Pretty Miss X is pretty dangerous
PWG pledges not to force ban
Locked in tussle for identity
Betrayed, rebel takes fight to Mamata
North flirts with change, south resists
On the run from own voters
Atal�s Panja �seduction� draws fire
Sonia seeks Gill step-in
Violence for victory: Laloo
BJP smells topple stink in Tehelka plot

Midnapore, May 7: 
They call her Miss X. She is young and pretty. And is ready to kill. Miss X is the latest leader of tribals to have sent shivers down the police administration in Bengal�s badlands, virtually running a parallel government in Midnapore�s Kankrajhore region adjoining Bankura and Purulia.

Already on the backfoot following the burst in political violence, police are now grappling with the threat from the Nari Mukti Samiti, the women�s front of the Naxalite Maoist Communist Centre (MCC), commanded by Miss X.

The outfit has issued a fatwa for a poll boycott in the region. Officials are so scared of Miss X that poll personnel of 100 booths in Midnapore, 70 in Bankura and 30 in Purulia will reach their destinations only on the morning of May 10, and not a day earlier as is the rule, for fear of being kidnapped by the women�s brigade.

Raised around six months ago, Miss X and her band of 1,000 women � most of them in their twenties � have struck terror in the violence-ravaged region. The outfit, born of the red soil, has ensured that the red flags of the Left Front have been pulled down.

The women�s wargroup has repeatedly attacked the police and looted arms from them; imposed �taxes� on kendu leaf collectors and slapped �fines� on government and non-government employees. Buses and trucks passing through the area are not spared either.

The 5�7� Miss X is not a tribal herself. Around 28 years old, she is a Hindu who can converse in English, Bengali and the tribal languages. Her dialect is not Midnapori, rather, it is distinctly Calcuttan. But she refuses to say where she�s from.

Sitting under a sal tree deep inside the forests of Kankrajhore, Miss X explains why it was necessary to put together a women�s force.

�Tribal women are more resilient than the men, and have a spirit to fight. Men are more culturally inclined and too laid back: they are satisfied with a bowl of mahua (the local liquor) and singing. Women are the ones who have to bear the burden of the family by working the whole day. Once they return home after toiling in the fields, they have to look after the children and cook. This daily struggle has inspired us to raise a women�s force which we think is more effective. We believe in women�s empowerment.�

Men tribal leaders, she points out, had in the past fallen prey to the lure of big money and had �sold� their struggle for money. Moreover, the likes of Chunibala Hansda, the Jharkhand Party legislator from the region, and Chuni Kotal, the first Lodha graduate from the region, have inspired the women to come forward and join the struggle.

Police, Miss X says with a giggle, are afraid to venture into her territory. �Whenever the police come to arrest our comrades, we throw a cordon around them and attack them with arrows, stones, lathis and even broomsticks. The women sometimes even bite them. The police are embarrassed to be humiliated by a group of women. So they go back.�

Miss X herself carries a gun which she conceals in her sari. Two women, armed with bows and arrows, guard her round-the-clock.

So what are they fighting for? Adjusting the dark glasses that covers her eyes, Miss X asserts that the group has nothing personal against the government officials; it is only protesting against the sorry plight of the tribals and she is willing to launch a war if necessary.

There has been no development in the region, she says: water is not available, there are very few schools and the less said about the roads the better.

�When we came to train the people, we found that the women have to travel around 10 km every day to fetch drinking water from a pahari jharna (waterfall). She has to walk through forests full of wild animals. There is no work for them in summer as there is no water available for irrigation. The family has to survive on roots dug up from beneath the soil. What sort of life is this? If this is what the CPM has given us, then we don�t have any faith in democracy,� says the Naxalite leader.

The area the front controls is barren and arid, sal and shegun trees dot the undulating, unmetalled roads. Rice is not a produce here because of the lack of irrigation water. Jowar, bajra and makai are grown on some patches of land. The tribals� main cultivation is the savoy grass from which they make ropes.

The men themselves are not too worried about the women in the family taking up arms. Says Sambhu Soren, whose wife and daughter are both members of Miss X�s band: �I�m a carefree man and have no time for politics. Let my wife and daughter decide whether to vote and whom to vote for. I�ll follow their diktat.�


Bankura, May 7: 
The Peoples� War Group (PWG) has decided not to force a boycott of the polls in parts of Midnapore, Bankura and Hooghly districts even as the administration apprehended violence by the Naxalite group.

