Party awaits PM return for recast
Congress drive to save Sonia crown
Mamata returns ‘landgrab’ volley
Students in lock-up protest on rotten food
Unfazed Saifuddin rebuffs party
Oil firm in water rescue act
Shutters down in Gujarat clash town

New Delhi, Sept. 18: 
The BJP awaits Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s return to reactivate itself and finalise decisions concerning the work allocation of the new office-bearers and the appointment of heads of the cells on foreign affairs and economics.

BJP sources said Vajpayee is expected to monitor these decisions as “closely” as the appointment of Bangaru Laxman’s team of office-bearers. Laxman had deferred the work allotment until the Prime Minister’s return from the US, they added.

On top of Laxman’s agenda is the allocation of central leaders who will be in charge of the five states going to polls next year, Uttar Pradesh being the most important. “UP merits special attention, since it is a make-or-mar situation for us. There is a strong anti-incumbency factor against our government and the state unit is also in pretty bad shape,” admitted an office-bearer.

According to sources, Laxman’s predecessor Kushabhau Thakre — who will be based in Delhi and possibly do the job of an organising secretary without being designated as one — may be put in charge of Uttar Pradesh in the absence of another “experienced” hand. So far, K.N. Govindacharya was in charge of the state.

In case Thakre refuses, sources said, vice-president Pyarelal Khandelwal or general secretary Narendra Modi may be given the task. Both have looked after various state units during their long stint in the BJP.

Former Delhi chief minister Sahib Singh Verma, who was rehabilitated as a general secretary, is reportedly eyeing Uttar Pradesh. But sources ruled out his chances as “low” given his penchant for playing caste-based Jat politics, which, they felt, could alienate other sections in the state.

Uttar Pradesh BJP chief Kalraj Mishra is expected to visit Delhi soon after Vajpayee returns tomorrow for consultation on the matter.

The appointment of a spokesman is also on the cards. Sources said that while Venkaiah Naidu would continue as one, Laxman may constitute a panel comprising Sunil Shastri and Jana Krishnamurthy as the other spokespersons since he does not have the best of equations with Naidu.

The organisation apart, the sources added, the much-awaited Cabinet reshuffle might be carried out simultaneously and “almost certainly” before Vajpa- yee has his knee operated next month.

In anticipation, supporters of Uma Bharti, who quit as minister sometime ago, gathered in the BJP headquarters today to “demand” that her resignation from the Lok Sabha should not be accepted. Bharti had put in her papers last month, but instead of sending her resignation to the Lok Sabha Speaker, she routed it through the Prime Minister who is still to take a decision.

BJP sources said her cheerleaders even put up posters outside her residence, declaring she should be reinstated as a minister.

The appointment of the Governors of the new states of Uttaranchal, Jharkhand and Chattisgarhs is also on the cards. Speculation is rife that party “loyalists” who do not find a place either in the Vajpayee ministry or in Laxman’s team should be “compensated” with a gubernatorial assignment.    

New Delhi, Sept. 18: 
Sonia Gandhi loyalists have launched a well-orchestrated campaign to get state units pass “unanimous resolutions” backing her as the new party chief, even as two senior rebel leaders decided not to challenge her leadership.

Congress sources said all AICC general secretaries have been told to stay in touch with state unit chiefs. Their brief is to get a “resolution of faith” passed in Sonia’s favour so that the dissidents — led by former vice-president Jitendra Prasada — do not get time to force a contest.

The last date of filing nominations for the AICC chief’s post is October 24. But Sonia managers are confident of building so much hype in her favour that dissidents would baulk at putting up a credible candidate against her.

According to the sources, one strategy to checkmate the rebels involves taking off Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Salman Khurshid and field him for the Congress Working Committee. N.D. Tiwari or any Thakur leader could replace Salman.

The state is important to both Sonia and the rebel camp. It sends up about one-sixth of the electoral college for the AICC chief and twelve CWC berths. The sources said Tiwari and Arjun Singh reportedly suggested to her that if Salman was eased out, the Prasada camp would have very little to criticise the leadership for.

Salman, on his part, has made it clear that he will go by Sonia’s directive.

At another level, efforts are also on to bring about a rapprochement between Prasada and Salman. While the Prasada camp has suggested P.V. Narasimha Rao’s name as mediator, the Salman faction feels economist Arjun Sengupta would be a better bet to get them to the negotiating table.

Amid these manoeuvres, Prasada is giving final shape to his strategy. But woefully short in the numbers game, he has three options.

He can go ahead and take on Sonia, but then chances of success are dismal. He can call for a boycott of organisational polls, but is unlikely to get much support and could also jeopardise his survival prospects in the Congress. The third safer option, but more of a comedown, is striking a deal and settling for a CWC berth in exchange for swearing loyalty to Sonia.

In the last few days, Prasada shot off three letters to the AICC central election authority chairman, Ram Niwas Mirdha, drawing his attention towards “irregularities” in the polls.

Though Mirdha has referred the matter to the state poll authority, chances of a drastic change in the Congress’ list of members is remote.

