Crown of thorns for Rajnath
Women find space in mosque
Basu keeps Cong channel open
Blackout on triple trip
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi & Lucknow, Oct. 24: 
Staring at the prospect of a rout in next year’s Assembly elections, the BJP high command today pulled the trigger on Uttar Pradesh chief minister Ram Prakash Gupta and replaced him with Union minister Rajnath Singh.

Rajnath, a Rajya Sabha member in charge of the surface transport ministry, is expected to be elected leader of the BJP legislature party in Lucknow tomorrow. He will be sworn in on Sunday.

The decision to offer the crown to Rajnath was taken at a meeting this morning between Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani. Uttar Pradesh BJP president Kalraj Mishra was present.

Kalraj was earlier against Rajnath getting the job as he felt an upper caste chief minister could boomerang on the party.

Though the BJP top brass had been toying with the idea of easing out Gupta — who took over from Kalyan Singh barely a year ago — for several months, the drive received an impetus last week for three reasons.

First, sources said, the BJP’s internal assessment was it would be wiped out in the Assembly polls if Gupta continued to be at the helm. The feedback was even the upper castes were tilting towards Mulayam Yadav’s Samajwadi Party.

“Our calculation was the BJP would finish third or fourth,” said a leader. “We do not claim a new leader will drastically alter our fortunes, but at least he can ensure that even if we lose, it will be a respectable defeat.”

Second, the decision of the Loktantrik Congress Party, the BJP’s largest ally in the state, to contest the municipal elections on its own set off the alarm. The high command felt that Gupta had failed to handle his allies and grapple with the complexities of coalition politics.

Rajnath, on the other hand, is seen as a leader “more capable” of handling “difficult” partners like the LCP as it was he and Kalyan who had masterminded “Operation Shakti” in 1998, when they split the Bahujan Samaj Party and cobbled together a government with the help of the breakaway groups of the BSP, Congress and the Janata Dal.

The LCP’s move to go solo was, therefore, seen as a precursor to its gradual divorce from the BJP. “We hope Rajnath will reverse this trend and make sure our allies stick with us,” BJP sources said.

Finally, the sources added, Gupta, who had the support of Kalraj, upset him by threatening to order a probe into alleged irregularities in the public works department when the state party chief was in charge of the ministry.

An enraged Kalraj, the sources claimed, complained to Vajpayee, who decided that Gupta must be “reined in”.

For the high command, Kalraj’s support was essential as he, together, with Lalji Tandon and Om Prakash Singh, had earlier vehemently opposed Rajnath’s candidacy.

But Kalraj’s backing is not enough. Om Prakash Singh and Ram Kumar Verma, both backward caste leaders, have criticised the move to appoint Rajnath.

Kalraj brushed aside reports of differences. “Rajnath is a natural choice and there is unanimity on this count,” he said in Lucknow.

BJP sources said O.P. Singh may be placated with the deputy chief minister’s post.

Though the central leaders were at pains to argue that Gupta himself wanted to step down, the axed chief minister made it clear he was being forced out.

“I am a disciplined soldier of the party and if the high command desires to replace me with a better leader, I will have no objection,” he said in Lucknow during an informal chat with reporters. Gupta, however, acknowledged that he was accountable for the mess the state unit was in.

That Gupta was miffed with the decision became clear when he refused to answer phone calls from headquarters on the plea he was busy in a farewell function for outgoing Uttaranchal MLAs.

His inaccessibility prompted BJP president Bangaru Laxman to rush Narendra Modi to Lucknow by the evening flight to take control of the situation and ensure tomorrow’s legislature party meeting goes off without a hitch.    

New Delhi, Oct. 24: 
Muslim women have begun offering namaz inside mosques that had remained until now the exclusive domain of men.

In the Jama Masjid, several women can be seen during Asar (afternoon), Magrib (sunset) or Jumma (Friday) prayers. But they have a separate enclosure.

Another orthodox group, Ahle Haddith (followers of the sayings of the Prophet), has gone a step further — it has put up posters in the narrow bylanes of Shahjahanabad inviting women to special prayers for Id in December.

“We want to encourage women to visit mosques as frequently as possible. It is always better to offer namaz behind an imam in a jamat (gathering),” a representative of Ahle Haddith said.

The clergy has reluctantly accepted the new trend as there is nothing in Islam that prohibits women from offering prayers five times a day 365 days a year in mosques. According to Islamic scholars, women regularly attended mosques until Khaliph Omar restricted their entry.

Anis Durrani, chairman of the Delhi Haj Committee, said: “In Islam, there is no discrimination between genders in fulfilling religious obligations. Performing Haj is mandatory for both men and women. In the holy mosques of Mecca and Medina, women and men pray together.”

In the Arab countries, women frequent mosques where they have a separate enclosure. In India, however, women praying in mosques is considered taboo.

Not all sections are happy with this new trend. Many Muslims with strong religious sentiments feel women should offer prayers at home as Islam has made such a provision.

They believe that in a country like India, it can lead to “shar” (mischief) and the community will earn a bad name if anything goes wrong.

Bhai Zaki, a resident of Matiamahal, Jama Masjid, said he would allow his wife, sister and mother to visit mosques provided there are “proper arrangements” such as separate enclosures and preferably separate entrances and exits. “You see, it is all a matter of how strong your faith is,” he said, regretting that piety have become rare traits among Muslims.

