Cautious Congress waits for Laloo letter
Midgets drive hard bargain in hung House
Delhi brake on Bihar reforms
DMK stokes Tamil tempers against Jaya
Mulayam son’s win splits BJP parivar
Naidu slips into Clinton visit mode
Govt draws Kamtapur fire
Running in the jungles, life and letters in hand

New Delhi, Feb. 27: 
The Congress leadership wants the Rashtriya Janata Dal to formally seek support from Sonia Gandhi and the Congress Working Committee (CWC) and set “ground rules” for a non-NDA government in Bihar.

AICC general secretary in charge of Bihar Mohsina Kidwai is leaving for Patna to ascertain the views of the Congress Legislature Party (CLP). Sonia, facing dissidence within the party, is moving cautiously as she does not want to provide any ammunition to her detractors. Mohsina met Sonia twice to brief her about the state’s political situation.

Senior party leaders said the issue of supporting Laloo would be thrashed out at the CWC meeting on Tuesday or Wednesday. “We must know who is going to get the first invitation and then proceed,” an AICC general secretary said. Dismissing reports of a split in the CLP, she pointed out that a majority of the MLAs belonged to minorities, weaker sections and tribals. “If they wanted to join the NDA, they would have done so long back,” she said.

She ruled out the possibility of the Congress issuing a letter of support to Laloo before a formal request or the Governor’s invitati-on. “We fought against him as much as we did against the NDA combine. Our commitment to secularism should not be seen as a sign of weakness,” she said.

A section of the Congress wants to share power with Laloo in exchange for support to his government. “The concept of outside support leads to instability,” a leader said, pointing to Maharashtra where the Congress is sharing power with arch rivals the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). “If we can join hands with Sharad Pawar who raised the issue of Sonia’s foreign origin, in comparison Laloo is a saint,” a CWC member said.

The CWC is sharply divided on the issue of supporting Laloo. Sitaram Kesri, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Arjun Singh, Natwar Singh, Narain Dutt Tiwari and Ahmad Patel favour teaming up with Laloo, while Sushil Kumar Shinde, Jitendra Prasada, Vijaya Bhaskara Reddy, Pranab Mukherjee and R.K. Dhawan are opposed to it. A.K. Antony, Manmohan Singh, Ambika Soni, Mohsina Kidwai, Oscar Fernandes, Motilal Vora and Prabha Rau will back Sonia’s choice.

The AICC office-bearers met in the evening to take stock of the situation. They underlined the need to keep the flock together in Bihar. The leadership has also directed state party leaders not to issue statements on the fluid situation.    

Patna, Feb. 27: 
Small is big in Bihar.

Buoyed by the fractured mandate in the Assembly polls, the smaller parties that reached double-digit figures are setting tough terms on the key players.

The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) are targeting the Congress — a “small” party now — with Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) and the CPI-CPI(ML). While the Congress bagged 23 seats, the JMM got 12 and the CPI and CPI(ML) together pocketed 12 seats.

JMM chief Shibu Soren, who retreated to his home state of Dumka far from the madding politics of the RJD and NDA, said over telephone that his party would not support Laloo Prasad Yadav under any circumstance.

The RJD had backstabbed the Jharkhand movement, he charged. “It even tried to create a rift among JMM leaders,” he said. To go with Laloo was “to destroy the Jharkhand statehood issue for which people have voted us”, he said.

The JMM chief added that his party could only consider giving support to the NDA “if it gives us the commitment that it would introduce the separate statehood Bill in the budget session”.

JMM sources said the party might even bargain for the withdrawal of the murder case pending against Soren. “We have a false case slapped on us. Even at the trial stage the case of the prosecution is caving in. It is because of this that the JMM has been maligned,” said Sailen Bhattacharya, JMM secretary. But he added that his party was able to tackle the case on its own.

Although Soren dismissed the question of supporting the RJD, Laloo has not lost hope. “The people of Jharkhand were always an inspiration to me. I will take care of the development of the region,” he assured. Laloo, however, has not cut much ice with Jharkhand people.

