BENGAL CPM’s WATERLOO: LAL SLAM – ‘Coming here and talking about peace is an achievement: Mamata’ – she came, she saw and she conquered ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY DEVADEEP PUROHIT
Lalgarh, Aug. 9: There she stood on the frying pan of a platform, a slip of a figure in the sun filling a void inexplicably left unmanned by a 33-year-old monolith.
Peace and development fought for space on Mamata Banerjee’s lips in Lalgarh today but her overriding accomplishment was she did manage to step into a void — an uncharted vacuum for the symbols of power in Bengal for around one and a half years.
A restrained Mamata did not want to put too fine a point on it but she did acknowledge the import of keeping her date with Lalgarh that has fallen off the map of governance for months.
“Coming here and talking about peace and democracy is an achievement,” Mamata told The Telegraph after addressing an apolitical rally organised under the aegis of her party.
Thousands of PCPA supporters from villages like Punnapani, Bamal, Gohomidanga, Lakshmanpur and Jharnadange and Trinamul foot soldiers from nearby towns like Haldia, Dispur, Garbeta, Ghatal, Midnapore and Tamluk attended the rally, the plan for which was announced during Mamata’s July 21 meeting at Esplanade in Calcutta.
In the backdrop of continued violence in Jungle Mahal, today’s rally was one of the biggest political events in the area, on the boil since an attack on Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s convoy on November 2, 2008.
By turning it into a success in what is considered a Maoist stronghold, Mamata has dealt another blow to the beleaguered Bhattacharjee government.
Mamata rolled out a two-pronged formula — the Maoists shunning violence and coming to the talks table and the Centre withdrawing the joint forces after the talks start — for the peace process, although she did not elaborate how she planned to attain the twin objectives.
Echoing Mamata, other speakers at the rally — Swami Agnivesh and Medha Patkar — laid stress on the same points as necessary conditions for peace. But none came up with a specific roadmap to restore normality in one of the most underdeveloped regions in the state, covering parts of Bankura, Purulia and West Midnapore.
“The main thing is the peace process has to start,” said Mamata, as she sat next to Swami Agnivesh after her 30-minute speech under a merciless August sun.
When the process will start, who will steer it or who will take Mamata’s missive to the Maoists — all these questions remained unanswered even as Trinamul leaders congratulated each other for the success of the rally.
Over 10,000 people could make it to the venue — Lalgarh Ramkrishna Higher Secondary School — while 40,000 were stuck on the approach roads.
“They tried to scare me to prevent me from coming here. But I have still come and I want to bring an end to the politics of violence and killings,” said Mamata, with a white uttariya wrapped around her head, as she started her speech a few minutes after 2pm.
With the administration unable to deliver development in the area, she chose the occasion to grab what the Left Front government has conceded to her with years of inaction in the deprived belt.
The Left committed another blunder: once rebellion erupted in Lalgarh, war-horse politicians who could once connect with the masses turned their back on the terrain.
Even after Union home minister P. Chidambaram landed in Lalgarh, neither chief minister Bhattacharjee nor any other CPM leader of similar stature chose to make a trip. An irony of today’s meeting was the state government had little option but to foot Mamata’s security bill and allow her to reap the political dividends.
“Tell me, what do you want? I will try to ensure whatever is possible for me. But the democratic process in a peaceful environment has to start,” she said.
In an attempt to prove that she did not come empty handed, Mamata announced a grant of Rs 20 lakh from Mukul Roy’s MP funds for the school premises that hosted the meeting. As a majority of those who attended the rally were from the tribal communities, she also promised that she would fight for their right to forests and continue her opposition to the Centre’s proposed land acquisition bill and special economic zones.
“The government has done nothing for us…. Nobody cares about this area. We are happy that Mamata at least came here. We don’t know whether she will deliver, but we all know that she is a brave woman,” said Nantu Mahato, an unemployed youth in his early twenties, who came from Goaltore to attend the rally.
Mamata refused to use a bullet-proof car but that was not the only risk she took today. She rolled a political dice by urging the Maoists to shun violence and come to the talks table to restore peace in Jungle Mahal and assuring withdrawal of the joint forces if the talks start.
“I urge my Maoist friends to take part in the dialogue. Once the talks start, you must stop violence and come for democratic negotiations. If necessary, the joint forces will be withdrawn,” Mamata told the rally.
In a statement last week, Maoist leader Kishan had extended his support for the rally and lauded Mamata’s peace attempts. The reaction to Mamata’s call for an end to violence, however, was not available till late in the evening.
