Mithun vote drives Mamata to Basu
Nitish divides to rule Bihar
From jungle to jailbird raj
Bangalore loses the Bill to Hyderabad
Scientist learns caste lesson in court
Congress fields palace guards
TU remote control curb
Cyberabad film staff on the streets
UP women in hit-back mode
Jeans girls hold tight

Calcutta, March 7 
Mamata Banerjee has sought Jyoti Basu’s support for her party’s Rajya Sabha nominee, Mithun Chakraborty.

State CPM leaders today conceded that Mamata had written to the chief minister, seeking his support for Mithun. “We came to know about the letter 10 minutes after we decided to put up four Left Front nominees for the March 29 Rajya Sabha polls. We cannot change our decision now,” state CPM secretary and politburo member Anil Biswas said after a Left Front meeting.

State Forward Bloc secretary Ashok Ghosh had raised the matter at the meeting. But the CPM leadership told him the party was not aware that Mithun was in the fray as a Trinamul-backed Independent candidate.

Sources said Mithun might still win the fifth seat from the state if Left Front legislators cast their excess vote in his favour and a majority of Opposition MLAs support him.

State transport minister Subhas Chakraborty, however, said Mithun should not contest the Rajya Sabha polls with Trinamul backing.

Trinamul sources said Mamata is likely to approach other Left Front partners. She intends to project Mithun as an Independent candidate, like Gen. (retd) Shankar Roychowdhury who was nominated last year.

The railway minister will arrive here next week to launch the campaign in favour of the filmstar. Some Trinamul legislators, acting on instructions from Mamata, today collected forms from the Assembly for nominating Mithun. The actor will have the support of all the 18 legislators owing allegiance to the Trinamul.

The state Congress, which has nominated former PCC chief Somen Mitra for the Rajya Sabha polls, is also divided over support to the party candidate.

Of the 74 Congress legislators, those opposed to Mitra are expected to cast their votes in favour of Mithun. State Congress vice-president Pradip Bhattacharya said the party would have no objection if Mithun sailed through with excess votes from Congress MLAs.    

Patna, March 7 
Nitish Kumar today gave finishing touches to his divide-and-rule strategy, extracting assurances from a sizeable chunk of MLAs from “difficult parties” that they would abstain during Friday’s trust vote.

The new Bihar chief minister, who had yesterday claimed the support of 25 MLAs from Laloo Yadav’s camp, opened a new flank after the RJD legislators made it clear they would not be content with ministerial berths and furnished a string of other demands.

Sources close to Nitish claimed that three of the five Bahujan Samaj Party MLAs had agreed to support the government and had signed a deal.

Four Congress legislators opposed to Laloo signalled they would bail out the NDA by staying away from a meeting of the legislature party convened by national spokesman Ajit Jogi. The group, led by Bina Sahi, claimed the support of at least two others and said efforts were on to rope in two more to effect an official split in the 23-member legislature group.

The NDA mounted a campaign to persuade a section of MLAs from the CPI and the CPI(M-L) to abstain. The communist party, which had earlier said it would vote against Nitish, is facing a split as three of its five MLAs have reportedly questioned the high command’s decision to support Laloo after campaigning against him during the elections.

Nitish is also counting on the two CPI(M-L) members to abstain.

If all these legislators stay away, the effective strength of the House will be reduced to 319. The NDA, which now claims the support of 154 MLAs, will then need 159 for majority.

In an attempt to test the political waters, Nitish called an all-party meet today at the Assembly “to arrive at a consensus on the selection of Speaker”. Although the RJD and the Congress skipped the meet, CPI legislators, including B.P. Mehta and Rajendra Singh, attended. “Though we are against the NDA, we thought the selection of the Speaker’s post should be as per tradition,” Mehta said.

As a first step towards luring the CPI, Nitish appointed veteran party MLA Biseswar Khan as the pro-tem Speaker. “We have our strength. That we called an all-party meet should not be seen as our weakness. But we want to honour convention by calling members of all Opposition parties,” the chief minister said.

The Congress has asked Madhavrao Scindia and Pranab Mukherjee to be present in the House during the trust vote to put “moral pressure” on the legislators.

Motion in RS

Bihar rocked back into the Rajya Sabha centrestage today, with the Opposition-sponsored motion on the conduct of the Governor being admitted by chairman Krishan Kant. But procedural snags prevented the debate from taking off.

