Blow to Krishna plea in bandit case
Sonia picks up contest gauntlet
Icarus in centre of show stand-off
Rebels hang on for signoff signal
Cloud over Venkaiah Cabinet berth
CPM clings to poll mascot
Pepsi & priest in drive to curb baby boom
51-year labour for eight-foot bronze dream
70 rebels lay down arms in Tripura

New Delhi, Sept. 4: 
The Supreme Court today rejected the Karnataka government’s appeal for an early disposal of a petition in the Veerappan case.

The special leave petition was filed by a retired state police officer, Abdul Kareem, whose only son Shakeel Ahmad was killed by Veerappan in an ambush on a police party in August 1992.

Twenty-nine policemen were killed in the attack, including the then police superintendent Hari Krishna. The petition was filed before the court of Justice S.P. Bharucha.

Following the petition, the court had stayed the release of the Tada and NSA detainees, as demanded by Veerappan. The bandit had said he would release Kannada film icon Raj Kumar and the four others taken hostage if the detainees were set free.

Rejecting Karnataka solicitor-general Harish Salve’s plea, Chief Justice A.S. Anand, Justice N. Santosh Hegde and Justice K.G. Balakrishnan told the contending parties to file all relevant material and finish their pleadings within 10 days and then appeal for an early disposal.

The three-judge bench directed the petitioners to file their responses and counter-affidavits, before moving an application for an early hearing in Justice Bharucha’s court.

Veerappan, himself an accused in this case, and 114 others face charges in Karnataka alone. The bandit wants the case to be withdrawn.

He has also demanded the release of five Tamil extremists lodged in different prisons in Tamil Nadu. However, the two demands relate to separate cases.

The five belong to the Tamil Nadu Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Tamil Nadu Retrieval Force (TNRF). Two of the nationalists — Manikanda and Ponnivalavan — have offered to meet Veerappan, once they are freed, to negotiate Raj Kumar’s release.

However, since the apex court stay order is also applicable to Tamil Nadu, the five extremists, too, could not be released.

Tamil Nadu has been made a party in the case with two similar leave petitions filed by Adarsh Ganesh and B.L. Wadhera, a practising lawyer in Delhi.    

New Delhi, Sept. 4: 
The Sonia Gandhi camp said it is ready to accept any challenge to her leadership in the organisational polls even as it began wooing senior leaders like Manmohan Singh.

The former finance minister was appointed to several panels and Manmohanomics has been retained as the basis for the Congress’ economic thinking in the revised policy-paper, overruling a section of the party that has been protesting against reforms.

Twenty-four hours after Jitendra Prasada indicated he was planning to contest the election for the top party post, a senior AICC general secretary said: “He is most welcome to do so. Ours is a democratic set-up. In the past, too, there have been challengers to the leadership.”

However, there was unease over the prospect of someone within the party challenging a member of the Nehru-Gandhi family. “We hope he backs out or the high command succeeds in persuading him not to force a contest. It will not be in the interest of the party,” a Congress leader from Madhya Pradesh said, citing instances when a power-struggle in the party polls led to a revolt or a split. “Today, the party can hardly afford such a thing,” he said.

Leaders handling the party polls said they were prepared for elections for the top post. According to the poll schedule, October 24 is the last date for filing nominations. The poll will be held on November 1, if necessary, they said.

While claiming that it will be a one-sided contest, the Sonia camp is leaving nothing to chance. The Congress chief’s crisis-managers are keeping a close tab on senior leaders Manmohan Singh, Vijay Bhaskar Reddy, K. Karunakaran and C.K. Jaffer Sharief.

Manmohan, unhappy with the growing criticism of economic liberalisation within the party, is being wooed desperately. He has been made a member of the co-ordination panel of all Congress-ruled states, which means he will play a key role in shaping the economic policies of these states. Manmohan has also been included in the manifesto committees of Assam, Kerala, Punjab and other states going to polls next year.

