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Dhulagarh riots: West Bengal town on the boil after communal violence

Dhulagarh, a town 25 kilometres west of Kolkata, has been simmering for the past fortnight, following communal clashes that saw people’s houses and shops being targetted and set on fire. A Times Now report said 65 people have been arrested, and the state administration has asked the DGP Surajit Kar Purakayastha to take prompt action against the culprits and to ensure peace.

The tension erupted on 12 December, when two groups clashed as a procession was brought out in the area last week. After the groups were not allowed to carry out the procession, the Times Now website reported, they hurled bombs at each other, and the angry mob also looted and torched people’s homes.

The next day, on 13 December, the occasion of Milad-ul-Nabi, there were further clashes in the area. A section of locals claim the clashes were unprovoked, according to a report in the DNA newspaper. Local residents claim that they had to flee with their children and elderly as soon as the mob hurled country-made bombs at their houses. Later, the mob allegedly looted the houses and fled with the money and jewellery, later also setting it on fire.

People's houses were targeted in Dhulagarh. Image courtesy: Twitter/@Leopard212People's houses were targeted in Dhulagarh. Image courtesy: Twitter/@Leopard212

People’s houses were targeted in Dhulagarh. Image courtesy: Twitter/@Leopard212

“Nothing is left. We are looted of all our belongings. They ransacked and vandalised our houses and eventually set them on fire. We could not save a single penny from our houses, only managed to save our children and ran for life,” said a local, Lakshmi Mallya.

The violence didn’t stop there, however. The next day, a Muslim mob allegedly attacked Hindu homes and shops and them ablaze, reported The Indian Express. “Policemen rushed to the spot and managed to diffuse the tension. But the next day, for almost two hours, there was a stand-off between the police and rioters from both communities. They were carrying bombs. We used tear gas shells. Finally, we had to call in reinforcements to bring the situation under control,” an officer said.

A case of rioting and breaking communal harmony was registered against members of both communities. “The situation is under control. Forces, including RAF, have been posted at Dhulagarh to maintain peace,” the newspaper quoted the officer as saying.

However, despite the heavy presence of police and armed forces in the area, things didn’t return to normalcy. A Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) delegation — comprising party leaders Jagdambika Pal, Satpal Singh, state president Dilip Ghosh and national secretary Rahul Sinha, and several volunteers — was stopped at Ekabbarapur Road, about one kilometre away from the spot where the clashes had taken place a few days ago, reported The Quint.

Angered by this, the BJP delegation, along with thousand-odd supporters, blocked the road in protest. Alleging that there is no law and order in the state, Pal said the government was following “appeasement politics towards a particular community”. Ghosh alleged right-wing Muslim outfits and Simi activists have entered the area and were creating trouble. He also said BJP was not given prior any information about prohibitory orders being imposed in Dhulagarh. “We are surprised that police did not allow us to approach the people in the area to know about their plight of sufferings,” Ghosh said.

However, perhaps in an attempt to prove that they weren’t targeting one specific political party, the police also stopped a CPM delegation from entering the violence-scarred area. The CPM team comprised party general secretary Sitaram Yechury, Lok Sabha MP Mohammad Salim and MLA Sujan Chakraborty, among others, said another report in The Indian Express.

Having addressed a public rally at Dhulagarh Chaurasta (crossing) and appealed for peace, the CPM leaders tried marching to the locality where arson and clashes had occurred, but the police stopped them. “If we are not being allowed to enter even now, and there is Section 144 of CrPC imposed, it means the situation still hasn’t been brought under control,” Salim said. “Our demand is for the state government to bring normalcy immediately, and paying monetary compensation for those affected by violence.”

Under fire from various quarters, the state government imposed restrictions on the media regarding coverage of the Dhulagarh violence. According to The New Indian Express, the state government even went a step ahead and slapped a non-bailable offence against three employees of the TV channel Zee News, including editor Sudhir Chaudhary, West Bengal correspondent Pooja Mehta and cameraperson Tanmay Mukherjee under Section 153A (promoting enmity) of the Indian Penal Code. However, the Sankrail police didn’t confirm registering an FIR. “We register over 30 FIRs on a daily basis. We can’t distinguish which are related to Dhulagarh,” said a police officer at the Sankrail police station.

Chaudhary took to social networking site Facebook to call the action taken against his channel an example of the West Bengal government’s “intolerance”. “It’s another low point in our democracy to see a democratically elected govt using police force to curb media in an effort to suppress uncomfortable facts and reality. When you can’t manage media,use the state machinery to conquer the media only to conceal the failures of your administration. It shows the intolerance of a chief minister who is using the state machinery as her personal fiefdom and acting like a feudal lord,” he wrote.

First Published On : Dec 28, 2016 16:29 IST

Centre versus Mamata: Bengal CM calls CRPF deployment for IT raids unconstitutional and illegal

Following the debacle with army deployment in her state earlier this month, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has written a stern letter to the Minister of Home Affairs Rajnath Singh over the presence of 15 CRPF personnel to provide security to income tax officers during raids in the state. Mamata, in the letter, said, “It has come to the notice of the state government that the Ministry of Home Affairs and the central government are making available 15 personnel of the CRPF, for apparently, providing ‘security’ to Income Tax officials and staff deputed for operations in West Bengal.” Here is the copy of the letter

letter-mamata-pradesh18letter-mamata-pradesh18

Mamata said this was never conveyed to the state government, even though the alleged MHA instructions were reported by the media. However, an advisory by the Ministry of Home Affairs dated 20 December to the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT), mentioned that 15 CRPF personnel would be deployed in the state.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. PTIWest Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. PTI

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. PTI

“The matter has been considered in this ministry and it has been decided that CRPF shall make available 15 personnel to Income Tax Department, Kolkata, for providing security to officers and staff deputed for search and seizure operations to be carried out by the Income Tax Directorate,” the advisory said.

The letter, addressed to “Dear Rajnath Singhji”, said that the Banerjee government strongly objects to “this decision which is blatantly unconstitutional, illegal and against all principle of constitutional federalism. Stating that the deployment of any central police force of the Union to any state can only be done at the request of the state government, her letter said, “The decision must immediately be revoked. The state government and its police forces will provide all necessary help and protection.”

Mamata had earlier this month accused the BJP government of “deploying the army” along a highway toll plaza at the second Hooghly Bridge, about 500 metres from the secretariat ‘Nabanna’ in neighbouring Howrah district, and said she would not leave till the army was withdrawn. “The state government has not been informed about this deployment by the Centre. This is clearly a violation of the rules and understanding (between the Centre and the state), when the army is deployed without informing a democratically elected government,” Mamata had said a day later at a press conference.

With inputs from agencies

First Published On : Dec 23, 2016 18:03 IST

International Tea Day: Mamata urges Centre to help tea workers hit by demonetisation

Kolkata: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday yet again urged the Centre and RBI to “extend a helping hand to tea garden workers”, who she alleged were “dying” in the aftermath of demonetisation.

Her comments came on a day when RBI Governor Urjit Patel was in the city to attend the apex bank’s central board meet.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. File photo. PTI

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. File photo. PTI

On the occasion of the International Tea Day, Banerjee said in her tweet that the tea garden workers were hungry and dying due to demonetisation.

“RBI must immediately restore payments by our government through DMs (district magistrates),” Banerjee said.

She said as many as 97 people died following the 8 November decision.

The Trinamool Congress supremo had on Wednesday demanded that the RBI restore and continue payments by the state government till March 2017.

TMC legislators and senior state ministers organised a sit-in in front of the Reserve Bank of India office in Kolkata on Wednesday to protest against the insufficient supply of new currency notes in the state.

Banerjee also accused the central government of discriminating between states with regard to disbursement of cash from the RBI.

First Published On : Dec 15, 2016 15:23 IST

Mamata Banerjee flight row: Pilots’ suspension grossly unfair, only mollifies West Bengal CM

The suspension of six pilots, two each from indigo, Spicejet and Air India for allegedly endangering their flights as they hovered over Kolkata waiting for landing clearance makes no sense. Spurred by the accusations of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee who was on one of them and believes this whole exercise was designed to have her killed, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) decided to investigate the issue.With ana alacrity it seldom displays.

On the face of it all three aircrafts were low on fuel and had asked for clearance or else they were to prepare to move to an alternate airport.

There is a fixed protocol in every commercial or scheduled flight. You go from point A to point B with thirty minutes ‘go around’ or ‘hover’ fuel over point B and enough fuel after that to reach your alternate airport (in this case, Bhubaneshwar) and hover there for thirty minutes.

If any of these parameters have been broken, then by all means charge the pilots and the ground crew and the dispatch for negligence.

But if they have not been broken and the fuel was sufficient to get to the alternative with enough to spare then becoming all holier than thou because a chief minister gets paranoid borders on the ridiculous.

Mamata Banerjee. File photo. ReutersMamata Banerjee. File photo. Reuters

Mamata Banerjee. File photo. Reuters

We have to understand that when you make the pilot community jittery and take punitive action like this you are more likely to compromise air safety that if you go off half-cocked into an investigation that requires a probe of what went on between the three flights and the ATC where there might have been a possible misunderstanding but you do not create such a furor and take these unilateral actions when there is no evidence of the rules being broken.

At no stage were the aircrafts in danger or passenger safety compromised and it seems that all this controversy is predicated to the Banerjee’s impatience of her flight landing being delayed.

In fact she should be asked why she would scare 170 passengers and why an airline should be maligned by her causing distress and concern to future passengers.
When you accuse airlines of negligence, it has far reaching effects. Add to that a finger pointing at the pilots for not carrying out their duty and the carrier is literally placed in the dock.

You cannot seriously imagine that the crew colluded to endanger a flight complement of 170 passengers and place their lives at risk as an part of a conspiracy to eliminate Banerjee.

The more incredible part is how protected these politicians are that they can make such outrageous statements and get away with it. Any other normal passenger making such claims would either be taken away in a straitjacket or be placed into custody pending an inquiry.

Once having said it, Banerjee should be asked to explain exactly how and why she has arrived at this conclusion based on the flimsy perception that her flight was slightly delayed.

Imagine, if you will, if all of us on delayed flights were to see the a hand in glove plot what utter chaos there would be in the skies.

Seeing that no pilot on any of these flights called an emergency, hit the transponder 7700 code or said anything more than alerting ground control to facts on the fuel situation suspension for doing their job seems untenable.

After all, they had enough fuel to break the parameters and hover over Kolkata for another ninety minutes.

First Published On : Dec 7, 2016 11:27 IST

Army deployment in West Bengal echoes in Parliament: TMC alleges dictatorship; BJP says routine exercise

New Delhi: The row over army taking over road toll plazas in West Bengal on Friday echoed in Parliament with Trinamool Congress (TMC) seeing “sinister” designs behind the move and the government vehemently denying the charge, saying it was a routine exercise conducted in full knowledge of the local authorities.

The issue was raised in both Houses of Parliament with main opposition Congress too seeking clarification on the army deployment at 19 toll plazas in West Bengal. In Lok Sabha, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar termed it a “routine exercise not unique to West Bengal” and saying that similar operations to collect information on heavy vehicle movement that can be used during national emergencies had last month being conducted in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand.

Along with West Bengal, similar exercise was carried out in Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Nagaland, Tripura, Meghlaya and Mizoram, he said while responding to TMC and Congress MPs. He also stated that originally the exercise was planned for 28-30 November but was shifted to 1 and 2 December at the request of Kolkata police as those dates were clashing with the protests against demonetisation.

“It is shocking that a chief minister is saying this. The Army’s deployment was part of routine exercise which has been going on for last 15-20 years. Even last year it was held on 19 to 21 November,” Parrikar said.

Manohar-Parrikar_PTIManohar-Parrikar_PTI

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. PTI

The minister said Army’s Eastern Command has been carrying out the exercise in West Bengal, Assam and other North Eastern states and a similar exercise has already been carried out in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand.  “Concerned officials were informed in West Bengal. The original date was fixed for 28 to 30 November but due to Bharat Bandh the local police had advised the army to shift it to 1 and 2 December,” he said. “Due to traffic congestion, the exercise is being done with the help of local police.”

TMC leaders in both Houses alleged that neither the state government, nor local administration including police were taken into confidence on the exercise or their permission sought. Congress and BSP too wanted to know from the government how such an unprecedented move to carry out an army exercise without taking state government into confidence was done.

“It was very unfortunate that army has been dragged into an unnecessary controversy,” Parrikar said. “It was political frustration rather than projection of correct situation.”

As soon as Lok Sabha assembled this morning, TMC leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay raised the issue of army deployment at 19 places in West Bengal, claiming that the move was a challenge to the federal structure of the country and completely politically motivated.

He said army personnel were deployed at these places, including near the state secretariat, “without informing anyone in the state secretariat”. “It is a fantastic situation. Army today said that it was a routine exercise being carried out in the North Eastern states. But West Bengal does not come under the territorial jurisdiction of the Northeast,” he said.

Bandyopadhyay said the people of the country have great faith in the Army but if indeed such an exercise was scheduled, the Centre should have communicated to the state government. He said Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been staging a ‘dharna’ in the Secretariat demanding withdrawal of the Army. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar asked the TMC not to drag Army into politics and added that the defence personnel have been protecting the country as well as democracy.

“Whatever the army has done was part of a routine exercise. It is completely wrong to drag army into politics,” he said. Raising the issue in Rajya Sabha, Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said army is India’s pride as it has upheld its unity and integrity beside protecting the borders. It has also come to the rescue during emergency situtions like flood and riots, he said adding that army is requisitioned at the request of a state government.

But in West Bengal, the chief secretary, administration and Director General of Police had no information of army taking over toll plazas at 19 locations in the state, he said. “This is probably the first time that the chief minister of West Bengal has lodged this kind of protest where she stayed put for the night in the State Secretariat and is still there,” he said. “This is a strange thing happening. Without asking state government, chief secretary or DGP, toll plazas of state government are taken over.”

Azad said it is being said that Army was collecting information on truck movements but such an exercise is not even done in Jammu and Kashmir. All such information is available with National Highways Authority of India or road transport departments. “This is an issue of grave concern.” Sukhendu Sekhar Roy (TMC) said what happened in West Bengal has never been witnessed in the state’s history. Army seized toll plazas and started putting stickers on vehicles.

“I will not drag the army in any controversy. We are very proud of the army,” he said wanting to know under what provisions of law and Constitution was such a deployment carried out and alleging “sinister design” to “defame the leader opposing demonetisation” and creating “fear psychosis”.

Mayawati, BSP supremo and former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh said the move to deploy army without the state government’s permission was an attack on the federal structure of the country. Terming the statements as factually incorrect, Minister of State for Defence Subhash Bhamre said such exercises have been carried out in coordination with the local police.

Earlier the exercise was planned for 28 November but was shifted on specific request by Kolkata Police in view of the Bharat Bandh, he said, adding that the exercise was to ascertain availability of vehicles during national emergency. The annual exercise are carried out for collection of data and similar exercises were also carried out in Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, he said, adding that letters were written to the Police Commissioner as well as District Magistrates for conducting it.

At this point, slogan-shouting TMC and Congress members contested the minister’s statement and trooped into the Well. Deputy Chairman P J Kurien had a tough time controlling the situation and even had an angry spat with Congress members including Pramod Tiwari as they continued to shout even when he stood up to control the noisy scenes.

“If you don’t know the basic rule of not disturbing the Chair, you are not deserving to be a member,” he angrily remarked without naming any member. “Mr Tiwari, I will take action against you.    This is unheard of that the Chair will not be allowed to say,” he said as members piped down and returned to their places.

Kurien said if the members found any part of the statement made by the minister as misleading or incorrect, they can invoke the rule book and give notice. Roy continued to insist that the minister was misleading. “If any member or minister misleads the House, give notice, chairman will consider it,” Kurien said.

As Roy continued to insist that the minister was misleading the House by saying that the state government had been informed, treasury benches joined in to protest. At this point, an angry Kurien snapped at Bhupender Yadav (BJP) saying “shut up… you are not in the Chair.” Roy said the minister was not stating if specific permission was taken for December 1 deployment and comparing
the exercise to national emergency.

I&B Minister M Venkaiah Naidu said the reference to emergency was to situations like floods or tsunami and said similar exercises are annually carried out and had happened in West Bengal previously as well. And recently, it has been carried out in Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Bihar, and along with West Bengal it was also being carried out in North Eastern states, he said, adding “it
is a sensitive matter. Let us not politise it.”

Kurien told Roy that he can give a notice on any misleading statement being made in the House and he will consider it. Derek O’Brien raised a Point of Order under Rule 249 related to authentication of papers laid by the government on the floor of the House.

