Mamata, states & Sangh await Atal
3-in-1 vehicle to trim travel cost
Plenum cold feet for Saifuddin
Spotlight on priest double life
Kamtapuris suspect in planter son death
Nights of fear for Tamils in Raj Kumar land
Speed post rates
BJP shrugs off plenum steps
Gowda joins band
CPM, Laloo at odds on Cong

 
 
MAMATA, STATES & SANGH AWAIT ATAL 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Oct. 23: 
Resuming work today after his knee surgery in Mumbai, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee has his plate full with issues crying out for a solution.

A PMO source said Vajpayee will function from his 7 Race Course Road residence for the time being. “He is attending to the files and also taking telephone calls,” he said.

Vajpayee spent most of his time today clearing files. L.K. Advani was the only minister he met. He summoned some officials to seek clarifications on some files, a source said.

Among the key issues vying for Vajpayee’s attention are Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee’s demand to reconsider the oil price rise, the appointment of chief ministers in the newly-created states of Uttaranchal and Jharkhand and finding a replacement for Uttar Pradesh chief minister Ram Prakash Gupta.

Sources said the Prime Minister may also have to intervene to counter the fallout of RSS propaganda against minorities. Though BJP president Bangaru Laxman has distanced himself from the anti-Muslim, anti-Christian statements of RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan, the party has not fully accepted the “Laxman line”.

Since the Sangh propaganda has made some NDA allies uncomfortable and is sending out wrong signals, Vajpayee may declare the party line to silence the hawks, sources said.

To discuss the possible fallout of petro price rise rollback, Vajpayee has convened a Cabinet meeting on October 30. The meeting, originally planned for Saturday, was deferred to suit Mamata , who will be returning after Diwali.

New governments in Jharkhand, Uttaranchal and Chattisgarh have to be in place in November. While the Congress has a majority in Chattisgarh, the BJP is in a position to form governments in Uttaranchal and Jharkhand.

Owing to factional fights, the BJP is having a hard time in selecting chief ministers. Former party president Kushabhau Thakre met MLAs from Uttaranchal to iron out differences. Sources said if there is no unanimity among the leaders, Vajpayee may consider nominating a chief minister.

Though party legislators want the chief minister to be nominated from among themselves, MP B.C. Khanduri and Planning Commission deputy chairman K.C. Pant are also in the race.

The party faces a similar problem in Jharkhand. Senior MP Karia Munda and Union minister Babu Lal Marandi were in the reckoning but local leaders want a legislator as chief minister. All 32 BJP MLAs from the region were summoned today for a meeting. Since a solution was not found, the BJP parliamentary committee may meet before Diwali.

Though a change of guard in Lucknow is on the cards, Gupta may get a breather as the party first wants to settle the Uttaranchal and Jharkhand issues.    


 
 
3-IN-1 VEHICLE TO TRIM TRAVEL COST 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
New Delhi, Oct. 23: 
It’s not a plane, it’s not a train, it’s not a bus. It’s a bit of all three and some more.

The Konkan Railway Corporation Limited has drawn up a plan to bring the “Sky Bus Metro” (SBM) to Indian cities. The SBM can bring travel cost down to 15 paise for a kilometre, B. Rajaram, the managing director of the corporation, claimed at a seminar on mass rapid transit systems in the CII-hosted Indian Railway Equipment Exhibition here.

The corporation proposed the SBMs for Calcutta, Mumbai, Thane, Hyderabad and Pune. Thane, Hyderabad and Pune have already evinced interest. Calcutta mayor Subrata Mukherjee, have you logged on?

The SBM is a system of coaches or bogies suspended from overhead rails supported by pillars. The two-car, driver-less, electrically-powered metros can run parallel to highways and service roads.

Rajaram said the SBM could move at an average speed of more than 45 km per hour. The project could be operational at only 50 per cent of the cost of an elevated rail system and only 25 per cent of the underground metro with the same performance standards.

The cost of construction would vary between Rs 35 crore and Rs 45 crore per kilometre depending on the city.

