Recce run for war for Writers?
Heartland fortunes shift course
10-year-old electrocuted on flooded city road
Calcutta Weather

Calcutta, Oct. 2 
Battlelines will be drawn tomorrow for the war of 2001 for Writers?, making the election the first in 23 years which could signal whether a rising star will replace the reigning red constellation.

The suspense in the three push-button seats in the state should be over in a flash on Wednesday, while the other 39 may have to kill another day for the picture to be clear. But, for Mamata Banerjee and Jyoti Basu, it will be a night of long numbers on Thursday as they pore over the facts behind the figures the 4.76 crore voters spring on them tomorrow.

Both know that Sunday?s election is a reconnaissance mission which will provide an insight into the bigger battle round the corner: the Assembly poll two years hence.

?This election will prove how we will do even better in the 2001 Assembly polls. Not only will we improve our position tomorrow, we will also snatch the Dum Dum seat from the BJP. It will definitely be a better performance than last time,? Basu said tonight.

But Mamata insisted that ?Bengal will play a crucial role this time to re-instal a Vajpayee-led government at the Centre.

The talking point of this election will be the number of seats won by the Trinamul-BJP combine and the CPM-led Left Front, but the thinking point will be whether Mamata has broken out of the confines of Calcutta.

Crystal-gazers and the CPM?s cassandras rate the Mamata alliance?s chances bright in nine to 16 seats, including the eight it won last time.

Mamata doesn?t need to win 16 seats to send shivers down the flood-frozen CPM?s spine. If she manages to make inroads into some of the rural red bastions, she could set the tone for the first Assembly election where the CPM will confront a challenger with a credible claim of an alternative.

Any jump from Mamata?s present seat tally will come as icing on the cake. Besides turning up the heat on the CPM, it will enable her to drive a hard bargain with the BJP at the Centre and weigh options to build bridges with the Congress.

An alliance with the Congress ? it may look farfetched now, but it did not on the eve of Jayalalitha?s Delhi earthquake that ended in a whimper ? is perceived as one of the concessions Mamata must make in the 2001 run.

But more than the political permutations and combinations, what could give Mamata the cutting edge in 2001 is the possibility of Basu?s phased withdrawal from power politics. If that happens ? this election could be the last with Basu?s active participation ? the CPM will look more like an army of lieutenants without a general.

Compounding the crisis will be the Left?s abysmal track record in governance, Bengal?s rusting economy and the rising unpopularity of the communists even in rural stretches, particularly after the recent devastation wrought by the rain.

Ironically, a silver-lining for the CPM is the gathering dark clouds over Bengal. The Met Office has forecast ?one or two showers or thundershowers? tomorrow. If it rains heavily and keeps voters indoors, conventional wisdom holds that it would aid the ruling communists now on the defensive.

Though the rain-rage in Calcutta is a fair indication of the party?s prospects in the city, it does not mean that the CPM is about to be swept out of its pocketboroughs.

Beyond Calcutta, the CPM-led front remains an iceberg, most of its strengths submerged to the untrained eye. By virtue of its stranglehold on the panchayats, the front continues to carry a formidable punch, especially in rural Bengal where the Trinamul is still largely seen as a party high on symbols and low on action.

Unless Mamata tempers her penchant for tactics and goes in for a strategic makeover, the communists could succeed in halting her march outside Calcutta.

First, Mamata will have to sell herself as a viable alternative before the minorities. None of the serious contenders to power can afford to alienate the minorities, who constitute 17 per cent of the state?s electorate.

A deal with the Congress could help Mamata win back the segment which has been deserting her ever since the alliance with the BJP.

A more glaring chink in the Trinamul armour is the lack of an organisation network, without which the question of taking on the monolithic CPM cannot even be looked at. ?We all know that popular anger exists out there, but neither the Trinamul nor the BJP has the machinery to translate that anger into votes for us,? concedes BJP leader P.R. Kumaramangalam.

The blame for the organisation blackhole lies at Mamata?s doorstep. She has not addressed the issue of grooming a second-tier of leaders who can be assigned to consolidate the party.

Added to this is the growing intra-Trinamul and intra-combine feuds which have dimmed Mamata?s prospects in at least a dozen seats where the fight is otherwise a cliff-hanger.

Another niggling worry is a possible resurgence of the Congress, whose obituary she had almost written in the 1998 election. If a resurrected Congress makes a headway and increases its tally from one to three, it could eat into Mamata?s votebank and emerge as the rallying point for the minorities.    


Image I: As the clock struck five bringing to an end the last election campaign of the millennium, Sonia Gandhi finished a rally in the Prime Minister?s constituency. Pradesh Congress president Salman Khursheed jumped up in joy and hugged his colleagues. Others thumped the air. Some shed tears of euphoria.

Image II: In what must be a first for a Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee campaigned almost like a councillor, addressing street-corner meetings.

Image III: In Amethi, elderly women wept as Priyanka Gandhi came calling. Some fell at her feet. Congress flags fluttered side by side the saffron ones. Not since the halcyon days of Rajiv Gandhi?s Camelot had the family pocketborough witnessed such frenzy.

If images could have won elections, the Congress would have been the toast of the heartland. But images seldom portray the true picture and for the Congress, the tale is unfolding with a twist: it is almost there, but not quite.

