: “We will form the civic boards in both Calcutta and Salt Lake.” The Congress’ surrender was abject, with PCC chief A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury admitting: “We have been defeated by CPM’s musclepower.” Mamata Banerjee did not know where she stood.
“In 70 to 75 wards, the CPM has terrorised our candidates and voters but we have fought tooth and nail against their terror tactics,” she said.
Trinamul’s mayoral aspirant Subrata Mukherjee said “we are hopeful of forming the board” but Mamata’s campaign managers were sceptical of their chances in the north. One said : “There will be a hung board and the Congress councillors will decide who forms the board.”
A hung verdict will mean that Independents — a number of them are in the fray — and the Congress will be wooed by both the Trinamul and the Left.
The CPM advertised its confidence despite the impressive showing by the Trinamul-BJP in elections in the recent past. CPM politburo member Biman Bose had claimed just after the Panskura Lok Sabha bypoll early this month that his party would win. It lost by 40,000 votes.
Mamata, too, had said after the Panskura byelection that polling was peaceful and she was satisfied. Her reaction today was different. “The civic polls have been conducted by the State Election Commission, a state government baby. When elections are conducted under the Central Election Commission I will show them what elections are like,” she said.
Saugata Roy, PCC spokesman, said: “We have no report of booth capturing and rigging by Trinamul. It was the CPM that chased our workers in many places.”
In Salt Lake, the picture was clearer with Trinamul, BJP and Congress contesting against each other and against the CPM. “Our prospects have been hampered by Trinamul. Subhas Chakraborty personally supervised booth capturing by CPM cadre,” said Tapan Sikdar, BJP minister.
Disturbances took place almost across the city and in Salt Lake but there was no suspension of polling. Till late evening, neither the Congress nor Trinamul had demanded a repoll, though 24 incidents of violence were listed.
The CPM demanded repolling in two booths in ward 54 in Calcutta alleging that the electronic voting machine was damaged after Trinamul workers hurled bombs.
In Salt Lake, too, a machine was damaged in CD block after a clash between Trinamul and CPM workers inside a polling station.
The BJP withdrew its candidate Ibrahim Khan from ward 75 in the Watgunge area in protest against the “reign of terror unleashed by the ruling CPM.”
“The entire election has become a farce with CPM hooligans jamming the booths and terrorising voters in both Calcutta and Salt Lake,” complained Sikdar.
Echoing Sikdar’s view, Trinamul spokesman Pankaj Banerjee charged the CPM with “rigging”.
Bombs were thrown, polling agents of rival parties jostled and traded threats in Jorasanko, Cossipore, Beliaghata, Balaram Dey Street, Girish Park, Beniapukur, Behala, Jadavpur, Regent Park, Tiljala and Kasba. Nearly 20 people were injured and 300 held.
Tension ran high in wards 23 and 25 in the Jorasanko area where alleged Left workers threw nearly three dozen bombs. Several Forward Bloc workers were seen nursing welts received from police lathis at Jorasanko. “We are in power for the last 23 years. I have never seen the police treat us like this. The police are openly supporting Trinamul,” said Abhoy Burman of Forward Bloc.
Repoll on Tuesday
Repoll will be held on Tuesday in five booths in CMC area and one booth in Salt Lake municipality. The CMC booths are number 8 and 10 in ward 54; 14 in ward 141; 29 in ward 33; and 8 in ward 131. In Salt Lake, the repoll will be in booth 3 of ward 17.
The telephone buzzed, startling her back to bleary wakefulness. Taut with tension, her eyes foggy with lack of sleep, Mamata stared out of the window and saw a martin. According to popular belief, sighting a single martin is a bad omen.
“Didi, I am Zeba Nasreen... They threw bombs at my car. I am injured. CPM goons are threatening my boys... please help. This is an SOS.’’ Her phone — 2808606 — at the Nizam Palace suite was crackling with a clutter of complaints.
“Have you informed the police and the election observer... let me see what I can do. But ask your boys not to leave the booth,’’ Mamata advised her candidate from ward 60 in central Calcutta.
Polling agents were desperately calling for help, for her to appear at the “trouble-spot”. “I am tired. Let me rest a bit. I can’t move,’’ she said.
At 2 pm, the tide of complaints had turned into a wave, sweeping Mamata out of Nizam Palace in a Tata Sumo, accompanied by a convoy of securitymen. The group sped towards Mitra Institution in south Calcutta.
