Basu skips date with Gates, deputes aide to log on
Sack sword on diplomat for CM ‘flak’
Cong farewell to char-anna raj
US bete noire on Delhi diplomacy map
Varsity bigwig in degree scam
Contempt fine on cop

Calcutta, Sept. 7: 
Jyoti Basu has chosen his principal secretary Amit Kiran Deb to represent Bengal at the September 14 meeting with Microsoft chairman Bill Gates in New Delhi.

The decision to send Deb was taken at a meeting on Wednesday, as the state would have otherwise gone unrepresented. Basu, who is declining most invitations because of his imminent retirement, opted out citing prior commitments.

Explaining why he as Basu’s heir-apparent did not go for the session, deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya said Deb was chosen because of his knowledge on matters relating to information technology.

“It is better that someone who understands the subject goes for the meeting and then report back to us,” Bhattacharya said.

“The meeting is not a face-to-face affair. Gates will speak to a gathering, so I do not see why I should go and listen to a subject I know little of,” he added.

“Technically we should have sent a senior minister. But there is nothing wrong if the chief minister’s secretary, who is knowledgeable in the field, represents the government,” Bhattacharya said, adding that it was just a lecture session and had nothing to do with investments in the IT sector.

However, CPM MP and West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBIDC) chairman Somnath Chatterjee expressed disappointment that Basu would not be able to meet the Microsoft chairman.

The invitation had come jointly from Gates and Devang Mehta, chief of the National Association of Software Service Companies (Nasscom). Nasscom is coordinating Gates’ India visit and his interaction with state leaders and industry heads.

In June, Microsoft had unveiled its .NET (dot-net) platform and Gates had become the company’s chief software architect to promote the new platform.

The software tycoon is visiting the country to explain to government leaders his ideas on e-governance and the utility of the new platform.    

New York, Sept. 7: 
Jyoti Basu may be doing his best to present a liberal and more acceptable face of Indian communism, but the chief minister’s followers are determined that in the best traditions of Stalinism, the long arm of the state quells all dissidence.

In one disturbing case, they have ensured that the long arm of the Indian state reaches all the way to America.

The apparatchik of Alimuddin Street have forced the Indian consulate general in San Francisco to throw out an Indian diplomat and send him back to India. His crime: criticising Basu at a totally private party.

Fervent pleas by the Indian consul general in San Francisco and the Indian ambassador in Washington to avoid, or at least delay the repatriation of the diplomat in view of the shortage of staff at Indian Missions in the US to deal with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s visit here, cut no ice with the apparatchik in Calcutta.

A few months ago, Ajit Panja, the minister of state for external affairs visited the US along with a 30-odd troupe to perform Noti Binodini, the play in which he acts the lead role. The play, also known as Sri Sri Ramakrishna was staged from coast-to-coast in the US.

One state where it received a rousing reception was California, which has a large Bengal community as well as other Indians.

During Panja’s visit to California, the Indian consulate general in San Francisco deputed Anindo Banerjee, the vice- consul to look after the minister and accompany him during his travel on the west coast of the US.

The well-meaning consul general, R. M. Abhyankar, assumed that deputing a Bengali-speaking officer would help.

Abhyankar thought Panja and his troupe would be more comfortable with Banerjee than with anyone else — especially since the group was on a cultural mission.

Sure enough, the visiting ‘artistes’, including the minister, and the vice-consul got along very well. Official barriers were broken and the group talked freely, partied daily.

Banerjee, thinking that he was among friends from native West Bengal, spoke without reservations. At one party, Banerjee criticised Bengal’s Marxists, described Basu’s chief minis- terial tenure as wasted years for the state and argued that there was no hope unless West Bengal threw out the commu- nists.

Panja and his troupe went back. Nothing happened for months — until Abhyankar got orders from South Block to send Banerjee back to India forthwith. His posting in San Francisco had been terminated.