An SBM could handle between 15,000 and 50,000 passengers an hour.

It will not cause traffic jams and could bring airconditio- ned travel to commuters for just Rs 250 a month. The project can be executed in 100 weeks.

Rajaram said the project was in the drawingboard stage and the corporation is convinced that it is feasible.

The company was formulating legislations for the government’s approval.

It has also sought the cooperation of state governments to obtain the necessary approv- als.

Rajaram said the corporation has worked out a revenue model that involved the civic authorities of the cities, which want to make a bid for the system.

He said the SBMs would be viable in any city with a population of at least 20 lakh.

Assuming that an average-sized SBM system would cost about Rs 400 crore, Rajaram said he will urge municipal corporations to bear 1 per cent of the total project cost and advance 25 per cent of the cost as interest-free loan.

Over 10 years, the client city will get back double the loan amount plus 50 per cent of the equity in the company running the system.    


 
 
PLENUM COLD FEET FOR SAIFUDDIN 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 23: 
Saifuddin Chowdhury today deferred floating his much-hyped manch after failing to garner support from “like-minded” people.

“I have to defer the formation of the manch since I am still getting feelers from more and more people and organisations across the state,” the former CPM MP said, adding that he would soon line up another convention to formally launch the platform.

However, sources close to Saifuddin said he had decided to adopt a “wait-and-watch policy” in the wake of the CPM’s Kerala plenum, where Subhas Chakraborty — a perceived sympathiser — pledged loyalty to the party. The CPM has accepted some of the demands raised by the Bengal transport minister.

Another potential ally, South 24-Parganas district secretary Samir Putatunda, also seems to be having second thoughts on backing Saifuddin, they said.

According to the sources, both Chakraborty and Putatunda had agreed that any split in the CPM now would strengthen the Trinamul Congress-BJP combine in Bengal.

The rebel leader was also handicapped by the poor show of strength in today’s convention. Barring a few dissidents, no important CPM leader turned up. No senior functionary from frontal outfits like the DYFI, the SFI, Citu and the Ganatantrik Mahila Samity was present either.

Among those who were present were Amar Bhattacharya, a former member of the CPM’s Calcutta district committee, and Debashis Das, a former CPM councillor of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation.

Saifuddin indicated that he was not interested in engineering defections from his former party. “I am not interested in breaking either the CPM or the Trinamul to strengthen my new forum. Both the CPM and myself believe in socialism. But I want to change our attitude towards socialism. Let the CPM follow the concept of socialism in their own way and I will interpret it in my own way,” he said.

But while a cautious Saifuddin decided to wait for an opportune moment, in Thiruvananthapuram, the scene of dramatic turnabouts in CPM ideology, general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet lashed out at his former colleague, saying the exit of dissidents like him could in no way affect the party.

At a news conference, Surjeet said the CPM had lost bigger leaders than Saifuddin. “Important leaders like Nagi Reddy in Andhra Pradesh left us following differences in opinion. But that did not deter our growth,” he said.

“We allow differences in opinion, but going against the party line in public is one thing we don’t allow,” Surjeet asserted. “Giants have had to leave the party for violating this fundamental norm.”    


 
 
SPOTLIGHT ON PRIEST DOUBLE LIFE 
 
 
FROM AMIT ROY
 
London, Oct. 23: 
Police in Leicester took the extraordinary step today of going on record and revealing that Harish Purohit, the 42-year-old Hindu priest found murdered, “led a double life” but stopped short of saying he was bisexual.

However, the police said: “One of our lines of inquiry is into the gay community. We have other lines of inquiry.”

At a news conference, detective superintendent Bryan Warraker, the senior investigating officer, confirmed reports circulating in the 30,000-strong Hindu community in Leicester which is preparing for Diwali.

“We know he led a double life, he had a happy domestic life but also a separate social lifestyle,” he said. “We need help and information from his friends and associates in both of these facets of his life and I can assure people that we will treat any information sensitively.”

The police were slightly taken aback when Purohit’s widow, Anjani Joshi, 40, turned up at the news conference and read out a handwritten statement strongly supportive of her husband.