He claimed that it is “selective placing of papers” by the government and added that he will place some papers on the floor of the House to prove his point on Monday.

First Published On : Dec 2, 2016 15:13 IST

Bengal: Army says it is conducting routine exercise with police coordination

Kolkata: Army on Thursday night said they are conducting routine exercise with full knowledge and coordination with West Bengal police.

“Army conducting routine exercise with full knowledge & coord with WB Police. Speculation of army taking over toll plaza incorrect,” a statement by the Eastern command said on Twitter.

File photo of Mamata Banerjee. PTI

File photo of Mamata Banerjee. PTI

“Routine exercise in all NE states. In [email protected] places, Arunanchal @13, [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], Tripura & [email protected]”, it said.

Kolkata Police, however, said they have raised objection to this Army exercise due to security reasons and traffic problem.

“Army exercise at Toll Plaza was objected to in writing by Kolkata Police, citing security reasons & traffic inconvenience,” the city police said in a Twitter message on Thursday night.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said that the Army was deployed at toll plazas in different places in the state without informing the state government and termed it as “unprecedented and a very serious matter”.

She further said, “Whatever reason they are giving is not correct. They are lying. They are changing their reasons time to time. The MHA has the complete data of the vehicles moving in different states in the country.”

Earlier, a defence spokesperson said that the Army conducts biennial exercise throughout the country with the aim of getting statistical data about the load carriers that could be made available to the army in case of a contingency.

“There is nothing alarming about this and it is carried out as per government orders”, Wing Commander SS Birdi said.

The exercise gives an estimate about the number of vehicles passing through a certain area that could be tapped during operations, he said.

First Published On : Dec 2, 2016 09:16 IST

Mamata Banerjee locks herself up in office, refuses to leave until army is withdrawn

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has reportedly locked herself up in her office in the state Secretariat in Kolkata, citing the alleged presence of Indian Army trucks outside as the reason. She has further claimed that she would leave her office only once the army is asked to move.

Mamata had earlier alleged the large presence of army vehicles deployed at toll booths across highways, saying the state government was kept in the dark over this move.

“Army has been deployed in the state without informing the state government. This is a very sensitive issue. This is unacceptable. We do not know anything about it. It has never happened,” Banerjee told the media. “We want details. Federal structure has been disrupted and democracy twisted. Has Emergency been declared? We had no information.”

A Defence Ministry spokesman said there was “nothing alarming about this” and the exercise is carried out as per government orders. “The army conducts the annual exercise throughout the county with the aim of getting statistical data about the load carriers that could be made available to the army in case of a contingency,” said the spokesman.

The three-day exercise, now being conducted within the Eastern Command area, would end on Friday.

She iterated that a civil operation cannot be launched by the army without informing the state and claimed it was the result of a “political vendetta”.

“What was the magnitude of the incident that the central government didn’t inform the state government? This is a political vendetta,” she said.

Continuing her tirade against the Narendra Modi-led central government, she said: “Is it some kind of planning to start a war within the country? The road is ours and is administered under the state’s law and order although it is categorised under the Centre’s National Highway Authority of India.”

She claimed public is being harassed and their vehicles are being stopped along the toll collection points.

“Even if the Army carried out a mock exercise, the state government should have been kept in the loop. The public is panicking. If this is happening in a civil area in Bengal, this could happen in Bihar, next in Uttar Pradesh, then in Tamil Nadu and other states as well. It is a very serious situation and it is dangerous than Emergency. We are facing an extremely black day,” she said.

With inputs from IANS

First Published On : Dec 1, 2016 23:09 IST

Singur land row: SC terms WB govt’s plea ‘infructuous’ for now

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday termed as “infructuous” the appeals of the Bengal government against the Calcutta High Court order, which had in June 2012 struck down the Singur Land Act that had allowed the state government to reclaim 400 acres of land given to Tata Motors.

“The petition has become infructuous for the time being in wake of earlier judgement of the court. Liberty granted to petitioners to file interim application, if the need arises,” a bench of Justices JS Khehar and Arun Mishra said.

On 31 August, the Mamata Banerjee government in Bengal had scored a major victory with Supreme Court terming as “illegal and void” the acquisition of 1053 acres land by the erstwhile Left Front government for Tata Motors’ Nano project at Singur, by ordering restoration of land to farmers who will retain the compensation received.

It had directed the state’s Survey Settlement Department to conduct a survey and identify mouzas of lands acquired with reference to layout plans, other connected records, village maps and survey settlement records of the lands in question, in order to identify the respective portions which needed to be returned to the respective owners or cultivators.

The court had said that the possession of the lands be restored to landowners/cultivators within 12 weeks from the date of the verdict.

The verdict had come on petitions filed by some farmers and NGOs alleging that the acquisition of land was against the provisions of Land Acquisition Act, 1894 and other rules.

The petitioners had charged the earlier Left government with acquiring most fertile and valuable land for Tata Motors.

The present appeal in the apex court was filed by the Bengal government after the High Court had in 2012 ruled that the legislation enacted by Mamata Banerjee government to recover the land leased to Tata Motors in Singur for its small car project was constitutionally invalid.

The Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act 2011 sought to empower the state government to take back 400 acres of land, given to Tata Motors for its project.

First Published On : Nov 25, 2016 18:43 IST

Note ban: ‘Angry’ Opposition ‘unite’ against PM Modi, choose ruckus over debate in Parliament

The turn of events in Rajya Sabha on Thursday raises a serious question. Are the Congress and its new found friends Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Left really interested in a debate on demonetisation, in a response from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to what they think are the “popular concerns” or their singular intent is to disrupt Parliament?

Opposition members form a human chain during a protest against the demonetization of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes at Parliament house in New Delhi on Wednesday. PTIOpposition members form a human chain during a protest against the demonetization of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes at Parliament house in New Delhi on Wednesday. PTI

Opposition members form a human chain during a protest against the demonetization of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes at Parliament house in New Delhi on Wednesday. PTI

It now seems that the opposition wants to keep their disruptive momentum going until 28 November for their nationwide bandh call against demonetisation, which they call Akrosh Diwas Bharat Bandh. There couldn’t be an Akrosh Diwas (anger day) if the lead opposition leaders themselves don’t display or continue to display their anger till that day.

They also know that given a chance Modi, with all the eloquence at his command and ability to counter charge against his rivals, they would not be left with much to charge against him and his regime. Their anger would subside unless they find some fresh reasons to be angry and make people feel the same anger as they do. It is thus best suited to them, as part of their strategy to keep on creating a ruckus on flimsy pretexts and not to let Modi respond, at least till Monday.

Consider how events unfolded today — till noon the opposition was crying hoarse that the Modi was avoiding Parliament, which to them effectively meant insulting temple of democracy and in turn parliamentary democracy.

But then Prime Minister surprised by coming to Rajya Sabha and announcing through Finance Minister and Leader of that House Arun Jaitley that he would intervene in the debate. That effectively took the steam out of the opposition stance and for an hour it seemed an orderly debate would take place. But one realises that then the opposition had no other option but to let the debate proceed.

The opposition leaders very well knew that the Prime Minister, who happens to be the Head of Executive of the nation simply can’t afford to sit for days in both Houses of Parliament to listen to all speeches. He has other businesses to do. The minister-in-charge of the nodal ministry remains present in the House. Some other ministers also remain present and notes are given to the PM by the ministers and other staff. He also listens to the debate, as and when possible, on TV even if he is not present in the House. The Prime Minister responds in the designated time in Parliament which is an old practice.

So when the House reassembled after lunch, the Prime Minister didn’t come, the opposition was back to what they know it the best, disrupt the House and force adjournment for the day. Their arguments could sound more hollow, more so after Finance Minister asserted that PM would come and respond in the debate. The question is what makes Congress, BSP, TMC, SP, Left so determined to find common ground and disrupt the House day after day without any valid ground.

The way events are unfolding and the way Rahul Gandhi and company are making boastful claims on “opposition unity”, it seems that their concern is not about demonetisation but fighting a political war against Modi, which they in any case always wanted to. Demonetisation is only the pretext. They all are claiming to be championing hardships faced by the common man and woman on the streets due to discontinuance of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes but the way they are venting their anger, albeit claiming to be on people’s behalf raises the question is there something more behind than what meets the eye.

But then too many conflicting points are being made by opposition leaders, without one caring for others’ demands. They are perhaps conscious not to cede their lead role to another leader — Rahul to Mamata or vice versa, Kerjriwal to Mamata or vice versa, Mayawati to Rahul or vice versa, Yechuri to Mamata or vice versa and so on.

Sample their contradiction and conflicts. The Congress and Left parties did not join Mamata Banerjee’s march to the President House because Rahul Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and Sitaram Yechuri could not march in her leadership. Same happened at Mamata’s Jantar Mantar rally. Mamata also wants to overthrow Modi regime now. Mayawati wants the dissolution of Parliament and a snap poll now. Mamata and Kejriwal want complete roll back, Rahul wants constitution of JPC. Rahul and Kejriwal smell a scam but when Manmohan Singh rose to speak on demonetisation in Rajya Sabha he didn’t talk about JPC or any scam. JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav attends protest rallies but his party chief and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is openly in support of Modi’s demonetisation move. The list of contradiction in opposition ranks would go on.

What, however, makes them come together is their known anti-Modi positioning but will that be enough to convince the people at large that they have waged a war against the present ruling dispensation on demonetisation to protect their interests. Their present difficulties bleed their heart more than getting convinced by stated objectives of Modi that his shock therapy was to fight against corruption, black money, fake currency, drug, hawala, terror and Naxal financing.

In the din the Congress and its present fellow travellers did not even listen to what their leader, former prime minister Manmohan Singh said in Parliament: “I do not disagree with the objectives of taking steps against terrorism and black money…. In the process of demonetisation, monumental mismanagement has taken place. What has been done can weaken and erode our people’s confidence in the currency and banking system,….. I say so with all responsibility that we do not know what will be the full outcome. 50 days is a short period but for those who are poor, even 50 days can bring about disastrous effects.” This essentially means that the economist and administrator in Manmohan Singh endorsed the objectives behind PM Modi’s bold move but a Congress politician in him made them add other riders. The second part can still be debated, provided his party let the Parliament function.

First Published On : Nov 24, 2016 20:13 IST

Note ban: ‘Angry’ Opposition ‘unites’ against PM Modi, choose ruckus over debate in Parliament

The turn of events in Rajya Sabha on Thursday raises a serious question. Are the Congress and its new found friends Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Left really interested in a debate on demonetisation, in a response from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to what they think are the “popular concerns” or their singular intent is to disrupt Parliament?

Opposition members form a human chain during a protest against the demonetization of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes at Parliament house in New Delhi on Wednesday. PTIOpposition members form a human chain during a protest against the demonetization of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes at Parliament house in New Delhi on Wednesday. PTI

Opposition members form a human chain during a protest against the demonetization of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes at Parliament house in New Delhi on Wednesday. PTI

It now seems that the opposition wants to keep their disruptive momentum going until 28 November for their nationwide bandh call against demonetisation, which they call Akrosh Diwas Bharat Bandh. There couldn’t be an Akrosh Diwas (anger day) if the lead opposition leaders themselves don’t display or continue to display their anger till that day.

They also know that given a chance Modi, with all the eloquence at his command and ability to counter charge against his rivals, they would not be left with much to charge against him and his regime. Their anger would subside unless they find some fresh reasons to be angry and make people feel the same anger as they do. It is thus best suited to them, as part of their strategy to keep on creating a ruckus on flimsy pretexts and not to let Modi respond, at least till Monday.

Consider how events unfolded today — till noon the opposition was crying hoarse that the Modi was avoiding Parliament, which to them effectively meant insulting temple of democracy and in turn parliamentary democracy.

But then Prime Minister surprised by coming to Rajya Sabha and announcing through Finance Minister and Leader of that House Arun Jaitley that he would intervene in the debate. That effectively took the steam out of the opposition stance and for an hour it seemed an orderly debate would take place. But one realises that then the opposition had no other option but to let the debate proceed.

The opposition leaders very well knew that the Prime Minister, who happens to be the Head of Executive of the nation simply can’t afford to sit for days in both Houses of Parliament to listen to all speeches. He has other businesses to do. The minister-in-charge of the nodal ministry remains present in the House. Some other ministers also remain present and notes are given to the PM by the ministers and other staff. He also listens to the debate, as and when possible, on TV even if he is not present in the House. The Prime Minister responds in the designated time in Parliament which is an old practice.

So when the House reassembled after lunch, the Prime Minister didn’t come, the opposition was back to what they know it the best, disrupt the House and force adjournment for the day. Their arguments could sound more hollow, more so after Finance Minister asserted that PM would come and respond in the debate. The question is what makes Congress, BSP, TMC, SP, Left so determined to find common ground and disrupt the House day after day without any valid ground.

The way events are unfolding and the way Rahul Gandhi and company are making boastful claims on “opposition unity”, it seems that their concern is not about demonetisation but fighting a political war against Modi, which they in any case always wanted to. Demonetisation is only the pretext. They all are claiming to be championing hardships faced by the common man and woman on the streets due to discontinuance of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes but the way they are venting their anger, albeit claiming to be on people’s behalf raises the question is there something more behind than what meets the eye.

But then too many conflicting points are being made by opposition leaders, without one caring for others’ demands. They are perhaps conscious not to cede their lead role to another leader — Rahul to Mamata or vice versa, Kerjriwal to Mamata or vice versa, Mayawati to Rahul or vice versa, Yechuri to Mamata or vice versa and so on.

Sample their contradiction and conflicts. The Congress and Left parties did not join Mamata Banerjee’s march to the President House because Rahul Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and Sitaram Yechuri could not march in her leadership. Same happened at Mamata’s Jantar Mantar rally. Mamata also wants to overthrow Modi regime now. Mayawati wants the dissolution of Parliament and a snap poll now. Mamata and Kejriwal want complete roll back, Rahul wants constitution of JPC. Rahul and Kejriwal smell a scam but when Manmohan Singh rose to speak on demonetisation in Rajya Sabha he didn’t talk about JPC or any scam. JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav attends protest rallies but his party chief and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is openly in support of Modi’s demonetisation move. The list of contradiction in opposition ranks would go on.

What, however, makes them come together is their known anti-Modi positioning but will that be enough to convince the people at large that they have waged a war against the present ruling dispensation on demonetisation to protect their interests. Their present difficulties bleed their heart more than getting convinced by stated objectives of Modi that his shock therapy was to fight against corruption, black money, fake currency, drug, hawala, terror and Naxal financing.

In the din the Congress and its present fellow travellers did not even listen to what their leader, former prime minister Manmohan Singh said in Parliament: “I do not disagree with the objectives of taking steps against terrorism and black money…. In the process of demonetisation, monumental mismanagement has taken place. What has been done can weaken and erode our people’s confidence in the currency and banking system,….. I say so with all responsibility that we do not know what will be the full outcome. 50 days is a short period but for those who are poor, even 50 days can bring about disastrous effects.” This essentially means that the economist and administrator in Manmohan Singh endorsed the objectives behind PM Modi’s bold move but a Congress politician in him made them add other riders. The second part can still be debated, provided his party let the Parliament function.

First Published On : Nov 24, 2016 20:13 IST

PM Modi app survey: Over 90% respondents back demonetisation move, term it bold

Despite the noise made by political parties against demonetisation led by Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her Delhi counterpart Arvind Kejriwal, who is playing the role of a capable deputy, the country’s tone on the move has turned to be overwhelmingly different as an online survey revealed Wednesday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. APPrime Minister Narendra Modi. AP

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. AP

The survey was conducted through the official app of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday to gauge the mood of the nation  about the Centre’s move to spike the old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes.

According to results published on narendramodi.in, till 3.30 pm on Wednesday a whopping in just over 24 hours of the survey, over five lakh people have participated and expressed their opinion.

Unlike the drama on the streets by Trinamool Congress and Aam Aadmi Party volunteers, over 90 percent of the respondents feel the government’s move to tackle black money is above four-star rating while 73 percent of them give it a five-star rating.

On the overall fight against corruption, over 92 percent of respondents have rated the government as very good or good while 57 percent of them termed the fight as very good.

The survey revealed that as high as 86 percent people believed that some anti-corruption activists are now actually batting in support of black money, corruption and even terrorist financing!

The mood of the nation also came out in the comments made by some of those who took the survey.

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“A bold and historic move indeed!!!!Kudos to the Honorable Prime Minister and his government!!!! I really feel, the inconveniences that we are facing are nothing compared to the long-term benefits which the economy will enjoy in the near future. I hope that the Honorable Prime Minister will continue taking such steps to curb the other social and economic problems which are still prevailing. Thank you!!!!,” said Suvojit Mukherjee.