Naidu sting

BJP ally and Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu today virtually supported the RJD’s claim, saying the single largest party could have been called to form the government in Bihar.

“However, things will be set right in a day or two,” he said in Vijayawada, adding that the Telugu Desam was always opposed to the “misuse” of Article 356.    

Patna, March 7 
If Laloo Yadav had imposed jungle raj in Bihar, Nitish Kumar is set to usher in jail raj. Six jailbirds drove straight from prison to the chief minister’s office today, as securitymen watched silently.

Nitish Kumar stood up to receive the “honoured guests”, led by notorious criminal Suraj Bhan, and readily posed for pictures with them.

“The jungle raj has ended,” declared an overwhelmed Suraj Bhan after the photo session. The chief minister’s aides roared in laughter. The support of the group of six from Beur Jail — who have been elected to the Assembly as Independents — is crucial for the Nitish government.

The chief minister had asserted that after removing jungle raj in Bihar, he would “fill the vacuum with medicinal plants”. “The anti-social rule is not my legacy. But I will definitely try to reform it,” he had promised.

But referring to the dons, a BJP MP said today: “Forget the bloody past of these men. They have been voted to power by the citizens of the country.”

Suraj Bhan, Munna Shukla, Rajen Tiwari and Zakir Hussain — names that strike terror in Bihar — arrived for their swearing-in to a hero’s welcome. Politicians hugged them, supporters cheered and camera bulbs flashed as they entered the Assembly.

But the oath-taking was not as smooth. Suraj Bhan fumbled, Rajen Tiwari mixed up words, and Rama Singh, who is charged with the murder of a minister, pronounced one word twice, paused before he went to the next one and stopped abruptly.

Afterwards, the prisoners moved about freely in the Assembly premises. Suraj Bhan was seen talking to Zakir Hussain, another don and a BSP MLA. Hussain, whose party has issued a whip for voting against the government, did not protest when Suraj Bhan announced that he was “our man”.

Rama Singh and Rajen Tiwari spoke with Lessi Singh and Aruna Devi, wives of dons from Hajipur, who are also part of the treasury benches.

The Rashtriya Janata Dal had made a last-ditch attempt to woo the inmates, sending feelers through its own supporters in Beur Jail. But Suraj Bhan’s men bashed up one such supporter.

Rajen Tiwari, an alleged associate of Pappu Yadav, said: “All the victims of jungle raj who had cases slapped against them during Laloo raj will be with us”.

Once the dons have seen Nitish through the confidence vote, he would have to pay them their pound of flesh. “Their demands from the government will not leave us in peace,” warned a CPI legislator.    

Bangalore, March 7 
The Silicon Valley of India has lost out to Cyberabad in the race to host US President Bill Clinton.

Official sources today said that while Hyderabad has been included in Clinton’s itinerary — along with New Delhi, Agra, Jaipur and Mumbai — Bangalore has been left out due to “time constraints”.

Chief minister S.M. Krishna, who is camping in Delhi, said US ambassador to India Richard Celeste rang up to inform him that Clinton had appreciated his invitation but regretted his inability to visit Bangalore.

While Chandrababu Naidu has reasons to be happy with his “coup”, sources said the Andhra chief minister had been trying for the past 18 months to ensure that Clinton visited Hyderabad, whereas Karnataka got into the act only after Krishna assumed office last November.

But Karnataka also tried its best to lure Clinton to Bangalore. It cited the number of US software companies — including IBM, Intel, Compaq, Sun Microsystems and Nortel — which have their corporate offices in the city.

It totted up software export figures, which are 10 times more than that of Hyderabad, and even the fact that both Krishna and Clinton were Rhodes scholars. But finally, it was Naidu’s perseverance which prevailed.

Asked whether US businessmen would now shift their attention to Hyderabad, Krishna said: “I don’t think a single visit of the President or anybody else will be the sole criterion for flow of investment to any state. Businessmen have so many other parameters.”

Regardless of who comes to visit the city or not, Krishna pointed out, Bangalore will continue to be the Information Technology capital of India and Asia. “Our effort will be to keep the momentum going,” he added.    

New Delhi, March 7 
It took the Supreme Court to tell a DNA scientist what he refused to learn from the lab. Caste had no role in “human biotechnology”, the court ruled, dismissing the scientist’s plea for action against his wife for misleading him on her caste.

