Basu tightens grip on govt with service vow
Curtains set to ring down on triple talaaq
Trinamul to cash in on city crime
Bengal 5 await Atal seal
Kalu’s story: Carpets to classroom & Clinton
Bangaru echoes Nagpur line
Congressmen scramble to shake Atal’s hand
Fight against terrorism

 
 
BASU TIGHTENS GRIP ON GOVT WITH SERVICE VOW 
 
 
TAMAL SENGUPTA AND UTPAL BANERJEE
 
Bolpur and Durgapur Sept. 15: 
Taking up the reins of power with renewed zest, Jyoti Basu today announced that he would lead the Left Front government as long as he could.

“I am close to 90 but I must try to serve you as long as I can,” the chief minister told a cheering crowd at Bolpur where he had gone to inaugurate a Rs seven-crore cultural complex built by the Sreeniketan Santiniketan Development Authority.

This is the first time that Basu has told a public gathering that he intends to continue in office as long as his health permits.

Deputy chief minister and Basu’s heir-apparent Buddhadev Bhattacharya and MP Somnath Chatterjee also spoke at the rally. Economics Nobel laureate Amartya Sen’s mother Amita Sen was also present.

The emphatic announcement, coming only two days after he had cautioned partymen against the Centre’s attempt to impose President’s rule in the state, signals Basu’s resolve to lead the Front’s campaign in the run-up to next year’s Assembly polls.

The chief minister’s 25-minute speech, however, was devoid of his usual criticism of the BJP-led NDA government. Instead, he spoke at length on Rabindranath Tagore and Amartya Sen.

Basu recalled that he had inaugurated a bust of Tagore in London.

“I am happy to tell you that I had an opportunity to unveil a statue of Tagore in Shakespeare’s birthplace,” he said. “Now people are visiting the place to pay homage to the great poet.”

He described Sen as the “pride of India as well as Bengal” and said the Nobel laureate supported the Left Front’s education policy and had also suggested ways to update it. “We must honour him by accepting his suggestions,” Basu said.

Expressing concern over the role of some private television channels, he said most programmes telecast on these channels were adversely affecting the youth. “They are also devoid of academic and cultural values,” he added.

Later, Basu laid the foundation stone of the Rs 125- crore cement factory of Larsen and Toubro at the Export Promotion Industrial Park in Durgapur. The factory will be the largest cement production unit in the state.

The chief minister, who advised the management to take trade unions in confidence to increase production, blasted the NDA government’s industrial policy. The Centre, he said, was out to close down non-profit making units instead of trying to revive them.

He also expressed concern over the fate of four Central public undertakings which are on the verge of closure.    


 
 
CURTAINS SET TO RING DOWN ON TRIPLE TALAAQ 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Sept. 15: 
These are small windows but indicate a significant change. The reform initiative in the Muslim community is coming from those who have fought bitterly to maintain status quo.

The All-India Muslim Personal Law Board has drafted a model nikaahnama (marriage contract) which will, in all likelihood, put an end to the dreaded triple talaaq and give the right to Muslim wives to divorce their husbands. In addition, it will look to resolve contentious issues like maintenance and non-payment of mehr (bridal price).

Board members said these reforms will be in accordance with fulfiling stringent conditions as envisaged in Quran and Hadith (sayings of Prophet Mohammad).

The model nikaahnama will be available in all taluqas and districts throughout the country.

It will have a provision whereby all city qazis, maulvis and imams will have to get signatures of the bride and bridegroom at the time of marriage. It will carry details of mehr and maintenance. While a copy of the nikaahnama will stay with the qazi, the bride and bridegroom will get certified copies of it.

The board, which has reserved one third of its seats for women, has prepared the nikaahnama in consultation with many women’s organisations including the National Commission for Women (NCW).

The commission had made a representation to the board seeking its intervention to put an end to injustices to women in Muslim society.

For the first time, Muslim women will have the right to take initiative in seeking separation on grounds of insanity, desertion and failure to pay the maintenance over a period of one year. These rights were always there but many were not aware of them.

Board members admitted that they themselves were uncomfortable over instant triple talaaq, postal talaaq and many other forms of unilateral talaaqs. A member said triple talaaq was a matter of controversy among Muslim scholars and jurists since the time of Khaliph Umar who had reportedly given permission for instant talaaq.

“What we are going to suggest is that divorce should be administered in a phased manner. Moreover, it should be a clean break with mehr etc. being paid prior to final separation,” he said.

Kamal Farooqui, a special invitee to the board and treasurer of Milli Council, said that the issue of maintenance should be seen as some kind of contract.

