Basu retirement on Front agenda
Police kill five as rape protest turns violent
SC raps trial courts
Kamtapur to get more forces
Laxman volte-face on Ram
Zee offers Hollywood feast with MGM
Television enters the age of spectacle
Naxalites shift focus from caste to land

Calcutta, Aug. 29 
Chief minister Jyoti Basu’s retirement is likely to figure high on the agenda of tomorrow’s Left Front committee meeting to be held at the CPM headquarters.

“My retirement may be discussed in the party as well in the Front,” Basu told reporters at Writers’ Buildings. He will be present at the meeting.

The Left Front Committee brought forward the meeting to tomorrow following a request from the chief minister. The meeting was earlier scheduled for September 2. CPM sources said Basu wants to inform the Front partners of his decision before it is discussed at the party’s politburo session.

Left Front chairman Sailen Dasgupta also said tonight that Front partners might demand a discussion on Basu’s retirement, requesting the chief minister to disclose his plan.

Dasgupta also hinted that Basu might raise the issue when he addresses a Left Front-sponsored mass convention at Netaji Indoor Stadium on Thursday.

Several Front partners iterated that they might raise the issue. PWD minister and a key RSP member, Kshiti Goswami, said Basu’s much-speculated-on retirement and selection of his successor be taken up at the Front meeting. “Basu is not only chief minister but a leader of the Front,” he added. CPI and Forward Bloc leaders echoed Goswami.

The question of laying down office did not come up at the Cabinet meeting today, but Basu kept everyone guessing by not fixing a date for the next, as has been his wont.

Asked if this was his last Cabinet meeting before quitting, Basu sidestepped, saying: “My retirement will come in for detailed discussion in my party as well as the Left Front. I will let you know once the party takes the decision.”

Deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya was also non-committal when asked if it was Basu’s last Cabinet meeting. Replying to a query if Basu was going to retire shortly, Bhattacharya said: “I am neither confirming nor denying it.”

Other ministers said they did not raise the issue since it might come up in tomorrow’s Front meeting.

Basu’s last engagement as chief minister is expected to be a visit to Bolpur on September 15 to open Rabindra Bhavan. He was initially reluctant to attend the programme, but relented after a request from Bolpur MP and CPM leader in the Lok Sabha, Somnath Chatterjee.

Officials said special arrangements have been made for the journey because of the chief minister’s failing health.    

Patna, Aug. 29 
Five persons were killed in police firing as Hazaribagh town erupted in anger over the rape and murder of an 18-year-old Dalit girl.

The orgy of violence continued for about three hours as protesters turned violent near Barhi, 20 km from G.T. Road. Ten persons were injured, two of whom are in critical condition.

The mob burnt police vans and attacked policemen, pelting stones at them.

Director-general of police K.A. Jacob said policemen were raiding some areas in Hazaribagh — a Naxalite bastion — in connection with the rape, when the mob turned on them.

Three days ago, Rima Kangi of Belagaon village was raped by four armed men.

Rima and three men from her village were on their way home in the evening when they were stopped by some anti-socials. The men were taken into the forest, beaten up severely and tied to trees. The girl was taken to a remote village where she was gangraped and killed.

“This is not an isolated case of rape in Hazaribagh. If I can count correctly, this is the fourth incident of rape in two months which have come to light officially,” said Lakshman Sambrui, a tribal leader of the area. People were desperate since there was no effort by the police to arrest the criminals, he said.

Angry residents put up a roadblock on G.T. Road today when they heard that one of the alleged rapists involved in the recent incident was roaming about freely in the town.

Police sources said Naxalite activists were actively supporting the protesters.

By 2 pm, all traffic on G.T. Road came to a standstill and the Hazaribagh-Ranchi-Dhanbad road was clogged. The crowd started pelting stones at the police, who had asked the demonstrators to lift the roadblock.

But suddenly the crowd swelled. According to the police, some demonstrators were armed and they directed the rest to follow them. The crowd then went berserk, burning two police kiosks and torching the police vehicles. Some other vehicles were also damaged.

The police opened fire, after lathicharging and firing teargas shells.

Naxalites may have joined the mob and incited them, police sources said. They added that the protesters also snatched away a self-loading rifle from a CRPF jawan.

