Gujarat bright spot on Cong canvas
BJP ‘broadens’ Nagpur line
Heatwave looms on poll-burnt Patel
BJP for Bengal poll under EC watch
PM skirts salt trap
Mafia mounts talent hunt
Delhi faces sermon to mend China fences
Drunk tuskers on killing spree

 
 
GUJARAT BRIGHT SPOT ON CONG CANVAS 
 
 
MAHESH RANGARAJAN
 
 
The clean sweep by Congress in local body elections in the saffron citadel of Gujarat has given the party a shot in the arm. The high command may have failed in its offensives against the Vajpayee regime, but some state units seem set for a fight.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in Gujarat has suffered the wages of anti-incumbency. It has lost control of all but one of the 23 district councils. The opposition has wrested the taluka panchayat in the Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel’s native Visavadar in Junagadh. A stone’s throw from the Gir Forest, Visavadar is in the heart of Saurashtra, a virtual no-go zone for the Congress through the nineties. But the swing against the ruling party seems uniform across various regions, including Kutch and south Gujarat.

Only a year ago, the saffron party had presented a united front against the Congress. The Vajpayee wave found the BJP net 53 per cent share of the votes in the Lok Sabha elections. But the strong showing in the polls concealed deep divisions within the Hindutva camp.

For one, the Keshubhai Patel ministry’s performance has been lacklustre at best. Now in the second leg of its five-year term, it has failed to effectively tackle natural calamities. Two years of successive drought have not seen any major initiative to improve the water situation in the state. The cyclones exposed the inability of the administration to mount timely relief and rehabilitation operations.

More ominously, the very saffron front organisations that pulled together to campaign for the party, have drifted away from it. Through the early nineties, as the political climate of the state acquired a saffron hue, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad worked among the Adivasis, Dalits and Other Backward Classes to win adherents.

Disillusionment with the country’s only cent per cent BJP government is no longer a secret. Acharya Dharmendra has publicly attacked the ministry for appeasing minorities and endangering “the Hindu vote bank”. Recent overtures to Muslims by the new party president Bangaru Laxman only deepened divisions in the state unit.

Even as those disaffected with the chief minister found ready reception in the VHP camp, social cleavages resurfaced to make the party’s problems all the more difficult. Two key individuals built up the party machine. One, Shankarsinh Waghela, broke with it and is now in the Congress; the other, Narendra Modi is in the central office of the BJP but no more in charge of Gujarat. The two represented the ascendancy of the Other Backward Class groups in the saffron camp. Though bitter rivals themselves, both were to be marginalised by the present chief minister, a member of the dominant Patel community.

The Congress has been quick to seize on dissension in the social base of the ruling party. In this it has been helped by the failure of third force groups to retain a presence in the state: even Waghela’s short-lived regional outfit eventually merged with the party. Over the last two years, it has increased its vote share, re-building its old social bloc.

Gujarat holds a lesson for parties that hold power at every level, national, state and local. When voters do turn against it, they do so in droves. The longer it spends in office, the BJP in particular, seems less like a party with a difference. Even Patels are caught in a drift due to the non-performance of the BJP ministry.

The high command has had little to contribute in Gujarat and the less spectacular gains in local elections in Kerala. Most Congress state units now have seasoned leaders at the helm. It is the central Congress leadership that looks effete by comparison.

   


 
 
BJP ‘BROADENS’ NAGPUR LINE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Oct. 2: 
Rattled by reports that hardcore Hindutva supporters have not “taken well” to Bangaru Laxman’s pro-minority overtures, the BJP has decided to “broadbase” his “Nagpur message”.

The party has decided to give the address, marked by the populist phrase “flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood”, a “pro-people” colour rather than limiting it only to the Muslims.

A meeting of the BJP’s central office-bearers, state presidents and state general secretaries, held here today after the national executive, noted that the media as well as the people were “focussing on only one or two aspects” of the new BJP president’s Nagpur address — namely the pro-Dalit and pro-minorities aspects.

To dispel the steadily growing notion among the cadre that the BJP was set to jettison its Hindutva issues after keeping them on the backburner for the sake of coalition politics, the party has decided to launch a two-month campaign from November 1 to December 30.

According to the party spokesman, M. Venkaiah Naidu, it will “propagate, discuss and interact on various aspects of the Nagpur message”.

