Basu illness sends shivers down CPM
A hundred roses from Mamata
Calcutta’s fingers crossed
Distress calls at Alimuddin & Writers’
Govt green signal for Jethmalani nominee
Cong turns up heat for ‘proper’ probe
Jaitley shows door to predecessor’s aides
Party animals sink differences to blink at forest

New Delhi, July 28 
Jyoti Basu’s sudden illness today gave the CPM the jitters. It was the first time the chief minister had fallen ill in the midst of a party meeting and had to be rushed to hospital.

“After all, it is Jyotibabu. We cannot take a chance,” party leaders did not tire of saying.

In a way, they were expressing their worst fear —— leading the CPM without Basu. His illness, party leaders repeatedly said, is not serious, but the man who is the CPM’s “soul” and “body” is 86 and has time and again said he wants to step down as chief minister.

Unfortunately for the CPM, Basu has entered the twilight of his long political innings at a time when the party needs him most. An aggressive Trinamul Congress, the shabby record in state administration and the criminalisation of politics have punched holes in the CPM’s Bengal bastion and made the party look vulnerable as never before.

Even as the CPM’s popularity has waned, Basu has retained his grip over West Bengal. But the party is reluctant to admit that it is dependent on one individual.

“Ours is an ideology-based party, not like the Congress,” CPM leaders are fond of saying. They maintain that while Basu’s contribution to the party cannot be measured, the CPM is not centred around personalities.

The truth, however, is that the CPM has become synonymous with Basu. He came close to giving the party the reins at the Centre. He is the only Communist chief minister who was repeatedly asked to accept the Prime Minister’s post. Even those unfamiliar with the CPM are familiar with Basu, the lone chief minister who has kept his party’s flag flying for two decades.

Most important, Basu is keeping the increasingly fragmented party together. He can quell dissidence by talking to rebel leaders like Subhas Chakraborty and Saifuddin Choudhury and keep the rising tide of dissatisfaction from swamping the party completely.

He is also the patriarch holding the Left Front together. Every time the CPI, the Forward Bloc and the RSP fall out with the CPM over seat-sharing, Basu steps in. When he wanted to quit as chief minister, the junior partners were as upset as the CPM.

The CPM leadership has eased the succession struggle in the West Bengal government by nominating Buddhadev Bhattacharya as deputy chief minister. But neither Buddhadev nor any of his colleagues can claim even a slice of the aura surrounding Basu.

The CPM’s adversaries in West Bengal also know the party has its best bet in Basu. “After all, there is hardly any comparison between Basu and Mamata,” is the general refrain.

Many CPM leaders admit in private that they are uncertain of the course the party will take if Basu pulls out of active politics —— the one reason for the party turning down his plea for retirement. The jitters today were not without reason.    

July 28 
Mamata Banerjee was in Nanoor, where 11 people were killed in a clash yesterday. When news of Jyoti Basu’s illness reached her at Bolpur circuit house at around 3 pm, she was on her way back from there. Mamata asked her personal secretary, Sunil Chaturvedi, in Delhi to visit her hate No. 1 in hospital.

“My God, what are you saying?” she asked Chaturvedi who broke the news to her. “Get me a quick situation report,” she told him, advising that he speak to the Bengal government.

Within 10 minutes the report came. “Please go over and convey my concern as well as my wishes for speedy recovery.”

The shadow of the politics of violence that had followed her to the Birbhum village was cast away. She had left her usual dose of invectives behind at Nanoor. Instead, she sent an emissary with a bouquet of 100 roses tied with a pink ribbon. The chief minister smiled as Chaturvedi handed over the bouquet with Mamata’s recover-fast message.

Mamata also offered the resources of the railway ministry, if they were of any use.

“We have our political differences, but I must say my ministry will always be found ready to play a positive role as he is chief minister of my state and also an important leader,” she said.

Streetfighter Mamata has grown into her responsibility. She now knows when to suppress the shrill tone that comes naturally to her.

Her party hasn’t. When Basu was being treated at Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital this afternoon, the Trinamul Congress held a news conference to attack the chief minister with a telling disability: “unfit” to rule. Perhaps, they were not aware how harsh that adjective would sound at that particular moment.

But they were sensitive enough to regret, though, that he was ill and in hospital. They also took care to point out that they were not commenting on his health but the collapse of law and order Bengal where “people were living in constant fear”.