Defying pundits? predictions, the Samajwadi Party, along with the Bahujan Samaj Party, has stalled what could well have been a Congress juggernaut.

Though Muslims have ??forgiven?? the Congress for the Babri demolition, it is evident that they are still not ready to stand by it heart and soul.

The shift in the Muslim vote to the Congress is evident in the Nehru-Gandhi belt of Amethi, Rae Bareli and Sultanpur. But Mulayam Singh Yadav, whom many had written off after he refused to support a Sonia-led government, retains his hold on the community and the backward classes in Rampur, Aonla, Sambhal and Badayun in Bundelkhand, Jaunpur, Azamgarh and Padrauna on the eastern side and in the central-west areas of Etawah, Mainpuri, Farrukhabad and up to Agra.

The BSP has not been able to add much to its 21 per cent Dalit vote share. But by cleverly picking candidates of other castes, the party has tried to increase its tally. In the entire lower east belt, the BSP has fielded non-Dalit candidates: a Maurya (OBC) in Jaunpur, a Verma (Kurmi) in Machhalishahr and even a Yadav in Pratapgarh.

??The Dalits will close their eyes and vote blindly for the BSP. Other communities will come because of the candidates,?? says Ram Krishna Yadav, the first MP to be elected on a BSP ticket from the state. But Yadav, who is with the Samajwadi Party now, feels that if the Congress continues to consolidate, it could cut short the BSP innings. What he did not say is that the same holds true for his party as well.

The BSP, which got five seats last time, enough to bring down a government, is on firm ground in Akbarpur ? the stronghold of Mayavati ? Lalgunj, Jaunpur and Bahraich. It could also pull off a miracle in Chandauli.

Though changing notes in the state?s political tenor have struck a jarring chord in the BJP?s script, Vajpayee?s presence has somewhat stemmed the slide.

On the first lap of Campaign 99, the party had surged ahead riding the twin waves of Kargil and Vajpayee. But a month is an eternity in politics and the party could not sustain the momentum. The strains of Kargil faded away, giving way to bread and butter concerns. Much to the BJP?s discomfiture, people began talking of everyday issues like bad roads, lack of power, broken school buildings and spiralling prices.

The party?s MPs, 60 of them, including allies, had few answers. They were not prepared for a campaign on micro issues.

Nothing illustrates it better than Murli Manohar Joshi?s arrogance in the nascent stages of the campaign. ??Stop asking me about local issues. I am not fighting a municipal election,?? he had bellowed when asked about ??mundane?? problems facing Allahabad.

But as the campaign drew to a close, a jittery Joshi had to send an SOS to Vajpayee and other senior leaders, who had to campaign extensively to ward off the threat from Rita Bahuguna.

At the end of the day, it is Vajpayee who has held the BJP together. His presence will help the party retain a semblance of respectability and indications are that the BJP, plus its allies, could come close to the 50 mark.

If Vajpayee has been the saviour, Kalyan Singh has played the spoiler. Sakshi Maharaj, his close ally, campaigned for the Samajwadi Party in the western pockets and even in Lucknow. His venom-laced onslaught against Vajpayee and other upper caste leaders could split Singh?s Lodh votes.

The other problem for the BJP was that a resurging Congress cut into its votes and not so much the Samajwadi Party or BSP share. A section of the upper castes, especially the Thakurs, has turned its back on the party as have professional blocks like teachers and government employees.

The Samajwadi Party looks good to inch towards its 1998 tally of 20. Congress cassandras are pegging the figure at 15, a huge leap considering that it had drawn a blank last time.    

Calcutta, Oct. 2 
A 10-year-old girl was electrocuted in a waterlogged lane in Chetla this morning. This is the second such incident since the September 24 deluge. A 19-year-old was electrocuted while repairing a switchboard at his Mominpore residence Friday before last.

Ruma Mistri, a Class IV student at a corporation school, was playing in the waterlogged lane near Lock Gate slum around 7.30 am. Not heeding warnings of passers-by, Ruma waded through the water and jumped onto a divider. Then she jumped into the water on the other side, close to a CESC feeder box, a portion of which was submerged.

?She became unconscious after her legs touched the wires accidentally,? deputy commissioner of police (headquarters) Nazrul Islam said. Bystanders, who had first thought that she had slipped and fallen, rushed to help. She was taken to SSKM hospital, where she was declared dead.

A neighbour said: ?The area near the railway yard here has been submerged for the past few days but nobody did anything to drain out the water.? Rumi?s father, a daily wager, said: ?We are poor. Nobody is ready to listen to us.?

Trinamul Congress activists squatted at the spot, shouting slogans against the Calcutta Municipal Corporation. They demanded action against CESC officers. Police said the CMC was asked to pump out the water immediately.

Waterlogging was reported today in Panchanantala in south Calcutta, slums in Chetla, lanes near Thanthania Kali Temple on Bidhan Sarani, Muktaram Babu Street, Coolutala and Suresh Sarkar Road in Beleghata.    

Forecast for today:
One or two showers or thundershowers.
Maximum temperature:
33.1?C (+1)
Minimum temperature:
25.3?C (0)
Maximum humidity:
Minimum humidity:
0.6 mm
5.21 pm
5.32 am    

Maintained by Web Development Company