BENGAL POLITICS: State rejects CBI probe proposal – CID on the job, Writers’ – CPM hands out another ‘no confidence’ card ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH BUREAU
May 31: The Bengal govern-ment has turned down a proposal for a CBI inquiry, mooted by Mamata Banerjee and suggested by P. Chidambaram, into the derailment of the Jnaneswari Express.
The move is apparently prompted by the CPM’s apprehensions that the possibility of a delay in a CBI probe might stand in the way of cornering Mamata over alleged Maoist links and making the train tragedy an emotional plank in the run-up to the Assembly polls.
The government cited the progress in an inquiry by the state CID to reject the offer, made in a letter to chief secretary Ardhendu Sen yesterday.
The move came on a day the Union home minister said “the needle of suspicion points to Maoists or frontal organisations” but “the identity of the culprit can be established only in the investigation”.
Home ministry sources said it had asked the state for assent to a CBI probe following demands for a central inquiry “from certain quarters”.
Railway minister Mamata was among those who had sought the probe, though the state had insisted on a Maoist hand. Hours after the Friday disaster, told the state had ordered a CID investigation, she had blamed “political conspiracy” for the incident and asked for a probe by the Union home ministry. On Saturday, Mamata said the home ministry had conveyed to her that it had “agreed” to conduct a CBI probe.
However, the CBI cannot start a probe without the state’s consent.
The state government has always been uneasy with CBI probes, rejecting Opposition demands for central inquiry into Rizwanur Rahman’s alleged suicide and the March 14, 2007, police firing in Nandigram that left 14 people dead. In both cases, it had been forced to accept the probe following Calcutta High Court orders.
Sources in the Union home ministry said Mamata could also approach the court in this case.
The ministry will soon inform her about the state’s refusal to accept a CBI probe and the Centre’s inability to order one on its own.
Trinamul MLA Partha Chatterjee said: “Our leader had wanted a CBI inquiry to ensure that the probe was fair. In a CID inquiry, the CPM government will tamper with evidence and take it on the course Alimuddin Street wants.”
Chidambaram’s suspicion and stress on the probe, when asked why the government was being circumspect at the presentation of the ministry’s monthly report card, was in the same vein of caution with which he has been speaking in the apparent hope of obtaining an expanded mandate on fighting Maoists. The minister, who had earlier rued a “limited mandate”, evaded questions on the Trinamul Congress’s divergent view.
However, the CPM latched on to Chidambaram’s needle of suspicion while rejecting the CBI probe. “In so many words, Chidambaram has vindicated us and the state government by pointing fingers at the Maoists and their frontal organisations. This has exposed the hollowness of the Mamata camp’s efforts to blame us and exonerate the Maoists,” state secretariat member Mohammad Salim said.
He blamed Chidambaram’s coalition compulsions for his agreeing to the demand for the CBI probe. “But the way he laid stress on the state’s concurrence made it clear he didn’t feel the need for it. We will again draw the Prime Minister’s attention to the railway minister’s persistent belittling of Maoist crimes in opposition to his policies on the biggest threat to internal security.”
Writers’ took the decision at a meeting chaired by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and attended by finance minister Asim Dasgupta, chief secretary Sen, home secretary Samar Ghosh and senior police officers.
Television channels quoted Mamata as saying the chief minister must have had something to hide.
The state home secretary said: “The CID… probe has progressed well. That’s why, the state government thinks a CBI inquiry is not required.”
The CID does not usually probe railway accidents but was pressed into action this time as the disaster had a “crime angle’’ and “sabotage” was involved, Ghosh added.
Sources in the Union home ministry said the government was mulling a change of strategy on the Maoists. “A cabinet note has been sent on the changed strategy,” said a senior home ministry official. Chidambaram agreed when asked if the matter would come up at the next meeting of the cabinet committee on security.
BY NARESH JANA
Kharagpur, May 31: The commissioner of railway safety today interviewed at least 20 railway employees but none of them spoke of any explosion on the Jnaneswari’s tracks on Friday, sources here said.
The train’s driver, B.K. Das, had lodged an FIR on Friday saying he had heard an explosion, saw smoke under the engine and felt a jerk.