�We do not have enough mass base yet,� a source in the organisation said. �However, we will carry out the campaign in our areas of influence. Should that campaign be obstructed, some conflict will become inevitable.�

The PWG�s area of influence is mostly in Garbeta of Midnapore district and in adjoining blocks of Bankura. They have also registered a presence in Hooghly, near the border with Bankura.

�I suspect the PWG�s call will have some effect in two constituencies in Bankura district. I would say the naxalite influence does not extend beyond 30 booths at most,� CPM�s Bankura district committee secretary Amiya Patra said.

Last month, an armed squad of the PWG shot dead Shibram Satpathy, a district committee member of the CPM in Bankura � their biggest kill so far. He was murdered in Garora village, Bikrampur. He had returned home from a meeting of the party and was relaxing on a charpoy, listening to the radio, when the armed squad pumped nine bullets into his body.

Police have arrested a few people, but the three main accused � Sadhan Ahir, Biswajit Hansda and Karmakar � are still absconding. Hansda is from Garora village, too, and Ahir is from Chingda village.

�We had little idea that the PWG had actually infiltrated into these villages,� says Patra. �Since that killing, we have surveyed the villages in Bankura and have found that there are about 10 villages near the border with Midnapore where they do have considerable influence.�

The PWG commands less support in Bankura than the Maoist Communist Centre, the other Naxalite group that has almost overrun Ranbandh block, near the border with Bihar�s Santhal Parganas, and Midnapore�s Binpur block. The MCC has also called for a boycott of the elections and, admits Patra, there are villages in the jungles and hilly tracts where no campaigning is possible.

Notwithstanding the PWG stand, the Hooghly district police have stepped up vigil in the area. But officials say they are handicapped by the lack of night-vision equipment. The PWG activists use the jungles of Bailtal and Jaipur to cross over into Arambagh from Midnapore and Bankura at night.

Soon after the Chhoto Angaria incident on the night of January 4, the district police had formed a special task force to prevent infiltration of PWG cadre into Arambagh. �But surveillance work has been hampered for want of night-vision equipment,� said an IB official.


Calcutta, May 7: 
One is a candidate in search of a party, the other is a candidate in search of a constituency.

If there�s one seat in Calcutta which has seen a churning, it is Burrabazar, a traditional Congress stronghold which was caught unawares by the political drama that unfolded last month.

For Rajesh Khaitan, the baron of Burrabazar, the blow was stunning. Having won the seat for the Congress four times since 1982, Khaitan found himself without a ticket after the alliance with Trinamul.

What was Khaitan�s loss was Tapas Roy�s gain. After the seat squabble over Sealdah, which was initially allotted to Roy but was taken away to keep Somen Mitra happy, Trinamul shifted him to Burrabazar. Even Sealdah was a new seat for Roy, who had in the past held Vidyasagar, the constituency allotted to Ajit Panja�s daughter Mahua Mondal this time.

Unwilling to give up without a fight, Khaitan crossed over to Sharad Pawar�s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and says he will give �outsider� Roy a run for his money.

Roy, an advocate by profession, acknowledges he is not well-versed with the constituency, but says he is confident of victory given the �Mamata wave� he says is sweeping Calcutta. �The Mamata wave is everywhere and nobody can beat me, come what may.�

Khaitan knows that Thursday�s tussle will be a fight for political existence. He admits that he had neglected his Burrabazar voters as he had been practising law in London for three years from 1998. �I�m now paying the price for my long absence from the locality. I apologise to the people wherever I go and seek their blessings to serve them for five more years,� he says.

But he realises he has a formidable opponent in Roy. Also the fact that he won in 1996 by a wafer-thin margin of 837 votes.

The man who lost out then is in the fray this time as well, but like Khaitan, he, too, is fighting for another party. Mahammed Asiruddin was a Left Front-backed Janata Dal nominee in 1996; now he is the Left-supported candidate for the Rashtriya Janata Dal.

