The sole aim of our alliance is to remove the Left Front and Mamata is our future chief minister
Mamata is the leader of the joint platform now and will be the leader of the new government which will come to power
We have started our journey under the leadership of Mamata.
The first of the triumvirate has often been blamed for Mamata Banerjee leaving the Congress.
The third was her bitterest enemy when she was in the Congress.
The one in the middle has always walked the tightrope.
All three and all her senior in politics proclaimed Mamata as their leader at the Trinamul-Congress alliance’s first joint election rally, held, ironically, at the Shyambazar five-point crossing where Trinamul was launched over three years ago.
Mamata would have had every reason to feel satisfied had A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury been present on the dais, along with this galaxy of Congress leaders. Another notable absentee, this time from her party, was Ajit Panja. Ghani Khan did not respond to Mamata’s invitation to attend the rally, the Malda leader’s absence leaving a blemish on the grand show of unity.
What a show it was, too, born — as the three Congress leaders described it — out of “historic necessity”. History was written all over the banner that should have formed the backdrop to the happy-family domesticity of Pranab Mukherjee whispering into Mamata’s ears, but wasn’t there at all because the stage was open on all four sides.
Mamata and these three had last shared the dais — at a political meeting — in 1996 when then Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao had addressed a rally before the Lok Sabha polls at the Brigade Parade Grounds.
The crowd — largely Mamata supporters since the rally was officially a Trinamul affair — was aware of the symbolism. It burst into a thunderous applause as Mukherjee and Das Munshi arrived ahead of Mamata at the meeting.
From 3 pm, the crowd had begun to swell as the sun went behind clouds. Now, the wait began for Mamata. With every known face turning up, a roar went up from the crowd. By 4, when Mamata arrived, accompanied by actor and Trinamul candidate Tapas Pal, all of Bhupen Bose Avenue was chock-a-block.
People even climbed up hoardings, the Shyambazar Metro station buildings, balconies and rooftops for a glimpse of the stage of unity which was as crowded.
Having frequently referred to the Congress in the past as B-team of the CPM, Mamata today vowed to defeat the Left with the partner that was now her B-team.
She said: “After that (taking power), we will take up each and every corruption case of the CPM-led Left Front and no one who is found guilty will be spared.”
Mamata appealed to members of the state administration — often accused of serving the party in power during elections — not to take sides. “You don’t have to join Trinamul. But, for heaven’s sake, remain neutral.”
Her flagship-slogan for the campaign will be: “Bodley deen, paltey deen (change the government).”
“Repeat this slogan wherever you go — at tea stalls, at home, in clubs, offices, everywhere.”
There was no hint of any change, though, in her stand on seat-sharing, despite the unresolved tangle with Ghani Khan who is refusing to give up two seats.
“Of the 294 seats, the Congress will field its candidates in 57 and Trinamul and its allies will contest the rest. Ours is a three-year-old party,” she said, as if to underline how roles have reversed since she left the Congress. Hands that moved the wheels of power in the Congress then were acknowledging her as the leader.
Mamata was, however, modest in victory. In the past, she has claimed to have been driven out of the Congress. Today, she said she had left the party to form her own outfit. Change was in the air.
Mukherjee said the alliance was the most natural thing that could have happened. “It was the demand of the common people.”
Das Munshi found another bond: both belong to the same family as Mahatma Gandhi is the last word for both. “Our symbols may be different but in reality we’re the same.”
Somen Mitra was late, but his heart was there all the time. “We should shake off all conflicts and hesitations and work unitedly towards defeating the CPM-led coalition.”
Deadlock continuesCongress and Trinamul appear to be heading for a friendly contest for the Englishbazar Assembly seat in Malda with both parties launching their individual campaigns today.
While Ghani Khan stuck to his position that he would not concede the seat to Mamata, Trinamul brought out a procession asking people to vote for its nominee Krishnendu Choudhury.
Ghani Khan addressed three public meetings in the Englishbazar area in support of the sitting Congress legislator, Goutam Chakraborty.
“I am not going to concede Englishbazar to Trinamul at any cost and Goutam will file his nomination as the Congress candidate,” Ghani Khan said.
