‘Trinamool can never be an alternative to progressive Left movement in Bengal’

By bappaditya paul

THE alliance of CPI-M’s Students’ Federation of India and CPI-ML Liberation’s All India Students’ Association on Saturday swept the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU) elections by winning all the four top seats.

Among the winners is a Bong ~ Satarupa Chakraborty ~ who has been elected the new general secretary of JNUSU. She defeated Vijay Kumar of BJP’s Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad by 1,094 votes.

There is an added dimension to Satarupa’s identity: she hails from Karimganj town in Barak Valley, where people became martyrs in the 1961 and after in opposing the imposition of Assamese language on them and upholding the right to study their mother tongue Bengali.

There is another aspect that needs a mention. Satarupa comes from Barak Valley where Left politics have been elbowed to a marginal corner for over three decades now.

No wonder, Satarupa’s father Sankarjyoti Chakraborty, is far from being jubilant by the fact that his daughter from remote Karimganj has travelled this far to get elected a JNUSU office bearer.

“We are happy that she has won but I believe her focus should be on studies. We did not object to her getting into election as she told us that at JNU, student politics is part of education,” Sankarjyoti said over the phone.

NEWSMEN caught up with Satarupa on a telephonic interview for her reaction to the big win, the anxiety of her parents, and her future plans. Here are the excerpts:

How does it feel having got elected the general secretary of JNUSU?

There is nothing individual about it. It is the collective victory of the people who stood up against the #ShutDownJNU campaign of the BJP and joined the fight for #StandWithJNU.

But getting elected to the student union of India’s topmost university and that too when you belong to Barak Valley where Left has no strength, is remarkable. Isn’t that?  

Once the Left, in particular the CPI-M, used to have a robust presence in Barak Valley. Over time, the party has become frail there and after the demise of Nurul Huda last year; there is a crisis of leadership. But the Left politics there is not over.

How did you get drawn into Left politics?

I became a member of SFI in 2006 when I was studying XII at Karimganj College. But my association with Left politics became strengthened while I was pursuing masters at Hyderabad University in 2010-12.

Subsequently, I joined JNU in 2013 to pursue MPhil in philosophy and got elected the student convenor of School of Social Sciences at JNU last year. I learned a lot from the tumultuous days at JNU campus last winter; we were the ones who took lead in the protests when our fellow students were being branded “anti-nationals” and were being slapped with sedition charges.

Has your family been associated with Left politics?

Not exactly! My father was employed with LICI and had an inclination towards CPI-M but he never took part in active politics. This holds true for my homemaker mom, who is a native of Tripura where the party has been in power for over two decades now.

However, my elder brother Subhankar, who is pursuing research at National Institute of Advance Studies in Bangalore, is an active member of CPI-M and is into progressive movements.

What was your parents’ reaction to you participating in JNUSU polls?

They have been in anxiety ever since the turmoil broke out at the campus last year but they never stopped me from joining student movement. All they wanted me to is focus on studies alongside the campus politics.

Bengal, till the other day, was the strength of Left politics in India, and now even CPI-M MLA is switching over to Trinamool. Do you think, you people sweeping JNUSU polls will infuse some energy into Left politics there?

See, liberal thoughts and democratic movements across India is under attack from authoritarian power mongers, and West Bengal is not any better. In fact, Bengal has been ruined in the past few years: education sector has been ruined completely and people’s democratic rights are under suppression.

There have been mistakes on the part of the Left (in Bengal) but these can be rectified and will be rectified. Trinamool can never be an alternative to progressive Left movement that has been a tradition in Bengal.

What would be the focus of JNUSU now? Would it be any different from the policies that Kanhaiya Kumar pursued?

Despite some ideological differences, Kanhaiya Kumar and we belong to the same Left liberal politics. Hence, there will not be much change as far as the broad politics is concerned. However, as regards the campus politics, we would like to focus more on issues that students face at JNU day to day, such as hostel facilities, funds cut by the BJP-led Centre etc.

