Election alert to body-hit Buddha
VHP answers Atal temple prayer
Sangam of sadhus and software hippy
Judge drops 24-year bombshell
Passport cloud on Hurriyat trip
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi & Calcutta, Jan. 10: 
As Bengal�s murderzone Midnapore yielded another dead today, Mamata Banerjee�s bodybag politics appeared to have started to pay off in Delhi.

After a meeting with the National Democratic Alliance team that visited Bengal, the Election Commission said polls in the state could be held before the third week of May. The announcement puts the already-defensive government of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on notice over law and order.

Mamata Banerjee may not be able to extract President�s rule, but her �lawlessness� lament is catching Delhi�s ears and keeping the Left Front under pressure in the run-up to the polls.

For Bhattacharjee, the countdown begins tomorrow when election commissioner T.S. Krishnamurty will tour the state to review poll preparedness. The commission will try to hold simultaneous polls in Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Pondicherry.

The NDA team performed the task assigned them by Mamata well. It told chief election commissioner M.S. Gill that bureaucrats of unimpeachable integrity should be put on poll duty in Bengal. It requested the EC to �probe the background� of officials before enlisting their services.

Gill made it clear though that its law and order watchdog role would come into play only after the election process began. But he said: �These days I read all these statements (on Bengal) closely. But, at the moment, whatever these matters are, they lie constitutionally in other domains.�

The �domains� referred to are already showing greater readiness than before to accept Mamata�s allegations of CPM-inspired mayhem. Home minister L.K. Advani has spoken of a �climate of terror�, linking the Chhoto Angaria incident and other instances of violence to the coming polls.

If bodies keep coming up in Midnapore, Mamata will be better-placed to highlight the case for holding polls under Central rule.

After four bodies were brought to Calcutta last night from the district, news arrived today of the murder of 21-year-old college student Sujata Das, said to be a Trinamul supporter. Sujata was returning home to her village in Contai sub-division after attending a party meeting past midnight when she was shot through the neck and chest, police said.

Trinamul pounced on the incident to claim that Sujata was gangraped before being shot. Party MP from the area, Nitish Sengupta, informed Advani of the incident. Another Trinamul leader, Pankaj Banerjee, said the girl had been kidnapped by some �CPM supporters� a few days ago.

The director-general of police, Dipak Sanyal, said there were no signs of rape.

The chief minister ordered a CID inquiry in a possible indication that the law and order pressure has begun to tell on his government. This time the inquiry order came on the day the body was found by villagers and Sujata�s family, lying in a pool of blood. In the Chhoto Angaria incident, it had taken Bhattacharjee four days. One important difference separates the two though: no bodies have been found at Chhoto Angaria.

Sujata�s death provoked Trinamul to call a students� strike in Midnapore tomorrow and issue a class-boycott appeal throughout the state on Friday.

The pot was kept boiling in Calcutta, too. One of the four bodies brought from Midnapore yesterday was identified as that of Somasree Mandal, a 26-year-old computer engineer reported missing since September 24 from Eluni under Keshpur police station.

Somasree�s father, Badal, identified the body from the teeth as Trinamul and the CPM traded claims over his political loyalty. CPM state secretary Anil Biswas said: �All the (four) dead persons were our supporters. We had filed FIRs after they were killed by Trinamul.�

When told that the father had said his son was a Trinamul supporter, Biswas said: �All of them had been identified by our men and relatives. Now, if the Trinamul claims one of the victims was its supporter, what can we do?�

Pankaj Banerjee said Somasree was killed by the CPM. Outside the morgue in central Calcutta, where the bodies have been kept, Trinamul, BJP and Congress supporters continued their vigil that began last night.

Family members of the missing in Midnapore turned up in large numbers. Seventy-year-old Umar Ali Khan went around frantically asking if his son, missing for a week, was among the dead.

These incidents are not going to make good reading in Delhi or elsewhere � whether the bodies are of CPM or Trinamul workers.

In a belated action on the Chhoto Angaria incident, the CPM issued a statement denying its involvement. After a state committee meeting, which was forced to depart from the agenda and discuss the incident first, Anil Biswas said the Trinamul-BJP combine was trying to establish a reign of terror in the Keshpur region where peace had returned after a long spell of violence.


New Delhi, Jan. 10: 
The VHP today granted a reprieve to the Centre and the Uttar Pradesh government by announcing that the construction of the Ram temple had been put off until 2002.

It had threatened to begin construction immediately after the Allahabad dharam sansad ended.

The parishad�s leaders said they had requested the sadhus and sants, who officially constitute the Ram Mandir Nirman Samiti, to give them a year�s time to �create the right ambience� before construction of the temple on the disputed site could begin.

In the process, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government seems to have bought time to either clinch the dispute through a negotiated settlement with Muslim representatives or await the court verdict.

