Temple trouble ticks on Atal
RAW officer found battered
Fog death in city, flights held up
Moviedom on marriage dole

 
 
TEMPLE TROUBLE TICKS ON ATAL 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Feb. 19 
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is preparing itself for an year-end showdown with the “liberal-leaning” Atal Behari Vajpayee government.

RSS sources said the simmering tension between the government and the Sangh could snowball over the issue of the Ayodhya Ram temple, triggering a crisis for the ruling coalition and leading to its downfall.

An RSS functionary from Uttar Pradesh maintained that spadework for the temple was being carried out “quietly and at a steady pace” under the supervision of Uttar Bharat leader Champak Rai, who was at the forefront of the mandir-masjid “agitation” as well.

A final blueprint, flagging off its construction, is expected to be unveiled by November or December. “This is when we expect the BJP’s allies to react and pull out, especially those like the DMK, Trinamul Congress and the Telugu Desam which swear by secularism,” said the Sangh functionary.

A BJP leader partially confirmed the RSS game-plan, saying: “If this government falls, take it from me the main catalyst will be the Sangh’s so-called hidden agenda.”

Asked what was the compulsion to upset Vajpayee’s applecart, RSS sources posed a counter question: “What are we gaining from this government, except being ordered to deep-freeze our agenda all the time?”

Sources said the Sangh feared it was losing its “identity” thanks to the BJP’s necessity to placate “secular” allies, its cadre was demoralised and even declining in strength while those in power were allegedly feathering their own nests.

“We will force the BJP to reckon with the need to consolidate Hindu militancy all over again by the time the next election takes place,” RSS sources said.

The Sangh is peeved at the manner in which the Bajrang Dal was forced to call off its Bhopal convention because of the Madhya Pradesh government’s tough stand.

“The BJP will have to grapple with the fact that chief minister Digvijay Singh has overnight succeeded in consolidating the minority votes in his state and send the signal to Muslims elsewhere that it is the Congress, and not leaders like Mulayam Yadav and Laloo Yadav, who can look after their interests. If the BJP does not regroup its Hindutva voters after this, what good is it?” said an RSS source.

Although the Prime Minister’s Office has denied that Vajpayee had persuaded Bajrang Dal leaders to call off the convention, BJP sources admitted that his speech at an RSS function last week — where he asked the Sangh not to create “new problems” — was meant to “precisely” hammer home the message that his government would not tolerate a repeat of the Varanasi-type vandalism.

Sources said Vajpayee had reiterated “informally” to Digvijay and Jyoti Basu that law and order was a state subject and if anyone, including Sangh outfits, over-stepped the norms of “civilised conduct”, they should be brought to book. BJP leader Uma Bharti and the Bengal party unit have threatened to disrupt the shooting of Deepa Mehta’s Water if it was resumed in either state.

While the RSS has reportedly assured the government it will allow Vajpayee to pursue with his economic reforms, it is unwilling to yield on Hindutva. Sources said while Vajpayee had managed to coax RSS chief Rajju Bhaiyya into soft-pedalling the controversy on allowing government employees to join the outfit, his successor may not be “so obliging”.    


 
 
RAW OFFICER FOUND BATTERED 
 
 
BY AVIJIT NANDI MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, Feb. 19 
The central intelligence agencies have ordered a joint probe after an officer of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) was found unconscious outside the Science City on the E.M. Bypass on Wednesday night with bruises.

According to the police, 45-year-old Shyamal Chakraborty, a field officer in the external intelligence outfit, left his office on Syed Amir Ali Avenue on Wednesday afternoon at around 5 pm and went missing thereafter.

Nearly four hours later, some people found him lying near a bush outside the gates of the Science City with severe head injuries, and cuts on his hands, feet and face. The police were informed and a case lodged at the Bidhannagar police station.

He was first taken to the National Medical Hospital and later removed to Nightingale nursing home on Shakespeare Sarani, where he is still “semi-conscious and incoherent”, according to doctors treating him. All that he has been able to tell officials and doctors so far is that he “blanked out” near Gariahat and that he does not remember anything thereafter.

“Since Chakraborty was a member of a team monitoring the movement of hostile foreign elements in this part of the country as well as subversives in neighbouring countries, we are looking into all aspects of the case and ruling out nothing, including torture for information,” said a senior official of RAW.

The deputy commissioner, DD, of the city police, Narayan Ghosh, said: “We are also investigating this case, since it is very sensitive.” State chief secretary Manish Gupta and city police chief Dinesh Vajpai have also enquired into this incident.

Chakraborty has been kept under tight security at the nursing home and a team of senior physicians under Dr S.P. De Sarkar has been attending to him.

Sarkar has told police officers that Chakraborty was “definitely drugged”. The initial report prepared by the doctors said that all clinical signs indicated “disproportionate sedation” that could have proved fatal.