Outside the campus, we would continue to raise our voice against the way Centre is appointing ill-qualified people in academic institutes all over India, as has been in the case with FTTII Pune.

On the personal front, any plans to join active politics?

I am in the middle of my PhD in philosophy and would like to complete it first. At this point in time I am not sure about joining fulltime politics, but whatever I do and wherever I stay in future, I would continue to take part in progressive movements.

Would you like to pass on any message to the students in Barak Valley?

The people in Barak Valley are not getting exposed to the kind of student politics that are vibrant in the campuses all over India. There students are largely discouraged by parents and others from taking part in politics. This is even as the education scenario and the state of the campuses there are really pathetic.

Look at the Assam University in Silchar: it is plagued by so many problems. There is an inadequate hostel facility, frequent power cuts, and above all the quality of studies is deteriorating. Yet, students are not speaking up, they are not taking stands.

People in Barak Valley must recognise the fact that if students do not speak up for their rights, the region will continue to get neglected as always.

(Bappaditya Paul is editor NEWSMEN. This interview first appeared on NEWSMEN on 11 September 2016.)

Ashok Model costs Left Front dearly in Bengal Assembly polls

By bappaditya paul

HE is the one who by forging an informal tie-up with the Congress had turned the electoral tide against the Trinamool in two subsequent local body elections in Siliguri.

The experiment was such a runway hit that popular media lost no time in naming it Asok Model, and eventually the state level leadership of the Left Front replicated the same for this Assembly polls by entering into a state-wide electoral understanding with the Congress.

But notwithstanding the fact that CPI-M heavyweight Asok Bhattacharya has won from the Siliguri Assembly seat, the Asok Model has failed to leave a mark in this state Assembly polls.

It is not only that the Left-Congress alliance has failed miserably in south Bengal, where the Trinamool Congress has been on a strong wicket since 2008. In north Bengal too, which has been traditionally the stronghold for the Left and the Congress, Asok Model has failed to yield the desired result.

So much so that the out of the 76 seats that are there in the seven north Bengal districts along with Murshidabad, the Left has won only in 13 seats. The Left has been electorally wiped out in the districts of Alipurduar and Jalpaiguri districts.

In contrast, Congress has been able to win as many as 29 seats, emerging as the strongest party in north Bengal-Musrshidabad region. Trinamool has come out close second by winning 28 seats, albeit the ruling party has failed to open an account in Malda.

Moreover, BJP too seems to have made the most of the situation by winning two seats in north Bengal ~ Madarihat in Alipurduar and Baishabnagar in Malda.

Thus the region has greatly contributed to the BJP overall state tally of three wins; the saffron party’s third win has come from Kharagpur Sadar in West Midnapore where its state president Dilip Ghosh has won. Overall, BJP’s vote share in the state stands at 10.2 per cent as compared to the 17 per cent votes that it had managed in 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

BJP’s ally, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has retained the control over the Darjeeling Hills by retaining all the three Assembly seats there. Notably, Harka Bahadur Chhetri, who had rebelled out from Morcha, has lost at Kalimpong Assembly segment.

The setback for the Left this election is very acute: its overall tally has come down to 33 seats (including one Independent that it had backed at English Bazar in Malda) from the 62 seats that it had managed during the Parivartan storm in 2011. Left’s vote share now stands reduced to 25.9 per cent.

This apart, most of the senior leaders of the Left Front, including state secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra has lost the election. The notable exceptions, other than Ashok Bhattacharya is Siliguri, are Anisur Rehman at Domkal in Murshidabad, Biswanath Choudhury at Balurghat in South Dinajpur, and Sujan Chakraborty at Jadavpur in Kolkata.

Congress, on the other hand, has improved its tally to 44 seats in the state from the 42 seats that it had won in the 2011 Assembly polls. Congress vote share this Assembly polls stands at 12.3 per cent.

