Protest clampdown mud on Naidu
Skywatcher Sharad wakes up to snags
Patwa and protege in power tussle
Work first, babies next
Sonia in election & selection gamble
Mulayam takes Sakshi battle to Etah
Jittery BJP on poll put-off mission
Textile town breathes easy

 
 
PROTEST CLAMPDOWN MUD ON NAIDU 
 
 
FROM G.S. RADHAKRISHNA
 
Hyderabad, Aug. 6: 
The Andhra Pradesh government has set new records of violence by suppressing power tariff protesters in the state, the Congress has claimed.

In the past two months, the Chandrababu Naidu administration has come down ruthlessly on the agitators demanding a rollback in the tariff hike, the Congress alleged.

“In the 80-odd lathicharges and eight police firings, nearly 2,000 persons, including 800 women, have been injured. About 650 criminal cases have been booked against agitators from the CPI.

Activists from the CPM and the Congress and about 5,000 people, including 1,700 women, have been taken into custody,” said leader of Opposition in the Assembly Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy in a representation to the National Human Rights Commission.

Committed to World Bank-funded power reforms in the state, Naidu repressed the agitation in “novel” ways, the Congress said. Naidu reportedly let loose the newly-formed private army of the party, Telugu Sena, against the agitators.

The police allegedly innovated “new” methods to deter the anti-power hike agitators: from spreading barbed wires on streets to restrain agitators, they were seen dragging numerous women away, using their own sarees or dupattas as a noose on the women’s necks. “I wish to know which rule authorises the police to drag women like dogs and animals on the road,” demanded Reddy.

Ironically, the “various uses” of the dupatta were discussed in the state Cabinet and the police were lauded by the Desam ministers for their “novel” method to contain the agitating women.

Reddy has sought an independent inquiry under section 17(ii) of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, into Naidu’s role in inciting partymen and the police to beat up agitators.

The Congress leader demanded registration of criminal cases against errant police officers and adequate monetary compensation for the injured.

The rights commission was also informed that the police videographed the agitations to blackmail the participants with threats of police cases. The police taped the presence of political leaders and their supporters during the protests. Later the activists were reportedly booked under Goonda Act whenever they were found participating in political agitations.    


 
 
SKYWATCHER SHARAD WAKES UP TO SNAGS 
 
 
FROM JAYANTA ROY CHOWDHURY
 
New Delhi, Aug. 6: 
The government plans to ground ageing Indian Airlines and Alliance Air aircraft with a history of technical snags.

“I have called for the technical history of all old planes with the national carrier and will review problem crafts with the airline’s board, engineers and pilots,” civil aviation minister Sharad Yadav told The Telegraph in an interview. “If any are repeatedly giving trouble, they will have to go.” The first round of meeting with the Indian Airlines board has been held and more will follow soon.

The minister’s move comes as a surprise after the government’s announcement that Alliance Air’s fleet of a dozen aged Boeings would not be grounded in the aftermath of the Boeing 737-200 crash in Patna. It had opposed all demands to the contrary, claiming that they were in good shape.

Explaining this turnaround, Yadav said: “There is a sense of insecurity and it is my job to relieve it.”

“But this does not mean old aircraft are necessarily in bad shape. They are not. Our maintenance engineers are among the best,” the minister hastened to add. “Even the International Civil Aviation Organisation and the US Federal Aviation Authority have praised our engineering workshops.”

The veteran socialist leader has announced in Parliament that the government will buy 30-35 planes for Indian Airlines, which will be inducted over one-and-a-half to two years. These planes are meant to replace the ageing Boeing 737s and Airbus 300s.

After dithering over the purchase for nearly a decade, the airlines and its bureaucratic and political masters last week finally announced financial bids from shortlisted competitors.

The plan to buy replacement aircraft dates back to the Narasimha Rao regime. But dilly-dallying by an uninterested bureaucracy and a succession of aviation ministers, who were more keen on commercially unviable 50-seater planes, held up the purchase plans.

Matters came to a head during the BJP-led government’s tenure, when two successive Indian Airlines chiefs were sacked for opposing the purchase of 50-seater French aircraft for its subsidiary, Alliance Air, and demanding, instead, purchase of replacement aircraft.

As part of his efforts to “relieve insecurity” about Indian skies, Yadav said: “We plan to cover the entire Indian aerospace with a chain of new Raytheon secondary radars by March next year. This will help guide planes wherever they are.” The four nodal radars of this chain will be located at Nagpur, Varanasi, Mangalore and Berhampore.

Yadav, who has had his fair share of trouble with hijackings, mishaps at airports and crashes since he took over, said he wanted airport security to be tightened.

Stung by the hijack of the Indian Airlines Airbus from Kathmandu, the Centre had relieved state police forces of the responsibility of airport security and entrusted the centrally-controlled CISF with the duty.