She stepped inside the crowded polling booth, with not much time left for voting to close, to be confronted by CPM supporters who asked: “Why have so many people entered the booth with you? Get out of here.’’
Media representatives suddenly found themselves surrounded by half-a-dozen CPM workers. Some were roughed up.
Mamata stormed out of the booth without casting her vote, prompting special branch officials and commandos of the Railway Protection Force to bring her back in under escort.
“Mitra Institution is my stronghold and I could have beaten the blues out of them. Bhalo bole chere dilum, (I’m letting them off because I’m good),’’ she said.
Democratic right exercised, the convoy rolled again. As it neared EM Bypass, Mamata spotted a bus full of people opposite Science City. She stopped to question: “What are you doing here?”
“We have come to visit Science City,’’ one of them said. “Let me have a look at your fingers,’’ Mamata asked. She saw marks on the fingers of some of them and began shouting: “They are all bogus voters. They have come from Dum Dum.’’
“See what the CPM has done. There can never be free and fair polls under the Jyoti Basu regime,’’ she said on her way back to Nizam Palace.
During their pre-lunch meeting, the Prime Minister is expected to refer to India’s secular tradition and its spirit of tolerance, which accommodates all faiths, when the issue of the attacks on Christians comes up. However, he is likely to be on the backfoot.
The Holy See has been kept informed of developments in India by Roman Catholics. Archbishop Alan de Lastic, who died in a car crash in Poland last week, had long insisted that Vajpayee should meet the Pope as it would send the right signals to Christians in India.
The Prime Minister, who does not want his growing friendship with Western countries to sour, will tell the Pope that the attacks were sporadic and too much should not be read into them.
He is also expected to point out that all states, where such violence has taken place, are probing the incidents and the administrations have been urged to take strong action against the culprits.
Of late, attacks on the Christian community have been given significant coverage in the Western media. The Holy See is also kept informed by Roman Catholic establishments in India. Consequently, the Prime Minister would have faced flak not just from Christians at home but also from the West had he not set up the meeting with the Pope.
However, the Vajpayee government does not want to attach too much importance to tomorrow’s meeting at the Vatican. It would prefer to have the one-to-one played down as a mere courtesy call, an explanation probably meant for hardliners in the Prime Minister’s own party.
The BJP. secretary (west) R.S. Kala, in his official briefing on board the Prime Minister’s aircraft, insisted that this meeting was not a consequence of the attacks on Christians.
The Prime Minister will also be on the defensive as only a few weeks ago he had criticised de Lastic when the archbishop called on after a spate of attacks on Christians.
Vajpayee was displeased because Christian leaders had refused to accept the National Minority Commission’s verdict that some of the early attacks were mere “law and order” incidents and the perpetrators of those crimes were not religious fanatics.
Subsequently, the three almost simultaneous bomb blasts in three southern states and the desecration of graves in East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh altered the perception of the administration in Delhi. Even the BJP has started blaming the ISI for the crimes.
However, the BJP government has been embarrassed by the way VHP leaders like Acharya Giriraj Kishore have expressed their unhappiness with tomorrow’s meeting.
Vajpayee will have to do some tightrope-walking. An effort is on to send a signal — without sounding apologetic — that the government does not support the attacks on Christians.
Blast in Andhra
A bomb exploded in a mosque in Andhra Pradesh late tonight, adds agencies.
Police said one person was injured in the explosion inside the mosque in Guntur. The blast came close on the heels of a series of explosions in churches in some parts of the state.
It didn’t quite work. On the plus side, Mambo Sharma’s Wizcraft, the company mainly responsible for organising the occasion, constructed a spectacular and probably the biggest stage of its kind seen in Britain.
Amitabh Bachchan, who set the ceremony rolling, said Indian cinema was ready to be placed under the global spotlight.
But there were far too many minuses for the event to be honestly judged a professional success. One of the main culprits was Aishwarya Rai, who won two major awards — Personality of the Year and Best Actress in a Leading Role — but failed to turn up. The organisers didn’t seem aware she was not coming.
There were many embarrassing pauses while the audience and the cameras waited. Again and again, winners in all sorts of categories failed to collect their awards and the task had to be performed by whoever could be persuaded on to the stage to do the honours.
