BENGAL POLITICS on NATIONAL RAIL DISASTER FALLOUT: Political steam piles on Mamata – Quick on the draw, CPM hones old skills – Disgusting opportunism – Buddhadeb, the Bengal CM, displays no travel skills, except for promotional rallies ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY ANINDYA SENGUPTA
Calcutta, July 19: The CPM today shed blood, sweat and tears to gun for Mamata Banerjee over the train crash, spying a chance to whip a seemingly unassailable enemy, reactivate a demoralised rank and file and crank up a famed machine in an attempt to reconnect with the masses.
If no less than six Left Front ministers were despatched to the accident site, the politburo and chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee raised pertinent questions about the railways under Mamata Banerjee.
“Of late, railway accidents have increased. So, the issues of railway maintenance work and passenger safety should be seriously looked into,” Bhattacharjee said in a statement offering condolences to the bereaved families.
Like the chief minister, the politburo also responded in a measured tone but member Sitaram Yechury put the ball in the Prime Minister’s court.
“The number of rail accidents has been unprecedented in the last one year. Maintenance of equipment and safety measures are being neglected in the railways. One lakh jobs in safety-related jobs remain vacant. The government cannot keep quiet about the present state of affairs in the railways,” a politburo statement said without taking Mamata’s name.
Yechury was more vocal. “The minister’s attention is elsewhere…. The Prime Minister has to take a call.”
But the most striking response was the parade of Left Front ministers to the accident site.
The CPM leadership despatched finance minister Asim Dasgupta, transport minister Ranjit Kundu and labour minister Anadi Sahoo to Sainthia in the morning itself. Library minister and Suri MLA Tapan Roy, who was in Birbhum, reached the spot on the party’s instructions. Relief minister Mortaza Hossain and civil defence minister Srikumar Mukherjee joined them.
On the day the Jnaneswari Express was sabotaged, five minister had gone to the spot and the chief minister had later visited hospitals where the injured were being treated. Over 150 people had died then, that too because of sabotage blamed on extremists. But the CPM could not make it an issue as the May 28 tragedy took place on the very day campaigning for the May 30 civic elections, in which the party fared miserably, came to an end.
This morning, instructions were sent from Alimuddin Street to the Burdwan and Birbhum CPM units to arrange for “sufficient blood and to stand by the scared people’’.
Accordingly, 120 blood bottles were dispatched from Burdwan to district hospitals in Birbhum. Four blood donation camps at Suri, Rampurhat, Dubrajpur and Sainthia were also organised at short notice.
Perhaps to stave off possible charges that the CPM was fishing in a tragedy, the senior leadership did not demand Mamata’s resignation. Party MLA, Rabin Mondal, sought her “immediate resignation”.
But pot shots did fly. “It appears that our railways minister’s focus is on inauguration of trains and laying foundation stones. It seems she is only interested in getting pictures of such programmes printed in the newspapers,” state CPM chief Biman Bose said.
Citu president Shyamal Chakraborty was more cutting. “She is shameless. So many intellectuals have been appointed by her on railway committees and lakhs are being spent on them. But what about passenger safety?” Chakraborty asked.
Rail rudder test for Mamata – a note of irony and not tragedy ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY J.P. YADAV
With inputs from: Barun Ghosh, Soumi Bhattacharya and Abhijeet Chatterjee
July 19: Tragedy struck a note of irony for Mamata Banerjee this morning: after months of complaints that the railway minister was rarely in Delhi, she was in the capital when the train crash took place in Bengal.
But sources said Mamata was in Delhi over the weekend rather grudgingly. She was booked on a flight to Calcutta on Saturday but had to cancel the ticket on Pranab Mukherjee’s insistence, the sources said.
The finance minister, who is also the leader of the Lok Sabha, was learnt to have told her the monsoon session of Parliament starting July 26 was crucial. Her presence, he is said to have appealed to her, was needed at this evening’s UPA meeting to discuss strategies to counter the Opposition onslaught over price rise and other issues.
That didn’t eventually happen, with Mamata having to rush this morning to the train accident site in Bengal.
Mamata reached Sainthia around 11am in a special train and got down at Platform 3. Rescue operations were over by then.
A grim Mamata went to Platform 4 and looked at the mangled compartments of the Vananchal Express. After spending about 20 minutes at Sainthia, Mamata drove to the Suri Sadar Hospital in a convoy around noon.
When Mamata entered the male surgical ward, around 70 supporters, waving party flags, shouted: “Mamata Banerjee zindabad.” Annoyed, Mamata scolded them. “What is going on? Don’t do like this, many people have died,” she shouted at them. The supporters fell silent but only for some time.
When Mamata approached Asraful Haque, a 12-year-old boy who suffered a head injury, the supporters crowded around the minister and pushed so hard that she knocked her knees against the bed, making it roll a few inches. “It is impossible to stay here. Let us go out,” Mamata told her supporters and led them out.
Asked if she would resign as railway minister, Mamata said: “I will answer that later.”