The leadership has instructed Pranab Mukherjee and other members of the economic introspection panel to retain the thrust on reforms, an issue close to Manmohan’s heart. Sonia has virtually overruled a section of the party which was insisting on Left-of-centre policies diluting reforms.

The Congress chief’s camp is counting in division and oneupmanship among regional satraps to ensure landslide victory for the AICC chief. The assessment based upon past experience when the old guard ditched the principal dissident leader and struck individual deals.

“The truth is that no one wants to replace Sonia. The battle for supremacy is about Congress Working Committee berths. The fight is not about the big chair but about who gets access to the party chief,” an AICC functionary said.    

New Delhi, Sept. 4: 
Organisers of an art exhibition, which was taken off from the National Gallery of Modern Art after the authorities objected to a painting depicting a nude male figure atop the Ashoka Pillar, have said they are willing to go ahead with the show if no exhibit is excluded.

The organisers, Vis-a-vis and Art Inc, and several artists have submitted a letter today to gallery director Mukta Nidhi. The letter puts the ball in the gallery’s court by asking the director to let the organisers know when they can open the exhibition without excluding any exhibit.

The letter says the inauguration of the show — titled Combine: Voices for the new century — was marked by a protest by the artist community against “the decision by you for not permitting an exhibit by a well-known artist Surendran Nair titled An actor rehearsing the interior monologue of Icarus”.

Copies of the letter have also been submitted to minister of law Arun Jaitley, minister of culture Ananth Kumar, secretary of culture Vaidyanathan Ayyar and chairman of the National Museum, Varadarajan.

Surendran Nair, who painted the controversial Icarus, has written a letter to exhibition curator Prima Kurien, thanking the artists for the solidarity shown. He has expressed shock at the gallery’s decision to exclude his work.

In the letter to the gallery, artists have protested that the “freedom of expression, a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution, has been violated”. But the letter also states that as the exhibition had been accepted and passed by the advisory committee of the gallery appointed by the government, the artists “would like to continue with this exhibition of national representation at the proposed venue for the entire duration of the exhibition.”

The note requests the director to respond at the earliest to avoid inconvenience caused to the visitors to the gallery. Mukta Nidhi acknowledged receipt of the letter and said she will respond to it as soon as possible.

In his letter, Nair writes: “When the state chooses to be the custodian of interpretations to history and culture, it is indeed a dangerous control that comes into play within a democratic and secular nation. The censorship of my work by the director of the gallery and the reasons given by this government organisation to validate their decision, clearly showcases the agenda of the gallery. It is a day of great sorrow for us as a country to witness this overt manipulation and appropriation that is occurring in the name of nationalism.”

Nair feels that since the gallery does not uphold the basic norms of freedom of expression, it would be in the best interest of the exhibition to relocate to another venue independent of government affiliation.    

Calcutta, Sept. 4: 
CPM dissidents today decided to follow a “wait and watch policy” till the politburo gives its green signal to chief minister Jyoti Basu’s retirement in its forthcoming politburo meeting.

Saifuddin Chowdhury, considered to be the “thinktank” of the party dissidents, is coming to Calcutta on Friday. It is learnt that other disgruntled leaders like state transport minister Subhas Chakraborty, Samir Putatunda from South 24-Parganas and Subhas Bose from Nadia will meet Chowdhury in South 24-Parganas district to discuss their future course of action. Till then, no major decision will be taken by the dissident camp.

It is learnt that party hardliners like Anil Biswas, Biman Bose and Nirupom Sen are trying their best to draw a line of division among the dissidents, telling Chowdhury and Putatunda that they have nothing in common with Chakraborty. Their argument runs thus: while the issues raised by Chowdhury and Putatunda are ideological, Charaborty has a different axe to grind since there are corruption cases against him.

They are also highlighting the enthusiasm Chakraborty has publicly shown for Mamata Banerjee, which his two comrades-in-arms in dissident activity do not show.

