Stamina test for Writers’ race
Atal cracks whip to calm church fears
Bookie 16 on CBI cricket shortlist
Teacher vs teacher in abuse row
Calcutta weather

Calcutta, June 24 
Sunday’s civic polls in Calcutta and Salt Lake will be essentially a battle between Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee and the ruling communists in the run-up to next year’s crucial Assembly election.

Local issues concerning urban development and civic amenities have been somewhat overshadowed by larger political questions raised by the rival sides.

While Mamata has questioned the Left Front’s ability to ensure good governance for the people even after its 23-year stint in power, the CPM has targeted her as a Union minister in the wake of the Centre’s decision to close down some sick public sector undertakings in the state and the disinvestment policy.

The Trinamul leader has tried to wriggle out of the difficult situation created by the Centre’s decision on sick PSUs by extracting a “vague assurance” from Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee that she would be consulted on the issue.

However, the CPM is apparently determined to make it an issue in the Assembly polls as well. Mamata may find herself on the receiving end if the Centre goes ahead with the proposed closure any time before the Assembly election ignoring her plea to protect the workers’ interests.

Mamata has single-handedly conducted her party’s campaign and harped on the “Panskura verdict” to prevent a possible split in the anti-left votes due to the presence of Congress nominees in all the 141 wards in Calcutta and 23 in Salt Lake. CPM leaders have retaliated by making her their sole target and largely sparing the state Congress which still appears politically confused.

The CPM expects the return of its sitting councillors in the wake of the “positive work done by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation in the fields of water supply, road repair, garbage clearance, improved sewerage and construction of parks.”

The opposition parties, however, have campaigned on “water-logging, bad road conditions, drinking water shortage, wanton destruction of the greenery due to construction of highrises and the malaria menace.”

All these local issues have taken a back seat with Mamata describing the civic polls as the launching pad for her party’s “victorious march towards Writers’ Buildings” after the next Assembly election.

The Trinamul leader’s campaign strategy apparently forced the CPM to challenge her “sincerity to do any positive work” for the people of Bengal and blame her squarely for all “the anti-people steps adopted by the Vajpayee government.”

Both Calcutta and Salt Lake will witness essentially triangular contests with the Left Front, the Trinamul-BJP combine and the Congress as the main contenders. Last time too there were triangular contests among the Left Front, the Congress and the BJP. The number of contestants has gone up from 871 in 1995 to 1,122.

The Left Front hopes to retain the Salt Lake municipality in the wake of disunity between Trinamul and the BJP over seat-sharing. The allies are contesting against each other in 11 of 23 wards.

While Trinamul has put up its nominees in 17 wards, the BJP is contesting 14. Both Left Front and the Congress have fielded candidates in all the 23 seats.The Trinamul-BJP combine, however, is supporting CPM dissidents in three wards.

The ruling communists are not too hopeful about re-capturing the CMC as Trinamul and the BJP have reached a complete seat adjustment. They, however, are counting on the Congress nominees’ ability to cut into Trinamul votes. Mamata is supporting two CPM dissidents in Calcutta, Mantu Sanyal at Beliaghata and Swapan Chakraborty at Kasba.

Rival sides are keeping their fingers crossed over possible violence during polling despite police arrangements. Jyoti Basu urged people to maintain peace and order on the election day.

But Trinamul general secretary Mukul Roy apprehended trouble at Cossipore, Belgachhia, Sealdah, Vidyasagar, Manicktala and parts of Beliaghata in the north and Park Circus, Entally, Kasba, Jadavpur in the south and central Calcutta.    

New Delhi, June 24 
In a move to pre-empt criticism in the West, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee today expressed concern at the recent attacks on Christians in different parts of the country and asked state governments to take immediate steps to curb the violence and punish the culprits.

Vajpayee, who leaves for a five-day tour of Europe tomorrow, said: “These are a matter of deep concern to all those who believe in communal harmony and national unity.” He asserted that his government was committed to upholding the law of the land which guarantees equal rights to all citizens without any discrimination.