Khaitan laughs off talk of threat from Asiruddin. �There will be a straight contest between Tapas and me,� he says.

Asiruddin is confident of cashing in on the division in the Congress votes. �The split in votes between Khaitan and Tapas could tilt the scales in my favour,� he says. He points out that the CPM won two of the four wards in last year�s elections. However, an RJD leader said the CPM was not too serious about helping Asiruddin.

�The CPM is yet to join the campaign though Laloo Yadav has addressed a string of rallies in favour of Asiruddin,� he said.

For the BJP�s Shankar Jhawar, the fight appears to be over as he is convinced that a large number of BJP activists will give their �conscience� votes to ensure the defeat of the Left. �I have been putting up a brave fight but I don�t know the future,� says a grim Jhawar.

All three candidates are focusing on Roy�s lack of familiarity with the area. But the Trinamul leader is unperturbed and says he will win over the Hindi-speaking Muslims and Marwaris who constitute more than 90 per cent of the population. �I�m getting tremendous response from areas inhabited by the non-Bengalis,� he says.

He may have lost his constituency, but Roy appears to have found his constituents.


Srirampur , May 7: 
First he lost a leg. Then he lost his wife. Both he lost for his party, the Trinamul.

Whatever his party might have given him in return, it did not give him a ticket for the Srirampur constituency.

That hurt Keshto Mukherjee more than losing a leg. Looking back, he is sure that had he not neglected that cut, he wouldn�t have got carcinoma in his left leg. But he was too busy then, raising the Trinamul in Hooghly, with no time to attend to silly wounds.

He lost his wife six months back. �I realise I neglected her as I had to run to different parts of the district to attend Trinamul meetings,� he says.

On March 6, Mukherjee learnt his name was not on the list. He couldn�t believe it, he was so stunned. He, Mukherjee, the chairman of the Srirampur Municipality, the man who had staked all for Mamata, and now, this. He didn�t go to a corner in his room to weep. He decided to fight as an Independent.

His rival: not so much CPI candidate Dhiren Dasgupta but �daktarbabur meye� Ratna Dey � a doctor herself � of Trinamul.

It gave him a kick when Mamata arrived with Sonia and asked the people of Srirampur to not vote for the Independent. That was his big day. If the Congress president had to come all the way to campaign against him, then he must necessarily have made the grade.

His supporters are dubbing Ratna Dey, daughter of late Gopal Das Nag, a well-known doctor in Srirampur, an �outsider�. She is married and lives in Calcutta, they say. Her father�s Srirampur chamber has grown mouldy with disuse. She comes only for two hours a day to see patients at the Walsh Hospital.

But daktarbabur meye is no stranger to politics. Her father was labour minister in the Siddhartha Shankar Ray Cabinet. For the past two months, she has been coming regularly to Srirampur, a Congress bastion, where people still remember her father with fondness. She is ignoring Mukherjee.

�The symbol is the main thing,� she says. �Besides, my father�s image is helping me a lot. I have met people whose lives my father saved. They wept when they saw me. I am receiving an overwhelming response.�

Dasgupta of the CPI seems cut off from the mainstream campaign. But he may still benefit from a split in anti-Left votes.

�We hope we�ll do better this time,� says Sunil Sarkar, CPM�s district secretariat member. But somehow, the voice lacks conviction.


Dinajpur, May 7: 
There�s a strong wind blowing, both in North and South Dinajpur. But the wind has brought about bigger changes in the north; in the south, the Left with its 1996 five-zero tally appears to have withstood the buffeting winds of change.

But this pattern is hardly surprising. South Dinajpur had always been a Left stronghold. While the Congress had been the dominant party in the north.

The last Assembly elections, however, threw up surprises in North Dinajpur. The Left Front surged ahead, bagging four of the seven seats. This year, Dinajpur strongman Priya Ranjan Das Munshi predicts Congress victory in five of the seven seats.

He pushed all his key people, including wife Deepa, in the Assembly segments of his Lok Sabha constituency. Deepa is fighting from the Goalpokhar constituency. �We will win in Islampur, where former Congress heavyweight Abdul Karim Choudury is the Trinamul nominee. At Goalpokhar, we will ride the wave of change,� says Das Munshi. He feels the Congress will snatch the Karandighi seat from the Forward Bloc and retain Raiganj and Kaliaganj.