“There are severe injuries under his scalp and traces of blood clots at several places on his skull. His hands, feet and face were swollen,” De Sarkar told investigators after examining Chakraborty.

Samples taken from his stomach will also be sent for chemical analysis to confirm both the drugging as well as the precise nature of the drug that may have been administered.

Following this incident, police in South and North 24-Parganas along with city sleuths have intensified raids to ferret out people who could provide more information on what had happened to the intelligence officer.    


 
 
FOG DEATH IN CITY, FLIGHTS HELD UP 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 19 
Dense fog caused a fatal accident and disrupted flight schedules in the city this morning.

The Alipore weather office said this was the “worst fog in many years”. It said the foggy condition was due to an abrupt rise in moisture in the atmosphere, coupled with “temperature inversion” — a situation where temperature at the ground level is lower than that of the upper atmosphere.

With visibility close to nil early in the morning, a taxi collided with a van at Taratolla. The taxi driver was declared dead at the SSKM hospital. The driver of the van was arrested and both vehicles seized.

This is the first time this winter that the fog has not remained confined to open spaces like the Maidan and the eastern wetlands.

Much to the inconvenience of people, a thick white blanket of mist covered busy streets like Gurusaday Road, Lansdowne Road, Camac Street and Rashbehari Avenue.

Traffic was greatly affected as drivers had to creep along the streets, trying to peer through the curtain of mist.

At Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose airport, no flight could take off or land till 10 am. The first flight, Calcutta-Delhi (hopping), took off at 10.10 am. Most morning flights were held up for over three hours.    


 
 
MOVIEDOM ON MARRIAGE DOLE 
 
 
FROM G.S. RADHAKRISHNA
 
Hyderabad, Feb. 19 
Even by southern cinema’s scorching pace, it was a wedding too smooth to be true. The couple: made for each other and bound by tycoon tags. The guest-list: all of one thousand three hundred movers and shakers looking every bit their part. And the clincher: the scene was over without a single retake.

But the one-shot spectacle will never make it to celluloid. It was a genuine wedding and the cast authentic — as real as the film-famine that is forcing movie studios to double as mega-marriage halls.

Trampled by a stampede of dubbed films, the Telugu tinsel town is fast turning into a ghost town. Most studios are now lying idle for over 25 days in a month. The majority of them have sacked their carpenters, light boys and makeup men. Even the extras, who would plump up the dance sequences, are fewer these days.

The drought has not left star pay packets untouched. Big names like Nagarjuna, Suman and Ramya Krishna have to make do with drastic cuts in fees.

The Andhra film industry, which churned out 32 films on the eve of Sankranti in 1997, released only six this time.

While the dearth of funds and absence of new ideas have driven away individual entrepreneurs, traditional filmmakers limit themselves to about two productions a year.

The new millennium had no offering from any of the Telugu superstars, unless one counts Chiranjeevi’s superflop Annaiyya.

“We have to encourage producers to invest in films. Otherwise, the industry will collapse,” said Rambha, a heroine of over 25 films.

The industry made a small profit of Rs 8 crore this year, against the Rs 30 crore it gained in 1996, said an official of the state chamber of commerce.

While all the six studios in Hyderabad — Annapoorna, Padmalaya, Rama Naidu, Sarathi, Bhagyanagar and Ramakrishna — are struggling, it is the massive Ramoji Film City on the capital’s outskirts that best reflects the crisis.

With hardly 10 per cent of its capacity utilised, media moghul Ramoji Rao has been using the infrastructure for his own satellite channel, ETV.

The Film City has become a major tourist attraction and a venue for fashion events and grandiose weddings. Two such were held in January with enough pomp to match any screen ceremony. Taking their cue from Rao, other studio owners are also letting out their premises. Ramakrishna studio is being recast as a shopping mall.

Recently, a government department had an official function at Padmalaya Studios amid glittering lights and sets. The fee was a fraction of the usual, since the studio needed some business to meet its power bills.

Actor Krishna, who owns Padmalaya and also heads the Film Artistes’ Association, said most filmmakers found it cheaper and convenient to shoot on locations and rent palatial buildings rather than construct the sets in the studios.

Almost all palaces of the Nizam and of nawabs have been spruced up and let out for shootings. So have some houses in the posh Jubilee Hills area, near the Hitec city. Many of the out-of-work junior artistes have either gone into business or fled to Chennai and Bangalore, while the superstars have had to turn producer just to survive.

Chiranjeevi, Krishna and Mohanbabu have each produced one or two films which flopped. Chiranjeevi also has interests in a supermarket and real estate. Bhaskar Rao, owner of a premier theatre in Hyderabad, has moved to the plane charter service.

Actors hunting for greener pastures in politics have not had muck luck either of late. Though the industry produced several major politicians in Andhra Pradesh, the tide ebbed since Chandrababu Naidu shifted gear from populism to development governance.    

 

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