He said the Nagpur message would be used to focus on areas like the need for “social, political, geographical and healthy expansion” of the BJP, the Centre’s “good work” and “identifying the problems of the poor”.

“The idea is to convey the message that BJP is a replica of mini Bharat,” he said in his last press conference as the BJP spokesman before taking over as the rural development minister tomorrow.

Another reason for the BJP’s initiative to broaden the import of Laxman’s presidential address is the feedback it received in its national executive held yesterday that the “pro-minorities” thrust had not gone down too well with the Hindutva voters who form the party’s backbone.

It was claimed the “alienation” of the Hindutva votebank was a major reason for the BJP’s debacle in the Gujarat civic and panchayat polls and it had even led the RSS and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad — who usually play an active role themselves in the party’s campaigns for even local bodies’ election — to “distance” themselves from the recent one.

The Uttar Pradesh input was that the state party chief, Kalraj Mishra, at present on a Kisan Jagran Yatra, was besieged with queries at various places on whether the BJP had become a “pro-Muslim party like Mulayam Singh Yadav’s” and if that was the case, why should the Hindutva supporters not vote for the Samajwadi Party instead of the BJP?

It was also decided at today’s meeting that to commemorate the first year of the NDA rule, the BJP would undertake country-wide programmes from October 13.

In his opening remarks at today’s meeting, party president Laxman warned the representatives to be “wary of the tendencies creeping into the party”, one of them being rushing to the Centre with problems concerning states. “Problems, if any, should be sorted out at the state level. This tendency to come to Delhi with delegations is not healthy,” he stated.

Despite the feedback about the Gujarat civic poll debacle, there was no discussion about it at neither today’s meeting nor the national executive. “It is a local election and the state leaders will send their report to the central leaders,” Laxman said.    


 
 
HEATWAVE LOOMS ON POLL-BURNT PATEL 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, Oct. 2: 
Before chief minister Keshubhai Patel could recover from the staggering local election blow, he is expected to be pitchforked into another bruising battle tomorrow in the Assembly.

The resurgent Congress is expected to insist on a debate on drought. Buoyed by its success in wresting power from the BJP in local bodies, the Congress lost no time in working out a strategy to embarrass the chief minister, beginning with a demand for his resignation.

It had also decided to move a no -confidence motion against the BJP government. However, with the Speaker refusing permission to move the no-trust — a motion requires a four-day notice period — the Congress has decided to concentrate its firepower on the drought debate.

The former chief minister and leader of the Congress Legislative Party, Amarsinh Chaudhary, said : “Though we want to bring a no-confidence against the Keshubhai government, we could not serve the notice on time. Now we will demand a debate on drought.”

The party said the main objective is to “expose and embarrass” the chief minister. Keshubhai had blamed the local poll debacle on the drought. “By initiating a debate on the drought, we will try to expose the BJP’s bad governance, which is why the people rejected it,” Congress leader and social activist Madhusudhan Mistry said.

Compounding the situation for Keshubhai, the BJP has lost the Rajkot municipal corporation to the Congress. Rajkot is not only the chief minister’s home town but was also considered an invincible saffron bastion where the BJP ruled for more than two decades.

With the Congress’ near-complete hold on the local bodies and dissidents in the BJP regrouping, Keshubhai’s authority is now being challenged.

The chief minister has been the unquestionable leader of the BJP in Gujarat after one rival, Shankersinh Vaghela, parted ways and another, Narendra Modi, was sent to Delhi to give him a free hand.

While the BJP has started “self- introspection” and announced a committee to find out the reasons for the defeat, the Congress is gearing up for the formation of boards and various committees in district and taluka panchayats. The process is expected to keep the party busy for at least 10 days.

Having secured a clear majority in Ahmedabad and Rajkot corporations and 22 out of 23 district panchayats, the Congress is also eyeing the Vadodara and Jamnagar, which have thrown up hung boards. Independents hold the key in the two boards. “Horse-trading is bound to take place”, Chaudhary said.

If the Congress is able to form the boards in Vadodara and Jamnagar, the BJP will be left with two corporations — Surat and Bhavnagar.    


 
 
BJP FOR BENGAL POLL UNDER EC WATCH 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Oct. 2: 
The West Bengal unit of the BJP demanded that Assembly polls be held under the “direct supervision” of the Election Commission and “under the protection” of the Central Reserve Police Force or the army.