“Basu is unfit to rule. When people are dying, Nero fiddles. Can you rely on such a chief minister?” said Ajit Panja, senior Trinamul leader and minister of state for external affairs to boot. If diplomacy comes to him naturally, it wasn’t show here.

No such videshi parallels as Nero for his party colleague, Sudip Bandopadhyay, who fell back on the Mahabharata. “Blind Dhritarashtra”, Bandopadhyay called Basu, returning the “compliment” Bengal CPM secretary Anil Biswas had paid to Mamata yesterday, dubbing her “Lady Bal Thackeray”.

Sources close to Mamata described the timing of the comments made by party leaders as “unfortunate”. At Bolpur, after learning of Basu’s illness, Mamata had asked her supporters not to transgress the bounds of decency while criticising the chief minister in their public campaign.

Amid the wild allegations being traded by the two sides, Basu had struck a note of sanity yesterday when he pricked some of his party leaders’ trial balloon that Mamata should be arrested.

“One can’t arrest a person for holding a rally for which police had not given permission,” Basu had said, telling his party that the battle against Mamata is not personal, but political.

Today, with her flowers, Mamata kept the politics out of the personal.    

Calcutta, July 28 
Soon after the news of Jyoti Basu’s illness spread through radio and television, crowds gathered outside Alimuddin Street and Indira Bhavan, the two places in Calcutta that first received information from Delhi on Friday.

From around 1 pm the crowd gathered outside the state CPM headquarters on Alimuddin Street kept asking anyone emerging from the building what Jyoti babu’s condition was like. “How serious is he? Has he suffered a heart attack?” asked Kali Das, a party supporter from nearby Mullick Bazar. “My wife heard it on the 1 pm radio news and told me when I came home for lunch. I immediately rushed for Alimuddin Street to get the authentic news.”

Many others had the same question. They were pacified to an extent when party leader Atul Bandopadhyay came out to tell them that Basu had complained of uneasiness and felt faint while attending the politburo meeting at Gopalan Bhavan.

He said Anil Biswas had rung up from Delhi a little after 11.30 pm. Basu had been taken to Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital where doctors were attending on him. “There is no cause for alarm, do not cause a commotion,” Atul told the crowd. This provided some relief to the anxious gathering. But speculation was still rife whether the seniormost Left Front leader had suffered a heart attack or it was some other complaint.    

Calcutta, July 28 
11.30 am: A telephone rang in the office of the CPM headquarters at Alimuddin Street. It was CPM state secretary, Anil Biswas’ telephone from Delhi, breaking the news of chief minister Jyoti Basu’s sudden illness.

The news came as a jolt to the party hierarchy. Almost at the same time, another telephone rang at T K Sengupta’s (special assistant to chief minister) chamber.

This time it was Joy Krishna Ghosh, Basu’s confidential assistant from Delhi. His face became pale after he heard the news that Basu was in hospital.

Hearing Sengupta’s faint voice from the other end, Ghosh, however, told him that there was no need to worry as Basu’s condition is stable.

Within a few minutes, the news spread like wildfire throughout the secretariat. Ministers Ashok Bhattacharya, Nisith Adhikari and Kshiti Goswami rang up Alimuddin Street to cross check.

Confusion reigned for a while as Basu’s deputy Buddhadev Bhattacharya was also in Delhi and there was no one to take any immediate decision.

As all senior party leaders were in Delhi to attend the central committee meeting, those present, including ministers, did not know what to do.

After half-an-hour, instruction came from Bhattacharya confirming that Basu was well and there was no need to become tense.

Health minister Partha De wanted to know whether any doctor was required to be sent from Calcutta. De was told by Bhattacharya that cardiologist A K Maity had been contacted in Mumbai.

In the afternoon, Basu’s wife Kamal Basu, son Chandan and other family members urged the health minister to send physician Mani Chhetri to Delhi to examine Basu.

They said Basu had been Chhetri’s patient for many years. Following the request, the government made necessary arrangements and Chhetri left by the evening Indian Airlines airbus. A little later, Kamal Basu and son Chandan left for Delhi by a Jet Airways flight.

At Writers’ Buildings, all categories of employees — from peon and sweepers to officers — asked the same question. What happened? Is it true?

