Son of soil seeks Indian protection
Atal SOS to Naidu on CMs’ meet
Sonia buys time on Ghani ouster
Dancing girl in museum house arrest
Out-of-work labourers in mass suicide bid

 
 
SON OF SOIL SEEKS INDIAN PROTECTION 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Aug. 18 
The hearty son-of-the-soil reception notwithstanding, deposed Fijian Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry today made it clear that he wanted India to be “more assertive” in protecting people of Indian origin in his island-nation and “elsewhere in the world”.

Chaudhry, who has already discussed a road-map with Indian and world leaders for restoring democracy in Fiji, has suggested forming an all-party national government till the constitution was reinstated.

But it was the plight of the people of Indian origin in the Pacific nation that should also come under their focus, he said.

He argued that the international community through the United Nations and the Commonwealth should influence restoration of the 1997 constitution. He said Fiji, so far suspended from the Councils of the Commonwealth, should be expelled if it failed to return to democracy within a stipulated time-frame.

Chaudhry thanked India for its support in helping him come out of captivity and its effort to build world opinion against George Speight and his men. But he said that Delhi’s approach has been cautious.

“This is understandable. India did not want to do anything that might have jeopardised our lives while in captivity,” he said. But added that a time has come when India has to be more assertive.

“Through international agencies it should take steps to ensure that people of Indian origin — not only in Fiji but anywhere in the world — is not subjected to violence and abuse,” he said.

At the crowded press conference at Oberoi Hotel this evening, Chaudhry, in an impeccable grey suit, made it clear that he was still Prime Minister of Fiji.

He argued that since the coup had failed and those involved were behind bars, it was “only logical” that his government “should be reinstalled”.

Earlier, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee held a 45-minute tête-à-tête with Chaudhry and hosted a lunch in his honour at Hyderabad House. Foreign minister Jaswant Singh also called on him this morning.

Both Vajpayee and Singh leaders stressed that they were for the return of a democratic, multi-racial constitution in the island and made it clear that they would do everything to stop “criminal elements” from vitiating Fiji’s polity.

“There should be international pressure and countries that believe in democracy, practice democracy and would like democracy in governance, should come forward now and help in restoration of democracy in Fiji,” Vajpayee said after the meeting.

But Chaudhry told newsmen that the international community needed to focus on the plight of Indians in the island who have faced indignation at the hands of some “fundamentalists and nationalists”.

“The attack and violence on the people of Indian origin can no longer be treated as incidental and serious attempts should be made by India and other countries to suggest checks and balances that would prevent such incidents in future,” he said.

Among the measures he has suggested is bringing about a balance in the island’s armed and security forces, which is totally dominated by ethnic Fijians.

“Every time there is a coup these are the forces which are used to topple democratically-elected governments in Fiji,” he said.

He asserted that even if elections were to be held now, his party would achieve a “handsome victory”.    


 
 
ATAL SOS TO NAIDU ON CMS’ MEET 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 18 
Trying to nip the emergence of Chandrababu Naidu as a rival rallying point, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee today spoke to his ally, dissuading him from holding the chief ministers’ conference on Monday to protest against the 11th Finance Commission’s proposals.

There was no word from the Andhra Pradesh chief minister till late tonight on whether he proposed to go ahead with the meeting. A senior Telugu Desam leader, however, said: “As of now, the meeting stands.”

During the day, finance minister Yashwant Sinha also spoke to Naidu. Sources said Vajpayee had advised Gujarat chief minister Keshubhai Patel to skip the meet. A meeting of state finance secretaries will be held in Delhi before the chief minister’s meeting to prepare the background paper.

Aides in the Prime Minister’s Office are surprised that Naidu has taken the lead in holding the protest meet. They feel Andhra is not as badly hit by the recommendations as high-income states like Punjab, Haryana, Goa, Gujarat, and Maharashtra.

A report by the Andhra government confirms the PMO position. It says that middle-income states like Andhra, Karnataka, Kerala, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu have only been slightly hit as their share in central tax revenue has decreased only marginally. In the case of Andhra, it has gone down to 7.70 per cent from 7.91 per cent.

Naidu had also shot off a letter to Vajpayee on August 5, urging him to correct the “imbalance in tax devolution and central revenue transfers” created by the 11th Finance Commission.

“You have always taken a very positive approach to issues of national importance and cooperative federalism, and have taken the lead to carry everyone with you. I am sure you will initiate steps to mitigate the fiscal hardship that is likely to befall the progressive and reforming states....” Naidu had written.

Desam insiders say Naidu is miffed with Vajpayee for openly inviting his MPs to join the Centre during his dinner party last week. They feel that calling the protest meet is his way of telling Vajpayee not to “overstretch” his limits. The MPs have been pestering an unwilling Naidu to allow them to join the government.

Desam sources also said that Naidu is not happy with the overall performance of the Vajpayee government nor is he sure about its stability.

Desam parliamentary party leader Yerran Naidu said the finance commission did not do justice to states which performed well. “Andhra is getting a very small share. The commission is adopting old criteria. We are seeking certain modifications.”    


 
 
SONIA BUYS TIME ON GHANI OUSTER 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Aug. 18 
West Bengal Congress chief A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury today asked party president Sonia Gandhi pointblank whether she was thinking of replacing him with Pranab Mukherjee.

The MP from Malda said he would not “hesitate a minute” to step down. He added that he was not looking for a berth in the Congress Working Committee (CWC) as part of a “compensation package.”

Caught off guard, Sonia asked Ghani if they could meet tomorrow. She also enquired if he was interested in getting into the CWC, to which the latter replied in the negative.

