Crusade to forsake a life paralysed by pain
Advani advice drowns in ally’s Eelam roar
Vajpayee shift on autonomy
N. Bengal bandh for Assam killings
Cannabis curse on Himachal
Fresh split threat on Janata Dal

 
 
CRUSADE TO FORSAKE A LIFE PARALYSED BY PAIN 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, July 2 
For once, the usually surefooted Prime Minister was caught off guard.

On March 6, Atal Behari Vajpayee received a letter he could do nothing about. In his missive to the Prime Minister, Dr Rajendra Upadhyay had asked permission for death by euthanasia.

“Death has been more unfair to me than life,” wrote the 49-year-old doctor of psychology who has been bedridden for the past four years after being struck down by neurological paralysis.

Utterly helpless ever since that fateful morning of April 29, 1996, Upadhyay, who was until then teaching mathematics at the Ram Sevak College in Barabanki, can just flutter his eyelids and move his lips. Apart from his other bodily functions, he has also lost his power of speech.

Upadhyay is aware of the international debate on the touchy issue of mercy killing. So he has appealed to Vajpayee to either help him end his misery or find a solution to his illness.

Experts at some of the country’s best hospitals, including the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, have also failed to diagnose his problem and have given neither him nor his family any hope of recovery.

When his daughter Jagruti wrote to the Centre for Neural Repair, University of California, explaining her father’s problem, doctors there replied that though they couldn’t come to a conclusive understanding, the symptoms resembled Alzheimer’s disease.

Things became worse after September 1999. By that time, the family, whose only income now was the money Upadhyay’s wife Lata got from her bank job, had spent more than Rs 2 lakh on his treatment.

Upadhyay has become so desperate to end his life that in the last one-and-a-half years he has dictated letters to anyone who could even remotely be of some help.

He has already written to chief minister Ram Prakash Gupta, some of his cabinet ministers, the National Human Rights Commission, former chief minister Kalyan Singh and twice to Vajpayee.

During the last Lok Sabha elections, Upadhyay even made his family members paste the walls of his Malaviya Nagar house with posters asking canvassing politicians to “either do something for me or help me end my life so that I can donate my organs to the cause of scientific research”. It has been the same story with every election after that.

But in his poignant predicament, Upadhyay has become a powerful spokesman of euthanasia, which a recent Kerala High Court observation perceives to be suicide.

Speaking through an excruciatingly painful mode of communication, where he winks at the right letters as his wife spells out the whole gamut of the Hindi alphabet, Upadhyay says that if the Constitution and the legal system do not have a provision for mercy-killing, there should at least be a serious debate on it.

“When people realise that they are nothing but a burden on society, their families and even themselves, and want to die because of it, they should be allowed to,” says the ex-professor, who once had dreams of opening a school for children in his locality. “Because the pain of helplessness, of shame and guilt is the greatest pain of all. Others can only sympathise, they cannot ever feel it.”

His closest circle -- wife, daughter, son and brother-in-law -- who have stood by him all these years, say the best they can do for him is respect his wishes.

“It would be selfish on our part to let him suffer like this only because we want him to be with us, always,” says 16-year-old Jagruti, her stoicism far beyond her age.

As the conversation of despair and resignation draws to a close, Upadhyay again flutters his eyes wildly. It’s a signal to his wife that he wants to say something.

She sits down with a pen and starts calling out the letters one by one. After what seems like eternity, the words take shape. Once again, it’s a plea for release.

“Life suddenly seems so frightening and death so sweet. But it refuses to hear my call. The only way someone can actually help me is by giving me an injection that would take be where I long to go. Help me rest my head on the bosom of death.”    


 
 
ADVANI ADVICE DROWNS IN ALLY’S EELAM ROAR 
 
 
FROM T.N. GOPALAN
 
Erode, July 2 
Home minister L.K. Advani today counselled his Tamil Nadu allies against doing anything that promotes secession in “friendly neighbour” Sri Lanka.

Addressing a convention of the MDMK -- a strong votary of the Tamil cause in Sri Lanka -- here, Advani laced this mild warning against provocative statements and gestures with a reassurance. He said India would do its utmost to ensure that the Tamils of Sri Lanka lived in peace and with dignity, with all the rights due to them as citizens of that country.

But, minutes after Advani left the dais, S. Ramadoss, leader of BJP ally PMK, took the floor to make a mockery of the home minister’s appeal for restraint.

Ramadoss said that a separate Tamil Eelam was the only solution to the festering ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.

“The Sinhalese and Tamils cannot live together any more there.., whether one likes it or not Tamil Eelam would be born one day to the chagrin of Eelam critics,” he said.

Raising his voice, he thundered: “Why should we fight shy of acknowledging our commitment to a separate Eelam?” and attacked those who raised a hue and cry whenever someone took up the Tamil cause.

Ramadoss’s fiery 40-minute speech was cheered all the way by Vaiko, the MDMK chief and organiser of the convention. The home minister, too, is believed to have sat through it at the back of the auditorium.

