Get well soon PM, but don’t forget oil
Another baby found, dead
Double death sits heavy on strike-hit Maruti
CPM catches up with the past
Why Arundhati is laughing
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi & Mumbai, Oct. 19: 
Mamata Banerjee today met Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee at Breach Candy hospital to remind him that he had promises to keep.

The Trinamul Congress leader denied having raised her demand for a rollback in the petroleum prices. “It was a courtesy visit. I did not come here to talk about my demands, but to see how he is. I am happy he is recovering fast.”

But, at the same time, Mamata pointed out that the Prime Minister had assured her before checking into the Mumbai hospital that he would call a meeting of the National Democratic Alliance to discuss her demands after he returns to the capital. Doctors today said Vajpayee will be released on Sunday.

“I am hopeful that the Prime Minister will come out with a solution when he returns to Delhi on Sunday. I have full faith in him,” the railway minister added.

The Prime Minister, who wants to return home in time for Diwali next Thursday, will have his hands full with Bengal and Bihar.

Communications minister Ram Vilas Paswan also met Vajpayee during the day to discuss the spurt in violence in the state. Later, home minister L.K. Advani made an unscheduled visit. He left for Delhi immediately after his meeting.

While Mamata insisted that she had gone to wish the Prime Minister a speedy recovery, sources in the PMO dropped broad hints that the mercurial ally was keeping the pressure up.

The two were closeted inside for 45 minutes, interrupted only once by the nurse who had to change the Prime Minister’s dressing. Mamata came out and waited outside before being summoned inside again.

“She did not talk politics. Not a word about the petrol price hike. Such things can always come up when the Prime Minister is fully fit. Mamata is not such an insensitive person. She had gone there with one specific purpose: to wish the Prime Minister a speedy recovery. How can one exert pressure on a person who is recovering after a difficult surgery?” said an aide of the railway minister.

But read between the lines, the short visit was loaded with significance. Rarely in the recent past has Vajpayee given so much time to the railway minister.

The last time Mamata had gone to meet the Prime Minister, in September, she had taken Congress leader Priya Ranjan Das Munshi along. Her message was clear: she could walk into an alliance with the Congress in West Bengal if the Vajpayee government trampled upon her wishes.

This evening, when incredulous reporters asked whether the two of them talked poetry, the stern reply was: “May be.”

Other sources were more forthcoming. They said the Vajpayee administration and the BJP high command has been in touch with Mamata over the past several days. Sudheendra Kulkarni, the PMO official whom Vajpayee had sent to win Mamata back after her resignation, has been in touch with the Trinamul chief.

The sources said that Vajpayee asked Mamata to be “patient”, implying that even if he does not meet Mamata’s main demand, he can help her out in her political quest in several ways.    

Calcutta, Oct. 19: 
A day after a new-born was found in a garbage vat in north Calcutta, a second baby, also a girl, was retrieved from among refuse just outside SSKM Hospital today. But this baby was dead.

People were drawn to her not by a wail, but by the sight of stray dogs biting and pulling at the cloth in which she was wrapped.

The incident occurred 24 hours after a baby girl was recovered by residents of Sitanath Road and handed over to the Jorasanko police station.

“We were walking past the hospital when we saw two or three dogs pulling at something just outside the boundary wall,” said Ramesh Tribedi, who works in a shop nearby. “We went closer and saw part of a tiny human head sticking out of a bundle of cloth.”

The limp body was rushed to the emergency department of the hospital. The doctors declared the baby dead.

As the news spread, Trinamul Congress supporters gheraoed hospital superintendent D.D. Chattopadhyay, blaming the hospital. But the superintendent denied responsibility.

“We recorded two baby deaths in the maternity ward yesterday. Both bodies were handed over to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation when the families refused to take them,” said Chattopadhyay.

There was bad news also about the baby rescued yesterday. The girl, admitted by the Jorasnko police in the Marwari Relief Society Hospital, has malaria and septicaemia.

“We have found both vivax and falciparum malarial parasites in her blood. Some toxicity was also found, suggesting septicaemia,” said Dr Subrata Dutta, a resident physician at the hospital.

While the toxic infection could be possible because of the unhygienic conditions in which the infant was found, the malarial parasites could have been transmitted to it by her mother in the womb, the doctor said.

In the light of these findings, the baby will have to be kept in the hospital for at least 10 days.

“The baby has been kept in an incubator because of her condition. We have already started to give her chloroquine for the malaria. Despite these complications, her life is not in danger,” said Dutta.

Even as the baby was receiving treatment, the Jorasanko police station as well as the office of the deputy commissioner of police (central division) received hundreds of telephone calls from childless couples through the day.

“Most of the calls came from well-to-do families,” said deputy commissioner Raj Kanojia. “But the baby will be given to a couple after the court screens all the applications.”    