VHP joint general-secretary Onkar Bhave denied that his outfit had done a somersault on the issue. �We never said we will announce the date of construction (at the dharam sansad on January 19, 20 and 21),� he said. �We have requested the sadhus and sants that we need a year�s time to awaken the hearts and minds of the Hindu samaj which seems to be in deep slumber. We are sure they will grant our request and not ask us to do anything in haste.�

The climbdown indicates that the much-hyped dharam sansad, which will be held on the Kumbh mela venue, may now be a mere formality, full of sound and fury, signifying little.

BJP sources heaved a sigh of relief at the decision. �If they had gone ahead and announced a date for construction this year itself, the Uttar Pradesh government would have had a major law and order problem on its hands, not to speak of the Centre,� sources said.

The Assembly�s tenure ends in October. But the BJP government hopes to postpone polls till March 2002 by using the legal complexities arising out of the fact that the House was kept in suspended animation for nearly six months after results were announced in 1996.

The VHP�s turnaround means that not only will the Uttar Pradesh government be spared the threat of instability, it would also give the party enough time to test the waters vis-�-vis the temple plank. A section of BJP hardliners have staunchly advocated reviving the �temple card� to counter anti-incumbency sentiments.

�It may work to our advantage or it may not. But we need at least a year to test this out,� BJP sources said, confirming the perception that the VHP�s decision was influenced largely by the impulse not to rock the Vajpayee boat.

However, for the record, VHP vice-president Acharya Giriraj Kishore denied this. �If the sadhu samaj orders us to begin construction tomorrow, we will obey them,� he said.

Asked how the VHP planned to raise the popular pitch on the temple issue, Kishore said: �Kar sevaks will fan out into three lakh villages and exhort Hindus to chant Ram�s name and take a pledge to build the temple on the disputed site.�


Kumbhnagar (Allahabad), Jan. 10: 
Kanan Baba shivers as a gust of wind sweeps over this island of tents, carrying with it specks of sand that get into the eyes. He shivers again and again till his companion, Lalgiri Baba, hands him a chillum.

�I can�t take the breeze. The cold I can bear,� he says in Bengali.

Kanan Baba draws long and hard, exhales the greyish-blue smoke and passes the chillum to Daniel Thell, a long-haired Dutch software writer.

Thell accepts it with both hands, takes it to his left and then to his right and to his forehead as if making the sign of the cross and returns it to Lalgiri Baba. Thell doesn�t smoke. He prefers ganja but his companions are smoking bhang.

The trio is sitting on the sandy bank, on the edge of the river just after the Sangam, the confluence of the Ganga, the Yamuna and the Saraswati. It is a cold but bright morning, the day after the first of the holy dips this Mahakumbh.

Behind them white tents erected in neat rows stretch all the way to Jhunsi. They end near the bridge, high overhead, where lorries and cars and buses speed along Grand Trunk Road.

Another gust ruffles through Kanan Baba�s long beard. The matted hair on the head is undisturbed.

The emaciated body shivers again despite the saffron and red robes. The tattered black shawl offers little solace.

�For 25 years I had fans above me, to my left, to my right, everywhere. As my sins are washed away this Kumbh, I will pray, plead to the Lord to switch off the giant fan in the sky that turns and blows the winds that envelope our world. He can switch it on again after I die.�

In an earlier avatar, Kanan Baba was Rabindranath Das, a worker in GEC�s electric fan factory in Taratalla, Calcutta. He fathered three sons and two daughters. After he retired in 1992, Rabindranath and family lived in Fatepur, off Diamond Harbour Road. Three years ago, he left his family, home and hearth.

�Good for them,� says Kanan Baba, now 72. �They will not even have to bear my funeral expenses.�

Lalgiri and Thell don�t follow Bengali. Suddenly Kanan Baba asks Lalgiri to blow his conch. Lalgiri tightens the red turban round his head, brings the conch to his lips, screws his eyes shut and blows � not hard, not with all his might, but steadily. �Watch,� Kanan instructs Thell.

In the distance, a train clangs across the long bridge. Even when it has vanished from sight, Lalgiri�s conch is still a steady hum.

Finally the Baba stops, takes a deep breath and mutters: �Two minutes,� indicating few can blow the conch longer than him. He reaches for the chillum.

Thell is uncomprehending. His hair is blonde and he wears it shoulder-length. His beige cotton jacket is unbuttoned. A grey T-shirt, baggy six-pocket pants and sandals complete the attire of the 21st century hippy.

It�s not too cold for him. He says he is 27 and plays the piano when he is not writing software for 32-bit programmes.

�Do you know where the Tera Baba Bairagi camp is? I am looking for Kachha Baba who lived with us in Amsterdam in 1996. He invited me to Kumbh.�

This annoys Kanan Baba. �Wrong, wrong wrong,� he shakes his head. �Nobody should come to the Kumbh to look for anybody.

In Kumbh you only look for amrit, for the nectar of salvation.� Kanan manages a pidgin English. Shows it off too.

