Citu threatens to thwart Great Eastern handover
Showdown brews in parivar
One more scam in cricket’s backyard
Rebel trouble for ‘outsider’ Jogi
Grateful flock to father figure
Soren plays Laloo card
Many deaths, 1 rebirth
Patel sorry for dam mix-up
Silchar varsity staff hold V-C hostage on campus
Shillong civic polls on Nov. 25

 
 
CITU THREATENS TO THWART GREAT EASTERN HANDOVER 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Nov. 1: 
A day after it decided to hand over the state-run Great Eastern Hotel to a French company, the CPM-led government has run into trouble with the party’s labour arm, Citu.

“We will not allow the government to hand over the hotel to any private organisation,” said Piyush Kanti Roychowdhury, a Citu office-bearer.

“We had organised a Bharat Bandh on May 11 in protest against the Centre’s move to privatise public sector undertakings. How can we support our own government which has decided to hand over the hotel to Accor Asia Pacific?”

The Great Eastern Hotel union will hold a meeting in the Durbar Hall tomorrow to decide on future action, the Citu leader said. Slamming tourism minister Manab Mukherjee for “initiating the privatisation move”, Roychowdury said: “He (Mukherjee) was never interested in running the hotel and immediately after he became the tourism minister, tried to hand it over to private owners.”

Mukherjee pleaded helplessness, saying: “I only hope that everybody realises the circumstances which compelled us to take such a decision.”

Asked if they had consulted state Citu leadership on the protest, Roychowdhury said: “Of course. Rajdeo Goala himself had held a meeting at the hotel in May to oppose privatisation,” he added. Goala, a member of the CPM’s Calcutta District Committee and Citu leader in-charge of the hotel, is in Punjab and will return next week.

The Citu leader did not rule out the possibility of a joint movement with the Intuc.

Citu and CPM sources said chief minister-designate Buddhadev Bhattacharya convinced the tourism minister to put the hotel on the agenda of Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting so that Jyoti Basu could approve the privatisation decision. Bhattacharya knew the decision would anger Citu and, therefore, had it taken in Basu’s presence.

The Congress’ labour arm, Intuc, has demanded that all 520 hotel employees be provided with alternative jobs in other government departments. “We are government employees and we have the right to demand jobs in any other government department,” said Ataur Rahaman, Intuc leader at the hotel.

Rahaman said the tourism minister had promised an attractive package for employees opting for voluntary retirement. “But we can not accept it because a Rs 15-crore package for 520 employees is inadequate.”

He said they were awaiting the official notification and added that the Intuc would oppose the move to privatise the hotel at any cost.

But the Intuc refused to join hands with Citu for the protest. “It is their government, their trade union and their ministers who have taken the decision in consultation with them. We don’t think it will be wise to join hands with Citu,” Rahaman informed.

State Citu president Niren Ghosh, general secretary Chittabrata Majumdar and other leaders held a closed-door meeting at the Sramik Bhavan headquarters today to discuss the issue. Ghosh declined to comment when contacted.    


 
 
SHOWDOWN BREWS IN PARIVAR 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Nov. 1: 
The BJP and the RSS are heading for a collision with BJP chief Bangaru Laxman showing no sign of heeding his party elders’ counsel of not “overdoing” his secular and pro-minorities plank.

To counter the impact of Laxman’s Nagpur message, the RSS has decided to launch a two-month campaign, Rashtriya Jagran Abhiyaan, from November 15. Its thrust will be to educate the intelligentsia and the masses on Hindutva and the need to create a Hindu rashtra, build a Ram temple in Ayodhya, follow a swadeshi economic model, ban cow slaughter and end religious conversion.

With the VHP intent on deciding the date for the construction of Ram temple at the Allahabad Kumbh Mela in January, RSS sources said its campaign will target younger sadhus and sants to raise a new line of leadership to spearhead the temple movement.

The BJP has already initiated a two-month campaign from today to propagate Laxman’s Nagpur message and the Chennai Declaration adopted at the national council last December. In his presidential address at the Nagpur council, the BJP chief had admitted that his party had not worked hard enough to reach out to and dispel their “misconceptions” about the BJP. He said it was time the BJP “took its appeal and its activities” to Muslim homes and mohallas.

In a similar vein, the Chennai Declaration had underlined the need to broadbase its social character, separate ideology from governance and put contentious issues on hold now that the BJP was in power.