One Jeetendra Yadav urged PM Modi not to rollback demonetisation despite such calls from some corners.

On Tuesday, Modi urged the people to participate in the survey through Twitter as since the announcement on 8 November the country did witness chaos with people continuing to line up outside banks and ATMs in interminably long queues.

“I want your first-hand view on the decision taken regarding currency notes. Take part in the survey on the NM App,” said Modi posting a link of the app on Twitter.

Following were the queries given in the form of multiple choice questions:

1. Do you think that black money exists in India?

2. Do you think the evil of corruption and black money needs to be fought and eliminated?

3. Overall, what do you think about the government’s moves to tackle black money?

4. What do you think of the Modi government’s efforts against corruption so far?

5. What do you think of the Modi government’s move of banning old Rs 500 and 1,000 notes?

6. Do you think demonetisation will help in curbing black money, corruption and terrorism?

7. Demonetisation will bring real estate, higher education, healthcare in the common man’s reach?

8. Did you mind the inconvenience faced in our fight to curb corruption, black money, terrorism and counterfeiting of currency?

9. Do you believe some anti-corruption activists are now actually fighting in support of black money, corruption and terrorism?

10. Do you have any suggestions, ideas or insights you would like to share with the PM?

“This survey is in sync with the Prime Minister’s vision of participative governance and directly seeking the views of the people of India on key policy and execution matters,” the PMO said in a statement.

With input from IANS

First Published On : Nov 23, 2016 19:51 IST

Demonetisation: Mamata Banerjee backed by JD(U), SP, NCP, AAP in protest at Jantar Mantar

New Delhi: In a show of strength, Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, backed by JD(U), SP, NCP and AAP, on Wednesday held a demonstration against demonetisation in New Delhi and ramped up attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, alleging the country was not safe in his hands.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

Addressing the gathering at Jantar Mantar, Banerjee alleged that abolition of high-value currency notes had heaped pain on people and snatched away democratic rights of almost every section of the society including farmers, youth, women, labourers and traders, besides halting the country’s economic growth.

Accusing the BJP-led dispensation of “looting” the common man, she wondered why those having Swiss bank accounts were “not touched at all”, and warned that people will teach a “good lesson” to the ruling party in the upcoming assembly polls for implementing a “black law”.

“I can challenge that no one will vote for BJP. If I were you (PM), I would have apologised to the public. Why you are so egoistic? You have branded everyone in the country a black marketeer and have yourself turned into a saint ,” Banerjee said.

In his address, JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav questioned the legality of the demonetisation exercise and challenged the Prime Minister to explain to the Parliament how the decision will benefit the country.

“Under which law have you enforced this measure? You are stopping a person from withdrawing his hard-earned money which is his fundamental right. Demonetisation has destroyed the business of small traders. Come to Parliament and explain the logic as to how it will curb black money,” Yadav said.

The presence of Yadav at the protest assumes significance as his party had supported demonetisation.

The street protest was also addressed by SP’s Dharmendra Yadav, AAP’s Raghav Chadha and NCP’s Majid Memon.

The Bengal Chief Minister also lashed out at a group of people who were shouting pro-Modi slogans, alleging that they were sent to disrupt her public meeting and wondered what the police and administration were doing.

Referring to Tuesday’s bypoll results, the TMC chief said BJP’s victory margins have come down significantly in Madhya Pradesh and that Modi has left the country in the lurch (Modiji ne desh ka barah baja diya).”

Banerjee said she will continue her fight till woes of the people are not addressed, adding she will also support a country-wide protest called by the Opposition parties on 28 November against demonetisation.

Last week, Banerjee had addressed a rally against demonetisation along with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

First Published On : Nov 23, 2016 17:02 IST

Bengal by-poll result is people’s revolt against demonetisation, says Mamata Banerjee

Kolkata: Hailing the mandate for Trinamool Congress in the by-elections in the state as “people’s revolt” against demonetisation, Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for “failing” to bring back black money from abroad.

File photo of Mamata Banerjee. PTI

File photo of Mamata Banerjee. PTI

“The by-election result is a befitting reply against the anti-people demonetisation by the Centre. It’s a people’s revolt, rather than a mass revolt against the center. BJP should take lessons from this mandate,” she told newsmen before leaving for New Delhi to join the protest rally by the Opposition.

“BJP will be nowhere after the elections in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. The Narendra Modi government has failed to bring back the black money from abroad, as he had promised during 2014 Lok Sabha polls. As he has failed to keep his promise, common people are being harassed. The hard earned money of the common people is being taken away,” Banerjee said.

Banerjee’s Trianmool Congress on Tuesday registered a massive victory in by election to two Lok Sabha seats and one assembly segment.

TMC candidate Dibyendu Adhikari on Tuesday won Tamluk Lok Sabha seat defeating his nearest CPI(M) rival Mandira Panda by 4.97 lakh votes.

TMC candidate Saikat Panja registered a massive victory in Monteswar Assembly bypoll by defeating his nearest CPIM rival Md Osman Gani Sarkar by 1,27,127 votes.

TMC’s Parthapratim Roy has taken a lead of over 3.2 lakh votes over his nearest rival of BJP.

First Published On : Nov 22, 2016 15:50 IST

Kolkata: Fire breaks out at SSKM hospital, no casualties reported so far

Kolkata: A fire broke out at SSKM Hospital in Kolkata on Monday morning creating panic among patients and family members at the main referral hospital of the state.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

There is no report of casualty or injury as of now, fire department said.

The fire had been reported shortly after 11 am and eight engines had already been pressed into service, the fire department sources said.

Thick black smoke can be seen billowing from the fifth floor of the historic Ronald Ross building, housing several departments of the hospital, police said.

The cause of the fire was not immediately known.

Fire officials said several people have been evacuated safely.

The AJC Bose flyover and approach roads to SSKM have been restricted.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has reached the spot.

First Published On : Nov 21, 2016 12:23 IST

Demonetisation: What’s with the fuss, let the Modi govt crackdown on black money

Jump to original: Demonetisation: What’s with the fuss, let the Modi govt crackdown on black money

Demonetisation takes centre stage in Bengal bypoll campaign

Kolkata: By-elections will be held in two Lok Sabha constituencies and one Assembly constituency in West Bengal tomorrow under the shadow of the Centre’s demonetisation decision.

The by-elections will be held in Cooch Behar and Tamluk Lok Sabha constituencies and in Monteswar Assembly constituency. Ruling Trinamool Congress, BJP, Left Front and Congress have fielded their candidates in all three seats.

Although the Congress and CPM-led Left Front had contested the Assembly polls held earlier this year, the two decided to part company in this round of by-elections.

Demonetisation has become a key issue in the last lap of campaign for the by-polls. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee did not campaign for the by-polls and left it to the other leaders of her party.

Mamata Banerjee. PTIMamata Banerjee. PTI

Mamata Banerjee. PTI

Apart from state BJP president Dilip Ghosh, Union minister Babul Supriyo canvassed for his party.

WBPCC chief Adhir Chowdhury and CPM state secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra spearheaded campaign for their party candidates.

TMC MLA and party candidate from Tamluk seat Dibyendu Adhikari told PTI, “Demonetisation move has affected every citizen of this country. The common man is suffering. Demonetisation has also impacted our campaign as we are unable to pay the decorators, sound organisers. In Tamluk, most of the rural areas still don’t have proper banking facilities, what will the poor farmers do?” he asked.

According CPM and Congress leaders, demonetisation has all of a sudden come up as an issue for the polls as they are receiving feedback that people are inconvenienced due to the new decision.

CPM leader Sujan Chakraborty said demonetisation became a prominent issue as the people faced huge problems and added that the situation was much worse in rural areas.

The BJP, on the other hand, said that by-elections would be a litmus test for political parties.

“What TMC, Congress and CPM are saying is not right. People of Bengal are happy with the decision and will give a hands down victory to our candidates,” state BJP president Dilip Ghosh said.

“It’s not a question of black money or white money. All of a sudden if you scrap high value notes how will you meet various expenditures for the campaign,” Congress candidate from Monteswar Bulbul Ahmed Sheikh said.

By-election in Cooch Behar was necessitated by the death of TMC MP Renuka Sinha while the by-election in Tamluk in East Medinipur district was caused by the resignation of TMC MP Suvendu Adhikari who also won the Assembly poll and joined the state cabinet as transport minister.

The bypoll to Monteswar Assembly seat in Burdwan district is due to death of TMC MLA Sajal Panja.

First Published On : Nov 18, 2016 11:21 IST

Demonetisation Day 9 highlights: Notes exchange norms tightened; Kejriwal, Mamata warn of revolt

Nine days ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi surprised the nation with a sudden announcement of banning Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes in order to contain the circulation of black money and curb corruption. Since then, every day has been eventful with protests, chaos, and of course new announcements. In the mid of all that the number of demonetisation-related deaths has crossed 55.

Here are the highlights of the day so far:

1) Slew of measures announced by the government

— The government tightened notes exchange norms by lowering the exchange limit for now-defunct Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes to Rs 2,000 from the existing cap of Rs 4,500, effective Friday.

— Economic Affairs Secretary Shaktikanta Das said now families preparing for a wedding can withdraw up to Rs 2.50 lakh from bank account giving PAN details and self-declaration.

— Farmers can withdraw Rs 25,000 per week from accounts where farmers get either by cheque or which is credited by RTGS accounts. Also, The time limit for paying crop insurance premium has been extended by 15 days.

— APMC-registered traders will be allowed to withdraw up to Rs 50,000 per week to meet their cash requirements. All businesses are already allowed to withdraw a similar amount.

2) Joint rally by Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal

Chief Ministers Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal on Thursday tore into PM Modi over demonetisation with the AAP chief asking the government to roll back it in three days while the TMC supremo said such a crisis was not seen even during Emergency.

Addressing a rally at Azadpur fruit wholesale market in New Delhi, Kejriwal alleged that demonetisation was the “biggest scam” in independent India while Banerjee said Modi should not run the country through “dictatorship”, calling the protest a fight to save the country.

They even protested outside the Reserve Bank of India in Delhi wanting to know the availability of currency. The chief ministers also warned the government that it may face a revolt if it doesn’t take back the decision.

3) RBI statement requesting public not to hoard currency

The Reserve Bank asked people not to hoard currency as there is sufficient supply of notes, even as banks struggled to manage the rush of people thronging branches across the country to exchange the scrapped notes.

“The Reserve Bank of India has once again clarified today that there is sufficient supply of notes consequent upon increased production which started nearly two months ago. Members of public are requested not to panic or hoard currency notes,” the central bank said in a statement.

RBI also asked income tax assessees to pay their dues in advance for December quarter and has designated a total of 29 banks at which the payments can be done.

4) Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha adjourned

Demonetisation issue hit the proceedings of Parliament leaving both the houses adjourned over the uproar created by the Opposition.

5) Govt rejects demand for PM’s reply on the issue

The government rejected the demand for PM Modi’s response on the debate on demonetisation and accused the opposition of using it as an excuse to scuttle discussion on the issue in Parliament.

Information and Broadcasting Minister M Venkaiah Naidu told reporters after Parliament was adjourned for the day, amid protests by the Opposition demanding Modi’s presence, that the reply to the debate would be given by the minister concerned or any other person on behalf of the government as per the rules of the House and precedents.

First Published On : Nov 17, 2016 17:57 IST

Govt, media, opposition: No one comes out smelling of roses from l’affaire NDTV

The view that there should be complete synergy between the stakeholders of democracy is dangerous. On the contrary, the character of a robust democracy is defined by the friction between its four pillars — executive, legislature, judiciary and a free media. An existence of tension between these forces is a good thing and ultimately works to strengthen the institutions.

But this tension is a force of good as long as it is not allowed to degenerate into an ugly free-for-all, the kind of which we witnessed over the weekend since the government first proposed and then put on hold a move to take NDTV India off the air for a day on 9 November. None of the dramatis personae — the government, media or the opposition — emerge from this macabre play without sullying their credibility.

The Narendra Modi government’s image has taken yet another heavy beating, and this time it has only itself to blame. Its actions lacked conviction, its communication strategy was in a shambles, and it moved with all the deftness of a bull in a china shop. An interplay between democracy’s stakeholders must follow a clearly defined set of guiding principles rather than ad hocism. The Centre erred in slapping even a token “ban” — howsoever grave the channel’s error might have been — and then botched it up further in an attempt to sound magnanimous.

NDTV_twitter

The government believes that NDTV India jeopardised national security while covering the Pathankot terror attack and that it violated the newly introduced clause — 6(1)p — to the Programme Code of the Cable Television Network Rules, 1994, that restricts live coverage of terrorist attacks in the interest of national security. The amended rules prohibit any telecasting of strategically important information during a counter-terrorist operation and restrict the channels to periodic official briefings.

There are two important points to be made here. One, it is undeniable that terrorists and its handlers can exploit real-time dissemination of information from electronic medium to plan their strategy and there have been cases — noticeably during the 26/11 Mumbai attacks — where these have been used to devastating effect.

The Supreme Court in 2012 had lambasted the “reckless” coverage of Mumbai terror attacks and found that “by covering live the terrorist attack on Mumbai in the way it was done, Indian TV channels were not serving any national interest or social cause. On the contrary, they were acting in their own commercial interest, putting national security in jeopardy.” As Times of India had reported, “the court found from the transcripts of conversations between terrorists holed up in Taj Hotel, Oberoi Hotel and Nariman House and their handlers in Pakistan that the terror masterminds were watching the live telecast and got important inputs about the positioning of security forces.”

However, and now we come to the second point, as terrorists bring their violence close to us and into our living rooms, media is also trying to keep up with evolution. Mainstream media around the world are increasingly putting self-regulation in place while covering these “live” situations and Indian channels are also following suit. It is instructive to remember that even while ripping apart media’s handling of the 26/11 attacks, the Supreme Court did not advise press freedom to be subjected to government scrutiny.

And therein lies the crux of the problem. NDTV India may or may not have erred in airing information that the government says was “sensitive”, but which according to the channel was anyway available in public domain. But the moment the government took it upon itself to scrutinise and then penalise the channel — even if it was a token penalty — it embarked on the slippery slope of media censorship. While evaluating the role of one pillar of democracy — a free media — it vested too much power on bureaucracy and opened itself to criticism that the bar may be lowered in the future.

It wasn’t as if there were no options before the government to send a message across that media must behave more responsibly when it comes to matters of national security. The ministry could have, as The Hindu points out in its editorial, approached the News Broadcasting Standards Authority which was set up by the News Broadcasters Association in the light of the 2008 Mumbai attacks recognising the need for a more restrained and responsible coverage. It could have also set up a quasi-judicial body or formed an independent panel to scrutinise NDTV India’s coverage. Instead, in its actions, the government came across as a heavy-handed bully and not nearly as a power guided by “liberal, democratic ethos”, as Union Information and Broadcasting Minister M Venkaiah Naidu has claimed.

The media, on the other hand, has emerged from the incident as a shrill, hyperbolic force that instead of reason, relies on rhetoric to get a point across to the detriment of its credibility. The abundant equivalences comparing the I&B ministry’s decision to the 1975 Emergency were amusing and worrying in equal measure. Amusing because, the plethora of articles in every medium — print, electronic or digital — accusing Modi government of declaring “undeclared Emergency” are the greatest proof that such accusations were ridiculous. While they were right to criticise the government for its ham-handed ways, such rhetorical gymnastics devalue the real horrors of Emergency.

During the 21-month period starting June 1975, the Indira Gandhi government, recalls a recent Indian Express article, muzzled the press by censoring or banning most mainstream dailies. “The Indian Express and The Statesman left the lead editorial space blank as a mark of protest. Correspondents of The Times of London, The Daily Telegraph, The Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor and The Los Angeles Times were expelled. Reporters of The Economist and The Guardian left after receiving threats. The BBC withdrew its correspondent. The home ministry told Parliament in May 1976 that 7,000 persons had been held for circulating clandestine literature opposing the Emergency. Kishore Kumar was banned by All India Radio after he refused to support the Youth Congress.”

By equating the Modi government’s decision with Emergency, the media has shown itself to be not worthy of the responsibility that is vested upon it. It risks devaluing itself to a political force instead of the being the neutral watchdog.

The most disgraced lot to have emerged from this fiasco are the political parties who tried to claim the moral high ground by going along with the media’s assumptions that an Emergency has been promulgated In India. The Congress appeared to be burning in righteous indignation led by its vice-president whose knowledge of history is matched only by his leadership abilities. Rahul Gandhi may have forgotten that the UPA had banned 21 channels during its tenure due to various reasons and that his grandmother subjected Indian citizens to the sole instance of Emergency.

