Bihar poachers encircle Cong
Trains off
Govt admits widow prostitution
Geeta Mukherjee dead
Teenagers held for gangrape
Bajrang’s boys in Reebok

 
 
BIHAR POACHERS ENCIRCLE CONG 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, March 4 
The battle for Bihar has boiled down to a cat-and-mouse game. Poachers are on the prowl, smacking their lips at the favourite prey, the Congress, while Laloo Prasad Yadav, the self-proclaimed lion of the jungle, plays protector to Sonia Gandhi’s flock.

The threat of violence looms over the state with the Rashtriya Janata Dal’s strike call tomorrow, though Laloo claimed the party’s methods would be “Gandhian”. Its rail blockade has already left several trains stranded.

Chief minister Nitish Kumar, who has time till March 13 to prove his strength, said he would do it much before the deadline. Nitish said he would convene the Assembly session on March 7, form a working Cabinet and hold the vote of confidence within the next two days. A major expansion of the ministry would take place after the trust vote, said Nitish. An interim budget would also be placed, he added.

Both the RJD and the National Democratic Alliance claimed to have bagged new legislators even as denials kept pouring in at newspaper offices. As the possibility of defections increased, senior leaders kept a sharp watch on their MLAs’ movements.

Joba Maylui, legislator from a small regional party of south Bihar, was allegedly locked up in another member’s residence by the NDA when about 12 RJD workers tried to abduct her. They beat a retreat as some senior BJP leaders arrived at the scene. The BJP said it had already got Maylui’s written support.

The Congress legislators, the main target of the NDA, are virtually under surveillance by the RJD, which is anxious to prevent any division in the party.

Mohsina Kidwai, the Congress leader in charge of Bihar, faced a hostile crowd of partymen this morning at a legislator’s house, where the agitators shouted: “Mohsina Kidwai go back.”

The members were unhappy with the leadership’s decision to support Laloo. Kidwai, however, took away the 23 legislators to the local party headquarters for a meeting.

But afterwards, Congress member Bina Sahi stated she would not back Laloo. As news spread that Bina was quitting the party with eight others, Congress leaders got all the MLAs to speak to Sonia, who advised them not to desert the party.

Bina, whose husband was killed allegedly by goons close to the RJD, stuck to her guns but admitted that she did not have the numbers to cause a split.

NDA sources, however, claimed that six Congress MLAs had given Nitish letters of support. The alliance also said that three BSP members were ready to back Nitish.

In an attempt to persuade the Congress MLAs, Laloo visited a big Patna hotel around 1 pm last night where the members were holding a secret meeting. Laloo asked them to stay with the RJD. “In my ministry you would not feel uncared for,” he reportedly said.

The hotel, where the Congress members have put up, is being watched by both central intelligence personnel and the RJD flying squad.

“We are hounded out of every meeting. The same thing is being repeated every time. We are tired of this,” said a tribal legislator from Ranchi. “If I go to urinate, someone follows me.”

Laloo’s aides are also maintaining a sleepless vigil to prevent desertion in the RJD ranks. Two upper caste members were sent feelers by the NDA, which is trying to organise a split on the lines of Uttar Pradesh.

NDA sources said the media would have to wait for some more surprises.

The NDA, which will appoint a new Assembly Speaker, is also dangling the post before some Congress and RJD veterans in exchange for numbers. However, both the parties said this would not be a tempting enough bait.

The political temperature in the state is high over the RJD’s strike call. Hundreds of party workers today marched on the streets, blocked national highways, squatted on railway tracks and pried out fish plates.    


 
 
TRAINS OFF 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 4 
The 3007 Up Toofan Express from Howrah has been cancelled in view of Sunday’s Bihar bandh. Also cancelled are the Bhagalpur-Patna Inter-city Express and the Bhagalpur-Muzaffarpur Express.

Howrah-bound long distance trains like Rajdhani Express via Patna, Uday Abha Toofan Express, Himgiri Express and Danapur Express were stranded at different places on Saturday.

The Rajdhani was held up at Satua, 20 km from Patna at 9 am. The train was brought back to Patna and diverted through Gaya to Howrah. It is expected here on Sunday morning.    