These leaders are also trying to convince the dissidents that they will gain nothing by dividing the party and only strengthen the Trinamul-BJP combine in the state before the polls.

It seemed that Chakraborty is partially convinced with the hardliners theory of not dividing the party immediately. Interestingly, Chakraborty had skipped a meeting called by Putatunda in Usthi in South 24-Parganas on Saturday where Putatunda criticised the Left Front government on many accounts and presented Chakraborty as their leader. Chakraborty is ill and may go to Puri for taking rest.

It is also learnt that Chowdhury had ruled out any possibility of aligning with Trinamul Congress in case they form separate organisation and put up electoral candidates for the ensuing assembly polls. “In no way we should help Trinamul Congress which is responsible for BJP’s growth in the state,” Chowdhury told his associates.

The CPM state secretary Anil Biswas also hinted that the party was not going to take any stern action against the dissidents. When asked whether the party had decided to reprimand Chakraborty and Amitava Nandy, a influential leader of the party’s North 24-Parganas, Biswas said “I have no idea.” He also did not attach much importance to Putatunda’s criticism of the government.

When asked whether the party will initiate any action against Putatunda for his “open criticism of the government”, Biswas said, “I don’t know anything about this. The question of initiating any action does not rise at all”.

All these are clear indication that the hardliners who still dominate the party in Bengal, have no immediate plan to punish the dissidents.

Biswas today said that the date and venue for the politburo meeting had not yet been decided. He also denied that any date had been fixed for Basu’s stepdown. “Basu is a member of the politburo and anything about his retirement will be discussed there,” he said.    

New Delhi, Sept. 4: 
Jumping the gun may have cost Venkaiah Naidu a Cabinet berth, BJP sources said.

For the past week, Naidu’s supporters were certain that the BJP general secretary and spokesman would be included in the Cabinet when the much-awaited reshuffle to fill vacancies took place. They even claimed that he would be given the information and broadcasting ministry, now under Arun Jaitley, as Jaitley is took over law as well since Ram Jethmalani’s resignation.

In the past, Naidu had maintained that he was more interested in remaining in the party organisation and had turned down ministerial offers twice for that reason. But his statement this time had come with a rider: “If my leaders pressure me to accept a Cabinet post, what choice do I have?” indicating his own priorities had changed time.

But a week later, his induction seems less certain. Well-placed BJP sources and Naidu’s supporters said today that he had been asked by both Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani to continue working for the party. It is expected that Naidu would be retained as general secretary in new party president Bangaru Laxman’s team of office-bearers, which may be announced within the next two days.

The ostensible reason behind this decision is Sushma Swaraj’s refusal to be part of the team. The BJP was banking on her to fill in as spokesperson in case Naidu was absorbed into the government.

But there was also a feeling in the party that had Naidu’s supporters not stated his case too obviously, he would have got into the government without a hitch as the BJP required a “high-profile” southerner in place of the deceased power minister, P.R. Kumaramangalam.

During Kushabhau Thakre’s tenure as BJP chief, Naidu had become a “shadow” party president. He was the main link between the party and the government, and with Thakre virtually cutting himself off from the press, Naidu had emerged as the BJP’s voice in the print and electronic media.


New Delhi, Sept. 4: 
The CPM is reluctant to let Jyoti Basu quit chief ministership before West Bengal goes to polls early next year.

Party general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet has told senior Left leaders that no decision has been taken on Basu’s retirement, though the 86-year old Marxist is now insisting on being relieved of chief ministership.

Basu has said that the CPM politburo will consider his retirement when it meets later this month after Surjeet returns from his China trip.

But Surjeet, like most others in his party and in the Left Front, is still hoping to succeed in retaining Basu at the helm of the administration when the state gears up for polls.

Surjeet is believed to have told Left leaders that Basu is fit enough to manage and could probably continue to do so till the state goes to polls. But the issue will have to be discussed at the party forum because the chief minister this time seems determined to quit.

