Rookies in hijack gamble
Friends then, foes today
Teacher trouble for �outsider� minister
Uphill task for plains warrior
Close-race signal in Left�s lucky 13
Central forces bring out Trinamul flags in Keshpur
Mystery of vanishing arms
Laloo Ranchi exile cloud on Rabri regime
Joy for Jaya in money misery
India scores as US stumbles in race for UN panel posts

Jorasanko, May 8: 
Bengal�s smallest constituency has seen big-time political poaching.

The Left Front was left red-faced when Mamata Banerjee �hijacked� city businessman Satyanarayan Bajaj from the Forward Bloc, barely 48 hours after he was officially declared the party�s candidate from Jorasanko.

The BJP also got into the act and its Dum Dum MP and Union minister Tapan Sikdar roped in Manoj Poddar, son of former Congress leader Deoki Nandan Poddar, who won the seat seven times since 1969, except in 1977. Manoj crossed over as he had been denied a ticket by the Congress.

Stung by the humiliation, the Forward Bloc plucked out from hibernation a former partyman who is more famous as the man who got Sourav Ganguly and Dona Roy married.

Shyam Sundar Gupta was elected to the Lok Sabha from Barh in Bihar on a Janata Party ticket in 1977, but he lost the Assembly elections from Jorasanko in 1982 � he was then in the Forward Bloc. A marriage registrar and an advocate in Calcutta High Court, Gupta has been out of active politics since then.

Senior Left leaders are embarrassed at the way Bajaj crossed over to Trinamul. �The entire episode has tarnished our image on the eve of the polls,� said a Left Front leader. He feels the Forward Bloc should have been more �cautious� before renominating Bajaj from Jorasanko. In the 1996 poll, Bajaj, as a Forward Bloc nominee, had lost to the late Deoki Nandan Poddar by over 7,000 votes.

Left leaders are also miffed at Gupta�s nomination, complaining that he has never been a serious partyman. �But we were left with no option,� adds Forward Bloc�s Calcutta unit general secretary Nihar Roychowdhury.

Like all candidates, Gupta is confident of success. He is banking on the non-Bengali voters who comprise nearly 50 per cent of the population. �Even those Congress members who have been let down by Bajaj�s nomination from the Congress-Trinamul combine are working for me,� he says.

But, ironically for Gupta, his biggest fight is within the alliance. Despite the claims of the Alimuddin Street bosses, grassroots CPM workers in central Calcutta are allegedly not working hard enough for the Forward Bloc.

It�s the same problem for Poddar whose biggest worry is that BJP workers are not working for him.

This is where Bajaj holds the edge. �Not only Congress and Trinamul workers, but even some BJP workers who are upset with Poddar�s nomination are working for me,� he says. Bajaj also claims to have won over some �disgruntled� Forward Bloc members who worked for him during the 1996 Assembly elections.

That Bajaj has been able to rope in Left Front activists is evident from the manner in which some CPM supporters are working overtime at his election office. �We are sure that Bajajji will fare well this time,� says Talat Parvin, whose father is a CPM activist. Besides, the majority of businessmen in the area are backing Bajaj. �He will have a smooth sailing because he is in touch with traders who constitute the bulk of the population here,� says Mohanlal Khedwal, former president of the Calcutta Electric Dealers� Association.


South 24-Parganas, May 8: 
Here, more than anywhere else, old friends have turned new enemies; old enemies have taken backseat.

South 24-Parganas was a traditional Left bastion. The Marxists had ruled the district since 1977. But this time, CPM is locked in straight contests with nominees of the Party for Democratic Socialism in 18 of the 28 seats.

Two Congressmen, denied tickets after their party entered into a seat-sharing deal with Mamata Banerjee, are contesting as candidates of Sharad Pawar�s Nationalist Congress Party. They, too, are baying for their former colleagues� blood.

Abdul Rezzak Mollah, minister for the Sunderbans development and a seven-time CPM candidate from the Canning (East) seat, admits this will be the Left Front�s �toughest� contest in the district. �We cannot ignore the presence of the party dissidents who will cause more damage to us this time than our traditional opponents,� he says. �Besides, we have been in power for over 24 years and the anti-establishment factor will definitely cost us a good deal this time,� admits Mollah.

That is the rebels� trump card, the anti-incumbency factor. They are determined to end the CPM �misrule� and have campaigned hard despite the financial crunch.