Thanks to the active support of Left cadres, several senior Congress leaders such as Manas Bhuniya, Abdul Mannan, Manoj Chakraborty, Shankar Malakar, Sukhbilas Burma and others have registered a victory despite the state-wide landslide victory for the Trinamool.

Contesting the polls alone, Trinamool has won 211 seats out of the 294 Assembly seats that are there in the state. Its vote share now stands at 44.9 per cent, which is about 5 per cent jump than what the party had got in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

Against this, the cumulative vote share of the Left-Congress alliance stands at 38.2 per cent.

Notwithstanding the corruption charges brought forth by the Naradanews Sting Operation, Vivekananda Road Flyover collapse, and the links with real-estate syndicates, Trinamool has won all the 11 Assembly seats that are there in the Kolkata administrative district.

(Bappaditya Paul is editor of NEWSMEN. This report fist appeared on NEWSMEN on 20 May 2016.) 

EC for lab test of Trinamool Naradanews sting video

By bappaditya paul

ELECTION Commission of India (EC) has decided to get examined the video footage of the naradanews.com sting operation wherein several Trinamool Congress leaders are seen taking bribe.

“This (CD of the sting video) has been given to us and this will be passed on to an appropriate authority for examination,” Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi told a news conference in Kolkata this afternoon when reporters asked if the EC was contemplating any action on the exposé.

Zaidi’s colleague in the three member EC bench, Election Commissioner A K Jyoti explained that the bench had very little time to pursue the CD that was handed over to them by the Opposition political parties last evening.

“We cannot immediately react because we have not seen anything yet. The Commission will get it examined,” Jyoti said.

Neither Jyoti nor Zaidi clarified as to which is the “appropriate authority” that the EC would send the sting video for examination and what would be the deadline. They were also silent on the Opposition’s demand that those captured in the video as accepting bribe be barred from contesting the Bengal Assembly elections.

Highly placed sources in the EC said that the Commission was first likely to send the video to a Central forensic laboratory to verify the genuineness of the footages. If the footages are found genuine, the matter would then be referred to the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) and the Income Tax (I-T) department to trace the money trail of the bribe received.

EC, on its own, does not have any plan to refer the investigation to the CBI. But the DRI and the I-T department can subsequently rope in the CBI into the investigation.

This was on a day the BJP took out a protest march from its state headquarters to Dorina Crossing at Esplanade where the party activists jostled with police. Later a BJP delegation called on Governor K N Tripathi at Raj Bhavan and served him a memorandum demanding strict action against the Trinamool leaders shown in the sting video.  

The Left and the Congress too today hit the streets of Kolkata demanding immediate arrest of the Trinamool leaders captured in the sting operation.   

(Bappaditya Paul is editor NEWSMEN. This report first appeared on NEWSMEN on 15 March 2016.)

Indian Railways scraps Mamata Banerjee PPP medical college plan

By bappaditya paul

RAILWAYS ministry has dropped the plan for upgrade of railway hospitals into medical colleges in public private partnership (PPP) as was announced by Mamata Banerjee in the 2009-10 Railways Budget.

This after the ministry later found out that the Medical Council of India rules did not permit PPP with government hospitals anywhere in the country. Indian Railways and all its wings are owned by the Central government.

The matter came to light on Friday when the minister of state for railways, Manoj Sinha, replied to a query put forward by CPI-M Rajya Sabha MP Ritabrata Banerjee.

Ritabrata had sought to know if the Railways has set up any medical college in West Bengal as was announced by then railways minister Mamata Banerjee in her Budget speech during the UPA-II regime.

Answering the query, Sinha replied: “The then Honourable Minister of Railways during her Budget speech 2009-10 had announced ‘Medical colleges are planned to be established attached to existing railway hospitals through PPP, to give higher education facilities to new generation of railway children.”

ritabrata-rajya-sabha-reply

“As per Medical Council of India rules, Public Private Partnership (PPP) with Government (Railway) hospital is not permitted. The Ministry have, therefore, dropped the proposal of setting up of Railway Medical Colleges.”  