Thell is intrigued. He has heard tales of the mysticism of the Orient. Here is his chance to repeat what his father might have done in the 1960s. �Tell me about it,� he asks. His eyes plead.

Kanan Baba knows how to play guru. �First give me food.�

Thell takes out a loaf of brown bread from his haversack. �Its clean,� he says. Then brings out a can of cheese.

Kanan and Lalgiri wolf it down. It is nearly noon. They have not eaten anything since another godman gave them prasad after last night�s holy dip following the lunar eclipse. Lalgiri says his sling bag was stolen.

Around them, there are thousands of others with similar tales. Their bodies smeared with ash, they sit along the pathways that crisscross this tent township. Some with a bowl, a few with only strands of rosaries (and not a stitch more) on their bodies. They impale their tridents on the soft, sandy ground and con, beg and steal for food.

�Now I tell you story,� Kanan Baba begins at the beginning, when Brahma was creation, when the Gods and the demons in a joint venture churned the ocean that yielded a pitcher (Kumbh) of amrit, when the gods and demons fell out and fought over it and how a few drops fell at Prayag, in the Triveni where the Ganga, the Yamuna and the Saraswati converge.

Kanan Baba pauses in his narration only to drag on the chillum.

�So you see, in Kumbh you only look for nectar of salvation. That is why everyone comes here. That is why I come here,� and he chokes as a coughing fit overtakes him. The smoke of the bhang and the strain of the narration have left his throat parched.

Tsk, tsk,� mutters Lalgiri Baba sympathetically.

�You need to slake your thirst now,� says Thell. �At least till you find that nectar.�

He rummages through his haversack, pulls out a bottle of dark liquid. Kanan Baba, still coughing, grabs it and takes a gulp.

Pfouuagh,� he spits out in distaste instantly and stares at the bottle.

Nobody had offered him salvation in a bottle of Pepsi before.


Calcutta, Jan. 10: 
Stunning the courtroom on a day the Bengal administration was shut down by a strike, Calcutta High Court Chief Justice A.K. Mathur said the people would have to suffer for resisting change and allowing the same government to stay in office for 24 years.

�You, the people of Bengal, are to be blamed because you do not want change, and for allowing a government to function for 24 years, you have to suffer,� he said.

The blow, as unexpected as it was unprecedented, came on a petition by a section of state government employees that they were being kept out of office by strikers protesting against the Centre�s divestment policies. The protesters did not spare even Writers� Buildings, allowing entry to only 40 of the almost 10,000 employees.

The courtroom drama began this afternoon with two advocates pleading that the strikers, who had shut employees out of the chief metropolitan magistrate�s court, Sealdah court and Alipore court, did not have the right to do so. Subrata Mukherjee and Rajesh Ganguly then urged Mathur to step in.

The chief justice immediately asked the court registrars to issue orders to the chief judge and the chief metropolitan magistrate to open up the courts. �Ask them to take police help if necessary,� he directed.

Mathur then turned the gun on the people, saying they had brought the problems upon themselves. �I have been appointed chief justice of this court. I have come from another state. I will go back to my native place as soon as my term is over. But you people will have to suffer,� he said.

Shocked by Mathur�s statement, some lawyers demanded that he be asked to step down as he had insulted the people.

A lawyer said Mathur had made such comments earlier also. He quoted the judge as saying �it is strange a government is sponsoring a bandh� while hearing a petition on a Citu bandh.

A former judge of Calcutta High Court, Bhagabati Prasad Banerjee, said: �I don�t know what exactly Mathur has stated. But I think a chief justice should not comment like this. The judiciary is above the administration. Unnecessary interference of the judiciary into the administration should not be tolerated.�

This morning, finance minister Asim Dasgupta was the first to reach Writers�. Soon after, there was a showdown at gate number 1 with policemen asking nearly 1,000 employees to log their attendance and leave.

Shouting �we are not criminals. We shall not write our names in police registers�, the employees stomped off, burning the circular asking them to report for work.

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who reported for work, said the �functioning of most government departments are virtually stalled due to mass absence of employees�.

State coordination committee general secretary Smarajit Roychowdhury said, except Darjeeling, the strike was peaceful and total in Bengal.


New Delhi, Jan. 10: 
The Centre is not expected to issue travel documents to all seven All-Party Hurriyat Conference leaders for their proposed visit to Pakistan on January 15.

Senior home ministry officials said �at best� three to four Hurriyat leaders will be given passports. Sensing this, senior Hurriyat leaders, including chairman Abdul Gani Bhat, who had been camping here for the past few days, have decided to return to Srinagar and continue discussions on the probable delegation members. There are indications that the trip may be cancelled or rescheduled if all seven leaders are not issued passports.




Maximum: 24.4�C (-3)
Minimum: 14.9�C (+2)



Relative Humidity

Max: 92%
Min: 35%


Mainly clear sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 12�C.
Sunrise: 6.24 am
Sunset: 5.05 pm

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