CPM peace march into rebel camp
Minister escapes studio blast
Atal keen to break seat share jinx
Govt whip on striking portmen
Sonia lines up yatras on ban lift
Battle-ready sanyasin at guruji door

Calcutta, Jan. 18 
The West Bengal CPM leadership today began a major exercise in settling the points of dispute with party rebels following a politburo directive.

Instead of acting tough with the dissidents, who want modernity and inner-party democracy, CPM state secretary and politburo member Anil Biswas visited the South 24-Parganas district office this morning to speak with unit secretary and rebel leader Samir Putatunda and his associates.

The politburo, which had its three-day session here last week to update the party programme, asked the state leadership to go easy against the rebels.

Putatunda, along with state transport minister Subhas Chakraborty and former central committee member Saifuddin Chowdhury, have started a campaign against what they call the move by a coterie to “stifle our voices”. “We have discussed various issues concerning the organisation with Biswas and other state leaders. We are hopeful of sorting out the problems,” he said.

However, sources close to Putatunda said the discussion turned stormy with most of his supporters protesting against the way he was censured by the party.

Fellow rebel Chakraborty has reportedly said he would boycott the programmes of the North 24-Parganas district committee until and unless he and his men were inducted into it.

“I will perform my duty as a minister. Also, I will go by the state party leadership’s directives, but I will not follow any instruction or appeal by the district committee,” the minister is believed to have said.

His stand did not surprise those in charge of the North 24-Parganas unit. Anticipating this, district secretary Amitava Bose and his aide Amitava Nandy have taken up a major programme without consulting Chakraborty.

Bose and Nandy will organise a rally in Calcutta on February 5 to submit a 52-point charter of demands to the Governor.

They have already launched a massive campaign in North 24-Parganas to make the rally a success. Benoy Konar, CPM state secretariat member, attended a party workers’ meeting in Patipukur on Sunday in support of the rally.

Konar is learnt to have urged workers from Dum Dum to participate in the rally. Without naming Chakraborty, he told the gathering: “I want the rally to be a great success without support from anybody.” He also hinted that the state leadership would take a hard line against those joining forces with Chakraborty.    

Bangalore, Jan. 18 
Karnataka minister for minor irrigation, Kumar Bangarappa, had a miraculous escape while three persons were killed and seven others injured in an explosion during shooting at a film studio here today.

Police commissioner T. Madiyal said the accident occurred while filming a song sequence for Kannada film Ticket Ticket at Madhu Arts Studio on the outskirts of the city.

He said according to the producers of the film, bomb expert Ravi was employed to use explosives to throw up colours for the sequence. He was preparing a bomb in front of an idol of Ganesh when the explosives went off accidentally.

Ravi and two of his assistants were killed in the blast.

Ravi, an expert in explosives, had worked in 300 films in his 12-year career.

The injured included stunt master, film hero Saikumar and another artist Michael Madhu.

Filmstar-turned-politician Kumar Bangarappa, who was at the scene of the blast, survived as he was standing behind a van.

The explosives exploded because of “miscalculation” and “wrong connection”, the police said.

They recovered some electrical detonators from the spot and sent the samples for chemical examination. There was some damage to the studio building, as well as three vehicles parked nearby.

Deputy commissioner of police Satyanarayanan is investigating the case.    

New Delhi, Jan. 18 
A meeting of the BJP central election committee, which was convened here today to discuss seat-sharing in the coming Assembly elections, was inconclusive in the absence of a firm commitment from its allies.

The committee will resume its sitting tomorrow evening, which will be attended by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, home minister L.K. Advani, human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi and party president Kushabhau Thakre.

Vajpayee, who was present throughout today’s session, has reportedly shown keen interest in the Assembly polls.

BJP sources did not rule out the possibility of the Prime Minister intervening to resolve the deadlock over seat-sharing, as he had done before the Karnataka polls.

George Fernandes and Nitish Kumar of the Samata Party and Biju Janata Dal (BJD) leader Naveen Patnaik have reportedly been briefing Vajpayee on the “ground realities” in their states.

“The Prime Minister is of the firm view that we should fight the elections unitedly,” BJP general secretary K.N. Govindacharya, who is a member of the election committee, said.

“By tomorrow, we hope that the state units will get back after having another round of meetings with the allies,” BJP vice-president Jana Krishnamurthy said.

Despite its best efforts, the BJP has so far failed to bring its allies in Bihar — the Samata Party and Janata Dal (United) —around for three-way talks.