Basu’s retirement is no longer a debatable issue, but the question is of timing — whether he will have his way with the party and retire before the polls or will wait for the polls to be over.

The Left Front leaders have told Surjeet that Basu’s presence as chief minister at the time of the polls will make a lot of difference and will boost the Front’s morale.

The elections next year will be a litmus test for the Front which is paranoid over the Trinamul Congress’ growing assertiveness and the peoples’ rising disaffection with more than 20 years of Left Front rule.

On the flip side is the opinion that since Basu is going to retire in any case, it will be better for the Front to project deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya as its next leader, so that the Front does not suddenly look rudderless.

The leaders argue that since the Left Front will in any case not be the same without Basu, it is better to get used to his “absence”.

One thing is clear: the party leaders in the politburo and the central committee have only reluctantly yielded to Basu’s repeated requests.

Earlier they used to brush them aside but this time the chief minister is making it tough for them to refuse his retirement.    

New Delhi, Sept. 4: 
It is all about selling the pill to Pepsi and the priest. As the Vajpayee government gears up for a population control drive, it is taking every suggestion that comes its way seriously.

For one, there is a plan to start a dialogue with religious leaders. Another idea is to use the fizz and glitz of soft drinks giants Pepsi and Coca-Cola. The government wants to reach out to the village haats (markets) and the small salesmen who hawk their wares across the countryside.

The health ministry has quietly begun talking to a group of “influential and progressive” maulanas who, it believes, will not turn down any suggestion of contraception without a patient hearing. This is the first time the Centre is broaching the subject with maulanas after the fiasco of the Seventies when forcible sterilisation alienated the masses.

Though it is only the beginning, senior health ministry sources say the feedback is “good”. The dialogue will not be restricted to maulanas alone. From the mosques, the government wants to move to temples where priests can influence their captive audience to adopt birth control measures. Some Christian denominations too have reservations about contraception, but the government will tread with caution to ensure that it does not step on any toes.

The officials said they are making it clear that theirs is a voluntary, target-free approach. But they added that “we are telling them if nothing is done, the country is heading for disaster and the progeny’s future would have to be ensured, right here and right now.”

For the first time, some concrete ideas about involving corporate czars have come up. For instance, Coca-Cola and Pepsi could be asked to put in a small insertion in one corner of their hoardings across the countryside. The insertion could say something as plain as “One is Fun”, apart from the splash of “Coca-Cola Enjoy”. The slogan can be varied in line with regional preferences.

Fertiliser companies could also be roped in. They could be asked to carry the slogans, along with the product brand name, on gunny bags or plastic bags in which they market their produce.

Salesmen who hop from village to village in their trucks or three-wheelers could be asked to distribute pamphlets. Seed manufacturers could also be roped in.

Health planners believe that if the countrywide campaign is to succeed, even the local grocer and the weekly haats would have to be involved.    

Washington, Sept. 4: 
Fifty-one years of efforts to have a national memorial for India in the US will be realised when Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee unveils an 8-feet-plus bronze statue of Mahatma Gandhi during his visit to Washington this month.

Just as Gandhiji never made it to the Nobel Peace Prize list despite being nominated five times, the proposal for a Gandhi memorial in the US was first made in 1949 and had several false starts subsequently.

Ironically, there was no consensus on the proposal in the US which prides itself on the values of democracy and upholding the will of the people.

In 1988, the US House of Representatives passed a Bill authorising the memorial, but the legislation did not get past the Senate. Since the memorial was to be set up on federal government land, it required legislative approval by both Houses of the US Congress.

In a reflection of the growing clout of the Indian community in the US, a Coalition for a National Memorial for India was set up eight years ago. As a result of their efforts, the House of Representatives again approved a Bill in September 1998 and the Senate the following month.