A DSP of the CRPF and seven Hazaribagh residents were among the injured, police said. They have been taken to the Ranchi Medical College and Hospital for treatment.

State home secretary U.N. Panjiyar said four persons were killed in police firing. However, another victim of the firing died in the evening, police sources said.

Opposition leaders said they might call a Hazaribagh bandh tomorrow.

Hazaribagh — the constituency of Union finance minister Yashwant Sinha — is seething, but is not alone in its resentment. At least four girls are raped every day in Bihar, official sources admit.

The main targets are teenage girls and minors. Two days ago an 11-year-old girl was raped and murdered near Patna.    

New Delhi, Aug. 29 
The Supreme Court today ruled that trial courts should not interfere with investigations and “waste time” picking holes in them.

A division bench of Justice K.T. Thomas and Justice R.P. Sethi said: “The cause of criminal justice would become a victim if accused are acquitted due to flaws or defects in investigations.”

Delivering the judgment, Justice Thomas said: “Castigation of investigation, unfortunately, seems to be a regular practice when the trial courts acquit accused in criminal cases.”

The ruling was issued in context of a trail court order on the abduction of a businessman in Calcutta a few years ago, and the subsequent recovery of his body by the roadside.

The trial court convicted the accused on charges of abduction, saying there was no proof that the victim had been murdered by his abductors. Nor was there evidence that the victim had been in the custody of the accused after abduction and that they had murdered him.

Calcutta High Court not only upheld the trial court order, it also reduced the sentences of the convicts. It also severely criticised the investigating agency for lacunae in the probe.

The case reached the Supreme Court on an appeal by the West Bengal government. It convicted the accused of murder, awarded them life sentences and directed the sessions judge “to take immediate steps for putting the convicted persons back in jail for undergoing the remaining period of the sentences imposed by this judgment”.

The apex court said it was almost impossible to come across a case where investigations conducted by the police or other authorities were “flawless or foolproof”.

“The function of criminal courts should not be wasted in picking out lapses in investigation and by expressing unsav- oury criticism against investigating officers,” the judges obser- ved.

“Efforts should be made by courts to see that criminal justice is salvaged despite defects in the investigation,” they said.    

Calcutta, Aug. 29 
In view of the alarming rise in violence unleashed by the Kamtapuris in north Bengal districts, the state government has decided to deploy a large contingent of police force in vulnerable areas.

Sources at the Writers Buildings said that the state government has urged the Centre to provide two companies of the Central Reserve Police force to be deployed at Jalpaiguri.

Deputy chief minister, Buddhadev Bhattacharya, who also looks after home (police) portfolio, said that the intelligence network in Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar districts will be strengthened shortly to curb Kamtapuri extremist activities.

Bhattacharya, along with director general of police, Dipak Sanyal, visited Jalpaiguri last week to review the law and order there.

Later, he held a meeting with forest minister Jogesh Burman and urban development minister Ashok Bhattacharya, where officials from the district administration were also present. Both the ministers hail from north Bengal.

“The Kamtapuris will have to lay down their arms or face the consequences. The administration is determined to tackle the extremists and will not let north Bengal become ano- ther Assam,” Bhattacharya warned.

He claimed to have information about extremists getting arms from Ulfa. He also did not rule out the possibility of the ISI backing them. Bhattacharya said that the Bhutan government had already assured him of not harbouring extremists in the country.

Burman, who is on the hit list of the extremists, today expressed concern over the recent killing of two teachers by the Kamtapuris. He also accused the Congress of supporting them.

Echoing Barman, urban development minister, Bhattacharya, warned that the Kamtapuris, who wanted to divide the district, would be firmly dealt with. Most of the extremists were from Rajbanshi and were attacking Bengalis, he claimed.

Reports confirm that six CPM leaders were killed by the extremists during the last two years, followed by the recent murder of two school teachers.

Sanyal said special police arrangements would be made for the two districts of north Bengal. Besides, tight security measures would be ensured to guard important government offices. Patrolling along border areas has also been strengthened.

The state police chief emphasised that apart from administrative measures, strong political initiative was required to solve the extremist problem.    