AAP supremo, and Delhi Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal exhorted all TV channels to go off the air on 9 November to show solidarity with NDTV. “I hope the whole media goes off (the) air for a day in solidarity with NDTV,” Kejriwal had tweeted.

For someone who is such a staunch believer in press freedom, it was odd that Kejriwal would threaten to send media persons to jail for allegedly promoting Narendra Modi. As Times of India reported in 2014, a video of Kejriwal’s diatribe against the media at a fundraiser in Nagpur saw him promise an inquiry against media persons if AAP came to power. “If our government comes to power then we will set an inquiry into this. And along with media people, all will be sent to jail,” he was heard saying in the clip.

Another of Modi’s virulent critics, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, has an even “greater record” when it comes to tolerating criticism. Apart from the well-publicised instance of a Jadavpur University professor who was sent to jail for sharing a cartoon, there have been reports of a youth in Malda getting arrested for making a derogatory remark against the TMC chief on Facebook.

As mentioned before, friction between pillars of democracy is welcome. But all stakeholders must act with equal responsibility to ensure that it doesn’t become a free-for-all.

Durga Puja in Bengal is a celebration as well as political event beyond religion

Will she, won’t she, will she…? Wednesday night passed very slowly for Manab Ranjan Datta, the prime mover of Purba Kalikata Sarbojanin Durgotsav, one of the 4000-odd Durga Pujas held in Kolkata. Never before had a full-fledged caste Hindu prayed so hard for the presence of a demonic Asura, not in this day and age at least.

But then, Datta was in a bind. The moving spirit of his club, the Narikeldanga Sanghati Chakra in north-east Kolkata, which organised the Purba Kalikata Sarbojanin Durgotsav, he had planned for this year’s Puja to be inaugurated by a descendant of Mahishasura himself, the buffalo-demon Durga is supposed to have slain to save the world. Or so her believers would have it.

The celebration of Durga Puja goes beyond religion in Bengal. Reuters

The celebration of Durga Puja goes beyond religion in Bengal. Reuters

Just as members of the Asura tribe, found mostly in Jharkhand but also in Bihar, Assam and parts of north Bengal, implicitly accept that it was their predecessor, a brave warrior, whom Durga had destroyed through deceit and treachery. So much so that the Pujas, the most joyous days in the Bengali calendar, are days of mourning and abstinence for them when they refuse to even see the face of a Durga idol.

So it was quite a coup when Datta was able to announce that a member of that tribe, Sushma Asura from Sukhuapani in the deep interiors of Jharkhand, would be unveiling his club’s goddess on Thursday evening, two days before the official start of the Pujas. The news caused quite a stir in the city.

Shades of the JNU controversy earlier this year do you think, when Smriti Irani let the world know about the Mahishasur Martyrdom Day celebrated by some students in JNU? “May my god forgive me for reading this,” began the then Union Human Resources Minister in Parliament and continued with a poster circulated by these students that read that the Durga Puja “is the most controversial racial festival, where a fair skinned beautiful goddess Durga is depicted brutally killing a dark-skinned native called Mahishasura. Mahishasura, a brave self-respecting leader, tricked into marriage by Aryans. They hired a sex worker called Durga, who enticed Mahishasura into marriage and killed him after nine nights of honeymooning, during sleep.”

“What is this depraved mentality?” she wondered. “I have no answers for it,” she said. And dared her Trinamool critics to discuss this “freedom of speech” in Kolkata.

Smriti Irani could consider a trip to Kolkata in the next few days and pick up some pointers herself. Not just on the endless variety that makes the Hindu religion as practised in India so fascinating but also on why it’ll be a long time before Bengal is ripe for the picking for the BJP.

For whatever else, the Pujas may be – and there are enough people to lecture one and all that they are a huge waste of money, large-scale squandering of resources in a state that has little enough to begin with, dissipation of energy and enthusiasm that could and should be put to better use, etc etc – they really have very little to do with religion per se.

Rather, it is one big party that is supposed to be for four days but thanks to the benevolence of Mamata Banerjee now goes on for anything from a week to ten days. Offices are closed, restaurants are open, people of all ages are out on the streets in their fineries, gamely limping along in their new, ill-fitting shoes, revelries go on through the night, but the act of worship barely gets a look-see in the whole exercise.

Yes, the goddess, her four children complete with their transport, are on display in full grandeur in lavishly decorated temporary structures called pandals (a word that does not seem to be in any English dictionary) that crop up on every other road but the ritual of worship is at most limited to an anjali or a mass offering of flowers to the accompaniment of the priest’s chanting one morning and watching spellbound the aarti in the evening which is anyway spectator sport at its best with its pyrotechnics and frenzied beating of drums and clouds of coloured smoke.

The Puja organisers see their role more as stage managers or maybe art directors than as holy men, arranging for attention-grabbing pandals and idols that will bring in the crowds, get them their 15 seconds of fame on television and maybe win them one of the innumerable awards that every company, small and big, dishes out these days for any and everything, from decor to cleanliness to eco-friendliness to sheer novelty value.

Themes are the name of the game, each Puja centred around a theme of its choice, ranging from tribal art to Rajasthani folk dance to south Indian temples, Odisha handicraft, wish fulfilment, auto ancillaries, you name it, you will see it in the pandals here.

So divorced from religion are the Pujas, so social the occasion that Mamata Banerjee can bend over backwards to “appease” the Muslims and yet be most sought after as an inaugurator, have theme songs written by her sung in pandals and accept with equanimity idols fashioned in her image. There are several Durgas this year who look like Mamata Banerjee, the real-life demon slayer.

So secular are the Pujas that the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has at last woken up to their usefulness as a medium of mass contact.

An artisan paints an idol of mythological demon Mahisasura ahead of the Durga Puja festival. Reuters

An artisan paints an idol of mythological demon Mahisasura ahead of the Durga Puja festival. Reuters

“Durga Puja will no longer be off-limits, comrades can be part of Puja organising committees,” announced a state secretariat member at the end of the CPI(M)’s two-day plenum in Kolkata on 1 October. “Direct religious activities” such as aarti and anjali could still be no-nos but “relatively secular trysts such as overseeing the construction of pandals, getting official clearances and collection of subscriptions could be allowed”.

In its heyday, the CPI(M)’s only public brush with religion was restricted to setting up stalls outside the bigger Puja pandals to sell Left literature and Soviet publications – and they sold too.

Purba Kalikata Sarbojanin Durgotsav of the Narikeldanga Sanghati Chakra is not one of the major Pujas of the city. Situated in an area that is still lower to lower middle class Bengali, it is neither rich nor glamorous. It has no A-list patrons though second-ranking Trinamool leaders have been gracing it for the last few years.

Getting an Asura was one way of breaking the mould, of getting their place under the sun. Accordingly, the pandal has been decorated with rows of figurines of tribal men and women in traditional costume bearing traditional arms ranged along the walls behind flickering flames wrought with plastic and electric lights – not the most artistic representation of tribal life one has to say.

Still, everything was set to welcome Sushma Asura, one of the few tribals who could speak in Hindi, to their humble abode. She was supposed to board the train from Ranchi on Wednesday night to reach Kolkata on Thursday morning where she would be staying for four days.

But the last few days had been giving sleepless nights to Manab Datta. The news from Asura land was not good. An Asura coming to inaugurate their Puja had got the publicity they had wanted but it had also reached distant Jharkhand and Sushma was threatened with a social boycott by her fellow Asuras if she dared to celebrate an occasion that is one of the saddest in their lore.

Wednesday found Datta on tenterhooks. Would she get on to the train that night or wouldn’t she? Was she coming or wasn’t she? Calls to Sushma’s cell phone went unanswered all day. Her phone was either switched off or out of reach.

Thursday dawned hazy and muggy with no Sushma Asura in sight. Tribal custom had prevailed over the bright lights of the big city.

Manab Datta was disappointed but not shattered. Sushma Asura would have been the showpiece for sure but she was never the real chief guest. That was reserved for Trinamool leader and MP Mukul Roy who duly did the honours on Thursday evening with suitable pomp and ceremony.

Finally, party politics is what goes for religion in Bengal and is likely to remain so in the foreseeable future. Only the very foolish would try to replace it with a real religion.

Park Street rape case: Main accused Kader Khan arrested in Delhi

On Thursday night, the main accused in the Park Street rape case — where woman’s rights activist Suzette Jordan was apprehended by five men and brutally raped in a moving car — was arrested in Delhi. The arrest comes four years after the incident. Jordan passed away in March 2015.

Besides the main accused Kader Khan, the police arrested an accomplice named Ali. The two will be produced before a local court in Kolkata on Friday, reported DNA.

On 10 December 2015, nine months after Jordan’s death, three accused who were on trial in the case were pronounced guilty. The Additional Sessions Judge Chiranjib Bhattacharya of the City Sessions Court had pronounced Ruman Khan, Naser Khan and Sumit Bajaj guilty of gangrape, criminal conspiracy, voluntarily causing hurt, criminal intimidation and common intention, under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code. The court sentenced them to a term of 10 years in jail. At the time Kader Khan and Ali were in hiding.

A file photo of Suzette Jordan.A file photo of Suzette Jordan.

A file photo of Suzette Jordan.

Jordan — then 40 years old, a divorcee and mother of two — was beaten up and gangraped at gun point inside a moving car and then thrown off the vehicle near Kolkata city intersection on the night of 5 February, 2012, after she had come out of a night club on the fashionable Park Street.

Jordan, who came forward and revealed her identity on television in June 2013, fought her case against heavy odds.

Days after she filed the complaint on 9 February, 2012, ignoring disparaging comments and initial reluctance of the Park Street police station personnel, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee called it a “cooked up case” and alleged that the woman was trying to malign the state government.

Banerjee’s remarks were widely flayed by the civil society and the public, but that was not the end of Jordan’s ordeal.

Trinamool MP Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar called the entire episode “a sex deal gone wrong”, while minister Madan Mitra questioned what she was doing at a night club so late in the night and dubbed the rape allegation a “fabricated complaint meant to extort money”.

However Jordan decided to go public about her ordeal and even urged the world to call her a “rape survivor” and not as the “Park Street rape victim”.

On 13 March 2015, she died of multi-organ failure after being diagnosed with encephalitis.

With inputs from IANS

Mamata govt launches ‘Waiting Hubs’ for pregnant women in Sunderbans

Kolkata: The West Bengal government is launching ‘waiting hubs’ for pregnant women in remote islands of the Sunderbans where they can wait for a few days ahead of delivery, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced on Monday.

Pregnant-hubPregnant-hub

Waiting hub for pregnant women in West Bengal. Image courtesy: Facebook/ Mamata Banerjee

“For the first time in Bengal, we have started with a new concept of setting up waiting hubs for expecting mothers in the rural hospitals of far-flung areas of Sunderbans like Gosaba, Pathar Pratima and Sandeshkhali,” Banerjee said in a post on her Facebook page.

The hubs will help overcome the challenge of providing safe motherhood in such geographically remote locations, she said.

“The basic objective behind this new endeavour is to keep the expecting mothers in these hubs seven to 10 days ahead of their expected date of delivery and move them to hospital when delivery time advances,” she said.

Reiterating that over the last five years, institutional delivery has increased from 68 percent to 90 percent and infant mortality rate has reduced from 31 to 27 in Bengal, the Trinamool Congress supremo asserted the novel concept of waiting hubs for expecting mothers will “give further boost to institutional delivery, reduce Infant Mortality Rate and maternal morbidity.”

Adhir Chowdhury writes to Sushma Swaraj over attack on Hindus in Bangladesh

Kolkata: Expressing concern over a series of attacks on Hindus and other communities in Bangladesh, West Bengal Congress president Adhir Chowdhury on Saturday said he has written to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and urged Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to use her cordial relationship with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to address the issue.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. AFP

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. AFP

“Communal forces in Bangladesh have been systematically targeting the minorities including Hindu, Christian and Buddhists and secular and liberal minded citizens. Yesterday, we came to know that the Hindu priest at Ramkrishna Mission in Dhaka received a death threat. We are concerned about the present situation in Bangladesh. I have written a letter to External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj in this regard,” Chowdhury said adding that he has full faith in Bangladesh government.

Referring to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee‘s alleged silence over the issue, the state Congress president said, “Everyone knows the bond shared between West Bengal and Bangladesh. And the coordial relationship that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee shares with the Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. We have not heard about any active response from Banerjee so far,” Chowdhury said.

Chowdhury also said West Bengal being a neighbouring state (of Bangladesh) should be careful about the rise of communal forces (BJP and RSS) in the state.

“Bengal being a neighbouring state should be careful about the rise of communal forces in our state too. The state government is maintaining a complete silence on this matter.

“The state government remains unfazed on this matter as there is a got-up game between TMC and BJP,” he said.

Chowdhury’s comment comes in the backdrop of a special resolution that was adopted at the party’s two-day state executive meeting yesterday where it was alleged that activists of the fundamentalist organisations like Jamaat, driven out from Bangaldesh, were getting shelter in West Bengal.

The resolution called upon the TMC government to see to it that the state did not become a safe haven for terrorists and fundamentalist forces.

Trinamool has not taken a single penny out of Saradha, Narada: Mamata

Kolkata: A day after ordering a probe into the Narada sting, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee on Saturday asserted that her party had not taken “a single penny” from anyone in the Saradha chit fund scam and the Narada sting operation.

Addressing a party programme in which Narada sting accused TMC leaders Firhad Hakim, Suvendu Adhikari and Mukul Roy were also present, Mamata said, “You did not call anyone on your own. Someone asked for an appointment and then they came to meet you. During that appointment you yourself kept the money on my table and took pictures. I didn’t ask for money, neither did I call you. Why did you come to my place.”

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. PTIWest Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. PTI

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. PTI

“You yourself came and said you want to give money and you then try to blackmail. We want to know how much money is being raised through such kind of blackmailing. We want to know the truth behind it. From Saradha to Narada, Trinamool Congress has not taken a single penny from anyone,” she said in reference to the allegations levelled against TMC leaders
in the Narada sting operation.

Banerjee also questioned the source of money used in the sting operation.

The West Bengal Chief Minister had yesterday ordered a probe by Kolkata police into the Narada sting operation, in which several Trinamool Congress leaders were purportedly shown accepting money in return for promising to grant favours to a fictitious company.

“Is it that Suvendu Adhikari can’t eat and he needs to take money to run his family, Firhad Hakim can’t eat and he need to take money to survive? Their families have also faced humiliation because of this. Who are they to conduct such sting operations, do they have any licence to conduct such sting operation,” Banerjee asked.

Decoding mandate: Vote share, spread imply BJP is ready to rise in Bengal

BJP’s rise as the new national force with a pan-Indian presence owes in no small measure to its long-term strategy of building the party from scratch in places where it never had even the slightest of presence. The ever-expanding saffron footprints point to the quiet yet fervent fixing of nuts and bolts in hitherto uncharted territories and targeted, grassroot-level effort from workers and volunteers.

For a party that lacks the rich legacy of Congress or the doctrinal moorings of the Left, it is imperative that organization framework is in place way, way before its gains are evident in electoral politics. Towards that end, BJP’s performance in Kerala and West Bengal during the 2016 Assembly elections is perhaps more important than even its rising to power in Assam.

In West Bengal, a curious fact has gone largely unnoticed. When you count the number of seats, the BJP has won just three. A seemingly negligible figure in an election where Mamata Banerjee‘s Trinamool Congress won 211 seats. But let us take a look at the vote share. The BJP polled 10.2 percent of the votes, just about two percentage points less than Congress’s 12.3 percent. Yet, Congress finished as the second-largest party in the state with 44 seats. (Source: EC)

File photo. PTIFile photo. PTI

BJP president Amit Shah during an election rally in West Bengal’s Burdwan. PTI

How is this possible? And what does this signify?

This happens due to India’s first-past-the-post voting system which we have copied from the British. Simply, it means that the candidate with the most votes in each constituency wins that seat. All other votes become irrelevant. This is the second-most popular voting mechanism in the world. It is less ambiguous, votes can be counted quickly and winner decided as soon as it is done.

The problem with this system, however, lies in the fact that it sometimes gives us a skewed reality. For instance, it is quite clear that Congress polled slightly more votes than BJP but got way more seats because its votes were “concentrated on a few seats.” Whereas the same scenario became seemingly disadvantageous for the BJP because its votes “were spread over large parts of the state” and naturally fell short of the numbers required to win.