It has asked the home ministry to bring “partisan” police officials like Gaurav Dutta and Basudeb Bag under “covert surveillance” and initiate “appropriate departmental action” against them.

Another proposal mooted was to launch a campaign projecting the Congress as a “pro-Left force” since it was allegedly scuttling the imposition of Central rule in Bengal. These demands and suggestions were contained in a report on Bengal prepared by the BJP state unit and placed before the party national executive yesterday for a discussion.

But BJP sources admitted that the call for an anti-Congress campaign was prompted by Mamata Banerjee’s resignation from the Cabinet and her threat to pull out of the NDA. These moves fuelled speculations about a possible Trinamul Congress-Congress alliance in the assembly polls and a threat to the BJP of being relegated to a minor player in the event.

BJP sources said one way of “pre-empting” such a pact would be to project the Congress as a “Left-friendly” party and sow the “seeds of suspicion” in the Trinamul camp.

After detailing political killings and attacks allegedly involving the CPM, the BJP demanded the imposition of Article 356 or the Disturbed Areas Act, but added ruefully, “The problem is with the mechanics of doing it. There is no way in which this can be done without the cooperation of the Congress, which is not likely to be forthcoming.”

The report named the minister of state for transport Susanta Ghosh as the “key accused” in the attacks on BJP and Trinamul workers, allegedly in conjunction with the superintendent of police Gourav Dutt. Among Ghosh’s other “aides”, the names of Anil Bose, Arambagh MP, Dipak Sarkar, Midnapore district CPM secretary and Amiya Patra, sabhadipati, Bankura, also figured.

The report identifies the “slipping grip of the CPM on the West Bengal countryside” as the “underlying reason” for the violence. “Until recently, the cosy relationship between the CPM and the Congress ensured that those who are opposed to the CPM had nowhere to go, and the CPM’s grip on rural West Bengal was total and complete. The Trinamul-BJP combine has now emerged as a genuine anti-Left force, and people are flocking by the thousands around them. As a result, the CPM has panicked,” it says.    


 
 
PM SKIRTS SALT TRAP 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Oct. 2: 
From now on, the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch will take the Prime Minister’s assurances with a pinch of salt.

After giving in to the Sangh outfit’s demand that the ban on sale of non-iodised salt be lifted, Atal Behari Vajpayee has asked the health ministry to launch a campaign on the merits of eating only iodised salt.

The Manch had threatened a salt satyagraha and lead a march to Dandi if the Centre did not agree to its demand. The government had lifted the ban, ignoring warnings from doctors and public health researchers that the move could lead to iodine deficiency among the people. But Vajpayee, who is keen to ensure that people do not, suffer from the ill-effects of consuming non-iodised salt, has asked the health ministry to counter the impact of the ban.

Union health minister C.P. Thakur today confirmed that the government will go into an overdrive to educate the people of the need to consume iodised salt.

“We will not allow shortage of iodised salt in any part of the country, educate the people in iodine-deficient states about the benefit of iodised salt and try to make iodised salt available at cheaper rates so that the poor can afford it,” Thakur said.

One argument put forward by the pro-ban lobby was that iodised salt is expensive and the poor people cannot buy it. Emphasising the need to eat iodised salt, the health minister said several states in the Himalayan region were under the grip of diseases such as goitre, which stems from iodine-deficiency.

In other areas, it caused mental retardation and “cretinism”, where a person becomes inactive and lethargic due to acquired thyroxin deficiency.

Thakur said his ministry would take steps to ensure that all three types of salt are available in the market: superfine iodised, iodised and non-iodised. He pointed out that some people require non-iodised salt on medical grounds.

Thakur said his ministry would conduct a survey of water to determine iodine content and the incidence of goitre in states close to the Himalayan region and in some other pockets. He said such studies are periodically carried out in advanced countries for taking pre-emptive steps against diseases caused by iodine-deficiency.

The health minister said iodised salt should have cost only 15 paise per kilo, but the prices are high because of the cost of transportation.    


 
 
MAFIA MOUNTS TALENT HUNT 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Azamgarh, Oct. 2: 
Thirteen-year-old Mohammad Salim doesn’t have time for cricket. He has nothing to say about Sachin Tendulkar either. Peeping above the counter of one of the many telephone booths dotting Sarai Meer, a town 30 km from Azamgarh, Salim says his role model is Abu Salem, the local boy who made it big as one of India’s most wanted men.