There�s a strong Mamata wind blowing in North Dinajpur � few would deny that � but Trinamul is an insignificant presence in the district. Mamata has fielded only one candidate.

If the Congress is sounding confident in the north, it is the Left Front in the south. �The winds of change will not affect us,� says state minister Biswajit Choudury, the RSP nominee from Balurghat.

In 1996, he had won by over 9,000 votes. This year, he believes the margin will double. The Left feels it will not only retain the five seats but also increase its vote share. The RSP alone had polled over 27 per cent of the votes in the district.

�We intend to give them (Trinamul, which has fielded five candidates) a thrashing,� says Mafuza Khatoon, the CPM nominee from Kumarganj.

But the Trinamul appears undaunted. �South Dinajpur may be known as a Left Front stronghold, but they fail to see the writing on the wall. They are in for an unnerving surprise,� says Shankar Chakraborty, Trinamul nominee from Balurghat.

�What the Left Front is not seeing is the wind of change that is blowing in this district as well. The people are fed up. They want change,� says Jitendra Nath Sarkar, Trinamul candidate from Khusimandi.

The BJP, too, is trying to make its presence felt in this district. �Our vote share has increased over the years. The BJP candidate in Gangarampur had come a close second in the 1996 polls. The BJP vote share in the district was over 18 per cent in the last Assembly polls. It will increase this time,� says Sarkar.


Diamond Harbour, May 7: 
Atiur Rahman won�t vote for Rishi Halder, CPM candidate from Diamond Harbour. He is a hardcore CPM activist, but when Alimuddin Street announced Halder�s candidature, he made up his mind: he would vote for anybody but Halder.

Everyone had expected former law affairs minister Abdul Quam Mollah to contest; few had a clue the former South 24-Parganas zilla parishad sabhadhipati would make the list.

Mollah had been minister for two consecutive terms since 1987 but lost to Congress candidate Daulat Ali in 1996 by 6,131 votes.

So, why was Halder chosen in the first place? Abdul Rezzak Mollah, minister for Sunderbans development and CPM candidate from Canning East, who was in Diamond Harbour on a day�s visit, gives the inside information.

�Maybe it was done to rein in Halder who once sided with the rebels, headed by expelled South 24-Parganas unit secretary Samir Putatunda.�

He makes it clear that despite a high-pitched campaign by party managers, �the fate of candidates here hinge on minority votes�. Add to that the anti-incumbency factor sweeping much of the state, and where does that leave Halder?

He is not comfortable, but Halder won�t call it a day without a fight. He feels the big challenge for him is not Trinamul�s Amjad Ali but rebel Congress candidate Daulat Ali who is fighting on a National Congress Party ticket. �I feel there will be a straight contest between me and Daulat Ali.�

Amjad Ali feels that�s just not true. He says he has won the hearts of the people, highlighting the non-performance of both Daulat Ali and Mollah saheb �People in villages are fed up with both. They feel Mamata Banerjee�s Trinamul Congress can be the only alternative this time.�


New Delhi, May 7: 
The Congress today threatened to move the Election Commission against Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee�s �politics of seduction�.

Protesting Vajpayee�s offer of ministerial berth to Trinamul MP and former Central minister Ajit Panja, Congress spokesman Jaipal Reddy said: �It is nothing but politics of seduction. He is dangling ministerial carrots with a view to engineer splits in various parties.�

Reddy also questioned Vajpayee�s offer to grant work permits to Bangladeshi immigrants, wondering why he chose to make the announcement with the polls only three days away. �We will lodge a formal complaint with the Election Commission,� he said.

The Congress was not opposed to the work permit proposal but objected to the timing of the announcement.

Reddy said the party was prepared for a CBI probe into the charge that it was hand in glove with the Ulfa in Assam. �The Congress has suffered most from militancy in the state, having lost more than 1,000 political workers,� he said.

It was unfortunate that the Prime Minister was levelling a �baseless� charge of the Congress-Ulfa nexus, Reddy said. �Where is the proof, what is the evidence?� he asked.