 
 
GOVT ADMITS WIDOW PROSTITUTION 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, March 4 
Sumitra Mahajan, Union minister in charge of the department of women and children, has unwittingly admitted that there is prostitution among the widows of Vrindavan. Mahajan has asked the Vrindavan district magistrate to keep a “strict watch” over young widows who are “led astray” in the religious place. “Maine Vrindavan DM ko kaha ki aapko aise activities ko bandh karna chahiye (I told the Vrindavan DM he must stop such activities),” Mahajan said. Asked whether “such activities” meant “prostitution”, Mahajan told The Telegraph: “Yes”. Only a few weeks ago, the RSS and its allied Hindu organisations had stalled the shooting of Deepa Mehta’s, Water, which portrayed the plight of widows in Varanasi, some of whom are forced into prostitution. Mehta was virtually hounded out of Varanasi by the Hindu brigade, which objected to the film’s script on the grounds that it “sullied” the purity of a holy place like Varanasi. Regardless of the RSS’ dismissal of Mehta’s script, the furore over Water seems to have propelled the Centre into action. Earlier this week, Mahajan presided over a meeting of government officials and non-government organisations to work out a rehabilitation project for Vrindavan widows. The minister has asked the district magistrate to step up police protection at the widow rehabilitation centre. “Right now, there is only one sub-inspector at the centre,” Mahajan said. She wants West Bengal to take steps to stem the “inflow” of young widows to Vrindavan. “They can be given some training in West Bengal itself,” Mahajan said. Most of the widows in Vrindavan come from two or three poor districts of the state. Mahajan has asked West Bengal to submit a report on the widows in Vrindavan. “The West Bengal secretary, who attended the meeting, said the report is nearing completion.” She said many of the widows come to these holy places to seek spiritual peace. “Yeh dharm ke bhavna se aate hain (They are driven to these places by religious sentiments),” Mahajan said. That the Union minister has asked the Vrindavan district magistrate to keep “strict vigil” on young widows is an unwitting affirmation of Mehta’s script. One of the charges slapped on Mehta during the Water controversy was that she was digging out facts from history — facts which do not correspond to the present. Union ministers had accused Mehta of fishing in troubled waters. “How can you take out events from the 1930s and make a film on it. These things do not take place now,” a BJP minister had said. But the Water fracas has forced the government to turn its attention on the committee which was set up three years ago to suggest measures to improve the condition of the Vrindavan widows. “The committee was set up when Uma Bharti was the minister for sports and youth affairs,” the minister said. The minister has asked the Vrindavan district magistrate to step up local initiative and a second meeting has been scheduled for March 12.    

 
 
GEETA MUKHERJEE DEAD 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 4 
Geeta Mukherjee, a leading light of the communist movement and one of the pioneering crusaders for women’s reservation in the legislature, passed away here this morning after a heart attack.

The 76-year-old CPI leader collapsed at her residence as she was about to leave for Aligarh. Her cremation will take place in Calcutta on Monday.

Last night, she had gone to Rashtrapati Bhavan to protest against the Bihar Governor’s decision to instal a National Democratic Alliance government.

Mukherjee, deputy leader of the CPI in the Lok Sabha, had been part of the Left students’ movement during British rule and represented the Panskura constituency in West Bengal for the past 20 years.

An indefatigable advocate of the women’s reservation Bill, she repeatedly expressed her anguish over the successive governments’ failure to pass it.

During her last days, the issue uppermost on her mind was getting the Bill passed in Parliament. Women activists told Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who went to Mukherjee’s house here to pay his respects, that the government could pay a fitting tribute to the leader by passing the long overdue Bill.

“I shall miss her presence both inside and outside the House,” the Prime Minister said. “She was a shining example of women’s empowerment.”

President K.R. Narayanan said in his condolence message: “In her death, the country has lost a wonderful human being and a beacon of social justice and social transformation.”    


 
 
TEENAGERS HELD FOR GANGRAPE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 4 
Two boys appearing for the Madhyamik examinations this year were arrested on charges of gangraping a teenage girl.