According to party sources, the Sangh’s campaign, which has been publicised through leaflets, has put the BJP’s top brass in a tizzy. BJP sources said ever since the RSS unveiled its two-month long agenda last week, some ministers and office-bearers had called on sarsanghachalak K.S. Sudarshan at his Keshav Kunj headquarters here and sought his “marg darshan” on whether they ought to follow Laxman’s “soft focus” line on the minorities’ issue or the Sangh’s hard line stance.

BJP veterans advised Laxman not to take on the RSS openly but the BJP chief seems unrelenting in pursuing his own ideological line.

Today, at a Diwali Milan function, hosted by the BJP’s minorities morcha, he gave a spin to his party’s name and said: “By Bharatiya Janata Party, we mean it is a party which belongs to all people of this country, Bharat. It does not exclude anybody. People who speak different languages, follow different religions, belong to different cultures — I want to assure each one of them that this India is their land. They should have an equal stake in its development and no one should feel he or she is not a part of this great country.”

Describing the BJP as a “microcosm of India”, Laxman declared that India’s pluralistic culture dates back to several centuries and is proof of its famed “tolerance”. Ambassadors and representatives of several Islamic countries and others were present at this gathering. However, the BJP showed little enthusiasm.

Its office-bearers trickled in and known hardliners like K.R. Malkani and Sahib Singh Verma left the venue as soon as Laxman finished speaking without having snacks. Ram Naik, S.N. Jatiya, and O. Rajagopal were the only Union ministers present.

A senior BJP leader reflected the ideological dilemma in his party when he said: “Laxman really takes the cake. He should know when to get off on this secularism subject and not go on with his message. It is not sending the right signal down the line.”

BJP sources interprets Laxman’s pro-minorities gestures as a way of “pleasing” Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and carving out a political space for himself. “He is taking his cue from 7 Race Course Road. In the process, he is also emerging as the BJP’s second liberal face after Vajpayee. He has realised that this image can be useful in case there is a political vacuum after Vajpayee leaves the political centrestage, sources said.    


 
 
ONE MORE SCAM IN CRICKET’S BACKYARD 
 
 
FROM GAJINDER SINGH
 
Chandigarh, Nov. 1: 
Former Test cricketer Yograj Singh, accused of selling and storing adulterated petrol, will be produced in court tomorrow.

He surrendered before judicial magistrate (first class) Pushpinder Singh yesterday and was remanded in judicial custody. The court had issued arrest warrants against him on October 10.

Yograj, father of cricketer Yuvraj Singh, had been absconding since June 30 after the city police registered a case against him under Sections 420, 285, 286 and 120-B of the IPC and Section 23 of the Petroleum Act, 1934, for cheating, criminal conspiracy and negligible conduct with combustible substances along with violation of the Petroleum Act.

The police had also charged him with shifting petrol from his fuel station in Sector 17 to his farmhouse in Mani Majra near here.

Over 20 drums, each of 200 litres capacity, filled with the spurious fuel, were seized by the police from the farmhouse on June 30. Yograj has denied that the drums belong to him.

The police are planning a number of raids after Yograj’s surrender. “We are likely to get more evidence against him soon,” a senior officer said.

Efforts are on to seek police remand for Yograj when he is produced in court tomorrow.

Yograj had applied for bail but it was rejected by Punjab and Haryana High Court on August 28. He then applied for bail to the Supreme Court and went underground. He would have been declared a proclaimed offender on November 10, the next date of hearing.

The other accused in the case, Gurmeet Kaur, has been granted bail by the Union Territory district and session judge on furnishing a bond of Rs 10,000 and surety of the same amount.

She had filed an affidavit before the court stating that the farmhouse from which the adulterated petrol had been recovered belonged to her and it was kept for shooting a movie sequence.

The cases against Yograj, though filed on June 30, had reportedly begun earlier when Bharat Petroleum authorities collected samples from his petrol pump following complaints about the quality of fuel sold there.

Many Punjab government car drivers have reportedly complained that the engines of their vehicles started malfunctioning after they purchased fuel from Yograj’s petrol pump.

Efforts to contact Yograj’s wife proved futile.    


 
 
REBEL TROUBLE FOR ‘OUTSIDER’ JOGI 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
Raipur, Nov. 1: 
It was a special occasion.

First, the acting chief justice of Chhattisgarh, Ramesh Saran Garg, administered the oath of office to Dinesh Nandan Sahay, the Governor of the new state who, in turn, read out the oath for new chief minister Ajit Jogi. Hours later, Jogi left for Bilaspur to attend the swearing-in of the new chief justice.