The dissidents were also counting on the support of two veterans — Vijaya Bhaskara Reddy and K. Karunakaran — to team up against Sonia. However, both backed out.

While Karunakaran, sources said, is obviously eyeing the post-Assembly-polls scenario in Kerala, where he hopes to become chief minister, Reddy couldn’t resist the bait of a CWC berth.    

New Delhi, Sept. 18: 
Tossing back the CPM’s charge, Mamata Banerjee today alleged that the Left party was full of landlords.

Politburo member Sitaram Yechury had earlier labelled the Trinamul Congress “a party of landlords” and said that its fight “was not political but to grab land”.

Asserting that “the clash was very much political”, Mamata said: “They created benami land. They misled the people and the country. People are not given patta.”

Showing photographs of people killed in recent clashes, she asked: “Are they landlords? They are the poorest of the poor. They were killed brutally.”

Despite the shrill pitch, Mamata appeared to have mellowed down a bit. She did not demand imposition of President’s rule in West Bengal nor did she seek a disturbed areas tag for the violence-hit districts.

The railways minister said she was not setting any time limit for the A.B. Vajpayee government to act. “We are not interfering with the Centre. We are only giving information being collected from the state,” she said.

Asked if the Centre had been slow to react, a grim-looking Mamata said: “We will fight our battle.”

“Whatever the Centre will do will be within the parameters of the Constitution. We are not demanding anything extra-constitutional.... For the first time, at l east the home minister wrote to the chief minister,” she add- ed.

Asked if she would settle for anything less than Article 356, Mamata said: “I cannot disclose the party’s views. The NDA team report is more than sufficient. They have said there is total constitutional breakdown in the state.”

On whether her party had any suggestions for the Election Commission on conducting free and fair polls, she said the Trina- mul would think about it after the elections are annou- nced.    

Lucknow, Sept. 18: 
Over 50 students at a school for the challenged have locked themselves in for the past four days to protest against the food served to them, which, they say, is crawling with worms.

Protesting against what they call an “unpardonably unfair treatment”, the students of Government Higher Secondary School for the Disabled went on a hungerstrike after locking themselves inside two classrooms. They are also holding captive the school’s only cook.

With some social workers rallying behind them and the Opposition grabbing the issue of “disabled students showing great moral courage” to put the BJP in a spot, the administration has gone on the defensive and the school authorities have been forced into an embarrassing silence.

But the students are defiant. From inside his fortress, Ganesh Yadav shouts: “They say the school will help us gain respect in society. But they feed us rice that has worms crawling all over and rotis that are so tough they hurt the tooth. Is this respect?”

The students said they will not open the door unless the minister for social welfare, Premlata Katiyar, personally visits them. All attempts by the administration and the school principal to break the deadlock have failed with the students threatening to “hurt” themselves if anyone tries to force their way in.

“There is no point in anyone else visiting us,” says Mohan, another inmate. “We asked the district magistrate to eat the food cooked here but he couldn’t. Instead, he threatened to get us beaten by the police. Even dogs refuse to eat the food we get.”

Apart from the “worm-infested food”, there are other problems that the students want sorted out. They say their “education” is a farce because there are no teachers to teach them. They clean their own toilets because no sweeper has been appointed since 1976. They also have to cook and wash their own utensils because there are no mess staff. The cook, Tilakdhari, they alleged, is on leave for most part of the month.

While not contesting the allegations, school principal Ram Arya said: “Most of the things they say is true. There is an immense shortage of staff and the students are very angry. But certain things are not under my control.”

The government has suspended the school’s store-keeper and ordered an inquiry. But as J.K. Mathur, deputy director in the special department looking after the physically disabled in the ministry of social welfare, said: “How can there be an inquiry when they are not letting us inside? We’ve been hanging around the school gates since the last three days.”

But the students will have none of it. “Government officials always come and go and nothing ever happens. Anuj Kumar was admitted in hospital after eating the food we get here. They are not even telling us how he is now. Everyone is involved. The standoff will continue until the minister comes,” said a student from inside the locked classroom.

Just as the situation seems to get really tense, a student jokes amid loud guffaws from his friends: “We will let them come in but they have to eat the food in front of us.”    

Calcutta, Sept. 18: 
Undaunted by the state CPM’s decision to reprimand him, former central committee member Saifuddin Chowdhury today gave a “strongly worded reply” to the party leadership.

The CPM state leadership had reprimanded him during the two-day state committee meeting last week. State secretary Anil Biswas told newsmen that Chowdhury was reprimanded for issuing statements in the press and giving interviews to television channels.

“He was reprimanded earlier too for the same reason. He assured us that he will not issue any statement in the press, but he failed to keep his promises. We, therefore, reprimanded him again,” Biswas said.

The two-day committee meeting had also assigned the state secretariat to initiate action against Chowdhury. It said: “There is no need to convene a meeting of the state committee to approve the secretariat’s decision”.

