Stung Saifuddin charts comeback course
MPs offer cold shoulder to Putin
Centre mulls tax sops for N-plants
Russia rush to lighten Pak
Cong Keshubhai assault backfires
Law panel shield for Sonia
Loose ends in kidnap mystery
Sonia on frontfoot after Dausa boost
Prisoner-friendly jails in J&K
Loose ends in kidnap mystery

 
 
STUNG SAIFUDDIN CHARTS COMEBACK COURSE 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
New Delhi & Calcutta, Oct. 3: 
After losing primary membership of the CPM, a “hurt” Saifuddin Choudhury today said he can now spend “more time on floating my new party”.

The central committee of the party yesterday struck Saifuddin’s name off the rolls, deciding to tackle head on the threat of other dissidents throwing their lot with him in a new outfit with months left for the Assembly election and only two weeks to go before the plenum in Thiruvananthapuram.

Party general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet took pains to emphasise that the central committee only went along with a decision taken at the state level.

The state secretariat had met on September 29 to decide on the action against Saifuddin who has charged the leadership with not being democratic enough and not reforming the party programme.

“The West Bengal state committee had decided to remove Saifuddin from the party rolls. The central committee yesterday endorsed the decision,” Surjeet said.

Although the move amounts to expulsion, the party was not describing it that way.

Saifuddin, a party member for 30 years, said he was “hurt” at being dropped without notice. “It is unfortunate that the decision was made public when I was away from Delhi. It is an ill-timed move since we are busy rescuing marooned people from flood-hit districts,” he said in Calcutta.

The action follows a show-cause notice slapped on him on September 15 for what the leadership considered anti-party statements on a lack of democracy and transparency.

Although these are known to be the charges against Saifuddin, Surjeet stonewalled all questions about why he was being punished with a one-liner. “Go and ask the state committee what the charges are. They have all the details.” He added: “Saifuddin was not working under the Delhi committee and we knew nothing of his activities.”

His statement is open to two interpretations. One, Surjeet, representing the reformist section of the party, is not happy with the decision. Two, he — on behalf of the central leadership — does not want to trespass into state territory.

Surjeet made it clear that the central leadership acted as a mere rubber stamp. It is difficult to accept this position since Surjeet has in the past played peacemaker between the Bengal dissidents and the state leadership.

Jyoti Basu himself has donned the role several times, holding meetings with Saifuddin and dissident spearhead and transport minister Subhas Chakraborty.

Basu was present at the state secretariat meet where the action against Saifuddin was finalised. A section of the state leadership, headed by secretary Anil Biswas and Biman Bose, has been in constant conflict with the dissidents.

The chief minister appears to have fallen in with the view of this section to punish Saifuddin. In the past, when the two sides had seemed to reach a point of no return, Basu is believed to have requested the dissident group not to split the party as long as he was in the chair.

He is certainly not stepping down before the plenum and could even stay on until the election. Whether the split will now take place depends entirely on the support Saifuddin gets from Chakraborty and Samir Putatunda, the South 24-Parganas secretary.

Saifuddin said he would meet Chakraborty and Putatunda shortly to discuss launching a new party, which would mean a split. “I have been getting feelers from like-minded people,” he said.

Chakraborty was not available for comment. Putatunda said: “I shall react only after discussing certain issues with Saifuddin”.    


 
 
MPS OFFER COLD SHOULDER TO PUTIN 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Oct. 3: 
It’s a sign of the changing times. Parliamentarians who had made a spectacle of themselves during President Bill Clinton’s visit, jostling with each other and falling all over their guest, have offered a cold shoulder to Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

So few MPs have responded to the government’s request to fill up Parliament’s Central Hall for Putin’s address tomorrow that the authorities have been forced to downgrade the engagement from a joint session to just a “meeting”.

The Left members, who had stayed away during Clinton’s address, cannot be expected to save the day either. Putin is no communist and Left leaders here are not particularly enamoured of the former KGB chief.

The parliamentary affairs ministry and the Lok Sabha Speaker’s secretariat have been working overtime to lure MPs to Central Hall so that no embarrassing spaces are visible during the Russian leader’s address. But not many have heeded the call.