But hectic behind-the-scenes activities marked Jogi’s appointment at the stroke of midnight, when he became the chief minister of the republic’s 26th state.

The first challenge came from the Naxalites who rejected the creation of the new state and called for a bandh asking their rank and file to intensify their class struggle. Then, a section of Jogi’s own partymen boycotted the swearing-in ceremony, plotting how to topple the new government. Some Sangh parivar outfits read a deeper conspiracy behind Jogi’s appointment. Voicing concern at the installation of a “Christian” chief minister in a tribal-dominated region, they expressed fear it might lead to a spurt in conversions.

Inside the police parade ground, the site of the swearing-in, there were as many voices as the number of people. When Jogi raised the slogan of Jai Chhattisgarh, supporters of Vidya Charan Shukla, who lost out in the race, remarked “Outsider nahin chalega.”

The top state BJP leadership gave him a maximum of six months. “We will not do anything. Everything will happen from within the Congress,” a BJP functionary said. Many Congress leaders were also seen going around with long faces. It was left to AICC general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad to lighten the mood.

“When we finalised the CLP leader’s name in the forenoon we thought our task was over. We were planning to watch Mission Kashmir till we realised we had a more important task – Mission Chhattisgarh,” he quipped.

Azad tried to play down yesterday’s violence claiming that it was nothing compared to what takes place in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. “In Andhra recently, when it became a free-for-all, an MLA came out of the Assembly only to realise that his dhoti was missing,” he said.

Azad’s remarks notwithstanding, for Jogi, an engineer-turned-IAS officer-turned-politician, the task of running the state is not going to be easy.

With its rich mineral reserves and forest wealth, less than 20 per cent of Chhattisgarh’s area is irrigated, exposing it to frequent droughts. Though the region’s annual rainfall is 1,200 mm above Haryana and Punjab, more than 50 per cent landless labourers and farmers reportedly migrated to greener pastures last year.

Since Chhattisgarh yields only one crop a year, Jogi says his top priority will be to improve irrigation and agricultural facilities, apart from road development and rural electrification.

The state’s abject poverty has also given rise to the Naxalite menace. Eleven of the 16 districts have strong Naxalite presence with the ultras already demanding autonomy for the Bastar region.

While governance is sure to keep the chief minister busy, politics is likely to cast its shadow on development work.

There are 13 MLAs who were ministers in the Digvijay Singh government before the redrawing of the map. Jogi also has to satisfy regional satraps like Shukla, Digvijay, Kamal Nath, Arjun Singh and Madhavrao Scindia, who have reluctantly accepted him as “madam’s choice”. It all depends upon how Jogi treats their supporters and sympathisers in terms of giving them “wet portfolios” and key assignments.

For the 1970-batch IAS officer, there is another problem. Many of his batch-mates will be serving under him as commissioners or directors or secretaries.As one member of his peer group remarked last night: “Are yaar, ab Ajit hamara sir ho gaya.”    


 
 
GRATEFUL FLOCK TO FATHER FIGURE 
 
 
BY RANJIT ROY
 
Calcutta, Nov. 1: 
It was the saddest day of her life for Purnima Dhara.

Wednesday morning Purnima, who had served Jyoti Basu tea at Writers’ Buildings for the last 15 years, entered his chamber, but not with the cups of tea and biscuits neatly arranged on a small wooden tray. Instead, she went in with a bouquet of red-and-yellow roses to bid farewell to the man she adored as a father-figure. Sobbing silently, she gave him the bouquet.

Purnima isn’t the only one to have fond memories of the person who has ruled the brick-red building for 23 years. There are Sujala Roy, Shanti Roy and Jamuna Mudi who have served tea to Basu and his guests for years at Writers.

They were all casual employees of an erstwhile private women’s cooperative society, Appayan, engaged by the government to serve tea to ministers and officers at Writers’ in the 70s. In 1995, Basu approved a proposal of the information and cultural affairs department to absorb them as government staff.

“We love and respect him like our father. He has given us a government job. We come from poor families and never dreamt of marriage with our meagre earnings of Rs 5 a day. Today, we are all happily married and have families. We are grateful to him,’’ they said. It was difficult for them to believe that Basu will not be at Writers’ after November 6.

Today was also a special day for lower-ranked employees of his office. Basu decided to meet them first before the day’s usual engagements.

