Mamata raises quit spectre
Arthroscopy lined up for Atal knee
Sonia faces shame of contest
Hizb bans Kashmir census
Ram stones crush Laxman pillar
Calcutta Weather

Calcutta, Sept. 3: 
Mamata Banerjee today threatened to resign from the Vajpayee Cabinet for not being able to bring “peace” to Bengal villages.

The Trinamul Congress leader and railway minister made the threat at the party’s policy-making body which met until late tonight after the maha mahamichhil (grand procession).

Sudip Bandopadhyay, Trinamul MP, said Mamata decided not to force the issue after she received at least six phone calls from BJP leaders, including home minister L.K. Advani, when the meeting was going on at Nizam Palace.

“Mamata said she wanted to quit as she had failed to mount pressure on the BJP-led government to declare five Bengal districts as disturbed, let alone impose President’s rule,” he said.

He said a team of Trinamul leaders would call on the Governor tomorrow and submit a memorandum demanding that Midnapore, Birbhum, Hooghly, Bankura and Burdwan be declared “disturbed”.

Mamata also announced that she will undertake a three-day visit to trouble-torn areas in Midnapore, Bankura and Hooghly tomorrow. After that, she will convene another meeting of the policy-making body.

Sources said Mamata told today’s meeting that when people belonging to minority communities, scheduled castes and tribes and women and children were being attacked, the Centre should intervene. “We will have to convince the Vajpayee government that the situation in the state warrants immediate central intervention. Otherwise, what is the use of my being a Union minister from Bengal?” Mamata wondered.

Even if today’s threat was not for real, the BJP-led government can expect the Trinamul leader to keep up the pressure for action on Bengal till the elections.

By being seen as pressuring the Centre to act, she keeps the Left Front on tenterhooks, especially if Jyoti Basu steps down. With Basu out of the way, it becomes that much more easy for Delhi to act. As of now, high-level government sources ruled out interfering in Bengal.

Trinamul leader Pankaj Banerjee said Mamata will continue “the threat until the Centre meets our demand”.

If having to live with an increasingly demanding Mamata was one piece of bad news for Delhi, the other was the hint of a group of BJP workers joining Trinamul. After leading a mammoth procession through the city, Mamata declared at a rally that some BJP leaders were about to switch parties. “Parasbabu has told me he wants to join Trinamul,” she said.

The induction of Paras Dutta, former general secretary of the Bengal BJP, is expected to be formalised shortly. Sources close to Dutta said at least 1,200 supporters, including key party functionaries, will follow suit.

“Those who are being sidelined have no option but to join Trinamul,” said another former general secretary Rahul Sinha.

BJP state president Asim Ghosh, however, claimed only a few would cross over to Trinamul. “This will not affect the relations between the parties,” he added.

With the chipping away at the BJP block about to begin, the denudation of the Congress camp continued apace. Two MLAs — Motahar Hossain from Birbhum and Phani Bhusan Roy from Malda — joined Trinamul today.

Mamata’s maha mahamichhil — in protest against the “reign of terror unleashed by the CPM” — turned out to be a huge show resplendent with colourful tableaux and effigies depicting the “end of Marxist rule in West Bengal”.

The procession snaked its way from the foot of Gandhi’s statue on Mayo Road, along Jawaharlal Nehru Road and C.R Avenue towards Shyambazar.

At one point of time, when the head of the procession was nearing Shyambazar, the tail was yet to leave the Esplanade area.

It took Mamata nearly four hours to reach Shyambazar where she addressed the rally from atop a vehicle as no dais had been built on her instructions in deference to rules which do not allow it. “In Bengal, the state is sponsoring terrorism. CPM cadre are taking over village after village in rural Bengal with arms supplied by the administration,” Mamata said.

“There is absolute dictatorship going on in Bengal. Our struggle will continue until the CPM is ousted from the state,” she said to thunderous applause.

She appealed to people to exercise austerity during the Pujas and contribute to the rehabilitation of thousands who were made homeless in the troubled districts.


New Delhi, Sept. 3: 
Unpublicised details of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s knee problem have begun to emerge, strengthening the possibility of an arthroscopy during the New York leg of his US tour.

Arthroscopy not only includes examination of an affected area using optical fibre but also a minor surgery to remove possible “debris” that make joints stiff.

Vajpayee, who leaves for New York on Thursday, has kept both September 10 and 11 free of official engagements. Indications are that he will use this opportunity for a medical check-up.

