Medha vows to fight law for life
Saifuddin signals Congress alliance
CPM set for English correction
Skipper Digvijay scores on new pitch
Sonia-baiter Prasada faces lonely battle
BJP for trust vote
Dal Khalsa plots return
Safe-custody bait for Rajan
Britain rejects Delhi argument on Bleach
Priest murder stuns UK Indians

 
 
MEDHA VOWS TO FIGHT LAW FOR LIFE 
 
 
FROM SUCHANDANA GUPTA
 
Barwani, Oct. 22: 
Leading hundreds of villagers from three states and Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy, Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar will take on the “state and the law” tomorrow 15 km from the Narmada banks.

Tribals from 193 villages in Madhya Pradesh, 33 in Maharashtra and 19 in Gujarat will hold a rally tomorrow against the Supreme Court’s verdict permitting work to continue on the Sardar Sarovar Project.

Though Patkar and her colleagues are aware that it will not be easy fighting the Supreme Court’s verdict, they refuse to give up.

Speaking to The Telegraph Patkar said: “People are bound by life, not just by law. Life is definitely above law and people now will have to fight law. In principle, we will keep fighting the issue and continue to question it. There is simply no question of turning back. The state cannot trample upon the poor people thinking them to be powerless.”

“Today it is the Sardar Sarovar Project, tomorrow it might be for a Disneyland or for a mega city that the farmer and the poor tribal will be ousted,” she continued.

“No matter what the courts say, I personally cannot take an inch of further construction. The court says: ‘Construct the dam after rehabilitating the oustees’.

“The Madhya Pradesh chief minister is himself on record saying he has no land for rehabilitation and the Maharashtra officials have said there is no land available. Now where should these poor people go? They can’t go to the moon,” Patkar said.

“The impossibility of the rehabilitation itself should be convincing enough that the project should be stopped,” she said.

Patkar argues her fight will be to expose the government and the law. “Now the path is from the battle to the war. We have a duty to take this struggle to its logical end. Narmada is not the first instance of the state’s high-handedness.

“People have been displaced umpteen number of times, be it for Hirakud, Bhakra Nangal, Ukai. Name any dam, and till date the first batch of oustees have still not been rehabilitated.

“No one has the right to take away natural resources from the very people who have nurtured them for so long. We are also going to question the distribution benefits of the dam: Who is to benefit from this?” she asked.

The andolan is now banking on sympathisers to take up the issue countrywide.

On October 24, a protest rally will be held in Bangalore by a group of NGOs belonging to the Narmada Solidarity Fo- rum.

“We have appealed to the people to take up the issue all over the country,” an andolan spokesperson said.

“Mumbai might join on October 25. Tomorrow’s rally will also witness sympathisers pouring in from Indore and Jabalpore.”

According to the spokesman, a group of NRIs and students from the US have got in touch with Patkar and expressed their wish to demonstrate in front of Indian embassies.

In the Narmada valley, the andolan representatives have divided themselves into teams and visiting affected villages, trying to reach every corner and organise the people for the demonstration.    


 
 
SAIFUDDIN SIGNALS CONGRESS ALLIANCE 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Oct. 22: 
Axed CPM dissident Saifuddin Chowdhury is “open” to the idea of an electoral alliance with the Congress.

Strong signals emanated today when Chowdhury, who will float his own outfit tomorrow, shared a dais with state Congress president Pranab Mukherjee at a seminar on the “Possibility of a Progressive and Secular Alliance in West Bengal”.

They dropped hints that the two might come together for the Assembly polls.

“I understand he (Chowdhury) will hold a convention here with his supporters tomorrow to set up a forum. We will keenly watch how the forum takes shape,” Mukherjee told reporters.

Chowdhury, in his turn, said the proposed secular and democratic outfit will tie up with like-minded parties. He also spoke of value-based politics and accountability and criticised his former party.