However, the BJP denied that Vajpayee�s offer to Panja to rejoin his Cabinet at an election rally in Calcutta yesterday amounted to a corrupt electoral practice.

�It was not an inducement. Where is the question of inducing the Trinamul Congress MPs or splitting the party when it has already split? The Prime Minister does not have to do anything as four of the MPs have already said they have split,� said BJP spokesman V.K. Malhotra.

However, he refused divulge the names of the Trinamul leaders.

Malhotra also denied that Vajpayee offered ministership to Panja. �I don�t think he offered him a minister�s post, at least not to my knowledge,� he said.

Malhotra claimed that once the elections were over, the NDA ranks will swell in the Centre with more breakaway groups joining the coalition.

�See how the NDA�s strength increases. The breakaway Trinamul and Rashtriya Janata Dal groups would join the coalition and Ajit Singh and his members, too,� he said.

The Congress today claimed that Delhi�s �hasty welcome� of US President George Bush�s new security doctrine marks a �shift� in the country�s known stand on the Nuclear and Missile Doctrine (NMD).

The party urged the Vajpayee government to work out a consensus on Bush�s new NMD, questioning the urgency in welcoming the new US security framework.

Congress� head of foreign affairs, Natwar Singh, said the Centre should have observed greater restraint and taken the country into confidence on the ramifications of the doctrine before the Thursday arrival of Washington�s special envoy Richard Armitage in Delhi.

Singh said the government owed an explanation on why it responded so swiftly; even with out consulting trusted ally, Russia.

�Government must convince us that President George Bush�s new nuclear and missile doctrine is in the interest of the country. Congress party will not stand in the way if a national consensus emerges in its favour,� he said.


Calcutta, May 7: 
Congress president Sonia Gandhi today sought the intervention of chief election commissioner M.S. Gill to stop the CPM from unleashing violence during the polls.

At a hurriedly-convened meeting with party leaders at the airport on her way to Silchar this morning, Sonia asked Ambika Soni to contact AICC leaders to draw up a memorandum for Gill.

State Congress leaders, including Pradip Bhattacharya, Somen Mitra and Pradyut Guha, met Sonia at the airport at 8.30 am and complained that in many places, the CPM was making it impossible for them to campaign.

Soni contacted Congress leaders Oscar Fernandes, Ahmed Patel and Motilal Vora and conveyed the party chief�s instructions.

Guha said immediately after Sonia left for Silchar, state Congress leaders drew up a list of 55 constituencies, including Keshpur, Garbeta, Pingla, Sabang, Arambagh, Goghat and Khanakul. The list was sent to the high command and discussions were held over the phone.

In the memorandum, the Congress will demand deployment of Central forces at all booths in these constituencies.

The Trinamul Congress is setting up about 120 �pocket offices� on polling day, specifically to counter the CPM�s �rigging machinery�. Most of these offices will be set up in Midnapore, Burdwan, Hooghly and South 24-Parganas, mayor and Trinamul candidate from Chowringhee, Subrata Mukherjee, said.

The district party president and other functionaries will be present at every pocket office. Their work will be to entertain complaints from party polling agents, liaise with senior administrative officials and talk to the media.

PDS supporter killed

A supporter of the Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS), Sabir Ali was killed yesterday allegedly by CPM workers at Titagarh, says our staff reporter. Tension ran high in the area following the murder. Police are yet to arrest anyone in connection with the killing.

PDS general-secretary Samir Putatunda alleged that the CPM was trying to terrorise the electorate before the polls and in doing this, the cadre were attacking PDS supporters.


Hirapur, May 7: 
Laloo Prasad Yadav today ignited an already tense Asansol by openly asking people to be violent if victory in elections does not come peacefully.

Addressing a huge rally at the Burnpur Boys� High School ground to whip up support for his partyman Sohrab Ali, the RJD chief said: �Hame chunao jitege. Aise na manhan, to patka patki bhi Karege (We have to win the elections. If it does not come peacefully, resort to violence).�

District CPM leader Bamapada Mukherjee and CPM MP Bikas Chowdhury were, among others, present on the dais.

Laloo�s open call sparked off protests from Malay Ghatak and Kalyan Banerjee, Trinamul Congress candidates from Hirapur and Asansol, and Paban Singh, the BJP candidate from Hirapur.