Discreet enquiries by ambassador Naresh Chandra in South Block revealed that some CPM activists in Panja’s troupe went back to Calcutta and took up Banerjee’s criticism of Jyoti Basu, made totally in private, with the party leadership.

The CPM, in turn, asked Panja to take action against the diplomat. Abhyankar was in panic. At that time, the Prime Minister was to have visited San Francisco and preparations were in full swing.

As it was, all the attention was being paid to arrangements for Vajpayee’s programmes in New York and Washington, and San Francisco was getting short shrift.

The consul general pleaded that Banerjee be let off with a reprimand or some minor punishment instead of a summary recall. The ambassador lent his full weight to this view.

But Panja was unrelenting. At this stage, foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh intervened with the minister to plead on Banerjee’s behalf. But it was of no avail.

The diplomat had to pack his bags and leave with his family even as plans for Vajpayee’s visit were in full swing.    

New Delhi, Sept. 7: 
Mahatma Gandhi’s char anna membership days are over. In Sonia Gandhi’s Congress, an active member of the party will have to shell out Rs 125 instead of char annas.

Besides, if you are a prospective MLA candidate, you will need to submit a non-refundable amount of Rs 10,000. An MP is expected to contribute Rs 900 so that the Congress parliamentary party can function smoothly.

In each election, there are at least a dozen “serious” candidates, for every seat, vying for party nominations. Recently, 64 candidates were short-listed for three Maharashtra council seats and each of them contributed Rs 10,000, adding to the party’s coffers.

The char anna membership continued till Rajiv Gandhi’s time when it was increased to a rupee. Now all active members have to deposit three years’ membership fees in advance at the rate of Rs 25 a year. Party sources admitted that there are about 8,00,000 active members who will make a hefty contribution of Rs 10 crores to Congress coffers.

The members have to also subscribe to Congress Sandesh, which is supposedly the mouthpiece of the party. It is a different matter that Sandesh has erratic publication and some of the articles have caused embarrassment to Sonia and her supporters.

Sonia has also directed all state party unit chiefs to set up trusts to manage thousands of acres of land belonging to the Congress throughout the country. The exercise is aimed at taking control and prevent a repeat of Tamil Nadu where the party first lost Satyamoorthy Bhawan to G.K. Moopanar and the now axed state party chief, T. Ramamoorthy, has refused to hand over the makeshift office to new incumbent V.S. Elangovan.

However, despite Sonia’s fund collection spree, party leaders mourn over the paucity of funds. Gone are the days when each district congress committee was given a jeep and office premises. The AICC has also stopped sending propaganda and election material such as banners, posters, handbills, badges to local party units.

Many senior Congress leaders justify the leadership’s move to abandon the practice of giving jeeps or office premises. “Over the years, hundreds of jeeps belonging to the party were quietly transferred to individuals. Each time there was a change in the district congress committee, the jeep was never returned,” a state Congress unit chief said, adding that many office premises were converted into residential houses during the leadership of Narasimha Rao and Sitaram Kesri.

Sonia’s move to increase the membership fee manifold has led to a sharp decline in membership drive. As the membership enrolment campaign is generally aimed at strengthening the position of regional leaders, the current exercise is proving to be a nightmare for middle-rung leaders.

“If we wish to consolidate our position, we have to pay for many active members. If I end up paying for a 100, I lose Rs 12,500,” a former MP from Madhya Pradesh said.    

New Delhi, Sept. 7: 
In a deft diplomatic act, India has decided to send junior foreign minister Ajit Panja to Iraq on a goodwill mission even as Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee embarked on his 10-day US tour.

Delhi’s attempt at striking a balance in its relations with the US and its bete noire, Iraq, stems from the growing feeling at home and elsewhere that under the BJP, India’s foreign policy is acquiring a pronounced Washington tilt.

As part of the same policy, the number two in the Iraqi establishment, Taha Yaseen Ramadaan, is scheduled to visit Delhi early next month. He will hold talks with the Indian leadership to find ways and means of strengthening bilateral ties.