Ritabrata posted on his Twitter handle minister Sinha’s printed reply, and wrote: “Ministry of Railways – setting up of Med Colleges by our CM is not permitted at all! D cat is out of d bag!!”

It may be recalled that Mamata Banerjee as the Railways minister in 2009-10 announced that she had plans to upgrade a number of railway hospital in West Bengal, including the Tapan Sinha Memorial Hospital of Metro Railway in Kolkata, into medical colleges.

West Bengal has a number of super speciality railway hospitals, namely, the BR Singh Hospital at Sealdah, Railway Orthopaedic Hospital at Howrah, Central Hospital Garden Reach, NF Railway Hospital at New Jalpaiguri etc. 

(Bappaditya Paul is editor NEWSMEN. This article first appeared on NEWSMEN on 12 March 2016.)

‘Let’s wait for court judgement before commenting on JNU row’

By bappaditya paul

NOTWITHSTANDING the debate over police crackdown at JNU raging through the country, Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi has said that he would rather wait for the court judgment on the issue before giving his opinion.

“I am not an expert on this and am not aware of all the details. Many experts from both the political and apolitical spectrums are there to speak on the issue,” Satyarthi said when asked about his take on the nationalist versus anti-national debate that has cropped up centring the JNU episode. Satyarthi was interacting with media persons at Kolkata Press Club this afternoon.

Next, asked specifically about his views on the arrest of JNU Student Union president Kanhaiya Kumar, the Nobel laureate steered away from taking a stand. “The matter is already in court. Let us wait for the court judgement,” he said.

Satyarthi later qualified the response saying that he had returned from Latin America only three days ago and could gather little insights to form an opinion on the JNU issue. “In fact, I spoke to a friend to learn the details.”  

The 62-year rights activist was conferred the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 for his near four decade fight against child labour and child slavery.

Interestingly, the very next of the JNUSU president’s arrest on 12 February over alleged “anti-national” slogans, another Nobel laureate, Amartya Sen, had remarked in Delhi that India as a nation had become too tolerant of intolerance. Sen made the comment while delivering a lecture about the right to dissent.

Satyarthi today said that according to him, there were three serious dangers to society and those were ~ apathy, fear, and intolerance. “But these are global phenomenon and not peculiar to India,” he said.

The foundation named after Satyarthi would launch a “100 million for 100 million campaign” later this year to ustilise youths across the globe to reach out to their deprived counter parts. “I see frustration, violence, and intolerance increasing among the young people. On the other hand, they are full of enthusiasm but their strengths are not being harnessed. To change this, I am planning the biggest campaign in human history wherein 100 million empowered youths would reach out to 100 million of their counterparts who are not empowered,” the Nobel laureate said.

The campaign would run both online and offline over the social and traditional media. Satyarthi has plans to rope in the universities in India to further the campaign.

Referring to the upcoming Union Budget, the Nobel laureate demanded an increase in allocation of funds for programmes related to children.

“In India, over 41 per cent of the population is below 18 years. But the budget spending on children education and healthcare combined is less than 4 per cent. If India wants to do justice to her children, the government must have to spend more on children,” Satyarthi said.

(Bappaditya Paul is editor NEWSMEN. This report first appeared in NEWSMEN on 20 February 2016.)

Audi rash kills Air Force jawan at Red Road Republic Day drill

Abhimanyu Gaur, Air Force & killer Ambia Sohrab
Abhimanyu Gaud (left) and Ambia Sohrab in file photographs.

By bappaditya paul

A YOUNG Air Force jawan’s life has been cut short after being run over by a car that intruded onto Kolkata’s high security Red Road this morning (13 January) while a drill was on for the upcoming Republic Day parade.

Prima facie, the authorities are viewing this to be a case of accident caused by rash driving, but other malicious motive is not being ruled out as yet.