�We have already made our presence felt in the district,� says PDS general secretary Samir Putatunda. He was the CPM�s district secretary for over nine years. �There will be a neck-and-neck fight in all the 18 seats, particularly, Jadavpur, Satgachhia, Diamond Harbour, Sonarpur, Bishnupur and Behala where desperate CPM nominees are using muscle power this time,� he claims.

Putatunda is pitted against chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in Jadavpur. His party, he says, is banking on votes of �genuine� party workers, disenchanted with the ruling Marxists. �A division in anti-Left votes will definitely mar Bhattacharjee�s poll prospect,� he adds.

His wife, Anuradha, once a key member of the CPM�s Ganatantantrik Mahila Samity, is now a PDS nominee from Satgachhia, taking on CPM veteran, Gokul Bairagi. �Satgachhia is no more a CPM bastion and we are determined to ensure Bairagi�s defeat,� says she.

Now, add an ally to the rebels, and you will realise what the Left is up against. In the Sunderbans, comprising Gosaba and Basanti, the party is at war with the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP). �Though we are backing the RSP nominees in two places, we must say the relations with the ally have got strained over the years,� says a CPM functionary in Basanti.

Minister of state for irrigation, Ganesh Mondal, who is seeking reelection from Gosaba on an RSP ticket, however, says both the CPM and RSP members are working together against the Trinamul-Congress nominees.

If the Left can draw any consolation, it�s that one of its main adversaries has not been spared internecine strife. Two sitting Congress MLAs, Daulat Ali and Abul Basar Naskar, are contesting on NCP tickets from Diamond Harbour and Magrahat (East) respectively. Their party treated them �shabbily�, and now they want an eye for an eye.

�Don�t vote for Congress nominees who have stabbed their own men in the back,� Daulat Ali tells voters near Diamond Harbour police station.

The CPM takes the cue from there. �We have nothing to say when the CPM in its campaign targets us for intra-party squabbles,� says Mujubar Rahaman Kayal, who is contesting from Canning East on a Congress ticket. The old enemy has now found a new role.


Chakdah, May 8: 
Satyasadhan Chakraborty is a city man, a Calcuttan who loves it where he lives. But he is contesting from Chakdah � for the third time � and you can hear it being said at street-corners: �How many times has your MLA visited Chakdah since 1996?�

If you care to listen further, you will hear him being referred to as a �sahure babu�, as an �outsider�. Which he is. He doesn�t have a house here.

There is another �outsider� in the fray, Trinamul candidate Gourishankar Dutta. He is from Krishnagar, now running his campaign from Kalyani.

But he is not a Calcuttan � that makes a small difference. �Who told you I am an outsider? My forefathers lived in Krishnagar and I have been living there since my childhood.�

Still, he is not from Chakdah. Subhas Bose is � the third man in the race. He has lived in Kalyani for the whole of his life. He was one of the founding fathers of CPM�s Nadia unit. He represented Chakdah twice before as a CPM candidate. In 1996, he was an integral part of higher education minister Chakraborty�s campaign team.

This time, he is one of Chakraborty�s toughest rivals. He�s fighting as a candidate of Saifuddin Chowdhury�s Party for Democratic Socialism.

No, the CPM isn�t scared of Bose�s challenge. The party exudes confidence, but admits that margins will be hit. In 1991, Chakraborty won by 23,883 votes; in 1996, the margin was down to 21,616.

And this time? There�s Bose and team to consider. Two founder-members of the CPM�s Nadia unit, Gour Kundu and Debi Bose, have lost interest in the party and are not campaigning. Two other important CPM leaders � Shanti Banerjee and Ashok Kundu � have joined the PDS.

Then, there�s Dutta of Trinamul backed by the Congress.

To make matters worse, a large number of teachers has turned against the minister. Around 150 teachers from all the undergraduate colleges in Chakdah, Kalyani University and several schools have formed the Education Reforms Association and are openly campaigning against Chakraborty under the banner.

The minister doesn�t like any of it. Least of all, Bose�s behaviour. Without naming him, he is taking on the PDS

candidate. �There are some selfish people in politics whose sole purpose is to serve themselves and no one else. People should reject such elements.�

Bose�s retort: �He (Chakraborty) is such a man whose sole aim is to become a minister. I want to know what he has done for Chakdah. As far as I remember, he last visited Chakdah during the 1996 Assembly polls.�

Again, the �outsider� tag. But that�s because if the outsider is in, the insider has to be out.