At a convention of Congress supporters in Malda town, he said: “We will put up Congress candidates for all the seven Assembly segments of my Malda Lok Sabha seat. We will not yield either Englishbazar or Old Malda.”
He advised all the seven sitting Congress MLAs to file nominations as soon as possible.
Trinamul’s Krishnendu Choudhury returned to Malda from Calcutta this morning and hurriedly called a meeting of party supporters after coming to know of developments in the other camp.
He led a procession, campaigning for himself. “Yesterday, didi (Mamata) wrote a letter to the AICC informing it that I am the official candidate from Englishbazar. Moreover, she has asked me to start the campaign,” he said.
For the Old Malda seat, Congress supporters are unwilling to campaign for the Trinamul nominee, Phani Roy, who has already begun the campaign.
The other irritant for the alliance — the newly-floated Save Congress Committee — today decided not to join Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party and instead contest the elections as Independents.
Abul Basar Laskar, the convener of the committee and Congress MLA, said at least 75 Congress workers, including 12 legislators who were denied tickets, will fight the elections as Independents.
“I had spoken to Sonia Gandhi while I was in Tehran and will speak to her again and try to persuade her to help run Parliament smoothly,” Atal Bihari Vajpayee said in Lucknow. The House reopens after a recess tomorrow.
While the Prime Minister was away, the government issued a clarification repeating what he told an all-party meeting yesterday.
The government release said the CBI had not initiated any formal or preliminary inquiry into any of the charges levelled against Sonia by the Janata Party president, Subramanian Swamy. Sonia had boycotted the meeting following reports that the CBI was looking into a letter forwarded by the government to the agency.
Several Congress leaders said in private that further disruption of the House over the Tehelka scandal might suffer from “viewer fatigue” and may backfire on the Opposition. However, the Congress is under intense pressure from its rank and file to persist with the tape godsend and keep the Vajpayee government on its toes.
The Congress has not budged from its official stand that the government must go. In New Delhi, Madhavrao Scindia, deputy leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha, said his party was unhappy with the government clarification on the reported CBI probe.
Accusing the government of double standard, he said: “Frivolous charges like those against Sonia Gandhi are immediately referred to the CBI while no action or cognisance is taken by the government or by the CBI against those who were shown taking money in defence deals.”
Some Congress leaders pointed to a rider squeezed into the clarification. The release quoted the CBI as saying the charges levelled by Swamy were “at a very preliminary stage of examination with a view to ascertain whether the allegations contained therein would at all warrant any inquiry and whether the matter is worth pursuing”.
The CBI added that even in normal circumstances, routine preliminary examinations are carried out following receipt of such complaints.
Vajpayee, too, was not entirely in a conciliatory mood. His talks offer notwithstanding, the Prime Minister said in Lucknow the Bofors case was progressing apace and the Congress could find itself in the dock.
A section in the Congress which is keen to let the House function is arguing with the high command that there are other issues on which the government could be thrown on the mat.
Other than the Tehelka scandal, the government will have to explain the stock market scam. The Opposition is planning to demand a joint parliamentary probe into the issue. The customs scandal is another issue which could give a red face to the government. Some Opposition leaders are sharpening knives on Advani’s deposition before the Babri masjid demolition commission.
This is the new mantra of the Osho International Commune, formerly Rajneesh Ashram.
Once a retreat of mostly zonked-out social dropouts from the West in search of libido-induced nirvana, the commune is now off-limits to anyone smoking even a cigarette.
To get in, you have to pass an AIDS test. And if you thought you would at least witness some heavy-duty necking inside, you would be sorely disappointed.
A hug is about the limit in public here, which Rajneesh followers prefer to call a “meditation resort” to rid the place of any stigma associated with the word “commune”.
“What they do in their rooms is their business, but inside the commune, sex is forbidden,” says Swami Satya Vedant, one of the five members of the commune management team.
“We don’t allow smoking in the commune, let alone drugs. We have a set of strict guidelines and you have to follow that while in the commune,” says the Swami, the US-educated chancellor of Osho Multiversity, a centre for personal growth.