Readers will notice that I used the word “seemingly disadvantageous” because even though it appears that BJP has lost out on a number of seats, it actually points to the success of its long-term target, that of becoming the state’s chief electoral force. And spreading out of the vote share means that it is succeeding in fanning out to different parts of the state instead of staying put in a fiefdom, as Congress has done for decades in north Bengal (now increasingly under threat from TMC). In 262 constituencies, BJP got more than 10000 votes and in 60 seats including that of the Chief Minister, the saffron party polled more than 20000 votes.

In fact, BJP rookie Chandra Kumar Bose at one stage ran Mamata Banerjee close in Kolkata’s Bhawanipore though he later finished third.

Why Modi, not Mamata, broke alliance’s back

But there are other metrics to gauge BJP’s rise in Bengal and the most glaring of those is Mamata Banerjee’s stunning performance. Sounds conflicting? It is actually quite simple. Trinamool Congress would not have got won so many seats had it been a straight fight between it and the Left Front-Congress alliance. It is the BJP which put a spanner in opposition’s ambition by eating away a large segment of the votes in a triangular contest and making it easier for Didi to ease through.

One of the key calculation that the alliance was banking on was a slide in BJP’s vote share compared to what it was in 2014, when the saffron party polled an unprecedented 17 percent votes during Lok Sabha elections riding on a Modi wave. It was largely believed (and even indicated by some exit polls) that the figure may come down by as much as 10 percentage points and the extra votes will go in opposition kitty.

What we saw instead was that the BJP arrested a massive erosion in its vote share (in fact, compared to four percent in 2011 Assembly polls, it actually registered a six percent rise) and in at least 50 of the 294-seat Assembly it aided the ruling party by cutting into anti-incumbency votes. It won’t be an exaggeration, therefore, to claim that Mamata Banerjee should send a ‘thank you’ note to Narendra Modi.

Equally interesting is BJP’s performance in north Bengal, a traditional Congress stronghold. It won two of its three seats in Alipurduar and Malda (the other being West Midnapore where party president Dilip Ghosh emerged victorious). And as a Times of India report points out, the saffron vote share in vast stretches of north Bengal is way ahead of its overall state average. A host of constituencies in Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar, Jhargram and Malda saw BJP polling 20 percent to 28 percent votes.

The result of tenuous, intense, mass-oriented projects in tribal areas of Dooars and social activism through the RSS network is evident. The Sangh has seen a recent spurt in the number of shakhas in the state. While that alone cannot ensure electoral dividend, the party has also undertaken massive booth-level functions.

The base for BJP’s rise in Bengal is now complete. The party’s national secretary and chief election campaigner Sidharth Nath Singh sees the results as such. “We have now got a foothold to expand the party’s presence in the state. The groundwork is done. 2019 and 2021 is ours,” he told Firstpost on Friday.

While the target is certainly ambitious, few would put it past the BJP. The party is clearly on an upswing.

Last Action Hero: Why Kolkatans should be proud of top cop Soumen Mitra

Let’s start with an easy question. If the hunter’s bullet manages to hit one bird among 10 sitting on the branch of a tree, how many will be left?

Mathematics demands that the answer would be nine. Common sense explains that when a shot is fired and hits one, the other nine will fly away in fear, leaving none.

It can’t be easy being Soumen Mitra, the new top cop of Kolkata who has been at the receiving end of Chief Minister’s barbs for the cardinal error of staying true to his rulebook and uniform.

It is widely accepted that Mitra, who took over from incumbent Rajeev Kumar on 13 April following a directive from the Election Commission, has restored the self-esteem of a demoralized police force struggling under the yoke of political oppression.

The fourth and fifth phases of Bengal assembly polls showed what Kolkata Police is capable of when there is no one to hold it back by the collar. The genie of violence was bottled. Goons of all shapes and sizes were either taken into custody or stayed under strict vigilance, outsiders were chased away and the baton came down hard at even the slightest hint of trouble.

After the horror of last year’s civic polls, voters were pleasantly surprised to cast their own ballot in a largely peaceful atmosphere. Of course, Mitra was aided by a vast number of central forces but the difference this 1988 batch IPS officer made was clear.

Soumen Mitra. Image Courtesy: FacebookSoumen Mitra. Image Courtesy: Facebook

Soumen Mitra. Image Courtesy: Facebook

Which is why after just a couple of days of the fifth phase, a shot was fired by the Chief Minister during a campaign rally in East Medinapur. And her thinly veiled target was Mitra.

“If someone is given a responsibility for just 15 days and starts thinking their life’s dream of wearing a gold crown will be fulfilled, that is the biggest mistake.

“Those who are doing all this should keep in mind that they will have to suffer in the coming days.”

This wasn’t a one-off though. Mamata had dropped enough hints that Rajeev, her favourite officer, shall be reinstated as CP if TMC returns to power.

If the seniormost officer can be browbeaten into submission, the rest of the pack will automatically fall in line. But Mitra is thankfully made of sterner stuff. There is every possibility that he may be removed from his job if Mamata is back at the helm but he didn’t let that fear cower him down.

During a poll debriefing session on Tuesday at Kolkata Police headquarters in Lalbazar, Mitra gave a simple message to his force: “Do your job. I am there.”

“Do not ignore calls. It can be anyone (from any political party). But act only according to the merit of the case. There is no need to listen to everyone who claims to have political links. Behave like a professional.”

The EC had appointed Mitra without consulting the state government, a departure from usual practice. Kolkata police as deputy commissioner, detective department, deputy commissioner north, and special commissioner of police and commands the respect of the rank and file.

Even as he asked his force to follow the letter and spirit of rulebook, Mitra reminded them during the meeting yesterday that handling of post-poll violence could have been better. There have been reports of violence in mainly four areas of the city — Haridebpur, Ballygunge, Kasba and Patuli — where mainly polling agents of the opposition have come under attack.

The cops have embarked on a slew of steps to tackle the violence. It includes setting up more checking points, keeping a night force handy and identify troubled spots for round-the-clock vigilance.

He may not keep his job beyond 19 May but in this very short time, Mitra has already demonstrated the difference one upright officer can make.

Modi, Shah let Bengal BJP down, says CPM to counter Singh’s Augusta charge against Buddha

Hurricane AugustaWestland blowing over the Parliament right now has added one more interesting dimension to the West Bengal Assembly polls.

As the BJP central leadership kept up the heat on Sonia Gandhi — asking her to name the bribe takers in the over Rs 3,500 crore alleged scam — the party’s state unit went on the offensive against CPI(M) for cavorting with a ‘scam-tainted’ Congress. Not to be outdone, the Left Front hit back with equal vitriol, seeking to drive home their charge that the BJP is playing a fixed match with the ruling Trinamool Congress.

CPM Politburo member Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. Reuters.CPM Politburo member Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. Reuters.

CPM Politburo member Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. Reuters.

Close on the heels of BJP’s Bengal minder Sidharth Nath Singh on Thursday ripping apart ex-Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya for sharing the dais and a garland with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, the CPI(M) on Friday said for all its anti-corruption stance, the BJP’s state unit has been betrayed by none other than the Prime Minister, who has struck a backhand deal with Mamata Banerjee.

“By implication, the Left Front is also supporting corruption,” Sidharth Nath Singh had told Firstpost on Wednesday, a few hours before Rahul Gandhi‘s chopper landed on the Park Circus Maidan for the historic rally.

“When Buddhababu, who is perceived to be an honest leader, holds Rahul Gandhi’s hands, he should ask him how on earth did you get entangled in yet another scam. And he should reflect on how it affects his own party,” Singh had said.

Later on Thursday during a media conference, Singh reiterated the charge, posing five questions before the septuagenarian CPIM leader:

Isn’t it true that you are considered one of the honest politicians of Bengal?
Did your party attack the Congress on corruption charges for the 2G, coalgate and CWG scams?
Did you not withdraw support from the UPA on nuclear deal and corruption issues?
Do you agree that in the AgustaWestland scam, Gandhi’s name along with other Congress leaders have appeared in the recent Italian appellate court (equivalent to high courts) judgment, amounting to high-level corruption?
When you held the hand of the Congress, what was the real feeling? Was it the hand of development or the hand of corruption?

Responding to the charges, CPIM MP Mohammad Salim said: “Buddhababu can never be tainted by scams because he is incorruptible.”

Speaking to Firstpost on Friday, the CPIM politburo member even suggested that Singh is looking at Buddhadeb Bhattacharya for leadership having been let down by his bosses in Delhi.

“I admire Sidharth Nath ji for his stance against Mamata Banerjee and her corrupted regime. But he has been badly let down by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. He is looking at Buddhadeb Bhattacharya for leadership to oust Trinamool Congress. Modi and Shah have failed him.

“It is good that Sidharth ji recognises the honesty of Buddhadeb Bhattacharya but he must know that not only is Buddhababu not corrupted, he is incorruptible. Mr Singh still doesn’t have the maturity to question the political acumen of Buddhababu,” said Md Salim.

Mindful of the fact that the AugustaWestland scam may present a ready weapon in Mamata Banerjee’s hands who will surely use it to skewer Left Front’s alliance with Congress, the CPIM leader was quick to distance his party from the controversy.

“Left has always remained vocal against corruption. And we shall remain so in the future. But the BJP lost the moral right to question anyone on graft when it decided to play ball with TMC on Sarada and Narada. Rajnath Singh held a rally in the state yesterday but remained silent on the Narada scam,” said Md Salim.

“Before asking Buddhababu on an alliance with Congress, Singh must ask his central leadership why they are so keen on the Bengal CM,” Salim said.

Offence is the best defence. In cricket and also perhaps in politics.

Bengal: Kid tears TMC posters to make kite, gets gagged and beaten up

Representational image. ReutersRepresentational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Kolkata: Enraged over his act of tearing posters of a Trinamool Congress candidate, a 10 year-old-boy was beaten up in West Bengal’s South 24-Parganas district.

The assault on the boy took place in Canning on Tuesday and comes only days after a girl barely three and a half years in age was beaten up along with her family in North 24-Parganas’ Halisahar on Sunday night.

“The boy had apparently torn some posters, and because of that he was beaten up by some men. Six people were named in the complaint but no arrests have been made so far,” police circle inspector Sisir Kumar Mitra said.

Talking about his ordeal, the boy said: “I tore the posters to make a kite for myself. But some men beat me up, gagged my mouth, tied up my legs and threw me away.”

While the family has alleged the involvement of Trinamool Congress activists as the torn posters were of Saokat Molla, the party’s candidate from Canning East. The ruling party denied the charges.

West Bengal polls: Didi, boudi, Netaji kin battle it out at Bhabanipur

Kolkata: As the West Bengal assembly polls move into the fifth and penultimate phase on April 30, all eyes will be on Bhabanipur where Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee is facing a challenge from Left Front-backed Congress nominee Deepa Dasmunshi and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s grandnephew Chandra Kumar Bose of the BJP.

One of the most cosmopolitan city areas with a sizable population of Sikhs, Gujaratis and Marwaris among the over 200,000 electorate, Bhabanipur has also been the abode of luminaries likes Netaji Bose, Jana Sangh founder Shyama Prasad Mukherjee and the legendary filmmaker Satyajit Ray.

And now, the oldest neighbourhood of South Kolkata is all geared up for the mega battle that involves 11 candidates including “didi” (elder sister) as Banerjee is referred to and “boudi” (sister in-law) as Dasmunshi is called for being the wife of ailing Congress stalwart Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi, besides Bose.

Regarded as Banerjee’s bastion, South Kolkata had been unfailingly sending her to the Lok Sabha from 1991 before she entered the state assembly in 2011 in a by-election from Bhabanipur with a big margin.

Mamata Banerjee. AFP.Mamata Banerjee. AFP.

Mamata Banerjee. AFP.

Born and brought up in the area, Banerjee has a marked edge over her rivals in terms of the campaign. Splattered all across the constituency are her cut-outs, posters and colourful slogans with the opponents’ posters and graffiti only few and far between.

However, the going is not all roses for the feisty leader this time. Besides the CPM-led Left Front and the Congress teaming up, a recent sting operation purportedly showing several Trinamool big-shots illegally accepting money has resulted in the opposition pointing their fingers at Banerjee, whose USP, many claim, lies in her clean image.

What may also be a cause of concern for her is the BJP’s performance in this Trinamool bastion in both the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and the 2015 Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) polls.

Despite Trinamool’s Subrata Bakshi winning the South Kolkata seat defeating BJP’s Tathagata Roy by over 136,000 votes, he trailed Roy by 185 votes in the Bhabanipur assembly segment.

In the city civic polls, the Trinamool did manage to retain six of the eight wards in Bhabanipur, but lost out one to the BJP, while Left Front partner Forward Bloc held on to another.

But notwithstanding the apparent odds, Banerjee’s roadshows have seen mammoth turnouts.

“I have grown up amid you and went on to become a MP and then a MLA from Bhabanipur. I belong to all of you,” Banerjee has been telling her voters, playing the home-girl card.

Banking on the development plank, Banerjee claims the work carried out by her government would be a “subject of global research”.

Known for her persistent and stubborn opposition to Banerjee, Dasmunshi – one of Bengal’s most prominent women politicos – is unfazed by the prospect of taking on the Trinamool chief in her own bastion.

“Being a fighter, I am delighted to take on the one heading this corrupt regime. It’s not about personalities; the fight is between democracy and despotism,” the former minister of state at the centre told IANS.

Dasmunshi also prides in calling herself the “daughter of Bhabanipur”.

“Having been born and brought up here, people know me and I know their problems and aspirations,” said Dasmunshi, who too conducted several road-shows.

Dasmunshi, who lost the 2014 Lok Sabha polls from Raiganj to CPM’s Mohammad Salim, is this time banking on the Congress-Left Front tie-up and even went to the CPM block office before filing her nomination papers the same day as Banerjee did.

West-BengalWest-Bengal

Ironically, Banerjee had in 2014 fielded Dasmunshi’s brother-in-law Satya Ranjan Dasmunshi as the Trinamool nominee against her.

Notwithstanding her hostility with Dasmunshi, Banerjee shared a cordial relation with her husband “Priyoda”, under whom she grew up as a Youth Congress leader.

He may appear unperturbed by the presence of his battle-hardened adversaries, but the going for political greenhorn Chandra Kumar Bose has been tough, to say the least.

Even if his posters and banners may claim some existence within Bhabanipur, otherwise resplendent with Trinamool flags and Banerjee’s posters, the Netaji scion has failed to get an office on rent in the constituency.

Even a strong attack by Prime Minister Narendra Modi against the “Trinamool’s terror” over the issue failed to yield results.

Compelled to use his residence as his election office, Bose – bearing a resemblance to his illustrious great granduncle – has been trying to connect with the voters through roadshows and door-to-door campaigns.

But he seems to have failed to cut much ice with masses in the constituency.

“I respect my rivals, but to be frank, Bose has remained invisible. People are hardly aware about who the BJP candidate here is,” said Dasmunshi, a view shared by several of the voters.

Assembly polls: Attack on a three-year-old proves West Bengal is no longer a functional democracy

A political worker’s three-year-old granddaughter was also beaten up when goons raided his residence late in the night and thrashed the members of his family. Why? To keep them from voting the morning after.

For a moment though, forget the political affiliation of the henchmen or the victim. The incident is a chilling reminder of two axiomatic truths in West Bengal. One, violence is the norm, not aberration during polls. Two, since violence replaces ideas and ideologies as the key to power, the ruling party uses every trick in the book to perpetrate it.

A strange perversion takes place in the order of polity. Lawkeepers are blamed for trying to maintain law and order and creating an atmosphere of safety for voters to cast their ballots. Goons in tow, party leaders take umbrage at not being allowed to break the rule.

Adult suffrage is the cornerstone of democracy. But only when it is free and fair. If the rules of the game are cynically subverted, question must be raised whether merely holding elections is proof enough of a functional democracy.

Representational image. PTIRepresentational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

To be fair to the ruling Trinamool Congress party, it did not pioneer the state’s culture of violence during polls. The Left Front, now at the receiving end of own medicine, had for decades perfected the art. Its armies of local toughs, henchmen and cadres would go about threatening voters, eliminating them if necessary and rig polls with such élan that a term called ‘scientific rigging’ was added to Bengal’s voting lexicon.

If anything, the job has become tougher for the party in power. There is the omnipresent media with a battery of reporters and video journalists. The Election Commission is armed to the teeth via a constitutional statute and has shown that it is ready to bare fangs. In fact, so tight was the vigil on Monday during Phase 4 of the Assembly elections that many TMC leaders were extremely peeved with the EC for “acting as CPIM agents and creating terror”.

That doesn’t mean that the ruling party was found wanting in effort.

Hoodlums, allegedly associated with Trinamool Congress, threatened the family members of CPIM polling agent Tito Samajpati on Sunday night in Barendra Nagar area of Halishahar, a constituency in North 24 Parganas which went to vote on Monday. The family’s mistake was to dial the number of local CPM candidate Rabindranath Mukherjee who alerted the cops. A team of local police and central forces arrived to meet the family.

