Panja mocks party ‘bluff’
Bhuniya assaulted during campaign
Election norms for homeguards
Jaya jittery over nomination backlash risk
Mahanta fires at Centre on border clash
Mahanta in jumbo mess over code
Samata eyes Samajwadi to target Cong
Thin crowd at Mamata rally
Culture elite’s brush with milestone
Govt draws flak on pilotless target craft

Calcutta, April 22: 
In another affront to Mamata Banerjee and her alliance with the Congress, rebel Trinamul Congress MP Ajit Panja dubbed the common minimum programme of the two parties as “nothing but a bluff”.

Panja told reporters that the document was the second edition of Sukumar Ray’s Abol Tabol. “The common minimum programme does not mention anything on the Bengal package, projecting which Trinamul bagged so much votes in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections. Not at any point of time was I consulted when the document was drawn up,” he said.

Reiterating that his party was very much in the NDA as per the unanimous decision of its parliamentary party when he and Mamata resigned from the Union ministry, Panja ruled out quitting Trinamul and joining the BJP.

Panja also criticised state Congress president Pranab Mukherjee, his long time foe, who he said has drafted the document. “The common minimum programme mentions jobs to the unemployed. Mukherjee himself has held different portfolios at the Centre, including finance. Has he ever provided a job to anyone ?” Panja asked.

Panja, who has gone on record saying the Congress and the CPM are out to grab Trinamul, said: “With the publication of the common minimum programme, the cycle of conspiracy is complete. A vicious circle is out to demolish the public spirit drummed up by Mamata,” he said.

Panja wondered how Trinamul’s poll symbol could exist together with that of the Congress, which has often been described by Mamata as the CPM’s B team.

He said he was ready to campaign for only those Trinamul candidates who would request him to do so.

State CPM secretary Anil Biswas said the Congress-Trinamul common minimum programme is a “hoax”. “It is nothing but a repetition of what we have done in the last 24 years,” he said.


Midnapore, April 22: 
State Congress general secretary and party candidate from Sabang, Manas Bhuniya, was assaulted by alleged CPM supporters at Bharjagu village during an election campaign last night, police said.

A senior police officer at the Sabang police station said Bhuniya was attacked by about 100 CPM workers, who rained blows on him.

As Bhuniya collapsed on the ground, other Congress supporters rushed to save him. They were also beaten up. Residents later rescued Bhuniya and removed him to a safer place.

Bhuniya, accompanied by a large number of party workers later gheraoed Sabang police station and blocked roads in the area.

The road blocks have crippled vehicular traffic, including local and long distance bus services along the Patashpur-Sabang Road and the Moyna-Sabang Road.

Bhuniya said he had informed chief electoral officer Sabyasachi Sen in Calcutta about the incident.

Pradesh Congress Committee vice president Pradip Bhattacharya today met Sen at Writers’ Buildings and demanded arrest of the culprits. He urged him to ensure that candidates be allowed to carry out campaign without any resistance from rival parties.

Sen said he had asked the district magistrate (DM), M.V. Rao, to look into the matter. “It is not fair for a political party to obstruct the poll campaign of his rival party. This appears to be emerging as a new trend in the state. I have asked the DM, who is also the district returning officer, to take appropriate action,” he added.

Bhuniya also met the election observer at Sabang block today demanding arrest of the culprits. In a memorandum submitted to the observer, he said he was not being allowed to campaign freely by the CPM. He alleged that he was denied entry in places like Balpai, Bhemua, Mohar, Bishnupur and other areas.

“CPM cadres have burnt our party flags we set up at different places and they have stolen the campaign festoons,” he added.

The Congress has stopped campaign in Sabang after the attack on Bhuniya.

“Knowing fully well that I am going to the elections, the CPM tried to kill me. If we can’t campaign peacefully, then we will stop the election,” Bhuniya said. “It is quite an irresponsible behaviour on the part of the police as no senior official visited the spot even after a candidate’s assault,” he added. District CPM secretary Dipak Sarkar, however, said Bhuniya had fabricated the story of the attacks.

Two killed in violence

Two persons were killed in violent incidents in South 24-Parganas last night. Twenty-year-old Ilias Mondal was killed at Yarpur when the bomb he was making blew up in his face. In another incident 15-year-old Bapi Jana was seriously injured when one Shyamal Das attacked him at Goalberia.


