One of the most prominent “flood victims” was Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, whose one-storeyed modest home on Harish Chatterjee Street was a pool of water for about two hours before the tide receded.
Water had entered all the rooms. “My mother and other members of the family were forced to huddle on the nearly three-foot-high palanka (bed) my father left behind. It was the only island during the deluge,” she said.
In a fix too were her securitymen, who did not know how to counter such a threat. “We had nothing else to do but wait it out.”
Water levels could rise further during the tidal bores on Wednesday night and Thursday, said Calcutta Municipal Corporation officials. The influence of the new moon on bhara kotal, or full tide, reaches its peak during this time.
Had the sun not shone all through, Wednesday could have been worse. The forecast for tomorrow is light rain in the afternoon and evening in parts of the city.
Policemen in vans armed with loud-speakers moved around the affected areas today, cautioning residents that the worst was yet to come.
All along the Adi Ganga in the Kalighat area, the water started rising around 11.30 am. It swept over the ghats on either side, entered adjacent slum-dwellings and then on to the roads running parallel to the canal.
By 1 pm, Tollygunge Road was under knee-deep water. On Kalighat Road, people waded through thigh-deep water. “Hazra Road and Rashbehari Avenue were like bridges standing out in the deluge,” Ashis Mal, a resident, said.
“Last year, when the tide water and the heavy rain flooded these areas, we thought it was bad. But this time, just the tide water has been much worse.”
Finding its own level, the water coursed eastward, crossed Ashutosh Mukherjee Road and reached as far as Deshapriya Park and Priya Cinema.
Charu Market, parts of Tollygunge Club and Anwar Shah Road in the south, and Strand Bank Road, Chitpur, Kumartuli, Bagbazar and even B.T. Road in the north were awash in the overflowing tidal bore.
“The situation on the west bank of the Hooghly was worse today,” said deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya. “Bandel and Chinsurah were flooded, and at the Bandel power plant, there was eight inches of water. But generation was not disrupted.”
River water had entered Belur Math in Howrah and the B.E. College campus in Shibpur. The Bandel Church compound was under threat as well, according to a resident of the riverside town.
One of the worst-affected areas in north Calcutta was Ghoshbagan near Regent Cinema, where the water had crossed the knee. “Fortunately, there was no rain today. Otherwise, God knows what would have happened,” said Ajoy Sen, who has a ground floor flat here.
The brunt of Wednesday’s flooding was borne by residents in the south. Tuesday having given them a taste of what was in store, many had taken whatever precautionary measures they could.
“We have shifted all costly material and equipment to the first floor,” said Aparna Shah of Nepal Bhattacharya Street, a stone’s throw from the Kalighat Temple. “Taking the fridge up was a problem.”
The way the water was rising, they started fearing that the Keoratala crematorium off Tollygunge Road would be flooded. At one point, there were rumours that the electric furnaces had to be closed down.
“That did not happen,” said the crematorium’s medical officer Gangadhar Mondal, who has been put in charge of the burning ghats during this critical period.
“What sparked the rumours was a couple of bouts of power cuts soon after the roads were flooded. CESC was contacted, for a power cut is extremely rare here. They explained that there had been blowouts at two junction boxes further down the road after water entered them. They had turned off the supply after informing the CMC headquarters,” he said.
Officials at Writers’ Buildings claimed that there had been no damage in the city.
n More reports on Page 8
Vajpayee is working at furious speed because he will be tied up with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s three-day visit from October 2. The following week, he leaves for knee surgery at Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai.
Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office said Vajpayee is insisting that files should not be allowed to pile up during his absence and all decisions should be taken without delay.
Only select PMO officials will travel with him. Sources said the same number of people who accompanied him to Manali will go with him, which limits the size of his team to five. They are expected to put up at Raj Bhavan.
