Farooq finds self-rule backers in MPs
Flood losses
Basu links programme update to political challenge
Mamata scare silences CPM rebels
Saifuddin patrons thrown out
CM pulls Agra trigger
Digvijay dam damper on Patel
Star son salve on Sonia-stung TN
VP cry for ‘Indian’ govt
Medha takes battle to people’s court

New Delhi, Oct. 20: 
The Centre today tried to convince a parliamentary committee how successful its counter-terrorism operations and “pro-active” measures had been in Jammu and Kashmir, but members from both Houses said the autonomy resolution passed by the Assembly should not have been rejected outright by the Vajpayee government.

This has come as a boost to Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah. In July this year, when the Union Cabinet rejected the autonomy report, which among other things had recommended a return to pre-1953 status, Abdullah had tried to muster political support for the proposals.

The stand taken by a cross section of MPs on the consultative committee is likely to be used by Abdullah as a political tool specially because the long overdue panchayat elections in the state are scheduled for January, 2001.

Even as the Union home ministry made its presentation on Jammu and Kashmir affairs before the committee, elsewhere in the capital Abdullah was extolling the virtues of autonomy, saying it did not mean secession and that it was the “only mantra” which could make India strong. He said devolution of more powers to the states was necessary and the Centre should make suitable arrangements while reviewing the Constitution.

Abdullah is determined to make autonomy a political issue in his state. He has called a meeting of all National Conference legislators with home minister L.K. Advani on Sunday.

The MLAs are expected to impress upon Advani, who along with defence minister George Fernandes will be in Srinagar to preside over a meeting of the Unified Headquarters, that they would welcome a greater devolution of powers.

In reply to the committee’s stand on the issue, Advani said the report prepared by five senior ministers of the Abdullah Cabinet had recommended a return to the pre-1953 status which was not acceptable to the government as it would “go against the interests of the people”.

The home minister insisted that the Centre is prepared to grant more administrative and financial powers to all states, including Jammu and Kashmir, and promised measures for economic development. He assured the committee members that their views would be “considered”.

While appreciating the Centre’s efforts in containing militancy, the Vajpayee government’s response to the ceasefire declared by the Hizb ul Mujahideen and the aborted peace process, the committee indicated that apart from tough security measures the government should also undertake economic development and social upliftment.

Members suggested that opportunities be created for unemployed youth in the state so that they get jobs in public sector undertakings anywhere in the country. They wanted assurances on steps the Centre was taking to protect the lives of the minorities.

Advani maintained that the Centre was prepared to negotiate with terrorist outfits on condition that they give up arms.

He said on the last occasion the Centre reciprocated to the Hizb offer but it was Pakistan which “did not want peace to return’’. He hinted there was no question of tripartite talks involving Islamabad.    

Calcutta, Oct. 20: 
The loss suffered by Eastern Railway in this year’s Bengal floods is six times that suffered by South Eastern Railway in the Orissa super cyclone, said Eastern Railway general manager, I.I.M.S. Rana.

The railway has suffered damages worth Rs 41 crore, Rana said. In addition, Rs 20 crore has been lost in earnings from passenger travel and Rs 6 crore from freight.    

Thiruvananthapuram, Oct 20: 
Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee figured at the unveiling of the CPM’s special conference here today for updating the 36-year-old party programme as the leadership called for a hard campaign against what it described as “efforts” to destabilise the ruling communists in Bengal.

Chief minister Jyoti Basu set the tone as he sought to put the contentious issue of party programme updating in perspective, using as backdrop Mamata’s campaign for imposition of President’s rule on Bengal and her ally, the BJP’s pressure on his government.

“With the BJP in power at the Centre, attacks are being mounted on the ruling Left Front, including physical violence, in an effort to destabilise the secular government in the state. I have said this before and I repeat that the forces instigating violence and spreading communal poison and advocating President’s rule will be rebuffed by the people under the leadership of the Left Front,” Basu said at the open session of the conference.

Continuing from where Basu left off, Harkishen Singh Surjeet, the general secretary, said the CPM’s “consistent opposition” to liberalisation and communalism had exposed it to fierce attacks in Bengal, Kerala and Tripura.

