Zoo in late clean-up as tiger toll rises
Mamata’s guest gets shawl and sandesh
Desertions force Cong rethink on mayor poll
Born-again Gupta vows election sweep
RSS peeps out of iron curtain

Bhubaneswar, July 6 
One more tiger died today of the deadly fly-borne disease stalking the Nandankanan safari park and another was gasping for breath, as the park authorities scrambled to save the remaining big cats.

The toll now is 10, with the death of a 13-year-old white tiger afflicted by trypanosomiasis, a parasitic disease that affects the animals’ vital organs.

Another sick tiger is frothing at the mouth, said assistant conservator of forest Manoj Mohapatra. The tigers have not responded to drugs.

The Nandankanan manager said the other 44 tigers, including the 20 white felines, were not showing any signs of being ill. None of them was limping or suffering from a loss of appetite, two main symptoms of the malaria-type disease spread by biting flies.

After a slow response to the epidemic that announced itself with the death of a white tiger on June 23 but was disregarded, the authorities got their act together and started cleaning up the tiger enclosures to keep the flies at bay.

The keepers cut the overgrown bushes in the safari park and sprayed it with fly-repellent. Burning piles of dried leaves, they tried to drive away the deadly vectors.

Mohapatra said the slimy moat surrounding the safari park had been cleaned with lime to destroy the flies’ breeding ground. The tigers inside were given saline water with glucose and given preventive medicine. To supplement their diet of raw beef, the tigers were given chicken today.

The zoo officials could not explain why the tiger enclosure had not been cleaned earlier, especially since post-mortem had confirmed that the first casualty had died of trypanosomiasis.

The Centre is sending a six-member expert team on a fact-finding mission to Bhubaneswar tomorrow. Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik said he has requested the Union forest and environment minister to put the state government in touch with experts in the West.

The Central team, led by the secretary of the Central Zoo Authority, would have experts from Hyderabad, Chennai and Bangalore zoos.

Patnaik said the team would find the cause behind the epidemic. “Heads will roll,” he said, if anyone was found guilty of negligence.

Specialists from the Orissa Veterinary College in Bhubaneswar, appointed by the state government for treating the tigers, also visited the zoo.

L.N. Acharjyo, a former vet at the zoo and an expert in tiger diseases, said apart from the stricken feline, the rest were stable.

Though the park authorities claimed that this was the first outbreak of trypanosomiasis at Nandankanan, government records revealed that the disease had struck last year, too. Three tigers had died, two had been cured.    

Calcutta, July 6 
Sixty-seven-year-old Gayatree Devi looked nervous. Shy by nature, she wore her smile and stood waiting by her rail mantri daughter’s side with a ghee-coloured angavastram draped on her arm.

For the first time perhaps, Gayatree Devi realised the importance of being Mamata Banerjee’s mother. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was coming all the way with the sole purpose of visiting her.

She is used to the Sunil Dutts and the Mithun Chakrabortys, the Arjun Singhs and the Balram Jakhars. But this is different.

“I heard Vajpayeeji is coming to meet me. I feel so thrilled. But I can’t speak Hindi,” she said, softly stroking the angavastram, which she presented to Vajpayee a few minutes later.

At 5.33 pm, the Prime Minister’s convoy drove down the narrow Harish Chatterjee Street. Vajpayee arrived in a Tata Sumo along with foster daughter Namrata and son-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya.

Mamata’s modest one-storey talir ghar (tiled house) had witnessed unprecedented security since morning. The entire area was combed by security officials armed with metal and explosive detectors and sniffer dogs.

At one point, overzealous securitymen planted a metal detecting gate firmly in front of the main door of the house. But then it suddenly dawned on them that Vajpayee himself would have to pass through the detector. It was immediately removed.

Intelligence officers restricted the number of people who could be present in the house during Vajpayee’s visit to seven — Gayatree Devi and her six daughters-in-law. However, the children were allowed to stay.

Mamata’s brothers — Ajit, Asim, Amit, Samir, Subrata and Swapan — waited in Mamata’s small office along with Trinamul workers and MP Akbar Ali Khondakar.

Some of them approached the entrance only after Vajpayee had gone in. Trinamul leaders Subrata Bakshi and Tamanash Ghosh were in charge of the delicacies made to order by Satyanarayan Sweets and Sree Radha Sweets of south Calcutta.

“Didi has specially ordered malpoa, rosomalai, sandesh and rabri for Vajpayeeji,” said Ghosh.

Along with sweets, Mamata also lined up home-made biuli daler bara for the Prime Minister. Vajpayee nibbled at the bara and had bites of rosomalai and sandesh.

As soon as he arrived, the Harish Chatterjee Street reverberated with the sound of conch shells blown by women from the surrounding houses and chanting of Vande Mataram by Trinamul supporters.

Once inside, in the only spacious room in the house, Vajpayee was ushered to a chair facing an old-fashioned palanka covered with a yellow and white printed bedspread. Mamata introduced him to her mother, sisters-in-law and their children.

At 5.53 pm, the Prime Minister took his leave and straight to the airport. He flew off to Delhi at 7 pm.    

