| Vajpayee: Promise to keep
Purulia, Feb. 17: Peter Bleach has been pardoned, freed and returned home. So have the four Latvians involved in the Purulia arms drop case. But eight years on, the youth who first informed police about “strange boxes” falling from the sky remains unemployed, despite assurances, including one from then leader of the Opposition Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Early on the morning of December 18, 1995, hours after several crates packed with weapons landed in and around four villages in Jhalda and Joypur blocks, Subhas Tantubay rushed on a motorcycle to Jhalda police station, accompanied by friend Tarit Banerjee.
“Seeing the boxes, I had a premonition that something major had happened,” recalled Tantubay, a resident of Ganudi village, who was 20 then. “Around 7.30 am, I rushed into the police station and told the officer on duty about the boxes that were lying in front of my house. My mother had first spotted them when she went out at daybreak. Officer-in-charge Pranab Mitra followed us to the spot with a force. Villagers crowded around with reports of more such boxes.”
Mitra immediately got in touch with superintendent of police B.K. Gupta.
Words of encouragement and assurances followed in recognition of young Tantubay’s courage and presence of mind.
“There’s no doubt that the boy did the right thing by rushing to the police even as some other villagers were prying open the boxes and taking the guns home,” said Dipak Sinha, a senior resident of Khatunga, one of the villages where the arms were dropped.
Within a week, Vajpayee was in Ranchi to attend a BJP rally. “When he got to know that the location of the drop was just 70 km away, he decided to visit the spot,” said Ramgopal Sharma, who took over as the district BJP president recently.
A huge crowd had gathered as the convoy of the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha entered Ganudi. Mitra had shown Tantubay and Banerjee and told Vajpayee that “these were the boys who first informed us”.
The leader patted the boys and told them they had done a good job. “My hands were shaking as I accepted a part of the breakfast they were having,” Tantubay recalled.
“The state government should recognise your courage and the risk you took to go to the police,” Vajpayee reportedly told them. The youths then mustered enough nerve to ask him if he could get them jobs.
Sharma, a resident of Jhalda who had accompanied Vajpayee to the village, recounted that the leader had said if the CPM government cannot do anything, “I will help you out. I will raise this in Parliament and see what can be done”.
He stayed for about 15 minutes but gave birth to a lifetime of hope for the two young men.
Today, Tantubay, a graduate, still haunts the employment exchange office in Purulia in search of a call letter.
After a news channel reported their plight last year, several leaders, including Tapan Sikdar of the BJP, Basudev Acharya of the CPM and Ajit Panja of the Trinamul Congress, said they deserved a job or at least a cash prize that can help them stand on their feet. The two youths are still hoping.