BENGAL POLITICS: JUST WAIT – Mamata charts agenda for governance

BENGAL POLITICS: JUST WAIT – Mamata charts agenda for governance – from the CPM frying pan into the TMC …. but change is a coming ?!!

The TMC to do or wish list ?!!

FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY ANINDYA SENGUPTA
AND DEVADEEP PUROHIT

Calcutta, July 21: Wait and Writers’ shall be ours, Mamata Banerjee today told a multitude of expectant supporters, advocating patience after decades of despair.

Thus began a victory-eve countdown to what many see as a foregone coronation, a sort of amplified clearing of throat for a celebratory roar less than a year away.

“I appeal to all of you to wait for three to four months for the CPM misrule to end. Can’t you do that after having tolerated them for 34 years?” Mamata asked the lakhs who chorused a deafening “yes” at the Trinamul Congress’s Shahid Divas (martyrs’ day) rally at Esplanade.

Technically, the next government will have to take charge by June 10 next year. But any day after December 10, the Election Commission can decide on its own when to call elections — the probable reason why Mamata is giving only “three to four” months to the Left government.

Clouded in the run-up to the rally by the Sainthia train tragedy, no one would call today’s display of crowd-pulling power — in any case meant to be a solemn occasion to mourn the death of 13 persons in police firing in 1993 when Mamata was in the Congress — a coronation.

That was the unbearable dilemma for Mamata and her lieutenants this afternoon, certain of victory but unable to declare it yet. Mamata repeatedly reminded the audience the time for celebration had not yet come but she found herself returning frequently to the theme of post-Left governance.

Few speakers could resist the temptation to list the reasons why the CPM-led government has to go. As soon as Mamata stepped on the dais, she brought the focus back on the martyrs but could not escape the sense of anticipation washing over the audience sprawled beyond the reach of the eye.

Gone was the unmistakable air of exasperation that used to hang heavy over such occasions that had promised many a false dawn.

Reverting to a tone she had set soon after the Lok Sabha election sweep, Mamata took to the grassroots a message she had been directing towards industry and other potential investors. “Our new slogan is that we will have development, not destruction…. Students, youths, farmers, workers are our partners in this development. There should be food and work for all.”

She was careful not to declare the result before the race. “Next year, a change may take place, though I leave it to the wish of the people who are prepared to give the CPM a fitting reply.”

But her subsequent appeals to state government employees and police — something Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will interpret as a call to disobedience — confirmed that she believed she was on the threshold of taking power in Bengal.

Mamata appealed to the state government employees not to sign whatever file is handed to them by the present administration. “I have word for all government employees and officers. Don’t sign files whenever asked to.”

She had an appeal for the police too, with an assurance that there would be no vendetta. “I am also appealing to the police to co-operate with us. The new government will do whatever is necessary. There will be no vendetta on our part,” she said.

The Trinamul chief said land deals by the Left government would be reviewed. “Illegal land settlements are taking place. In Rajarhat, there have been such instances of illegal land deals. Many people have been put behind bars for no reason. All these will be reviewed,” Mamata said.

She asserted that her party would celebrate Vijay Divas only after the “CPM is evicted from Bengal’’.

Crowd cry music to her ears Mamata rally math – Eye spy a count that counts – the lost consensus of the Left Front, many reasons for humility now ?!!

Calcutta, the capital of rallies, smashed its own street-show records on Wednesday as wave after wave of Trinamul Congress supporters engulfed the city centre, eddying into every nook and corner around Victoria House and way beyond to listen to Mamata Banerjee. The crowd count, never a unanimous statistic, ranged from a conservative 3 lakh (police) to a stratospheric 20 lakh (Mamata) - greater responsibility "now" with mass consensus power ?!! (Photo By Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya)

FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY KINSUK BASU

Crowd count became more complicated than calculus on the day of Mamata Banerjee’s giant roadshow, with figures fluctuating wildly between three and 20 lakh depending on who was calculating.

“I see a 20 lakh-strong sea of humanity in front of me. This is the biggest ever street rally in the world,” declared Mamata to cheers from the congregation that stretched longitudinally for over a km from Victoria House to Indian Museum on Wednesday.

Lalbazar’s official head count of three lakh was less than one-sixth of the turnout touted by Trinamul, though officers of the Special Branch admitted in private that the actual figure would be between 5 and 5.5 lakh. “Let’s put it this way: the turnout would have made Mamata very glad and the Left Front even more glum,” quipped a senior officer on counting duty.