Afterwards, Anjani Joshi said the police statement had been made “with my consent”. She would not elaborate on Purohit’s double life but said: “He was a loving, caring husband. He made us happy.”

Warraker disclosed that the victim, who was found in a house in Harrison Road in Leicester by his father and his youngest brother on Friday morning last week, “had been stabbed in various parts of his body a total of 13 times”.

Purohit’s missing metallic silver-grey BMW320i was found abandoned near a canal on Saturday evening. He said: “We also need to look at Harish’s social activities particularly on Thursday night and into the early hours of Friday morning.”

In her statement, Anjani Joshi said: “He was a lovely and jolly person. He took away the darkness and gave light. He had a real respect for life.”

She added: “He helped people of all ages, races, creed or social standing. He never had an ill word to say about anyone. All he wanted was to help others and wanted nothing in return.”    


 
 
KAMTAPURIS SUSPECT IN PLANTER SON DEATH 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, Oct. 23: 
Police suspect that the four motorcycle-borne militants who shot dead 17-year-old Gopal Agarwal and abducted his father Om Prakash yesterday were from the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO).

The teenager was felled by a single bullet while trying to prevent the attackers from abducting his father, the owner of the Durga tea estate at Majuabazar in Jalpaiguri district.

Gopal, a student of a south Calcutta college on vacation, was accompanying his father, an uncle and two cousins to their recently-acquired tea estate.

“The daring nature and the firepower used points a finger at the KLO. Primary investigation and eyewitness accounts suggest that a weapon similar to a 9 mm automatic small arm was used to kill Gopal. The boy was shot from point-blank range and died on the spot,” Jalpaiguri superintendent of police Ranvir Kumar told The Telegraph.

Kumar, however, did not rule out the involvement of the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) in the incident — the third daylight murder in the district in three months.“There could have been one or two Ulfa men involved.”

Yesterday’s killing was “similar in nature” to that of the murder of two primary-school teachers at Dakshin Maulani and Dhupguri on August 17, Kumar said. The two were gunned down while classes were in progress.

“The modus operandi was identical — motorcycle-borne assailants using sophisticated arms,” Kumar said. “But this is the first time a businessman was kidnapped in daylight and his son killed.”

District magistrate Subrata Gupta said besides Agarwal’s Assam connection, the extortion angle was also being probed. Agarwal, who was facing threats from militants in Assam, had just shifted base to Siliguri and bought the nine-acre tea garden.

“We don’t rule out the possibility of Assam-based militant outfits tying up with the KLO to carry out the abduction,” Gupta said.

“When the first shot was fired, labourers from nearby fields rushed to the spot. Firing at the workers, the abductors escaped with Agarwal,” an eyewitness said.

They were reported to have headed towards Belakobha, south of where the incident took place, Kumar said. “But so far we haven’t found any leads.” Nor has anyone claimed ransom.

Gopal’s 10-year-old cousin Nikita, who witnessed the killing along with younger sister Henna, said: “When uncle got out from the Maruti van on the outskirts of the tea estate, four men riding two motorcycles stopped him and started dragging him to one of their motorcycles. It was then that Gopal bhaiya tried to save uncle and he was shot.”    


 
 
NIGHTS OF FEAR FOR TAMILS IN RAJ KUMAR LAND 
 
 
FROM T.N. GOPALAN
 
Bangalore, Oct. 23: 
Manickam, a Tamil waiter here, is afraid to sleep. He has been so ever since Veerappan struck on the last night of July and picked up his most famous hostage yet.

“I’m mortally scared. If anything happens to me when I return home in the night, who’ll take care of my wife and two children? She doesn’t know Kannada,” says the 32-year-old man, his eyes welling up. Manickam is not the only one. Most Tamils in Karnataka are living in fear, afraid of the backlash that might occur in case the standoff drags on.

While the middle-classes have got over the fear somewhat and have reposed faith in chief minister S.M. Krishna, the poorer sections are not convinced.