“Hundreds of CPM cadre have been killed in Bengal and the two other states in the past several months,” Surjeet said, adding that the CPM planned to “beat back such attacks on its bases by relying on the people”.

However, neither Basu nor Surjeet named Mamata, even though each tore into the BJP while explaining the circumstances that led to the exercise in modernising the party programme.

Over 400 delegates, representing 14 state units and the party centre in Delhi, apart from 72 central committee members, are participating in the conference for updating the most important party document for the first time since the founding of the CPM in 1964.

They will discuss, debate and adopt the draft programme, which has been in the works for seven years now.

The key official amendment to the programme is the one that envisages the CPM embracing a new tenet of “participatory engagement in governance at the Centre”. Though the overall mood at the conference appears to be in favour of the amendment, how the delegates will actually respond to it will be known only in the next two days.

Basu, whose trenchant observations on his party’s reservations about participating in a Central government had triggered a great debate in 1996, today forcefully argued for adoption of the draft programme for both short- and long-term goals.

As Surjeet explained, a combination of internal and external factors like the collapse of the Soviet Union, rise of the BJP, economic liberalisation, growing intervention of the US and IMF in social and economic processes prompted the exercise in programme updating. “While updating the programme, we have retained the core of the 1964 document,” he said.

Minutes after the open session, Surjeet placed the proposal for the draft of the updated programme and politburo member Prakash Karat the amendments at a delegates-only gathering.

How far the votaries of greater democracy and transparency are prepared to go in pressing their case should become evident when Samir Putatunda, close to Saifuddin Chowdhury, speaks tomorrow.    

Thiruvananthapuram, Oct. 20: 
The CPM bosses have a reason to feel smug over checkmating the party rebels, even if temporarily.

The spectre of the Trinamul Congress riding high in the next Assembly elections has been terrifying enough to seal the lips of dissidents who were earlier bracing for a showdown at the plenum.

The pro-changers are not likely to rake up bitter issues of conflict, as part of a temporary tactic to keep the enemy in Bengal at bay. “Are we going to discuss the issue of democracy from our graves?” asks a senior CPM leader and a minister in the Left Front government. The motto seems to be: Save your own skin first and organisational problems can be resolved in safer times.

The CPM is scared, notwithstanding its blithe dismissals in public of the threat posed by Mamata Banerjee. “The situation is quite scary. And we do not want a repeat of the seventies,” says a party leader. He does not mean that the Left Front is going to be pushed out of the seat of power it has warmed for the last 23 years. But Trinamul is no longer, as CPM leaders would like to dismiss it as, “a small regional party” stuck in a groove.

Chief minister Jyoti Basu highlighted this danger in his inaugural speech at the plenum. After attacking the BJP for its Hindutva ideology, Basu made it clear that the immediate task for the party is to check forces that are “spreading violence and demanding the dismissal of the Left Front government”.

The sentiment has filtered down to the junior rungs — softening those who were ready to strike at the heart of the party apparatchik. The bosses seem to have managed to get rid of Saifuddin Chowdhury without as much as a whimper from his friends in the upper echelons of the CPM.

The state’s Cabinet minister, Subhash Chakraborty, who was Saifuddin’s best prop, also appears to have deserted him. “It is too early to reach a conclusion. The situation is very fluid,” said a party leader. It is fluid enough for the pro-changers not to dump Saifuddin as a “lost case”.

“It is a question of timing,” says a Saifuddin sympathiser. When do you nail the party and raise issues that are explosive to the point of splitting the CPM down the middle? Not now, it would appear.

An aggressive Mamata is waiting with the BJP in the wings for the CPM to face the wrath of its own disillusioned children. “Nothing suits Mamata better than a highly-discomfited CPM getting thrashed by its own people,” says a party leader.

He is at pains to stress that the gains of Trinamul will pitch the BJP deeper into a state, which, till a couple of years ago, had been free of its influence. “We have to decide our priority. Should we fight the BJP or fight our own shortcomings within the party?” explains a party leader.    

Calcutta, Oct. 20: 
After axing Saifuddin Chowdhury, the CPM today decided to strike off two city youth leaders, Tapas Bose and Subir Chowdhury, from its list of members for joining hands with the dissident.