Although the CPI has categorically said it will not back either the RJD or the NDA, the CPI(ML), a CPI ally, was not so hostile to Laloo.

CPI (ML) general secretary Deepankar Bhattacharya said his party would play the part of a “responsible Left Opposition” in the hung Assembly. The party, which had mobilised votes on the anti-Laloo, anti-communal stand and looks forward to another Assembly poll to consolidate its position, may take a “tactical line” on supporting the “secular” forces. “The options ranged from conditional support and abstention from voting,” a CPI(ML) source said.

Party sources said the CPI(ML) had not taken a clear anti-Laloo stand because it would like to impose several terms on the RJD chief, including the drive against Ranbir Sena activists, the release of a large number of jailed CPI(ML) workers and withdrawal of cases against some party activists. The undertrials are “all political prisoners”, Deepankar Bhattacharya had earlier said.

Laloo had reportedly called up CPI(ML) leaders “to consider supporting his government”.

The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which won five seats, may support either the RJD or the NDA, depending on who releases jailed party leaders Mahabali Singh and Suresh Pasi and drops the cases against them. Mahabali Singh, a BSP legislator, is in prison on several murder charges.

BSP sources said the party would ask for financial compensation for the MLAs’ families for support.

The state Congress is against siding with the RJD. “The mandate for the Congress is one of opposing Laloo. Therefore we could not return to a pro-Laloo stand,” said Ramjatan Sinha, working Bihar Congress chief.

“There are two types of communalism: caste communalism practised by the RJD and religious communalism represented by the NDA,” Sinha added.

However, he suggested that if the socialists among the NDA snapped ties with the BJP and tried to form a coalition government with support from the Left and “secular” forces, the Congress may consider supporting them.

Another Congress group led by party general secretary Anil Sharma said if the central leadership took a unilateral decision to support Laloo, the local unit will take to the streets in protest.

NDA sources said a move is on to split the Congress taking away upper caste MLAs from the party. There are six MLAs who are from the minority community.

“While these MLAs will obviously side with the RJD, the rest may be wooed. About 10 of them are from the upper castes,” said an MP of the Samata Party, an NDA component.    

New Delhi, Feb. 27: 
Laloo Prasad Yadav’s unexpected performance in the Bihar Assembly polls has upset the Centre’s plans for reforms in the state after a more amenable government took over.

The Centre had been planning to chalk out an overhaul strategy with the new chief minister, who it had assumed would be from one of the National Democratic Alliance constituents.

That Laloo would pip the NDA to the post had not crossed their minds. Now the government feels that with Laloo either providing a government or a very strong Opposition, the reforms will have to be kept on hold.

The Central plan was to summon the new chief minister to Delhi soon after he took over and discuss ways to clean up the fiscal mess. The Planning Commission has laid down ground rules for fiscal administration in states lagging behind.

If necessary, the Centre would have bailed out the chief minister with a fresh package of grants and loans as was done to bolster Ram Prakash Gupta after he replaced Kalyan Singh in Uttar Pradesh.

The plan can still be implemented if Laloo is unable to form the government. But the Centre would like to gauge the stability of the new government before rushing in with aid or counselling it on reforms.

“The NDA, according to the figures we have, can at best provide either a government with a wafer-thin majority or a minority government. With a shrewd politician like Laloo on the prowl, such a government in a volatile state like Bihar will find it difficult to survive,” a senior government official said.

Government sources added that with the new state government the Centre was planning to take up the issue of People’s War Group and Maoist Communist Centre-sponsored terrorism in the southern parts of the state. Bihar is among the states that has not prepared a blueprint on containing the menace.

The Centre also had plans to help the administration take up development projects that would reduce caste tension in some sensitive districts.

There is also apprehension about the creation of a separate state of Vananchal now that Laloo has come back with such a large block of MLAs.