Her peace formula will also have to face another test — the response of the UPA government, which does not have any immediate plans to abandon its offensive against the Maoists.
PCPA show of strength at Mamata rally – Bosses give venue a miss – astute move to avoid any conflict excuses ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY PRONAB MONDAL
Lalgarh, Aug. 9: Several wanted leaders of the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities today led processions of the outfit’s supporters and members to Mamata Banerjee’s Lalgarh rally with the police claiming they spotted and arrested only one.
Committee chief Manoj Mahato and spokesperson Asit Mahato led a procession of 3,000 people from villages located deep inside Maoist strongholds.
However, the duo did not attend the rally. While Asit, wanted in the Jnaneswari Express sabotage case, spent an hour at Lalgarh bazaar before disappearing, Manoj, charged with murder and arson, vanished into the Jhitka forest — teeming with security forces — on his bike, 2km from the rally venue.
“I am a leader of the deprived people. It is my duty to lead them from the front. If police arrest me, I am ready to face it,” said Asit, standing in front of the Lalgarh BDO office, barely 300 metres from the rally ground.
Manoj echoed Asit. “I was prepared to face any sort of situation. If police arrest me, our supporters will fight back. The PCPA’s strength is enough to arrest a number of policemen,” he said.
When asked what he expected from Mamata, Asit said: “I want the demands of local people to be met. She should ask the government to withdraw the joint forces from Lalgarh and save the people from state-sponsored terrorism.”
Director-general of police Bhupinder Singh had said wanted People’s Committee leaders would be arrested if they were seen at the rally.
Singh today claimed at Writers’ Buildings that Manoj “was never seen anywhere near the rally”. “We arrested Sushil Mahato from Lodhashuli, which is near the rally venue,” he said.
The rally ground, which can accommodate 10,000 people, was packed to capacity.
Sources said many Trinamul Congress supporters had come from distant places but could not catch a glimpse of their leader because the ground was already filled up by committee supporters.
Manoj claimed the committee had marshalled around 40,000 supporters to Lalgarh. “Today, we have proved our strength,” he said.
At villages, hop and skip – the fear of hope for a lasting peace ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY PRONAB MONDAL AND NARESH JANA
Lalgarh, Aug. 9: Dhanamoni Tudu, the mother of slain People’s Committee against Police Atrocities leader Lalmohan Tudu, was standing at the door of her house in Narcha village, 3km from Lalgarh, tears streaming down her cheeks.
“Our family will not attend Mamata Banerjee’s rally. No one from the committee has enquired about us after my son’s death. Those who used to come to our house do not care about how we are making ends meet,” the 65-year-old said. Lalmohan, who was the committee president, was gunned down by the joint forces in February.
Lalmohan’s wife Lakshmimoni, in her forties, said: “Why should we go to the rally? We have been treated shabbily by the committee. We don’t have money to pay the labourers who cultivate our family land. The committee doesn’t bother,” she said.
Her younger son Bhupati, 11, was playing with his friends in the courtyard. Her elder son Leander and daughter Lolita were not at home.
Villagers of Chhotopelia, about 2km from Narcha, also defied the committee by not attending the Lalgarh rally. Chhotopelia was the first village that the joint forces had raided after the attack on the chief minister’s convoy in 2008. The police had beaten up several tribal villagers, including Chintamoni Murmu. Chintamoni stayed away from Mamata’s rally and instead went to work with her husband in a neighbouring village.
“We have seen enough blood. Mamata Banerjee’s efforts to restore peace is an eyewash. She just wants tribal votes,” said Sadhan Murmu, a resident of Chhotopelia. Sadhan said only two persons from the village had gone to the meeting.
In arrested committee leader Chhatradhar Mahato’s village Amlia, about 2km from Chhotopelia, a small procession of 20 people were seen marching towards Lalgarh to attend the meeting. “We are fed up with processions. Very few people in our village are interested in the rally,” said Ratan Mahato of Amlia.
The scene at villages deep inside the forests of Jungle Mahal, considered a Maoist hotbed, was different.
Armed Maoist guerrillas entered the villages, including Rameshwarpur, Kalshibhanga, Jharnadanga, Purnapani and Lakshmanpur, on Saturday night and “ordered” villagers to participate in the rally. They roamed the villages with AK47s.
Around 9am today, armed Maoists assembled at a playground at Rameshwarpur village. Committee leader Manoj Mahato arrived after some time and together with the rebels, marshalled villagers for Mamata’s rally.