Mamata then drove to Suri railway station and took a train to Calcutta.
The challenge before Mamata now is to fashion a credible response to charges that her long absence from the capital has left Rail Bhavan “rudderless” — a word used by an officer of the utility itself.
In July so far, Mamata was seen in her office only since last Monday. But she devoted her attention to affairs of the Trinamul-run Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC).
The sources said she spent much of last week seeking the finance minister’s help to get an Asian Development Bank loan for the CMC. Mayor Sovan Chatterjee came to Delhi, too. He and Mamata met Mukherjee and Sam Pitroda over the loan and civic plans related to Calcutta’s development.
Under normal circumstances, a minister’s presence is not indispensable for the railways, for which Mamata had found some professionals.
However, her absence from cabinet meetings and whispers about tantrums ensured that any adversity to the utility would be tied to her way of functioning.
“Mamata has to choose between the railway ministry and Bengal politics. She cannot do both,” former railway minister Ram Vilas Paswan said.
Finance minister Mukherjee appeared to defend Mamata half-heartedly. “An accident is an accident. How can one predict it?”
Mangled horrors for Trinamul leader Trapped bodies & severed leg refuse to erase – aimed at totally discrediting Mamata ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY MAIN UDDIN CHISTI
Cooch Behar, July 19: Rabindranath Ghosh fears that the sight of two drivers trapped and dead in the mangled train and a youth hopping out of a compartment with one of his legs severed knee down will haunt him forever.
The Cooch Behar Trinamul Congress president was aboard the Uttar Banga Express that had rammed into the stationary Vananchal Express in Sainthia after 2am today.
“I will not be able to erase from my mind the two scenes. The trapped bodies of the engine driver and his assistant inside the mangled remains of the locomotive of our train and a youth hopping out with one leg severed from the knee downwards,” said Ghosh over the phone this morning. By then, he was on the train again, on his way to Sealdah from the accident site.
Ghosh said he remembered watching aghast as the youth hopped away — helped by local people — from the mangled remains of the coach of Vananchal Express, screaming incoherently. “There were cries all around and I tried to make sure that all our party supporters on the train were accounted for,” Ghosh said.
He, along with other leaders and party supporters, had boarded the express yesterday afternoon on their way to Calcutta to attend a Trinamul rally on July 21.
According to Ghosh, it was the presence of mind of the driver and his assistant that prevented more casualties. “I remember — going by the jolts before the crash — the driver had put on the brakes twice. Otherwise all the bogies of the Uttar Banga Express would have climbed on to the other train. It would have been another Gaisal,” Ghosh said.
Nearly 300 people died when the Avadh-Assam Express and the Brahmaputra Mail collided at Gaisal on August 2, 1999, at 1.45am.
Ghosh said he and other Trinamul leaders like Alizar Rehman, Solomon Miyan and Siddhartha Mondol had boarded the AC two-tier bogie of the express that left New Cooch Behar station at 3.15pm. In the same coach was Trinamul MLA from Dinhata Ashok Mondol, and CPM’s MLA from Natabari Tamsher Ali who had defeated Ghosh twice in the Assembly elections.
“We had dinner after 11pm at Malda. I lay down on the lower berth numbered 29 and had fallen asleep, when there was a heavy jolt and I rolled off the berth. I tried to realise what was happening and I heard people falling from their berths and shouting in pain and terror. It was then that I realised that we had met with an accident. I managed to climb off the train in darkness, my head throbbing in pain. But all of us began walking towards the front of the train,” said Ghosh, whose coach was in the rear of the train. But there were hundreds of Trinamul supporters in the compartments ahead.
He said Ashok Mondol had suffered a deep gash on his waist, but he was given first aid and was in the coaches that had been detached from the train and left Sainthia at 9.30am to be taken to Sealdah by another engine.
The Natabari MLA did not wait for the train to be detached. Minister of state for mass education Tapan Roy, who visited the spot, had provided a car for him. Ali was driven to Suri — an hour’s drive from Sainthia. He then hired another car to resume his journey to Calcutta.
When contacted over the phone, Ali said: “It is a horrific incident. I somehow managed to hold on to a rod after I was thrown off my berth. I was not seriously injured. The locals started the rescue operation. Till 7am there was no sign of any railway official. I saw 45 bodies being taken out of the coaches of the Vananchal Express. The incident is a glaring lapse on the part of the railways.”
He said passengers were not only inconvenienced by the accident, but also by the hundreds of Trinamul supporters who had crowded the reserved compartments. “They caused immense hardship to the genuine passengers who had reserved seats,” Ali said.
Ghosh, on the other hand, hinted that the incident was a sabotage. “There is a section of people working to ensure that our party’s July 21 rally in Calcutta is spoilt and also to bring discredit to our leader and railway minister Mamata Banerjee,” he alleged.