Calcutta, April 22: 
The state election commission has framed fresh guidelines for selecting homeguards and other security personnel for poll duty.

Chief electoral officer (CEO) Sabyasachi Sen today said nearly 1.5 lakh homeguards would be pressed into service during the elections. They would be appointed by a committee, comprising senior officials of the district administration, unlike in previous elections, when they were recruited by a sub-divisional police officer with the approval of the district superintendent of police.

The move follows complaints about recruitment of homeguards by a single officer at the district level. “We want to make the recruitment procedure of homeguards more transparent. I think nobody will raise any question if the recruitment is done by a committee,” Sen said.

Among other rules, the poll panel has said that homeguard candidates should not be attached to any political party, they should not have been convicted in any criminal case and would be posted in their home sub-divisions. A health clause has also been introduced in the recruitment process.

Sen said of the 170 companies of Central forces, 45 have reached and most of them have been despatched to different places in the trouble-prone Midnapore district.

A large number of nominations are expected to be filed tomorrow, the last date for filing papers. Scrutiny of nominations will begin the next day. The final list of candidates will be published on April 27.

The CEO said 75 Central observers have arrived in Calcutta and a majority of them have been despatched to the districts. They will conduct a pre-poll survey in each constituency, focusing on the law and order situation, and submit detailed reports to Sen.

The CEO added that nearly 250 polling stations across Bengal would be shifted as they are housed in dilapidated buildings.

Concerned over the political clashes in Midnapore, Bankura and Hooghly, Sen today held a series of discussions with director-general of police Dipak Sanyal and police commissioner Dinesh Vajpai.

Another round of meetings is expected on Tuesday. “We will despatch Central forces on the basis of requirements from the districts,” Sen said.


Chennai, April 22: 
With only two days to go for the final word on her candidacy, ADMK chief Jayalalitha is turning jittery, apprehending large-scale violence if her nomination is rejected in both Andipatti and Krishnagiri.

“The DMK is planning acts of sabotage after the decision is known on Tuesday and would conveniently put the blame on my party,” Jayalalitha said today.

In her statement, she claimed DMK chief and chief minister M.Karunanidhi’s son Stalin’s lieutenant Saidai Kittu was overheard asking his men to abstain from violence only till Tuesday.

Reacting swiftly to the allegation, the DMK replaced Kittu from Saidapet constituency in the city with a trade union leader.

Jayalalitha also charged the DMK with conspiring to prevent her from contesting the May 10 Assembly polls.

Though Jayalalitha named Stalin’s men, the tenor of the statement indicates she fears her own cadre could run amok if the returning officers in both the constituencies rule against her.

She has called for restraint from the cadre and sought to reassure them that victory is theirs anyway.

However, the Dharmapuri incident of February last year, when a bus carrying college girls was burnt, killing three, after her conviction in the Kodaikanal hotel case, should be fresh in her mind. ADMK candidates were defeated in all the byelections immediately after that.

It took a while for her to live down that odium, and given the volatility of the ADMK cadre, many fear there could be an encore on Tuesday.

Any such violence could seal Jayalalitha’s fate in the Assembly elections.

The ADMK cadre are upset over the prospect of her disqualification and some of them have gone on record saying they would launch an all-out struggle if her papers were rejected.

Union rural development minister and BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu, however, described Jayalalitha’s apprehensions as “baseless”.

“Jayalalitha and ADMK are only saying this to play a trick on the people to gain some sympathy,” he said.

“Jayalalitha filed her nominations knowing very well they will be rejected,” he said.

The DMK, fighting with its back to the wall, should, however, welcome any act of violence and arson as it would totally discredit the ADMK. But whether it would indulge in violence and put the blame on its rival, is a moot point.

The people and the law and order machinery are both keeping their fingers crossed.


Mancachar, April 22: 
Arriving at the site of death and destruction after everything is over, Assam chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta today indirectly blamed the Centre for failing to prevent the border flare-up.

Mahanta, who was accompanied by minister of state for forests, Aminul Islam, during his whirlwind tour, said that despite repeated requests the Centre did not post a Border Security Force batallion at Mancachar.

To justify his claims, the chief minister said that the state had already allotted 1,000 acres near Mancachar town for a BSF station. “But the battalion was posted in Meghalaya instead of Mancachar,” he said.