They also frequently thronged the Press Corner for the latest information on Basu.

There was silence and also some degree of anxiety in almost all departments.

Meanwhile an agitating group of Trinamul Congress supporters in front of the Writers Buildings demanded Basu’s resignation. Perhaps, they did not know.    

New Delhi, July 28 
The Centre will go ahead with the appointment of the chairman of the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission which figures in the statement of ousted law minister Ram Jethmalani as one of the issues leading to his resignation.

Sources said a “polite” letter by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to Chief Justice A.S. Anand has “assuaged his hurt feelings”.

Justice B.M. Lal, retired judge of Patna High Court, will be sworn in as monopolies commission chairman any time between August 2 and 5, official sources added.

In his statement yesterday, Jethmalani had said that the chief justice was upset that he was not consulted in the appointment of the monopolies commission chairman.

The former minister argued that he went ahead with the appointment of Justice Lal because the chief justice was wrong “both in law and in fact” that consultation with him was necessary.

Justice Lal’s swearing-in has been delayed because the Supreme Court registry has told the department of company affairs that it was “too short a time” for the chief justice to conduct the ceremony.

Sources said the “hesitant” response from the apex court registry indicates that Anand was “obviously” hurt that he was not consulted on the appointment.

Eager to distance himself from Jethmalani’s statement, new law minister Arun Jaitley announced in Parliament that the “process of consultation” with Anand was on.

Jethmalani scoffed at the statement. “It is a surrender of the executive to the judiciary. I was a no-nonsense law minister and never allowed the judiciary to step in to the zone of the executive,” he told The Telegraph.

“If the Prime Minister and his government want to surrender to the judiciary, let them do so,” he added.

Reacting to Vajpayee’s statement that his government did not share Jethmalani’s “perception”, the former minister said: “He (Vajpayee) is entitled to his own perception as I am entitled to, but I cannot be a mute spectator when a crime on the Constitution is being committed.”

Brushing aside Vajpayee’s remark that Jethmalani “just cannot keep quiet”, the ousted minister said: “Democracy entitles you to speak up when things go wrong in front of you.”

Jethmalani said he would go abroad “within a day or two” to attend his grandson’s marriage and the World Sindhi Meet, “which I attend every year”.    

New Delhi, July 28 
Rejecting Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee’s announcement of an inquiry into how secret documents were leaked by deposed law minister Ram Jethmalani, the Congress today demanded a “proper probe” into the entire drama.

The party also asked the government what it intends to do about the charges levelled against the chief justice and the attorney-general. “We would still insist on a full-fledged discussion on Ram Jethmalani’s resignation as a number of constitutional matters are linked with it,” Congress’ deputy leader in the Lok Sabha Madhavrao Scindia said after staging a walkout.

Party MP Kapil Sibal, who led the attack in the Rajya Sabha, said the attorney-general should be summoned to the House through a resolution to respond to the charges levelled by Jethmalani.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi consulted several party leaders, including those who have a legal background, today. Kapil Sibal, Hansraj Bhardwaj, P. Shiv Shankar, Pranab Mukherjee, Madhavrao Scindia, Arjun Singh and Manmohan Singh are among the leaders who have been formulating the Congress’ floor strategy.

Expressing dissatisfaction with Vajpayee’s “generalised statement” in Parliament, Congress floor managers said their agitation will continue on Monday. AICC spokesman Anil Shastri accused the government of not taking the matter seriously. “The inquiry by the chief vigilance officer will serve no purpose,” Shastri said.

Congress leaders said they wanted Vajpayee to spell out how the government intends to react to the disclosures made by Jethmalani and what it proposes to do about the charges against the chief justice and the attorney-general.    

New Delhi, July 28 
Arun Jaitley, the new law minister, has sacked two official staff of Ram Jethmalani, suspecting that they had actually passed on the “secret and confidential” classified documents to his predecessor who was forced to resign on Sunday.

Jethmalani’s private secretary V.K. Garg and officer on special duty (OSD) to the law minister K. Mahesh were given “marching orders” late last night, sources in the ministry said.

Both Garg and Mahesh were seen assisting the former minister at the press conference where he released the 17-page statement to the media.

They were also seen helping him draft the controversial statement to the Rajya Sabha chairman which, however, was not allowed to be taken up as it contained “98 pages of classified” documents.