“It (CPM) failed in the past 23 years to keep a check on communal forces like the BJP. If one finds he can’t rule, then he should not remain the ruler. He should make an honourable exit,” said Chowdhury, adding that political parties (read CPM) tended to divert attention to “communal forces and how they are rearing their ugly heads” to cover their failures.

Chowdhury expressed reservations about Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee’s chances of breaking away from the National Democratic Alliance before next year’s elections.

“After enjoying power at the Centre for a year, it will not be ethical if she leaves the NDA before the elections.”

While giving the Left Front credit for implementing land reforms and setting up industry, he said: “But it (Front) failed to involve the common people and the large number of unemployed youth whose aspirations remained unfulfilled.”

Chowdhury said a party’s responsibility does not end merely with crying hoarse against “communal parties”.

“There is no use accusing the BJP of communalism. We know that religion is on its agenda. But we can’t deny that the BJP has touched certain chords among the electorate and that is why it is in power today.”

Chowdhury said politicians could rise in the esteem of people only by becoming more accountable and transparent.

“The time of politics from behind the curtains has ended. We should take into account the ground realities and face people and be able to account for the steps taken and acts done. In fact, people these days are losing interest in politics,” he said.

Mukherjee said there was no point in forming an alliance only for the sake of an election.

“We have seen in the past that such election-time alliances have fallen apart within months. We have seen it in the case of the second United Front government in West Bengal in 1969, the Janata Party government at the Centre in 1977 and the V.P. Singh government later on,” he said.

Ashim Chatterjee of the Communist Revolutionary League of India also addressed the seminar. Chatterjee recently parted company with the Left Front.    


 
 
CPM SET FOR ENGLISH CORRECTION 
 
 
FROM INDRANIL GHOSH
 
Thiruvananthapuram, Oct. 22: 
When the CPM corrects the “historic blunder”, it is also expected to squeeze in an amendment which many will see as an indirect admission of a “wrong” committed on a generation of schoolchildren.

One of the high points of the updated programme will be the party’s acknowledgement of the importance of the English language in India’s multi-cultural and multi-layered society.

The CPM, which had shut English out of state-run primary schools in Bengal until 1998, accords “critical importance” to the language. In the new-look programme, the reference to English is made under the chapter, “Communicating language”.

“We realised that our approach to the issue of languages, formed on the basis of social conditions in the sixties or seventies, needed to be changed. So we have put English on a par with the mother tongue, or regional languages or Hindi,” a senior leader said.

The new programme is also expected to accept the importance of private capital in non-core sectors of the economy.

However, careful not to antagonise diehard advocates of Marxism and Leninism, the new programme will reaffirm that the party would not deviate from its stated goal of breaking up private Indian or foreign monopolies.

The party will encourage the state sector, cooperatives and the joint sector in response to global movements of resources and technologies.

Future land reform campaigns, in sharp contrast with the practice now, will consider payment of compensation to landlords for the property seized in pursuit of the objective of establishing a “people’s democracy”.

Many of the delegates reacted with vehemence to the proposal. But they were countered with the argument that the “people’s democracy” was still far into the future and that the nature of concentration of lands had changed in at least Bengal and Kerala.

The CPM’s approach to foreign policy is also going to be reframed because the dynamics of global politics have changed following the collapse of the socialist bloc.

The updated programme, scheduled to be formally adopted tomorrow, acknowledges the role of intellectuals and the middle class in forming favourable and critical opinions.

Party sources said the updated programme would cover at least 50 areas, including information technology.

But the government participation issue continued to hog the limelight with Politburo member Sitaram Yechury insisting that the update is only a “clarification”, not a correction.

He said the party was reframing the wording of the proviso regarding participation in a Central government only to clear the confusion in the cadre’s mind.

“In no way the 1964 party programme prevented us from accepting the proposal for making Jyoti Basu Prime Minister and running a government at the Centre. The central committee of the day had rightly concluded that the situation then was not conducive to our joining a Central government. Given this background, there has been a need for clarity,” Yechury said.