No sooner did they leave, however, goons returned, this time allegedly armed with revolvers. They barged into the rooms, beat up the unwell Samajpati, his daughter Debashree and also didn’t spare the little Sayantika who took some blows on her tender arms. The toddler’s feed was kicked around and the rooms ransacked. Debashree’s 16-year-old son and husband were thrashed too.

Bijpur MLA Subhrangshu Roy, son of TMC heavyweight Mukul Roy whose name has been linked to the Narada sting, was quick to deny his party’s involvement.

“What has happened is extremely unfortunate and despicable. I condemn it. No link has yet been established between the attackers and TMC. Police are conducting an inquiry. We, too, are looking into the incident at the party level. Anyone found guilty must face strict punishment,“ Roy was quoted, as saying in Times of India.

If the attack was aimed at intimidating the voters and sending a message, then the goons failed in their task as the spirited Debashree, under the supervision of an EC team who took suo motu cognisance of the incident, took the baby in the crook of her arms on Monday and exercised her democratic right.

The question, though, is this. In Monday’s fourth phase, voting was held across 49 seats involving 1.08 crore voters in about 12,500 polling stations. Is it possible for the EC to keep a close eye over every booth in every constituency?

“No,” says Tanmay Bhattacharya. The CPIM candidate from Dum Dum north bled from deep cuts in his hand when alleged TMC goons threw stones at his car, smashing the windshield and injuring him.
“The EC and central forces have done a commendable job. But it is not possible for them to scan all lanes and bylanes of every ward. The goons play hide and seek with security personnel. They lie low when a vehicle passes and spring a mischief the moment law enforcers are out of sight,” Bhattcharya was quoted as saying in TV channels on Monday.

The question, therefore, is one of intent.

The EC and its army of 90000 forces (including state police) performed a mini miracle on Monday. They chased away outsiders, lathicharged on troublemakers, clamped down on illegal assembly, tried to remove false voting, and generally kept the local toughs and goons on their toes. Central forces scanned media vehicles, ambulances and even police vans. A total of 229 arrests were made on Monday alone out of which 207 were preventive. The police, too, marked a dramatic improvement in their performance, a far cry from 2015 when they stayed as mute spectators and gangs took control of civic body polls.

Faced with such pro-activeness from security personnel TMC were thoroughly disgruntled, led by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

“The EC is preventing people from voting by clamping Section 144. This is uncalled for. Has a curfew been imposed? Our flags, party offices have been demolished by central forces. Why just stop at 6 phases, why not hold voting over 294 phases in 294 seats,” the TMC supremo said at a rally in Patuli on Monday evening.

Taking a cue from her, TMC ministers fired salvo after salvo against the EC. Outgoing finance minister Amit Mitra, agriculture minister Purnendu Basu and marketing minister Arup Ray complained that due to the “terror” launched by central forces, “people were not allowed to vote freely and fairly”. Basu even went on to say that this was an “undeclared emergency”.

Bucking the usual trend in polls in Bengal, there was no miraculous spike in voting percentage in the late hours of Monday, the most telling indication that “ghosts” were not able to haunt the polling booths.

Undeclared emergency indeed.

West Bengal polls: EC outsmarted as strategy of violence takes a curious turn in West Bengal

Election Commission has run into Hydra, the nine-headed serpent in Greek mythology, while trying to tackle poll violence in West Bengal.

When the EC announced polls over six phases in the state, more than a few eyebrows were raised. Spreading elections over a month and a half is a logistical nightmare. Apart from deployment of central armed forces — who are not conversant with the local language — in distant locations, it also involves realigning the state’s own punitive machinery which temporarily comes under the EC’s supervision.

But what seemed a paranoid measure was actually a prudent tactic given West Bengal’s history of bloodshed. Mindful of the gory statistics which date back to decades and repeated complaints from the opposition (especially in light of last year’s civic body polls), the EC put in place an apparently foolproof strategy.

Representational image. ReutersRepresentational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Consider the arrangements for the recently concluded third phase of Assembly Polls.

On Thursday, when polling was held in 62 seats across Kolkata north, Murshidabad, Nadia and Burdwan, the EC fielded a ring involving one lakh security forces. It included 714 companies of central paramilitary personnel in election-bound areas and a contingent of 25000-strong state police force to assist them in tackling the language barrier.

There were police observers in each district (three for sensitive Murshidabad). The forces were asked to do routine flag-marches to instill confidence among voters.

The thrust of the effort was to prevent and tackle violence on the polling day. It has to be admitted that so far, the EC has been largely successful in limiting the spilling of blood during the time that ballots were cast starting 4 April.

But what about the time in between?

In addition to the security forces, the media also play a crucial role in bringing incidents of violence and rigging to light. On polling days, teams of reporters, TV journalists swarm every far-flung booth with their OB vans and paraphernalia. So effective has the media been in their vigilance that in many cases, the EC has acted on the basis of reports which have emerged on TV channels. But the media, too, remain centred on polling activity. What happens after the last ballot is cast, lights are switched off, wires recoiled and scribes return home?

A factoid may put things in perspective. While one person, CPIM’s Tahidul Islam, has died so far in violence during the time of polling, the death toll since the announcement of election since 4 March stands at 12.

Though the EC has said it takes incidences of post-poll violence “seriously”, no sooner did polling ended for the third phase on Thursday there were renewed clashes between the ruling Trinamool Congress and alliance partners CPIM and Congress, resulting in the deaths of three party workers, two from CPIM and one Congress.

Lodhna village in Khandaghosh constituency in Bengal’s Burdwan strict witnessed two gruesome killings. CPIM’s Sheikh Fazal Ali, 58, was hacked to death with sharp weapons while 57-year-old Dukhiram Dal’s veins were cut as he bled to death right before the eyes of his son Sisir, who hid behind a wall to save his life.

In a report carried by The Telegraph, Sisir, who assists his dad in selling vegetables, recalled how alleged TMC workers attacked them with bombs and hatchets after voting ended on Thursday.

“As bombs exploded all around, I hid behind a wall and saw my father being chased. He tripped and several TMC men, armed with cleavers and hatchets, pounced on him. One of them told the others how to cut the veins in my father’s legs. I shall never forget the scene,” Sisir was quoted, as saying.

Ali, CPIM’s polling agent for booth No 108, also met his death in a similar fashion though his son Sajal, who hid in a nearby bush, was spared the ordeal of watching his dad being killed.

The men lay bleeding and gasping till 9 pm when the cops arrived and eventually took them to the Burdwan Medical College and hospital where they died a few hours later, according to Burdwan SP Gaurav Sharma.

In Burdwan’s Raina, Congress worker Khandekar Ali was killed in the Mathnurpur area when alleged TMC workers, who had got into a spat with him over casting of votes, hit him with a rod.

In each of these cases, the ruling party has denied involvement, blaming it on either intra-party skirmish between alliance partners or family feud.

Elsewhere on Friday, TMC leader Chanchal Debnath was beaten up by alleged CPIM activists in Nadia district’s Haringhata area. In return, a group of TMC workers allegedly ransacked the house of former MLA Nani Gopal Malakar and beat up former CPIM minister Bankim Ghosh.

In his complaint, Ghosh, who is now admitted with injuries and respiratory problems, said 12 TMC miscreants were involved in the attack and the “mayhem went on for about 20 minutes.”

“The TMC men also took away money and valuables and escaped through the back door when police came,” Dipti, Nani Malakar’s wife, was quoted as saying by news agency PTI.

West-BengalWest-Bengal

“In the day of polling, police, central forces and media keep strict vigil. So the TMC strategy is now to indulge in violence immediately after the polls or to intimidate voters before the day of voting. Villager are being told they will face dire consequences if they so much as go near the booth,” CPIM MP and politburo member Mohammad Salim told Firstpost.

“Law and order is a state subject. It is the responsibility of the administration and the Election Commission to prevent such incidents from happening. The killings are a sign of TMC’s insecurity. Facing defeat, Mamata Banerjee has increased her rhetoric,” he added.

“The killings are a desperate step to instill a sense of fear among voters who have so far refused to be cowed down by such tactics and are answering TMC’s reign of terror by casting their ballots,” added the CPIM MP.

Surjya Kanta Mishra, state CPIM leader and the alliance partner’s CM candidate, repeated the charge on Twitter.

Amid the rhetoric and counter-rhetoric, the EC’s job is cut out in West Bengal. Three phases are still left.

West Bengal polls: Violence leaves a father dead as goons run amok amid daughter’s wails in phase 3

“Please stop this vote,” she blurted out in between her sobs. “I cannot stay without my abba. He used to put me to sleep every night,” said the girl, weeping. “Now who will put me to sleep? Tell me?”

The camerapersons and journalists gathered around her to take the sound bites, of course, had no answer. Their story of the day was done. One dead in West Bengal poll violence, the headlines will say and we shall move on.

Central Force jawans check the voter cards of voters during the 3rd phase of assembly elections in Kolkata on Thursday. PTICentral Force jawans check the voter cards of voters during the 3rd phase of assembly elections in Kolkata on Thursday. PTI

Central Force jawans check the voter cards of voters during the 3rd phase of assembly elections in Kolkata on Thursday. PTI

But the journey of life has ended for Tahidul Islam and shall remain suspended for the members of his family. The CPM worker was hacked to death in Jitpur village of Domkal constituency, which falls under the state’s troubled Murshidabad district.

A Congress stronghold, Murshidabad was identified as one of the very sensitive areas with Election Commission fielding three police observers, a departure from the usual practice of one for every district. According to reports in local TV channels, Jitpur in Domkal saw heavy bombings since voting started at 7 am. ANI report says Tahidul had stepped out of booth No. 173 when a crude bomb was hurled at him by alleged Trinamool Congress workers.

The injured CPM agent was then dragged to a spot nearby and slashed with sharp weapons which caused his death. His leg was also broken in apparent signs of torture, said TV channel reports.

An inconsolable Tahidul’s daughter and irate villagers blamed local TMC workers, a charge reiterated by CPM leader Anisur Rahaman. The finger of suspicion was pointed at one Kamarujjaman, the panchayat pradhan’s husband who earlier used to be a CPM activist but had recently defected to the TMC, but the ruling party would have none of it.

TMC’s Domkal nominee Soumik Hossain denied the charges, blaming the death on infighting between the Left Front and Congress. “There is no alliance here. They know they will lose even their deposit in this seat which is why out of frustration they have indulged in violence which led to the killing,” Hossain was quoted as saying in 24 Ghanta. Later in an election rally, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, too, refuted the charges, saying her party “had nothing to do with the murder”.

Following the incident, however, Kamarujjaman is on the run.

The report submitted by Murshidabad SP to the Election Commission, however, says Tahidul was not a CPM agent and nobody is suspected of carrying out the murder, blaming the death on ‘unknown persons’. The report says the killing has nothing to do with polls.

Domkal emerged as the hotbed of violence with news of three more people injured in clashes, following the death of Tahidul. CPM workers Akhtarul and Rintu were shot at by alleged TMC goons in Shiropara area while TMC’s Shariful Islam also took a bullet in fresh outbreak of violence. The injured, among which one is said to be critical, have been admitted to Murshidabad Medical College hospital, according to reports.

In other instances of violence, in Kalyani, a Kalna Polytechnic College professor suffered fractured hands when alleged Trinamool Congress activists attacked him while he tried to cast his vote, according to Kolkata TV. Shibu Das’s wife Tultuli was also attacked while the couple stepped out to exercise their democratic right.

“Some TMC workers threatened us last night not to step outside during the day of the polling. We still didn’t think it’d come to such a pass. Just as we neared the polling booth, some TMC goons attacked us and tried to hit me on the head with bamboo sticks. I tried to save my head and took the blows on my hands. Both my hands are fractured,” Das was quoted, as saying by the TV channel. Das’s wife said she was also not spared.

“They tried to beat me up too but I made a lucky escape,” she said. The couple are yet to file a police complaint, however, fearing more attacks.

In Kolkata, journalists were roughed up as goons tried to snatch away their cameras when they went about doing their jobs in Beleghata area. In Cossipore, local TMC leader Anwar Khan was arrested after day-long drama. Khan, a local tough with murder charge against his name, had recently been released from bail. He was caught on TV camera badmouthing the Election Commission and inciting party workers right in the front of the police.

Funnily enough, when the EC ordered his arrest, he managed to give cops the slip though he was supposed to be under round-the-clock surveillance. The TMC leader was finally caught after a four-hour operation by five special Kolkata Police teams from the same area from where he had apparently “disappeared”.

As polls came to a close, there were many reports of injuries and clashes from different parts of the state. CPM workers were beaten up in Chakdah and Ketugram and in each cases, TMC was blamed though the party denied the charges.

In Nadia district’s Gayeshpur, ETV News Bangla showed reports of villagers being threatened if they step near the polling booth. Reports also emerged of two CPM workers suffering head injuries in clashes.

The tradition of violence continues unabated. The day’s proceedings were a stunning contrast to Trinamool Congress’s full-page advertisement in morning newspapers which portrayed West Bengal as an idyllic state which has hit top spot in all benchmarks. The poor is now out of penury, youths have jobs, there is peace and prosperity all around after the dark days of violence under Left rule. The TMC missive asks voters to choose between “development or destruction.”

Caught between the devil and the deep sea, voters in West Bengal have little to choose from.

Dinda, puff and a pair of shorts: Signs of intolerance in Mamata’s Bengal

If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all, said Noam Chomsky.

From her public protestations, it would seem that Mamata Banerjee is an ardent believer in the pluralistic ideals that the American linguist, philosopher and social critic preaches.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. PTIWest Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. PTI

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. PTI

For instance, last Christmas saw the West Bengal Chief Minister deliver a sermon on the need for tolerance. “We must have tolerance. Everybody must respect each other. It maybe that somebody may not choose something or like something. But I cannot disrespect anyone and nobody can disrespect me. It should be a two-way process,” she had said while inaugurating ‘Christmas Festival’ on Park Street in Kolkata.

Important words, those. Except that in Bengal, irony is never in short supply. From the bigotry shown towards Taslima Nasreen, the Kafkaesque treatment of professor Ambikesh Mahapatra or branding as ‘Maoists’ poor farmers or college students daring to ask questions of her, Banerjee has shown that she frequently fails to practice what she preaches. If anything, she has carried forward the Left’s legacy of intolerance and has even improved on it. Ask Sanatan Dinda.

It seems strange that Dinda, an internationally acclaimed visual artist, would face such inconvenience over showing a short video installation on Kolkata flyover collapse in a state whose leader professes to be so tolerant of criticisms.

Yet the unfolding of events last week had an almost surreal quality about it. On the occasion of MF Husain’s birth centenary celebration in Kolkata, Husain 100, Dinda had put up Tryst With Destiny, a short video installation which over 9.2 minutes shows raw footage of 31 March Vivekananda Road flyover collapse created from different sources including media coverage, mobile phone uploads, images of survivors and footage of the victims. Dinda’s artwork has been on display as part of the exhibition which opened on 9 April.

On the evening of 12 April, however, as the video was being aired on a 52-inch screen at the Academy of Fine Arts, six policemen (among which three were in plainclothes) stormed the rarefied lawns of city’s finest address for culture and stopped the exhibition, claiming that they had received a complaint from Academy’s Group D staff union — who owe their allegiance to the Trinamool Congress — that an anti-government show was under way.

“When we asked the cops why they were stopping the screening, they said they had received a complaint. They pointed to one of the TMC union employees, Santosh Das, when we asked who the complainant was,” The Telegraph quoted artist Debasish Mullick Chowdhury, as saying.

This, despite the fact that Dinda is known to be quite close to the ruling party, specially Banerjee. But such is the state of affairs in Bengal that even proximity to the Chief Minister cannot insure an artwork from censorship or its creator from bodily harm.

The staff union members reportedly threatened to “break the hand” of the artist if he dares to exhibit “dirty art” like this.

“I couldn’t believe it. These are the same people I have tea with sitting on the same bench. Now they were judging my art and threatening me and the police were just standing there,” Dinda was quoted, as saying in the report.

Though the show eventually resumed after a disruption, when the artists present at the spot screened it before the police to “prove” that there was nothing “anti-government” about it, the raid raises several questions on how cops can turn up at any pretext and whether there is space for freedom of speech and expression in the state.

The video, apart from the montage on death, also carries the promise of life. Dinda had personally visited the flyover collapse site and collected soil from the spot which he used to plant an Ashoka tree, signifying life being resurrected from death. The video shows him planting the sapling.