Siliguri, May 8: 
His supporters call him Mr Development; his detractors have dubbed him a businessman�s minister. The man who won the 1996 poll with one of the biggest margins is now struggling to keep afloat.

Ashoke Bhattacharya, urban development and municipal minister and the CPM candidate from Siliguri, is waging a battle on many fronts. It�s not just Trinamul he is fighting, Bhattacharya is trying to stave off an assault launched by a section within the party.

The former fertiliser dealer�s meteoric political rise and his perceived proximity to the trading community in Siliguri have alienated him from old-timers in the Marxist hierarchy.

The immediate fallout of the intra-party rivalry has been that Bhattacharya is without the services of CPM veteran Anil Saha.

Saha had recently lodged a �complaint� with Alimuddin Street alleging Bhattacharya�s �corrupt� practices and his proximity to a section of the business lobby in Siliguri.

�Ashokeda has over the years endeared himself to a select section of the powerful business community in the town, ignoring his mass support base among the middleclass voters. He is more interested in furthering the interest of the business community than his own votebank. There is a definite wind against Ashokeda,� says Shambu Banerjee, a CPM supporter in Subashpally.

If the poll proves third-time unlucky for Bhattacharya, it could be third-time lucky for his Trinamul opponent Prasanta Nandy. He has twice lost the Assembly polls from Siliguri, on both occasions as a Congress candidate.

The minister says his performance will see him through. �During my first tenure as minister of state in the urban development department from 1991 to 1996, I had chalked out several development projects for north Bengal and Siliguri in particular. In my second term as minister, I implemented all these projects, including the Kanchenjunga stadium and the second Mahananda bridge.�

Nandy scoffs at Bhattacharya�s claims. �The Kanchenjunga stadium and the second Mahananda bridge were financed by the Planning Commission when Pranab Mukherjee was deputy chairman. How can Bhattacharya make these tall claims?� he says.

Bhattacharya, who won in 1996 by 54,073 votes, is confident of increasing the margin and is banking on the Left vote in the tea gardens � which fall under Matigara � to see him through.

In 1999, the CPM�s S.P. Lepcha had trailed Trinamul�s Tarun Roy by 1,324 votes in the Siliguri segment in the Lok Sabha elections.

Moreover, the GNLF, which is contesting the Siliguri seat for the first time, and the Kamtapur People�s Party could eat into the Left votes. The Rajbanshis, who constitute a large chunk of the electorate in Shiv Mandir and Matigara, are traditional Left voters but could vote for the KPP. Similarly, the GNLF, which has a large following among the 40,000-odd Nepali-speaking voters in pockets like Pradhan Nagar, Champasari, Sevok, Kalijhora and Matigara could also make a big difference.

But it is Mirik which could hold the key as Bhattacharya had got vital leads here in both 1991 and 1996. However, the 28,000-strong electorate there, the majority of whom are GNLF supporters, are set to vote against the Left.


Bankura, May 8: 
One day last fortnight, Shibu Ghosh, a BJP activist in Kotulpur, came and cried to his leader, Gunamoy Chatterjee, about the fate that befell him during his campaign. Ghosh had gone to a village � a fiercely CPM stronghold in Bankura � only to be chased out by women with brooms in their hands.

�Did you know what I told him?� asks Chatterjee. �I told him never mind. It is a good thing. If you are harassed during your campaign, your votes will go up. So I told Shibu, you go to that village again and this time don�t run away. Get beaten by the women, and your votes will rise by 2 per cent every time you are assaulted.�

It is not known if Ghosh took the advice and whether, after taking it, he was resilient enough to persist with the campaign. However, if Chatterjee�s logic is accepted, the CPM has a lot to gain by sending its action squad of women after the BJP�s candidates in Bankura. Not only will the BJP�s voteshare rise, the party will also cut into the support base of the Congress-Trinamul. This will divide the Opposition vote and the CPM will romp home.

Gunamoy Chatterjee is former district committee chief of the BJP in Bankura. Just as well for his partymen that he is not in a position now to ensure that all his advice is followed to the T.

Suddenly, Murli Manohar Joshi has emerged as the most talked-about BJP leader in Bankura. Not Vajpayee, not Advani. Joshi said in Calcutta that the political situation in Bengal was ripe for change. He also said clearly � certainly more clearly than Advani and Vajpayee � that the priority was to drive out the Left and urged his supporters to vote for the party best placed to defeat CPM and friends.