While in power, Laloo had opposed Vananchal. Now, irrespective of whether he forms a government or not, he has regained enough confidence to fight the Centre on this issue.

The Centre was also planning to help Bihar equip its police force better and provide assistance in recruiting more personnel.    

Chennai, Feb. 27: 
Chief minister M. Karunanidhi has lambasted rival Jayalalitha for opposing the introduction of Tamil as the compulsory medium of instruction in primary schools.

Karunanidhi and his allies took on the ADMK chief at a National Democratic Alliance public meeting here yesterday, billed as a rally against the “traitor to the Tamil cause”.

Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) leader S. Ramadoss suggested that Tamil scholars lay siege on Jayalalitha’s residence, demanding an apology for her “anti-Tamil” stance.

Karunanidhi, who spoke next, said: “I leave it to the scholars to decide on the siege issue.” But soon came the jibe: “I am not sure our poets and scholars are that valiant as to embark upon such a task.” Karunanidhi went on to quote a Tamil proverb meaning that the heart of even the devil melts in the face of a woman.

Not content with the drubbing Jayalalitha got in the bypolls, Karunanidhi is going all out to incite Tamil nationalists against her. Clearly, in this endeavour the DMK chief was apprehensive that though driven by their love for their language, the Tamil scholars might not give vent to their feelings strongly as a woman was involved.

In the cleverly-orchestrated show, a pro-DMK Tamil scholar intervened: “We are brave enough, brave enough… you don’t have to doubt that…”

Reassured, Karunanidhi dared Jayalalitha to go to Karnataka, where her grandfather served at the Mysore court, and make statements against teaching in one’s mother tongue.

It is not clear to what extent the people would support Karunanidhi in this offensive against Jayalalitha. The Tamil nationalist lobby, which has been complaining against the DMK for having let it down in the LTTE cause or joining hands with the Hindutva forces, has sprung to his defence, denouncing Jayalalitha in no uncertain terms.

But the middle classes, who apprehend that learning in Tamil could handicap their children when they go in for higher education, are resolutely opposing the idea.

The school managements have challenged in high court the order, making Tamil medium of instruction compulsory in all primary schools up to Class V, barring the CBSE-affiliated ones.

Reeling under allegations that he had turned his back on Dravidian principles, Karunanidhi does not seem likely to rest till he has extracted the maximum mileage from the controversy.

But history holds out against him. He had used a similar tactic when he fell out with M.G. Ramachandran in 1972. Latching on to his friend-turned-foe’s Keralite origins, Karunanidhi not only obliquely hinted that he could not be trusted by Tamils, but even instigated attacks on Malayali establishments. But he was forced to withdraw the campaign when he found that the tactics were boomeranging on him and he was losing popular support.    

Lucknow, Feb. 27: 
Fissures in the fragile BJP-led coalition government in Uttar Pradesh surfaced today after state power minister Naresh Aggarwal alleged that the BJP worked against the Loktantrik Congress Party in the Kannauj parliamentary bypolls.

Expressing his “unhappiness” with chief minister Ram Prakash Gupta, Aggarwal said he had been “back-stabbed” by the very people he had helped to assume power.

Even before the results were announced, Aggarwal had said that if the Loktantrik Congress candidate, Pratibha Chaturvedi, lost in Kannauj it would be because of the BJP.

Chaturvedi, who replaced Arvind Pratap Singh at the last minute as the party’s candidate, fared disastrously garnering just 22,000 votes. In the last elections, Singh had polled 2.12 lakh votes.

“I know the BJP worked for the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) candidate,” Aggarwal fumed, but refused to acknowledge rumours of a BJP-BSP tie-up for the next Assembly polls. “The whole state knows the truth,” is all he said.

Aggarwal, whose party has a strength of 21 members in the coalition government, had been hinting off and on about withdrawing support.

Observers say the BJP, which wanted to see Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav’s son Akhilesh Yadav defeated, had pitched in for the candidate most likely to beat Akhilesh, who romped home with 3.6 lakh votes.