But the aviation ministry is not satisfied with the professional standard of the CISF’s security services and feels it is too costly at Rs 239 crore a year, far more than the profits turned in by the state-owned Airports Authority of India. As a remedy, the minister favours forming a separate airport police force. Yadav, however, said he would first approach the home ministry, seeking a grant to “cover the CISF costs”.    


 
 
PATWA AND PROTEGE IN POWER TUSSLE 
 
 
FROM SUCHANDANA GUPTA
 
Bhopal, Aug. 6: 
It’s a classic case of politicians having no fixed friends.

Riven by faction feuds and rampant back-stabbing, the BJP in Madhya Pradesh has been thrown into a leadership crisis after Lakhiram Agarwal’s open challenge to former mentor and state BJP heavyweight Sunderlal Patwa.

The faction war took a vicious turn after July 14, when Rajya Sabha member Vikram Verma was elected president of the state unit.

Verma’s thumping victory by securing 206 of the 291 votes shook the top brass. Verma was not backed by party president Kushbhau Thakre or state stalwarts Uma Bharti and Patwa. He was nominated by Lakhiram, a tendu-leaf-trader-turned-politician from Chhattisgarh who is in charge of the party’s state affairs, but is better known as Patwa’s Frankenstein.

It was Patwa, a former chief minister, who brought Lakhiram into mainstream politics in the mid-eighties. Since 1989, Patwa had got him elected twice as the state unit chief beating heavyweights like Virendra Kumar Saklecha and Kailash Joshi — both former chief ministers.

But Chhattisgarh has changed priorities. The simmering tension between him and Lakhiram boiled over after the Union rural development minister decided to project Brijmohan Agarwal, an MLA from Raipur, over Lakhiram’s son Amar Agarwal, an MLA from Bilaspur, as the BJP’s face for Chhattisgarh.

The clash assumed serious dimensions in mid-April when Devji Bhai Patel, a rebel leader and president of Krishi Upaj Mandi, a farmers’ association, announced a farmers’ meet in Raipur, one of the two proposed capitals for Chhattisgarh.

Lakhiram and state general secretary Gauri Shankar Agarwal appealed to the cadre to stay away from the meet which, they said, was “not a BJP programme” and only intended to “glorify certain people”.

According to party sources, “certain people” meant Patwa, his new protégé Brijmohan and Tarun Chatterjee, the mayor of Raipur.

But Patwa loyalists, bent on proving that Brijmohan was the correct choice for the upcoming state, went ahead.

Patwa himself agreed to be chief guest at the 40,000-strong rally, prompting Lakhiram to retaliate by asking Thakre to take action against Patwa.

Matters came to a head after Thakre refused to take action against his long-time friend. Lakhiram waited for three months, before exacting his revenge in the elections.

With both camps trading charges and counter-charges, polls were postponed several times. A party member from Bilaspur, Naval Goel, even went to court, alleging irregularities in the elections.

As a result of the chaotic run-up, district-level polls which were supposed to be over by June 30, were only half complete by then.

On July 11, all efforts to reach a consensus failed. Initially, four candidates filed nominations. Verma, the state unit working president, was the first, followed by Patwa’s candidate Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Uma Bharti loyalist Prahlad Patel and Chaudhary Chandrabhan Singh, a former minister, also filed nominations but withdrew in Chouhan’s favour.

Patwa rushed to Thakre but couldn’t persuade him to intervene. Desperate, he called a press conference alleging that a senior leader was taking sides in an organisational election.

Lakhiram retaliated the next day, calling another press conference and accusing Patwa of washing dirty linen in public.

The poll verdict has left Patwa with a battered ego and the realisation that he is fast losing ground to the man he himself once promoted.

But even as the standoff continues between the former mentor and ex-protégé, the real victor of the BJP feud, say insiders, is chief minister Digvijay Singh.

According to them, the chief minister has asked his men to ignore the Opposition’s efforts to bring up in the Assembly the suicide deaths which followed the state government’s retrenchment drive.    


 
 
WORK FIRST, BABIES NEXT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Hyderabad, Aug. 6: 
Around 49 per cent of Indian women are opposed to breast-feeding, according to a recent study by the government. “Almost 72 per cent of working women do not want to breast-feed their babies,” said Dr Swati Bhave, outgoing president of the Indian Academy of Paediatrics.

“Thirty-one per cent of Indian mothers are not aware of the ill-effects of improper adolescent care and no breast-feeding,” said Dr S. Sanjay, secretary of the Andhra Pradesh chapter of the Indian Academy of Paediatrics.

The study recommended that the maternity leave for lactating working mothers should be extended from 12 weeks to four months.