The division bench of Justice S. Saghir Ahmad and Justice D.P. Wadhwa said: “He (the husband) can be reasonably presumed to be aware of the bio-diversity at the cellular and molecular level amongst human beings without the “caste” having any role in the field of human bio-technology”.

The judges said the petitioner, a scientist at the centre for DNA finger-printing and diagnostics, Hyderabad, should be aware of this fact.

The scientist had advertised in newspaper matrimonial columns that he belonged to Gujala Balija community, a forward caste, and wanted a woman of a forward caste.

The scientist said in his petition that the woman’s family responded to the advertisement and claimed that she belonged to Thurupukapu community, a forward caste.

The marriage took place in 1994. In 1997, the scientist said, he came to know that his wife belonged to the Kondakapu community, a Scheduled Tribe.

The apex court said there has been a spurt in matrimonial disputes in recent times.

“Marriage is a sacred ceremony, the main purpose of which is to enable the young couple to settle down,” the court said.

“But little matrimonial skirmishes suddenly erupt which often assume serious proportions resulting in commission of heinous crimes,” it added.

It added that “parties should ponder over their faults and terminate their disputes amicably by mutual agreement instead of fighting it out in a court of law where it takes years to conclude”.    

New Delhi, March 7 
“Palace guards”, economists, film personalities and industrialists are set to figure with senior party leaders in the Congress list of candidates for the Rajya Sabha polls this month.

Sonia-loyalist Arjun Singh is likely to be nominated from Madhya Pradesh amid hectic lobbying to deny him a ticket. Another “palace guard” K. Natwar Singh may, however, be not so lucky as he is pitted against two other Jat stalwarts, Ram Niwas Mirdha and Balram Jakhar.

Sonia-aide Ram Pradhan, who lost the Rajya Sabha polls two years ago, causing bad blood between Sonia and Sharad Pawar, is again in the fray with Murli Deora.

Thespian Dilip Kumar has been shortlisted from Maharashtra for the second slot. Rajesh Khanna is hopeful of a Congress ticket from Madhya Pradesh. Trinamul Congress has proposed actor Mithun Chakraborty from West Bengal and Sonia Gandhi today showed interest in backing him. A Mithun-Sonia meeting is being arranged, party sources said.

On the Congress side, there are three claimants for a lone sure-shot Rajya Sabha berth from West Bengal — Somen Mitra, D.P. Roy and Arjun Sengupta. A strong contender, Somen is, however, facing opposition from the pro-Mamata Banerjee lobby in the state Congress which feels Somen’s candidature may derail a future tie-up between the Trinamul and the Congress.

If the pro-Mamata lobby gains ground and Somen’s claim is set aside, it will be a toss-up between Roy and Sengupta. Roy is close to 10 Janpath while Sengupta’s name is backed by Pranab Mukherjee and Manmohan Singh.

Industrialist R.P. Goenka is tipped to enter the Upper House from Rajasthan. Vijay Mallya and hotelier Lalit Suri are also vying for the Rajya Sabha from Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh. In Uttar Pradesh, the Congress does not have the requisite strength to ensure his victory, but Suri is confident of getting surplus votes from non-BJP parties like the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. Both Jitendra Prasada and Satish Sharma are favouring him.

In Karnataka, three-time Congress MP Hanumanthappa is retiring along with Janardhan Poojari and K. Rahman Khan. Chief minister S.M. Krishna is keen to accommodate Jairam Ramesh but it would mean dropping Hanumanthappa.

Former Union minister C.K. Jaffer Sharief is working overtime to scuttle Rahman Khan’s prospects, but the outgoing MP has the backing of minorities after the instant success of the Rs 300-crore Amanat Scheduled Bank and Alamin Society running several medical and engineering colleges for minorities.

Veteran Congress leader Vijaya Bhaskara Reddy wants to get into the Rajya Sabha from Andhra Pradesh.    

New Delhi, March 7 
The Centre today made significant legislative changes to bar easy entry of outsiders into executive bodies of trade unions.

It also imposed restrictions on registration of unions, making it mandatory to have a 10 per cent support base before a union could be officially recognised.

The new Trade Union Amendment Bill will prevent multiplicity of unions, said a senior labour official who had been summoned to the Cabinet meeting. He said the objective was to make the unions “responsive, responsible and accountable”. The idea is also to promote leadership from the rank and file.

Sources said this is a revised Bill which will be tabled in Parliament all over again and now has much more teeth than before.

