Laloo soothes Siwan, cheque book in hand
Stars and miracles on value-education menu
Badal reaps Delhi farm face-saver
Sunday start for Saifuddin
Long-distance justice, AP style
Starvation-death spectre on Orissa
Advani returns to RSS roots
Minority catch for Assam BJP
Assam on Ayurveda map

 
 
LALOO SOOTHES SIWAN, CHEQUE BOOK IN HAND 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Patna, Oct. 15: 
Armed with a cheque book, Laloo Prasad Yadav today sought to heal the wound of massacre-scarred Mujahidpur and salvage a combination that has kept his party in power in Bihar.

The simmering tension between the Yadavs and the Muslims — the pillars of Laloo’s unbeatable alliance — had exploded on Friday night in the village, about 5 km from Siwan, leaving 11 members of a family dead.

The carnage has pushed Laloo to a corner amid charges that his party’s MP from Siwan, Mohammad Shahabuddin, was linked to those behind the crime.

Laloo is learnt to have summoned Shahabuddin to Patna to discuss the Siwan incident tomorrow. In the village where bereaved women wailed, Laloo asked accompanying officials to draw cheques of Rs 1 lakh each to the relatives of the victims.

Growing more bold today, villagers in adjoining areas, too, hinted at the involvement of Shahabuddin’s supporters in the killings. They alleged that the marauders came from Pratappur, a village in Siwan district from where Shahabuddin hails.

A task force of three police officers recorded their statements. “If it is required, we will question Shahabuddin,” director-general of police K.A. Jacob said.

Bihar Governor V.C. Pande has also sought a report from the Rabri Devi government. A Raj Bhavan spokesman said Pande, who is in Delhi, expressed concern over the recurrence of violence and sought a report on the killings and action taken.

Having averted a potential communal flare-up, Laloo visited the Yadav-dominated villages near the massacre site.

“You need not fear. I am here to stay for a couple of days. I will die before letting gangsters deliver a blow on Yadav-Muslim fraternity,” he said. However, Laloo had to return to Patna today as tension flared up in Nawada between the Yadavs and Kurmis.

Neither Shahabuddin nor too many local party members were present to greet the visiting leader. The minority leaders of Siwan were also not present.

If Shahabuddin wanted to send a message, it could not have missed Laloo. Speculation was already rife in the state about frequent meetings between a Rashtriya Janata Dal leader and Shahabuddin.

Recently a report had been leaked which claimed that 50 MLAs were planning to revolt against Laloo.

Political heat over the massacre is expected to grow more intense in the coming days. The CPI(ML) will observe a bandh tomorrow, demanding the arrest of Shahabuddin, who has several cases against him.

Amarnath Yadav, CPI(ML) MLA from Siwan, said: “Shahabuddin has been instrumental in unleashing a reign of terror in the area.”

However, the police have stressed on the dispute over a math to gloss over the political dimensions of the flare-up.

Residents of the area alleged that the flashpoint could have been the math row, but real issue was the erosion in the MP’s support base in the village. A section of the Yadavs in the village had reportedly refused to vote for him.    


 
 
STARS AND MIRACLES ON VALUE-EDUCATION MENU 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, Oct. 15: 
M.K. Kaw, the secretary of higher education and driving force behind the Centre’s ambitious project on value education, is a passionate believer in the miracles of Sathya Sai Baba.

He believes value education, soon to be part of the formal curriculum in schools, colleges and institutes of higher education, should in essence reflect Sai Baba’s teachings.

“Scientists do not believe in miracles or astrology. But I have personally witnessed Sai Baba cure a cancer patient,” says Kaw.

Does this mean what the government wants to peddle as value education will only be a sum total of obscurantist beliefs?

Kaw says it is not obscurantism but the government wants to preach a “different world view” — outlined in the education secretary’s new book The Science of Spirituality.

“One day The Science of Spirituality will be taught in every class. We are trying to bring the gigantic government machinery to this line of thinking,” explains Kaw. His book, he argues, has a quarrel to pick with the disciplines of science, philosophy and religion.

“My first charge against Science is it looks at what is and not what should be,” says Kaw. Scientists, according to Kaw, are guilty of dismissing astrology as “hogwash”. “Scientists are afraid to investigate the power of astrology because they fear it may be true,” he says.

But a lot of educationists are not convinced of the need to “spiritualise” students. “This is nothing but obscurantism — a negation of scientific and rational thinking,” says a Delhi University professor.

On religion, Kaw comes up with recommendations that his critics will find difficult to reject: “Traditional religions cannot be a guide to living — they are too ritualistic,” he says.