Muslim society has been going through a slow but significant social transformation over the past few months. First, the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board agreed to hold a dialogue with the National Commission for Women on gender-specific discriminations.

It then decided to prepare a model nikahnama (marriage contract) to put an end to postal talaq and instant triple talaq, and enforce payment of mehr (bridal price) and maintenance in case of separation.    

Thiruvananthapuram, Oct. 24: 
A day after the CPM plenum ended with the call for rebuilding the third front, Jyoti Basu said the party would not foreclose the option of forging links with the Congress in states where it was a dominant force.

“In other words, we will not enter into an arrangement with the Congress in Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, but we will tell the people to support them (Congress) in other states where they are the main opposition to the BJP,” Basu told The Telegraph in an interview.

Basu said the CPM leadership would address the issue of including the Congress in the proposed BJP-alternative in greater detail after the Congress organisational polls. The other key factor influencing the CPM decision will be the report of the Congress committee reviewing the party’s economic policy.

The Congress is a good candidate for inclusion in the third front exercise because it, though sharing the “class characteristics” of the ruling BJP, is not communal, Basu said.

“Indeed, there are numerous instances of their surrender to the communal element inside the party — look at the Babri Masjid demolition — but as a whole they are not communal.”

But Basu appeared to think that involving the Congress in any future anti-BJP formation of secular and democratic forces would be determined, in the end, by the Congress’ acknowledgement of how the economic reforms it unveiled in 1992 caused hardship to the people.

“They must realise that they stand isolated from the people because of the reforms programme,” Basu said.

The CPM would expect the Congress to demonstrate a “genuine rethink” on the “anti-people” economic policies before it considered lending electoral support in states where the Sonia Gandhi-led party is the foremost contender to the BJP.

“Even in the present configuration, we are not thinking much about the Congress because the task of reviving the third front itself has become very difficult for us. All old alliances and positions have broken up.”

Basu also said the CPM was aware of the reality of alliances between the Congress and some of the CPM’s partners in the third front exercise like Laloo Prasad Yadav — a fact he expected to play a vital role in the near future.

Basu’s elaboration on the concept of the third front indicated that he has not given up on Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu.

“Why, he was one of us, his party was a constituent of the United Front, then he betrayed us and went over to them (BJP),” Basu said of Naidu against whose government the CPM is conducting a campaign over higher power tariff.

The ruling DMK in Tamil Nadu, another former friend of the CPM and now a BJP ally, however, appeared to be figuring low on Basu’s list of priorities. “They have a different position now.”

Basu asserted that many of the nearly two dozen National Democratic Alliance constituents are uncomfortable with the reforms programme that is increasingly hurting their support base. He accused them of inaction at the time of “people’s suffering” for the “benefits of office.”

“All those sharing power with the BJP are not communal, but they are doing a disservice to the people by their silence.”

Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress was singled out by Basu for criticism of what he described as “criminal silence” on the closure of a number of public sector units in Bengal.

“We have received notices from the Centre about closing down these companies. Trinamul, which committed a crime by paving the way for BJP’s entry into Bengal, does not protest against the closures which will render a large number of people jobless.”

For the CPM, however, Trinamul’s silence is seen to be an advantage in that the resultant popular disaffection would enable it to vigorously pursue the objective of a third front.    

Calcutta, Oct. 24: 
Two days before the festival of lights, Calcutta went through one of the worst power failures in recent time, with two units of CESC’s Budge Budge plant and one unit of the southern generating station in Garden Reach tripping in quick succession.

Power failed around 3.35 this afternoon after two 250-mw units at Budge Budge and a 67-mw unit in Garden Reach broke down due to mechanical faults. As the shortfall shot up to a staggering 550 mw in CESC-served areas, more than half the city went without power for hours.

The CESC resorted to rotational cuts, but many areas like Wood Street went without power for nearly five-hour stretches. In Lake Town, there was no power for three hours from 5 pm.

Less then an hour after the three units were revived, the first unit of the Budge Budge plant broke down again around 7.40 pm. At 8 pm, the shortfall was 330 mw, a CESC official said. It was brought back in stream by 9 pm.

CESC sources said this was the fourth time the Budge Budge units collapsed since May. They are expected to resume normal generation early tomorrow.

Power secretary R.S. Bandopadhyay has called a meeting tomorrow to review the situation both in the city and state. All power generating agencies in the state will attend.

“We will find ways to ensure uninterrupted supply of power during Kali Puja and Diwali,” said Bandopadhyay.

There was no power supply even to hospitals and newspaper offices for a while. Emergencies were attended to in candlelight at Calcutta Medical College and Hospital and National Medical College. CESC sources said essential services were restored by 4.30 pm.

Trams were stalled at several places, including Esplanade, Kalighat, Hastings, Strand Road, Chitpur and College Street. Metro services, were, however, not hit though there was no power in three of its four feeders.

“Trains were run through the fourth feeder. But there was no power in many stations and emergency lights were switched on,” a Metro railway official said.

At Writers’ Buildings, there was no power between 3.35 and 4.10 pm. Lalbazar police headquarters went without power for nearly 40 minutes.    



Maximum: 34.6°C (+4)
Minimum: 25.2°C (+2)



Relative Humidity

Minimum: 55%


Partly cloudy day. Mainly clear night. Maximum temperature likely to be 34°C


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