BENGAL POLITICS: Self-pat with Naxalite balancing act

BENGAL POLITICS: Self-pat with Naxalite balancing act – proper way forward ?!!

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and railway minister Mamata Banerjee in New Delhi on Tuesday. (Telegraph Photo)

FROM THE TELEGRAPH SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT

New Delhi, June 1: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has promised greater all-round well-being for Indians than could be achieved in UPA II’s recession-ridden first year.

Singh emphasised that his government was dedicated to providing “effective, purposeful and responsive” government for building a nation that was “economically strong, socially just, culturally vibrant, regionally balanced, politically participative, fully educated, technologically modern and creative and enterprising”.

Singh, along with UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, was presenting his second term’s first report to the people, at a low-key ceremony this evening.

Running into more than a hundred pages, the report is an exhaustive and self-congratulatory summary of ministerial performance in UPA II’s first year.

During his news conference last week, the Prime Minister shied away from marking his performance saying he would leave that to the people and historians to judge; today’s report is more unabashed in tenor, especially about the government’s record in the social sector.

The Prime Minister earmarked the right to education, the right to food, and the “new deal for rural India” under a slew of programmes flagshipped by the NREGA, for special mention.

Although the report made only cursory mention of the Naxalite challenge — referring to it as Left Wing Extremism (LWE) in a relegated para on security — Singh flagged the issue more pointedly in his speech with a reiteration of Sonia Gandhi’s two-pronged approach. “In dealing with the challenge of Naxalism, we will pursue a policy that genuinely seeks to address developmental concerns at the grass roots, while firmly enforcing the writ of the State,” he said.

Both the government and the Congress have been keen to allay speculation that the establishment was speaking in contrary voices on what the Prime Minister has called the “gravest internal security threat”.

Even as preparations for the release of the report card got underway today, defence minister A.K. Antony, concluded a meeting with the three service chiefs in which he is learnt to have brought them on board on the possibility of involving the armed forces in anti-Naxalite operations.

The Prime Minister dealt at length on the other big challenge of his second term — price rise — and sought to assure the nation that his government was involved in all earnest on controlling the squeeze on the aam aadmi’s purse.

He accepted that price rise was one of the biggest challenges his government faced but patted his government on the back saying it had surmounted the odds to maintain a fair growth rate. “In the current financial year, the economy is expected to grow at 8.5 per cent. This is one of the best performances in the world and reflects the strong fundamentals which we have built over several years,” he said.

On the prices front, the Prime Minister expressed optimism about being able to curb the spiral soon.

“One of the major problems that we face at present is the pressure on prices. This is to a large extent the aftermath of the drought, but it needs firm action. We have taken a number of steps to contain inflation and to protect the vulnerable sections of our society. I am happy that prices have shown a moderating trend in recent weeks. I am hopeful that this trend will continue,” he said, promising additional corrective measures to rein in inflation.

The Prime Minister made no specific mention of his pet foreign policy project — peace with Pakistan — either in his speech or in his foreword to the report. But that’s in line with the low-key mention he gave the issue in his opening remarks at his press conference last week.

The Prime Minister is clearly undeterred in his pursuit of a “constructive entente” with Pakistan but appears keen not to inflate expectations at this stage.

Probe jab at Mamata – the Congress balancing act ?!!

Chidambaram at Lalgarh - the 'Buck slips Here' ?!!

FROM THE TELEGRAPH SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT

New Delhi, June 1: P. Chidambaram and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee agree that a CBI probe is not needed in the Jnaneswari Express tragedy, CPM politburo member Sitaram Yechury said today in an apparent attempt to isolate Mamata Banerjee.

Yechury said the Union home minister and the Bengal chief minister had discussed the matter and decided that a CBI probe, as demanded by the railway minister, was not advisable at this juncture.

Bhattacharjee has conveyed to Chidambaram that the ongoing CID probe is in the final stages and stressed that a CBI investigation now will only lead to a delay, Yechury said. “The home minister agreed and both leaders decided to wait till the CID inquiry is complete,” he added.

Asked about Mamata’s absence from today’s Union cabinet meeting that decided to bring Jharkhand under central rule, Yechury said: “A cabinet minister is concerned with the entire country and not only one state. To say Jharkhand was a small issue (as Mamata said while trying to explain her absence at the meeting) is insulting and irresponsible.”

Yechury sought a clarification from Manmohan Singh, saying the Prime Minister must explain why a central minister was denigrating the “collective responsibility” of the cabinet. “The cabinet functions on collective responsibility. The Prime Minister will have to reply why a minister in the same cabinet refuses to accept it,” Yechury said.

Cops fail to find train crash ‘culprits’ – CID at its best ?!!

The mangled coaches of Jnaneswari Express being removed by a crane. (Photo by Amit Datta)

BY PRONAB MONDAL

Rajabandh (West Midnapore), June 1: Police today claimed to have identified several of the people involved in throwing the Jnaneswari Express off the tracks.

“We have detained some people and are interrogating them, but the main culprits who carried out the derail-ment are absconding,” said director-general of police Bhupinder Singh.

The alleged culprits have been apparently identified from intercepted telephone conversations. They are all said to be from villages in the vicinity of crash site Rajabandh. Vill-ages like Indraboni, Rasua, Banstola and Kushtoli, which The Telegraph had visited yesterday and found out how the Maoists’ eyes and ears were at work, keeping watch on outsiders and relaying information about them over the phone to their leaders.

The police said the members of the “village defence squads” who had carried out the sabotage to derail the train had done it without contacting their bosses immediately before or after the operation. The squad members had made about 80 calls between themselves on Thursday, but none to any senior Maoist leader.

The Maoists have trained the so-called village defence squads in the use of arms but some of those in the groups are now threatening to go out of their bosses’ control.

The police said they had tracked down calls made by about 30 squad members since Friday’s tragedy, which left 150 dead. From these conversations, the police suspect the village squad leaders may not have expected such a heavy civilian toll. “They had not thought a goods train could come from the opposite direction and crash into the derailed train,” an officer said. “Suddenly they became very anxious at the possibility of there being so many civilian casualties.”

Maoist leaders started communicating with village-level squad members apparently after they came to know about the number of civilian casualties. “They were seeking explanations from their foot soldiers for the sabotage on a track on which a passenger train was scheduled to run,” an officer said.

“The Maoist leaders wanted to know why they had not been informed in advance about the operation.”

The duo said to have led the operation — Bapi Mahato and Umakanta Mahato — had allegedly kept in touch between themselves and other village-level squad members almost through that night. “We have the cellphone numbers of many of the squad members and know the details of the calls made by them,” an officer involved in the probe said.

“Also, questioning some villagers we have come to know about those involved in the derailment of the train.”

Preparations for the Friday morning strike had begun the day before. The village squad members were gathering crowbars and hammers to take off the Pandrol clips, which tie the tracks to the sleepers. The police are finding out if casual railway personnel, who work on the tracks, were also involved. They may have been forced to join in, given their experience.

Additional director-general of police, CID, Raj Kanojia said they had got evidence to establish that it was a Maoist operation. “Officers are working hard to gather more information,” he added.

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