The Prime Minister made it clear that no individual or organisation, belonging to any community, had the right to spread ill-will and hatred towards another. community.

“Since law and order is a state subject, I urge all state governments to apply the law of the land fairly, firmly and impartially, investigate every incident thoroughly and bring the culprits to book speedily,” he said in a statement, aimed at domestic as well as international audiences.

While the two-pronged message assures Christians that the BJP-led government would do everything to protect them, it is also a warning to Hindutva forces and hardliners within the party that attempts to undermine his authority would not be tolerated.

To win over the confidence of the Christians, Vajpayee has sought an appointment with the Pope. A PMO senior today confirmed that the Holy See has agreed to hold a meeting between the Pope and Vajpayee on Monday.

But more than the decision to meet the Pope, it’s the timing of the statement that is significant. That Vajpayee decided to issue it tonight, on the eve of his visit, clearly indicates that the attacks have put him on the backfoot before he faces the European leaders.

He even went to the extent of hinting that the violence on religious minorities was proving to be an embarrassment for his government. “Together we are building a strong and resurgent nation whose confident march forward is being keenly watched by the whole world,” he said, stressing that nothing should “slacken the momentum of this march”.

Vajpayee tried to reassure the international community that the BJP-led coalition was committed to maintaining India’s secular heritage.

“These incidents are an aberration and an exception to the general texture of peaceful and cordial relations between various communities that constitute our diverse society,” he said. “Even so, they damage our secular ethos based on the age-old principle of sarva panth samabhava (equal respect for all faiths).”

Vajpayee has been on the defensive ever since the minorities started coming under attack, a fact exacerbated by the Bajrang Dal’s assertion that Christians needed to be chastised from time to time to keep them in line.

Interestingly, Vajpayee has chosen Italy as his first stop, a country with a predominant Roman Catholic population.

Though his two-day official visit will focus on enhancing economic cooperation between the two sides, a wide-range of political issues are likely to come up in his interactions with his Italian counterpart Giuliano Amato.

While the Italian leadership is likely to ask Vajpayee what steps his government is taking to stop the attacks on Christians, the issue may crop up again in Lisbon, where Vajpayee will attend the first-ever Indo-EU summit.    

New Delhi, June 24 
The CBI has zeroed in on at least 16 Mumbai-based bookies who are suspected of being closely linked to the underworld and cricketers in the match-fixing network.

Over the past two weeks, the CBI is learnt to have discreetly questioned about 30 Mumbai bookies. Sources said it now possesses of a lot of information on how Indian cricketers have “thrown” matches during the recent years.

CBI sources are tight-lipped about cricketers named by the bookies, but said links of cricketers with the underworld and bookmakers have been unearthed. “The links between cricketers and organised criminal gangs, like that of Dawood Ibrahim, Chhota Shakeel, Sharad Shakeel and Saleem Hatheli” are also being looked into.

However, the bookies have only made statements before the CBI and no documentary evidence has come to light as yet which might help the investigating agency in lodging a criminal case. The name of Shobhan Mehta, a Mumbai businessman, figures in the shortlist of bookies who have contacts with cricketers. “That stage is nowhere near, though we have learnt about match-fixing and have closely studied some of the questionable matches in which cricketers deliberately underperformed for monetary consideration,” a source said.

The focus is on Kapil Dev, Mohammad Azharuddin, Ajay Jadeja and Nayan Mongia as their names have come up in match-fixing allegations. The bookies reportedly said the match-fixing chain runs in the Dubai-Sharjah-Karachi-Lahore-Mumbai-Delhi sector and that several the linkmen are well-known to Indian and Pakistani cricketers.

The CBI, however, will be inquiring into the alleged involvement of Indian cricketers even though names of cricketers from other countries may crop up from time to time depending upon the players that are examined.

In contrast with the CBI, Delhi Police have not been able to interrogate any bookie operating from the capital. There was a delayed in the attempt to arrest the Delhi bookies — it was “deliberate”, according to some — even as the cellphones of Sanjeev Chawla and Hansie Cronje were being tapped during the February-March India-South Africa Pepsi Cup tournament.