“Not all of them are correspondence between Jethmalani and the Chief Justice and the attorney-general, few related to even the minutes with the Prime Minister,” the sources said.

Garg’s room was locked in a precautionary measure and a new lock could also be seen from the other side of the room.

“This room has the computer containing all information and there was an attempt to smuggle it out to Jethmalani’s residence yesterday,” the sources said.

They said after the room was locked, the private secretary and the OSD were sternly told that on “as is where is basis, you are not allowed to enter the respective rooms of yours until further orders”.

“This means they would be reverted to their respective cadre soon. Then they would get different postings according to procedure,” the sources added.

Garg is from the customs and excise service, while Mahesh is from the Delhi-Andaman and Nicobar Islands Service.

Jaitley, who later left for Chennai to attend a function, made a statement in Parliament, saying the government would start consultations with the Chief Justice on all matters concerning him. He then came back to office before leaving for the airport in the evening.

According to the sources, Jethmalani’s annexures to the statement are “classified” documents and Parliament is debating whether his actions amounted to a violation of the Official Secrets Act.

While a section of the Opposition wanted his immediate arrest for violating the Act, the Centre said there would be an inquiry as to how these documents were obtained by him even after he resigned. As of now, Garg and Mahesh are the prime suspects.

Faced with the barrage of accusations, a combative Jethmalani however maintained that he had not violated any law as it was within his rights to keep a copy of the correspondence he had with various persons and constitutional functionaries.

“Let them prosecute me. I shall see,” he said.    

Bhubaneswar, July 28 
In utter contrast to the passion with which politicians fight over the most trivial matters, not a single voice was raised in the Orissa Assembly today over the blatant violation of rules by the organisers of a party right inside a game sanctuary.

There was a good reason for this silence: the legislators themselves were the people who broke the law by taking part in the gala bash.

The 147 members of Assembly swear by various conflicting hues and ideologies. But on this one point they were, indeed, one.

Setting aside political differences, MLAs from the BJP, Biju Janata Dal, Congress, Left and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha put on their party hats to celebrate in the heart of the Chandaka wildlife sanctuary, home to 70 elephants, besides leopards, tigers and deer.

The “do”, organised by Congress member Suresh Chandra Routray and attended by chief minister Naveen Patnaik himself, has raised eyebrows among state officials but not even a squeak of protest in the House.

A top wildlife official called the celebrations outrageous. “How could they think of something like this in the centre of an elephant sanctuary, let alone hold it. It is just bizarre,” he said.

Besides violating the Wildlife Protection Act, officials said the lawmakers had abandoned all resemblance of civilised behaviour.

At a time when animal lovers were mourning the death of 12 tigers in Nandankanan, these public servants displayed a total lack of concern for wildlife by intruding into the elephants’ habitat, said a senior bureaucrat.

No one knows for sure why the party was held. Routray’s aides said the former excise minister wanted to celebrate the country’s victory in Kargil a year ago “in a befitting manner”.

But Biju Janata Dal sources said Routray had a less lofty motive: he wanted to keep the chief minister, once a party-hopper, in good humour.

Patnaik denied any wrong-doing. “I was invited, so I went there. I did not organise it,” the chief minister told The Telegraph.

The forest department had to look the other way because the chief minister and his Cabinet colleagues were among the guests.

“How can you say no to the chief minister if he wants to visit a sanctuary? We had no option but to make all the arrangements,” said a forest official, justifying the presence of department personnel at the banquet.

If Routray had hoped to please Patnaik, he chose the right path to the chief minister’s heart. Bowled over by the sumptuous food, Patnaik announced then and there a Rs 11-crore irrigation project for Jatni, the Congress leader’s constituency, under which Chandaka falls.

While the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation took its buses off their routes and used them to ferry the MLAs and their aides to the sanctuary, some of the guests preferred to drive there in their own cars, causing a traffic jam on the dirt tracks inside the game park.

Two king-size tents were pitched in the middle of the sanctuary at the foot of a watch-tower to cook the 20 dishes that the guests were served. Chairs and tables were set out in forest clearings.

While the lawmakers-turned-lawbreakers celebrated, the loud chatter and billowing smoke drove the scared animals away from their peaceful habitat.    


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