Gutsy Sushma stock soars, Uma star sinks
Basu skips Front meet, CPM skirts retirement
Atal to set up Bangaru house
Decibel clampdown on church
Three killed in fresh police firing
Govt drive to tone up IT muscle
CPI sees Naidu hand in firing

 
 
GUTSY SUSHMA STOCK SOARS, UMA STAR SINKS 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Aug. 30: 
Both women have embarrassed the BJP and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. But while Sushma Swaraj has won the hearts of the party cadre, Uma Bharati has become an object of ridicule.

Sushma’s outburst at the BJP’s national executive in Nagpur over the weekend may have raised the hackles of Vajpayee, home minister L.K. Advani and BJP chief Bangaru Laxman, but she has emerged as a heroine among the workers. Party sources said she was mobbed wherever she went and her autographs and photographs were in great demand. Her speech was quoted approvingly by them.

“She was hailed as someone who had the guts to take on the Prime Minister and his Cabinet single-handedly on an important matter like Kashmir. In the process, she articulated our feelings. Whether the leaders like it or not, they have to take note of our sentiments,” said a member of the national council from Bihar.

In her Nagpur intervention, Sushma said while the BJP MPs would back the government’s Kashmir policy, it was important that they were told the reasons behind the killing of the Amarnath pilgrims. She also pointed out that the rank-and-file were unhappy with the way the Centre had handled the Kandahar hijack episode which ended with external affairs minister Jaswant Singh accompanying the three freed terrorists to Afghanistan in return for the release of the Indian Airlines plane hostages.

While Sushma’s detractors in the BJP were quick to politicise her remarks and allege that they were made because she felt “sidelined” by Vajpayee, BJP sources claimed that the workers perceived her observation otherwise.

“They were not interested in the politics of it all, whether the Prime Minister was getting even with her and she was taking revenge. For them, all that mattered was a woman had taken the lead in speaking the truth while no man in the party had the courage to do so,” the sources complimented.

Sushma’s stock soared further after there were reports that she had lost whatever chances there were of being reinducted in the Cabinet after the Nagpur event. Moreover, the possibility of her being made an office-bearer was also in doubt with Vajpayee himself taking a keen interest in the composition of Laxman’s team of functionaries. “At least she displayed her courage of conviction and shown that she does not hanker after the crumbs of office and power,” said sources.

It was pointed out that even BJP stalwarts like Murli Manohar Joshi and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat — believed to be close to Vajpayee — congratulated her for “reflecting workers’ sentiments”.

In contrast to Sushma’s growing popularity, Uma Bharati’s credibility has taken a beating after her latest round of resignations from the Lok Sabha and the BJP’s national executive. “She tends to throw a tantrum at the slightest provocation and we feel the leadership should stop indulging her,” said a BJP worker from Uttar Pradesh, adding there was no provocation for her recent step.

“We cannot sympathise with her. She fought like a cat to get the Lok Sabha ticket from Bhopal and the leaders obliged her, overlooking the claim of a veteran like Kailash Joshi. Joshiji was large-hearted enough to work sincerely for Uma’s victory. And now a few months later, she wants to give up the seat. It is very irresponsible on her part,” commented an MP from Madhya Pradesh.

Uma’s declaration to quit politics and “work for the poor” has not cut ice with the rank-and-file.

“She should make up her mind and decide what she wants to do. Does she want to be a leader of the backward castes or turn to religion?” he asked, referring to speculations that Uma may part company with the BJP and team up with former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh to woo the heartland’s backward castes.    


 
 
BASU SKIPS FRONT MEET, CPM SKIRTS RETIREMENT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Aug. 30: 
The much-hyped Left Front committee meeting today ended in a whimper with the CPM stonewalling anxious allies’ questions on Jyoti Basu’s retirement and the chief minister choosing to stay away.

Contrary to public expectations after Basu’s admission of a possible discussion yesterday, CPM leaders scuttled attempts to take up the issue. They told Front partners that the matter could be discussed only after “the politburo gives the necessary clearance”.

When CPI and Marxist Forward Bloc leaders broached the topic at the hour-long meeting, CPM politburo member Biman Bose intervened, saying that the issue was not on the agenda. “The Left Front will discuss Basu’s retirement only after it is clinched by the CPM’s apex decision-making body,” Bose is learnt to have told the Front leaders.

Much to the disappointment of Front leaders, the meet ended by adopting a lengthy resolution condemning the Trinamul Congress-BJP combine’s “terror in the state” and the “anti-people policies” of the NDA coalition at the Centre. The resolution will be formally placed at a mass convention at Netaji Indoor Stadium tomorrow, where Basu and other senior Front leaders will address the gathering.

Front sources said the CPM leaders tried to discourage CPI leader and state minister for water resources development Nanda Bhattacharya when he first raised the issue of Basu’s retirement.

However, Bhattacharya found support from other partners, including fire services minister Partha Pratim Chatterjee of the Marxist Forward Bloc and Asim Chatterjee of the Communist Revolutionary League of India.