Joshi�s wish is the command of the BJP supervisors in Bankura, a district where the Sangh Parivar has been building up its organisation with some care. The entourage includes the party�s state unit president, Sukumar Banerjee, and Gunamoy Chatterjee. Bankura is also where the BJP feels the pain of Mamata�s betrayal most because before the lady hitched up with the Congress, she had decided to let the BJP�s candidates be the prime anti-Left force in the district.

Bankura was a washout for the non-Left in 1996. The Left�s candidates won all 13 seats. Even in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections, the Left maintained its lead in all the Assembly segments. Yet, the mood in Bankura town is that there will still be a close race.

�The last Assembly results prove nothing. We have a Sangh organisation here. Before the 1999 Lok Sabha polls, our alliance � the Trinamul and the BJP � won 1,100 of the 3,100 gram panchayat berths. This time we expect to win at least two seats,� says Gunamoy Chatterjee.

But the �we� is a little blurred. It is not clear whether Chatterjee is talking of a possible victory for BJP candidates or of Congress-Trinamul nominees. Chatterjee says the BJP�s hopes lie in Chhatna and Bankura. In the same breath, he adds: �There is a whiff of change in the air and please remember what Joshiji said.�

In contrast, there are no ifs and buts in the CPM office. �Only in Bankura constituency we did not poll 50 per cent of the votes in the last elections. The district has always recorded the highest percentage of votes for the Left Front � nearly 57 per cent. We see no reason for a difference this time,� claims Amiya Patra, the district committee secretary. �In fact, I will not be surprised if we poll about 60 per cent this time.�

The Congress-Trinamul alliance in Bankura has scant organisation to match the Left election machinery. Yet, Bankura is a test for the partners in that it will indicate whether the BJP vote is transferable or not. Indications are, Bankura�s non-Left voters are unlikely to forsake Mamata for the BJP.

Such a vote transfer gives Mamata�s men a fighting chance in Bankura town � where old Congressman Kashi Nath Misra is fighting against health minister Partho De � and in Onda where the deputy speaker in the Assembly, Anil Mukherjee (Forward Bloc), is contesting. In Onda, the Forward Bloc nominee�s former campaign manager, Manik Mukherjee, has switched to the RSP, and Sheikh Shah Jahan of the Congress will be looking to work through the rift in the Left. An en masse transfer of votes either from the BJP or the Trinamul to one of the other will also leave the Left shaky in Chhatna. The Trinamul did a flip-flop in Chhatna by first naming Shanti Singh as its candidate and then settling for Swapan Mandal.


Calcutta, May 8: 
Large-scale deployment of Central forces in Midnapore 48 hours before polling has raised a faint hope of a �peaceful election� in the Trinamul Congress camp.

Rajani Dolui, the Trinamul candidate for Keshpur who had decided to withdraw from the contest yesterday fearing violence on his supporters, today visited his constituency after Central forces staged a flag march.

Sent back by Mamata Banerjee, Dolui was surprised to see thousands of Trinamul flags fluttering atop houses in Keshpur, the most trouble-torn constituency in Midnapore. �Only a few days ago, I had not seen a single party flag in Keshpur. Today, entire Keshpur is covered with Trinamul flags,� he said.

�I hope people will be able to vote freely and without any fear. But my party supporters told me they will be attacked immediately after the election is over. The CPM has threatened to evict our supporters from Keshpur if their candidate Nandarani Dal fails to win this time,� Dolui alleged.

He said the CPM was telling Trinamul workers that the Central forces would leave after May 10 and they would have to �face the consequences if our candidate is defeated�.

Twenty-two companies of paramilitary forces were deployed in Midnapore today. The CRPF, BSF, Eastern Frontier Rifles and Punjab commandos have reached the district headquarters and will fan out across Midnapore, particularly in the �sensitive zones�.

Police today sealed the borders with Bihar and Orissa, district magistrate M.V. Rao said. As a precautionary measure, 7,980 people have been arrested. Of them, 5,223 persons have a criminal background.

Forty-nine firearms, 547 cartridges, 67 bombs and a large quantity of bomb-making material have been recovered during nightlong raids in the district.

The district administration has assigned S.S.Panda, additional superintendent of police (headquarters), to Keshpur. Panda today led a flag march in the constituency.