‘Hindu rashtra plot’

The CPM accused the Vajpayee government of pandering to communal forces to pursue a hidden objective to turn India into a “Hindu Rashtra”.

A resolution charged the BJP with “openly patronising communal forces”.

Yechury said his party would launch a campaign to counter the current “criminal assaults” on Christians and the “venomous campaign of hatred” against Muslims.

“They (BJP) are trying to make it appear as if they have got nothing to do with the RSS. But it is a historical fact that they are the political arm of the RSS. The two constitute a threat to the plurality and diversity of the country,” he said.    


 
 
SKIPPER DIGVIJAY SCORES ON NEW PITCH 
 
 
BY SUCHANDANA GUPTA
 
Oct. 22: 
It’s only a week to Chhattisgarh and the Congress selectors are yet to decide on a team. But the protagonists here provided the lead by cobbling together a Chhattisgarh XI and taking on the might of Madhya Pradesh, albeit in a cricket friendly.

Leading out the teams in the historic Bab-e-Aili stadium last afternoon were Digvijay Singh and former chief minister Shyama Charan Shukla, now MP and front-runner in the race for the Chhattisgarh hot seat.

The players, including members of Diggy Raja’s Cabinet and MLAs, had cast off their neta uniforms to turn out in smart flannels for the match, organised by the MLA’s Club as a gesture of goodwill.

But the Chhattisgarh XI had cause for complaint. Mirroring the leadership troubles of the nascent state, Shukla had to limp out for the toss. The organisers had looked high and low in Bhopal, but failed to find size-12 shoes for the Prince Charming of Chhattisgarh. But the 76-year-old won the toss and promptly elected to bat.

While Digvijay took the new ball, captain courageous opened in a pair of canvas shoes too small for him — his agony there for all to see.

After fending off six deliveries he decided to call it a day. But his team managed to reach 84 for the loss of five wickets in the stipulated 15 overs.

As they took a well-earned break, Shukla’s men could not have dreamed of the script as it would unfold.

The rival skipper left all friendliness behind in the pavilion and proceeded to wallop the Chhattisgarhis on his home turf.

The chief minister went on to prove that he was as good at playing cricket as he was in running a state. “I represented my college in all matches, be it basketball, cricket or soccer,” Digvijay told The Telegraph.

“So my principal called me to his office one afternoon and said, ‘Digvijay, this is an engineering college. Not a college of the arts. Take your studies seriously.’”

Digvijay claims he continued to represent his college as captain in all matches and excelled in his exams, too.

“My principal was impressed. He told all my teachers to allow me to play because I would do well in my exams anyway,” Digvijay recounted.

Yesterday, 30 years after his college capers, Digvijay did a Sachin Tendulkar, hammering 45 runs off 26 balls with one six and seven fours.

He opened the batting with his sports minister, Bala Bachchan. Bachchan flopped, but the skipper’s MP-brother Laxman gave him able support to wrap up the match for Madhya Pradesh in 10 overs.

Now Digvijay wants a return match at Raipur, Chhattisgarh’s designated capital, soon after the new state comes into being on November 1.

Any bookie game to fix this match?    


 
 
SONIA-BAITER PRASADA FACES LONELY BATTLE 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Oct. 22: 
Rebel leader Jitendra Prasada’s grand plan to take on Sonia Gandhi has few takers in the party. If the former Congress vice-president forces a contest, he is unlikely to put up a credible fight.

Though Prasada is yet to officially declare himself as a candidate for the top party post, leaders have made it clear they will not back him against Sonia.

Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh said Jiti (Jitendra Prasada) was a “good friend” but made it clear that he was in “total disagreement” with his assessment that the Congress was losing ground under Sonia.

“Where is it losing ground? In Madhya Pradesh, we not only retained the state but won all by-elections. I do not see any problem,” Diggy Raja said.