Vajpayee has already chaired two Cabinet meetings since his return and may hold two more before leaving for Mumbai. Today he had a “scheduled monthly meeting” with the service chiefs on border developments and intelligence-gathering, specially in Kashmir.
Sources said Vajpayee also reviewed the country’s defence needs ahead of Putin’s visit to get an idea of what kind of equipment to buy from Russia.
PMO sources said the operation date had been carefully chosen as little government work is done between Dussehra and Diwali. Vajpayee will reach Mumbai on October 8 for his operation two days later. He may have to stay in Mumbai till October 15.
“You never know, he may prolong or cut short his stay. It all depends on the speed of his convalescence,” PMO sources said.
Also accompanying Vajpayee to Mumbai will be his personal cardiologist and head of the department of cardiology at All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Dr A.K. Manchanda.
Manchanda will keep tabs on Vajpayee’s general health alongside orthopaedic surgeon Dr Chittaranjan Ranawat, who is specially flying down from the US to do the knee replacement surgery. Ranawat had suggested that Vajpayee get his knee operated at Breach Candy.
Having scheduled the operation during the festive break, the PMO has also taken care to put the price-monitoring mechanism in place.
With the petro hike lined up at month-end, prices are being monitored by joint secretaries in the PMO in charge of economic ministries under the supervision of principal secretary N.K. Singh.
Two years ago, the government was caught napping during the festive season when prices of essential commodities, including onion, spiralled out of control.
It had to pay a heavy price for this in the November Assembly polls that followed in Delhi, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
n Another report on Page 6
Thumbs down if your answer is either A, B or C. Its “Crorepati” Bachchan who is sending shivers down the Congress which had so far considered the Big B a part of its own stable.
Senior party leaders said they have information from “impeccable sources” that Bachchan will campaign for the Samajwadi Party in the run-up to next year’s Assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh. They also claimed that Mulayam’s party was on the verge of roping in Feroze Varun, son of Sanjay and Maneka Gandhi, to counter the “Priyanka effect”, especially in the Avadh region.
An AICC functionary said he shudders to visualise Bachchan campaigning for the Samajwadi Party and asking voters a question, Crorepati style. “Kaun banega UP ka chief minister? The crowd will shout back Mulayam Singh Yadav and then Bachchan will say: ‘Mulayam Singh ko lock kiya jaye!”’
Bachchan, a childhood friend of Rajiv Gandhi, was made a trustee of the Rajiv Gandhi foundation. However, relations between Sonia Gandhi and the superstar soured after she entered politics. In a recent TV interview, Sonia had admitted that he was no longer close to the family.
Sources close to Bachchan had expressed disappointment over Sonia’s refusal to attend the premiere of Refugee, the debut film of his son Abhishek. Sonia had expressed her unwillingness to attend the function on the ground that she did not go to five-star hotels.
The possibility of Feroze Varun joining the Samajwadi Party and Big B campaigning for Mulayam has forced the Congress to revise its strategy for Uttar Pradesh. The leadership has instructed Sri Prakash Jaiswal, who was named state unit chief last week, to tone down the attack on Mulayam and turn the gun on the BJP.
The strategy is different from Salman Khurshid’s line of attack which had focused on the Samajwadi Party.
To offset the challenge from the Samajwadi Party, Sonia’s managers are trying hard for a rapprochement with Mulayam’s key aide and general secretary, Amar Singh. Singh, a former AICC member, is believed to have been instrumental in blocking Sonia’s path to the Prime Minister’s office after the collapse of the Vajpayee government last year.
Ruing the loss of Singh’s services, a section of the Congress pointed to his persuasive powers, an example of which is winning over Bachchan who had taken sanyas from politics.
The superstar’s three-year honeymoon with politics between 1984-87 (when he was Congress MP from Allahabad) had ended on a bitter note. He had taken a public vow never to return to politics.
The Congress think-tank defended its new strategy towards Mulayam and Amar Singh, arguing that the outcome of the Assembly polls will force a political realignment.