Mahanta said local people were demanding a BSF headquarters here for a long time and “this demand deserved consideration by the government of India”.

The Centre must take immediate steps to strengthen the security along the Indo-Bangla border in Assam, he said. The state government will submit its views over the incident to the Centre soon.

The chief minister went to the Baraibari village, the root of the border conflict.

Mahanta reviewed the situation in the Mancachar sector in a meeting with the home commissioner, commissioner, Lower Assam division, deputy commissioner and superintendent of police, Dhubri district, at the PWD rest house here.

He met the local people and urged them not to panic. Mahanta described the unwarranted flare-up between the BSF and Bangladesh Rifles as “unfortunate”.

BSF DIG I.J. Singh, who was also touring the area with the chief minister, explained to him how the BDR resorted to the “unprovoked” attack on the jawans. Seven BDR personnel were killed in the clash, he said. However, unofficial sources put the figure at 21, he said.

About 15,000 villagers on the Indian side were affected by the incident, Singh added.

He did not rule out the involvement of the Banladesh army with the BDR in the unprovoked attack on the Indian side.

Bangladeshi villagers were also involved, Singh said.

People today started returning to their homes in Mancachar as the situation in the border areas limped backed towards normal.


New Delhi & Calcutta, April 22: 
A problem of “elephantine” proportions is staring Assam chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta in the face.

Led by the Congress, the Opposition has accused Mahanta of violating the Election Commission’s model code of conduct by being party to the inclusion of live animals in a procession taken out by Asom Gana Parishad supporters here yesterday.

As Mahanta set out to file his papers for the Dispur Assembly seat, AGP activists took out a procession led by three elephants, the party’s election symbol.

The Opposition was quick to seize the opportunity to have a go at the ruling party. It said the inclusion of elephants in the AGP procession was tantamount to violation of the model code of conduct. State chief election commissioner Bhaskar Mushahary said there could be a case against the AGP. “It (the use of elephants) may be construed as a violation of the model code of conduct. I have asked officials to verify the allegation. I can say only that much now,” he said.

PCC spokesperson Pankaj Bora said his party would take up the matter with the Election Commission. “This is not the first instance of the chief minister violating the code of conduct. The AGP-led government made a large number of official appointments after the code came into effect,” he added. The Congress has already informed the Election Commission of the alleged appointments .

AGP leader resigns

The AGP today received a setback when one of its senior leaders and former agriculture minister Debo Kumar Bora resigned from the party for being denied an election ticket.

Bora also resigned from the post of deputy chairman of the Assam Planning Board. He will file his nomination for the Titabor seat as an Independent candidate. He will be up against AGP candidate Hemanta Kalita.

Bora, one of the student leaders who anchored the Assam Movement, was elected to the Assembly from Titabor constituency in 1985. In his resignation letter to the chief minister, Bora said he was insulted by “junior party leaders” after being denied a ticket.

“But despite my informing you about the happenings, no step has been taken against them. The way the party leadership ignored me and hurt my sentiments, I had no option but to resign,” he wrote.

Saying that the AGP had lost its “originality”, the former minister said: “With the limited powers I had, I did try to mend the party’s ways. But my efforts came to nought.”

Bora contested the Jorhat seat in the last Lok Sabha elections, but lost to Congress candidate Bijoy Krishna Handique.


New Delhi, April 22: 
The National Democratic Alliance managers are wooing Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav to use him as a weapon against the Congress.

The Samata Party yesterday “appreciated” the action of the Samajwadi Party and the CPM in “disengaging” themselves from the Congress in its “diabolical design” to prevent Parliament from discussing vital national issues.

“The Opposition parties in Parliament have seen through the gameplan of the Congress to use the Tehelka fraud to paralyse Parliament and avoid debate on the corrupt deeds of the party,” Samata spokesperson Shambu Srivastwa said in a statement. He quoted former Karnataka Pradesh Congress chief Koujalgis who had described his party as being packed with “pickpockets”.

But the BJP and the Samata Party, while stepping up the heat on the Congress, has been soft on Mulayam.

Sources said the Central Vigilance Commission is investigating defence deals since 1989. Several former defence ministers under whose tenure the Sukhoi deal was signed, including Mulayam Singh Yadav, could be in trouble if a proper probe is ordered, sources said. But the government seems to be going slow deliberately on the issue.