Orissa Congress unit chief Janki Ballabh Patnaik also does not share Prasada’s views expressed in the “open letter” to the party workers. He is of the “firm view” that Sonia Gandhi is the “best bet” for the party.

Patnaik’s stance is significant. He was removed as Orissa chief minister by Sonia but the senior leader said he was not bitter about the past.

The Prasada camp suffered another setback when the Congress MP from Muzzafarnagar, Saeed-uz-Zaman, disassociated himself from the dissident camp. Zaman said he would not support Prasada if he contests against Sonia. “I am with her and there are no two views about it,” he said.

Out of 10 Lok Sabha MPs from Prasada’s home state of Uttar Pradesh that includes Sonia Gandhi from Amethi, only Begum Noor Bano and Sujan Singh Bundela are likely to support him.

Amid Prasada’s tough posture and the Sonia camp’s efforts to erode his support-base, some senior party leaders are striving to avoid a show of strength.

Besides Kamal Nath and A.K. Antony, AICC general secretary Motilal Vora has launched a “peace initiative”.

But 10 Janpath has made it clear that these efforts were not taken at the behest of Sonia. “We are ready to face any challenge,” a close aide said. The Sonia camp wants Prasada to first file the nomination for the Congress president’s post before making an attempt to woo him back.    


 
 
BJP FOR TRUST VOTE 
 
 
FROM FREDERICK NORONHA
 
Panaji, Oct. 22: 
BJP key strategist Manohar Parrikar is pushing ahead with his plans to form the next government in Goa, after claiming the slender support of “20 or 21” MLAs in the 40-member House.

Union minister Pramod Mahajan is expected here on Monday. The BJP is pressing Governor Md. Fazal to get the Sardinha government to face a trust-vote without delay. “That should happen before October 24,” argued Parrikar.

The BJP pulled out of the coalition government headed by Francisco Sardinha yesterday.

Sardinha, however, claimed that barring 18 MLAs who had joined the BJP, the rest were “supporting” his government.    


 
 
DAL KHALSA PLOTS RETURN 
 
 
FROM GAJINDER SINGH
 
Chandigarh, Oct. 22: 
After lying low for almost two decades, separatist outfit Dal Khalsa is trying to reinvent itself as a mainstream political party.

The organisation plans to make a comeback with the next Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee elections. But first it has to ensure the return of chief Gajinder Singh from Pakistan.

Gajinder, who led the hijack of an Indian Airlines plane to Pakistan in September 1981, has served a 14-year jail term in prisons across the neighbouring country. The plane, on its way from New Delhi to Srinagar, was hijacked to protest the arrest of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale in the Lala Jagat Narain assassination case.

Dal Khalsa vice-president Satnam Singh, a co-accused in the hijacking, had shocked Indian intelligence agencies by reaching Punjab through the Nepal border last year. Satnam presented himself at the Delhi High Court, which acquitted him as no case was pending against him. Sources said Gajinder might sneak into India in a similar manner.

“We have been insisting that Gajinder Singh return to his homeland to lead the organisation,” said Kanwer Pal Singh, a Dal Khalsa leader. He added that there was no case pending against Gajinder in Punjab.

“It is important for him to return to fill the gap in the Akali leadership as most of them have been discredited,” he said.

The Dal Khalsa, banned by the Punjab government in May 1982 for raising the demand for Khalistan, has announced that it will participate in the coming SGPC elections. The ban on the outfit was lifted in May 1992.

“It would be proper to first concentrate in reforming the shortcomings that have plagued the SGPC,” a brochure brought out by the outfit says. The Dal Khalsa had contested the SGPC polls against the Akali Dal in 1979 but had failed to win a seat.    


 
 
SAFE-CUSTODY BAIT FOR RAJAN 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, Oct. 22: 
No threatening, no arm-twisting. Mumbai police is cajoling wounded mobster Chhota Rajan to return to India from Bangkok.