New Delhi, Oct. 19: 
Maruti Udyog Ltd, once known for copybook labour relations, has been sucked into an unseemly controversy following the death of two employees in an atmosphere vitiated by a month-long strike.

The body of a 24-year-old apprentice, Rajesh Kumar, was found on a railway track in Gurgaon, where the company has a plant. The disclosure came two days after another employee, Chandrabhan (56), died on the factory premises.

The deaths in quick succession have handed ammunition to the striking trade union, which alleged that “over-exertion” has caused the twin tragedies.

However, Maruti’s managing director Jagdish Khattar said the body was found about 10 km from the factory premises.

“Rajesh Kumar, who was working on the Omni line, had complained of headache and sore throat and left the factory on the evening of October 16. Next day, police called us to identify a body which had a Maruti identity card. It is now a police case and is not related to the strike,” he added.

But Dinesh Kumar, president of the Maruti Udyog Employees’ Union, said the management had not allowed the apprentice to come out of the factory. “He was being served two-day-old food. The management was making the apprentice work for more than 16 hours continuously,” Dinesh Kumar claimed. He alleged that there were signs of “swelling on Rajesh Kumar’s body”.

The union has kicked up a storm over the death of Chandrabhan, too. Gurgaon police have agreed to the union’s request to send the body of Chandrabhan for post-mortem.

Refuting the allegation, Khattar claimed: “He was a patient of coronary heart disease and unstable angina chronic obstructive airway disease. He was hospitalised five times over the past year. This year itself, he was hospitalised four times.”

But the union claimed that Chandrabhan died of “extreme exhaustion”.

“He had called his family to convey that he would not be able to go home since he was asked to do another shift. He had worked for four shifts without a break,” Dinesh Kumar said. The company scoffed at the charge, saying it was running on one shift.

“He was an employee of Maruti since its inception and had opted to join duty on his own. He was working in the mechanical utilities department and it is not strenuous work,” Khattar said. “The union’s ploy to use a natural death to fuel a dying agitation amounts to cynical manipulation. Over the past few days, production has picked up and more workers have rejoined duty.”

While Khattar claimed 400 employees from the union have rejoined the duty, Dinesh Kumar put the figure at 60-70.

Khattar said 400 apprentices who were on training in Japan had been called back. Another 400 from within the country have also been summoned to keep the plant running. There are about 6000 employees in Maruti, out of which 4,700 are in the union.

Till yesterday, the company claimed, more than 50 per cent of a normal day’s production was achieved. Maruti usually makes 1,200 to 1,400 cars a day.    

Thiruvananthapuram, Oct. 19: 
After slamming the door on history, the CPM is set to rectify its “historic blunder” at its third plenum beginning here tomorrow, ostensibly to inject new life into the party.

The issue of joining a government at the Centre continues to dog the CPM and even overshadows the threat from party rebels.

Putting their heads together in one of the last remaining Red fortresses, CPM leaders will try to rewrite their future in the light of the failures of the past.

Internationally, it is the failure of the socialist system to ensure “real democracy and universal happiness” as the party programme originally stated. At home, it is the failure to grasp opportunities that would have put the party on a new course.

But the CPM is taking a turn, at least on the issue of participation in government. “It has already been accepted within the party ranks that the CPM will join a government at the Centre in case it thinks fit,” says a central committee leader.

For those in the party who have been eagerly awaiting the turnaround, it is a case of “better late than never”. “We have lost a lot of time. It should have come earlier. But we are glad that it is here at last,” says a delegate. The hardliners may have just accepted it because a repeat of the stormy 1996 chapter in political history seems remote in the near future.

It is now more than three decades since the CPM adopted its programme in 1964 — since then there have been no major changes in the document, the “soul” of the Communist party. It is the first time that a party which has always pushed back change is going to take that one single step forward for it to function better in a parliamentary democracy.

Since 1996, the genie of participation had been popping out of the bottle, despite the best efforts of the hardliners to choke it. Even at the last party congress in Calcutta, the no-changers junked the participation issue, holding the CPM firm to its antiquated line of keeping out of a central government, regardless of the political context.

But this time, Jyoti Basu and Harkishen Singh Surjeet will stand vindicated after the plenum officially gives a go-ahead to the central committee to take a decision on participation, depending on the situation.

“We have clinched the participation issue,” CPM leaders said.

But there is little else that makes the updated draft programme different from the original 1964 document. Questions on democracy, transparency, flexibility have all been pushed by the wayside. Huge paras have been lifted “word by word”. “There will be no fundamental change,” a leader said.

Swallowing a bitter pill, however, is difficult and it is still not certain whether the CPM will change the wording of para 112 of the party programme which lays down guidelines for its role in government formation.    

New Delhi, Oct. 19: 
Arundhati Roy was laughing away. Hysterical, doubling up and afraid she’d come apart at the seams, Arundhati Roy was laughing inwardly.