Anticipating a low turnout, the secretariat has omitted the term “joint address” from the invitation cards, which now reads: “...at a meeting in honour of His Excellency Mr Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, President of the Russian Federation, in the Central Hall, Parliament House...”

Apart from Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, others on the dais will be Vice-President Krishan Kant and Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi.

Most MPs are away in their constituencies. The festive season makes it all the more difficult for the parliamentary affairs ministry to ensure the presence of a good number of about 780 members.

The task of presenting a full house on the “historic occasion” of Putin’s visit is daunting. Even though each MP has been contacted several times by the secretariat, the government isn’t sure how many will turn up.

To be doubly sure, the ministry staff, sources said, contacted presidents of political parties to ensure their MPs attend the session. The secretariat even got in touch with former MPs so that no seats are left empty.

The government even tried luring the members by convening meetings of almost all standing committees of Parliament today. Members are paid additional allowances for these meetings. But still, the attendance was thin.    


 
 
CENTRE MULLS TAX SOPS FOR N-PLANTS 
 
 
FROM JAYANTA ROY CHOWDHURY
 
New Delhi, Oct. 3: 
The finance ministry plans to announce tax sops for nuclear power projects, boosting an Indo-Russian joint venture power plant coming up in Kerala.

The move, which is awaiting Cabinet clearance, will waive full customs duty on all imported power plant equipment. It will also give a 10-year tax holiday to nuclear power projects.

With the government eager to please the Russian President and the Prime Minister’s Office pushing this policy, officials said it might be included in the agenda for tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting.

Sources said the deal, fashioned jointly by the ministry and the department of atomic energy, guaranteed electricity offtake by the Centrally-owned Power Trading Corporation, which will sell the power to state electricity boards and ensure hooking up of transmission linkages by Power Grid Corporation Ltd.

“These are similar to the tax breaks we have given to mega-power plants,” officials said. By guaranteeing power sales, the government will free the N-plants from the hassle of negotiating separate power purchase agreements with states.

The deal gives them a virtual Centre guarantee on payments for all power generated. “Obviously, this benefit would not have been given in the normal course. It’s being given as we are keen to woo the Russians,” revenue department officials said.    


 
 
RUSSIA RUSH TO LIGHTEN PAK 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Oct. 3: 
Aware that his decision to send his special envoy to Pakistan last week had ruffled feathers in Delhi, Russian President Vladimir Putin today sought to calm the leadership here by making it clear that Moscow’s engagement with Islamabad would not lead to anything that was detrimental to India’s interest.

Putin felt that India and Pakistan should create the atmosphere necessary to resume their stalled dialogue which would help in bringing down the political and military tension in the region.

Putin made it clear that his overture to Pakistan was to deal with the separatist movement in Chechnya, which was being backed by the ruling Taliban in Afghanistan. Moscow is only trying use Islamabad’s influence over the ruling militia in Kabul to tackle the situation in the strife-torn province, he said.

But to ensure that Delhi was not kept out of the loop, Russia today decided to set up a Joint Working Group (JWG) with India to discuss and deal with the situation in Afghanistan. Putin said the two sides will try to create a system to exchange information on the situation in Kabul, while Vajpayee said an attempt will be made to evolve a common strategy to solve the problem in Afghanistan.

Senior Indian officials explained that the mechanism will help the two sides to discuss in depth the various developments in the strife-torn country.

If India was unhappy with Russia’s decision to engage with Pakistan, it did not say so in public. “It is Russia’s sovereign decision to deal with any country that it wants to,” national security adviser Brajesh Mishra said.

But the fact remains that there is also realisation in both Moscow and Delhi that in the changed world order both sides should keep their options open in dealing with a third country to safeguard their national interests. If Russia is taking India’s growing closeness with the US in its stride, then Delhi, too, will have to accept the current engagement between Moscow and Islamabad.