Salim aches to move to Mumbai and work for “Bhai” and the wait for a call from him is killing. “I am too young now, I don’t know when it will happen,” he says, impatiently scratching what is now only a hint of a moustache, dreaming of the lucky ones who already hold a job in Mumbai’s gangland.

Eastern Uttar Pradesh has become the underworld’s recruiting zone from where Abu Salem and other mafia stars are plucking fresh “talent”.

Azamgarh and other eastern Uttar Pradesh towns provide the “soldiers” for the gangwars of Mumbai or Singapore, says Subhash Chandra, special superintendent of police in Azamgarh.

In Azamgarh, where the average land holding is a meagre 0.24 hectares — there is neither industry nor cash crop here, and the literacy level hovers at 30 per cent — Abu Salem spells inspiration, hope and job opportunity. A son of the soil who hasn’t forgotten his roots, he regularly sends over his “talent scouts” to look for faces like Salim’s.

“There are 250 sharpshooters from Azamgarh working for Abu Salem,” says Chandra. “The role models for the young here are different now. They look at Abu Salem and Babloo Srivastava for inspiration.”

A confidential Special Task Force report says once “recruited”, the boys are sent to West Asia, Pakistan and Singapore to work in narcotics and arms trades.

Azamgarh police said in August alone they received more than 1,500 applications for passports from local youth wanting to go to West Asia, Thailand and Singapore. Some wanted to go to Pakistan.

“The spoils of crime are there for all to see. In a small place like this, a whopping Rs 1,700 crore lies stacked in various banks. The last five years have seen close to Rs 10 crore of hawala money being confiscated in Azamgarh. Small-time criminals after going to Mumbai have built palaces and bought foreign cars. For the young this is a great temptation,” Azamgarh district magistrate R.L. Tripathi adds.

As are the brand new Maruti Zen parked outside Abu Salem’s house in Sarai Meer and the brand new lifestyle of his mother, who rolled bidis because Abu’s income as a petrol pump attendant was not enough to feed her four other children.

No wonder Salim says: “I want to change things.”

“The trend of eastern Uttar Pradesh criminals going to Mumbai started 25 years ago during the heyday of Haji Mastan in Mumbai,” says Arun Kumar, superintendent, Special Task Force. “But now it has really caught on.”

STF officials said “recruitment” from this belt has seen an upward trend since the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992, after the underworld got divided on religious lines.

The dominance of eastern Uttar Pradesh men in the Mumbai underworld has also led to a fight for turf between “Bhaiya” Muslims and Konkani Muslims.

The line-up of mafia dons from eastern Uttar Pradesh is impressive. While Abu Salem, Abu Jais and Kamil, all from Azamgarh, work for Dawood Ibrahim, the Chhota Rajan gang has O.P. Singh, Babloo Srivastava and Rohit Verma from this area. Verma, who is from nearby Jaunpur, recently died in Singapore when there was an attack on Rajan’s life.

Mirza Dilshad Beg, the underworld MP who was killed by the Chhota Rajan gang, was from Devaria. Brijesh Singh Thakur, wanted in the J.J. Hospital murder case, is also from this part, as is Mukhtar Ansari who belongs to Ghazipur.

Mobeen and Marauf, two suspects being held for the Sabarmati Express blasts that claimed 10 lives in August this year, have revealed that they were also “indoctrinated in Azamgarh”.    


 
 
DELHI FACES SERMON TO MEND CHINA FENCES 
 
 
FROM CHANDAN NANDY
 
New Delhi, Oct. 2: 
The task force on border management has advised the government to settle all pending disputes with China.

The seven-member task force, headed by former Union home secretary Madhav Godbole, submitted a report of more than 500 pages on August 29.

The task force said security can be strengthened along the undefined boundary with China only if claims and counter-claims made by New Delhi and Beijing are settled in the western (Ladakh) and eastern (Tawang) sectors.

The report recommended that the government urgently demarcate several stretches along the international border with Bangladesh and Nepal, especially in riverine areas. At some points there are no pillars or posts marking Indian territory.

Sensitive parts of the Line of Control, LAC, Actual Ground Position Line and the international border should be handed over to the army, the task force said. Paramilitary forces — the Border Security Force (BSF), Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) — should be brought under the army’s command, it added.