The PWG has called for a poll boycott at 13 booths in Belpahari under the Binpur Assembly segment. Paramilitary forces have been deputed to Belpahari, Rao said.

District superintendent of police A.K. Maliwal said the 51 Trinamul Congress supporters arrested on Monday would not be released before the polls as most of them were wanted in criminal cases. At a rally in Midnapore town today, Mamata had demanded their release before May 10 as �all of them are Trinamul Congress election agents�.

180 to 200 seats: Sudip

Trinamul today announced that it would win the polls with a thumping majority, bagging 180 to 200 seats.

MP and party spokesman Sudip Bandopadhyay told reporters at Press Club that the Congress-Trinamul combine would form the next government in Bengal with Mamata Banerjee as chief minister.

�We are receiving incredible support from the people while the CPM-led Left Front is totally isolated and in a state of panic,� he said.

But the Election Commission should ensure that polls are free and fair by deploying Central forces in sensitive areas, he said. �We feel that enough flag marches are not being held by paramilitary forces as law and order is controlled by the state government,� he added.

Bandopadhyay said the CPM would resort to violence in 37 seats in Midnapore, Hooghly and Bankura districts. �We doubt if the polls will be free and fair. However, it is to our advantage that the poll is being held on a single day,� he said.

The spokesman said it was a �non-issue� whether the outburst by rebel MP Ajit Panja, also the chairman of Trinamul�s Bengal unit, would hit the party�s chances.

�We are not thinking about any disciplinary action against Panja because we simply don�t have the time. But, mark my words, we will not let him become a minister so easily,� he said, implying the rebel was inviting expulsion so that he could rejoin the Vajpayee ministry.

Bandopadhyay dismissed any possibility of Trinamul returning to the NDA. �There is no question of our going back. We don�t indulge in political prostitution,� he said.

But he dodged a direct reply on the Prime Minister calling Trinamul the CPM�s C-team. �Vajpayeeji is a man of great stature. He uttered a few things only to please Tapan Sikdar (state leader and Union minister known to be bitter about Mamata),� he said.

The state BJP leadership said the Left Front had got an advantage after Trinamul split with it and tied up with the Congress. Bengal BJP chief Asim Ghosh told reporters Mamata was inconsistent and erratic in her political decisions.

�A party led by such an inconsistent person should not come to power. If Trinamul does not come to power, there will be an exodus of party workers to the Congress,� he said.


Calcutta, May 8: 
The decision to send 22 companies of Central paramilitary forces to trouble-prone Midnapore and the extraordinary care taken in the deployment of polling personnel across Bengal this time were guided to an extent by instances like the one in a police station from where arms and ammunition went missing.

With days left before the polls, Sabyasachi Sen, the state�s chief electoral officer, learnt that he had been kept in the dark about the incident that took place in Asansol North police station. Thirty rounds of ammunition and a revolver disappeared from there about two years ago and the case remains unresolved.

�I was informed of two rifles that went missing in Midnapore on the day of the 1999 (Lok Sabha) elections. Why was I kept in the dark about the Asansol incident?� Sen asked, expressing surprise that the case was not brought to his notice.

The incident first found mention on September 17, 1998, in a report prepared by Asansol circle inspector Abdul Hai. No probe was, however, ordered. Nor was responsibility fixed.

There are allegations that the revolver and the ammunition were handed by the police to a criminal with whom they had a more than nodding acquaintance.

Asked about the incident, Burdwan police chief Manoj Malviya said: �Why is the media not writing about the illegal arms and ammunition seized by us?�

He did not stop at that either. �When the local media is quiet about it, why is Calcutta so interested?�

Niraj Kumar Singh, Asansol�s additional superintendent of police, admitted being amazed by the incident. �I am not aware that the revolver and the ammunition have been recovered,� he said.

Last year, during stocktaking at police stations, the incident came to light again. Singh had mentioned it in his inspection report.

On being asked by Malviya last November, the current officer-in-charge of Asansol North, Dipak Chattaraj, sent a full-fledged report. Silence reigns since.