But Vajpayee gave a mild reminder to Moscow about the agreement it has with Delhi and obliquely cautioned it in dealing with Pakistan. “We recalled the Moscow declaration on Protection of Interests of Pluralistic States of 1994, where both India and the Russian Federation reiterated their support for each other’s territorial integrity as constituted by law and as enshrined in their respective constitutions. We condemn the use of terrorism as an instrument of state policy,” he said.

Similar views were expressed by President K.R. Narayanan at his banquet speech this evening when he termed terrorism as “an anti-thesis of democracy and of peaceful co-existence” and urged the international community to take initiatives to wipe out the menace.

“Terrorism financed by drug-trafficking has become a new source of subversion in the world. The international community should resolve itself to eradicate this scourge,” Narayanan said.

In an obvious reference to Pakistan, he added: “Terrorism, sponsored from across our borders”, has taken the lives of thousands of our innocent citizens.    


 
 
CONG KESHUBHAI ASSAULT BACKFIRES 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Gandhinagar, Oct. 3: 
Carried away in its own steam, the Congress today lost a chance to capitalise on its local poll success and corner the Keshubhai Patel government in the Assembly.

The Congress’ gameplan for a long discussion to “expose” the government’s failures went awry when an “intemperate” outburst from the Opposition leader paralysed the House, helping the government defeat a no-confidence motion with expected ease.

The House erupted in pandemonium soon after Opposition leader Amarsinh Chaudhry moved the motion, forcing four adjournments in two hours.

Chaudhry said while the people of Gujarat have expressed lack of faith in the BJP government by rejecting it in the districts, panchayats and four municipal corporations, “the Congress is moving a no-confidence motion because the chief minister, who should have resigned owning moral responsibility, has not resigned”.

A confident Keshubhai immediately agreed to a debate, and Speaker Dhirubhai Shah allowed the motion after relaxing the notice-period rule.

Chaudhry launched a blistering attack on the government, calling the BJP members “looters and dacoits” who “do not have the decency to resign even after receiving a drubbing”.

This infuriated the treasury benches, which objected to the “unparliamentary language” and “insult to elected representatives”. The chief minister also asked Chaudhry to apologise.

But the Opposition leader refused, saying: “I am just expressing the feelings of the people, who have kicked you out of civic bodies and district panchayats.”

The BJP members thumped desks and raised slogans demanding an unconditional apology, but Chaudhry said if the Speaker wants to “expunge the two words, he can do so”. Shah adjourned the House four times for about 50 minutes.

With no signs of an end to the stalemate, the Speaker called Chaudhry to his chamber, but he refused to budge. In the ruckus, the two hours allotted for discussion lapsed, allowing the government to escape unscathed.    


 
 
LAW PANEL SHIELD FOR SONIA 
 
 
FROM R. VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, Oct. 3: 
The Law Commission has recommended to the government that even naturalised Indians must have the same rights and privileges as a natural-born citizen and cannot be discriminated against on any ground.

The proposal is significant since some parties have been clamouring for a legislation barring naturalised citizens from holding high public office. The demand is aimed essentially at Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who was born an Italian and took Indian citizenship in the mid-1980s.

During the last general elections, the BJP had pledged in its manifesto that it would bring in a legislation barring naturalised citizens from holding public office. However, the NDA government has not acted upon it so far.

The Law Commission’s response is part of its draft proposals to amend the Foreigners’ Act. “The issue was examined at length but in view of Article 14 of the Constitution guaranteeing equality before and equal application of law, the commission found it impossible to put naturalised citizens in a disadvantageous position,” commission sources said.

They quoted the benchmark Kesavanand Bharati ruling of the Supreme Court, which said that the basic structure of the Constitution cannot be altered. Article 14, which is part of the chapter on Fundamental Rights, is held to be one of the statute’s basic features.

The commission also ruled out the possibility of NRIs and People of Indian Origin (PIO) holding dual citizenship by paying $2,000.

The panel said the concept of “NRIs and PIOs having dual citizenship” would also infringe upon the Fundamental Rights under Articles 14, 15 and 16 as it would discriminate against the two classes of citizens: Indians and NRI-PIOs.