Forward Bloc secretary Asoke Ghosh and PWD minister Kshiti Goswami of the RSP then clamoured for a special Front committee meeting after the CPM’s politburo session. Goswami felt that Basu’s retirement as well as the selection of his successor should be discussed at the meet.

“We feel that Basu’s retirement should have been taken up in today’s meeting since we are very confused about the actual position due to conflicting news reports in recent times,” Chatterjee said. Echoing him, Bhattacharya said: “We are all worried about reports concerning Basu’s retirement.”

Left Front chairman Sailen Dasgupta later said that the matter will be taken up only when Basu gives his final nod.    


 
 
ATAL TO SET UP BANGARU HOUSE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 30: 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is expected to start the exercise of constituting the new team of BJP office-bearers, including its vice-presidents and general secretaries, tomorrow.

A senior party functionary said Vajpayee will hold consultations with home minister L.K. Advani and new party president Bangaru Laxman in this regard.

Vajpayee’s keen interest in what is wholly a party-related process indicates his growing stranglehold over the BJP and, sources said, while he would not vet each and every name he will ensure that a sufficient number of his “loyalists” are packed into Laxman’s team.

While BJP sources confirmed that Sushma Swaraj was out of the reckoning for a Cabinet berth in the event of a reshuffle, a question mark also hangs over her induction in a party post. “She is extremely talented and articulate and we need such persons,” said an office-bearer.

But with Sushma having rebuffed the offer to become a general secretary and the BJP spokesperson after losing the Delhi Assembly elections as the chief minister, the leadership seems wary of approaching her again.

“She should first make up her mind and let us know. Only then can we make the offer,” said sources.

Of crucial importance will be the post of the five general secretaries, which forms the backbone of the BJP organisation.

It is speculated that after Laxman’s pro-Muslim overture in Nagpur — he described the Muslims as the “flesh of our flesh and the blood of our blood” — the present secretary, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, may be elevated to the level of general secretary.

Naqvi is not only young, but the BJP is beholden to him for his efforts to “legitimise” Hindutva among the minorities.

While both Narendra Modi and K.N. Govindacharya are expected to be retained as general secretaries, M. Venkaiah Naidu may be inducted into the Cabinet and Sangh Priya Gautam could be pushed upstairs as a vice-president.

A search is on to fill the women’s slot which has been lying vacant since Sumitra Mahajan became a minister.

As the race for the party posts hots up, so does hectic lobbying. Satyadev Singh, a former Uttar Pradesh MP who once headed the BJP’s youth wing, has been doing the rounds in the party headquarters as has been former Delhi chief minister Sahib Singh Verma, who, too, is unlikely to find a place in the Cabinet.

While Singh could be taken in as a secretary, sources said Verma may be asked to head the Kisan Morcha in keeping with his “pro-rural Jat” image.    


 
 
DECIBEL CLAMPDOWN ON CHURCH 
 
 
FROM R. VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, Aug. 30: 
Holding that “no religious sect has the right to add to noise pollution”, the Supreme Court today restrained the Church of God (Full Gospel) in India from “blaring loudspeakers” while conducting prayer meetings.

“Because of urbanisation or industrialisation, the noise pollution in some areas might be exceeding permissible limits, but that would not be a ground for permitting others to increase it by beating of drums or by use of voice amplifiers, loudspeakers or musical instruments and, therefore, rules prescribing reasonable restrictions should be enforced,” the division bench of Justice M.B. Shah and Justice S.N. Phukan said while upholding a Madras High Court verdict.

The Supreme Court had earlier taken a similar position while agreeing with a Calcutta High Court verdict directing mosques to stay within the decibel limit during azaan. The judges said that in a multi-religious society like India, no particular community or sect could claim “the right to add to noise pollution on the ground of pollution”.

The verdict came on an appeal by the Church of God against the high court ruling stopping it from blaring loudspeakers. The Madras court passed the order after hearing a petition from the K.K.R. Majestic Colony Welfare Association which complained that the church was adding to noise pollution. Upholding the ruling, the apex court bench said the directions issued were not “in any manner illegal or erroneous”.

“Undisputedly, no religion prescribes that prayers should be performed by disturbing the peace of others nor does it preach that they should be through voice-amplifiers or beating of drums,” the judges said.

“In our view, in a civilised society, in the name of religion, activities which disturb old or infirm persons, students or children cannot be permitted. It should not be forgotten that young babies are also entitled to enjoy their natural right of sleeping in a peaceful atmosphere. A student preparing for his examination is entitled to concentrate on his studies without any unnecessary disturbance.”

Pointing out that the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, has prescribed permissible limits of noise in residential, commercial, industrial areas and “zones of silence”, the court said nobody can be permitted to violate the provisions.

Asking people to join the fight against noise pollution, the judges said: “Even though the rules are unambiguous, there is a lack of awareness among the citizens as well as the authorities about the rules or their duty to implement the same.”

The court said noise pollution “affects humans and animals alike” and the extent of damage depends upon the duration and the intensity of noise. “In an organised society, rights are related to duty towards others, including neighbours,” the judges added.    


 
 
THREE KILLED IN FRESH POLICE FIRING 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, Aug. 30: 
The police today fired on protesters in Ara, killing three persons, including a 15-year-old boy, and injuring five others.