After Advani had gone a step forward than he would perhaps have anywhere else in the country to explain to an audience weaned on pro-Eelam rhetoric India’s stand on Lanka, Ramadoss’s second act appeared to be a slap in the face of New Delhi.

But Ramadoss’s compulsion to serve what his home audience wanted was obviously far greater than Advani’s. That the BJP’s Tamil Nadu allies would continue to embarrass New Delhi with gestures and statements — Advani said they should desist from making — was clear at today’s convention. At the same time, both Ramadoss and Vaiko were careful enough to draw the Laxman rekha for themselves. Ramadoss said neither of them would do anything to destabilise the BJP-led government.

In an evident attempt to keep the likes of Vaiko, the MDMK chief and flagbearer of Tamil nationalism, in line with New Delhi’s stand, the home minister had earlier repeatedly said the MDMK was committed to the country’s integrity and stability of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

Expanding on the theme, Advani had poured scorn on the Opposition, which, he said, “had hoped to drive a wedge between the BJP and its allies on the Sri Lankan issue”.

“They failed in their desire to destabilise our government on the subsidy (cut) issue during the budget session and hoped to achieve it again by making use of the Lanka issue. But they have been sorely disappointed,” he said.

“The DMK, the PMK and the MDMK have unreservedly supported the NDA government’s policy on Sri Lanka and this MDMK convention would further intensify their (Opposition) disappointment.”

The smugness evident in the comment did not quite survive the Ramadoss onslaught. Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi was enthroned as the pan-Tamil patriarch by the PMK leader who appealed to him to shed his inhibitions and come out stronger for Eelam.

In an amusing interlude when he was driving home Karunanidhi’s responsibility to speak up for his Lanka brethren, Ramadoss started to say “as the leader of Tamils all over the world numbering eight...”. Then, after a pause, he prompted the audience: “Who, who is the leader?”

“Prabhakaran, Prabhakaran,” The MDMK supporters roared amid cheers. Pretending to be taken aback, but satisfied with the effect, Ramadoss corrected them and, grinning, said: “It is Kalaignar (leader)...our chief minister.”    


 
 
VAJPAYEE SHIFT ON AUTONOMY 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 2 
Confronted by his own party and faced with an orchestrated clamour for more devolution of power to the provinces, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is altering his initial optimistic approach to the autonomy resolution passed by the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly.

After last evening’s meeting with BJP president Kushabhau Thakre and informal parleys with several Cabinet ministers, including M.M.Joshi, both Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani decided against sending out any positive signal to the resolution.

The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) also issued a statement saying that Vajpayee had not yet decided whether the resolution was constitutional or not.

Yet, despite the row it has kicked up, constitutional experts say a degree of autonomy for Kashmir does not go against the grain of the Constitution. Law minister Ram Jethmalani even argued that it would dilute the ranks of secessionists in the state.

For the BJP, which has been fighting for the abrogation of Article 370, granting even a semblance of additional powers to the state would mean continuing with the special status it already enjoys.

Therefore, 7 Race Course Road’s backtracking on the sensitive subject is understandable.

Complicating matters, the Ladakhis have moved a resolution, demanding autonomy for their part of north Kashmir. The BJP’s Jammu unit has also voiced reservations, saying it is ready to defy New Delhi if the Centre ignored Jammu’s popular sentiments.

The government is also feeling the backlash from the Sangh parivar’s fundamentalist fringes and even from Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, while three former Prime Ministers have warned of dire consequences.

Despite the Centre’s best efforts, the autonomy debate has already sent the wrong signals to states clamouring for more power -- especially in financial matters. Their dissatisfaction stems from the meagre resources doled out by the Centre.

According to both Assam chief minister Prafulla Mahanta and Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu, a degree of autonomy should percolate to all states and not Jammu and Kashmir alone.

There is also the feedback that there might be a similar demand from the secession-prone provinces of the Northeast.

The Cabinet, which will meet in the next two days, will have to take all these negative vibes into consideration. It is clear that the government will now tread even more cautiously.

Though the resolution has no legal validity, it throws up a host of discomfiting political questions. And if the Centre shuts the door to autonomy completely at this stage, it might alienate even the fence-sitters among Kashmiris -- that is those who want peace above everything else.    


 
 
N. BENGAL BANDH FOR ASSAM KILLINGS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Siliguri, July 2 
The All Gorkha Students’ Union (AGSU) has called a 24-hour strike in Darjeeling and the Dooars on July 28 in protest against the frequent killing of Nepali-speaking people by militants in Assam, reports our special correspondent.

The AGSU’s call comes in the wake of the killing of four Nepalis allegedly by Bodo militants in Nalbari on June 22. Earlier, 19 Nepalis were shot dead by extremists in Karbi Anglong and north Assam between April and May.