There has been a growing apprehension that the government’s move to put value education at the centre of its agenda on education is nothing but an effort to “saffronise” education.

But human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi’s trusted lieutenant, Kaw, vouches the government is not talking of religion but of spirituality in its project.

“We should try and develop a syncretic religion, picking the best from all religions,” says Kaw.

The emphasis is on nationalism, making Indians proud of their past. It is a throwback to ancient India and its “glory”.

“Our citizens should know that they are second to none in the world,” says Kaw.

It was the British, he says, who dismantled India’s traditional educational system of gurukuls. “Now we want to go back to the community. All our education programmes, including the Sikhsha Abhiyan, are an attempt to revive the community’s links with education,” says Kaw.

In their zeal to flood educational and professional institutions with nationalistic fervour, the government is setting up a national resource centre for value education in engineering in IIT Delhi.

The education package comprises spending a part of summer vacation in retreats with “great personalities or NGOs” doing “socio-spiritual” work. It also suggests an introductory course to orient the students to the government’s line of thought.

“There is a need to introduce a special course on professional ethics for all engineering disciplines. The ethical dimension should be incorporated in the teaching of mainstream science and technology courses,” recommends a document prepared by the human resources development ministry.    


 
 
BADAL REAPS DELHI FARM FACE-SAVER 
 
 
FROM GAJINDER SINGH AND AGENCIES
 
Calcutta & New Delhi, Oct. 15: 
Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, struggling to contain a farmer backlash after unseasonal rains damaged crops, today managed to persuade the Centre to announce a Rs 350-crore relief package.

The aid, which includes Rs 100 crore compensatory relief to be shared equally by the Centre and the state, was finalised after Badal called on finance minister Yashwant Sinha and consumer affairs minister Shanta Kumar.

A Punjab government press release quoting the package said that state farmers will be paid the original minimum support price of paddy of Rs 540 per quintal for Grade ‘A’ paddy, and Rs 510 per quintal for the common variety. The aid will also be used to compensate farmers who had made distress sale at prices below the minimum support price till October 14.

The package came also on the heels of another breather for the farmers, who had panicked after the Food Corporation of India (FCI) declared that 80 per cent of the paddy waiting for procurement was “defective” and “below specifications”.

Contradicting the FCI claim, the Punjab Agricultural University has found that 62 per cent of the grain meets the procurement norms.

The farmers had claimed that the FCI’s refusal to buy stemmed more from inadequate storage space and not the quality of the paddy. The controversy erupted after several consignments were found discoloured.

“The crop has been like this year,” said Balbir Singh. “We have no hand in such a crop. If the government fails to purchase our crop we will die,” he said, insisting that farmer suicides in the state will rise.

The delayed procurement has forced many farmers to sell their paddy below the minimum support price. Some farmers from the border villages have sold their produce for as little as Rs 380.

The university report, however, emphasised that the discolouration is confined to the husk. “All samples of paddy which were discoloured showed no sign of discoloration after milling and polishing,” the report added.

Three teams — representing the university, the FCI and the Food and Civil Supplies department — were formed to collect samples from different grain markets in the state. Samples were also taken from lots rejected by the procurement agencies. The samples were tested at the university laboratories.

According to the report, a majority of samples collected belonged to the PR-114 variety which is said to be the most affected. Only one sample out of 50 tested moisture content of above 18 per cent. “The moisture content in paddy lots being rejected is thus within the procurement specifications,” a farm scientist said.    


 
 
SUNDAY START FOR SAIFUDDIN 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Oct. 15: 
Saifuddin Chowdhury announced today that he would launch an anti-CPM platform, Marxbadi Manch, at a convention in the city on October 22.

Chowdhury, whose name was struck off the rolls by the leadership on charges of anti-party activities, said the proposed platform will precede the formal launching of “a new party we have planned” by the year-end.

He said he will contest next year’s Assembly elections as an “anti-CPM Left force”in Bengal.

He claimed that during the last three days he had got in touch with various like-minded leaders and activists from the CPM, including a number of key members from the party’s powerful Calcutta District Committee, as well as from other Left parties while carrying out a collection drive for flood victims in the city.

“I am hopeful of roping in a lot of party leaders for the proposed manch since this will be the first major broadbased platform against the ruling CPM in Bengal,” he said.

The former CPM central committee member said he will expose the parent party’s “gameplan” to oust him from the organisation at a press conference on Monday.

“I became a party member in 1970 and now the time has come to tell the people how I was a victim of a well-designed plot,” he said.

Chowdhury made it clear that he had no intention to woo partymen to join his new platform. “Instead, those who are worried over the growing loss of Marxist ideals among the present-day leaders are welcome to join the manch,” he added.