Incensed by the trigger-happy police force’s third firing in a fortnight, the Opposition today tore into the government. Less than 24 hours ago, five persons were gunned down by the police near Barhi in Hazaribagh. On August 19, the police had fired on demonstrators at Immamgunj, causing a stampede. Three youngsters were drowned when they fell off a bridge while fleeing.

The CPIM-L (Liberation) today organised the demonstration near the Kachari in Ara to press their demand for the arrest of Ranbir Sena activists, believed to be behind the killing of their colleague.

Last week, a CPIM-L activist, Vishwanath Ram, was allegedly killed by the Ranbir Sena. The Naxalites allege that the police is deliberately not arresting the culprits. The two organisations are locked in a bloody turf war in the area. Leaflets with pictures of the Ranbir Sena cadre have been splashed in the area sending the political temperature zooming.

Over 2,000 CPIM-L workers took out a procession to the court premises, where a large contingent of policemen was posted.

“It would have passed off peacefully had someone from the procession not fired at a mounted policeman, killing his horse,” said state home secretary U.N. Panjiar. He added that the crowd also pelted stones at the police, forcing them to fire four rounds.

CPIM-L legislative party chief Ram Naresh Ram refuted the claims. “There were slogans against the police for giving protection to Ranbir Sena activists. But that was the reason for the demonstration. Why should the policemen take it personally, lose patience and open fire?” he asked. He said that anarchy had gripped the state and the voice of democracy was being throttled by police brutality.

He added that his party has decided to observe a black day tomorrow and organise a “chakka jam” in the area on Saturday.    


 
 
GOVT DRIVE TO TONE UP IT MUSCLE 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, Aug. 30: 
In the first move of its kind, the Centre is planning a massive upgradation in training and education of manpower in the rapidly-expanding information technology sector.

The human resource development ministry has drawn up the blueprint of a multi-pronged strategy to meet the burgeoning demands of this sector.

The government has already set up a task force headed by HRD minister Murli Manohar Joshi to develop a strategy that seeks to make India proficient in IT manpower by the end of 2007. The government believes that while there is no shortfall in manpower at the moment, there is also no room for complacency.

Last week, the HRD ministry made a detailed presentation before the task force, outlining the strategy which, apart from enhancing India’s capacity of trained infotech professionals, would also narrow the gap between IT literates and non-literates.

Senior ministry officials were concerned that India could lose its “competitive advantage” in IT software and services unless it trained its manpower. The buzzwords guiding the government are “quality, upgradation and an increase in the number of IT students”.

In last week’s discussion, the secretary for higher education in the HRD ministry set a target for admission of students in the IT sector. He suggested tripling the intake of students over the next two years. Statistics show that the US produces 10,000 masters degree and 800 Ph.D degree-holders in computer science every year. In India, the figure is abysmally low at 25 Ph.D and 300 M.Tech degree-holders.

“It is essential for us to give greater importance to post-graduate education and research if we want to move up the value chain in software industry and be a force to reckon within the knowledge motivated business,” an official said.

In the first phase of the project’s implementation, the government has picked 50 technical institutions, including the IITs and the IIMs which would upgrade their infrastructure, including faculties, telecommunication network, libraries, research and development facilities.

Though a uniform policy for increasing the intake of students will not be possible, the focus will be on upscaling post-graduate research and distance education programmes in reputed institutes like the IITs, while strengthening undergraduate courses elsewhere. One of the primary areas of concern is the non-availability of faculty and its “poor” quality. In the All-India Council of Technical Education (AICTE), the teacher-student ratio in IT is lopsided — outstripping the AICTE’s prescribed ratio. The teacher-pupil ratio varies from 1:39 to 1:52 as against the recommended 1:15 ratio.

To surmount the problem of faculty shortage and its detrimental quality, regular training and retraining programmes have been suggested for faculty members.

The “Cluster Approach” outlined by the HRD ministry calls for a greater sharing of faculty, good instructional and information resources and courses. For instance, the ‘National Cluster’ could include 65 institutions — including the six IITs and IIMs and 50 other “select” institutions. s    


 
 
CPI SEES NAIDU HAND IN FIRING 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Hyderabad, Aug. 30: 
The Left parties have targeted chief minister Chandrababu Naidu for defending the police firing on power-hike demonstrators in which at least two people were killed and over 100 injured.

Ridiculing the government’s charge that Naxalite extremists had participated in the rally, CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan today said: “If that is the case, why doesn’t the government ban the extremist outfits? The home minister himself invited leaders of the organisations for a meeting at the secretariat.”

Bardhan said the CPI and other Left allies would meet the President with documents pertaining to alleged police atrocities. The Left groups will hold demonstrations all over the country to express solidarity with colleagues in Andhra who have suffered bullet wounds.

“Naidu’s efforts to create a wedge between the Congress and the Left will not succeed,” Bardhan said. He wondered why Naidu disliked the communists. “He took our help to get the throne of Andhra. Now that he is supporting the BJP (which he had earlier described as a communal party), Naidu has begun to throw mud on us. Have we become untouchables,” he said.    

 

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