“Both sides have obligations and if it does not work, anyone can walk out provided he or she fulfils the conditions as envisaged in the Sharia,” he said.

Muslim leaders admit that many provisions of the Sharia are misused in India as matters like the manner of divorce are not codified.

A board member from Uttar Pradesh said: “Once a model nikaahnama comes in force, it will lessen discrimination.”    


 
 
TRINAMUL TO CASH IN ON CITY CRIME 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Sept. 15: 
Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress is planning to highlight the city’s rising crime graph to supplement its ongoing agitating over “the state government’s failure to maintain peace and order in rural Bengal”.

The two-pronged attack is part of the Trinamul strategy to draw attention to the Left Front’s “over-all failure on the law and order front” and strengthen their demand “for some kind of Central intervention”.

Trinamul’s plan to play up the sharp increase in the number of murders became clear when its leaders raised the subject at a rally in Chinsura two days ago.

Referring to a recent inci- dent in Jadavpur where a woman was killed by a gang of dacoits, Sudip Bandyopadhyay, the party’s chief whip in the Lok Sabha, said it was a “matter of shame that deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya cannot ensure protection of housewives in his constituency”.

Party chairman Pankaj Banerjee slammed the adminis- tration for failing to rein in criminal gangs operating in the city.

“We have noted with concern the increasing number of murders in Calcutta and its neighbouring areas and the police failure to nab the culprits,” Banerjee said.

According to him, the “nexus between unscrupulous realtors and anti-socials in fringe areas has led to the spurt in criminal activities”.

Banerjee said his party was collecting data on the urban violence spiral which he intended to submit to the Centre.

“We have placed enough evidence before the Centre about the helpless condition of the rural poor before state-sponsored terror. But violent incidents in the city and its neighbourhood indicate that urban people too are not quite safe under CPM rule,” he said.

Though Trinamul leaders concede that law and order probl- ems in urban areas were a fallout of complex socio-economic reasons, they said the ruling communists could not evade responsibility as “they have been in power for the past 23 years”.

Banerjee said the Basu government had never seriously sought cooperation from Opposition parties to explore ways of restoring “law and order either in urban or in rural sectors”.

Asked about the deputy chief minister’s statement that he had initiated talks with some Trinamul leaders to end the political bloodspill, Banerjee said: “He had once told me over telephone that talks should be held. But the government has not initiated any move to hold a meaningful dialogue with us.”

The administration, he said, should first create a conge- nial atmosphere for holding talks.

“There is no point in discussions when our party workers continue to face constant thr- eats from the CPM cadre,” he said.    


 
 
BENGAL 5 AWAIT ATAL SEAL 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Sept. 15: 
The Centre plans to declare the five violence-hit districts of West Bengal “disturbed” subject to approval from Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee.

This comes by way of a sop to railway minister and Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, who has been crying herself hoarse for clamping Article 356 in the state. There is general consensus against the need to do so.

Sources today said the government would begin the process after Vajpayee’s return from the US. Vajpayee will seek legal opinion and consult leaders of coalition partners before taking any step.

The Centre is examining if it is possible to declare areas “disturbed” without the concurrence of the state government. It is trying to find out if “atrocities” on scheduled castes/tribes can be a ground to bypass the state and if this needs to be done through an ordinance or a Bill.

Mamata today justified the impending move, saying that the Supreme Court had ruled in the Veerappan case that the Centre was bound to take a stand. “What the NDA has recommended is more than enough,” she said. An NDA team which surveyed the state had suggested that the districts be declared disturbed.

Mamata said it was not she but the people of Bengal who were demanding President’s rule. Bemoaning the “use” of government machinery to target Trinamul cadre, Mamata said there was a difference between the party and the government. “But their (the Marxists) problem is that they have forgotten the government is different and the party is different,” she said.

“West Bengal was once called Best Bengal. With the misrule of the CPM for 23 years, it has become Worst Bengal. We are not responsible for it. We were not in power all these years. It is all because of one-party rule,” Mamata added.

Home minister L.K. Advani and senior BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu, who coordinates between the party and government, today discussed Bengal.

Naidu later met Mamata at her rail bhavan office to exchange notes on the “latest situation in the state”.

Naidu said that “once the Prime Minister comes back from his US trip, we will apprise him of the seriousness of the situation”.

The consultation process was set in motion yesterday with Advani and Mamata separately discussing the issue with Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu. Sources said that Naidu, who had stridently opposed Article 356, piped down after the meetings. But the Desam last year supported in the Lok Sabha the government motion for imposition of President’s rule in Bihar, a BJP leader said.