Dual citizenship is banned in the country but the government mooted the idea of issuing citizenship cards for a fee to NRIs and PIOs. However, the proposal has been put on the backburner.

The proposed amendments also prevent overstay and introduce “stringent” provisions to deal with illegal migration. “This is to prevent cross-border terrorism also, especially from neighbouring countries,” the sources said.

The commission’s report was not made public following a Cabinet order that it has to be submitted to the government first and laid in Parliament.

Commission chairman Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy took up the issue with law minister Arun Jaitley and told him that this clause should be deleted and the panel given a free hand to pass on information to the media.

“Justice Reddy, in fact, wanted to convene a news conference to explain the salient features of the amendments, but since the ban is still in force, he could not do so,” the sources said.

They added that Jaitley had already assured Justice Reddy that the ban would be lifted.    


 
 
LOOSE ENDS IN KIDNAP MYSTERY 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Siliguri, Oct. 3: 
Trade union leader Tanmoy Mukerjee remains untraced a month after he went missing as allegations and counter-charges continue to fly thick and fast on who masterminded the abduction.

Mukerjee, a veteran SUCI leader, was whisked away from the outskirts of Siliguri on August 28 while he was returning from a tea garden where he had gone to negotiate with the management on the workers’ wages.

The 35-year-old trade unionist, who was accompanied by fellow activist Suklal Roy, was allegedly waylaid by armed men and kidnapped. Roy says he escaped from the attackers’ clutches.

Though police claim the separatist Kamtapur Peoples’ Party had a hand in the abduction, the outfit has denied the charge. The SUCI, on the other hand, has accused the tea garden management of killing the labour leader.

Strangely, Roy did not report the incident to either the New Jalpaiguri police, under whose jurisdiction the tea garden falls, nor did he inform the SUCI leadership. He spoke to the party cadre only after Mukerjee, who is a bachelor, was reported missing after two days.

The SUCI lodged an FIR with the New Jalpaiguri police on August 31, three days after the kidnapping. Roy was taken into custody on suspicion of having a hand in the incident.

The SUCI, along with other Left trade unions, have launched a campaign for tracing Mukerjee and bringing to book his abductors. The local intelligentsia and NGOs have joined hands with the trade unions.

The police claim to have made a breakthrough with the arrest of Kolin Roy, an alleged KPP activist. “We have definite leads in the case. We have come to know the identities of those involved with the abduction. We have reasons to believe that these are KPP activists,” Jalpaiguri police superintendent Ranvir Kumar said.

The KPP scoffed at the police claim. The KPP president Atul Roy said: “The Jalpaiguri police are just parroting what the CPM and the state government want to say. The CPM in North Bengal has found a scapegoat in the KPP.”

Neither the SUCI nor any other organisation has blamed the separatists. They blame the tea garden management of hiring musclemen to do away with the popular leader.    


 
 
SONIA ON FRONTFOOT AFTER DAUSA BOOST 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Oct. 3: 
Happy days are here again for the Congress. After the winning streak in Gujarat, the party today fared well in the byelections and increased its victory margin manifold in the Dausa parliamentary contest. Coming at a time when organisational polls are underway, the results are a big boost to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi.

The dissidents are now a demoralised lot. Earlier, Narasimha Rao’s conviction in the JMM bribery case was a setback as the rebels were counting on him for “moral support”. The rebels were planning to target the party chief over her failure to “win votes” but now have second thoughts about it. The dissidents were also surprised when party nominees won all the posts in Delhi University Students’ Union polls. The party then dealt a body blow to the BJP winning the Gujarat civic polls.

The Gujarat outcome has even surprised many at the AICC headquarters. In the byelections today, the Congress retained its seats and increased its victory margin by 60,000 votes in Dausa which was represented by late Rajesh Pilot.

Braced with these victories, Sonia plans to go on the offensive. She announced a nation-wide stir today against the petroleum price-hike. On Thursday, all state party leaders will lodge their protest with Raj Bhavans of various states. The stir will continue at district and block levels on October 10 and 15 respectively.