Though BJP leader of the Opposition in the Bihar Assembly, Sushil Kumar Modi, sounded confident that a deal would be clinched by tomorrow, the JD(U) insisted it will contest 130 seats, the same as the Samata.

Modi said though his party had a “natural claim” to 200 of the 324 seats in Bihar, “at the negotiating table how many we agree to contest remains to be seen”. He said the BJP and its allies would launch a joint campaign under a common manifesto and a united leadership.

“The chief ministership issue will be settled after the polls,” he added.

In Haryana, Indian National Lok Dal leader and chief minister Om Prakash Chautala has apparently rejected the BJP’s demand to contest at least 35 of the 90 Assembly seats. Chautala has offered only 20 seats to the BJP.

BJP state unit sources, however, said if Chautala remained intransigent, it would contest the polls alone. “Chautala has more stakes in these elections than the BJP because he is fighting to retain the chief minister’s chair. We have nothing to lose, so why not fight on our own and at least increase our vote percentage in Haryana?” asked a state BJP leader.

Govindacharya has been deputed to break the Haryana impasse, though Narendra Modi is officially in charge of the state.

“The central leadership probably felt a new face would be better placed to deal with such a tricky situation,” sources said.

On Orissa, Govindacharya told reporters that state leaders were in touch with Naveen Patnaik. Union minister Juel Oram, however, insisted the BJP will demand a 50 per cent share in the state, though the BJD is keen to contest the majority of the 147 seats.

“Our state leaders expressed the confidence that the alliances will be cemented in an amicable atmosphere and to the mutual satisfaction of all concerned,” Govindacharya said.    

Jan. 18 
Minister of state for surface transport Rajnath Singh today warned striking employees in ports and docks of stern action, but told them that doors were open for negotiations.

“We have kept our doors open for talks. But we will have to resort to other measures if they maintain their stand,” Singh said in Delhi.

At the Calcutta and Haldia docks, where 16,000 workers joined their colleagues across 10 other major ports in the three-day strike that began today, the authorities have already sought deployment of the army and navy.

The leaders of the five striking unions had met Singh yesterday, but could not come to an agreement. “The talks were held in a cordial atmosphere. However, I feel they had already finalised their decision to go on strike and the meeting was a formality,” Singh said.

The striking unions are: The All India Ports and Dock Workers’ Federation (HMA), All India Port and Dock Workers Federation (HMS), Water Transport Workers’ Federation of India (Citu), Indian National Port and Dock Workers’ Federation (Intuc) and Port Dock Water Front Workers’ Federation (AITUC).

Since October 9, 1998, about 14 meetings have been held between the unions and the government. “But even as the talks were going on, the unions sent us a charter of demands on December 7, 1999,” Singh said.

One demand was to increase wages by 106.17 per cent above the rate mentioned in the 1996 Wage Bill. The government had agreed to a hike of 28.5 per cent.

An understanding was reached on 12 demands, while on eight others — including the period between one wage revision and another and the rates and date of implementation of house rent allowance (HRA) and city compensatory allowance (CCA) — there was no agreement.

The unions are insisting on a five-year period instead of 10.

The government has called upon the navy, army and home guards to pitch in as part of the contingency plan. “We asked the ministries of food, petroleum and railways to maintain buffer stocks as a contingency. We have written to all chief secretaries to provide necessary protection to all those employees who want to join duty. This has been done to maintain law and order,” Singh said.

“We had to resort to a mild lathicharge to protect employees who wanted to join duty but were stopped from entering the Calcutta port,” he added.

The navy is already being used to run essential services like lockgate and tug operations, an official said in Calcutta. The army is standing by. Calcutta Port Trust sources said seven import cargo vessels loaded with merchandise are stranded at Calcutta and Haldia ports.    

New Delhi, Jan. 18 
Waking up late, Sonia Gandhi today decided to launch a nationwide agitation against the BJP, protesting the Gujarat government move to allow state government employees to participate in RSS activities.

The Congress chief will hold a meeting in Sabarmati on January 30, Mahatma Gandhi’s death anniversary. All state party units have been asked to send “sankalp yatras” to Gujarat.

On the same day, the Congress Working Committee (CWC) will assemble at Birla Bhawan in New Delhi to reiterate its resolve to fight communalism. The CWC members will then march towards the Prime Minister’s residence and court arrest.