This is among the six legislations approved by the Cabinet in its two-hour meeting this evening. All legislation will be placed in the budget session, provided members do not resort to the politics of “adjournment”.

The Trade Union Act of 1926 allows entry of up to 50 per cent outsiders into any union leadership. Discussions to reduce this high presence of those who have “no commitment to the company” began during Narasimha Rao’s tenure.

Efforts were made also during the previous Vajpayee government to pass legislation restricting outsiders from deciding the fate of a company’s workers.

After the amendment, only a third of the executive body of a trade union, or a maximum of five members, can be outsiders.

What the government sources did not specify was that this would prevent “over-politicisation” of the unions and let new leadership emerge from within the company.

In some ways, sources admitted this development would hurt the Left unions which have tended to transplant their politically-indoctrinated cadre on factory premises. This will also ease the control of centralised trade unions and pave the way for “better understanding between managements and unions”.

At present, seven persons getting together in an industrial unit can form a union. The amendment will disallow multiplicity, insisting on proof of a 10 per cent support base before a union can be registered.

Among the other decisions taken today was the biodiversity Bill which allows for conservation of flora and fauna.

The Cabinet also approved another important pending legislation is the amended Criminal Procedure Code. The amendments to the code were first introduced in 1994 in the Rajya Sabha and referred to a House committee.

The Bill is being tabled again because it had lapsed and new clauses were incorporated.    

Hyderabad, March 7 
Footsoldiers of the film industry are out in the cold in cyberland.

At least 300 technicians and junior artistes along with their families have been staying in the open on the grounds of Jubilee Hills for the past one month. The government demolished their houses, alleging they were not film personalities but “land grabbers”.

The Municipal Corporation of Hyderabad, acting on a complaint by the AP Film, TV and Theatre Development Corporation, mowed down the semi-concrete structures in the first week of February. “We do not have a shelter and are living on pavements and open land,” said Madhu, secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Film Workers’ Association, which had launched an agitation against the government.

Filmstars Naresh and Vijayshanti, both members of the BJP, led a delegation to chief minister Chandrababu Naidu last week but were turned back. “We also have them (film artistes in the Telugu Desam). We know the truth,” Naidu said.

Unwilling to sour relations with the Desam on the eve of the civic polls, the BJP compelled the film workers to withdraw their protest.

In 1988, the Andhra government under N.T. Rama Rao, himself a mega star, had unveiled an ambitious housing programme as part of his plan to shift the Telugu film industry from Chennai to Hyderabad. Initially, all actors, filmmakers and cameramen were provided land at subsidised rates in Jubilee Hills. The government also allotted a 50-acre plot to the AP film development corporation for a housing colony for junior artistes and technicians.

But the corporation sat on the project and the craftsmen, having waited for nearly a decade, set up their dwellings at the site in 1998.

In August last year, the government demolished the houses on the ground that the constructions were illegal. The administration, however, offered the film workers accommodation on the outskirts of the city. But the technicians shot down the proposal and rebuilt the houses, which were razed last month.

BJP leader Chitti Babu, who heads the party’s film wing, threw his weight behind the film staff and organised sit-ins and hungerstrikes. BJP leaders claimed the government has its eyes on the plot as Jubilee Hills is a prime location.

“The government is keen to hand over the land to D. Rama Naidu, a leading producer who is also a Desam MP, for expansion of his studio. The producer has sought 35 acres in Jubilee Hills,” Chitti Babu said.

Rama Naidu scoffed at the charge. “ I have no interest in the land. The government has not allocated any housing plots to film workers. It wants to build an international convention centre,” he said.

The film corporation alleged that many people who were not part of the film industry had set up their houses and it would provide accommodation only to those with identity cards. Those uprooted said all of them have IDs issued by the studios.

The recession in the industry has already taken its toll on the junior artistes and technicians, most of whom are now without jobs. “We were all encouraged to come to Hyderabad from Chennai. Now nobody bothers about us,” lamented Lalith Kumar, a technician. “We cannot even return to Chennai as our jobs have been taken over,” added Prasanna Kumar, a dummy for superstar Nagarjuna.

With only 65 films produced in 1999 and hardly 10 projects announced in the last three months, most craftsmen have been dismissed from the studios which hired them on a stipend. “Since February, both Rama Naidu and Padmalaya have banned our entry into their studios in view of the agitation. We cannot even go there and use any of their facilities,” said Hemasundari, a make-up assistant.