Calcutta, July 6 
Forty-eight hours before Saturday’s mayoral election, the Congress began to reconsider its earlier decision to absent from secret voting as its ranks thinned to Mamata Banerjee’s poaching.

The Congress’ decision to go on the offensive came after Trinamul stabbed deep and peeled away councillor Rajkishore Gupta — its second in the past 24 hours — and claimed that it now enjoyed a strength of 68 councillors.

“We had announced that we will abstain from the mayoral poll. But we have noticed that Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee is trying to chip away our councillors. This cannot be tolerated,” Sougata Roy, Congress MLA and one of the PCC secretaries, said.

Two out of 14 Congress councillors have already joined Trinamul. Besides, the names of three more are doing the rounds.

Congress councillors, whatever is left of them, will finalise the decision on voting after taking oath. Minutes after Trinamul “hijacked” Gupta, Congress leaders and councillors met and decided to review their earlier stand.

On Thursday, the Congress also nominated Sailen Dasgupta as leader of the party in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC). Dasgupta said: “Our councillors have been hijacked by the Trinamul Congress. We cannot remain a mere spectator to this. Therefore, we have decided to take a new decision on our participation in the mayoral election”.

The CPM is apparently happy with the Congress rethink. A section of CPM leaders is expecting “support from the Congress” in the changed situation. Politburo member Biman Bose said: “Everyone in Bengal has now realised who is engaged in horsetrading — the CPM or Trinamul.    

Lucknow, July 6 
It was an uncharacteristic Ram Prakash Gupta who touched down at Amousi airport today. Crown firmly in place, there was a spring in his steps and a swagger in his slouch.

Beaming from ear to ear, Gupta waxed eloquent about his gratitude to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and BJP chief Kushabhau Thakre for “believing in him”. Then came the mother of all declarations: now that he had got a fresh lease of life, he would lead the party to its biggest victory in the Assembly polls.

Main ab party ko badhiya kar doonga... I will lead the party to its biggest victory and bring it back to its 1991 position where it had a clear majority in the Assembly,” he boomed. “Now that rumours of a change in leadership have been scotched, I will change a lot of things plaguing the party.”

The born-again chief minister said all issues dogging the party had been thrashed out and he had urged the high command to end rumours of any leadership change. “I am grateful to the high command for having reposed faith in me. I will now lead the party to a massive victory in the forthcoming Assembly elections,” he reiterated.

But he conceded that when rumours of a “weak chief minister and a change in leadership gains ground”, the state administration was “weakened”. State BJP chief O.P. Singh and minister Kalraj Mishra, who accompanied Gupta to Delhi, nodded in agreement.

Gupta gunned for the press when told that there was reason behind rumours that he would be forced to make way for a “stronger” chief minister. He said it was a fact that some leaders had circulated the stories, but the press had played a role in fanning the flames.

The state unit chief maintained that things in the heartland state were not as bad as they were made out to be. He said last night’s emergency meeting in Delhi had not been called only to discuss the leadership issue but also to review functioning of the party “about which the central leadership has expressed satisfaction”.

On senior leader Jana Krishnamurthi’s recent statement that the BJP high command was toying with the idea of a new chief minister, Singh said: “That, too, has been thrashed out. It is a closed chapter now.” He added that state leaders had asked Vajpayee and Thakre for more time before writing them off.

Echoing Gupta, Singh said the one thing state leaders had been adamant about in last night’s meeting was that the high command immediately nip all rumours of leadership change.    

New Delhi, July 6 
The RSS has decided to become media savvy — partly out of compulsion and partly because of the changing world in the age of information technology and globalisation.

But the immediate provocation is the Christian bashing allegedly by Sangh parivar outfits such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal and the adverse media publicity at home and abroad.

The RSS leadership has, for the first time, decided to have a spokesperson in Delhi at its Jhandewalan headquarters to coordinate with the media. The Sangh leaders, who avoided the media like plague, have now realised that their media management has not been good.

Sources said veteran Sangh activist and former editor M. G. Vaidya alias Babu Bhai will be stationed at RSS headquarters here to interact with the media.

He will also be assisted by Srikant Joshi, another Sangh veteran.

Sources said the RSS had attracted adverse publicity following attacks on churches in various parts of India.

Top RSS leaders such as K. S. Sudarshan are always on tour and their interactions with journalists are very rare, while the church and their sympathisers in the West have a very well-oiled publicity machinery.

M. G. Vaidya, sources said, could double as an RSS leader as well as a mediaman. Earlier, he was editor of the Marathi daily Tarun Bharat published from Nagpur.

After retirement he was elected as legislative council member of Maharashtra. He is married and his son is also an RSS pracharak.

“He is into RSS philosophy and theory and can fit the bill quite well,” said a source in the parivar.

While Sangh parivar outfits such as the VHP and the Bajrang Dal hold press conferences often to sell their side of the story, the RSS is considered press-shy always preferring to work underground.

The decision to have a spokesperson is a major departure from the RSS think- ing.

The RSS has so far been contended with two of its publications — Panchajanya in Hindi and Organiser in English — giving its view points on various issues.

But being part of the ruling clique, as the BJP is the dominant partner of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, the Sangh leaders are often in a piquant situation to explain their stand to certain actions of the government with which they are not totally in agreement with.    


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