When asked what step the party will take against him for such a strong reply, Biswas said: “We will discuss this and tell you later what we are going to do”. It is learnt that in a written reply Chowdhury has expressed his dissatisfaction over the state leadership’s threat to take stern action against him. He has also questioned the leadership why he will not be allowed to talk to the media like other leaders of the CPM.

Chowdhury has reportedly stood by the statements he has made in the media. Referring to similar instances when many senior party leaders and even ministers have aired views against the party line, he has wanted to know why the party was not initiating action against such leaders.

Chowdhury left for Delhi this evening after handing over his reply to the party leadership.    

Mumbai, Sept. 18: 
Father Vincent Monteiro can’t believe it. “Drinking water! And that too through an under-the-sea pipeline!” gushed the pastor of the Manori church.

For more than three decades, people of Manori and Gorai, two fishing villages off Mumbai, have been clamouring for what they are surrounded by: water, but of the potable variety.

Cut off from Mumbai by a 2 km-long-creek, the sea-side villages, lying cheek by jowl, are the only area in the country’s commercial capital where the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation has failed to provide piped drinking water with the creek standing in the way.

But no longer. Union petroleum minister Ram Naik, who represents the Mumbai North constituency to which the twin villages belong, asked the Indian Oil Corporation to a lay a pipeline under the sea to carry drinking water to the villages.

“The idea struck my father on a visit to the Mumbai High last year. He said if the IOC can carry oil 175 km under the sea to the shore, why can’t it carry water to the villages using the same technology,” said Vishakha Kulkarni, Naik’s daughter and additional private secretary, who looks after his constituency.

She said the public sector company “lapped up” the idea and decided to lay the pipeline at a cost of Rs 4 crore. “The IOC is one of the navaratnas, so spending Rs 4 crore on social work is no big deal for them. In any case, the public sector units do spend on social services,” Kulkarni added.

After obtaining environment and coastal regulatory zone clearances, the oil company started work about a week ago. An IOC officer said the company planned to complete the work by December 25 as a “Christmas gift” to the people of Manori and Gorai, most of whom are Christians.

“It will be a miracle if we got drinking water at home at Christmas. People here are tired of fighting for water,” the pastor said. Amarkant Jha, BJP general secretary for North Mumbai, said villagers had to depend on municipal tankers for drinking water.

“About 500 municipal tankers visit the villages and other areas in nearby Mira Road and Bhayendar daily. So, tanker owners, who have a strong lobby, have always scuttled any move to send piped water to the area.”

In 1978, Naik, as an MLA from Borivali, asked the corporation to take over the job, but the corporation rejected the proposal, saying it was not viable to spend a lot of money on only “15,000 people living in two villages”. Manori and Gorai once belonged to Thane district, but were included in Mumbai corporation area in 1957.

Now that Naik has finally succeeded, the villagers are ecstatic. “We never view Ram Naik as a BJP leader. He is our son, loved and admired by people. He does not care about the caste or religion of a person,” father Monteiro said.

But if Naik as petroleum minister has made Indian Oil carry water, as an MLA in 1980, he had got BEST, Mumbai’s state-run bus company, to run a pair of launches to ferry the villagers across the creek from Malad.

“BEST had at the time objected to his proposal, saying its job was to run buses, not launches. But he made the company start launch services, saying BEST’s job was to provide transport to people, not matter whether it was on road or in water,” his daughter said.    

Ahmedabad, Sept. 18: 
Indefinite curfew continued to be in force for the second consecutive day in Dariapur area of the city, where two groups had clashed over alleged bogus voting on Sunday. Seven people died and 18 were injured in the conflict. One 0f the seriously injured succumbed to his injuries last night.

As no untoward incident was reported today, authorities are “observing the situation before deciding to lift the curfew”.

Home secretary K. Nityanandam indicated that curfew may be relaxed for women tomorrow. But the decision will depend on the situation improving in the area.

Describing the situation as peaceful, the home secretary said: “We should be able to relax curfew for women after reviewing law and order tonight.”

The government on Sunday ordered a judicial enquiry into circumstances that led to a communal flare-up. However, it is yet to decided on who should be entrusted with the task.

Muslim Vikas Manch (MVM), a newly-floated organisation, which fielded six candidates in Muslim-dominated Dariapur and Kalupur areas, has held the Congress and the BJP responsible for the communal flare-up. An MVM delegation met city police commissioner P.C. Pande this morning and requested him to relax the curfew. The delegation maintained that the situation was peaceful.

Shiv Sena, a non-existent force in Gujarat, sent three senior leaders, including former chief minister Manohar Joshi and Union minister Suresh Prabhu, here today “to assess the situation in Dariapur”.

Justifying Joshi’s visit to Gujarat in wake of violence, former BJP MLA Yatin Oza, who is all set to join the Shiv Sena, said it “is a national party committed to the Hindu cause”.

The Shiv Sena reacted sharply to Sunday’s incident, claiming that one of the youth killed in the police firing was the son of a Shiv Sena leader.

But Congress spokesman Hansmukh Patel claimed on Sunday that those killed were Congress workers while a BJP leader claimed that two of the deceased belonged to the ruling party.    


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