Abhimanyu Gaud, only 21 years of age and hailing from Surat in Gujarat, had joined the Air Force in 2013. After training, he has been serving his first posting as an Airman at the Kalaikunda Air Force Station in Bengal’s West Midnapore district since July 2014.

He came to Eastern Command headquarters Fort William last week on being deputed as a drill instructor for the Air Force team that is to take part in the Republic Day parade at Red Road.

Like other days, the parade drill began at Red Road at 6 in the morning. Facing towards Raj Bhavan, the drill had a Kolkata Police team positioned first, followed by teams from the Army, Navy, and the Air Force, in respective order.

Gaud, being the Air Force drill instructor was at the tail end. He was engrossed into the task that a white German-make Audi luxury car sped in from Khidderpore-end and rammed onto Red Road by breaking the movable iron barricades. The car hit Gaud from behind less than hundred metres away from the War Memorial at Fort William.

The car then took a U-turn, and drove towards Khidderpore for some distance, and then came to a grinding halt after turning auto-lock. The driver fled by abandoning the car there; but before that, he tore off the registration details that were printed on papers.

A severely injured Gaud was rushed to the Army’s Command Hospital at Alipore in south Kolkata located barely 4 km from the accident site. Gaud succumbed to the injuries minutes after being taken there.

Police have seized the killer Audi car that belongs to Mohammad Sohrab, who had won the 2006 West Bengal Assembly election from the now abolished Burrabazar constituency as a Rashtriya Janata Dal candidate. He switched over to Congress in 2009, and is now with the Trinamool Congress that he joined in 2011.

Ambia Sohrab
Ambia Sohrab

The car was bought from a showroom in central Kolkata on 04 January, and the police suspect that Mohammad Sohrab’s son, Ambia Sohrab, was driving the car when the accident took place this morning.

What is intriguing the investigators from the Maidan police station is that, Ambia is quite familiar with driving, and yet he ran into the no-entry zone at Red Road and rammed into the barricade.

Kolkata Police commissioner, Surajit Kar Purkayastha, who visited the accident spot, said that police have got the CCTV footages of the accident, and they were hoping to arrest the driver soon. “It appears that there was only one person in the car then. We are investigating all aspects as to what led to the accident,” he said.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who paid a visit to the Command Hospital to see the deceased Airman, said that police would deal with this strictly. “Such people do not have a right to drive car. They deserve strict punishment,” she said.

The family of the deceased Airman is flying down to Kolkata from Surat later this evening. The family has plans to take his mortal remains back home for the last rites.

Eastern Command chief spokesperson, Wing Commander SS Birdi, said that the parade drill will be continued at Red Road from tomorrow as per its usual schedule. “But Kolkata Police shall have to put in place more deterrence and vigil to ensure that no vehicle can foray in during the drill hours when Red Road is notified as a no-entry zone,” he said.

(Bappaditya Pail is editor NEWSMEN. This report first appeared on www.newsmen.in on 13 January 2016.)

CPM revives Singur dream at mammoth Brigade rally

CPM Yechuri at Brigade plenum rally
CPI-M general secretary Sitaram Yechury addressing the rally at Brigade Parade Ground in Kolkata on 27 December.

By bappaditya paul

WITH party activists filling Brigade Parade Ground to the brim, the CPI-M leadership on Sunday (27 December) revived the dream of industry at Singur, a move that had thrown the Left Front out of power about five years ago.

Singur now lies trapped in a legal battle between the Mamata Banerjee government and the Tata group, and the 1,000-odd acre land there now lay idle with neither industry having come up nor farming taking place.

Addressing the mammoth rally organised on Sunday at the start of the CPI-M’s third plenum since inception, CPI-M leadership made it clear that their main plank for the 2016 West Bengal Assembly polls would be “restoration of democracy” in the state by throwing out the Trinamool Congress, and creation of jobs for the unemployed through industrialisation.