Although still far short of Mamata’s estimate, the unofficial police calculation makes this the largest street rally in town, if not the world.

So how were all the calculations made? For the Trinamul leadership, 20 lakh was a figure based on what the eye wanted to see from Mamata’s dais.

The police’s calculation was far from foolproof — there is still no consensus on the turnout at Barack Obama’s historic swearing-in last year, or at Lyndon B. Johnson’s for that matter — but there was a method to it.

“Be it a CPM gathering or a Trinamul one, our calculations are an amalgam of two methods — number of parked vehicles multiplied by estimated average passenger count per vehicle and the people-per-block method,” said a member of the Special Branch team that carried out Wednesday’s crowd count.

SHE SAYS IT WITH A SMILE: Mamata Banerjee is a picture of poise as Nachiketa (not in picture) sings a song of change on the martyrs’ day stage – not that Nano tune again, we hope ?!! (Photo by Amit Datta)

In the first method, the police counted the number of rally vehicles parked across nine designated lots in the north, central and Maidan areas, picked an average number of passengers per vehicle and multiplied the two. The final figure was arrived at by adding an estimated number of people in processions from various parts of the city.

“We classify vehicles into three categories — normal buses, deluxe buses and Matadors/vans. The counting pattern is 15-20 people per matador/van and an average of 40 per bus, both normal and deluxe. Then we take into account the number of processions, based on data available with the traffic control room,” said an officer.

The total vehicle count on Wednesday was 3,960, but the break-up was not available.

The police’s second method of putting a figure to the crowd was to take the rally area to be approximately one km in length — Bentinck Street to Indian Museum — and around 120 ft (37 metres) in width. The 37,000sq m area was then divided into four blocks — Dais to KC Das, KC Das to Dorina Crossing, Dorina to Lindsay Street and Lindsay to Indian Museum.

Each of these blocks was divided into smaller squares, based on “eye estimates” of how many people were there in each square. An average was arrived at and multiplied by the number of such squares. The margin for error was taken to be 3-5 per cent.

But there was no official announcement to contradict or challenge the Trinamul estimate.“We generally never quote the turnout at any rally or meeting,” Jawed Shamim, the joint commissioner of police (headquarters), told Metro.

fun with numbers – and statistics that flip like the tide ?!!

Mamata has Obama for company. The turnout at his swearing-in on Jan. 20, 2009, was estimated to be between 8 lakh and 3 million

The 8 lakh figure was based on satellite images and simple math. Experts figured out how many people there might have been per sq ft and then factored in the surface area. The equation was: total area divided by sq ft per person, depending on crowd density. The standard calculation for the space in front of the stage at an open-air gig is 2.5sq ft per person

Crash focus at CPM meet – heading straight for a poll debacle ?!!

Biman Bose - thoughtfully unaware of ground reality ?!!

FROM THE TELEGRAPH BUREAU
AND J.P. YADAV

New Delhi, July 21: Sainthia occupied minds at the CPM’s three-day central committee meeting that started here today to discuss the political approach to next year’s Assembly elections in Bengal and Kerala.

Comrades emerging from today’s session highlighted Monday’s train crash to attack their Bengal arch-rival, railway minister Mamata Banerjee, while vigorously denying suggestions they were out to draw political mileage from the tragedy.

But one man wasn’t interested in the accident: Prakash Karat. The CPM general secretary, known to blame the Bengal government and the party’s state unit for the Left’s poll reverses, refused to comment on the crash.

Asked about Union home minister P. Chidambaram’s statement that relief teams had reached late at the accident site, Karat left with the remark that the railways were not under the party.

But central committee members, particularly from Bengal, appeared more than keen to speak on the crash.

Nilotpal Basu - guilty of non-politicking ?!!

CPM state secretary Biman Bose, puffing a cigarette, explained how the party cadres and the Left government’s officials had rushed to save the lives of the injured passengers.

But Bose’s colleague Nilotpal Basu was quick to assert the initiative was not undertaken with a political motive.

“We don’t want to derive political mileage out of the accident. It is for the people to decide. Her (Mamata’s) managerial abilities are for the people to judge,” Basu said when asked whether the spate of rail accidents under Mamata’s tenure would create doubts about her abilities and help the CPM.

A central committee member claimed recent events in Bengal had energised cadres demoralised by successive poll debacles. “In tea-shop gossips, people have started becoming critical of Mamata. They are also criticising the Left but speaking against Mamata is a big change,” the member said.