After Purnima and others, entered Phulchand Mandal, Sashikanta Paridha, Mrityunjoy Pal, Chanchal Chakraborty and Sekhar Chakraborty — all peons in Basu’s office. They stayed in his chamber for about five minutes and presented him with an ink pen and a bouquet. Phulchand, who had served under Dr B.C. Roy, Bengal’s first chief minister, is also retiring this month.

Basu, who reached Writers’ at 11.05 am, received donations from various organisations for his flood-relief fund. Only two important visitors dropped in today — CPM MP Somnath Chatterjee and industrialist Purnendu Chatterjee. Though neither said what they talked about, both agreed that Buddhadev Bhattacharya was a good choice for taking over the reins.

Basu left Writers’ at 1-30 pm, but not before sharing a few words with reporters waiting in the corridor. “What are your successes and failures as the longest-serving chief minister?’’ asked a journalist with a private TV channel.

Basu replied: “Apart from land reforms and bringing down the level of poverty from 52 per cent of the state’s population in 1977 to 26 per cent in 1999, my best success has been to lead a team of nine partners of the Left Front without any hitch for as long as 24 years.

“People of the state have elected us five times in a row only because they had faith in our team. Yes, my best achievement is people’s love and trust.”    


 
 
SOREN PLAYS LALOO CARD 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, Nov. 1: 
Dangling the “Quit NDA threat” before his MLAs, Shibu Soren today played the “Laloo card” as the JMM legislative party met here to consider the options open before it after the NDA refused to give in to his demand for the Jharkhand chief minister’s post.

Minutes before the meeting, Soren declared he would sit in the Opposition if he “failed to cobble together enough numbers to form the government”. But his first attempt to rustle up the figures ran into trouble as only eight of the 12 legislators were present when the deliberations began.

For the JMM chief, four is the dread number — the group can quit without being penalised under the anti-defection law. However, spokesman Prashant Kumar sounded optimistic, saying: “They must be on their way.” The meeting, scheduled to begin at 4 pm, was deferred to gauge the mood of the legislators and to see if the NDA came up with more offers. “I believe politics is a game of dialogues and one should hope for the best till the last hour,” Soren said, hoping for an end to the standoff.

Sources said some key MLAs were not present in the Bihar capital till late afternoon. Sushila Hansda, the lone woman MLA in the party, refused to commit on when she would arrive. JMM insiders said the very fact the meeting was held in Patna instead of Ranchi was a clear pointer at the Laloo Yadav alternative. “Patna is still the capital and we are closer to the alternative option,” said Soren. “But the actual move on this would start after the JMM meet entrusts me to take the decision.”    


 
 
MANY DEATHS, 1 REBIRTH 
 
 
FROM G.S. RADHAKRISHNA
 
Hyderabad, Nov. 1: 
For residents of Hyderabad, air travel and disaster seem to be inexorably linked by fate.

Last year, the Indian Airlines aircraft that was hijacked from Kathmandu airport to Kandahar had over eight crew members from the Andhra Pradesh capital. This time, there were at least 11, including three children, from the city who died when the ill-fated Singapore Airlines plane crashed seconds after take-off from Taipei during a storm.

Of all those who boarded the connecting Air India flight from Hyderabad, only one survived — Koppaka Somasekhara Varaprasad. It was virtual rebirth for the software engineer working in Los Angeles as he stepped out of the burning wreckage unscathed.

“It is a rebirth for my son. God is Great,” said his mother K. Achithamba in an emotion-choked voice. Varaprasad had called his parents back home after his miraculous escape.

Only 48 of the 179 on aboard were reported to have survived. Fifty-four are still in hospital, some seriously burnt after the plane exploded in flames. However, the death toll could rise.

One passenger with 100-per-cent burns has little hope of survival, a doctor at Chang Gung Memorial Hospital said. According to officials, identifying the bodies was a major task as many were charred beyond recognition.

“The headcount is not yet clear as the Singapore Airlines authorities are still not sure of the total number of people who are dead. Some are still trapped in the rear portion of the plane,” said G. Sadanandam, a government officer on special duty stationed at Begumper airport to assist the relatives of the deceased.

Two families from the state were wiped out in the crash. K. Srinivas, a software engineer in a Los Angeles-based IT company, was flying with wife Sangeetha and their two children — five-year-old Sneha and one-year-old Sahil.

“I bade them farewell at Hyderabad yesterday and hoped to hear from them from their American home,” said Srinivas’ father-in-law S.L. Reddy, a former secretary of the Hyderabad Race Club.

Also to have perished in the disaster was a family of three from Suryapet — V. Neelima, her husband Janardhan and their infant son Prasad.