All the leaders ~ from Biman Bose to Brinda Karat, Md Selim to Sitaram Yechury, Manik Sarkar to Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Surjya Kanta Mishra, launched a scathing attack on the Trinamool and BJP in the same breath.

But significantly, barring the Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar, none uttered a word against the Congress, the Left’s one-time favourite punching bag. Rather they spoke of “broadening” the Left-democratic front to take on the “Trinamool-BJP combine.”

CPI-M Bengal state secretary and Polit Bureau member Surjya Kanta Mishra was more direct about the focus of the CPI-M in the next Assembly polls.

“It is us who can again take up industrialisation in Singur. It is us who can set up industry in Nayachar, in Purulia’s Raghunathpur to Salboni in Midnapore. We need to create jobs, jobs and jobs for lakhs of unemployed youths in Bengal,” Mishra said.

Giving another specific direction, he urged CPI-M workers to “sharpen the sickles.”

“The sickle that is there on our flags, the sickle that is there at your homes, is our strength, our weapon. If the sickles have acquired rust, sharpen them once again and get prepared for the fight,” Mishra said.

Brinda Karat said that those who had thought the red flag had faded away should come and have a look at the mammoth Brigade rally today. “The fight now is to out throw the undemocratic and anti-women, anti-people Trinamool government from Bengal, and we would do it.”

CPI-M general secretary Sitaram Yechury maintained that the enthusiasm of the crowd he witnessed today has been unforeseen. “I have attended many Brigade rallies before, but the enthusiasm that I am witnessing today is extremely encouraging. The crowd has given the right feedback, and now the only slogan is Trinamool Hatao, Bengal BachaoBJP Hatao Desh Bachao.”

Upbeat by the huge turnout, Md Selim announced amidst huge applause, that today’s rally was “not a show of strength, rather, this rally is to challenge the Trinamool.”

(Bappaditya Paul is editor, NEWSMEN This report first appeared in the NEWSMEN on 27 December 2015.)

Central troops for all Bengal poll booths in 2016 Assembly polls

Election Commission Kolkata review meet

By bappaditya paul

EACH and every polling booth in West Bengal will be manned by Central troops during the Assembly elections in the state next year and the state police shall have no role to play in the polling premises, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Nasim Zaidi said in Kolkata today.

This is to negate the possibility of bias on the part of the state police, an allegation that has been widespread in the civic and panchayat polls held in Bengal in recent times.

“There will be 100 per cent deployment of Central armed forces. We will ensure Central armed personnel in each and every booth. Central troops will also be engaged in area domination exercise; there will be at least 2/3 layers of security cover and arrangements to ensure that voters can come out and exercise their votes without fear,” Zaidi told a news conference this evening.

“The Election Commission and its observers drawn from outside the state, will supervise, deploy and monitor the booth-wise and personnel-wise deployment of the Central forces,” he said hinting at curtailing the role of district superintendents of police, who usually chalk out the deployment plan.

As of now, there are 77,000-odd polling booths in Bengal, and the number may go up by a few more hundreds when the ECI undertakes a booth rationalisation exercise early next year.

The three-member ECI full bench, comprising CEC Zaidi and Election Commissioners A K Jyoti and O P Rawat, was in Kolkata today holding the first review meeting for the Bengal Assembly elections tentatively scheduled for April-May next year.

Zaidi said that the Central troops would be sent to Bengal for the polls “well in advance.” Representatives of all the Opposition political parties, who called on the ECI bench at the Lalit Great Eastern Hotel in central Kolkata during the day, demanded that Central troops be sent to West Bengal at least two months in advance.

Faced with barrage of complaints of bias against several bureaucrats and senior police officers in the state, the CEC made it clear that ECI has zero tolerance for such tendency.

“All officers in the state, who will be involved in the election process, have been asked to be fair and impartial,” he said adding that, ECI would review the performance and track records of bureaucrats and senior police officers in Bengal at a later stage to ensure that no biased officers are involved in the poll process.