Responding to the criticism that the Congress lacked clear-cut policies on key economic and political issues, Sonia today rewarded Salman Khurshid with the chairmanship of the Department Of Policy, Planning And Coordination. AICC general secretary Ambika Soni said the panel will prepare policy documents and serve as the “nerve centre” of the Congress. Besides acting as an interface between Sonia and party workers, the committee will monitor the impact of party policies at the state and district levels.

Khurshid, who was sulking after being unceremoniously axed as Uttar Pradesh party chief, is happy as it gives him an indirect entry into the Congress Working Committee.

With the surge in Congress’ fortune, senior party leader Jitendra Prasada has been forced to do a rethink on his plans to take on the leadership in the organisational polls. Prasada is reportedly seeking a rapprochement with the leadership. He recently said a contest for the top party post should not be seen as a challenge to Sonia’s leadership.    


 
 
PRISONER-FRIENDLY JAILS IN J&K 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar Oct. 3: 
The Jammu and Kashmir government has introduced a manual to transform jails from “custodial to correctional” and from “retribution to reformation” institutions.

The document, which replaces the 1930 Punjab manual, was released by state high court Chief Justice B.P. Saraf at a function in the high-security Conference Centre. “Reforming the prisoner will be the centrepiece of the new policy,” the director general of prisons, S.S.Ali said.

State home secretary Phunsog, who was the chairman of the manual’s drafting committee, said recommendations of the National Human Rights Commission and the Red Cross had been taken into account while drafting the guide. He said jails were being modernised and each district in the state would have one jail so that there was no need to shift the detenues from one place to another.

Ali said there were 1600 prisoners in the state, of whom nearly half were militants, including over 100 foreign militants. Ali said 10 foreign militants were lodged in jails outside the state.

Pre-release vocational training as prescribed by the jail manual has begun, he said, adding that detenues were interested in computers.

Phunsog said education and recreation facilities would be provided to mitigate the “adverse effects of imprisonment”. Provisions have been made for segregation of prisoners so that first-time offenders do not mix with hardened criminals.    


 
 
LOOSE ENDS IN KIDNAP MYSTERY 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Siliguri, Oct. 3: 
Trade union leader Tanmoy Mukerjee remains untraced a month after he went missing as allegations and counter-charges continue to fly thick and fast on who masterminded the abduction.

Mukerjee, a veteran SUCI leader, was whisked away from the outskirts of Siliguri on August 28 while he was returning from a tea garden where he had gone to negotiate with the management on the workers’ wages.

The 35-year-old trade unionist, who was accompanied by fellow activist Suklal Roy, was allegedly waylaid by armed men and kidnapped. Roy says he escaped from the attackers’ clutches.

Though police claim the separatist Kamtapur Peoples’ Party had a hand in the abduction, the outfit has denied the charge. The SUCI, on the other hand, has accused the tea garden management of killing the labour leader.

Strangely, Roy did not report the incident to either the New Jalpaiguri police, under whose jurisdiction the tea garden falls, nor did he inform the SUCI leadership. He spoke to the party cadre only after Mukerjee, who is a bachelor, was reported missing after two days.

The SUCI lodged an FIR with the New Jalpaiguri police on August 31, three days after the kidnapping. Roy was taken into custody on suspicion of having a hand in the incident.

The SUCI, along with other Left trade unions, have launched a campaign for tracing Mukerjee and bringing to book his abductors. The local intelligentsia and NGOs have joined hands with the trade unions.

The police claim to have made a breakthrough with the arrest of Kolin Roy, an alleged KPP activist. “We have definite leads in the case. We have come to know the identities of those involved with the abduction. We have reasons to believe that these are KPP activists,” Jalpaiguri police superintendent Ranvir Kumar said.

The KPP scoffed at the police claim. The KPP president Atul Roy said: “The Jalpaiguri police are just parroting what the CPM and the state government want to say. The CPM in North Bengal has found a scapegoat in the KPP.”

Neither the SUCI nor any other organisation has blamed the separatists. They blame the tea garden management of hiring musclemen to do away with the popular leader. him for trying to raise the labourers’ wages. We have reason to suspect that the management hired musclemen to kill the leader.”    

 

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