�You can well imagine what will take place here on May 10. A good number of antisocials armed with sophisticated weapons have crossed over to Bengal from Bihar. Syed Sahabuddin has been camping here with his henchmen for the last three days,� Ghatak said.

Ghatak said he has already informed election observers and district authorities about his fears of violent polls in the seven Assembly constituencies in Asansol sub-division, bordering Bihar.

District authorities have sealed the Bengal-Bihar border with bamboo poles and sandbags at all exit and entry points. Armed guards of the State Armed Police and the Central Reserve Police Force have been posted at strategic points at Rupnarayanpur, Duburdih, Dishergarh Ghat, Barakar Ghat and Runakura Ghat.

Niraj Singh, additional SP, said police made a record haul of arms and ammunition. In a special drive, police seized 120 firearms, including a sophisticated sten gun, three German mausers and over 400 rounds of ammunition. More than 500 detonators, 19 bombs and seven gelatin sticks have also been seized.

Nearly 3,000 people, including 460 against whom warrants had been issued, have been arrested. Last night, three persons were arrested and a trekker and a public address system were confiscated from a place near Searsole Rajbati in Raniganj. The vehicle didn�t have a valid permit for campaigning.

Out of the 1,292 booths in the sub-division, around 400 have been identified as �sensitive�. �In fact, we consider all the booths to be sensitive in this border district,� the additional superintendent said.

According to the police, miscreants from across the border usually create trouble. �They just hit an run making West Bengal police ineffective,� said Singh.


New Delhi, May 7: 
The BJP today claimed that the ISI�s plot to kill Tehelka chief editor Tarun Tejpal was part of a larger conspiracy to bring down the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government.

The police�s claim that some Bihar politicians were involved has come handy for the BJP in the run up to the polls. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Union minister for rural development M. Venkaiah Naidu and BJP spokesperson V.K. Malhotra also endorsed the conspiracy theory.

While Vajpayee and Naidu stopped short of accusing the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) of being linked to the assassination plot, the BJP spokesman went to the extent of seeking a probe into �this angle�.

The BJP�s theory is that an RJD MP is believed to be linked to the criminals and as the Congress is supporting the RJD government in Bihar, it is also part of the conspiracy.

The Prime Minister, who arrived in Thiruvananthapuram today for campaigning, said the plot �was part of a larger conspiracy of Pakistan�s ISI to destabilise the BJP-led NDA government�.

The Prime Minister said: �Obviously, they (ISI) want to create disturbances and destabilise the NDA government.� Asked whether it was part of a larger conspiracy, he said: �Yes, I am inclined to think that way.�

Naidu, who was also in Thiruvananthapuram, said the conspiracy to kill Tejpal was aimed at creating an �anti-government mood� and thereby bringing down the NDA government.

Without mentioning the Congress or the RJD by name, the minister said �certain external and internal forces� were conspiring to destabilise the government and the assassination plot was part of that conspiracy.

Malhotra said that at a meeting held immediately after the Tehelka expos�, the NDA had discussed the potential threat to Tejpal. The government was so concerned that it was decided that he would soon be provided with full security, Malhotra said. �The thought crossed our mind then itself that the government could be brought down on this issue.�

�Already there is talk of a connection between the ISI and the RJD MP and the Congress is supporting the RJD. So this angle should be probed,� the BJP leader said, adding that �part of the Opposition is involved with the ISI�.

Bhupinder Tyagi, arrested along with five others on Saturday on the charge of plotting to kill Tejpal, today said the ISI had masterminded the move in order to �bring down� the Vajpayee government. Tyagi, alias Modi, claimed that the ISI operative codenamed �Jain� had told him that the BJP-led government would fall if the ISI succeeded in eliminating Tejpal. �Kahane laga agar Tarun Tejpal ko mar diya jae to Bhajpa sarkar gir jayegi (the ISI official said if Tejpal is killed, the BJP-led government will fall),� Tyagi told a television channel.

Bahal refuses security

Aniruddha Bahal, who looks after the investigations department of the portal, has refused to accept the security provided by the government. �I was offered a personal security officer which I have not accepted as it is difficult for me to be friendly with armed guards,� Bahal said.


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