After the meeting with Mamata, Naidu said the Centre was concerned about the “total collapse of the democratic system” in Bengal and something had to be done within the parameters of the Constitution. He ruled out President’s rule but declined to elaborate on other options.

“We are interacting on a regular basis (with the Trinamul),” he said. “The chief minister (Jyoti Basu) has lost balance. He used abusive language against the elected government at the Centre. They (the Marxists) are jittery.”    


 
 
KALU’S STORY: CARPETS TO CLASSROOM & CLINTON 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Sept. 15: 
It’s a story every child labourer would want to tell. Four days from now, 12-year-old Kalu will be standing inside the White House, waiting to shake hands with President Bill Clinton.

The boy, who had been working with a carpet-weaving unit till he was gifted a fresh lease of life by Kailash Satyarthi, has been invited by the US President for the launch of a book written by Kerry Kennedy, daughter of Robert Kennedy. Along with Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, Kalu’s saviour features in Speak Truth To Power.

Satyarthi works with the South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude, a non-government organisation that has been crusading against the use of child labour in industry. He will accompany Kalu to the US.

Kalu’s presence at the launch of the book — which has already grabbed much attention and will be adapted into a play in Hollywood — will train the spotlight on the plight of child workers in the world, especially India.

It will also give a fillip to Clinton’s call to India to sign the social clause in the World Trade Organisation agreement, barring employers from using child labour.

The Indian government —- along with trade unions and employers’ lobbies —- have flatly refused to sign the clause, though some non-government organisations are rooting for it. There are about six crore child workers in India wasting their childhood in hazardous industrial units.

For years, Satyarthi’s NGO has been pulling children out of hazardous units and trying to rehabilitate them. The process has expectedly not always been smooth, but Kalu boasts a success story.

From a child who could not read or write when he was rescued, the gritty and talented Kalu —- who was admitted directly to class IV in a government school in Rajasthan —- has bloomed. “He is now the best student in the class,” said Satyarthi.

“Kalu symbolises hope. His success shows that bonded child labourers can be rescued and rehabilitated if the right efforts are made,” he added.

The government has so far failed to clamp down on the use of child labour in the country. Rarely has an employer been brought to book for disregarding the Act prohibiting child labour. “You can help child labourers by signing the social clause,” said an activist of an NGO.    


 
 
BANGARU ECHOES NAGPUR LINE 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, Sept. 15: 
Greeted with black flags and closed shops in Kanpur, BJP president Bangaru Laxman tried to mend fences with the minority community, which is up in arms against the state government’s “atrocities” in the guise of “action against ISI agents”.

About 300 Congress supporters were arrested as they held a demonstration against Bangaru’s first visit to the state after taking over..

Asked how the BJP intends to befriend the minority community when the VHP and the RSS are showing no signs of diluting their Hindutva agenda, Laxman maintained that there is a perceptible change in the Sangh’s attitude.

Pushing the BJP’s Nagpur charter further, Laxman said the Sangh leaders have been told to “soften their stand” and that they now realise the changing “ground realities”.

“Everyone can see the changes in the Sangh’s attitude,” Bangaru said, adding that there is no pressure from any quarter on Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to change the NDA’s agenda on certain contentious issues.

Laxman announced that the controversial religious places Bill has been put into cold storage “as of now”.

Maintaining that the BJP now has no role in the Ram Mandir issue, the party president said the party will abide by the court’s decision on it.

“The matter is under judicial review,” he said. When the court’s decision comes in the “next four to five years” the BJP will welcome it, no matter what the final ruling is, Laxman added.

Aware of the black flags that greeted him, Laxman said the ISI’s activities in India and the corresponding government action should not be seen as a “Muslim problem”.

“It is a national menace,” Laxman said. But he made it clear that the increasing involvement of the Students’ Islamic Movement of India in anti-national acti- vities has forced the govern- ment to consider banning the outfit.

On the possibility of President’s rule in West Bengal, the BJP chief said any decision on the issue will only be taken af- ter the NDA arrives at a consensus.

Laxman said the situation is serious and that a “lot of BJP workers” have also been killed in the violence.

Bangaru will also visit Vijaywada and possibly Calcutta to promote the Nagpur charter.    


 
 
CONGRESSMEN SCRAMBLE TO SHAKE ATAL’S HAND 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, Sept.15: 
Atal Behari Vajpayee had a side show on Capitol Hill yesterday that was a repeat of President Bill Clinton’s flamboyant appearance in New Delhi’s Parliament house in March making allowances for Vajpayee’s age and poor health, of course.