“If the polls are held soon after the creation of Uttaranchal, that is along with Bengal early next year, there will be a hung House. The circumstances will force us to share power with Mulayam. So why not work out some kind of functional harmony so that our cadre get psychologically prepared for the post-poll scenario,” the AICC functionary said.
“It’s Laloo ya,” says her colleague and rushes after the mob. “Oh,” she says. “What’s he doing here?” and resumes blowing. “Careful,” says somebody. “That could burst.”
For the moment, that warning is unnecessary. Never has India’s IT industry been on such a high. It has brought Laloo, in person, with wife to boot to India Internet World 2000.
In the exhibition hall, the razzmatazz takes a breathless pause despite the loud music, the psychedelic lights and the hubbub. Laloo has walked in at 5:30 pm with Rabri Devi. He is held in thrall. “It’s like a foreign country,” he barely manages through betel-stained lips as the paan in his mouth works up the spittle.
This is India’s cyberia, the fifth largest Internet exhibition in the world. Jehanabad’s badlands are a universe away but this here is a battleground all right. Dotcom hawkers scream for attention, for “eyeballs”.
Every stall is giving away freebies: T-shirts, baseball caps, bags, folders. Each stall advertises its wares and brands in big bold lettering. Each visitor is overloaded with handbills. If the tag round the neck reads “Press”, the men and women of the stalls throng around, tugging at sleeves. Take two paces and there’s a CEO wanting to be interviewed. Take another two, and there’s another waiting.
At the go4i.com stall, a jam session is on. At Vsplash.com, a quiz is being conducted by a wannabe catwalker who is also giving away prizes for every correct answer. The men are in shocking ties; the women are dressed to knock out. Not all of them are in mini-skirts.
This is the third edition of India Internet World. A colleague who was in the first two says they were glamour-less. Then dotcoms were riding a high. This is after the shakeout. So there’s more glamour, like in the auto-shows, and less confidence but it’s difficult to see through the balloon-like optimism.
There’s music playing from speakers on the walls, music playing at every stall. If the music is switched off, every tick of time will record a thousand clicks: banks of computers connected to the Internet backbone prepared for the show by Microland are full of surfers. The surfing is free.
Laloo has come when the exhibition is open to the public. The organisers would have liked to restrict access but Pragati Maidan is a government venue and the rules stipulate that all exhibitions should be open to the public for at least two hours each day. There are many here who are not geeks but gazers, not engineers but oglers. Some join the mob around Laloo. They beseech him for autographs.
Laloo is taking in all of this, savouring the paan that has by now generated the spittle to swell his cheeks. There are no spittoons at India Internet World 2000.
At gate 11 he was welcomed by Gitasri of webdunia.com. He is here specially on her invitation. “I have been trying since one o’clock,” she says. “In the morning I had (I.K.) Gujral and he participated in a chat on our portal. Somebody asked him something about India-Pakistan relations. Want to see the text?”
Gitasri takes Laloo and Rabri to her bank of computers. The terminals have epatra, the Hindi chat site, open. Will he participate? she asks and adds: “Our portal is capable of accepting 14 Indian languages”.
Everybody around waits for Laloo’s answer with bated breath. Laloo on a computer! What a photo-op from the man who put the digital-divide on the nation’s agenda with his “Yeh IT-YT kya hai” statement last month.
Laloo knows he is being watched. He makes as if to speak. Then looks around, mouth twitching, the psychedelic lights glinting off his impish eyes as a beam passes over the stall. Then he turns to Gitasri.
“Kya aapka computer Bhojpuri samajhta hai?” (Does your computer follow Bhojpuri?)
Gitasri calls in an assistant.
“Write,” instructs Laloo. “Kaisan bari log?” (How are you?).
At his side, Rabri mutters: “Humni ke theek bari” (I am ok).
The assistant’s fingers grope for the keys, try the Devnagiri script. Does not succeed.