Though the decision was taken at a marathon meeting that lasted till late last night, it was made public during the day. Rajdeo Goala, a secretariat member of the party’s Calcutta district committee, said this morning that the leadership had taken the “drastic action” to stem further exodus.

Goala, who is acting as secretary in the absence of Raghunath Kushari, said at least 15 others have been slapped showcause notices for joining Chowdhury in collecting relief for flood victims.

Sources said last night’s meeting turned stormy with at least three district committee members — Mudhumita Deb Roy, Sudeshna Chatterjee and Ashis Chatterjee — raising their voices against the move to discontinue the membership of the two key leaders.

“We had to protest since the arbitrary decision will harm the organisation,” Deb Roy said. She said all three of them had demanded a review of the move.

Reacting to this, an agitated Bose said: “We are least bothered about the party’s decision. We feel that the organisation suffers from loss of Marxist ideals these days.”

Going a step further, Chowdhury said the leadership is nervous about the growing dissent. “If the leadership intends to be vindictive against party functionaries, the organisation is bound to split in the days ahead,” he added.

The rebels are preparing to float an anti-CPM manch at a convention at Moulali Yuva Kendra on Monday.

Chowdhury, now camping in Delhi, said over phone that the showcause notices served on those who had joined him to collect flood relief would further expose the CPM’s “vindictive attitude towards the minority in the party”.

“I wonder how the flood victims who came to collect the relief material will react to the party’s stand. I am pained to learn that I have been an untouchable overnight after 30 years’ association with the organisation,” he said.

Those already served showcause notices include SFI secretariat member Sunentra Sengupta, member of the city’s southeast zonal committee Biswanath Bhattacharya, and two members of the party-controlled Vigyan Manch, he said. But, neither Bhattacharya nor Sengupta were available for comment till late tonight.

The dissidents said they had received feelers from leaders of various districts, including Midnapore, Burdwan, Nadia, Hooghly, South and North 24 Parganas. “They are willing to join Monday’s convention,” said a rebel leader, adding: “The convention will be a great show of strength for us.”

He also said members from several Marxist fora, defunct for last few years, are willing to join the platform to strengthen the anti-CPM campaign in the state.    

Thiruvananthapuram, Oct. 20: 
Chief minister Jyoti Basu today castigated Union home minister L.K. Advani for subscribing to what he dubbed the RSS’ plans for “Hinduisation” of Muslims and Christians in India.

Devoting a good part of his address as president of the CPM’s special conference on programme updation to the RSS and the BJP, Basu said the duo proclaimed Hindutva as the driving force for the government at the Centre, little realising that it actually constituted “an insult to the Hindu religion”.

The RSS-BJP’s Hindutva, according to Basu, was inimical to the state, the Constitution and, above all, the minorities.

“Hindu gurus have not advocated hatred against other religions.... They have not said that the places of worship belonging to other religious denominations must be destroyed in order to prove the supremacy of one religion.”

Basu singled out Advani for attack on the grounds that the home minister was present at the RSS rally in Agra where the demand for “Hinduisation” of the minorities was raised.

“The demand was made openly in the rally where the minister (Advani) swore allegiance to the aims of RSS,” he said.

However, he felt that many of the BJP’s allies who did not subscribe to the RSS ideology were keeping quiet about it “spewing venom” because of their stake in power at the Centre.

“The opportunistic desire for power has bound them together in an alliance which is harming the country,” he said.

The RSS and the BJP came in for attack from other top CPM leaders as well.

According to party general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet, the BJP was devoid of any sense of tradition and values of the freedom struggle because its outlook had been conditioned by the RSS.

“They are harming India by trying to impose the goal of Hindu Rashtra on its multi-religious and multi-cultural society,” he said.

In this context, Kerala chief minister E.K. Nayanar accused the Congress of pandering to the RSS-BJP combine’s “communal and jingoistic politics” by allying with it in places for electoral considerations.

The recent elections to the local bodies in Kerala were a case in point, he argued.    