If recommended, the arthroscopy will be done. Doctors said it is similar to laparoscopy or endoscopy — an examination of the injured or problematic area. A minute telescope-like instrument attached to optical fibre will be inserted to let doctors have a closer look at the knee joint.

It is suspected that Vajpayee has a stiff knee because the “synovial fluid” that lubricates the joint and allows free movement of the knee has dried up. When the fluid runs dry, it leaves behind debris that make the joint rigid and almost immobile.

In such a situation, the patient cannot fold the affected leg. He can neither stand straight for a long time nor walk without stumbling after remaining stationary. Doctors said this possibly explains why Vajpayee stumbled during the Independence Day visit to Red Fort.

Arthroscopy also involves a minor surgery called ‘lavage’, a process to remove the debris. Doctors said that once the debris are cleared, the fluid can re-lubricate the joint.

But age is often a hindrance — the older the person, the chances of the fluid resurfacing are less. In the US, however, continuing research is yielding ways for creating the fluid.

However, Vajpayee’s managers are furiously fighting shy of the word “surgery”. The reason for the reluctance stems from the connotation of the term in public perception.

The Prime Minister’s aides fear that the moment an official announcement about the possibility of surgery is made, rumour mills will start working overtime on speculating whether the ailment is only limited to his knee or it is part of a greater problem.

Plans were made earlier to go ahead with the check-up as soon as Vajpayee reached New York, skipping the Vishwa Hindu Parishad function on Staaten Island on September 9. But it appears that the hardliners in the ruling party have been able to convince him not to miss the VHP programme.

Vajpayee, who will address the UN Millennium Summit on September 8, will also have a few bilateral meetings. On September 13, he will leave for Washington, but he does not have too many engagements that day.

His schedule will become hectic from the day after, beginning with the address of the US Congress. In the afternoon, the Prime Minister will lunch with the Indian Caucus and meet leading members of US think-tanks.

On September 15, he will be given a ceremonial reception at the White House, which will be followed by a one-to-one with President Bill Clinton. Vajpayee will unveil a statue of Mahatma Gandhi the next day.

On September 17, the Prime Minister will attend an official banquet hosted by Clinton. After dinner, Vajpayee will leave for Frankfurt en route to Delhi.    

New Delhi, Sept. 3: 
Rattling the Congress high command, dissident leader Jitendra Prasada has made up his mind to contest against Sonia Gandhi for the party president’s post.

10 Janpath was hopeful of getting Sonia selected unopposed at the November 11 election. But with Prasada throwing his hat into the ring, she is set to run into some resistance.

Sensing disquiet, Sonia’s managers have raised the bogey of “generational change”, promising a younger and more vibrant Congress after the organisational polls. Sonia is counting on support from ‘Young Turks’ like Digvijay Singh, Kamal Nath, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, Ashok Gehlot, Rajasekhara Reddy, S.M. Krishna and other regional satraps.

Going by the head count of the electoral college for the Congress president, Sonia is miles ahead of any challenger. According to the party constitution, 10,000-odd state level delegates elect the AICC chief. Since most of the state committees are hand-picked by Sonia, she is set to have a smooth sailing.

However, the dissident camp claimed that even forcing a contest for the top party post would be an achievement in view of the ‘durbar culture’ of the Congress.

Prasada’s move to force a contest has 10 Janpath and senior party leaders exerting pressure on the dissident leader and offering him a Congress Working Committee (CWC) bait to avoid an election.

“The victory of Sonia Gandhi is a foregone conclusion. But we are keen on avoiding a contest. It does not reflect well on her leadership,” a senior leader said. He added that Prasada was eyeing the “seat” of the “principal dissident leader” in the party, lying vacant since the exit of Pawar and the untimely death of Rajesh Pilot.

The Prasada camp is putting on a brave face and targeting the “coterie”, instead of Sonia herself. Sources close to Prasada said he was being forced to contest as Arjun Singh, Vincent George and other coterie members have obliterated inner party democracy and transparency.

The defeat of Noor Bano — the lone Muslim woman in the Lok Sabha — in the Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) executive is being presented as a case in point.

The dissidents plan to cash in on the growing resentment against the leadership.

Several senior party leaders, including Manmohan Singh, K. Karunakaran, Vijaya Bhaskara Reddy, R.K. Dhawan, Pranab Mukherjee, Naval Kishore Sharma and the Shukla brothers, are unhappy with the manner in which the high command is functioning.

The old guard said there was a feeling among partymen that the coterie has become too powerful and that the CWC has lost its supremacy.