Pushpa, a maid-servant, said: “The police might be able to protect those living in the city. What about those like us in the slums 15 km away? Only such areas were targeted last time. They can again be the targets.”

Pushpa and her ilk believe that Raj Kumar fans and Kannada nationalists are biding their time for unleashing a reign of terror and will get into the act once the actor is released.

Manickam, a resident of Bangalore for 18 years, said he wasn’t as afraid during the Cauvery riots. His area was spared then. “Those riots were confined to some specific localities. But this time, we’re preparing ourselves for the worst. It would be an unprecedented conflagration if anything happens to Raj Kumar. Even if he’s released safe, we still fear that the Tamils would be targeted thereafter. I don’t know what to do, where to go,” he said.

That Raj Kumar himself has made anti-Tamil statements several times has added to their worry.

The middle-classes, however, feel they are safe. Maran, general secretary of the Tamil Sangam, said that whatever the designs of the vested interests, Krishna will ensure the security of Tamils.

“If we suffered during the Cauvery riots, it was because the then chief minister, Bangarappa, had deliberately incited them for his own political survival. The police were mute spectators to the violence let loose on the Tamils. His minister Ramesh had set his men up for the job in order to evict slum-dwellers and make a killing on real estate. But Krishna has to prove that everything is fine in his state. He might have been taken aback by the incidents in the first days after the abduction, but he has recovered now,” he said.

The state is home to around 18 lakh Tamils, most of them living in and around Bangalore. A sizeable population, most of them Dalits, stays in the dying Kolar gold mines and a third segment in and around Mysore. In spite of the undercurrents of tension, ethnicity has been blurred by economic necessity.

For instance, labourers from border districts of Tamil Nadu regularly migrate to work on roads or in cane fields. Similarly, the chain of the Mangalore-based Udipi hotels is a roaring success in Tamil Nadu.

But the divisions exist, especially in Karnataka. Following the kidnapping, traders from the state are unwilling to procure silk sarees from the weavers on the other side of the border.

Journalist B. Kolappan feels the blame lies with Tamils. “Possibly this peculiar problem of the Tamils has something to do with their much-vaunted pride in their own cultural identity, a trait assiduously promoted by the Dravidian parties. They aggressively assert their ethnicity whenever they find themselves in some significant numbers in any part of the world,” he says.    


 
 
SPEED POST RATES 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Oct. 23: 
The Department of Posts has revised the rates of international speed post services and parcels with effect from the November 1, 2000.

Under the revised package, the existing weight slab of 200 grams has been replaced by a higher slab of 250 grams.

Till now, speed post postage rates were applied on the basis of distance of transmission of mail, up to 5,000 km and more.

The rates are being revised after seven years and the increase is marginal.

The impact of the hike will be offset to some extent by an increase in the weight content of each slab.

“With the increase in number of categories, the customer will get greater value for money. For the first time, the rates of foreign parcels of all categories have been reduced in order to harmonise them with speed post rates and to boost traffic,” an official statement said.

The speed post rates are the highest, followed by air, surface air lifted (SAL) and surface postage rates.

India has SAL parcel service with 23 foreign administrations. It provides transmission of surface parcels by air at a reduced priority.

This service is being extended to 15 more countries from November 1 — Iran, China, Brazil, Botswana, Australia, Kenya, Greece, Norway, Mexico, Finland, Portugal, Russian Federation, South Africa, Thailand and Zimbabwe.    


 
 
BJP SHRUGS OFF PLENUM STEPS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Oct. 23: 
The BJP has said that the CPM changed its political and economic policies at the plenum in Thiruvananthapuram only to grab power in West Bengal and Kerala.

Reacting to CPM’s decision to lift the 36-year-old bar on joining a government at the Centre, BJP spokesman Jana Krishnamurthy told reporters: “It has no relevance in the Centre now because there is a stable government, which is expected to last until the next general election in 2004. It has something to do with the situation in West Bengal and Kerala.”