Ahmedabad, Oct. 20: 
If Gujarat exploded with joy after the Supreme Court verdict, the Keshubhai Patel government could soon be brought to earth by another problem that might delay construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam.

Though the state government claims to have rehabilitated residents of all the 19 affected villages, Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) leaders say more than 400 families are yet to be resettled. In Maharashtra, 70 per cent people of 33 villages in the submergence area have yet to be rehabilitated. Madhya Pradesh has to resettle 33,000 families in 173-odd villages.

Though Madhya Pradesh will get the major share of the power generated by the dam, chief minister Digvijay Singh appears unwilling to cooperate with Patel.

His cooperation is needed to resettle the oustees and get the clearance to raise the dam’s height to 138 metres. Digvijay has reportedly said that “Madhya Pradesh does not have adequate land” to resettle oustees. But Gujarat hopes the project can be completed in two years. “If Madhya Pradesh does not have land to resettle the oustees, we are ready to offer them land in Gujarat,” BJP leader Bharat Pandya said.

This claim was refuted by NBA leader Sukumar who questioned Gujarat’s capacity to absorb oustees from another state. So far, only one-fourth of the oustees have been rehabilitated, he said.

Not all tribals of Madhya Pradesh want to settle in Gujarat. The land offered was “not cultivable”, Sukumar said. Even those resettled by the Maharashtra government “are not happy”, he added.

Then, Gandhians and Sarvodaya leaders, who supported the project, are bracing to take on the Keshubhai government for allowing sugar factories to come up in the Narmada command areas. “We are going to ask the government to cancel their licences. That is the only way the water can reach far flung areas in Kutch,” Gandhian leader Chuni Vaidya said.

Some Kutch-based organisations have moved the high court, saying their district, one of the most drought-prone in the state, may not get its due share of water.    

Chennai, Oct. 20: 
In a damage-limiting exercise, all three sons of kidnapped actor Raj Kumar air-dashed to Chennai and pleaded with chief minister M. Karunanidhi to continue his efforts to secure the release of their father.

The meeting comes in the wake of Sonia Gandhi blaming Tamil Nadu for choosing an ardent LTTE-supporter as an emissary to Veerappan. Karunanidhi had retorted that Karnataka chief minister S.M. Krishna had been taken into confidence before sending three more emissaries.

An obviously embarrassed Krishna had confined himself to endorsing the efforts of the Tamil Nadu government, by saying that the release of Raj Kumar was of overriding concern. He would not be bogged down by “needless controversies”, he said.

Krishna, however, remained silent on whether Veerappan would meet the new emissaries led by self-confessed LTTE admirer P. Nedumaran.

The emissaries, smarting from being scorned by Krishna, would not reveal if they would continue their mission. Nakkeeran editor Gopal is also standing by them. The actor’s sons said they were planning to meet the emissaries and appeal to them to continue to work for their father’s release.

Nedumaran and the others are cut up about Krishna snubbing them when they announced they would go to Bangalore to brief the Karnataka government on the negotiations they had conducted. They had also wished to discuss some issues raised by the brigand, such as what Karnataka could do in the face of the apex court’s refusal to allow the release of the 51 Tada prisoners.

“The Supreme Court’s observations have created enormous problems and Sonia’s immature reaction has compounded the issue…taking a cue from her, Krishna is avoiding meeting us,” the emissaries said.

“With whom do we discuss some of the issues Veerappan has raised? This is really an avoidable impasse…Let us wait and see,” they added.

Raj Kumar fan’s association leader Sara Govindu has also left for Chennai and could meet the chief minister and other emissaries to assuage the feelings of the Tamils. Friends of the emissaries have advised them not to seek clarifications through Karunanidhi and go to meet Veerappan as they had earlier intended.

A Bangalore-based website has, meanwhile, quoted Raj Kumar’s son-in-law Govindaraj as saying that Veerappan had agreed to release all of them, including the actor. This move, the web-site said, was thwarted at the last moment by his TNLA associates, who preferred to wait for the Supreme Court verdict on the issue.    

New Delhi, Oct. 20: 
Former Prime Minister V.P. Singh today turned the RSS sarsanghachalak’s call for the “Indianisation” of Muslims and Christians on its head and demanded that K.S. Sudarshan should instead tell the BJP-led government to Indianise itself.