New Delhi, Aug. 29 
New BJP president Bangaru Laxman, who projected a liberal image in the Nagpur party council meet and dubbed the Hindutva issues, including Ayodhya, as “irrelevant”, has done a volte face in the RSS mouthpiece, Panchajanya, asserting that there was no question of junking Hindutva because the concept was integral to the BJP.

In a two-page interview that has appeared in the latest issue of the journal, Laxman has said: “Look here, the question of giving up Hindutva simply does not arise. After all, Hindutva is inbuilt in the party. When have I ever said the party is ready to give up its fundamental principles and ideology? Even today the BJP is wedded to these.”

In an apologetic tone, Laxman said right now the BJP was bound by the NDA’s agenda. “Yes, we went to the people with the NDA agenda (during the last elections), we are committed to the agenda because after all we have to respect the people’s mandate.”

During the Nagpur meet, the press quoted Laxman as saying that it was not the Ayodhya issue alone that had catapulted the BJP to power in the 1990s. He seemed at pains to shake off the party’s Hindutva past and L.K. Advani’s campaign declaring Hindutva as the party’s ideological mascot.

But when Panchajanya asked what he thought were the milestones in the BJP’s history, he named the Ramjanmabhoomi plank. “There are many. But in the past among the issues that dominated, the Ramjanmabhoomi agitation played a major role.”

On the differences between the Centre and the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) on economic policies, Laxman was guarded. “Look, we won our mandate in 1999 for the National Agenda for Governance. But the SJM has not told people for the next five years we will keep our mouth shut. Broadly, the NAG is also committed to the concepts of swadeshi and self-reliance. They were mentioned in the two general budgets. If we look at it closely, there are differences between us and the SJM...The government is taking their views seriously... I am confident that in the days to come, whatever differences that exist will be resolved amicably.”

When questioned on the alleged indifference of the BJP ministers to the party cadre, Laxman rushed to the defence of the government. “There are no flaws in the way they (the ministers) have been trained... Sometimes because of their new responsibilities, the ministers are not mindful of such things. The party workers also have to understand that small things like transfers and postings are not national or social issues that they have to go running to the ministers. But ego is a bad thing and should be set right.”

He outlined strengthening the organisation as his first priority, especially in the states going to polls next year. But he categorically stated that there was no way the BJP would deviate from the NDA agenda and chart its own course for the next five years. In other words, like his predecessor Kushabhau Thakre, Laxman seemed willing to play second fiddle to the government and speak the RSS’ idiom as and when it suited him. In short, tight-rope walk.    

Mumbai, Aug. 29 
Cable TV viewers have never had it so good. Even before the euphoria over HBO could die down, Zee has announced a tie-up with Hollywood studio major Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, throwing open the doors of its huge library of quality films to audiences here.

By striking an alliance with MGM to launch a co-branded movie channel to cater exclusively to the South Asian market, Zee Telefilms has pulled off a coup in the sizzling television entertainment industry.

Announcing the initiative to augment its movie content, the local entertainment major said its English movie channel, Zee Movies, will be renamed and relaunched as Zee-MGM channel in mid-October.

Ensnaring the “roaring lion” — MGM’s famous insignia — will hopefully attract audiences back to the channel and provide the network with a rich library of Hollywood flicks. The alliance will enable Zee to be on an equal footing vis-à-vis HBO, an offshoot of Time-Warner, MGM’s arch rival in Hollywood.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Zee Telefilms CEO R.K. Singh said: “The joint venture channel will enjoy the intrinsic strength of the strong MGM brand that enjoys top-of-the-mind recall as the premier Hollywood studio. MGM’s “roaring lion” symbolises and defines Hollywood for audiences across all age groups.”

With the lion’s share of titles from the modern era — more than 3,000 titles produced since 1960 — in the MGM stable, the viewers of the new channel in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the Maldives can look forward to a varied offering from the network, Zee said.

Asked to reveal the exact nature of the tie-up, Singh said: “We will have the controlling stake.” He declined to give further details on the equity holding pattern.

“Continuing with Zee’s tradition of offering its viewers the very best in quality programming, the MGM library not only fulfils that tradition but also brings to the Indian movie buff a slice of the history of the major western cinematic oeuvre. It also symbolises ZTL’s philosophy of creating strategic partnerships to leverage its inherent strengths,” Singh added.