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee did not attend today’s meeting. Politburo member Sitaram Yechury said the Bengal chief minister was preoccupied with Assembly proceedings. “A discussion on the departments under the chief minister is scheduled for tomorrow. Our ministers are not irresponsible like those of the Trinamul Congress,” Yechury said.

The remark appeared meant as much to justify Bhattacharjee’s absence as to criticise Mamata’s no-show on crucial days in Parliament.

Yechury lashed out at Trinamul leaders for making comments that appeared to blame the accident on a conspiracy by the CPM. “It is absurd and ridiculous. It is unfortunate that they are blaming us for petty politics.”

At the meeting, held behind closed doors, a key question was whether to maintain equi-distance from the Congress and the BJP or forge a tactical understanding with one of them. Yechury said the matter “is to be discussed”.

Party sources said with the Congress firmly behind Mamata after the train accident, it was advantage Karat as he favours a strong anti-Congress line to be adopted by the party in the run-up to the state polls.

Mamata on tragedies – capitalizing on incompetent conspiracies ?!!

In Calcutta, at the July 21 rally, Mamata referred to the Jnaneswari and Sainthia tragedies, hinting at a conspiracy.

“Both train accidents happened at 2am. Both occurred two days before two major events in the state – the May 30 civic election and our July 21 rally. The inquiry should keep this in mind. Now, the CPM is demanding my resignation. It’s no big deal. I can put my resignation letter in Biman Bose’s pocket. But what about the 40,000 people killed in the Left’s 34-year tenure?” she asked.

Mamata iterated her demand that the joint forces in Lalgarh be withdrawn, adding that she would take it up with the Prime Minister, if needed. “Our Prime Minister is a good person. He will definitely hear me out.”

Mamata said she would visit Lalgarh on August 9.

Enter: CPM-like regimen;
Exit: culture clan – Mamata pulls off disciplined show
(a new ‘mother of all cultures’ – a kinder gentler and just Bengal ?!!)

Mamata Banerjee - a thoughtful and just person, who deserves the power she is getting through the Left Front's incompetence ?!!

FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY DEVADEEP PUROHIT

Calcutta, July 21: Mamata Banerjee is today doing what the CPM has been doing for years and, doing it better.

After coining successful slogans and routing the CPM in successive polls — panchayat election in 2008, Lok Sabha elections in 2009 and the civic election in May this year — Mamata has shown that she can beat her main political rivals at organising mammoth, but disciplined, rallies.

Although estimates of the turnout at today’s gathering ranged from 20 lakh (Mamata’s claim) to three lakh (official figure from police), there was little doubt that today’s martyrs’ day rally was the biggest in the recent past. But more than the numbers, the disciplined show became the talking point by the end of the day.

“I have never seen such a planned and well-organised Trinamul rally. It was almost like a CPM rally,” said a senior Calcutta police officer with over two decades of experience in managing such political gatherings.

Not only did Mamata sing We shall overcome — a common theme in Left meetings — with gusto, the CPM-style slogan chanting with clenched fists and rhythmic clapping with the songs from the ranks made the rally look different from a normal Trinamul event.

Trinamul sources told The Telegraph that everything about the rally — the seating arrangement on the four stages, who would speak when, and deployment of leaders at key places around the stage — was planned at 30B Harish Chatterjee Street well in advance to avoid confusion. Senior leaders like Mukul Roy, Partha Chatterjee and Subrata Bakshi implemented the plans without leaving any margin for error.

“Stage I, where Mamata spent most of the time, was meant for 40 people, including the MPs, guests like Keshava Rao of the Congress and former MP Krishna Bose. All other leaders sat in their designated places… Such discipline is rare,” said a source.

Who will sit where is key to planning any CPM rally, where the seats are determined on the basis of the leaders’ position in the party.

Not just the leaders, even the ranks sat through today’s three-hour rally maintaining order, barring a few exceptions.

“We had 20 camps across the city to control the sea of people who were heading towards the meeting venue. We had to stop lakhs of people from reaching the venue as it could have created chaos there,” said Trinamul leader Partha Chatterjee.

In the heyday of the CPM, party secretary Biman Bose often used to claim that lakhs of people were stopped midway to avoid a stampede-like situation at the Brigade Parade Grounds.

Today, it was Mamata’s turn to crow about the turnout. Putting the turnout figure at 20 lakh, she called it the “world’s biggest gathering”.

According to sources in the Trinamul camp, specific instructions were sent out to district party leaderships to drum up support for today’s programme and get as many people as possible to make the rally a success.