“Out of utter contempt,” she recalls. “Utter contempt,” she spits out for emphasis.

The author was in the Supreme Court yesterday when Justice A.S. Anand and Justice Kirpal Singh upheld the Narmada Tribunal Award and threw out the Narmada Bachao Andolan’s arguments against the Sardar Sarovar project.

Since penning her long essay, The Greater Common Good, Roy has been associated with the Narmada movement. In court, she cut a lonely figure. There was no one from the NBA “because they did not know it (the judgment) would come when it did”.

The judgment has sent Roy back to her computer, where she is reworking another long essay that has been in the writing for two months now. Before she taps out the chiselled sentences that will go into the making of a statement against liberalisation — just as The Greater Common Good was a statement against skewed development policies and The End of Imagination against (nuclear) power politics — Roy will make a quiet visit to the Narmada valley. Quiet because she does not want to get arrested, like she was last year. She isn’t packing her bags just yet. She is yet to get over the laughing fit.

Laughing? Medha Patkar, the voice of the Andolan, broke down and wept in Mumbai yesterday on hearing the judgment. And here, Roy was laughing.

“Guess why?” There must be a tragicomedy in it somewhere. “You know what else was going on in the court when the Narmada verdict was being delivered? Tamil Nadu and Karnataka were pleading that they be allowed to release Tada detenus — as demanded by Veerappan.”

“You see the joke in it? Here was an agency of the state — the Supreme Court of the land — shutting out a non-violent people’s movement at a time when two governments — agencies of the same state — were being brought to their knees by Veerappan. What message does that give? That you will not hear a people till they pick up guns? Till you have a Northeast and a Kashmir? And even after that you will send in the army and mow them down?”

Roy says she is not shocked. In fact, she was pleasantly surprised with Justice S.P. Bharucha’s note of dissent. The three-judge bench’s verdict was passed on a 2-1 majority. “If I had any deep respect for such institutions, which I don’t, I might have been shocked. I am not shocked by the judgment. I am surprised by the viciousness of it. This is justice like roulette. It ought to be more rational than that. Right now, it’s like a lottery. I mean, if you are going to determine the fate of a people, the least you can do is go and have a look (in the Narmada valley) yourself. But not one oustee was talked to.”

Where does the judgment now leave the NBA and her? Roy cannot claim to speak for the movement but she sees merit in Medha Patkar’s appeal to the President. “I think it is a good idea for two reasons. First, because the President has the power to intervene. Second, of all the people in power, he is the only one who has shown integrity, statesmanship and an understanding of what is tearing this country apart.”

But she does not know what course the movement will take — “It will kill me to see these people taking up arms” — but, importantly for herself, “I will continue doing what I am”.

That means, leveraging her position to keep up the campaign. “The Supreme Court judgment is so ridiculous. It has taken the court six and a half years to say that Sardar Sarovar is a fantastic project. What does a private citizen like me take this for? Then the court says if there is a dispute, go to the Prime Minister — only banana republics do that: ‘Go to daddy; he’ll tell you what to do’ ”.

The Booker Prize winner’s new essay, the words of which are now being processed, deals with the idea that liberalisation has created two worlds, neither of which has a social link with the other. “Privatisation is not the option of a failing state. It’s probably the reason for one,” Roy says.

The idea, she agrees, is “terribly unfashionable” in the time of globalisation “but fascinating”. Roy will examine the policies that create the “different worlds” and how they are aggressively pursued.

An incident which set her thinking occurred in March this year at the World Water Forum in The Hague. During a discussion by the “panel of writers”, an American said: “I write on water because I am paid a helluva lot to write on it.” These “writers”, says Roy, “wrote resettlement policies. I was the only writer around. Well, I write on water because I am offered a helluva lot to not write on it”.

Roy’s research for her latest work has taken her through academic conferences to field studies. “Do you know what Bechtel, the multinational, did in the city of Cochacomba in Bolivia? The government handed over the city’s water and sanitation system to Bechtel who ran it for three years, squeezing citizens of their money. Then there was such a public uproar that Bechtel fled. Now it is seeking $12 million as damages from the Bolivian government.”

But Roy’s next creation is unlikely to warm the cockles of the Left. One of the movements she highlights is against a garments factory in north Kerala that — and Roy’s eyes light up as she says this — was set up by the country’s first “Communist chief minister”, E.M.S. Namboodiripad.

So is Roy writing a manifesto? Unlikely.

“It is shocking that there is no social link between the people who are going under and the world we live in. People have to fight the way they have to fight. They have to decide on it. Nobody preaches to me. I am not going to preach to anybody... Enough of our oligarchy.”    



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Minimum: 25.5°C (+2)


14.3 mm

Relative humidity

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Partly cloudy sky. Mainly clear night. Maximum temperature likely to be about 32°C


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