The TMC-backed union, however, saw in it an attempt to “defame the government in the name of artistic representation.”

“He had some ulterior motive in the garb of the film show which we wanted to stop… We had told members of the executive committee that the video depiction was objectionable as it amounted to running an anti-government campaign. The very first day (Saturday), we urged the committee to take it up with the artist and get the show withdrawn,” The Telegraph quoted a Group D employee, as saying.

Once a pioneer city in Indian renaissance, Kolkata has long since abdicated the claim for being the country’s cultural capital but still police boots on the lawns of its favourite destination for art is a new low. Some are saying this is “undeclared emergency”.

“I would say we are living in time of undeclared emergency. Such a huge tragedy happened in Kolkata. The artist community was literally silent about the incident. Sanatan’s work came as a resurrection of our conscience. Cops tried to even stall that! This is a grave assault on freedom of expression,” film scholar Sanjay Mukhopadhyay, who was present at the exhibition, was quoted as saying by Times of India.

Following the incident, artists, thinkers and members of the academia met at a gathering last Friday at the Academy to protest government intervention in artistic freedom and to show solidarity with Dinda.

Supriya Chaudhuri, scholar and Professor Emeritus, Jadavpur University, who was present at the meeting, told Firstpost on Tuesday that “though situation in Bengal is still not as bad as in many other states, nevertheless certain very worrying incidents have occurred both during the last years of the Left rule and under this present government. Some worrying signs are visible”.

“Dinda is an artist. I admire his work. He has the right as an artist to create an art installation work on the collapsed flyover. I went there to show solidarity with an artist whose freedom of speech and expression has been threatened.”

Worryingly enough, the browbeating of Dinda isn’t the only incident to have made the headlines last week that points to an increasingly stifling atmosphere in the state.

A third-year student of Presidency University was harassed, abused and her friend was thrashed in a south Kolkata street on Friday evening because she made the “mistake” of smoking and wearing a pair of shorts.

In her FIR with Netaji Nagar police station, the girl alleged that a few persons reportedly came out of Trinamool MP and former youth affairs minister Arup Biswas’s office and asked her to stop smoking.

“They insisted that I throw away the cigarette. Another middle-aged man came and started taking our photographs on his mobile phone. We were suddenly surrounded by five-six people,” Times of India quoted her, as saying. Her friend, who tried to argue with the crowd, was slapped.

“Is this Delhi or Mumbai that you can wear shorts and smoke cigarettes? These things shall not be tolerated here,” threatened one Kamal Ganguly, one of the six accused who was arrested on Monday. Locals say Ganguly, a TMC supporter, is often seen in rallies of TMC MP Biswas.

By wearing a pair of shorts and smoking, the Presidency University student must have unwittingly threatened the “culture and tradition” of Kolkata. It must be purely coincidental that in his seminal essay Ur-Fascism, Umberto Eco had identified “cult of tradition” as the first sign of Fascism.

West Bengal polls: Birbhum boils in Phase 2 as Anubrata Mondal keeps EC on tenterhooks

Don ka intezar to gyarah mulkon ki police kar rahi hain, lekin ek baat samajh lo, Don ko pakadna mushkil hi nahin, naamumkin hain.

It is not known whether Anubrata Mondal is a fan of Amitabh Bachchan but when asked if the Election Commission’s order to put him on round-the-clock surveillance on polling day has inconvenienced him, the Trinamool Birbhum district president delivered a dialogue that reminded one of the 1978 Amitabh Bachchan-Zeenat Aman cult classic, Don.

“I am under no surveillance,” said the TMC leader whom Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee loving calls by his nickname, Keshto. “Nobody can put me under surveillance.”

And he was right.

Just as the Don kept eluding the police, Mondal forced a deputy magistrate, eight paramilitary personnel and a videographer — who were supposed to tail him 24×7 — to chase thin air as he pillion rode a motorbike to a booth in Bolpur to cast his vote during the second phase of polling on Sunday in West Bengal Assembly elections.

Anubrata Mondal. Image courtesy: IBNLiveAnubrata Mondal. Image courtesy: IBNLive

Anubrata Mondal. Image courtesy: IBNLive

Across 13,645 polling stations in seven districts, 383 candidates’ fate was on the line on Sunday and as curtains fell on second phase, 56 Assembly constituencies recorded 79 percent attendance, said provisional EC data, among a voter base of nearly 1.22 crore.

Six of the seven districts — Alipurduar, Jalpaiguri, north Dinajpur, south Dinajpur, Darjeeling and Malda — are in North Bengal where polling remained by and large peaceful. All the action was centred around the sole south Bengal district, Birbhum, and the TMC president remained the centre of all attention among a spate of reports of violence, voter intimidation and rigging from different parts of the area.

Earliest report of violence came from Bolpur in Birbhum, Mondal’s lair, where a BJP agent suffered head injury in clash. Unrest then spread in Ilambazar area where CPM agents came under attack. Altogether, there were reports of 6 BJP and 2 CPM workers getting injured in clashes and TMC activists were blamed for each of these incidents. Four have been arrested so far.

Mondal set the pace with his Houdini act in the morning when he stepped out of the house and reached booth No. 186 and cast his vote with his daughter in tow. Even as he barged into the booth with a TMC logo dangling on his chest, in clear violation of polling norms, the EC’s surveillance team was nowhere to be found.

The deputy magistrate later told a local TV channel, ABP Ananda, that they failed to tail Mondal since he was riding a motorbike and there were too many media vehicles around him. With a look of despair writ large on his face, the deputy magistrate and his crack team cooled their heels at TMC’s party office, waiting for the man, who they were supposed to shadow 24×7, to arrive.

Mondal was in a belligerent mood though. Even as reports came pouring in of trouble from different parts of the district, the TMC strongman suggested that the incidents of violence were all rubbish.

“Vote has been very peaceful, free and fair,” a confident Keshto said, showing no signs of being under pressure.

“There have been no incidents of violence. The one in Ilambazar was only exception, but it wasn’t TMC’s fault. The person who suffered head injury tripped, fell and hurt himself,” Mondal was quoted, as saying in ABP Ananda.

The EC has reportedly filed an FIR on account of Mondal’s violation of polling norms by sporting party symbol while casting his vote. The TMC leader first dismissed the reports saying he didn’t and that local TV channels were misleading people by showing “old footage”, but he later changed his statement.

“I know I am not supposed to. I did not notice it. It was an unintentional mistake. All my kurtas have this party symbol. But the presiding officer could have stopped me. He could have reminded me when I stepped into the booth,” said Mondal, brushing aside the allegation as Don does those who dare who confront him. Incidentally, many polling booths in Birbhum had no rival agents, including the one where Mondal exercised his democratic right.

“That’s not my problem,” said the TMC Birbhum chief. “What can I do if BJP, CPM and Congress fail to install their agents in polling booths,” said Mondal, who is well known for his organizational skills, strong-arm tactics and vitriolic speeches which have led to the EC acting against him.

A security official keeps vigil as voters wait to cast their votes at a polling station  in South Dinajpur on Sunday. PTIA security official keeps vigil as voters wait to cast their votes at a polling station  in South Dinajpur on Sunday. PTI

A security official keeps vigil as voters wait to cast their votes at a polling station in South Dinajpur on Sunday. PTI

On Sunday too, TV footage showed Mondal boasting of how “dhakis (drummers) have been placed at different pandals for Dashami celebrations”, an apparent euphemism for voter intimidation.

Though EC had sought to put the TMC strongman on a leash, it became clear as the day progressed how little an effect it had on the overall “polling arrangements” for “free and fair elections”.

In Nanoor a town in Bolpur subdivision of Birbhum, villagers blatantly refused to step out of their homes, fearing trouble. This, after central paramilitary forces had assured them of all help.

“Come out and vote,” an officer was heard speaking to villagers in Nanoor. “Cast your own vote. Don’t be scared. We are all here to help you,” he added.

ABP Ananda footage showed unconvinced villagers still fearing for their lives.

“‘They have warned us not to vote today,” a voter said. “I have been casting my vote for a very long time. This has never happened before. I shall not step out of the house to vote today,” she added. “Tomorrow the central forces won’t be there, you (pointing to the media personnel) won’t be around too. Who will come to our help if they attack us,” she asked before walking away.

Mysterious are the ways of Don.

Deny, quash, play victim, order probe: How the TMC twisted itself into knots over Narada sting videos

The Trinamool Congress, ordering a belated probe almost a month after the controversial Narada sting videos were made public after continuously and vehemently dismissing them as “doctored”, is the clearest indication yet that the 2016 West Bengal Assembly polls will be as thrilling as the recently concluded T20 World Cup.

File image of Mamata Banerjee. Reuters

File image of Mamata Banerjee. Reuters

That after much hand-wringing and playing the victim card, the ruling TMC has finally ordered an “internal investigation” into the videos which show 12 senior leaders of the party accepting wads of cash as bribe is a huge climbdown from TMC’s earlier stance and is being interpreted as a tacit admission of the sting’s authenticity.

The “probe”, announced by the party’s general secretary Partha Chatterjee on Saturday, also reflects the ruling party’s confidence level which has taken a Ben Stokes-like thrashing, the poor England bowler who was ruthlessly dispatched for four straight sixes in the final of T20 World Cup by Carlos Brathwaite of the West Indies.

When the sting operation conducted by Mathew Samuel and Angel Abraham of Narada News erupted on 14 March, the Left and Congress were yet to formalise their alliance, the Vivekananda Road flyover in Kolkata was still in place and TMC was riding high on confidence like Bangladesh before their stunning brain implosion against India.

Seemingly burning with indignation, national spokesperson Derek O’Brien appeared in a Facebook video that very Monday and blasted his political opponents, proclaiming TMC as a lily white party untouched by corruption. He also said the video was laughably inaccurate and a rather poor attempt at smear campaign.

“I’ve had a look of the video, the so-called sting operation. Where these videos came from, who doctored these videos, who will now put a defamation case, we are not bothered. We’re all busy with elections now, so whoever has tried to concoct this smear campaign, well please go ahead and concoct your doctored videos. The TMC’s credentials are absolutely unquestionable and impeccable. People in West Bengal know better,” he said.

“To all our political opponents, you know you can’t defeat us politically so you try and create a cheap tricks department… and try and do all this. This is at best a minor distraction on Monday morning,” added O’Brien.

Derek O’Brien’s statement on behalf of All India Trinamool Congress dismissing so-called sting operation

Posted by Derek O’Brien on Monday, 14 March 2016

TMC’s initial, knee-jerk reaction was to brazen it out. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee during an interview to a TV channel on 22 March reiterated the charge, threatening even to resign if anyone can level corruption charges against her.

“These are doctored videos. I won’t say anything about the (parliamentary) ethics committee. Our MP Kalyan Banerjee will speak about it. I will only say these videos were made before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Now it is 2016. These videos were made for political purpose. It is a political vendetta. It will not have any impact…”

“If any businessman from Bengal or all over the world can say that we have taken money in lieu of the work done, I will resign tomorrow,” she was quoted as saying in a Firstpost report.

This line was assiduously maintained at several public rallies but it was becoming increasingly clear that the ‘sting’ was still stinging. What’s more, the collapse of the flyover on 31 March when 28 people were killed and several others injured brought to the fore the ruling party’s nexus with the “syndicate” and suddenly, corruption became a poll plank. Needless to say, the TMC found it decidedly uncomfortable. The “minor distraction” as O’Brien put it, was becoming a major headache.

Visuals are more powerful than words. Specially in a poll season. With local TV channels showing the sting videos in loop and clarifications of “doctored” falling short, the party changed tack. Senior TMC leaders such as Kalyan Banerjee and Chandrima Bhattacharya, state minister of law, judicial affairs and health, argued that money changing hands doesn’t necessarily mean it is bribery.

“Even if I agree to the fact of agreement that money was taken, yet does not mean that the objective was bribe. There is a lot of difference between taking bribe and receiving donation”, said Bhattacharya.

The ruling party toyed with the donation idea but it is hard to explain technicalities to people when videos show under-the-table transactions. Besides, the Opposition parties asked, if indeed these were donations, where are the receipts?

The shots were fired in rapid succession by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi who landed in the state and raked up the Sarada, Narada and syndicate angle. TMC was rapidly being painted by the rivals as a “corrupted party” and Mamata Banerjee was hurting. Her public rally in Durgapur on 6 April made it clear.

“You tell me, when people are shown in video footage taking Rs one lakh, Rs two lakh, Rs 50, that is wrong. And what about those who have looted thousands of crores and are now indulging in blackmail?”, The Financial Express quoted her, as saying.

Predictably, this was interpreted as a tacit admission of the scandal leading the Chief Minister to fire the final salvo. In a rally the day after, she put her entire political capital on line, announcing herself as a candidate in all 294 seats and asking people to judge her, chastise her, admonish her but not to turn against her party.

There is little in the TMC besides Mamata and she sought to drive the point home, trying to bring the focus back on herself.

“I am at fault. I am taking responsibility for all the errors. You can be angry with me but do not deprive Trinamool Congress of your blessings. Otherwise it will be difficult for me to move ahead,” Mamata said in Asansol.

The tide was turning.

West-Bengal

The announcement of the probe, therefore, is a belated but last-ditch attempt at silencing the rivals and taking the sting off the stings (another installment appeared on Saturday). But no one is convinced, least of all the opposition.

“First she remained quiet and tried to wish it away. Then she realised this isn’t working. Then she accused everyone else. Now the party which is under scanner for graft will itself carry out a probe. This is laughable,” CPM MP Mohammad Salim told Firstpost on Sunday.

BJP’s national secretary and the party’s minder in West Bengal, Siddharth Nath Singh, told Firstpost on Sunday that “the internal probe is a complete eyewash. It is an obvious attempt at cover-up and nothing will come off it.”

The TMC’s reaction to the stings so far reflects a confused approach. The latest announcement will do very little to dissipate the notion that the party is woefully short of answers to the questions that are being posed against them.

Kolkata flyover collapse: With politicians passing the buck, it seems the dead lost their lives in vain

If there’s one thing that embarrasses politicians it is being seen to be playing politics. Especially when faced with a horrific tragedy like the crash of a flyover in Kolkata on Thursday. So the favourite phrase prefacing the reactions of politicians to Thursday’s disaster was: “This is not the time to play politics, but…” and never has a ‘but’ been more eloquent. Because finally it is all about politics, of course, all the more so at election time.

A file photo of the collapsed Vivekanand flyover. PTIA file photo of the collapsed Vivekanand flyover. PTI

The collapsed Vivekananda flyover in Kolkata. PTI

The first thing Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said after rushing to the accident site was: “It is a disaster, no one should indulge in politics over it. But the project was initiated in 2007 and construction started in 2009 (i.e., during the Left regime).The contract should not have been given to a company that was blacklisted.”

The retort came swift and sharp. At the CPI(M) headquarters in Kolkata on Alimuddin Street, party MP Mohammad Salim said, “This is not the time for politics but the Chief Minister has left us with no choice. It’s no different from the way she behaved over the death of children soon after coming to power.” (Salim was referring to Mamata Banerjee’s response to a spate of simultaneous deaths in a government-run children’s hospital when she said, “Remember these children were conceived during the earlier regime.”)

At the Centre, which too has a role to play in the making (and hence in the unmaking too) of the flyover as it is a JNNURM project, that is partly funded by Delhi, junior urban development minister Babul Supriyo said, “While I don’t want to bring politics into this, this was a joint venture of the UPA at the Centre and the CPM government in Bengal.”

Since the Centre can only vet the projects and release the funds, monitoring being limited to sending reminders and pushing for compliance if the states fail to implement them, Bengal’s sole BJP minister in the Capital did not forget to add, “It is the failure of the state government. It is responsible.”

The flyover may never come to be. Many experts are now voicing doubts over the choice of the location itself, narrow, busy, built-up, congested streets in the heart of the city. And the local people’s objections, who had never welcomed it, are now getting a hearing.

Whatever its fate, the imminent question playing on many minds is, will it have played its historic role by becoming an election issue, touched as it is by all the leading players in this state? Surely it should, there ought to be some accountability somewhere and the polling booth is the ultimate court of appeal. Otherwise, all those innocent people will have lost their lives or limbs in vain.

The political bosses are not quite sure which way the people will go or whether they will all be blamed equally and thus cancel each other out. So they are taking no chances.

The ruling Trinamool Congress has understandably most to lose. There were troubling signs yesterday when city mayor Sovon Chatterjee and local MLA Smita Bakshi, both candidates in the imminent elections, were booed and heckled by the crowds during their visit to the accident site.

The air rang with cries of “chor hai, sab chor hai.”

