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August 2, 1999

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E-Mail this column to a friend Varsha Bhosle

Communication gaps

Govt's telecom package: CPM releases document to nail Atal,' screamed The Hindustan Times on July 30. Comrades E Balanandan and Nilotpal Basu charged that "The prime minister should own up moral responsibility for the huge loss to the exchequer"; that it's a "cover-up bid," the "scam of the millennium," a "bonanza to a select band of metro cellular operators"; that the government is "forgoing a legally bound contractual obligation from private operators to the tune of Rs 50,000 crores" blah blah blah.

As I never balk at admitting: I don't understand a word of economics and finance. Why Mr Yashwant Sinha had objections to the package, what the hell is a "migration from a fixed licence fee to a revenue-sharing arrangement" -- I've no clue. But "scam" and "cover-up" postulate "kickbacks." And that's a fighting word.

Do the pinkos have documents indicating a ghotala? No, only "circumstantial evidence." Who received kickbacks? "It has to be those who are responsible for the decision." Who, exactly? Apparently, not the FM, nor the minister of state for communication, and certainly not Mr Jagmohan. Somewhere, frolic Messrs Jaswant Singh and Soli Sorabjee -- but I didn't understand their roles, either. In any case, the star-kalakar is supposed to be the prime minister, as the ministry is now directly under him.

Thing is, the CPI-M's salagta hua zakhm seems to be, not that the BJP acquiesced to Somnath Chatterjee's and the Pomeranian's pleading clemency for the cellular operators, but that "such a step can only be taken with the Lok Sabha's approval." Huh? But there's no Lok Sabha. THEN WHY PLEAD?? Right, so we were just limbering up for the elections... After the two-day Politburo meeting, HSS, the turbaned party-within-the-party, said that their only objective is to defeat the BJP and "to achieve this objective, the CPI-M would support anyone." (The friendly Press probably dropped "do anything.")

Ach, as usual, I've wandered off -- we were talking scams: Now, Bofors, fodder, coal, sugar, fertiliser, bitumen, medical equipment, hawala, Dental College, Indian Bank, Ayurveda, newsprint, dhoti-saree... the subtleties of these, I've mastered over the years. But the telecom package may take my bro some weeks to enter the data into my Arts Major chip. So meanwhile, let's talk lesser known scams. And these are such, not because they didn't deserve more airing, but only because the medium responsible for it is beholden to the thugs. You might call it communication gaps...

The People's Liberator had recently gone to London for what isn't available in Calcutta -- a health check; and where he also attended party meetings organised by revolutionary leaders of the agrarian uprising: Swaraj Paul, R P Goenka and Dhirubhai Ambani. Hmm... I don't quite like attacking an "ailing" man, but, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. So here goes:

Jyoti Basu was born with a halo: Editor MJ Akbar's reason for believing why Basu would never become PM is, "A gentleman cannot become prime minister of contemporary India." And he's a gentleman because, "There is no other person in public life who actually means what he says when he explains that he does not particularly want the job of prime minister of India." (Indeed, anybody who calls the BJP "uncivilised" and "barbaric" must be a gentleman.)

Maybe it's true. But that's not the impression I got from the UF's star-studded rally in February 1998, with Basu saying that a "historic moment" had arrived for Bengal and that "history has given us the responsibility to save the nation." That the CM was ready to shoulder a greater responsibility, was evident: All the speakers almost projected him as their candidate for PM. This time, Basu hadn't waited for the apparatchik's sanction...

Three months earlier, Basu had described the Politburo's decision not to join the UF government -- which meant that he couldn't be PM -- as a "historic blunder." How deep it must have cut for him to commit the cardinal sin in Communist theology of criticising a central committee decision in an interview with "the bourgeois Press" (as dubbed by Basu himself). Had it occurred under Stalin, the breach of discipline would've seen him executed.

In fact, when Basu's senior-most minister, Benoy Chaudhuri, had voiced the truth about the party's degeneration -- "a party of, by and for contractors" -- he was censured and nudged away from active politics. The background to this forced vanvaas is the relevant part: Jyoti Basu's buddy, Siliguri-based tea magnate Dipankar Chatterjee, wanted to turn his huge tea garden into a "satellite township." Unfortunately, by law, tea estate land cannot be used for other purposes. Chaudhuri, who held the land portfolio then, severely resisted the "township" proposal. One thing led to another, till, finally, Chaudhuri was led to the political boonies.

You may remember Rediff's report detailing Calcutta's Salt Lake land allotment scam. The correspondent, with Red stars in his eyes, had written: "the longest serving chief minister in the country has had an unblemished tenure and no one has dared question his personal integrity." What a load of crap. What's the Benoy Chaudhuri story all about? Another satellite township. Like Salt Lake.

Let me give you the rest of it: When the land department valued Dipankar Chatterjee's estate at Rs 75 crore, Basu's government roped in the commerce and industries department to revise the price to Rs 34 crore. But even that sum was unacceptable. So, a cabinet meeting was called to bring down the price to Rs 15 crore. Since the project had a "noble" cause (i e, meeting housing needs), Basu wanted it further reduced by Rs 2 crore! Finally, in November 1997, an MoU was signed between the state and Chatterjee, with the price fixed at Rs 13.9 crores. A senior state official said, "It's unjust enrichment." But, his voice, like that of Benoy Chaudhuri's, is easily snuffed out in Red Calcutta...