Instead of Beatniks and junkies, the commune — a 32-acre, tree-lined oasis in soot-smudged industrial Pune — now draws mostly professionals and white-collar workers, many of them Indians, trying to escape the stress and boredom of modern life through exotic meditation.
The commune is non-residential. Visitors have to stay in hotels outside, but can go there only to meditate.
Ma Saadhna, a management team member and editor of Osho Times, an in-house magazine, says the commune is drawing visitors from nearly 100 countries largely because of a new-found interest in Osho’s teachings.
“Here, there is no worshipping, no prayers and no dogma. This is all because Osho never preached any religion. In fact, he was against religion which he said suppressed people. You come here to meditate and relax,” she says.
Rajneesh’s teaching has caught on in the West in a big way in the last five years, says Swami Ketan, a Rajneesh follower from Spain and a frequent visitor.
“Earlier, very few bookstores in Europe kept his works. Publishers would call his ideas crazy and wouldn’t touch his books. But now it has changed. Even in my city, Barcelona, you get Osho’s books in Spanish,” he says. He gave up his job as fashion photographer after his initiation.
Rajneesh, an articulate preacher, who first prefaced his name with Bhagwan and then renamed himself Osho, was castigated in his lifetime for “promoting sexual orgies and antisocial behaviour”. He was imprisoned in the US.
“It is sad that people misunderstood him in his lifetime. They started realising the value of his teaching — which is the best of all religion — only after he left his body in 1990,” Swami Ketan said.
With his 650 books, 10,000 audio and video cassettes, Rajneesh, his followers say, is being “rediscovered” by people more than a decade after his death.
With the passage of time, his ashram, too, has evolved into a modern meditation centre, replete with architectural fantasies and air-conditioned comfort.
Here, you can get your mind in shape with “chaotic” meditation — one of the several types on offer — that lets you jump up and down and release pent-up frustration with shouts of “hoo”.
To get your body in shape, you can play a game of tennis or volleyball, go to the gym or to the pool for a swim.
Just take your pick.
When hungry, go to the cafe or to the elevated restaurant and stuff yourself with Western or Indian vegetarian cuisine.
Even without drugs and sex, you can keep your body and spirit together at the commune — at a price, of course.
In the first of a series of planned meetings, the government’s interlocutor on Kashmir, K.C. Pant, spoke to a former chief minister, Mir Qasim, whose mass base in the strife-torn Valley has shrunk over the years.
Pant’s road map for the peace talks, unveiled at a press conference, suggests that he does not plan to meet immediately the militants who matter in the Valley.
The Hizb-ul Mujahideen, which had announced a surprise ceasefire last year, is not on Pant’s agenda yet. He has issued a broad invitation to militants, saying they are welcome if they want peace. He ruled out the possibility of holding talks with Pakistan-based militant groups, which means hawks like the Lashkar-e-Toiba, are out of the ambit.
Pant has known the octogenarian Qasim for long — this could be the sole reason for picking the former chief minister to break the ice — but the meeting is not expected to achieve much.
Emerging from Pant’s house, Qasim said he would not be acting as a mediator on behalf of the government’s negotiator with the Hurriyat.
Pant warned against expecting a breakthrough overnight and was non-committal on whether the talks would help improve the ground situation in the Valley before the government ceasefire expires on May 31.
Though Pant did not say so, the government is open to involving the Hizb, primarily made of Kashmiris of Indian origin, in the peace process. The main hurdle in the way to the talks is the fact that it is run from Pakistan.
“We have issued letters inviting various political parties, parliamentarians, legislators and groups like the Hurriyat for talks without any preconditions,” Pant said, echoing what home minister L.K. Advani had said a few days ago. “Let them come and talk to me. Let me also understand why they want to go to Pakistan,” Pant added.
The invitation indicated that it was addressed more to the Hurriyat than to the other fringe groups. But it is still not clear how the government proposes to iron out the differences within the Hurriyat leadership.
The Centre had reservations on sending the entire leadership for talks to Islamabad and refused to sanction the travel documents of hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani. The Hurriyat is also wary of the government’s moves. Pant, however, struck a conciliatory note. “The Hurriyat has always been advocating talks without any pre-conditions and we have not set any conditions. So, let them step forward.”