According to CBI sources, Bhavana Pandey, who was recently arrested for her links with former excise and customs chairman B.P. Verma, also had connections with Mulayam. But the Samajwadi Party leadership has denied any links between the two.

In 1999, Mulayam, in league with George Fernandes, had done yeoman service to the NDA by sabotaging Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s bid to come to power after Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government fell by one vote.

In the general elections after that, the Samajwadi Party chief entered into a tacit understanding with the BJP in several constituencies to prevent the Congress from recapturing its lost base.

After the Tehelka episode, the Samajwadi Party chief has been playing a different ball game. He launched a People’s Front with the Left parties in a bid to occupy political centre-stage if the NDA government were to fall.

Working in tandem with the Left, Yadav refused to back the Congress demand for a joint parliamentary committee probe into the Tehelka expose. His refrain has been that the House should discuss important issues, including the Tehelka and JPC, if the House so decided.

Yadav also wanted Parliament to be adjourned sine die after passing the rail and general budgets by April 25 so that he could campaign for a byelection in Uttar Pradesh.

“For me, the by-election is more important than the Congress demand for a JPC,” he told reporters last week.


Nadanghat (Burdwan), April 22: 
If size counts, there were definite reasons of worry for Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee.

Her election campaign at Dhatrigram in Nandanghat constituency was marked by an “unusually slim” attendance.

The Trinamul chief had chosen Nandanghat to start-off her campaign in Burdwan district. The constituency assumes significance as Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS) chief Saifuddin Chowdhury is pitted against a CPM candidate. The CPM has replaced its sitting MLA Biren Ghosh with Ratan Das. Mamata expects to benefit from the division of votes between CPM and PDS candidates from this constituency.

Though hardly 8,000 to 10,000 people attended the rally, Mamata, who arrived here at 3 pm, waited till 4.15 for more people to arrive. Police estimates, however, put the crowd at 5,000.

Mamata finally took over the microphone and blamed the humid climate and the “people’s belief that meetings usually start behind schedule” as the reasons for the thin attendance.

“This an assured seat for us. For the infighting within the CPM and other Left Front partners, we are destined to come to power this time. Throw the corrupt, non-functioning Leftists into the dustbin,” she told the gathering.

In her 30-minute speech, she concentrated mainly on the “appalling” law and order situation in the state. She referred to the incidents of Garbeta, Keshpur and Nanoor. She even reminded people of the Sain Bari killings which took place in Burdwan in the late sixties.

“I am confident, we shall come to power this time,” she said. Mamata promised to accommodate three to four winning candidates in her Cabinet from the district.

Referring to the alliance with the Congress, she said: “Our Save Bengal Front is committed to restoring work culture in West Bengal which the Left Front have destroyed during its 24-year misrule.”

She added that if voted to power her party will make a package for the unemployed youth. She also vowed to improve the health care system which, she alleged, had collapsed in Bengal. She was particularly critical of government hospitals. “Sab hospital bar bar, sarkari hospital ekbar,” she alleged adding: “Once admitted to any government hospital, one never returns alive.”

Mamata raised the allegation of the “man-made annual flood in West Bengal with an eye to raising party funds, banyate traner taka de, loote poote khai ( give us flood, flood relief fund and let us plunder the money).

When Mamata arrived at Bhatar at 8.30 pm, four-hour behind schedule, she said: “I am begging pardon for arriving late. However, I was misled by some of my party workers who brought me here through another way which took longer time.”

She spent around five minutes in Bhatar and left for Durgapur and Asansol where she was to attend two public meetings.


New Delhi, April 22: 
It was a birthday bash to remember for Bhabesh Sanyal, as he entered his 100th year. More than 500 guests representing the elite Delhi’s culture circuit gathered at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts for the celebration organised by IGNCA trustee Anjolie Ela Menon.

This evening was the culmination of a series of celebratory functions going on for some days now. The cultural establishment — personified by department of culture secretary Vaidyanath Ayyar and Indian Council of Cultural Relations director Himachal Som — was there to felicitate Bhabesh Sanyal, fondly called Baba in Delhi. So was Karan Singh, Kapila Vatsayan, Satish Gujral and countless artists, both famous and less known. Prime Minister Vajpayee later greeted Sanyal.