From where did I get this information? From newspapers which *have* questioned The Gentleman's integrity. Naturally, such media are automatically branded as "RSS-controlled" by the larger percentage of mediapersons -- the pinkos who control public opinion. Tell me, did we hear a single voice from the zillion detractors of Balasaheb Thackeray address the Supreme Court notice to Basuda...? Hahahaha... They were busy tarring Atalji's halo.

Favours leave a trail of filth behind them: Among the beneficiaries of the Salt Lake allotment is the husband of Surabhi Banerjee, author of Jyotibabu's only authorised biography. Analyse this: Surabhi Banerjee was appointed pro vice-chancellor (academic) of Calcutta University in March. The appointment sparked criticism, with state BJP secretary Rahul Sinha describing her elevation as "blatant nepotism" in the "RSS-controlled" Press. The pro-VC's job is the most coveted among the university's faculty because it involves deciding on syllabi -- what should be read by not yet fully shaped minds... The only other woman to have held Banerjee's post is Bharati Ray -- the CPI-M Rajya Sabha MP. And they lamented Governor Kidwai's removal...

Here's one more: Sheo Kumar Jhunjhunwala, a friend of Chandan Basu, approached the CM in 1990 with a proposal to set up an art centre to fulfill a "long-felt need" of Calcutta. He proposed a 3,000 sq ft facility -- housing rehearsal rooms, an art gallery, a library, etc. Location: 3 Lower Rawdon Street. Problem: He was locked in a legal dispute with the state over the prime half-acre plot.

Daddy Basu obliged: Jhunjhunwala not only got the government to withdraw from acquiring the land, he got it for Rs 7 lakhs -- as against the market value of *over* Rs 2 crore. Today, Surya Rawdon Gardens, a posh apartment complex, stands on the spot. Nowhere in the published plans of the Rs 11.5 crore complex is there an "art centre." Last year, Basu oh-so-innocently said, "It's a shame that we don't have a proper public art centre."

More trivia:

* 15 acres in Salt Lake were allotted to Kamal Gandhi for housing a garment exporters' federation. There was not a single exporter registered with Gandhi -- who promptly began to cut up and sell plots at profit.

* A sick state-owned sugarcane factory, along with 500 acres of land, were sold to S K Khaitan, of Khaitan Fans, so that he would revive the unit and help the proletariat. Khaitan now grows vegetables there for export to Bangladesh.

* Mahendra Jalan, of the Keventer Group, was given 130 acres of state land in Calcutta's Barasat district - to run a packaging unit.

* Swapan Sadhan Bose, Chandan Basu's partner in a shrimp export business, was practically gifted a state-owned salt factory in Digha.

Tell me, don't you smell kickbacks...?

And what about The Gentleman's claims to taintlessness? This is a good one: CPI-M MP Haradhan Roy demanded the arrest of Ujjal Upadhyay, who holds the coal handling contract between mines in Asansol, for his involvement in a criminal case. Next thing, Haradhan Roy's ticket for the 1998 election was cancelled!

Then, you've read about Jamshed Ali Mollah, the friend who was allotted a plot in Salt Lake from the CM's quota. But did you know that he had 11 criminal cases pending against him, including pilferage of rice and wheat from a Food Corporation of India godown! Perfect gentlemen have perfect friends of India...

Then there's the 1997 multi-crore personal ledger account scam, popularly called the Treasury Scam. The Left Front government had surreptitiously been diverting central funds meant for rural development (the beloved peasantry), from the designated account in the treasury to the personal ledger accounts in the districts -- to offer benefits to their supporters (read: thugs) in areas where the Panchayat election were scheduled for early 1998. Congressman Somen Mitra disclosed that the amount diverted was approximately Rs 2,200 crore. Sources in the state finance department admitted "illegal diversion" of huge amounts.

During a debate in the assembly on this issue, Left Front leaders, including Chief Minister Jyoti Basu, *refused* to disclose their assets in public --- they who demand "transparency". And in the midst of the controversy, Jyotibabu suddenly left for a personal trip abroad. When the Salt Lake scam controversy warmed up, Jyotibabu again left for a personal trip abroad... I tell you, cherchez les health checks...

Between 1982 to 1987, there was the potential Bengal Lamp Scandal implicating Chandan Basu. The issue was raised in the assembly by then PWD minister and RSP leader, Jatin Chakravarty. Result: Jatinda was expelled from his party.

In 1995 came the multi-crore Waqf property scam. Basu's government instantly ordered a judicial probe into the issue. Fair, no? Consider this: Out of the 17 judicial probes ordered by the Left Front government in the past 20 years, the result of only THREE probes, of those instituted in the late 1970s, were made public -- in the early 90s...

Thank god a gentleman can't become PM of contemporary India. I'll take the barbaric any day! If pinko-wishes could kill, Atalji would be in smithereens -- the hate is so palpable. And thus, the telecom "scam". One wonders: how are they going to justify Surjeet's moves towards The Great Wall who's "neck deep in a series of scams involving amounts carrying so many zeros you think you are seeing double"? Simple: By tainting Atalji's blazing halo first...

Elections are desperate times for those with not a shred of credibility left. Ergo, the desperate measures. The Beej has challenged the Pomeranian and Somnathda to an open debate on the telecom package, including allegations on kickbacks -- with queries to be answered by Messrs Sinha and Jagmohan, too. So what's holding them up? Atalji's right here! He ain't going nowhere for no health check.

Varsha Bhosle

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