The chief minister, however, slammed the Loktantrik candidate and her party for the “pathetic showing”. Talking to reporters, Gupta said that no one had worked hard enough and the results were there for all to see.

Criticising Gupta for casting aspersions on a coalition partner, Aggarwal said that the message he conveyed to the people was “very wrong and unfortunate”.

According to him, Gupta “should have waited for the March 1 meeting where all partners in the government would meet to discuss the poll results of the state byelections before making such allegations.”    

Hyderabad, Feb. 27: 
The Andhra Pradesh government today set up three committees to finalise the programme and make arrangements for President Bill Clinton’s one-day visit to the state capital on March 24.

Chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, who held a high-level meeting at his residence, has asked his ministers and other officials to leave no stone unturned to make Clinton and his 500-strong entourage’s visit a memorable one.

He directed one committee to identify the main locations which Clinton will be invited to visit. Another Cabinet sub-committee, comprising finance minister Y. Ramakrishnudu, major industries minister K. Vidyadhara Rao, roads and buildings minister K. Vijayarama Rao and tourism minister E. Peddi Reddy, has been entrusted with the job of speeding up the preparations. A city coordination committee will help these two panels with their task.

Chief public relations officer in the chief minister’s office Vijay Kumar said: “No final decision has been taken on the locations yet. We will finalise the plans within five days,” he said.

Though Clinton’s city itinerary is yet to be drawn up, a visit to Hitec city in Madhapur, Naidu’s pet project which triggered the information technology revolution in the city, is a foregone conclusion. Among other places, the US President is likely to visit the American Studies Research Centre on the Osmania University campus.

The government has decided to put up its VIP guest at Rasthrapathi Nilayam in Bowenpalli, the winter home of the President of India. However, the Naidu administration is not leaving anything to chance. As a stand-by, the state is seeking the Nizam’s permission to accommodate Clinton in the Falaknuma Palace.

Not one to miss out on this fabulous publicity opportunity, Andhra Pradesh’s CEO has told the high-level committees that “we have to project the city as the investment destination of the country”. Special publications highlighting investment opportunities in the state have been designed and brought out. Net-savvy Naidu wanted them to be posted on Internet also.

Naidu has emphasised the need for the Hyderabad municipal corporation and other departments to coordinate and project a clean city to the visiting dignitaries. The civic body has already started putting a new sheen on the city for the visit next week. The government buildings are the first ones to get a new coat of paint.

The Begumpet airport is also sprucing up for the occasion. Airport manager K. Ramakrishna said additional landing arrangements for Airforce One, the US President’s Boeing 737 aircraft, will be made in record time.    

Jalpaiguri, Feb. 27 
West Bengal deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya today blamed both the Centre and foreign agencies for the growth of the Kamtapur agitation in North Bengal.

Speaking to reporters after launching the CPM campaign against the movement at a convention, Bhattacharya said: “The Kamtapur agitators started raising their heads after the Centre decided to create more states by bifurcating Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.”

He added: “After the formation of states on the linguistic basis earlier, it is now both impossible and impractical to have new states. We will oppose any move to form new states by the Centre, be it Uttaranchal or Vananchal.”

The deputy chief minister alleged that ISI and some other foreign agencies were helping Kamtapur activists. He added: “We have information that some of the agitators, especially Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) have set up base in neighbouring countries,” he said, adding the KLO has forged links with the ULFA. But he declined to name the countries where the KLO has set up camps.

On the presence of KLO militants in Bhutan, Bhattacharya said: “Bhutan has a close relationship with the Centre as well as our state. I have met its king who is a very knowledgeable person. We have apprised both Bhutan and Delhi about our problem.”

He added: “Not only this, we have expressed our concern about militant activities in Nepal which is also a very close friend. Our open border with Nepal, and air services between Kathmandu and Calcutta, which are treated as domestic flights, have added more to our problems.”