“The CPM is unsure that it will make a comeback in Bengal in a situation that is fast changing. In Kerala also, the Marxists’ ranks are divided and the CPM and CPI are openly quarrelling. The Marxists are preparing a way to join any government that is formed in the two states with any group. The meet has been held to secure the central council’s support for this,” Krishnamurthy argued.

Krishnamurthy also referred to two amendments in CPM’s economic policy — the recognition of co-operative and private ownership and demand for compensation to small landowners whose lands were taken away by the state — and said they reflected a “pro-liberalisation” tilt.    


 
 
GOWDA JOINS BAND 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Oct. 23: 
Efforts to forge a Third Front comprising Left and secular, democratic parties gathered momentum today with the Janata Dal (Secular) deciding to work for a third force against the National Democratic Alliance.

The Dal(S), former prime ministers — Chandra Shekhar, V.P. Singh and I.K. Gujral, the Left parties, the Assom Gana Parishad and the Rashtriya Janata Dal are planning to coordinate a series of protest rallies throughout the country against the “retrograde” economic policies of the Vajpayee government and the communal agenda of certain forces.

The Dal(S) national executive, which met here today authorised party president H.D. Deve Gowda to take steps to build the third force with like-minded parties committed to egalitarianism, secularism and social justice.

Chandra Shekhar, V. P. Singh and Deve Gowda are holding a rally in Delhi under the banner of Dal(S) on November 19 against the NDA government’s policies.

Deve Gowda accused the Congress of “lacking the will” and determination to fight the threat to secularism and “retrograde” economic policies.

The national executive passed a resolution which said “the communal forces had mounted their assault on religious minorities and there is a further dangerous move to Indianise Christian churches as well as other minority religious institutions.”

The resolution said: “This would amount to state intervention in various religions, destroying their universal chara- cter. This will send wrong signals to different countries and India’s secular credentials will be tarnished.”

Addressing a joint press conference, along with senior party leaders Madhu Dandavate, Bapu Kaldate and Surendra Mohan, Gowda said, “While the NDA government led by BJP is responsible for these dangerous policies, the Congress, the recognised opposition in Parliament, shows no will and determination to fight back the retrograde economic policies, threat to secularism and collapse of governance.”    


 
 
CPM, LALOO AT ODDS ON CONG 
 
 
FROM INDRANIL GHOSH
 
Thiruvananthapuram, Oct. 23: 
The CPM and Laloo Prasad Yadav, the driving forces behind the effort to revive the third front, have adopted conflicting positions on the Congress.

Laloo said the Congress could be included in the front in the light of the party leadership’s rethink on economic reforms. Laloo’s party is sharing power with the Congress in Bihar.

However, a few hours later, CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet said though the Left was open to joining hands with the Congress to “fight” the BJP, it would be invited to the front only after it “abandons” the reforms.

“Let them (the Congress) first prove that they are serious about the rethink and really want to abandon the policies that caused misery to the people,” Surjeet said.

Laloo indicated that the third front could make use of the Congress’ national presence and commitment to secularism. He said that even if the Congress walked out of the partnership in Bihar, his party would continue to support it at the national level “in times of crisis”.

But Laloo kept the third force revival hopes alive by declaring his willingness for an alliance with friend-turned-foe Mulayam Singh Yadav.

The CPM feels that the formation of the third alternative depends on two factors — the realisation that the BJP was “dangerous” and the impact of economic reforms on the people. “So far as the Congress is concerned, neither of the factors appears to be weighing on its mind,” Surjeet said.

However, he sidestepped questions on how the CPM, with its limited influence, planned to take on the BJP in states where the Congress was the only other potent political force.

The CPM reckons that the political configurations will change once the new states are born. The division of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, Surjeet said, would tilt the balance of power in favour of regional parties like Laloo’s RJD and Mulayam’s Samajwadi Party.

Surjeet said there was no blueprint yet for the formation of the third front, but one would come up as the situation ripens. “There is no magic formula. People are growing disenchanted with both the BJP and the Congress, thanks to the ill-effects of the reforms. We have to continue our initiative to re-forge the front,” he added.    

 

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