Panja, who will be leaving for Iraq and Oman on September 22, will hold detailed discussions with President Saddam Hussein and senior members of his government. I.K. Gujral, who gained notoriety in the West by hugging the Iraqi President during the Gulf War, was the last Indian foreign minister to visit Baghdad in 1991.

It is interesting that Delhi has decided not to send foreign minister Jaswant Singh, but his junior minister, to Iraq. The move, while maintaining India’s links with Iraq, lowers it a few notches, enabling Delhi to argue that it is not planning to tread on America’s toes.

Panja will travel to Oman after his tour of Iraq. His visit springs from India’s need to take care its growing energy needs from the two countries. It not only satisfies the anti-US section at home but also assures the developing world, especially fellow members of the Non-Aligned Movement (Nam), that Delhi is not cultivating its relations with the US at the cost of old friends.

Its growing closeness with the Israelis — signalled by the back-to-back visits by home minister L.K. Advani and Jaswant — has already caused concern in the Arab world that strong Delhi-Tel Aviv ties were being sealed at the cost of India’s “time-tested allies”. The situation was further compounded by Advani’s reported remarks about nuclear cooperation between India and Israel and Jaswant’s contention that the Muslim votebank checked Delhi’s desire to normalise relations with Tel Aviv earlier than 1992.

India tried to clear the air by convening a meet of the Arab ambassadors in Delhi. But the meeting, though seen as a positive step, was not satisfactory. Israeli leader Shimon Peres’ vocal support for India’s candidature for a UN Security Council berth made some sections in the Arab world sceptical about Delhi’s intentions. This feeling has been aggravated by Vajpayee’s much-hyped US visit.

By sending Panja to Iraq and Oman, particularly to Baghdad, India wants to show that its foreign policy remains unfettered despite its growing closeness to US and Israel. It also aims to assure the Arab world that Delhi continues to value their friendship. The Indian leadership knows that if it wants to get into the Security Council, it cannot risk enlisting only the support of western countries.    

Patna, Sept. 7: 
First it was an IPS officer who got his wife appointed lecturer in a law college despite her “incomplete degree”. Now the same charge has been levelled at the pro vice-chancellor of Magadh University.

In this latest “education scandal”, a non-bailable arrest warrant has been issued against the pro-VC, Manoj Balbir Singh Bhasin.

According to a petition filed by Surjit Singh, president of Bhrastachar Nirodh Abhijan Sangh, the pro-VC used his connections to appoint his wife Jasbir Kaur lecturer in Patna’s Gurugovind Singh College in July 1976.

The petition filed in the court of the Patna judicial magistrate claimed that Jasbir Kaur was a teacher in Notre Dame School till 1983. Singh alleged that during the seven years that when Jasbir was employed both as a school teacher and a lecturer, she drew salary from both institutions. He also alleged that she never visited the college in those seven years.

Singh also said that though Patna High Court had held Jasbir Kaur’s appointment illegal, Bhasin, who was principal of Gurugovind Singh College in 1976, used his influence to get her appointed lecturer in the psychology department.

The pro-VC, however, has denied the allegations.    

Calcutta, Sept. 7: 
Calcutta High Court today slapped a fine of Rs 3,000 on Bankura superintendent of police Basudev Bag for tampering with its order. It said if he did not deposit the amount within a fortnight, he would have to undergo 14 days’ simple imprisonment.

Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya said the SP had done injustice to a physically challenged person. Sanjib Dutta, of Burdwan, had approached Bag after his lorry was detained at Bankura by local criminals. Though he filed a written complaint, the SP did not take any action. Sanjib then moved the high court. The judge directed the police officer to settle the matter.

Sanjib filed a contempt case after Bag did not take any action. But Bag told the court that he had called Sanjib thrice but he did not turn up. When the court asked for the memo-book, it was found that he had tampered with it.    


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