The mayor is one of the people shown to be taking money in the Naranda sting videos. No other TMC leader other than the Chief Minister visited the area on Thursday. Friday morning saw local MP, TMC’s Sudip Bandopadhyay, standing amid the debris, reading out a list of disasters that took many lives during the Left Front’s years.

Mamata Banerjee gave the cue last night when she lashed out, even while making sure of adequate supply of floodlights and drinking water for the rescue workers that “Dirty politics is being played over blood. I will not allow this. We have enough blood. There is no need for a blood donation tamasha. If blood is needed there are enough of us around. I just have to give a call, one lakh people will turn up to give blood.”

The provocation for her outburst: the overwhelming response to blood donation camps organised last evening by Left student unions at one of the city’s Central Blood Banks for the disaster victims. It was not long before TMC’s all-powerful doctor-MLA Nirmal Majhi put a stop to it, accusing the Left of coercing people to donate blood.

“Utterly meaningless,” he said, and demanded an explanation from the blood bank authorities for taking what was tantamount to tainted CPM blood.

Meanwhile, the Left is busy performing its own deflecting manoeuvres. Siliguri mayor and former urban development minister Ashok Bhattacharya, whose Siliguri model is the blueprint for the current Left-Congress electoral alliance, has a heavy cross to bear.

He had commissioned the flyover and given the job to the Hyderabad-based infrastructure company IVRCL. He is screaming hoarse that “the company was not blacklisted when it was given the project. It got blacklisted two or three years ago. I would ask why Firhad Hakim (the current urban development minister) did not get rid of the company after it got blacklisted. “We suspect there was compromise on the quality of materials.”

He was hinting at Trinamool’s already much-maligned building materials supply syndicates.

According to Bhattacharya, “The bulk of the construction began in 2013. By pointing fingers at us, they are trying to evade their responsibilities.”

The cry for the head of urban development minister Firhad Hakim is growing louder by the day. Hakim is also the chairman of the Kolkata Municipal Development Authority, an agency of the urban development ministry which was directly responsible for the implementation of the flyover. Hakim is also part of Narada’s sting videocast.

The BJP, the Congress and the CPI(M) have all demanded his resignation. But Mamata Banerjee usually puts huge storage by loyalty. It’s the people’s loyalty in the time of disaster that she needs to worry about.

Kolkata flyover collapse: Cops file FIR, seal construction company’s office

Kolkata: The Kolkata police on Thursday sealed the local office of IVRCL, a Hyderabad-based company, which had taken up the construction work a flyover here, a portion of which collapsed on a congested road intersection killing 18 people.

Rescue work in progress as an under-construction flyover collapsed on Vivekananda Road in Kolkata on Thursday. PTI

Rescue work in progress as an under-construction flyover collapsed on Vivekananda Road in Kolkata on Thursday. PTI

Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Debasish Boral told reporters that the local office of the company has been sealed and an FIR has been registered under IPC sections 304 (punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 308 (attempt cto commit culpable homicide) and 407 (criminal breach of trust by carrier, etc).

A representative of the construction firm, Panduranga Rao, described the accident as an ‘Act of God’. IVRCL was appointed by Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority (KMDA) to build the flyover. The firm was unable to ascertain the immediate cause of the collapse, but it said this bridge was the “toughest project of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewable Mission (JNNURM) project under the KMDA”.

The company had made it clear on various occasions that the project was a very difficult undertaking due to the congested area of the intersection, which hampered the movement of the heavy equipment used for construction, according to its website.

The Vivekananda flyover has been facing issues since the operations began in December 2009. The construction is years behind schedule and as of March 2016, over 25 percent of the work was still pending,  report in The Times of India said.

The Rs 164-crore project was supposed to be completed by 2012 but issues with land acquisition has delayed its completion. The Times of India report further added that the project that was to be completed by March 2016 was scheduled for August 2016 for completion.

The design has been changed several times and the residents living around the construction even went to court as the flyover was inching dangerously close to their homes.

A 2014 report from The Telegraph said that IVRCL, the company responsible for building the flyover, wanted to wash its hands off the project as it was cash-strapped and running 42 months behind schedule, with only 69 per cent of the work done.

With inputs from PTI

Kolkata flyover tragedy turns into political slugfest as opposition mounts attack on Mamata

Kolkata: The collapse of a flyover that killed at least 18 people turned into a massive political slugfest in poll-bund West Bengal as the opposition mounted a united attack on the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress government.

A large chunk of the under-construction Vivekananda flyover collapsed in the crowded Posta area crushing people and vehicles. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said 18 people were dead and at least 78 were injured.

An aerial view of the site where an under-construction flyover collapsed on Vivekananda Road in Kolkata on Thursday. PTI

An aerial view of the site where an under-construction flyover collapsed on Vivekananda Road in Kolkata on Thursday. PTI

The toll was likely to rise with many people feared trapped beneath the massive rubble.

Even as she said the “time was not for indulging in politics but to save lives”, the Trinamool supremo did try to shift the onus of the tragedy on the Left Front, pointing to the fact that the foundation for the flyover was laid in 2008 and work began in February 2009 when the Leftist coalition was in power in the state.

“The construction began during CPM time and not during our time. It’s not the time for politics, our focus is to save the people,” said Banerjee, who rushed to spot cancelling her scheduled poll rallies in West Midnapore district.

She also promised “stringent action” against those “guilty for the very, very unfortunate tragedy”.

The opposition, however, was not impressed and squarely blamed “corruption within the Trinamool” which incidentally has been under severe pressure over a sting operation allegedly showing several of its leaders accepting bribes.

“The CM by blaming others can’t pass the buck and misguide the people. We demand immediate arrest of the state urban development minister (Firhad Hakim) and the city mayor (Sovon Chatterjee). I will also file a public interest litigation seeking a probe in the matter,” said Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury of the Congress.

The Congress MP, who visited the site, also claimed police came “late to the spot” and lambasted the administration for not seeking timely help of the army.

Holding the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority (KMDA) responsible for the tragedy, Left Front chairman Biman Bose strongly condemned Banerjee’s “attempt to evade responsibility”.

“We have heard that the chief minister, astonishingly, has held responsible the Left Front as the construction of the flyover began during our time.

“But the question that arises is, which portion of the flyover collapsed — one which was constructed under the Left regime or that which came up under the Trinamool,” said Bose.

“We strongly condemn the chief minister’s attempt to evade responsibility by showing such excuses,” he added.

CPM leader and former urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya put the blame on Hakim.

“The present urban development minister has to shoulder responsibility. There should be a high-level inquiry,” said Bhattacharya.

Describing the incident as an example of the “corrupt ways of the Trinamool”, the Bharatiya Janata Party demanded a probe, preferably by the CBI.

“It’s an example and proof of the corruption by the Mamata government. People of the state will not forgive her. There should be an immediate probe into it,” said BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayavargiya.

BJP national secretary Rahul Sinha after visiting the side demanded a CBI probe.

Meanwhile, Governor KN Tripathi sought a report from the Banerjee government on the incident and suggested carrying out proper supervision of all under-construction flyovers and bridges across the state at the earliest.

Flyover collapses in Kolkata: Army, NDRF teams race against time to rescue people trapped under debris

Original post:  Flyover collapses in Kolkata: Army, NDRF teams race against time to rescue people trapped under debris

Kolkata flyover collapse: Home Minister Rajnath Singh directs NDRF to engage all resources

New Delhi: Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Thursday directed the NDRF to engage all its resources for rescue of those trapped under the debris of an under-construction bridge which collapsed in Kolkata.

The Home Minister told Director General of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) O P Singh to send adequate rescue personnel so that all trapped people could be saved, official sources said.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh. AFPHome Minister Rajnath Singh. AFP

Home Minister Rajnath Singh. AFP

Singh is currently touring West Bengal to campaign for BJP candidates for the upcoming Assembly elections in the state.

They said the NDRF DG also apprised the Minister about the situation arising out of the bridge collapse and the steps taken so far.

In a statement, Singh said, he was deeply saddened to know that precious lives have been lost in the Kolkata accident.

“My heartfelt condolences to the families of the deceased,” he said. Two teams of the NDRF comprising about 80 personnel have been rushed to the flyover collapse spot.

The NDRF DG said that the teams are being sent from their local base at Rajarhat, near the Kolkata airport. The accident spot is about 13 kms from the NDRF base.

“The teams are well equipped to immediately conduct rescue operations. They will do that exactly as soon as they reach,” DG Singh said.

Submit footage of sting operation on Trinamool leaders, Calcutta HC directs news channel

Kolkata: The Calcutta High Court on Tuesday directed Narada News to submit footages of the sting operation it had conducted against several leaders of West Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress.

West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee. AFPWest Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee. AFP

West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee. AFP

A division bench of Chief Justice Manjula Chellur and Justice Arijit Banerjee directed Narada News CEO Mathew Samuel, who conducted the sting, to provide all details of his company along with the footages of the sting in an affidavit by 5 April.

The order came as the court heard three public interest litigations filed separately by a Congress leader, a Bharatiya Janata Party leader and an advocate.

Contending that the “doctored footages” were made not in public interest but in political interest, counsel for the Trinamool pleaded with the court to not to pass any orders till the Bengal assembly elections were over.

Rejecting the plea, the court directed the company to file the details and fixed 8 April as the next date of hearing.

IANS

Election Commission orders removal of posters, banners across Bengal lauding Mamata govt

New Delhi: The Election Commission on Monday night ordered “immediate removal” of all hoardings and banners across West Bengal depicting the achievements of the Mamata Banerjee government and asked officials to ensure compliance with its orders.

West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee. PTI

West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee. PTI

The Election Commission took the decision in Kolkata after meeting representatives of political parties. The CEC and fellow Election Commissioners are in West Bengal on Monday to review the preparedness for the six-phased assembly elections in the state beginning 4 April.

Sources said it was pointed out to the poll panel that various government buildings were still displaying hoardings and banners showing the achievements of the Trinamool Congress dispensation.

Though the model code of conduct came into force on 4 March following the announcement of polls, certain officials were reluctant to take action, they said.

Now the EC has asked officials to take steps to remove banners and hoardings which violate the provisions of the model code, sources said.

PTI

RIP: Veteran vocalist Ustad Abdul Rashid Khan passes away in Kolkata

Kolkata: Veteran Hindustani classical vocalist Ustad Abdul Rashid Khan passed away in Kolkata on Thursday due to old age problems, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said. He was 107.

Ustad Abdul Rashid Khan. Image courtesy: Wikimedia CommonsUstad Abdul Rashid Khan. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Ustad Abdul Rashid Khan. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Born in a family of musicians of the Gwalior ‘gharana’, Rashid Khan received his initial training from his father Chhote Yusuf Khan and uncle Bade Yusuf Khan as also other elders from the family.

His traditional compositions have been recorded by reputed broadcasters and institutes like BBC, Iraq Radio and Uttar Pradesh Sangeet Natak Akademi, Lucknow. Equally adept at khayal, thumri, dhrupad and dhamar, he was a regular performer in Akashvani and Doordarshan and reputed national and regional conferences.

Khan created several compositions and was also a prolific writer and poet under the pseudonym Rasan Piya.

In 2013, he was honoured with the Padma Bhushan, becoming the oldest person ever to be conferred a Padma award.

The Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee was a resident guru at the ITC Sangeet Research Academy in the city.

His last rites will performed in Raebareli in Uttar Pradesh on Friday.

Banerjee condoled Khan’s death saying it has left behind a “void in Hindustani classical music that cannot be filled”.

“I am deeply saddened by his death. India has lost a great gem from the world of music,” Banerjee said in a statement.

IANS

Netaji files: PM Modi hijacks the myth of Subhash Chandra Bose from TMC and Mamata has only herself to blame

If Narendra Modi has hijacked the myth and magic of Netaji from under her very nose then Mamata Banerjee has no one else to blame but herself. If the West Bengal chief minister hadn’t gone and declassified 60-odd files on Subhash Chandra Bose lying with the state government in Kolkata last September, the Centre may not have found the ground so well prepared for mounting its own operation to appropriate Bengal’s hero as part of the BJP’s pantheon of new gods.

That is how coups are made and unmade. When Mamata Banerjee announced her declassification last September, it was seen as a masterstroke that would, by tickling the fragile Bengali ego, earn her suitable political dividend in a pre-election year. Now she is hoist with her own petard with the Modi government upping the ante, releasing, on the dear departed leader’s 119th birthday no less, 100 “secret” files against her 62 (her entire cache), promising to release 25 more every month for the whole of this year, and turning the whole business into a grand spectacle with the Prime Minister pressing a button to release the digitised files to public scrutiny and octogenarian Bose family members sobbing openly in front of TV cameras overwhelmed by the enormity of the moment.

Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. AFPNetaji Subhash Chandra Bose. AFP

Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. AFP

For the various Boses and their spouses milling around in the National Archives in Delhi’s cold it was truly a momentous occasion. These Boses had refused to believe the official version of their illustrious relative dying in a plane crash on 18 August, 1945 at Taihoku (now Taipei) in Formosa (now Taiwan), something that was endorsed by two subsequent commissions of enquiry, the first set up by India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the second by his daughter Indira Gandhi though disputed by the third instituted by the Atal Behari Vajpayee government and which submitted its report in 2005. They were also convinced the proof of his death or disappearance during the war was to be found in the government of India’s secret files. Hence their undying gratitude to Prime Minister Modi for making them available to one and all.

It is hugely unlikely of course that they will get what they seek from these files. One afternoon is not enough for anyone, however passionately committed to seeking the truth, to even skim through 100 files of who knows how many pages (the 62 files in Kolkata are said to be over 1200 pages) but doubts have been raised by the Boses themselves even before a proper perusal. Earlier in the day, Chandra Bose, the unofficial spokesman of this group of Boses, told PTI, “We feel that certain very important files were destroyed during the Congress regime in order to hide the truth. So we feel the Indian government should take steps to ensure the release of files lying in Russia, Germany, UK, USA.” Which means the game has just about begun.

But the BJP won’t be complaining. It is enough for it to have the issue on the boil for as long as possible. For a party that had clamoured for the declassification of the Bose files as part of its election campaign and then had gone and hidden behind “endangering relations with friendly nations” to keep them classified after coming to power, the urge to be so open and forthcoming now about the mystery surrounding the death of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose can only be political. To begin with, it gets to add a pre-Independence icon to its limited shelf of such heroes, which it has been trying desperately to enlarge by claiming even Congress stalwarts such as Sardar Patel as its own. It also gets another stick to beat the Congress with, something that is not be scoffed at in these troubled times. Even if the files do not reveal anything particularly damaging about Jawaharlal Nehru whose antipathy to Subhash Bose is well documented, the Congress will have no satisfactory answer to why it refused to make these papers public all these years.

Congress-baiting, though, is hardly of much consequence to Mamata Banerjee. The Congress does not threaten her in any way. She does, however, see herself as the sole spokesperson for all things Bengali and has every intention of remaining so. In her eyes, she is the true inheritor of Subhash Bose’s mantle, not even Forward Bloc, the party started by Bose in 1939 after he split from the Congress but has for years now been one of the weaker constituents of the CPM-led Left Front.

But suddenly Mamata Banerjee finds herself in danger of losing one of Bengal’s greatest prides to the “non-Bengalis”. Especially if the perception gains ground that she is hand-in-glove with the wrong Bose bloc. For the Boses are not one when it comes to the death of the most famous member of their family. Like Anita Bose Pfaff, the daughter of Subhash Bose and his German wife Emily Schenkel, Trinamool MP Sugata Bose and his mother, former Trinamool MP Krishna Bose, also believe in the plane crash theory. Sugata Bose and his mother were pointedly not invited to today’s event in Delhi.

In his much-acclaimed book His Majesty’s Opponent published a couple of years ago, Sugata Bose, a historian of repute and the Gardiner professor at Harvard University, has openly stated that he is convinced that his grand-uncle did die in that plane crash in August 1945. Mamata Banerjee has openly tried to distance herself from this stand. Recently, at a meeting where Sugata Bose was also present, she said in the presence of TV cameras, “Whatever you may say, Sugata-da, I don’t believe Netaji died in that plane crash.” Later, Sugata Bose could only say, “She spoke from emotion, mine is an academic study.” Evidently, academic research do not votes get. Bengalis want to believe in the myth that Netaji not only defied the British and gave them the slip from his home in Kolkata, but he defied God too and made his way, maybe, to Russia.

Well, it is a long time since a Bengali dominated the headlines, even if he is a dead one, whether he died in 1945 or not. That is surely some consolation for all Bengalis, whatever their surname.

Jadavpur University unrest: A hostile govt will have the last laugh if students paint themselves into a corner

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