Zaidi informed that around 31 lakh people had applied for enrolment of names in the voter list in Bengal in the annual roll revision and 26 lakh of them have been accepted.

“The applicants who have been rejected for want of valid documents etc will be able to seek redress once the final roll is published on 05 January,” he said. The redress can be availed under the continuous update process of electoral roll at the DM or SDO offices.

(Bappaditya Paul is editor, NEWSMEN This report first appeared in the NEWSMEN on 10 December 2015.)

Work on Haldia – Varanasi waterway to start by February

Nitin Gadkari at MCC event

By bappaditya paul

WORK on the proposed national waterway project from Haldia to Varanasi will start by February next year, Union shipping, road transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari said today (01 December 2015).

“The first phase work for the 1,620 km long waterway was to begin in December but it got delayed due to some issues. The work will now surely start in next two-three months,” the minister said speaking at a session organised by MCC Chamber of Commerce and Industry at the Oberoi Grand here this afternoon.

Gadkari said that as part of the project, 30 water ports will be developed between Haldia and Varanasi, and there will be three major hubs at Haldia, Sahebganj (Jharkhand) and Varanasi.

“We have tied up with an international expert agency for an early and effective implementation of the project. On completion, the waterway will offer a major boost to both goods and public transportation as the cost of water transport is much less as compared to road and rail,” the minister said.

He said that at present, water transportation in India is only 3-5 per cent of the total transportation. “Whereas, we have a 13,000 km riverine routes spread over 14 states. That’s why we are now focusing on developing waterways and the allied infrastructure.”

The Union minister also informed that a new dredging technology will be shortly introduced at the Kolkata Port in collaboration with the IIT Chennai and this will cut down the annual cost of dredging by about Rs 1,50 crore.

“Right now, Kolkata Port spends around Rs 450 per annum in dredging. The new technology will bring it down by anything between Rs 150-200 crore. The technology will be put in place in next one month,” he said.

Meanwhile, asked to comment on the recent arrests of three ISI suspects in Kolkata who had been associated with the Trinamool Congress in the past, Gadkari said that it was unfortunate that appeasement of terrorists was taking place due to vote bank.

“National security is not a question of politics and it should never be politicised. But unfortunately, the situation in the country is such that for vote-bank, appeasement of terrorists and terror organisations also happens,” Gadkari said on the side line of another event in the city this morning.

(Bappaditya Paul is editor, NEWSMEN. This report part appeared in NEWSMEN on 01 December 2015.)

Nobody’s Agenda     

Car on bad road

By bappaditya paul

BARAK Valley, the hub of Bengalis in Assam, was very tense this September.

Recovery of a buffalo horn in a temple near Silchar had caused communal tension in the three districts Valley that has near equal share of Hindu and Muslim populations.

BJP, still riding on the fast diminishing Modi Wave in that part of the world, was quick to act and en cash on the crisis by whipping up the Hindu sentiments.

It organised a bandh in Barak Valley on 29 September over administration’s alleged failure to act against the “desecration of the temple by Muslim mischief makers”. That was preceded by torching of vehicles and sporadic clashes in Silchar streets on 25-26 September in the immediate aftermath of the “desecration.”

Understandably, the offspring of Barak Valley, living away from home for bread or education etc, were all very worried. Because, when compared to the glitz and glamour of mainland India, they know, peace is the only treasure Barak Valley has.

You talk to people back home in Silchar, Karimganj or Hailakandi and most are apprehensive that in the run up to the Assam Assembly elections next year, such communal tension will rise.

BJP, in particular, is ever active to “awaken the dormant Hindu masses” over even a petty crime or road accident involving a Muslim. This could well be a strategy of the saffron party to galvanise support against the Congress. After all, going by the pervert adage ~ all is fair in love and war!

Yet, the question that bothers is, does the BJP really need to bank on Hindu “sentiments and pride” to throw out the Tarun Gogoi government in Assam? The answer simply lies in the roads most travelled, quite literally.