As compere, Anupam Kher had to reach deep into his powers of improvisation. At one point, standing at the opposite end of the stage from the prize winners’ corner, he said: “Can you get someone or I will go and collect it — and it’s a long walk?”
His co-compere, Yukta Mookhey, managed five changes of costume but as co-presenter, her skills left something to be desired.
The reigning Miss World was at her most irritating when she kept plugging the names of the event’s sponsors, including, notably, Kelvinator, which must have generated much ill-will last night.
“What does it have to do with Bollywood?” someone wondered.
Mookhey proved she is best when she is seen and not heard. Far too often, Anupam Kher’s light touch saved huge gaffes.
One of the worst occurred when an executive of Madame Tussaud’s came on stage to announce the result of a worldwide poll to decide which of the five candidates — Amitabh Bachchan, Raj Kapoor, Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai and Madhuri Dixit — was to be honoured with the first waxwork model of an Indian film star. Before she could release the result after a suitably dramatic build-up, the game had been given away. Amitabh Bachchan’s picture had already flashed up on the big screen above the stage.
Anupam Kher handled it deftly when he told the crowd and the large audience watching what was, even by Sony’s unexacting standards, pretty incompetent TV: “You can pretend you have not seen that.”
The evening began with a promise this would be a night when the Indian film industry would prove to the world that it was every bit as good as Hollywood. The stars — major, minor and the wannabes — walked on the traditional red carpet past a flank of photographers and cameramen into the Skyscape. Adding to the sense of the occasion was the audience of 3,000 — entrance was by invitation only — who had dressed up for the Indian Oscars.
Amitabh Bachchan started the proceedings by recalling Dadasaheb Phalke, the father of Indian cinema. This was a cue to remind audiences that the Phalke Award had been given to Dilip Kumar, who lit the ceremonial lamp to the sound of mantras.
In turn, Dilip Kumar presented an award for “Invaluable Contribution to Indian Cinema” to Sunil Dutt, who is in poor health and had to be helped on to the stage. In true Oscar style, he thanked a long list of people, including his family members and said he missed his grandchildren.
More significantly, he spoke of his close friendship with his neighbour, Yusuf Saheb, and declared to well-deserved applause: “We are proud of a secular republic of India.”
Son Sunjay Dutt did a dance number. “I’m not a dancing star,” he commented.
Several members of the audience appeared to concur. But dancing disappointment, if any, was more than made up by the lissome foursome of Raveena Tandon, Sonali Bendre, Twinkle Khanna and Mahima Chowdhury who swung to Lou Vega’s Mambo number 5.
Dutt Junior had his moment, though, when he was named Best Actor in a Leading Role for Vaastav. “I want to thank my wife, my father...,” he began.
Sushmita Sen stole a march on Aishwarya Rai by being present and correct and collecting Best Actress in a Supporting Role.
She was curiously nominated twice in the same category, once for Biwi No 1 and the second time for Sirf Tum — something that never happens with the Oscars.
The absent Anil Kapoor, who was named Best Actor in a Supporting Role, also figured twice in the same category — forBiwi No 1 and for Taal.
Shah Rukh Khan, who sent fans into a frenzy with shouts of “Shah Rukh we love you”, collected the award for the Most Popular Sensation for the Last Five Years. He was “deeply honoured”, he said, “even though the last six months had not been very happy”. Hrithik Roshan, note.
Sanjay Leela Bansali, director of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, walked away with nine awards.
Shekhar Kapur, who was honoured for “Outstanding Indian Achievement in World Cinema”, recalled: “When I made Elizabeth, a critic in New York said: “‘This is just an extension of Hindi cinema.’ That is the greatest compliment I have ever had.”
The “one and only” Lata Mangeshkar was honoured for her “Invaluable Contribution to Indian Cinema”. Her prize was handed over by Shatrughan Sinha.
The biggest American star who agreed to attend the awards was the Kung Fu expert, Jackie Chan, who dropped a broad hint by joking: “I want to make an Indian film. I can sing and I’m not very expensive.”
Actresses Angelina Jolie and Susannah York and singer Kylie Minogue brought up the London section of the glitterati, handing the awards.
The media were banned from the post-show candle-lit dinner of 650 guests at Starship, a specially-built shamiana. Spotted at table No. 7 was Nadeem, the music director hiding in Britain for three years.