“A separate zone should be created in offices for working women to breast-feed their babies,” Bhave said.

She was participating in a national seminar on “Adolescent Care” organised by the Indian Academy of Paediatrics and sponsored by the Hyderabad-based vaccine manufacturer, Shanta Biotechnics Pvt. Ltd, as part of the breast-feeding week.

Bhave added that misinformation was being disseminated about the vaccine movement in the country.

Contending that the misinformation campaign had damaged research in medical sciences, she said: “The campaign against BCG vaccines has taken research and development in the field back by 20 years.”

Reduction in import duties of the raw materials for vaccines is the only way to make them cheaper.

“Hepatitis B vaccines used to cost more than Rs 300 but are now available for just Rs 25 per dose” said Dr Y.C. Mathur, president-elect of the Indian Academy of Paediatrics.    


 
 
SONIA IN ELECTION & SELECTION GAMBLE 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Aug. 6: 
Sonia in election & selection gamble From Rasheed Kidwai New Delhi, Aug. 6: Congress president Sonia Gandhi is shortlisting the navratnas who will be drafted into the all-important Congress Working Committee, dividing loyalists into two categories — those that will contest and those who will be nominated.

Ambika Soni, Madhavrao Scindia, Ghulam Nabi Azad, A.K. Antony, Pranab Mukherjee, Kamal Nath, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, Sushil Kumar Shinde, S.C. Jamir, R.K. Dhawan, Motilal Vora and Balram Jakhar have been asked to contest the CWC polls, while Arjun Singh, Oscar Fernandes and Manmohan Singh will be nominated.

According to the Congress constitution, the CWC consists of 24 members, 12 elected by the 1,000-odd members of the AICC and an equal number nominated by the elected party president.

With the process of organisational polls in full swing, CWC berths are being used as bait to lure regional satraps who are unsure of Sonia’s leadership qualities. Feelers have gone to Jitendra Prasada that his berth in the CWC will be ensured in exchange for blanket support to Sonia for the president’s post. A similar offer has been made to Ahmad Patel who fell out with 10 Janpath on money matters. Another set of Congress leaders is itching to contest and the leadership is willing to go along provided they get elected on their own. This group consists of R.K. Dhawan, Santosh Mohan Deb, Janardhan Poojary and Bhajan Lal.

The high command is keeping a sharp eye on leaders like Sitaram Kesri, A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury, K. Karunakaran, Vijaya Bhaskara Reddy and Madhavsinh Solanki. If these leaders continue to reaffirm faith in Sonia’s leadership, they will be considered special or permanent invitees to the CWC.

The AICC chief is said to be keen to get elected unopposed and establish herself as “supreme leader” of the party like Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. In the party’s recent history, Sitaram Kesri was elected the AICC chief in 1997 in a triangular contest. But within a year, Kesri was ousted.

Sources close to Sonia said the choice of the navratnas was made carefully keeping in view their image in the party. For instance A.K. Antony, Ambika Soni, Ghulam Nabi Azad and “youngsters” like Kamal Nath and Priya Ranjan Das Munshi are seen as “popular” among partymen.

The high command is toying with the idea of fielding chief ministers of Congress-ruled states but Sonia’s advisers are sharply divided on allowing Digvijay Singh and S.M. Krishna to contest. Those opposed to it said chief ministers are often unavailable for CWC meetings held at short notices. Moreover, power tends to get confined to a handful of persons.

However, there seems to be a consensus on making an “exception in the case of Nagaland chief minister S.C. Jamir as he hails from the Northeast. Given Jamir’s seniority, the leadership is confident of his victory.

Sonia’s move to hold back Arjun Singh, Natwar Singh and other members of the coterie from contesting would raise a few eyebrows. Some senior leaders feel if Arjun and Natwar were elected by the AICC, it would have helped Sonia fight off criticism of the coterie and established that both enjoy popular support.    


 
 
MULAYAM TAKES SAKSHI BATTLE TO ETAH 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Lucknow, Aug. 6: 
Stung by the arrest order against Samajwadi Party leader and Rajya Sabha MP Sachidanand Sakshi Maharaj, Mulayam Singh Yadav has threatened to launch a massive agitation against the “blatant victimisation” of his supporters and has warned the ruling BJP that he would fight till “the last drop of blood”.

Even as Mulayam threatened to raise hell, the police stepped up efforts to arrest the MP, charged with raping and robbing a college principal in Etah, and sent three special teams on his trail.

The administration has not yet declared Sakshi “absconding”, but it has sounded an alert in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar and in eight districts of Uttar Pradesh. Though no team has been sent to the other states, the police have fanned out in Etah, Mainpuri and Farrukhabad districts.