Hai, who first reported the incident, said: �At that time, Tathagata Pande was the officer-in-charge.�

Now with the state detective department, a dispirited Hai said: �Instead of bringing to book the guilty, Pande has been allowed to hold charge of two police stations subsequently.�

Pande, now the officer-in-charge of Durgapur New Township police station, denied responsibility. He said: �When the next officer took charge of the police station, there were six revolvers (the same number as when Pande had taken over).�

However, when asked about the missing revolver and the ammunition, Pande said: �Sixteen officers could lose their jobs if the case is dug up.�

It appears that the incident was rolled under the carpet as soon as it became known. Malviya�s predecessor, Rajib Kumar, expressed surprise when told about it. �I was not informed at all,� he said.


New Delhi, May 8: 
The longevity of the Rabri Devi government in Bihar came under a cloud today after a court issued against Laloo Prasad Yadav a non-bailable arrest warrant that could land him behind bars in Ranchi, ruled by a hostile government.

The warrant against Laloo was part of 102 such notices issued by the special CBI court in Ranchi in a fodder scam case. The case relates to fraudulent withdrawals of Rs 139 crore from Doranda treasury in Ranchi by state animal husbandry department officials.

Unless Laloo gets a stay order immediately, he can be arrested and lodged in the Ranchi jail. The Rashtriya Janata Dal leader has been to jail thrice since the fodder scam was busted in 1996, but he managed to come out unscathed politically.

However, the situation is quite different this time. Ranchi is enemy territory with the BJP heading the government in Jharkhand. Sources said jail authorities there have installed �jammers� to immobilise Laloo�s cell phone, a life-saver for remote-control power-centres.

The Laloo camp was pinning hopes on his ability to keep his flock intact even when he is away in jail. The Ranchi punch could not have come at a more inopportune time for Laloo with rebels in his party, led by Ranjan Yadav, and foes in the BJP-led coalition busy sharpening knives for the kill.

When Laloo was jailed in Patna, he was lodged mostly in a guest house, which was converted into an RJD office. From his �cell� there, he oversaw the affairs of the party as well as the government. However, if Laloo is sent to Ranchi, he �will not be allowed to manipulate political activities from jail�, said an NDA leader.

Laloo is perhaps facing the biggest challenge in his political career as he has to unravel legal and political knots simultaneously. Legal circles said lower courts usually do not grant bail. Laloo may have to move the Supreme Court for bail, but the process is time-consuming. His party managers are bracing for the possibility of imprisonment of at least two months before he gets bail.

Two months in jail will give his political adversaries sufficient time to act. �A whole lot of churning will take place,� said an NDA leader.

�Rabri will not be able to manage without Laloo. The RJD boss may be tempted to nominate his daughter Misa as chief minister and this will set off a chain reaction with two brothers-in-law clashing for the spoils of the office,� visualised the NDA leader.

Laloo had just begun a crackdown on a brewing revolt by some party colleagues led by Ranjan. That he was forced to expel five MPs � three Lok Sabha and two Rajya Sabha � from the party underscores the gravity of the situation.

The six MPs, including Ranjan, Nagmani, Anwar-ul Haq and Kum Kum Rai, are leaving for Patna on May 12. They hope that by then the groundwork for toppling the Rabri government will be done with a helping hand from NDA leaders.

Despite the heavy odds, it is too early to underestimate Laloo�s survival skills. He is confabulating with his legal advisers to turn the tables on his adversaries as he has done in the past.

His reaction has been well-thought out to ensure that the judiciary is not antagonised.

�I am not forest brigand Veerappan.... I am a law-abiding citizen and will follow whatever directives I receive from the court,� he said in Patna immediately after the news of his arrest warrant was flashed.

While his thinktank is exploring legal avenues, Laloo has already launched a political battle against the Centre for having �masterminded� the filing of the chargesheet in the Ranchi court.

The RJD chief is likely to challenge the justification of submission of the chargesheet in Ranchi. A full-bench order of Patna High Court had turned down the CBI�s petition seeking transfer of 36 of the 52 cases. The agency has contested the order in the Supreme Court, which heard the case today.


Chennai, May 8: 
Ask the man on the street, and he says: �Aiya anapuzhakkam illeenga. (There is no liquidity at all.)�

The anti-incumbency factor is so high in Tamil Nadu that chief minister M. Karunanidhi is being blamed for national and even global phenomena at play in day-to-day lives.

Jayalalitha appears to be on a comeback trail, riding the wave of discontent on bread-and-butter issues. �What we�re looking for is some deliverance from the current economic misery,� the man on the street says.