Most of the Delhi-based bookies have gone underground and some like Mohan Khattar, Hans, Sunil, alias Bittu, are suspected to have fled the country. Khattar is believed to be in the US since the Chawla-Cronje tapes were released on April 7.

Azharuddin may have denied his links with alleged bookie Mukesh Gupta, but the CBI is continuing to pursue inquiries.    

Lucknow, June 24 
A teacher of English at Lucknow University has decided to sue her male colleague for sexual harassment and slander.

Forty-year-old Nishi Pandey, who says the sting of her humiliation overtook her fear of taking on “a predominantly feudal and chauvinistic system”, has given the university 10 days to sack G.S. Bhadouria, lecturer in Ancient Indian History and Archaeology, after which she will take him to court.

The alleged harassment took place on June 14, when on an invitation card for the inauguration of a Lucknow University website, Bhadouria scribbled that Pandey was a prostitute and a “nagar badhu”.

Later Bhadouria read his message aloud at the university administrative office. When some women teachers protested, Bhadouria quipped: “Main do sau baar aur bolunga.”

Pandey did not remain silent either. She spoke up against what she feels is an injustice to all “achieving, working women” with the faculty and students supporting her whole-heartedly.

Today some 300 students, mostly girls, blocked traffic for more than three hours at one of Lucknow’s busiest thoroughfares. They gheraod the Vice-Chancellor, demanding the immediate removal of Bhadouria who was “a threat to all women in the campus”.

The students have also sent written representations to the Governor and sought an appointment with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee who, they feel, should not remain silent about such an incident in his constituency.

The Vice-Chancellor has issued a show-cause notice to Bhadouria, but the lecturer in history is adamant. He did not deny the charge that he had written the offensive words, but said it was not aimed at Pandey. “She can approach any authority, whether it is the Vice-Chancellor or the Chancellor, as India is a free country,” he retorted.

Ironically, Pandey’s plight seems to be the result of her fight for women. Bhadouria, who has harassment charges lodged against him earlier too, appears to have been annoyed with Pandey for leading the protests in a molestation case against him .

The lecturer in history had faced a three-year investigation by the university for allegedly molesting a girl student, but reinstated in January.

Support for Pandey, however, seems to grow by the day. Eminent citizens of Lucknow, along with some of Pandey’s old students, have started a signature campaign coming together under the banner of “Citizens of Lucknow in support of Nishi Pandey”.

“I know it is a very bold step to take and am well aware of the pitfalls, but if I don’t act now it will set a bad precedent for my students who might also choose to remain silent in future,” says Pandey, who has taught at the university for the 13 years and is an assistant proctor.

Quoting the Supreme Court definition of sexual harassment, she says there is a water-tight case against Bhadouria. “But it is a much broader issue,” she adds. “It is not just about me, it is about the sexual harassment a woman faces in the workplace. Moreover, I don’t want to lose the respect of students who look up to me and respect me,” said Pandey.

But though Pandey has decided to take Bhadouria and “those who indirectly support him to court”, girls in the university say it is a long way before they achieve equality in the real sense, either in the classroom or at the workplace.

Lucknow University is not woman-friendly. “Try sitting in the canteen and you will realise what I mean,” says Shefali Srivastava, a student.

“And if students are bad, some teachers are worse. We routinely face teachers deliberately brushing against us or making lewd passes. What can we do but remain silent?” says Nidhi Tiwaris, another student.

But Pandey remains vocal. She recalls a report she submitted only 10 days ago on a case of sexual harassment of a student in last April. She was heading the three-member committee looking into the matter and had recommended that the students behind it be expelled.    

Temperature: Max: 34.8°C (+1), Min: 25.5°C (-2) Relative Humidity: Maximum: 93% Minimum: 64% Rainfall: Trace Today: Possibility of one or two showers or thundershowers. Sunset: 6.23 pm, Sunrise: 4.55 am    

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