Ghani flexes mahajot muscle
Population action group in pipeline
Deshmukh bent on action
Rebellion brews in CPM on govt role
Conversion twist to school fee row
China shop raid

 
 
GHANI FLEXES MAHAJOT MUSCLE 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, July 22 
A rebellious A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury today snubbed the AICC by staying away from a meeting convened at the party headquarters, setting the stage for another round of confrontation with the high command.

The West Bengal Congress chief, who has sought an appointment with Sonia Gandhi tomorrow, later defended his act of defiance.

“I was not feeling too well. Moreover, I do not attend meetings other than those convened by the AICC chief,” he said, indicating that all wasn’t well between him and Prabha Rau, party general secretary in charge of West Bengal.

Chowdhury’s belligerence comes a day after Mamata Banerjee’s massive rally in Calcutta yesterday.

State Youth Congress chief Paresh Pal also attended the rally with Chowdhury’s permission, in a clear hint that mahajot was a possibility before the Assembly polls.

That things are heading for a showdown became clear at today’s meeting, which was called to discuss ways to galvanise the party for the coming polls.

Chowdhury’s supporters Abdul Mannan and Sultan Ahmed revived the mahajot call and accused Rau of “ill-treating Barkatda”. Rau retorted, saying it was Chowdhury who was not responding.

Anti-Chowdhury leaders, headed by state unit general secretary Samir Roy, urged the high command not to succumb to pressure.

“Nobody is indispensable,” they said. “The Congress survived even after Pandit Nehru’s death.”

A section of the AICC supported this stand, saying if Chowdhury insisted on quitting, the high command could accept his papers. “After Ahmad Patel’s exit, one should know that the high command will not go out of the way to accommodate anyone,” a party MP said.

Those opposed to Chowdhury said the high command was “mentally prepared” for a split in the West Bengal unit.

“It is just a matter of time. We have reports that some MLAs have already made up their mind to leave the party. There is very little that the leadership can do as we cannot compromise on our principles,” an AICC functionary said.

With the debate getting more heated, the Chowdhury camp made a fervent plea for mahajot, urging the AICC to start a dialogue with Mamata.

In fact, a majority of speakers spoke for some sort of understanding with the Trinamul.

“Please see the writing on the wall. Just see what a mammoth rally she organised yesterday,” a pro-mahajot MLA said.

But the meeting soon turned into a free-for-all. Rival state leaders began openly criticising and attacking each other, forcing senior leader Pranab Mukherjee to leave half-way through. Rau also called off her Calcutta visit scheduled for tomorrow.

Chowdhury’s supporters said he might offer to resign when he meets Sonia. But sources close to the Congress president said she would try and dissuade him.

State unit vice-president Saugata Roy said the high command should have acted tough after the defeat of party nominee D.P. Roy in the Rajya Sabha polls.

He said Mamata’s success in the Panskura by-elections and the Calcutta civic polls had placed her in a formidable position.    


 
 
POPULATION ACTION GROUP IN PIPELINE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 22 
In a bid to contain the burgeoning population, especially in the ‘Bimaru’ states, the government has decided to set up an Empowered Action Group to prepare area-specific programmes.

States lagging behind in population control would receive special attention, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee announced here today while inaugurating the first meeting of the National Commission on Population.

Expressing concern at the “runaway population growth”, Vajpayee also announced the formation of a National Population Stabilisation Fund.

He warned states that it was their responsibility to prevent the population from exploding to unmanageable limits.

The stabilisation fund will assist population control projects and act as a window for channelising money from voluntary sources. Talking to reporters, the Prime Minister said the exact amount of the corpus fund would be decided in consultation with the finance ministry.

In his address, Vajpayee said it was virtually impossible for any state to meet the legitimate requirements of its people if its population continued to gallop.

Praising the performance of some states like Kerala, Goa and Andhra Pradesh, the Prime Minister said they were now reaping the benefits of investing in literacy, especially among women, health care and awareness campaigns.

At the other end of the scale are Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh which have little development and high mortality and fertility rates.

The Prime Minister regretted the absence of political and popular will to tackle the population problem.

Lack of universal access to basic health care, high child mortality rates and low literacy rates were the major reasons for the country crossing the billion mark, he pointed out.    


 
 
DESHMUKH BENT ON ACTION 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT AND AGENCIES
 
New Delhi, July 22 
Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh today made it clear that there was no question of going back on his government’s resolve to take action against Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray.

Deshmukh, who called on Congress president Sonia Gandhi and senior party functionaries, got the leadership’s clearance to “go for the kill”.

After meeting Sonia, a beaming Deshmukh said: “The state government has taken a decision in the matter and now it is the job of the police to decide what action has to be taken and when after considering the overall situation.”

In a TV interview yesterday, Deshmukh had indicated some action, implying arrest, next week.

The chief minister accused the Centre of not providing additional paramilitary forces to the state “under pressure” from the Sena. “It is a usual practice that the Centre provides additional forces to states as per the law and order situation there,” he said.

Mumbai remained on the edge with additional forces from neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Gujarat fanning out across the city.

“We had asked for additional forces and we have got them,” police director-general Subhash Malhotra said in Mumbai.

He, however, refused to comment on the exact strength of the forces deployed in the state. “The additional forces arrived in the state two days ago and have been positioned at various sensitive points in the state,” Malhotra said.

Deshmukh defended deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal’s remark that the state government will be forced to withdraw security from Central government offices in Maharashtra. “We have asked them to make alternate arrangements,” Deshmukh said.

As Deshmukh spoke, scores of Sainiks, carrying black flags and wearing saffron bandanas, marched in a procession to Maharashtra Sadan, where the chief minister is staying.

Police detained the protesters, who, after their release later in the day, submitted a memorandum to Deshmukh demanding withdrawal of the order sanctioning Thackeray’s prosecution.    