Ultimately, that is what will decide this election.Coimbatore could be fast turning into a ghost city with the textile industry, including even those who make machinery and spare parts, in the doldrums. Handloom and powerloom are badly affected.

The prospect of privatisation has turned workers of the prestigious Salem steel plant against the National Democratic Alliance, of which the DMK is a part.

Farmers are agitated because prices of farm produce, both cereals and cash crops, are falling.

Thanks to the general economic downturn, the money flow is drying up. So is support for the Karunanidhi regime.

Winding up his campaign in his constituency, Chepauk in Chennai, this evening, the chief minister tried to make light of opinion polls that have predicted victory for Jayalalitha. But his mood was sombre.

�I have no doubt about my own victory here�I am appealing to people elsewhere in the state to think twice before they cast their votes�Remember what you underwent during her regime�think of the next generation�save yourselves from a terrible future��

The chief minister�s message is unlikely to find many takers. Most opinion polls have predicted a comfortable majority for the ADMK. Some talk of a closer finish. But few outside the DMK camp are giving Karunanidhi any chance of returning to power.

Hit hard by the economic downturn, voters are not willing to accept that it might be a nationwide or global phenomenon that Jayalalitha might not be able to reverse.

�We�ll give her a chance�I am sure she would bring good luck with her,� the man on the street says.

Another factor in Jayalalitha�s favour is that she has sewn up the support of the Thevars in the south and Vanniars in the north. Even the Nadars could be with her, thanks to the Tamil Maanila Congress� support though there is some heartburn over seat allocation. The minorities are expected will vote largely against the NDA.

The alliance with the Dalit outfits could help the DMK some of its losses, but it could also alienate the DMK-oriented Thevars and Vanniars and intermediate castes.

Besides, disciple-turned-rebel Vaiko might spoil Karunanidhi�s party, especially in the south where the DMK is weak.

It is the middle classes in the urban pockets who are expected to back the DMK. But how far that will help is a moot point.


New York, May 8: 
For the second time in a week, the Bush administration suffered a humiliating rebuff from the world community when it was voted out of the UN�s International Narcotics Control Board, the 13-member body which monitors illegal trafficking and compliance with UN drug conventions.

Last week, the US was voted out of the UN Human Rights Commission in which it has been a member � along with India � since the panel�s creation in 1947. India was elected to both these bodies for another term.

Stung by the twin defeats, the first major test of the Bush administration�s popularity in the international community, American lawmakers are now demanding that the Congress should withhold payments to the UN amounting to $650 million.

In addition, there are demands that US aid should be stopped to countries which voted against Washington.

Representative Benjamin Gilman, a New York Republican and a former chairman of the House International Relations Committee, said �someone approached me last night on the floor (of the House of Representatives) about withholding aid from countries that voted against us�.

Dick Armey, Bush�s fellow Republican from Texas and majority leader in the House of Representatives, described America�s ouster from the twin panels as �ludicrous�.

�What they have done is thrown out the world�s oldest democracy and put a country with the world�s worst human rights record, Sudan, in its place,� he said with reference to the vote for the UN Human Rights Commission.

The House of Representatives is to vote this week on an authorisation Bill for the state department, which contains provisions for paying America�s UN dues of $582 million, including $67 million for rejoining Unesco.

Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican member of the House of Representatives from California, said Congressmen were �seriously considering amendments to reflect our dramatic loss of faith in the UN structure�. He said �withholding funds is the best way to reflect such loss of faith�.

America�s defeat in the two elections, in which some of its European allies colluded with Washington�s enemies, is the result of international resentment against the Bush administration�s policies.

Several of America�s allies are unhappy with the Republican administration�s decision to dump the Kyoto protocol on environment, jeopardise the anti-ballistic missile (ABM) treaty and go ahead with National Missile Defence (NMD), all of which have caused ripples in New Delhi as well.

The decision by President George W. Bush not to ratify a treaty creating an international criminal court has also bred resentment against Washington among US allies.

UN secretary-general Kofi Annan said yesterday that �(UN) member states, particularly those who have been very strongly supportive of the international criminal court have been disappointed by the US not coming on board�.

Elections for both these organisations took place in the UN�s Economic and Social Council (Ecosoc), the 54-member umbrella group which is responsible for the world body�s economic and social activities.

The Washington Post reported today that stung by the setbacks, secretary of state Colin Powell had lost his cool and heads are expected to roll in the state department soon.


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