Said painter Krishen Khanna: “People are not here in the same way as they attend other social events in the capital. They are here because they feel a genuine affection for Bhabesh Sanyal.”

And most of the guests stayed till the end, enjoying the balmy evening, the music, the spacious grounds of the IGNCA and skeins of egrets flying home in the gathering dusk.

Although he left Calcutta for Lahore in 1929, Bhabesh Sanyal showed once again a heart that forever beats for Bengal. Dressed in a dark brown panjabi and dhoti worn Bengali style, he had requested Reba Som, wife of Himachal Som to sing Rabindra Sangeet for the birthday celebrations. Another friend and admirer, Meera Prasad, set off the occasion by playing the sitar, an instrument that Sanyal used to play.

Witty, debonair, as colourful as his self-portraits, if a little frail, Sanyal said with his usual elan: “I am enjoying myself.” He acknowledged the affection lavished on him and thanked Menon for all her efforts. Calling the 60-year-old painter “young lady”, he said that this will be an incentive to live a few more years.

There were lots of presents — a shawl from the artists of Mumbai presented on their behalf by Kekoo Gandhi, a plaque from Government College of Arts, Calcutta, flowers from National Gallery of Modern Art, a message from Lalit Kala Akademi and many more gifts. The birthday cake was presented by Shireen Paul of Apeejay Group. Maurya Sheraton catered the party.

What is the secret of Sanyal’s magnetism? Is he an artist of overwhelming stature? Or is it his charismatic personality?

Most people would say that it is something more. He has been something of an institution builder. “I have never cared about building up my signature. I was more interested in building up an art environment,” he had once told this correspondent.

This is what he did. In Lahore, his Lahore College of Fine Arts was a centre of intense cultural activity. Uday Shankar danced there. Writers read their works and held discussions, musicians performed, art shows were mounted.

When he came to Delhi after the Partition, he rebuilt his life and activated the artistic life in here. He founded the Delhi Shilpi Chakra, taught at the Delhi College of Art, known then as the Delhi Polytechnic, and became the secretary of Lalit Kala Akademi.

“His contribution has been immense,” said Rajeev Lochan, the new director of NGMA.


New Delhi, April 22: 
Had things gone according to schedule, India would have had a pilotless target aircraft by 1985.

Sixteen years have passed. NASA has developed a pilotless aircraft that can fly from New York to Mumbai at the speed of 7,200 miles an hour. India, however, is nowhere near developing a pilotless target aircraft that it first planned to build in 1976.

The public accounts committee (PAC) has at last come down on the defence ministry for the inordinate delay in completing the project.

In a report it presented to Parliament on Saturday, the PAC has said it was saddened to note that though it took 20 years and Rs 37.09 crore, the “twin objectives of reducing drain on foreign exchange and providing the users with unmanned targets remain largely unfulfilled”.

The project was conceived in 1976 to provide realistic airborne targets for training air and ground crew in air-to-air and surface-to-air weaponry, but it took about four years for the ministry to sanction the project in 1980. The target year was fixed at 1985.

In the beginning, the cost per PTA was estimated at Rs 12 lakh. Today, the price of the PTA engine, to be developed by the Aeronautical Development Establishment, works out to Rs 37.09 crore.

The first test flight was proposed for June 1984. But it was delayed. There was a test flight in May 1985, but technical snags hampered the project. There were no more test flights in the next 16 years. Because of delays in developing the engine — codenamed PTAE-7 — Aeronautical Development Establishment had to import 14 engines at a cost of Rs 6.57 crore in 1995-96.

The public accounts committee, headed by senior Congress leader N.T. Tiwari, said 14 years after its sanction, the PTA was cleared for limited series production and orders of 15 PTA have been placed to the Aeronautical Development Establishment against the present estimated requirement of around 30.

“As a result of delay, the government had to spend a total amount of Rs 23.42 crore in foreign exchange on import of 25 PTA between 1985 and March 1995 in addition to resorting to conventional methods of training,” the committee said.

One of the reasons for the poor show is attributed to overestimation of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd’s capability and underestimation of the teething problems.

“It is appaling to observe that at no stage, the time schedule of the envisaged targets was adhered to. Hence, the committee cannot help concluding that the project management leaves a lot to be desired,” the report said.


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