As Thai immigration authorities prepare to deport the don to the country of his choice, a three-member team of the Mumbai police camping in the Thai capital is persuading him to come back to Mumbai “in his own interest”, sources said.

The Thai police are expected to clear his deportation this week at India’s request, but the order may not require Rajan to return to Mumbai to face trial for the 17 cases pending against him.

He can go to any other country since the deportation order will only make it mandatory for him to leave Thailand immediately. There is no extradition treaty between Thailand and India.

Assistant commissioner of police Sanjay Ka mble, who met the don at Bangkok’s Samtivej Hospital where he is recuperating after an attempt on his life on September 15, told him that he would be “safe in Mumbai jails” at a time when Dawood Ibrahim’s hitmen were “hell-bent” on eliminating him, sources said.

Kamble, who is heading the three-member team, told the don that since his intelligence had failed him once, he might not be lucky next time.

However, the police team couldn’t properly interrogate Rajan, who is in detention at the hospital, because they had to go through diplomatic channels.

Rajan, sources said, is in a fix. Caught between his rival’s hitmen and the Mumbai police, he asked for more time to think over the suggestion.

They said he was not “very eager” to return to Mumbai because of the prospect of a “life term in jail if he could avoid the noose”.

Rajan also does not want to return when a Congress-led government is in power in the state.

He was seen as being close to the previous Shiv Sena regime, whose leaders had hailed him as “a Hindu answer to Muslim gangsterism in Mumbai”.

The don, who has made millions running a drug cartel and through extortion, can use his money to seek cover from both his rival and the Mumbai police.

He would find it hard to escape to any country because his passport was recently revoked by Indian authorities.

But Rajan can always challenge the deportation order in a Thai court.

It can help prolong his stay in Bangkok and give him time to recover fully.

However, the sources said, Rajan “would have to eventually give in and return to Mumbai as this is the only viable option left to him in the long run”.    


 
 
BRITAIN REJECTS DELHI ARGUMENT ON BLEACH 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Oct. 22: 
Britain is unhappy with India for drawing a distinction between Peter Bleach and the five Russians involved in the Purulia armsdrop case.

Bleach, a British national, is in jail in Calcutta while the Russians were released a few months ago after President K.R. Narayanan remitted their sentence.

London had asked India why Bleach was being treated differently but it is not satisfied with the reply. Home secretary Jack Straw made it clear that he “does not like and accept” the argument put forward by the home ministry.

Unlike the Russian government which requested the Indians to release its five nationals, UK made no such request. But after the release of the five Russians, London appears to be under pressure from its domestic audience as more than 70 people have appealed to the government to get Bleach released.

The Tony Blair government maintains that it does not want to interfere with the Indian judiciary, but is keen to know about the status of Bleach’s mercy petition pending before a Calcutta court.

The issue came up for discussion last week during consultation between foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh and his British counterpart John Kerr in Delhi. The issue is likely to be raised again when foreign minister Jaswant Singh visits London from November 15 to 17 and holds talks with his British counterpart Robin Cook.

Straw, during his visit here last month, had asked home minister L.K. Advani about the status of Bleach’s case. Advani had replied that the British national’s case was different from that of the five Russians.

But this was found to be untrue and the Indian position was challenged by British high commissioner Rob Young. Home secretary Kamal Pande, in a reply to the high commissioner, admitted that Bleach was convicted on the same charges as the Russians.

However, he quoted from the findings of the trial court to argue that Bleach was a “key conspirator” in the Purulia arms-drop case and that he cannot be treated in the same way as the Russians.

However, legal experts expressed surprise over the home secretary’s decision to comment on the trial court’s observation, which they felt amounted to interference in a judicial matter.

Article 72 of the Constitution and Section 432 of CrPC do not give powers to the executive to either review or comment on the judgment of the conviction though it gives inherent power to the executive to exercise its discretion to deal with the order of the sentence.