AND QUICK TO UNDERSTAND THE CPM’s NATURAL RUSE IN BENGAL – MAMATA REACTS IMMEDIATELY TO OUTWIT HER OPPONENTS :
Decoded: dais of disruption, Rally survives mishap with martyrs’ day tag – any focus on the Left Front’s political timing ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY BARUN GHOSH
JULY 20, 2010: Mamata Banerjee made a martyr of Wednesday’s proposed Trinamul V-Day parade after Monday’s train tragedy, but only in name.
“We are not going to observe Vijay Divas on July 21, as announced earlier by Mamatadi. Instead, she wants it to be a traditional martyrs’ day rally where we will pay homage to those who were killed in the train mishap along with the 13 Youth Congress activists who fell to police bullets in 1993,” declared Trinamul Congress president and MLA Subrata Bakshi.
The announcement seemed to leave even the Trinamul faithful surprised, many of whom had called party leaders and offices through the day to ask whether Wednesday’s programme stood cancelled or postponed.
“Our party would have risen in esteem in the eyes of the people had we postponed or cancelled the programme,” rued a general secretary of the party. Mamata had announced after the civic poll victory last month that the usual martyrs’ day rally at the city centre on July 21 would be the party’s Vijay Divas this year.
Actor Badsha Moitra, who had hopped from one TV studio discussion to another as a CPM supporter in the run-up to the civic polls, said he was “shocked” Mamata had decided to go ahead with the rally despite being morally responsible for Monday’s train mishap that killed 62.
“Accidents will recur as long as the (railway) minister doesn’t attend office. As a citizen of this country, I appeal to her to understand her job and then declare rallies. She must be sincere in her work and then look after the party. The people of this country have elected her and she should behave responsibly,” he said.
Trinamul sources said Wednesday’s traffic-choker rally, which has already prompted city schools to curtail classes that day, would start with a two-minute silence for those who died in the collision between the Uttar Banga Express and Vananchal Express at Sainthia station.
But why couldn’t Trinamul postpone the rally? “We observe July 21 as martyrs’ day every year to honour the victims of the police firing in 1993. We could not have postponed or cancelled a rally that is meant to be held on a specific day,” said Madan Mitra, the president of the all-India Trinamul Youth Congress.
In private, many Trinamul Congress leaders said they would have liked the rally to be postponed, if not cancelled. “After the second train tragedy in as many months, Didi will need to be more cautious in her approach,” felt a Trinamul vice-president.
Party leaders have cancelled over two dozen street-corner meetings slated for Monday and Tuesday in the run-up to Wednesday’s mega show of strength in front of Victoria House.
The only official word of caution from Mamata’s office, however, was for leaders to be careful that their supporters didn’t carry any placards or banners highlighting the party’s victory in the civic polls during the rally.
“Didi has asked senior party functionaries in Calcutta to send an advisory to the districts on how party workers should behave,” a source said.
Police have drawn up a traffic grid with APC Roy Road in the east, AJC Bose Road in the south, Strand Road in the west and New CIT Road in the north for the best possible routes of traffic diversion during Wednesday’s rally.
Police commissioner Gautam Mohan Chakrabarti held a meeting with senior officers on Monday to discuss the traffic strategy for the rally.
“The fact that the railway minister can lead a disruptive rally in the heart of the city two days after a train tragedy proves how irresponsible and adamant she can be,” said a former top cop.
Cop nexus notice – anything new in Bengal, stating the obvious – a sad culture of corruption under the CPM that needs changing ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH LEGAL REPORTER
Calcutta High Court has given police two weeks to come clean in a robbery case where the victim went to the local police station to lodge a complaint, only to find the culprits chatting with the cops.
Shantanu Roy Chowdhury, whose fuel pump at Sodepur on the northern fringes was robbed at gunpoint twice in four days last month, had moved court on July 14 seeking an investigation into the alleged cop-criminal nexus at Khardah police station.
Based on his petition, the single-judge bench of Justice Jayanta Biswas summoned North 24-Parganas superintendent of police Rahul Srivastava to court on Monday and asked him to file an affidavit on the case within two weeks. “The affidavit should also state what action has been taken so far against the culprits,” the judge said.
The order brings into sharp focus the mounting cases against police inaction in the city and its fringes. Around 300 such cases are pending in the high court, sources said.
Roy Chowdhury said his fuel pump at Panihati More, near Peerless Nagar in Sodepur, was first robbed on the night of June 26.
“An armed gang snatched Rs 2 lakh from the cash counter around 1am. When my employees and me went to Khardah police station to lodge a complaint, we were shocked to see the robbers there. The cops refused to accept my complaint,” he alleged.
The gang struck again three days later, this time in broad daylight. “On June 29, around 11 am, the same group of criminals came to my fuel pump again and took away Rs 1.7 lakh. They then taunted me, saying the cops wouldn’t take any action against them after getting a share of the loot,” Roy Chowdhury alleged.
On July 1, the gang came calling at the fuel pump owner’s house and allegedly threatened to abduct his wife and sister if he failed to pay 25 per cent of his monthly profit to them. “I immediately approached the superintendent of police but no action was initiated,” alleged Roy Chowdury.
That forced him to turn to the court for redress in the curious case of cops and robbers.