Goutam Gayen (16) and Samir Purakayat (15) were arrested today in Canning, South 24-Parganas, for raping a student of Class IX. Two other boys allegedly involved are absconding.

Yesterday, the four boys were returning home from Sifaltala school in Raidighi after writing their Bengali Second Paper exam, said A.K. Maliwal, superintendent of police, South 24 Parganas. They spotted the girl on the deserted road.

The boys struck up a conversation with the girl, student of a local school, on how they were faring at the board exam.

The police feel that they probably knew the girl, who is from a nearby village. Hence, it was easier for them to start the conversation.

The four then allegedly forced her into a paddy field and raped her for 45 minutes.

The ordeal would have lasted longer, but the boys apparently heard some voices and backed off, the girl’s parents told the police.

The girl had tried to resist and had shouted for help, the police said. But no one heard her as the area was deserted.

The victim went home and told her parents of the incident.

At first, her father took her to a quack doctor in the village. But when her condition deteriorated she was taken to Diamond Harbour Hospital, where she was treated and discharged, Maliwal said.

The parents went to the Raidighi police station after bringing her back from the hospital and lodged a complaint.

The police raided the area this morning and arrested Gayen and Purakayat.

Policemen with reinforcements from adjoining police stations have launched a hunt for the absconding duo, the superintendent added.    


 
 
BAJRANG’S BOYS IN REEBOK 
 
 
FROM ANAND SUNDAS
 
Vrindavan, March 4 
Not all Bajrangis look the part. Deb Mech, a new recruit, appears not only out of place in the Sangh outfit but almost unreal, shod in Reebok sneakers, sporting Ray-Ban shades and a trendy stud glinting in one ear.

But a closer look reveals that the 18-year-old from Nagaland is as much a Bajrang warrior as his Hindi-speaking brother, Raju Yadav from Ranchi.

The most surprising fact emerging from the Bajrang Dal’s first national workshop is not only that the organisation has spread its tentacles to the Northeast, but also that it has in its grip many young people who had been leading an angst-free life driving their imported machines.

But even those who have no apparent need of a political identity have their deep-rooted fears — something the Bajrang Dal has preyed on successfully.

Says Deb in impeccable English: “I joined the Bajrang Dal last year of my own free will. I realised that our religion and culture are under threat.”

The teenager, a student of Class XII, says he will join the army after graduation, but adds: “My career will not come in the way of my fight to save my religion.”

Munna Chaubey, with an MSc in electronics from Ranchi University, finds it easy to explain why he “ignored” his career as engineer and joined Bajrang Dal four years ago. “Conversion has become a major threat, especially in the tribal areas of Bihar. The government is doing nothing about it. It is up to us to do something,” he says.

The Bajrang Dal made its first inroad into the Northeast about five years ago with a training camp in Hojai, Assam. Bijoy Das, then 16 years old, was one of the few who took part in it. At present, he says, there are over 5,000 Bajrang activists in his state.

“And why not?” he asks. “The Bangladeshi refugees have created such a problem for us in the Morigaon district. The only things the government can do is give them preferential treatment. They even get ration cards on the spot.”

Now a freshman in college, Das says the Vishwa Hindu Parishad has promised to give jobs to local people and to push back the immigrants.

Chandan Rajbanshi, a suave 26-year-old student of modern history in Guwahati University, recalls how Assam was broken in pieces by the British.

“Do you know what their main weapon was? It was Christianity,” he says, as friends look on with approval. “Marx was right about religion being the opiate of the masses. Now we are going to use this (Hindutva) to change things. India will not be broken anymore.”

But of all these young men, it is Bhavesh Acharya from Pune who best symbolises Bajrang’s latest cadre bank. A student of agriculture in Marathwada University, Acharya says he is a “fan of Dara Singh”, who is accused of murdering missionary Graham Staines and his sons.

Asked how he could take this stand as an educated person, Acharya retorts: “Does education mean dismissing our tradition or self-respect? Only the Bajrang Dal can get back the respect the Hindus have lost through the ages. It is time to hit back.”    

 

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