The workers feel they were let down by the BJP. “The elections were more important to them than our homes,” said Amir Pasha, a cameraman.    

Lucknow, March 7 
Those out to celebrate International Women’s Day tomorrow should ignore the state’s crime record since the BJP took over.

The record for 1999 is alarming. Nearly 2,000 women lost their lives because their in-laws were unhappy with the dowry they brought. Almost 1500 were raped and another 2,441 abduc-ted.

The plight of women has become even worse in the last six months of BJP rule, charge many.

But some are ready to hit back. Tomorrow, the streets of Lucknow will see thousands of women gathering to voice their protests.

Armed with facts and figures, the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA) will take out a rally, with support from around 200 women’s organisations from across the state, which will highlight the “Talibanisation” of Uttar Pradesh under the BJP.

“There is no difference between the Taliban in Afghanistan and the BJP here,” said former vice-chancellor of Lucknow University Roop Rekha Verma, launching a booklet on “BJP’s misrule”.

Citing the recent controversy over Deepa Mehta’s Water and the imposition of dress codes in colleges in Kanpur, she said: “No one from the government is raising their voice against the rampant crime against women because most of the perpetrators have some connection or the other with the administration.”

Another booklet brought out on the occasion of the International Women’s Day on the BJP’s silence in the matter deals with the women’s anxiety.

Ajanta Lohit, AIPWA state secretary, said she had evidence showing violence against women had “sharply risen” ever since the BJP government came to power. Criticising the state government for dissolving the Women’s Commission, she said women would demand setting up of the panel again.

Subhashini Ali of the Janwadi Mahila Samiti said after the rally tomorrow the women would gather signatures of over one crore people and hand it over to the UN representative in India. They would also make a representation to UN general secretary Kofi Annan.

K.N. Kacker, an eminent writer and critic here, was even less charitable in his remarks on the BJP government. “What do you expect from a party that has Vajpayee as Prime Minister? He is the biggest liar anyone can come across,” Kacker says. “He has been lying to the nation with a straight face ever since he came to power.”    

Kanpur, March 7 
Women’s groups have spoken out in favour of the two girls banished from their college for a week for leading a violent rebellion against the dress dictators.

Defiant in punishment and buoyed by the support from the women’s organisations, Henna Koisar and Chetna Bharatiya are even willing to forego their degree exams should the college insist on enforcing the clothes code laid down by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the BJP’s student arm.

Henna and Chetna, students of S.N. Sen Girls College, were stopped from entering a campus party in jeans last week and told to return wearing salwar kameez. Furious, the two students came back with 15 girls from other colleges and let loose their martial arts skills on whoever challenged them. They singled out the students’ union president, whom they hold responsible for enforcing the dress code, and severely assaulted her. Principal Madhulekha Vidyarthi, too, wasn’t spared.

Vidyarthi yesterday suspended Henna and Chetna for seven days and brought out a notice “after a teachers’ meeting” that said: “Entry to college wearing jeans, skirts, midi will be denied. It is henceforth compulsory for everyone to wear salwar kameez and chunni.”

Chetna is adamant. “If we don’t speak up against these elements, who want us to remain silent, no one will,” she says.

Chetna argues she went to the college in jeans as she was to have participated in an athletics meet. But she is now prepared to risk her career and dared the principal to debar her from writing the degree exams.

“If I give in now to their demand fearing that my career will be hampered, no woman will believe in the sincerity of our cause. I will fight,” Chetna says, as Henna nods in agreement.

Rallying behind them are women’s organisations like the National Alliance of Women, an independent rights group which has organised sit-ins and launched a “free-them” agitation.

Shweta Tripathi, a student of AND College, says: “You see, it is not about them. It is about us. Who are they to tell us what to wear? The whole world has stepped into the 21st century and they want to push us back to the medieval ages.”

But the girls know what they are up against. Simi Singh, a student of the same college, was stopped by a traffic constable and asked why she was wearing jeans. She sped away, but not before screaming: “It is none of your business”.

When Anjali Shukla, a batchmate of Chetna and Henna, went to lodge a counter FIR against the principal, the police inspector told her: “When you wear jeans, you are asking to be molested.”

Vidyarthi feels the girls are just trying to raise a stink. “They are trying to pollute the college atmosphere. What’s wrong in wearing salwar kameez? It is for their own good. It is a law and order issue,” she says.

The college managing committee, however, has frowned on Vidhyarthi’s suspension order.    


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