But the tragedy of the prime ministerial visit to the US is that this remarkable side show went largely unreported.

In marked contrast to the stiffness and the lack of familiarity with congressional procedures which the Prime Minister dispalyed during his address to American lawmakers, Vajpayee was at his best when he appeared at a lunch hosted by the Congressional Caucus on India yesterday afternoon.

It was a remarkable show, again, considering that the Prime Minister is constantly experiencing a severe pain on his left knee and has to put up with general discomfort resulting from his condition.

In the first place, the Caucus lunch was attended by 80 US lawmakers, nearly 30 more than the number present in the Congress to hear his address. But that was not all. These Congressmen fell over each other to shake the Prime Minister’s hand and be photographed with him.

The US Secret Service had to form a protective cordon around his table so that Vajpayee could finish his lunch.

Once the food was put aside, Vajpayee moved to a sofa where congressmen crowded around him for photographs. The presence of 80 lawmakers at the lunch at a time when most US politicians are far away from the capital on election trail suprised the nearly 300 invitees to the lunch.

Among the invitees were some of the biggest Indian-American fund-raisers for Congressmen.

In a way, Caucus leaders Gary Ackerman (Democrat) and Jim Greenwood (Republican) had prepared Congressmen for Vajpayee. indeed, Ackerman described Vajpayee in his opening remarks as one of the greatest orators in the world.

What made US lawmakers in the India caucus want to know Vajpayee better was the remarkable metamorphosis that the man had undergone in their minds in two years of prime ministership.

Starting from the nadir of being a “Hindu nationalist” who ordered nuclear tests two years ago, Vajpayee, in their eyes, has grown on the job into a consensus builder and a statesman who travelled to Lahore and Minar-e-Pakistan in search of peace. unlike in India where his government is being criticised for its handling of Kashmir, the collapse of the recent peace effort with the Hizbul Mujahideen has only enhanced Vajpayee’s stature here as a man who seeks peace.

And, of course, there are the Indian Americans, the more vocal section of whom are supporters of the BJP.

For Congressmen who get huge election funds from these Indian Americans, India and its Prime Minister are subjects of increasing interest. more so after President Bill Clinton’s visit to India.

But what about Vajpayee? Why was he more at ease at the caucus than during his address to the Congress? For one thing, the caucus members showed greater sensitivity to Vajpayee’s health. At the lunch, none of those who spoke, starting with Ackerman, stood up to address the guests. they all spoke sitting down — like Vajpayee. sitting, therefore, seemed almost the natural thing to do.

But in the Congress, speaker Dennis Hastert stood up every time he spoke, while the Prime Minister was given a chair to address the joint meeting seated. An unprecedented honour, no doubt, but it showed Vajpayee in contrast to the others.

Also, at the caucus,Vvajpayee perhaps felt more at home that its members were the ones who had, a day earlier, successfully campaigned in the House of Representatives to pass a resolution urging the Clinton administration to lift all the remaining sanctions against India.

Vajpayee was in his element at his in-camera meetings with the members of two committees — the House of Representatives International Relations Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

So much so Senator Jesse Helms, crusty old Republican critic of India who heads the Senate panel wanted to take Vajpayee to the full Senate yesterday for an interaction separate from the address to the Congress.

Vajpayee did not take up the Senator’s offer.    


 
 
FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM 
 
 
FROM OUR DIPLOMATIC EDITOR
 
Washington, Sept. 15: 
A joint statement to be issued at the end of the talks between Clinton and Vajpayee will commit the two leaders once again to the vision outlined by them at their meeting in New Delhi in March.

the most politically significant aspect of the statement, an advance copy of which was made available to The Telegraph deals with indo-us cooperation on fighting international terrorism, drug trafficking and narco-terrorism. The reference is signficant in view of the stress laid by vajpayee in almost all his speeches in the US on the threat of terrorism.

A surprising element in the statement is the praise it contains for the indian-american community, a recognition of its increasingly visible role in American politics and society.

Other issues of special interest to Clinton in the Indian context, such as health and the spread of HIV also find prominence in the statement which emphasises the need for Indo-US cooperation in these areas.

The statement is not entirely free of contentious isues such as non-proliferation and Kashmir, but the areas of contention have been deliberately downplayed by the two leaders. on Kashmir, it stresses the need for the problem to be solved by the parties to the dispute while on non-proliferation it refers to the ongoing dialogue between the two sides.    

 

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