Buoyed by the news, the Zee scrip scored impressive gains and closed the day at Rs 506.10 from the previous day’s Rs 483.75.

MGM Worldwide Television Distribution handles global television distribution and television programme co-productions for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. Through MGM Worldwide Television Distribution, nearly 4,100 feature films and 8,900 television episodes are available to the global television market.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. is actively engaged in the worldwide production and distribution of entertainment products, including motion pictures, television programming, home video and DVD, interactive media, music and licensed merchandise. The company owns the largest modern film library in the world.    

New Delhi, Aug. 29 
At a high- decibel presentation complete with flashing strobe lights last night, Sony Entertainment Television announced the launch of a slew of new programmes from September onwards.

Delhi was the second stop of a four-city presentation. There is a new mythological Shree Ganesh, a romantic soap Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin, family drama Shaheen, a drama Choodiyan, a couple of sitcoms and so on. This is more of the same stuff every other channel is dishing out. So what’s new?

Says Kunal Dasgupta, CEO, Sony Entertainment: “This is an exercise in consolidation, this continuation of soaps, sitcoms and dramas. It is a strengthening of our existing programmes.”

What Sony Entertainment channel has achieved with the new batch of high quality programming is to extend the prime time band by an hour and a half from 7 pm to 11.30 pm, five days a week. This means 15 new programmes per week.

Dasgupta, who is considered a super strategist in the industry responsible for introducing blockbuster movies and high-profile events on the small screen, is marking time till he unleashes his next round of programming.

While he would not comment on introducing the game show Jeopardy on Sony Entertainment channel, there are straws in the wind indicating that an exciting show is on the cards.

Media maven Dasgupta says: “There has to be a lot of change in television viewing.” He adds that the success of Kaun Banega Crorepati shows that the audiences have new viewing preferences.

The biggest and the most fundamental change that will take place in television programming is that the character of the programmes will shift. According to Dasgupta, daringly different domestic dramas will yield place to spectacles. The days of a single camera capturing emotional moments between two people within the four walls of a domestic setting will be a dated device. From now on,there will be big TV nights.

The changes will be reflected in Sony’s programming within a year. Says Dasgupta: “The settings will become more grand. TheKBC setting is only the beginning. There will be a lot more energy, a lot more budget, more audience participation.” Over the next year Sony is enhancing its programming budget by 100 per cent.    

Patna, Aug. 29 
Naxalite groups in South Bihar have decided to stop carrying out caste-specific attacks and instead focus on “selective killings” to keep feudal forces under control.

At the same time, both the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) and the People’s War Group (PWG) have agreed to separately support Independent candidates in the February panchayat polls to help the Left radicals consolidate their movement for land justice to tribals.

The MCC, at a clandestine meeting of its core group — the South Bihar zonal committee — held in a tiny hamlet in Palamou, welcomed the creation of Jharkhand state and said it would continue fighting the land-owning classes.

Taking cue from Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, the Bihar government has decided not to allow candidates to fight the panchayat elections on a party symbol. Taking advantage of the move, the MCC has decided to prop up Independent nominees who would take the outfit’s agenda to the grassroots. The Naxalite group has set its eyes on small panchayat bodies in the hill forest villages of Hazaribagh.

Like in Bhojpur’s caste-ridden Sandesh area, where four plots of land distributed to the backward Mushahar caste members were found to have been taken over by a ruling party MLA who wanted to set up his own petrol pump, South Bihar is flooded with tales of tribal land being usurped by the upper classes.

The fight for land is the main reason for the increasing social tension in the region. For example, the massacre of 12 people in Daltongunge’s Loto village last November can be traced to the land conflict between the local Oraon tribals and the converted Muslims in the area.

The MCC’s announcement to step up the fight could heighten the simmering tension. The outfit has already claimed responsibility for the deaths of 12 people in Hazaribagh region over the past week. MCC leaflets found at the sites of the killings said that the men had paid the price for helping the authorities. Several village sarpanches have gone into hiding following the Naxalites’ change of tack.

The government has ordered an inquiry into a Rs 400-crore land scam in Chhotanagpur. Over 20 people, including a former additional police superintendent, had allegedly conspired to deprive lands to the tribals in Ranchi district and fraudulently got the plots registered in their own names.    


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