“I travelled 12 districts in the past few days explaining the political significance of the meeting and the need for their (supporters’) presence,” said Subhendu Adhikari, the Tamluk MP who is also the state president of the Trinamul Youth Congress.

CPM leaders like Subhas Chakraborty had perfected the art of filling up the Brigade for big-ticket rallies by bringing people from far-flung districts.

When Mamata was claiming success for getting people from remote villages in North Dinajpur, Malda and Murshidabad, she was probably sending a message to Alimuddin Street that she has beaten them at their game.

Rao beside Didi, after phone call – main congress players too busy ?!!

Mamata with Pranab - a mentor worth keeping ?!!

FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY BARUN GHOSH

Calcutta, July 21: K. Keshava Rao, the AICC general secretary in charge of Bengal affairs, today attended Mamata Banerjee’s rally but two senior ministers could not make it because of preoccupations in Delhi.

Mamata had invited finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, law minister M. Veerappa Moily and Rao to the rally. But the top leaders decided to skip the meeting, leaving it to middle-ranking Rao to represent the Congress high command.

Rao with Mamata at the rally - the centre quietly shocked ?!! (Photo by Amit Datta)

“Today it was Mamata’s show,” a senior Congress leader said from Delhi.

“So we saw no reason why senior leaders like Mukherjee or Moily should attend the meeting.” Even Rao would not have showed up had Mamata not dialled Mukherjee around midnight and persuaded him to send a representative from Delhi.

“When Pranabda told Didi he could not make it because he had to chair a meeting of finance ministers in Delhi, she requested him to ensure some senior leader from Delhi was by her side at the meeting,” said a Trinamul leader.

Rao had earlier decided to skip the rally because of a party meeting in Hyderabad. But he changed his plan on orders from the high command.

The AICC leader said he had attended the rally to send a message to Mamata that the UPA was with her when the CPM was mounting an attack on her for the July 19 train tragedy in Birbhum’s Sainthia. “She wants us by her side at this juncture,” he said.

Rao reached the rally along with PCC president Manas Bhuniya around 1.15pm, a little before Mamata arrived.

“The Congress-Trinamul alliance will remain intact till next year’s Assembly polls. Nobody will be able to break it, come what may,” Rao said.

Bhuniya said the alliance would form the next government in Bengal. “Mamatadi is our leader and the alliance will take over Writers’ Buildings under her leadership.”

MEANWHILE

Speech therapy: charm rivals, gag party – Pranab woos, at lunch and tea – getting ready for a equitable budget with no inflation ?!!

Pranab Mukherjee (centre) with state finance ministers at a meeting in New Delhi on Wednesday - working out price rise negations ?!! (PTI)

FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY RADHIKA RAMASESHAN

New Delhi, July 21: Pranab Mukherjee has unleashed a charm offensive on the Opposition ahead of Parliament’s monsoon session, starting Monday.

Not only is Mukherjee the leader of the Lok Sabha, he is also the UPA’s principal trouble-shooter. Observers believe he has an unenviable task in a House in which the Congress might be more happily placed than it was in 2004 but not comfortable enough to thumb its nose at the Opposition.

The government’s somewhat on-the-edge plight was reinforced in the budget session when Mukherjee pulled all stops to shore up the UPA’s numbers after the BJP and the Left brought cut motions against petro price rise. From winning over the Yadavs and Mayavati to wooing Independent MPs, Mukherjee’s labours paid off when the UPA trumped the Opposition.

In the two-month interregnum between the budget and monsoon sessions, the Opposition re-grouped itself when it called a national strike to protest another spike in petro price. That show threatened to upset the UPA’s applecart. Which is why Mukherjee’s political reflexes swung into action.

In the forthcoming session, the government has important business on its agenda: it wants to introduce the women’s bill in the Lok Sabha and roll out the goods and services tax (GST) regime. It cannot push these through without having the Opposition on board.

Through the week, Mukherjee had Opposition leaders over to his North Block office for lunch or tea.

First on the guest list were L.K. Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley of the BJP. The RSS had hoped Advani would fade away from political consciousness as a parliamentarian emeritus when he was kicked up as BJP parliamentary party chairman. To the contrary, the veteran bounced back to show he would not take honourary titles but was here to stay as a pro-active leader. The party’s as well as the NDA’s warm-up strategy meets ahead of Parliament will take place at Advani’s house early next week.