But the legal experts argued that while exercising discretion, the executive cannot create “discrimination” among “ similarly situated persons”. This means that if the five Russians were released, Bleach, who is also convicted in the same case, cannot be denied a similar reprieve.

Moreover, Pande argued that Bleach’s appeal is already before the court and no decision on remitting his sentence can be taken. However, the five Russians were released when their appeal was also pending before the court.

India’s relations with Britain had soured two years ago when London recalled its high commissioner from Delhi to protest against Pokhran II. Since then serious attempts have been made to patch up their differences.

This has led to regular interactions and high-level visits between the two countries. But the Bleach case may spoil efforts in normalising relations.    


 
 
PRIEST MURDER STUNS UK INDIANS 
 
 
FROM AMIT ROY
 
London, Oct. 22: 
The murder of a “flamboyant” Hindu priest, who used to travel in a BMW and had been in the news for protesting against the “offensive” name of a play and a gay and lesbian club, has shaken Leicester’s large Hindu community.

The mysterious killing, just a few days before Diwali, has something of the Agatha Christie about it. The body was discovered on Friday inside a house that is being renovated to serve as a family home.

There had been a fire in the house, which had resulted in “some minor flame damage and further smoke damage to the property”. The cause of the fire will form part of the examination, police said.

According to the police, Harish Purohit, 42, had died from stab wounds caused by “some sort of pointed or bladed weapon, which has not yet been founded”. Neighbours in the area have been asked to check their gardens and bins for the missing weapon.

“It’s horrifying,” said Sakarlal Gajjar, one of Leicester City’s five Asian councillors. “He has been killed right in the heart of the Hindu community.” Out of Leicester’s 2,99,000 population, 67,000 are Asians, of whom 30,000 are Hindus.

Yesterday, police recovered Purohit’s missing BMW, which was found abandoned near a canal and were checking it for fingerprints and other evidence.

Though no motive has been suggested for the killing, there is no evidence so far to believe it was racist. According to Gajjar, there have been no communal problems in the area.

One of the biggest police operations to take place in Leicester in recent years is now under way, headed by Detective Superintendent Bryan Warraker. “Our thoughts and sympathies are with the family and we’re grateful for the help they and others have been able to give us,” he said.

Purohit’s brother, Janardhan, 46, described his sibling as “caring and soft-hearted” and as someone who believed in “equal opportunity”.

He said: “My parents are devastated. I have told my mother he had died from diabetes and my father that Harish had been attacked.”

When asked about rumours circulating in Leicester about his brother, Janardhan Purohit emphasised: “My brother was married. His wife is with us. He is my younger brother and I would know everything about him. He also ran a nursing home. As for motive, we are keeping an open mind.”

The victim was a “pro-active” priest and the secretary of the Purohit Association of the UK, a body that represents Hindu priests in Britain. He aggressively championed the Hindu cause on local radio.

Although popular with the British-born, this did not always go down well with community elders, who often found it difficult to reconcile with his non-traditional ways.

An orthodox Hindu who has known the victim for 10 years admitted he was taken aback when he saw Purohit conduct three weddings apparently dressed extravagantly and made himself, rather the couple being married, the “centre of attention”.

This is not the first time that Purohit has come to the attention of national newspapers. In September last year, he campaigned against a play about Krishna being staged at the Leicester Haymarket Theatre.

After a threat to burn down the theatre from some other protesters, the name of the play was changed from Playboy Of The Asian World, which was deemed offensive, to A Play Of The Asian World.

Purohit had also taken strong objection to a club in London for Asian gays and lesbians being named after the Goddess Kali. He had protested after leaflets for the club used a photograph of a clubber made up to look like the dark image of Kali.

He had said that the leaflets were lying on the floor of the club. “I have nothing against gays and lesbians, but people are walking all over the image of the Goddess,” he remarked.

The victim’s parents came from Kenya 31 years ago. Purohit’s father, also a priest, bought a grocery store and established a temple, the Shakti Mandir, and eventually inducted his two sons into priesthood.    

 

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