The roads in entire Barak Valley nowadays are such a hell that it will make people in Bihar feel proud over the potholed roads that they had to endure till 2008-09. This is true not only to the state roads; the condition of at least two National Highways passing through Barak Valley is nothing but a shame on India.

Bad Road

Take for example the Silchar – Imphal National Highway that runs from Badarpurghat to Jirighat in Assam’s territory. In literal terms, no road is left of this 74 km stretch; it is rather the amalgamation of hundreds of potholes.

The scene is same, or may be even worse, as regards the Silchar – Agartala highway via Karimganj. Assam portion of this highway runs from Malidhar on the Meghalaya border to Churaibari on Tripura border.

In contrast to the hellish state of the these two arterial roads, the condition of the Silchar – Aizwal, Doboka – Silchar (via Halflong) and Dhaleswar – Bhairabi  (via Hailakandi) National Highways are way better, albeit barring some select stretch.

The mystery behind this can be unraveled by some really easy statistics!

Of the 40 km stretch of Silchar – Aizwal highway that falls in Assam, 37 km is maintained by the Border Roads Organisation of the Centre and only 03 odd km rests with the Assam Public Works Department (National Highway division).

Thus it’s no wonder that the initial few km from Silchar to Aizwal is hell. The remaining major portion of the road is smooth, albeit it might not be at par with the metaphor Lalu Prasad once used involving Hema Malini.

As regards the 277 km Doboka – Silchar (via Halflong) highway: 246 km is with the National Highway Authority of India and only 31 km is with the Assam PWD (NH division). Most of the 31 km stretch that lies with the Assam PWD is in shambles.

The 89 km Dhaleswar – Bhairabi (via Hailakandi) National Highway is entirely under the Assam PWD. But it is in better shape and people give credit for this to the foul-mouthed Assam Congress minister Gautam Roy.

When it comes to the Assam portion of Silchar – Imphal National Highway, the entire 74 km stretch was brought under the Assam PWD (NH division) since 2007. The case is same as regards the 111 km Assam portion of the Silchar – Agartala highway via Karimganj. To say the least, these two roads are hell!

Yet, one would be shocked to find that this is a non issue for the Opposition political parties back there ~ be it the BJP or the All India United Democratic Front (AIDUF) led by perfume baron and Lok Sabha MP Badruddin Ajmal. Ironically, for the AIUDF, Barak Valley is a strong base and it even has a MP from Karimganj and a MLA from Katigora.

This is perhaps because, to make the hellish road condition an issue against Assam’s Congress government, the BJP and AIUDF would be required to do some homework and spend more energy than they are used to. And even after this, the dividend in elections will be uncertain as compared to the time-tested Hindu-Muslim narrative.

POST SCRIPT: A caveat is imperative here for the sons and daughters of Barak Valley living outside: please avoid visiting your homeland until the 2016 Assam poll nears and Tarun Gogoi government had carried out some patchwork on whatever is left of the roads in Barak Valley. Else, you run the risk of losing the longing for going back to your roots ever again!

Instead sit back in Delhi, Bangalore or Kolkata and watch Congress Silchar Lok Sabha MP Sushmita Dev discuss national issues on NDTV and Times Now, and take pride in the fact that someone from your backward land has got this opportunity. But please, don’t expect her to talk about bad roads back home: after all the bar of a LLM from King’s College London is much above the mundane roads!

Also, do give a like to the photograph on Facebook of Badruddin Ajmal feeding bananas to stray cows in Mumbai at a time when the intolerance debate is very hot in the country.

And if you don’t hear much about the BJP Silchar MLA Dilip Pal, rest assured, he is busy holding Hindu Jagaran Rallies to deter the desecration of any more temples in Barak Valley.

(Bappaditya Paul is editor, NEWSMEN. This report first appeared in NEWSMEN on 29 November 2015.)

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