The report said the structure of the security forces engaged in counter-insurgency duties, especially in Jammu and Kashmir, must be rationalised. Often, security forces are deployed on an ad hoc basis and their numbers are less than the sanctioned strength.

The task force said demographic changes are taking place along the Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal borders, threatening the security and integrity of the country. A large number of madarsas and places of worship have come up in the border areas, it pointed out, adding that intelligence agencies must track the flow of funds to fundamentalist organisations behind their construction.

The report said the government should take measures to check this population shift, which is the result of infiltration. Muslims from Bangladesh constitute the majority population in the Terai region both in Nepal and India, it adds.

To check the influx of illegal immigrants, the task force suggested that the government issue work permits to aliens who are identified as infiltrators. The task force also recommended repeal of the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act.

Holding the paramilitary forces guarding the borders in the east and Northeast responsible, the task force said infiltration is not possible without their connivance. It asked the government to ensure stricter vigilance.

The task force made several recommendations to control the country’s maritime border as well as the air space. It said the Exclusive Economic Zone, which stretches to 250 nautical miles, should be demarcated and all states concerned given the responsibility to police their coastlines.

The report said the economic zone can be strengthened only if disputes over islands in the Bay of Bengal, Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea are settled with the countries concerned.

About 1,100 offshore islands are still uninhabitated and vulnerable to attacks from neighbouring countries. There is no coordination between the foreign ministry and the directorate of shipping which rountinely issues seamen’s passes, the task force said.

To prevent violation of air space, the task force suggested installation of sophisticated radars. It said air space violation continues even after the December 1995 Purulia armsdrop and there is no coordination between between the Directorate-General of Civil Aviation, Bureau of Civil Aviation Security, law enforcement and intelligence agencies.    


 
 
DRUNK TUSKERS ON KILLING SPREE 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Patna, Oct. 2: 
Driven mad by the intoxicating aroma of homegrown liquor, a herd of wild elephants went berserk in Dumka district last week destroying nearly everything that came in its way.

The 13-member herd had strayed from its usual path which runs through the forest belt of Ranchi, Palamau and Dalma hills in Singhbum district. But on reaching the patchy jungles on the outskirts of Jamtara block in Dumka, the heady smell of haria drew it towards Palma village five kilometres away.

The first casualty was Mano Singh Dudhu, a 22-year-old tribal who was returning home. “The man himself was drunk,” said a forest officer in the block. “The elephant lifted him right off the ground and hurled him against a tree. He died soon after.”

The herd then crashed into Palma, where they sniffed out the liquor stored in about a dozen homes. What followed was mayhem.

For the next five hours or so, panic-stricken villagers watched helplessly from a distance as the elephants went on the rampage trampling homes and destroying crop and cattle. A resident of Bangalia village who happened to be there at the time said the completely sozzled elephants “seemed to be on a mission to destroy”.

“Over 23 acres of standing crop was damaged. Some of the houses they razed had goats and other animals. They too were crushed to death,” said Bardo Marandi.

But the smell of haria wouldn’t go away. Over the next three days, the herd would suddenly appear on some settlement or the other, killing anyone who couldn’t escape. In Rangalia Sadipur village, a five-year-old boy was crushed to death. Yesterday, another man was killed in Rajpuri Khord village.

Forest officials, however, say the villagers are also to blame for their plight. “Despite being warned, they have thrown stones at the herd and at times caused minor injuries. And elephants have sharp memories,” said S.S. Badhawan, a forest officer in Dumka.

According to Badhawan, the villagers by their “counter-attack” are provoking the elephants into taking “revenge”. He also said that his department had asked the villagers not to boil the brew at night. “If they do it during day, most of the odour gets diluted and does not carry,” he said.

The marauding herd has created panic in at least 20 villages in Dumka, especially in Mihijam block bordering Dhanbad. The district administration is assessing the extent of the damage and are now drawing up compensation packages. Village patrols have also been set up to prevent the herd from the striking again.

According to the Forest department in Dumka, the herd with two one-year-old calves has now moved northwards. It was spotted around 10 am today near a village in Giridih.

But though forest officers here were a relieved bunch, experts who have studied elephant behaviour think the danger is not yet over as the animals are known for their waywardness.

Twenty years ago, the forests of Dumka were a safe sanctuary for the beasts, the experts said. Now, encroaching human settlements and thinning forest cover have depleted their foodchain, making them go berserk at times.    

 

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