Jharkhand unit

Waking up to bifurcation reality, the Congress leadership has decided to upgrade the Jharkhand regional Congress unit to the state level even as it was left groping for a suitable leadership in Bihar. (See Page 8)    

Srinagar, Sept. 3: 
The Hizb-ul Mujahideen has banned the second phase of census in the Kashmir Valley, scheduled to begin from September 11.

In a statement, the Hizb asked the government to “call off the ongoing census in the state” as a “fair and credible census” was not possible.

Terming the census a “conspiracy against the majority community”, the Hizb said: “Thousands have either gone underground as a result of excesses or crossed over to PoK. Thousands are missing and in jails. Holding a census in such conditions is a futile exercise.”

The Hizb also appealed to the people of the Valley “not to co-operate with officials deployed for the census”.

Threatening census employees with severe consequences, it said: “Kashmiris should let it be known to one and all that they will not sacrifice their goal of achieving the right to self-determination in exchange for the widening of the roads.”

A police officer admitted that providing security to 22,000 employees was a difficult task. “But we will discuss the issue threadbare and steps will be taken to complete the census,” he said.

US on terror

The Prime Minister’s principal secretary, Brajesh Mishra, told a TV channel that the US is considering declaring some militant groups in Pakistan terrorist outfits and is “doing everything” to ensure Islamabad creates a conducive atmosphere for resumption of Indo-Pak talks.    

Sirohi (Rajasthan), Sept. 3: 
The message from Nagpur has not reached Sirohi. Chiselling away at new BJP president Bangaru Laxman’s thesis that the Ram temple issue has lost its relevance, over 150 artisans are carving sandstones with clockwork precision in this sunny district near Mount Abu.

The pre-fabricated stones — each meticulously numbered — will be ferried hundreds of miles away to Ayodhya, where they will be pieced together to complete the Ram temple jigsaw.

Laxman’s liberal charter has not affected the pace of the conveyor-belts of the temple-building industry here. Instead, they are rolling full steam ahead to meet the deadline set by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s blueprint for the temple project.

“We have been told that the temple construction will start in 2001,” says Kanaram Ghanchi, a VHP functionary who is looking after the finances and liaising with three contractors commissioned for the stone project.

As many as 160 pillars have already been carted to Ayodhya from here, and the stones for the first floor of the two-storeyed shrine are ready.

The temple — expected to be 232 feet long, 165 feet wide and 135 feet tall — needs 212 pillars. The rest of the pillars and stones are being chiselled at workshops located in three villages — Pindwada, Ajari and Kojara. The sandstone — easy to carve and popularly known as Banshipura — is sourced from only one mine, located in Bharatpur district, 600 km from here.

Much like a schedule-sacred corporate project, the temple construction is being monitored closely by the parishad boardroom.

A Delhi-based VHP office-bearer, Champat Rai, has been tasked to track the progress at the workshops.

“Rai comes here at least twice a month.” said Paresh Sompura, one of the three contractors. Parishad chief Ashok Singhal has also visited Sirohi thrice ever since the stone-carving contractors were hired.

Of the Rs 30 crore needed to build the temple, the VHP claims, Rs 13 crore has been collected from the people and till date only Rs 2 crore has been spent.

“Resources are not a constraint and we will pump in any amount to construct the temple,” Ghanchi said.

“If the parishad is ready to spend more, we can complete carving for the second floor within four to six months,” chipped in contractor Sompura.

He added that it would take around 18 months to assemble the carved stones.

The contractors — Sompura, Mahadev and Bharat — should have little problem in speeding up the operation. The artisans are willing to work for less than Rs 90 a day.

Some artisans, like Desharam and Shanker, are willing to forgo one month’s wages, if it helps. Others have volunteered to go to Ayodhya for the kar seva, following in the footsteps of Ghanchi, a veteran of the 1989 and 1992 Ayodhya campaigns.

Not all artisans are new to Ayodhya. More than 50 of them were sent there in 1990 when the parishad set up a workshop. Few here have any doubts about the construction of the temple.

“In my whole life, I have not carved a stone which was not fixed in some temple,” Shanker said.

It is not by accident that the parishad has chosen Sirohi. The district houses two dozen temple-building factories and has over 20,000 skilled arti- sans.

Recurring famines in the past and the mushrooming of Jain temples have drawn the people to the unusual vocation, making stone-carving the main source of livelihood.    



Maximum: 33.4°C (+1)
Minimum: 26.2°C (normal)



Relative humidity

Maximum: 90%
Minimum: 62%

Partly cloudy sky, possibility of light rain towards afternoon or evening.
Sunset: 5.50 pm
Sunrise: 5.22 am    


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