Terror grouse to Shakeel

Our Special Correspondent

Calcutta, March 17: Congress district presidents from across the state today informed the AICC Bengal in-charge, Shakeel Ahmed, that Trinamul activists were "terrorising ground-level workers" to dissuade them from contesting the panchayat polls.

The Congress chiefs of 17 districts that are going to the polls attended the "emergency session" at state Congress headquarters Bidhan Bhavan to discuss the party's preparations for the panchayat elections.

The district chiefs were of the opinion that central forces needed to be deployed to "make the rural polls free and fair". The state government is opposed to deploying central forces.

"I was told about the terror being unleashed by Trinamul activists on our ground-level party workers to stop them from contesting the rural polls," Shakeel said.

Asked if he would convey the state leaders' demand for central forces to the Centre, Shakeel replied in the affirmative, adding: "Our party workers are feeling insecure in the run-up to the rural polls. I will speak to the Congress president once I return to Delhi."

The AICC leader said the Congress's all-India vice-president, Rahul Gandhi, was "updated on" the party's poll-preparedness when he met Bengal leaders on March 14.

"As suggested by Rahulji, we have prepared a seven-page questionnaire on what has to be done to gear up the organisation for the rural polls. Copies of the questionnaire were today distributed among the district presidents," Shakeel said.

In the questionnaire, the Congress district chiefs have been asked how many ground-level meetings they have held so far in view of the panchayat polls and the number of seats the party is holding in the three-tier panchayati raj system. The replies will have to be given within a week.

PCC chief Pradip Bhattacharya, junior railway minister Adhir Chowdhury and junior central urban development minister Deepa Das Munshi were also present at the meeting.

Deepa is learnt to have said at the meeting that the situation in the run-up to the rural polls "warrants the deployment of central forces".

Chowdhury alleged that the state government was against the use of central forces because it wanted to "rig the rural polls".