However, railway officials in Kharagpur said even the train’s guard, S.C. Ghosh, who was in the compartment next to the engine, had not mentioned any explosion. “The guard told the commissioner he felt a jerk and the compartments derailed and dragged themselves over the sleepers, gravels and stone chips before stopping.
Maoist focus in Left rally
FROM THE TELEGRAPH SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
Calcutta, May 31: The Left Front will hold a silent rally in Calcutta tomorrow to “mourn the victims” of the Jnaneswari tragedy and “condemn the Maoist subversion that had caused it”.
The CPM apparently got a shot in the arm after what it interpreted as Union home minister P. Chidambaram’s endorsement of chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s views about the nature of the subversion and the culprits.
“Chidambaram made it obvious that the Maoists were responsible for the subversion. They have attacked 127 trains in the past year. The railway minister herself has said that the Maoists have ruined or damaged railway property worth Rs 5,100 crore,’’ CPM state secretariat member Rabin Deb told a news conference.
The railways’ police complaint on the train tragedy had not mentioned the Maoists, the suspected perpetrators of the crime. After the Maoists denied a role in the incident, some pro-Mamata artists and actors had put the blame on the CPM, branding it a possible “political beneficiary” of the subversion.
However, before the state home secretary rejected the CBI probe proposal, Deb was non-committal on whether the government should accept it, indicating an initial ambivalence in the party about it. “Left Front chairman Biman Bose has already asked for the Prime Minister’s intervention. It is for the Centre to decide which agency’s help it would take in the probe,’’ he had said.
Tomorrow’s rally will focus on the Maoists rather than the usual complaint about Mamata Banerjee’s alleged nexus with them, apparently to pre-empt the Trinamul charge of trying to settle scores with her.
Deb harped on the railways’ alleged indifference to passenger safety but shied from seeking Mamata’s scalp. “We are not commenting on her resignation. We rather want that the railways to work together with the Centre and state in unearthing the truth about the perpetrators. In the meantime, the railways must take care of passenger safety.”
The state election commission had barred the Left rally, originally planned on Saturday, in view of the Sunday polls. Now that the polls are over, its permission is no longer necessary, Deb said. “The procession will begin at 5pm, after the re-polling ordered in a few booths ends,’’ Deb said.
The march will begin from Lenin’s statue at Esplanade and end at College Square.
Mamata’s UPA date
BY BARUN GHOSH
Calcutta, May 31: Mamata Banerjee and Pranab Mukherjee are likely to meet in Delhi tomorrow at UPA II’s rescheduled anniversary programme, days after blaming each other for the collapse of their alliance.
Before leaving for Delhi today, the Trinamul Congress chief said she was going on a request from the Prime Minister. “Being an ally in the UPA government at the Centre, I am attending tomorrow’s programme. Moreover, the request came to me from the Prime Minister.”
Trinamul sources crowed that Manmohan Singh had called up last night to request Mamata to “come over”. But she may have to share a table with Mukherjee, the state Congress chief, hours before the civic poll results reveal whether the Congress was right in going it alone.
The UPA programme, scheduled for May 22, had been deferred because of the Mangalore plane crash earlier that day.
Asked if he would discuss the post-poll scenario with Mamata, Mukherjee said this evening: “I’m not going to tell you whether I have a meeting with Mamata or not, let alone reveal to you what we are going to discuss.”
Mamata kept mum.
During the civic poll campaign, Mukherjee had warned Mamata against repeating CPM general secretary Prakash Karat’s mistake of withdrawing support to the UPA after she threatened to go it alone in the future. Mamata had time and again hit out at Mukherjee, accusing him of trying to strengthen the CPM’s hands.
Some Congress leaders hope tomorrow’s meeting will bring a thaw in their relations. “If Pranabda and Mamataji have a one-to-one meeting on the sidelines of the UPA programme, it could help ease their strained relations,” said a party general secretary from Delhi.
Bengal Congress leaders, worried about the party’s prospects after the STAR Ananda-AC Nielsen exit poll gave it only seven of the 141 wards in the Calcutta civic body, also want Mukherjee to sit with Mamata. “Let us forget what happened before the civic polls,” said state Congress working president Pradip Bhattacharya.