Bhattacharya described the spurt in the Kamtapur agitation as a new development. “Earlier also, some discredited and disposed landlords tried to raise the demand unsuccessfully under the leadership of the Uttarbanga Taposhili-O-Adibasi Association and the Uttar Khand Dal,” he said.

But this time, Kamtapur protagonists under the Kamtapur People’s Party (KPP) and the KLO, have revived the agitation by raising “illogical and baseless” issues like “Kamtapur is a different language”, “Rajbanshis are not Bengalis” and “Rajbanshi culture is different from Kamtapur culture”. He added that Rajbanshis were Bengalis and their language was one of the 15-odd Bengali dialects.

Bhattacharya refuted allegations that the state government had always neglected and deprived Rajbanshis. He said: “What they (Kamtapur protesters) are saying is not true. Compared to this region, areas like Purulia and Bankura are very much poor and backward.”

But the government would soon set up a development council for North Bengal and also create separate funds for its development after meeting Left Front partners in Calcutta on March 1, he said.

Bhattacharya expressed happiness at what he described as “the dwindling influence of Kamtapur supporters” in the region. “All their strikes have failed. They performed very badly in the elections. All we can say is that majority of the Rajbanshis have not supported the statehood agitation. We appeal to all those who think violence can solve their problems to return to the right path,” he said.

Bhattacharya said other Left Front partners would later join the anti-Kamtapur campaign started by the CPM.

Today’s convention was held at the newly-built arts centre. The campaign proposal against Kamtapur and other separatist forces was placed by tribal welfare minister Dinesh Dakua, also a prominent Rajbanshi leader.    

Purulia, Feb. 27: 
Be it the winter chill, blinding monsoon rain or scorching summer heat, Bhondu Gope has to run up and down the forest tracks, sometimes 20 km at a stretch, six days a week. Despite wild elephants, bears and poisonous snakes roaming the paths.

All Bhondu has for self-defence is a crude, home-made spear. But run he must through these dangerous forests for he has to deliver mail to the forest hamlets. Bhondu is one of the last few runners of the Indian Post and Telegraph department.

Strange though it may sound, there are six “runners” officially engaged as extra departmental staff in the almost inaccessible Ayodhya hills in Purulia district.

Says Bhondu, 27: “My father used to draw Rs 292 against my monthly allowance of Rs 2,200.” The story is the same with Kalipada Sarder and Anath Sarder, who got into this “profession” after their fathers’ death.

Kalipada says: “I learnt the art of protecting myself from wild elephants from my father. Ferocious animals, like the leopards, which our ancestors had to confront, are almost non-existent these days. But we have to take precaution season-wise.”

During the monsoons, the runners have to be alert as bears stalk the area in search of ant hills and bee hives. The elephant menace is pronounced in the harvesting season.

Kalipada recalls: “On a fiery afternoon in 1997, I was on my way to Mirgi Jhora(falls). It was raining heavily and I found a bear close to me. I ran hard till I reached a village. I returned home the next day, escorted by a group of tribals.”

Bhondu, who has reconciled himself to destiny, knows that to be scared is to invite starvation. “We have to live with it,” he adds. When he was confined to bed with jaundice, his mother had to do his job.

“There was no way out. Absence means pay cut,” he said.

The last pay commission had fixed runners’ allowance at Rs 2,200. It also sanctioned leave for 20 days a year, which leave cannot be accumulated.

Shyamsundar Mondal, post master of Bagmundi sub-post office situated in the foothills, said: “I never heard of such a primitive system continuing in any part of the country.”

The sub-post office is also in bad shape. The building was declared “condemned” five years ago. Rain water leaks into the building, smudging postal addresses on letters.

Mritunjay Gope, who is extra departmental packer at the sub-post office and a member of All India Postal Employees Union(AIPEU), is, however, hopeful. “I have heard that our department has, of late, assured a delegation of AIPEU that services of extra dep- artmental employees will be regularised.”

Members of this runner community sit around lanterns in the evening, chat and sing the Sukanta song.    


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