Ridiculing the CPM’s “desperate move” to rope in various Naxalite factions and the SUCI to face challenges from the Trinamul Congress-BJP combine, the rebel leader said: “I am shocked to know that the party has come to such a pass these days. I wonder how the CPM will adjust with the Naxalite factions whose ideals are different from those of the party.”

Asked if he would make overtures to the parties which the CPM had already planned to rope in, Chowdhury replied in the negative. “But my doors are open to those who are willing to join us to restore Leftist ideals,” he said.    


 
 
LONG-DISTANCE JUSTICE, AP STYLE 
 
 
FROM G.S. RADHAKRISHNA
 
Hyderabad, Oct. 15: 
Justice will go online tomorrow.

About 150 petty cases will be tried at a metropolitan sessions court here — on camera, without the accused being present.

The judge will summon undertrials before a video camera at the Chanchalguda jail and pronounce the judgments from the city criminal courts complex.

“If the demonstration trial succeeds we will urge the state government to instal video-conferencing facilities at 12 important jails in the state to speed up trials,” said Chief Justice M.S. Liberhan.

It will cost around Rs 1.5 lakh per jail to set up the video-conferencing equipment which has been devised by State Power Technologies. Connected through ISDN lines, the facility has both audio and video features.

“About 1,000 prisoners have to be produced before the courts everyday all over the state for remands or hearings or conviction, for which we don’t have sufficient forces,” DIG of jails M. Ahmed said.

Among the 17,000 undertrials in the state, there are about 9,000 waiting for almost two years. The jail staff number only 2,300.

“The facility will help us keep our jails less crowded and make use of our forces for work other than just escort duty. It will also reduce the risk of culprits escaping while in transit,” said the IGP for jails, M.V. Krishna Rao.

An ISI agent gave the slip to the police while being taken from Musheerabad jail to the civil courts.

The Andhra Pradesh government had given the nod to the “long-distance” trials last July. The state Cabinet approved an amendment to Section 167, Sub-Section (2) of the CrPC, to promote magistrate-prisoner meetings on camera. An experimental trial two months ago in the presence of the state home minister was viewed both in Delhi and Chennai.

The demo trial tomorrow will be watched by the Andhra Pradesh High Court as well as a delegate of the Supreme Court and the Union home ministry. There is a proposal for the facility to be installed at Vijayawada, Visakhapatnam, Rajahmundry, Chittoor, Karimnagar and Warangal.

The Andhra Pradesh government had taken a lead in establishing state-of-the-art jails, with swimming pools, gyms, computer libraries, online education systems and facilities to promote ancillary entrepreneural activities.

The government has also handed over prime land owned by the jail department in the heart of the city to the tourism department to build shopping and tourism complexes.

“In a phased manner the jails in the cities will be shifted to outskirts and the land handed over will be used for revenue earning projects for the department,” said the DGP of police, H.J. Dora.    


 
 
STARVATION-DEATH SPECTRE ON ORISSA 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Bhubaneswar, Oct. 15: 
Former railway minister Bhakta Charan Das today warned of starvation deaths in western Orissa if the state government did not set up “free kitchens” in the drought-affected areas.

The senior Congressman, whose 11-day padayatra across 132 drought-hit villages in Bolangir and Sonepur ended on Thursday, said it was just a matter of time before famine struck these two districts. “The fields are bone dry. Crop failure is near-total in the majority of villages. Most people are subsisting on just one meal a day. In some places, there is not a drop to drink. The situation is pathetic,” said Das.

The former Union minister said scarcity of food had already forced hundreds of villagers to migrate to Raipur and Andhra Pradesh in search of work.

“If there is no rain in the next fortnight, whatever is left of standing crops will wither. The villagers will then have to migrate or die of starvation,” he said.

In Kullumal village under Khaprakhol block in Bolangir district, only 40 per cent of the people remain. The rest have migrated to other places. The situation in Khalipali village of Sonepur district is no different. Over 200 of the 3,500 people who live in the village have migrated.

The Bolangir administration estimates that crops spread across 1,31,704 hectares — almost one-third of cultivable land in the district — have been lost. However, unofficial sources claim the extent of the damage is much more.

The average annual rainfall in the drought-affected districts is 1,250 mm. However, just about 670 mm of rain has been recorded this year. It is estimated that crops spread across 8.4 lakh hectares have been damaged in western Orissa.    


 
 
ADVANI RETURNS TO RSS ROOTS 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
Agra, Oct. 15: 
When it comes to the crunch, once a swayamsevak always a swayamsevak. No one lived up to this Vajpayee-coined saying more than home minister L.K. Advani.