Taking the battle for Sakshi out of Parliament, Mulayam said his party has decided to “storm” Etah with its MPs and MLAs and start an agitation against the BJP’s “persecution” of the legislator. Sakshi, who recently left the BJP to join the Samajwadi Party, has claimed that he was being framed for switching political loyalties.

A combative Mulayam said his party was ready to meet chief minister R.P. Gupta’s “provocative challenge”. Refusing to give a date for his “agitation”, the Samajwadi chief said the protests could break out any time in the near future.

Mulayam has also called for the removal of the Etah superintendent of police and district magistrate. He alleged that they were acting as the BJP’s henchmen and played a major role in the conspiracy against Sakshi. He has also taken the sack demand to L.K. Advani and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.    


 
 
JITTERY BJP ON POLL PUT-OFF MISSION 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 6: 
Reluctant to upset caste equations within the party in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP high command is desperate to stall organisational elections in the state. The party’s national executive is slated to meet in Nagpur on August 27, when the polls should have been over.

But the leadership in Delhi already has its hands full with faction strife in Uttar Pradesh — once a power base for the BJP, it is now fast slipping away from its control. Senior BJP leader K.N. Govindacharya, who is in charge of Uttar Pradesh, is rushing there to hold off the polls.

Central to the faction strife within the BJP in Uttar Pradesh is the caste issue. The BJP does not want to be perceived as a party of upper castes in a state where the right caste combinations are the only key to winning an election.

For decades the BJP remained confined to the upper castes, but the success of Mulayam Singh Yadav, the messiah of the backward classes, and Mayavati, a leader of Dalits, forced a rethink.

The state unit is headed by backward caste leader Om Prakash Singh while chief minister Ram Prakash Gupta is a baniya. The BJP high command would like to maintain the caste status quo, but a fresh organisational election would spark new tensions within the fractured state unit. Uttar Pradesh goes to Assembly polls next year and the BJP would like to keep its links with both upper and backward castes.

After stripping Kalyan Singh of chief ministership, the frantic BJP high command pulled out Ram Prakash Gupta from political obscurity, elevating him to the rank of chief minister. The party feared a backward caste backlash after it showed Kalyan, a backward leader, the door.

But the caste balance was kept in place by state chief Om Prakash Singh, a Kurmi. The state unit, already racked by one faction strife after another, cannot afford to open another war front. Ram Prakash Tripathi, a leader from western Uttar Pradesh, has already pitched himself into the contest for the state president’s post.

Tripathi’s claim to the post rests on the argument that the BJP has a strong power base in western Uttar Pradesh. As all three of its top leaders in the state hail from the eastern part of the state — Om Prakash Singh hails from Mirzapur in eastern Uttar Pradesh; former president and current surface transport minister Rajnath Singh comes from the same district and even Kalraj Mishra is from Ghazipur in eastern Uttar Pradesh — the party should further strengthen its roots in western Uttar Pradesh by having a president from this region.

Ram Prakash Gupta has been under a cloud and has come close to being booted out. Last month, a team of upper caste leaders from Uttar Pradesh — Lalji Tandon, Kalraj Mishra and Rajnath Singh — landed in Delhi and held a meeting at the Prime Minister’s residence to decide the question of the chief minister’s ouster. Gupta, however, managed to survive the squabble.

The BJP also wants to set up three ad hoc committees for the new states of Chhattisgarh, Vananchal and Uttaranchal before its national executive meets on August 27.

The party leadership is keen to cash in on the Vajpayee government’s success in being able to carve out the three states despite serious opposition from several political parties.    


 
 
TEXTILE TOWN BREATHES EASY 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Ahmedabad, Aug. 6: 
Normality is returning to the trouble-torn textile city of Surat with no major incident being reported since last night even as two tribals were killed in police firing on Saturday night in Limbadiya village in north Gujarat.

Except Limbayat which remained tense, day curfew was lifted in all four police station areas of the city. Two former BJP municipal councillors were arrested in Surat for carrying arms and defying curfew.

With the festival season round the corner, authorities hope that the city will soon calm down and normality restored as uncertainty will affect the textile business.

Those involved in textile business are eagerly awaiting the booking season to open and have made it know that the continuing tension in the city will make the traders from other states shy away from Surat during the booking season for Dussehra and Diwali. If their business is affected, textile industrialists have indicated that they will not contribute to election funds of political parties.

Cong demands probe

AICC Minority Committee member K.M. Khan has demanded a judicial inquiry into the riots in parts of Gujarat, particularly in Surat, after the VHP sponsored state-wide bandh on Thursday.

Khan, on a fact-finding mission to the state at the instance of the minority committee chaired by Arjun Singh, said the investigation into the riots should be carried out by a sitting Gujarat High Court judge to find the culprits involved in the violence.    

 

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