Ghani recalled that he was made PCC chief at her behest and would be “delighted to demit office” if she so desired. He, however, said that as a “loyal worker”, he would continue to work for the party.

Sonia, struggling to put the faction-ridden West Bengal unit in order, is reluctant to ask Ghani to step down despite AICC general secretary in charge of the state Prabha Rau and some others gunning for him.

Sonia sought another 24 hours to decide on the matter. Earlier in the day, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi met the party president and suggested a meeting among Pranab, Ghani, Sonia and himself on Monday to sort out “problems” faced by the state unit.

A report submitted by Kamal Nath has recommended sweeping changes in the unit. Sonia is yet to identify Ghani’s successor.

However, rival camps in the West Bengal Congress are proposing the names of their detractors, suggesting the job is seen as a punishment.

Das Munshi said Pranab was proposing his name to force his exit from the Delhi political scene. Das Munshi and Pranab are chief whips of the Congress in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha respectively.

Pranab is also lukewarm to the idea of heading the WBPCC. Some of his supporters accuse the rival camp of suggesting his name.

They said that the Arjun Singh camp was working over-time to send Pranab to Calcutta so that they could dominate the decision-making process at at 10, Janpath. Pranab is the key political aide to Sonia.

Other names doing the rounds include Kazi Ghaffar, Pradeep Bhattacharya and Suagata Roy.    


 
 
DANCING GIRL IN MUSEUM HOUSE ARREST 
 
 
FROM ELLA DATTA
 
New Delhi, Aug. 18 
If a blockbuster exhibition of Indian art is mounted abroad, Didarganj Yakshi, the voluptuous reddish-sandstone lady with the flywhisk will not feature in it. Nor will the bronze dancing girl of Mohenjodaro, standing provocatively with hand on hip.

This is what the National Museum of Tokyo discovered when it asked for the figures to display at its exhibition on Harappan culture. The works are out of bounds because the Indian government has declared them to be in the AA category of art objects.

On an initiative by the Union culture ministry, major museums —- including the National Museum, Indian Museum, Prince of Wales Museum, Mumbai, Salar Jung Museum in Hyderabad and Allahabad Museum —- have recently divided up art treasures into the AA and A categories.

The AA category comprises rare, fragile and unique objects which cannot be sent out of the country and have to be displayed in bullet-proof cases if they are small. The A category comprises masterpieces which can be sent out.

The categorised art treasures are also being documented on CD-ROM. Only three days ago, the National Museum handed over its CD-ROM to the department of culture.

Each entry on the CD-ROM has a visual documentation as well as a brief description, measurement, origin and list of published references. The National Museum has about 3000 art objects in these categories.

An attempt of sorts at categorisation was made in the fifties, but it is only now that it being done with some thoroughness.

The department of culture has also appointed various important museums as nodal agencies to help state-level museums to categorise national treasures.

While the National Museum will take care of museums in the northern region, the Indian Museum will assist museums in the north and north-east. The Prince of Wales Museum and Salar Jung Museum will assist museums in the west and south respectively.

Says National Museum director-general R.D. Choudhary: “This will be a master list which will give a clear picture of the art treasures in museums throughout the country. It will give us an opportunity to know the factual position.” The CD ROMs will also assist scholars and help in the security of the prized objects.

The categorisation exercise was begun following an uproar in Parliament after the Didarganj Yakshi returned from a foreign festival with a nick on its cheek.    


 
 
OUT-OF-WORK LABOURERS IN MASS SUICIDE BID 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Gorakhpur, Aug. 18 
As India prepared to celebrate Independence day, a desperate group of labourers with no work or food and without pay for 19 months, were busy preparing for their own “freedom” from hunger and poverty.

More than 100 out-of-work labourers of the Saraya Sugar Mills, Sardarnagar, 15 km from Gorakhpur, silently brought in cartloads of firewood in the factory premises so that they could immolate themselves.

They wanted to send across the message to the Prime Minister and the government that ending their lives was the only way to wreath out of hunger and poverty. A worried administration swung into action and confiscated the firewood meant for funeral pyres. More than 30 people were arrested and locked up in various jails.

But just as the cops were leaving, an enraged Indra Dev Bhagat, a labourer, whipped out a blade from his pocket and sliced his genitals. As a mark of protest, he then placed it in a gurudwara nearby and passed out. Before passing out, he said: I offer the Almighty my manhood as there was no other way you could have possibly heard my prayers. For 19 months, you haven’t heard my prayers. Perhaps now, you will hear me”.

Recuperating from his wounds in the BRD Medical College, Bhagat said: “we have lost everything. Now the police wanted to take away our right to our lives as well”.

Says a jittery Ram Dayal, Bhagat’s son: “I had to give up my studies because my father could not afford to send me to school. As for the action of my father, well, nothing else worked. So he resorted to this. Ram Dayal is not alone who had to discontinue his studies. Many others share his fate.

When due to some family dispute, Arjun Lal Majethia, closed the factory some 20 months ago, 300 direct and 1,250 indirect workers were affected. Slowly, parents had to take their children out of schools.

But unlike Bhagat, there are many who continue to hope that one day the mill might open again. A group of workers have been visiting the deserted factory and putting their names on the attendance register.

There are many who put up a show as if they are strong enough to fend for themselves but have actually broken down from deep within. Consider the case of Byara Singh, for instance. He says: “no one knows why our malik played this dirty trick on us. But we hope one day, he will come back to us”, he says, trying his best to hide his tears. The question is: will his prayers ever be answered?    

 

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