Senior Congress leaders Arjun Singh, Rajesh Pilot, Ahmad Patel and Oscar Fernandes said the party will continue its protest till the Keshubhai Patel government withdraws its circular lifting the ban on government officials from joining RSS activities. “It is an extremely serious issue with far-reaching implications. If bureaucrats start participating in RSS activities, there can be no impartially in administration,” Singh, who heads the AICC minorities department, said.

Former Union minister Rajesh Pilot said if the Centre fails to intervene in Gujarat, similar orders would be passed by other states. “Today, it is a state government. Tomorrow they will include the central civil services,” he said.

Pilot wondered how the “secular” allies of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) regime allowed such a move.

Singh said the Congress decided to take the battle to the “peoples’ court” as it was fighting an ideological war with the Sangh parivar. “It is the RSS mindset that we are opposed to. It was this ideology which was responsible for the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi,” he said.

Referring to the statements of RSS chief Rajju Bhaiya and VHP chief Ashok Singhal that the hijacking of IC-814 and the release of three hardcore militants exhibited “Hindu cowardice”, Singh said: “No Hindu or any Indian is a coward. If there is a coward, it is the Vajpayee government.”

In Gujarat, the ruling BJP reacted swiftly to the state Congress’ threat to lay siege to the Assembly on February 21, the opening day of the budget session, to protest lifting of the ban, our correspondent in Ahmedabad adds.

Lashing out at the Congress, BJP spokesman Bharat Pandya said the party was showing “its true colours” by going against a “nationalist organisation” like the RSS.

State home minister Haren Pandya refused to budge from the stand in the face of the Opposition attack. “There will be no rethinking on the issue,” he said.

The home minister stressed that the decision to let officials mingle with the RSS was taken in consultation with the Centre.

He added that if there was an appeal to lift the ban on state staff joining other organisations like the Ananda Marg, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Students Islamic Movement of India, Indian Union Muslim League, Khaksar Party and others, the matter would be judged on its merit.

In an another development in the Congress camp, two Bihar MLAs from the CPI and the JMM (Soren group) joined the Congress.    

Jan. 18 
In all her actions, says Uma Bharti, she is dictated by her ‘‘guru’’ even when he is out of sight.

The BJP stormy-petrel, who has put in her papers as Union minister to take to the streets her fight against the Congress, met her guru in Udipi today to seek his blessings. Uma prayed at a temple there for strength to carry on her agitation which, she declared, would be ‘‘far more intense but non-violent’’.

Before leaving for Udipi, she told her supporters that she “would not go anywhere near Delhi till her agitation spreads far and wide in Madhya Pradesh”.

On January 24, Bharti’s movement will peak with her supporters hanging 300 symbolic effigies of the “exploitative state government in Madhya Pradesh” from the electric posts of all the cities and flogging them to vent their anger. “Shahar se gaon ki sadak par le jaungi is jung ko (I will take this struggle to the villages from the state capital)” Bharti has claimed.

Earlier, party workers had burnt effigies of chief minister Digvijay Singh in front of his bungalow. Even in her absence, the agitation continues at Gandhi Bhavan Chowraha.

Though a section of the BJP, especially former chief ministers Kailash Joshi and Sunderlal Patwa, have had reservations about the Union minister’s “militant attack” on the government, Bharti claimed that she enjoyed the backing of party leaders. She has told her colleagues that she was given a free hand by the Prime Minister to agitate against Digvijay Singh’s government. Even L.K. Advani approved of her stir, she said.

“The anger against the party (Congress) workers was universal. There were reasons to explode. I, by virtue of being an MP from here, got involved. I have just given vent to this anger and the people have rallied behind me,” Bharti said to The Telegraph.

Bharti’s supporters said BJP workers have been under attack from Congress workers in the districts, which culminated in an assault on the BJP cadre during the municipal poll last month. “The municipal poll was rigged under a reign of terror,” Bharti has alleged.

But there could be more to the agitation than just protest against attacks. A series of incidents in the state BJP show that the quit letter and agitation may have been desperate attempts by Bharti to divert attention from a “cold war” and to reinvigorate the state unit. The final straw was the victory of expelled BJP member Anita Saxena in the municipal polls. Her seat would have helped the BJP form the board. But Saxena’s conditions, including her and her husband’s reinduction, were strongly opposed by senior leader Babulal Gour.

“Bharti watched the developments helplessly, and in her efforts to bail the party out of the morass of infighting, she took the correct decision,” said a senior state BJP leader.

Bharti has placed three demands — transfer of the superintendent of police, suspension of the collector and cancellation of the municipal poll — with the Congress government.    


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