It is also a reflection of the recent changes in Indo-US relations that soon thereafter President Bill Clinton not only signed the Bill into law but personally forwarded the legislation to Naresh Chandra, the Indian ambassador here.

The unveiling ceremony on September 16, which may be attended by Clinton or vice-president Al Gore, will have its poignant moments.

One of the invitees for the unveiling will be Max Desfor, a Pulitzer prize-winning Associated Press cameraman who was posted in India in the 1940s

and knew Gandhiji closely. Desfor’s photograph adorns

the Indian postal stamp showing Gandhiji and Jawaharlal Nehru engaged in a conversation.

Also present at the ceremony will be Asha Sharma, grand-daughter of Satyanand Stokes, a Quaker from Philadelphia who went to India in 1904, became involved in the freedom struggle and was imprisoned along with Gandhiji.

Stokes converted to Hinduism in 1932 and died in India a year before Independence.

Sharma is the author of An American in Khadi, a biography of Stokes published by Penguin India this year.

Arun Gandhi, grandson of Gandhiji and director of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Non-violence in Memphis, Tennessee, will also attend.

The statue to be unveiled is a gift from the Indian Council for Cultural Relations while 14 donors from the US and eight from India have together contributed about $ 2,20,000 for the red ruby granite pedestal on which the statue will stand.

The Indian embassy here put a ceiling of $ 10,000 per contribution from the US in order to have as many contributors as possible in view of the enthusiasm for the project among the Indo-American community.

A US National Park reservation on which the statue will be erected is directly across the Indian embassy here with the backdrop of a canopy of trees, including a 100-year-old Weeping Beech tree.

A red ruby granite bench on the plaza directly in front of the statue will give visitors a place to sit and reflect in front of Gandhiji. The statue has been sculpted by Indian architect Gautam Pal.    

Agartala, Sept. 4: 
Altogether 70 militants of the Commando Force, a unit of the All-Tripura Tiger Force, today “formally” came overground after years of being on the run.

Led by Jiyen, alias Gouranga Nath Debbarma, the rebels laid down arms at a surrender ceremony organised by the Assam Rifles and attended by Tripura finance minister Badal Chowdhury.

All 70 militants, including two women, sang the national anthem and the song Sare jahan se acha to the accompaniment of the Assam Rifles band. One of the women held a two-year-old child in her arms.

Addressing the surrendered rebels, both Chowdhury and Brig. Basant Kumar Panwar of the Assam Rifles promised to help them build their lives afresh.

The finance minister said those who had returned to the mainstream deserved to be lauded for their “mature judgment”. He said the goal of “sovereignty” was an illusory one, something militants in both Nagaland and Mizoram had already realised.

Chowdhury said the state government was ready to give every militant willing to surrender an opportunity to lead a normal life.

Echoing the minister’s feelings, Brig. Panwar termed today’s surrender ceremony as “the beginning of a larger process”. He said more surrenders were likely in the next few months.

The Assam Rifles official spoke in Bengali and the Kokborok dialect.

Though the surrender of 70 militants was touted as a “major success for the security forces”, Assam Rifles officials and bureaucrats alike appeared to be disappointed over the quantity and quality of arms deposited by those who came overground.

The rebels deposited eight .303 rifles, 12 countrymade guns, two revolvers, two pistols, three countrymade cannons and some ammunition. They also handed over a sheaf of Tiger Force documents to the Assam Rifles authorities.

The surrendered militants will be kept in a rehabilitation camp at Ambasa in Dhalai district for a year and paid a monthly stipend of Rs 2,000 each. They will later be provided either government jobs or loans. The rebels have sought withdrawal of all court cases against them, government jobs and release of one of their arrested comrades.

Jiyen Debbarma told newspersons that the government was morally obliged to fulfil these three demands. He also said the two women in the 70-member group — Dhanyalaxmi Reang and Milanbala Kaipeng — should be given the facilities surrendered rebels were entitled to.    


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