In a no-holds barred attack on the Vajpayee regime, Singh alleged that while the government had “successfully” promoted the interests of foreign farmers and corporate giants, it had “miserably failed” to protect Indian farmers and small-scale industries.

“There is a lot of talk of Indianising Christians and Muslims, but the greatest need today is to Indianise the government which represents the interests of foreign farmers. There were 714 agriculture items which were supposed to be liberalised by 2003, but this government has already liberalised them three years in advance. This decision has pleased the farmers of US, Australia and Europe,” Singh said.

The former Prime Minister, labelled “Mandal messiah” after his short-lived government became the first to introduce a 27 per cent quota for the other backward classes, charged the NDA government with introducing a system of “reservation for the rich” by which they could usurp the entire country.

Singh said although under the WTO treaty, the government could levy a 100 per cent duty on agriculture produce, it was not doing so. “In spite of these weapons, whose interests are they protecting? The government owes an explanation to the farmers of India,” he added.

In the economic field, Singh argued that the Centre had announced “big give-aways” like the one in information technology on the eve of Vajpayee’s US visit.

“But what did he get in the US? No concessions were given on textiles or any other products of our interest. By unilaterally giving away even in bilateral agreements, what could he have secured for India in these negotiations?” he asked.

Singh slammed the decision to disinvest in Air-India and warned it would seriously jeopardise national interests. He released copies of a letter he had sent to Vajpayee on October 15 in which he had stressed that: “Our primary flag carrier must be, at its core, Indian. Its reliability to meet national requirements in times of duress must be assured. It would be a serious error to put Air-India in the hands of owners and managers who may, in times of crises, turn out to be fair-weather friends and who may give priority to their own commercial interests.”

He said the government should take steps to ensure that if the Air-India disinvestment is accomplished, the airline should be owned and controlled by Indians. Singh predicted that Indian farmers would spontaneously stand up to oppose the government’s policies.“It will be a fight against hunger,” he said.    

Barwani, Oct. 20: 
Ruke na jo, jhuke na jo,
Dabe na jo, mite na jo,
Hum yo inquilaab hai,
Zulm ka jawaab hai.
Har sharikh, har gareeb,
Ka hum aitbaar hai.

With 70 representatives of affected villages in the Narmada valley, Medha Patkar started her struggle against the Sardar Sarobar project once again on Friday afternoon with this slogan.

Representatives of 193 villages in Madhya Pradesh, 33 in Maharashtra and 19 hamlets in Gujarat assembled on the premises of a local temple to take the vow to continue the struggle in spite of the Supreme Court verdict permitting the increase in the height of the dam.

“Six years ago we went to the Supreme Court for justice. By the verdict of the court today we have only to go back by six years and start all over again,” said Baba Maharia, the representative of Jalsindhi in Madhya Pradesh.

“The governments say they have no land for our rehabilitation. The court says rehabilitate them and then construct the dam. Doesn’t the court already know that the government has no land for us?” he asked.

Travelling in a jeep from Mumbai, Medha arrived at the Narmada Bachao Andolan office here in the southern-most district of Madhya Pradesh bordering Maharashtra at 1 pm.

“We were the ones who approached the court for justice so we won’t ever say let the courts wither away but we don’t see any wing of the state being above the people’s judgment,” she said.

“We now have to go back to the people. There is definitely no turning back or shying away,” she added.

The meeting of the representatives was called to plan the agenda. “We also have to reach out to all places in the valley before we can launch the reaction process,” she explained.

The meeting went on till late evening. Medha said she could throw some light on her plan tomorrow.

As she sat in the office reading the Supreme Court judgment, she said: “Justice Bharucha’s statement makes it clear what the basic issues are. He is the one who’s supported our demands. Justice Bharucha has been in the bench since the case came up in 1995. Justice Anand and Justice Kirpal are later additions,” she said.

The three-judge bench was split 2-1 in its verdict.

“The majority judges’ statements are full of factual errors. Their statements cannot be logically justified and that is what we will bring out to the people,” Medha said.    


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