As 5,000 villagers started marching meekly towards Lalgarh, the Maoists sped off on motorcycles.
Sabitribala Das, 58, of Jharnadanga, was seen trudging towards Lalgarh, carrying a bag of apples. “These fruits are for Mamata. I don’t have a daughter. I consider Mamata to be my daughter.”
Encounter with ‘sinister force’ – close brush an embarrassment to the security services and heads will roll ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH BUREAU
Calcutta, Aug. 9: If Mamata Banerjee was at the right place at the right time this afternoon, Gurjar Singh was at the wrong place at the wrong time this evening, unless “sinister forces” were at work.
Singh’s truck veered into the path of the Trinamul Congress chief’s Scorpio in Kolaghat when she was returning from the Lalgarh rally today.
The driver of the intelligence branch jeep that was immediately behind Mamata’s SUV sped forward and stopped between her vehicle and the truck. The truck rammed into the jeep.
“Mamata Banerjee’s SUV was going straight down NH6 in Kolaghat when a truck from Haldia that was travelling on an adjoining road rushed in through the divider. It came perilously close to Mamata’s car but Utpal Das Mahapatra sped forward and took the blow,” said Ashok Biswas, the superintendent of police, East Midnapore.
“The truck did not take the overbridge that leads to the highway. It took a shortcut and suddenly burst into the highway by taking a road below the bridge,” Biswas said. Although Biswas said Mamata’s SUV was unharmed, the railway minister said the escort jeep hit her vehicle on impact after taking the blow from the truck.
The Trinamul chief was supposed to stop at a roadside restaurant but decided against it after the accident.
Trinamul sources said their leader was “attacked deliberately”.
A doctor attended to Mamata at her Kalighat residence after she returned. “Strange things are happening,” Mamata said. “We’ll have to find out the reason why the truck came so close to my car. There could be something sinister.”
Mahapatra, 40, has suffered a skull injury and has been admitted to a nursing home in Kolaghat. Singh, in his 40s, has been arrested and his vehicle impounded.
The police said Singh claimed that he did not take the overbridge as there was no signal or policeman to guide him. He was returning to Punjab with plastic goods from Haldia.
State home secretary Samar Ghosh today alleged that the Railway Protection Force had checked vehicles along Mamata’s route to Lalgarh without the state government’s go-ahead. Sources in the district police, however, said they had no knowledge of such an incident.
Behind niceties, a Manas message – menace from the chicken’s coop ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY BARUN GHOSH
Tamluk, Aug. 9: The Congress today played the “complementary” ally to Mamata Banerjee but not before its state chief sent an unambiguous message: you need us to oust the CPM.
At a rally in Tamluk that coincided with Trinamul’s Lalgarh event, the Congress sought to dispel perceptions that the timing of the meeting was aimed at slighting the ally.
“We are against violence, so is Mamataji. We want peace, so does Mamataji. Our mission is the same. Our rally was organised to complement the one at Lalgarh by our alliance partner,” said K. Keshava Rao, the Congress general secretary in charge of Bengal affairs, underscoring the similarities in outlook between the two allies.
Rao, who had skipped the Lalgarh rally despite an invite from Mamata so that he could be at the Congress event, told the Tamluk meeting: “There is neither competition nor animosity between us. We will together oust the CPM through a peaceful movement.”
If Rao fulfilled the role of an ideal partner in public, state Congress chief Manas Bhuniya did not mince words.
“Without the Congress, it is not possible for a single party to oust the CPM from Bengal. An alliance is the need of the hour,” said Bhuniya.
He was also critical of a section of Trinamul leaders “who are out to corner the Congress in East Midnapore”, within which Tamluk falls. Party sources said Bhuniya was referring to the attack on him and Youth Congress leader Usha Naidu by alleged Trinamul supporters in the district last month.
Bhuniya said he was “pained” by “misinterpretations” that the Congress rally was being held to counter Mamata’s meeting. “We are here to pay homage to our martyrs, who were killed in the 1942 (Quit India) movement. Mamatadi has done her bit in Lalgarh. There is no clash between us,” he told the rally.
Bhuniya, who has shown a proactive streak, announced a party march from College Square to Hazra on August 20 to mark Rajiv Gandhi’s birth anniversary.
Trinamul leaders smelt politics in the move. “South Calcutta is Mamata’s bastion. Manas’s plan to lead a procession there is aimed at making inroads into her stronghold,” a Trinamul MLA from south Calcutta said.