Mukherjee read the tea leaves accurately. Over a “normal vegetarian” meal, he sounded out Advani, Sushma and Jaitley on the GST. Although the BJP was tempted to use it as a Centre versus states issue, it was ultimately agreed that the matter was not political. The leaders asked Mukherjee to evolve a consensus because GST was perceived as “discriminatory”.

Business wisdom has it that affluent, high-consuming states would benefit by collecting taxes in proportion to their spending wealth while poorer states, despite being rich in resources, would trail because of lower incomes and lower end-point consumption.

The leaders used the opportunity to urge the finance minister not to end the tax holiday given to Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, both ruled by the BJP.

On Monday evening, Mukherjee invited Sharad Yadav, the Janata Dal (United) leader, for tea that included soup, vegetable cutlets and gulab jamun. “The interaction was helpful because at least it showed that Pranab babu wanted to end the communication gap with us,” Yadav told The Telegraph.

Although GST was the major conversation topic, Mukherjee told Yadav he would need the Opposition’s support in dealing with Nepal and Kashmir. His verdict? “We need consensus on foreign policy, interactions like these on economic policy.”

Today, it was Lalu Prasad’s turn to lunch with him over rice, yellow dal, shukto and vegetable koftas. No fish or mutton, because the RJD chief turned vegetarian a few years ago.

So, do the courtesies extended by Mukherjee stand out as extraordinary in contemporary Indian politics?

Senior columnist Inder Malhotra, who has covered major political events from Jawaharlal Nehru’s era, said: “Mukherjee is placed in a unique situation where he is the government’s prime trouble-shooter in the Lok Sabha because the Prime Minister is not a member of this House. Normally, the Prime Minister deals directly with the Opposition. Panditji (Nehru) would ask (Lal Bahadur) Shastri to handle the troublespots, whether it was Kashmir or Kerala. But he reached out to the Opposition himself.”

Art and politics need not mix – after the consensus is won ?!!

FROM THE TELEGRAPH BUREAU

Calcutta, July 21: A motley group’s absence from Trinamul’s biggest rally in Calcutta has sent out the message that Mamata Banerjee’s honeymoon with her culture clan is over.

Some of the most vociferous supporters of change in Bengal — painters Suvaprasanna, Jogen Chowdhury and Samir Aich, theatre personalities Bibhash Chakraborty and Saonli Mitra, poet Joy Goswami and writer Mahasweta Devi — were missing on a day Mamata launched the final leg of her journey towards Writers’ Buildings.

Instead of keeping under wraps the list of those who were not there at the programme, Mamata offered an explanation for their absence. “We could not inform all the distinguished representatives from the world of art and culture about today’s rally because of paucity of time,” Mamata said in an unapologetic tone.

But Trinamul sources said the “paucity of time” argument had a larger message, given that the martyrs’ day programme is always planned in advance and held on July 21 every year. “She (Mamata) doesn’t want to involve most of her cultural brigade in any of her political activities,” said a Trinamul insider.

The message assumes importance as Mamata has been embarrassed several times by some of her hand-picked members of the culture brigade.

First, Trinamul MP Kabir Suman openly criticised the party and then another close aide fell out of favour for apparently collecting money using her name.

According to Trinamul insiders, today’s list of invitees revealed her preference. The fortunate few included singer Nachiketa, former bureaucrat Debabrata Bandyopadhyay, academic Sunanda Sanyal, writer Mahasweta and theatre personality Bratya Basu.

Bratya, however, could not attend the rally because he was out of Calcutta on a professional engagement. The reason behind Mahasweta Devi’s no-show could not be independently confirmed.

Mamata’s rise in Bengal politics after Singur and Nandigram coincided with her increasing popularity among the representatives from the world of art and culture. Many of them became regulars at her programmes.

She had personally invited Suvaprasanna, his wife Shipra, Mahasweta and Bratya to last year’s martyrs’ day programme.

“This time we weren’t invited. We had been told that the meeting today was going to be purely political. Also, it’s not necessary for us to make an appearance every time there’s a meeting and expect to be felicitated with bouquets,” said Suvaprasanna.

Theatre personalities Chakraborty and Mitra said they were in favour of change but as they did not belong to any political party, they did not expect any invitation.

But Mamata’s culture team saw two new faces — singer Santanu Roychowdhury and folk artiste Parikshit Bala — both of whom also performed at today’s programme. Actor Biswajit was there on the dais, too, and was seen chatting with Mamata.

“My father was here for some work and he must have stayed back for today’s programme,” said Biswajit’s actress-daughter Pallavi Chatterjee.

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