AGSU joint-secretary Madhukar Tamang said: “Besides protesting the frequent massacre of Nepali-speaking people, we want the Centre to recognise them as a specially protected class in the Northeast.” He added: “At the same time, we want to use the bandh to highlight our long-standing demand for the creation of a separate Gorkhaland, comprising Darjeeling and the Dooars, to protect the identity of the Nepali-speaking Indians.”

A joint delegation of the AGSU, an independent students’ union, the All Bodo Students’ Union and the All Jharkhand Students’ Union will visit Delhi on July 19 to press for the formation of Gorkhaland, Jharkhand, Bodoland and other smaller states.    


 
 
CANNABIS CURSE ON HIMACHAL 
 
 
FROM GAJINDER SINGH
 
Kullu, July 2 
After the timber mafia, it is now the turn of druglords to mint money in Himachal Pradesh. Cannabis, also known as the holy drug, is emerging as an industry with fast returns in villages on the outskirts of the Kullu district.

“Availability is easy and it also comes cheap. There does not seem to be any check to the illegal growth of the drug. Those responsible for growing cannabis are very powerful. It is hurting our children who are getting addicted to bhang and can affect tourist flow if allowed to flourish,” said Raj Singh, a fruit vendor near the bus stand.

Most of the cannabis finding its way to Kullu town comes from villages like Malana, Khachi, Thalout and Tosh. In Malana, no plants could be seen. But inquiries revealed that villagers, instead of growing cannabis in their fields, were growing it in remote areas not accessible by road and too dangerous to reach by foot for officials unfamiliar with the topography of the region.

“We get ready cash for the cannabis. It fetches us better returns than other crops and there is no fear of failure. Whatever is grown is mostly sold,” a villager said.

Charas and bhang could be purchased readily in Kullu and all along the way to Manikaran, a religious shrine, about 40 km from the valley.

The charas sold is of high quality and much sought after by foreigners, who act as couriers for suppliers. “Involving foreigners to peddle drugs is very safe. If they are caught they cannot lead the police to us. If caught, the case lodged against them is for possession of drugs and not peddling. If they have given us good returns, we ensure their release by greasing the right palms,” a Malana supplier said.

District superintendent of police Anurag Garg, however, denied a drug racket in the area. “We are keeping strict vigil and no major consignment has so far been confiscated. Foreigners have been arrested for possessing drugs, not for selling,” he said.

But a district official claimed the police were helpless against the well organised racket. “Police parties are harassed by villagers when they go to check the fields. Their uniforms are torn and their belongings thrown into the river. Some have even been beaten,” he said.

Tourists from Italy, Israel, Japan and Nepal have been arrested so far for possessing drugs. Till June this year the number of foreigners arrested for possessing drugs is double the number during the same period last year.

With the spurt in the growth of cannabis in the region, the district administration has asked the Centre to establish a narcotics control bureau in the region to check the trade.

“We are yet to get a firm answer to our proposal. If the drug racket is not checked immediately, it will become thriving industry. Already, cannabis grown here is finding its way to Goa Mumbai, perhaps even to the international market, a senior district official warned.

For the record, a barrier has been set up at Bajoura to keep vigil on couriers. A visit to the site revealed four sleepy-eyed policemen more intent on hurrying vehicles by than checking their boot.

The police is also contacting NGOs to check the drug menace. “NGOs can help create awareness against drug abuse in the valley.They can also reach far flung areas which have so far been inaccessible for us,”said DSP Garg.

Till then drugs in the valley will be available in plenty and foreign as well as domestic couriers will continue to thrive.    


 
 
FRESH SPLIT THREAT ON JANATA DAL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 2 
The Janata Dal (United), led by civil aviation minister Sharad Yadav, might be heading for a split again, if the Election Commission takes cognisance of a petition filed by some Dal leaders belonging to the erstwhile Lok Shakti.

They have urged the commission to declare the January 6, 2000 merger of the Dal (U) and the Lok Shakti null and void as it was done “fraudulently”. Lok Shakti leaders appeared before the commission on June 23, pleading that the merger be “derecognised”.

Sources said Lok Shakti leader Ramakrishna Hegde is disillusioned with Sharad Yadav and wants to join hands with communications minister Ram Vilas Paswan, who is planning to convert his pocketborough Dalit Sena into a political outfit by August. Paswan, a Dal (U) member, is an arch rival of Yadav.

Samata and the Lok Shakti were to merge with the Dal on January 6, but at the last minute, Samata leaders backed out. In their petition to the commission, the leaders alleged that the merger was not ratified by the general membership and the plenary session of the Lok Shakti.

No valid notice for the national executive or national council had been served as is mandatory under Articles 14 and 15 of the party constitution.

They also alleged that the national council had not been constituted according to Article 12 of the party constitution. Several state units of the Lok Shakti did not recommend the merger as was required. Affidavit of Lok Shakti leaders Hegde and Srinivas Prasad (union minister of state) consenting to the merger had not been signed by them in the presence of a notary public. Sharma said the affidavit was attested by the notary on December 24, 1999, though Hegde was not in Delhi on that day.    

 

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