 
 
REBELLION BREWS IN CPM ON GOVT ROLE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 22 
Cutting short the fragile truce, pro-changers in the CPM have rejected the updated party programme as “utterly inadequate” and are planning to force the leadership’s hand at the plenum scheduled in October.

“There are no ideological or organisational changes in the draft and we are going to raise these issues at the plenum,” said a dissident leader.

Though the updated programme has not changed para 112 — which deals with the party’s participation in a government — an explanatory note has been circulated among Politburo and central committee members. According to the note, the present provision does not bar the CPM from participating in a Central government.

The pro-changers have been insisting that the clause be amended to prevent a recurrence of the 1996 “tragedy” when West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu missed becoming Prime Minister by a whisker.

Rattled by the roundabout way in which the party has obliquely “modified” para 112, the dissidents are accusing the leadership of “dishonesty”.

“If you are honest enough you will tackle the issue directly,” a dissident leader said.

With the CPM already facing a threat from Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress, sources in the party said the temporary lull that set in after the dissidents retreated into a shell will be broken at the plenum in Calcutta.

The dissidents’ wrath was further stoked by the incongruities in the updated draft, which skirts the issue of “Dictatorship of the Proletariat”. Instead, it mentions “proletarian statehood”.

“This is just a camouflage for Dictatorship of the Proletariat,” a rebel member said. “What is after all the state? Dictatorship of the Proletariat means the state is controlled by workers.”

Though the programme dwells at length on democracy and multi-party democracy, the pro-changers say it is not possible to have a multi-party democracy under the dictatorship of the proletariat.

In fact, the rebels wanted the party to delete the concept of “Democratic Centralism”, as the principle floundered in the former Soviet Union and East European countries.

Hardliners in the party had recently managed to ward off a crisis posed by rebel leaders like Subhas Chakraborty and former MP Saifuddin Choudhury.

The leadership had sent one showcause notice after another to Saifuddin, accusing him of breaching party discipline and “talking” to the media, but finally chose not to suspend him, making temporary peace.

But the peace has been tenuous and the rebels are waiting for the plenum to come out in the open with their dissatisfaction. The rebels want a break on “ideological” grounds to avoid the “factional” label the party could stick on them.

However, many in the CPM believe a split could provide an answer to the party’s problems and that a new Left Democratic party could even keep the Trinamul at bay.

“The writing is clear. In West Bengal, people are looking for an alternative. They are not enamoured of either the Trinamul or the Congress. We could fill this space,” said a dissident leader.    


 
 
CONVERSION TWIST TO SCHOOL FEE ROW 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, July 22 
An altercation between the principal of a missionary school and a student’s father over pending dues has taken a communal turn with VHP and Bajrang Dal activists assaulting the principal and the secretary of the United Christian Association.

Trouble started on Wednesday, when an autorickshaw driver, Prakash Shodagar, wanted to withdraw his son, a nursery student, from Good Shepherd School without paying six months’ dues. Principal J. Johnson would not allow it before the dues were cleared.

After a slanging match with the principal, Shodagar walked off in a huff, only to return with a group, allegedly comprising VHP and Bajrang Dal activists. They beat up Johnson, claiming that the school was converting students to Christianity.

Angered by the attack, United Christian Association secretary Samson Christian swung into action the next day.

He faxed a memorandum to the Prime Minister, Governor, and the minority commission chairman, alleging that VHP activists were behind the attack on the principal.

While school authorities claimed that Shodagar misbehaved with the principal, BJP leader Bharat Pandya accused Johnson of using “indecent language”, which infuriated VHP workers.

VHP joint secretary Kaushik Patel, however, claimed that his workers played no role in the incident. “The Christians are unnecessarily dragging in the VHP’s name. In fact, some ex-BJP councillors were involved,” he said.

But Pandya denied the involvement of BJP workers. “Some ex-BJP councillors did intervene as they happened to be there because of an ongoing cleanliness drive in the area,” he said.

He insisted that VHP and Bajrang activists were involved in Wednesday’s incident while blaming the principal for the “ugly incident”.

On Friday morning, two men assaulted Samson Christian for dragging the VHP’s name in the case.

“They called me out of the principal’s office and slapped me. As I ran, the assailants followed. They hurled a brick at my head, causing a deep gash,” he said.

The incident also took a political colour with state Congress minority cell convener J.J. Fernandez demanding that the government immediately book the culprits so that minorities can feel secure. A police force has been deployed at the school.

The local unit of the Bajrang Dal observed a bandh in the area, but the BJP did not support it.    


 
 
CHINA SHOP RAID 
 
 
FROM SUCHANDANA GUPTA
 
Bhopal, July 22 
A 25-strong gang, claiming to be Bajrang Dal activists, barged into a crockery exhibition here last evening and went on rampage like the proverbial bull in a china shop.

The activists smashed teapots, cookie jars and spoon holders that they felt were sacrilegious because the pieces had Ganesha and other Hindu gods painted on them.

Worse, the same pots and jars were sitting on a shelf stacked with coffee mugs which had the ‘unholy’ pictures of Ricky Martin and the Spice Girls. This made the exhibition-cum-sale — even more blasphemous.

Police said trouble began around noon, when a few visitors the exhibition declared themselves to be Bajrangis and asked the sales personnel to remove all articles depicting Hindu gods from the counters. The staff shrugged off the matter and no precaution was taken. Around 7.30 pm, the gang struck, turning the display into a pile of smashed china.

The police rushed to the spot and found the culprits still at work. But instead of arresting the lot, the police dispersed the attackers with an assurance that their objection would be given due importance.

The manager in charge of the exhibition refused to speak to the press. He also refused to file a complaint with the police, stating that the damage was negligible.    

 

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