Janardhan’s parents, Dr Damodaran and Sudha, were inconsolable. He was their only son.

The authorities haven’t yet been able to trace the relatives of Ali Niazee Rubia as her ticket was booked in Los Angeles.

A devastated Najma Muzatt Khan, daughter of Noorjehan Begum, said: “I have lost my parents and a sister. They were going to the US for medical treatment.”    


 
 
PATEL SORRY FOR DAM MIX-UP 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, Nov. 1: 
The Gujarat government has apologised for the “mismanagement” at the relaunch of the Sardar Sarovar project following yesterday’s violence.

Angry at having to walk 10 km to the dam site without food or water, people lost their patience and attacked passing vehicles of ministers and other BJP leaders. Five vehicles were torched and six others partly damaged.

Ferried in government buses from water-starved Kutch, Saurashtra and North Gujarat, people came in a joyous mood but returned angry and disappointed.

The government’s apology appeared to have made no difference. “We have apologised to the people. We could not arrange food packets and water for everyone as the crowd was larger than what we had expected,” BJP spokesman Bharat Pandya said.

Senior minister Ashok Bhatt accused the Narmada Bachao Andolan of sabotaging the function to “create adverse publicity”.

He said residents of displaced villages Kevadia and Kothi, “who are under the influence of Medha Patkar, might have instigated the people to set ablaze vehicles and target minsiters”.

Pandya disagreed, saying it was a spontaneous reaction of those who were “hungry and thirsty”.    


 
 
SILCHAR VARSITY STAFF HOLD V-C HOSTAGE ON CAMPUS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Silchar, Nov. 1: 
A posse of CRPF and policemen “rescued” Assam Central University vice-chancellor Mritunjoy Bhattacharjee and two of his colleagues early today after they were held “captive” since last afternoon by agitating non-teaching employees of the six-year-old university.

The vice-chancellor along with registrar Rajashri Bhattacharjee and a senior faculty member were held captive at his chamber in the university at Dargakona, 18 km south of here. Sub-divisional magistrate A.K. Nath, who led the troops last night, said they had to break two campus gates at 3.30 am today after repeated attempts to persuade the employees to release the officials failed.

More than 125 members of the Assam University Non-Teaching Employees’ Association had held the three officials hostage. Later, 94 of them were taken into custody. The non-teaching staff were agitating against the non-fulfilment of their four-point charter of demands which included confirmation of their jobs and recognition of their union.

Sources said a seven-member delegation of the association yesterday sought to meet the vice-chancellor. When he insisted that only two office-bearers meet him, the enraged members held him hostage. A small committee to look into their demands was formed by the executive council of the university on Monday.

Sources in the association alleged that the police resorted to a lathicharge, injuring several protesters. One of them had to be admitted to Silchar Medical College and Hospital, the sources added. Sub-divisional magistrate Nath, however, denied the charges.

The Cachar district authorities have posted both police and CRPF pickets to prevent any untoward incident. Classes were suspended today. The vice-chancellor put in his papers before yesterday’s fracas. Sources said he was reportedly enraged by the “continued non-cooperation” of a section of senior academics.

Madrassa syllabi

The Union human resource development ministry will soon overhaul the syllabi of government-owned and private madrassas in a phased manner.

Union minister of state for human resources Syed Shahnawaz Hussein told The Telegraph here yesterday that the move is aimed at “modernising the madrassa education so that it becomes scientific and relevant to the needs of the changing times”. To begin with, computer courses would be introduced in selected madrassas in the country, the minister said.    


 
 
SHILLONG CIVIC POLLS ON NOV. 25 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Shillong, Nov. 1: 
The government today notified that election to the Shillong Municipal Board will be held on November 25. Civic polls are being held following a Supreme Court directive.

The notification said interested candidates can file their nominations at the office of the deputy commissioner, East Khasi Hills district till November 6.

The polls are being held after 33 years despite objections by several students, social and traditional organisations.

The nomination papers will be scrutinised on November 8 and the last date for withdrawal is November 11.

Fourteen seats have been reserved for Scheduled Tribe candidates. Deputy commissioner L. Roy said nine out of the 27 wards have been reserved for women. Following a petition by one P. Nongpluh, the apex court recently directed the state government to reserve 33 per cent of the seats for women.

Asked about opposition by some organisations, the deputy commissioner said, “I cannot comment on this. I have been asked by the government to conduct the election and I will have to do it.” However, if there is no election or filing of nominations in more than nine wards, the municipal board cannot be constituted, Roy added.    

 

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