Not only was Advani on time for the valedictory function at the RSS mahashivir in Shastripuram, he went through the motions of a swayamsevak, including the salute to the saffron flag with an “Om” inscribed on it (dwaj pranam) and recited the Sangh anthem, one line of which pledges its commitment to create a Hindu rashtra.

The only departure from saffron norms was that Advani wore a dhoti-kurta and not the regimented khaki shorts and black cap. He also did not share the dais with RSS worthies, including sarsanghachalak K.S. Sudarshan and Rajju Bhaiyya. He sat, grim-faced, in a special enclosure for VIPs, along with Uttar Pradesh chief minister Ram Prakash Gupta, and rubbed shoulders with committed swayamsevaks.

But Sudarshan did not make a distinction between the elite and the hoi polloi. In his speech he referred to those sitting on the dais but there was no mention of Advani or Gupta. The RSS is a great leveller as one member remarked: “In Sudarshanji’s eyes, Advani is like any other swayamsevak, not someone special.”

But political observers gave a different spin to the home minister’s presence on RSS karmabhoomi. As speculation is rife on whether Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee will last out his term because of his “health”, talk of a successor has already begun doing the rounds in BJP circles. Advani is being mentioned as the first among equals.

If Advani were to head a BJP-majority government, party sources said the issue of “succession” would be clinched in a minute. But because the ruling dispensation is a 24-member coalition, Advani will have to “re-invent his “image” and shake off the Hindutva tag to make him acceptable to the NDA constituents, the souces added.

The home minister seems to be working in the right direction. He made a distinction between “ideology” and “governance” at a recent BJP national executive and asserted that governance has nothing to do with ideology.

Advani also went along with BJP president Bangaru Laxman’s call to co-opt minorities into the party’s mainstream. The only episode he seemed uncomfortable about was the Kandahar hijack and the militant-hostage swap.

Sangh sources were delighted at Advani’s presence and saw it as “clear proof” of his “unswerving loyalty” towards his alma mater. At a time when Vajpayee has given the impression of distancing himself from the RSS, Advani’s appearance in Shastripuram reassured the Sangh that the BJP has no such intention.

Observers see the Shastripuram shivir as a show of strength for the Sangh amid reports that its membership is dwindling while the BJP has emerged as the career politician’s passport to success.

Sudarshan mentioned in his speech that the turnout exceeded his own expectation. According to him, while the BJP’s graph is dwindling perceptibly in Uttar Pradesh, the Sangh’s following is intact. He also added that people had turned up from places where shakhas were non-existent.    


 
 
MINORITY CATCH FOR ASSAM BJP 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Silchar, Oct. 15: 
Around 300 Muslim fishermen took a “collective oath” to join the BJP at a meeting at Nilambazar village in south Assam’s Karimganj district on Thursday.

BJP legislator from Silchar Bimalangshu Roy claimed 8,000 more fishermen of the community would join the party in a phased manner in the district.

There are three BJP legislators from Karimganj, which has five constituencies.

Roy said the support of Muslims from Barak Valley districts has come as a morale boost for the party which in the previous Lok Sabha and Assembly elections could not garner even two of the total 40 per cent Muslim votes.

The party is all set to go overboard to woo Muslim voters, especially from the four-lakh strong fishermen community known as maimals.

A two-day minority-people’s conclave beginning from October 28 would be held at Karimganj, BJP leaders here said.

The BJP strategy to use its two prominent Muslim leaders to “break the ice” seems to be pay-ing off. Union minister of state for human resource Shahnawaz Hussain and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, a former Union minister and a BJP secretary would address the minority gathering at Karimganj, party leaders said.

Sources said the party would formulate a package of socio-economic schemes toward the uplift of minorities at the Karimganj conclave. This includes, among others, setting up of fisheries in the co-operative sector through bank loans, horticulture schemes, adult literacy and elementary education drives.

The BJP would also start agitational programmes to “pressurise the ruling AGP to implement these schemes”, sources said.

Former Union minister and state BJP heavyweight Kabindra Purkayashta, said his party would “restore self-esteem” of the backward minority community in the district.    


 
 
ASSAM ON AYURVEDA MAP 
 
 
FROM ROOPAK GOSWAMI
 
Guwahati, Oct. 15: 
The Union ministry of health and family welfare has drawn up an ambitious plan to popularise Ayurvedic drugs for reproductive and paediatric diseases in the state.

The ministry has decided to supply Ayurvedic drugs to nine states including Assam to “popularise Indian systems of medicine and homeopathy” in the field of reproductive and child health.

Officials said patients in the above-mentioned segments were mostly accustomed to allopathic drugs.    

 

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