Pressure on PM to spare minister
Poll over, Sonia stares at acid test
Harvard joke haunts JNU faculty
Naga rebels draw Bengal first blood
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, Nov. 12: 
Less than 24 hours after chargesheeted minister of state for defence Harin Pathak put in his papers, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee came under intense pressure from a significant section of the BJP not to forward the resignation letter to the President.

The Gujarat-based minister had submitted his resignation letter last night after he was chargesheeted in a case of rioting in which a policeman was murdered. The incident happened during the 1985 anti-reservation agitation.

As opinion grew within the BJP that Pathak’s resignation should be rejected, Union home minister L.K. Advani went to the Prime Minister’s house this evening and discussed the issue with him for more than an hour. Government sources said Advani might have conveyed to Vajpayee the feelings of the party.

But till late tonight, the government did not give any indication that it would buckle under pressure. A spokesman in the Prime Minister’s Office said the resignation would have to be accepted as the charges against the minister were “serious”.

Pathak, considered close to the home minister, has represented the BJP from the Ahmedabad parliamentary seat, the constituency adjoining Gandhinagar from where Advani has contested over the years. Pathak had also been Advani’s campaign manager.

BJP insiders said the party was perturbed because Pathak was an “extremely popular” leader and his rapport with the BJP leadership cut across factions.

The BJP is also worried about the possibility of the Opposition clubbing the Pathak case with that of the Babri Masjid demolition. Those chargesheeted in the Babri case include Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti.

Pathak handed over his papers on Saturday night after a day of high drama during which Vajpayee consulted law minister Arun Jaitley and his own officials.

BJP sources conceded that the charges against Pathak were grave and it would be difficult to stand by him. At the same time, the sources said, a leader like Pathak could not be dispensed with so easily without demoralising the rank and file.

Pathak must be defended against the expected onslaught from the Congress during the Parliament session, scheduled to begin next week, they said. The sources added that what Pathak did was “elegant”. He left his resignation papers with the Prime Minister. President K.R. Narayan-an is in Singapore, and Vajpayee has time to mull over the issue.

“Pathak has played out his part and refused to place the party in a position of embarrassment. Now it is for the party to decide whether it will defend Pathak or not,” a BJP leader said.

The support Pathak enjoys in the party was evident yesterday itself. BJP leaders, including vice-president Jana Krishnamurthy and general secretary P. Khandelwal, had come out in his favour, arguing that the charges against him were politically motivated.

Vajpayee’s aides continue to be confused by the nature of charges against him. In 1998, the earlier Vajpayee government had eased out two ministers, Sedapati Muthaiah and Buta Singh, when corruption charges were filed.

Pathak said in Ahmedabad nobody asked him to resign and it was a “purely individual decision”. Ashok Bhatt, chargesheeted along with Pathak, has resigned as Gujarat health minister. His resignation has been accepted.    

New Delhi, Nov. 12: 
Amid sporadic complaints of “rigging”, more than 95 per cent of Congress delegates today voted for their next party president.

Sonia Gandhi, projected to trounce challenger Jitendra Prasada, now faces much more formidable tasks — make the country’s oldest party relevant, repackage its socio-economic agenda and convince voters that she has the ability to lead them despite the debate over her foreign origin.

As the leader of the Opposition, she will be expected to sharpen the attack on the government’s failures and become an effective communicator as well as parliamentarian without losing much time. Her partymen will also be looking forward to seeing Sonia free herself from her coterie.

Confident of her victory, Sonia indicated that she will try to carry along everyone, including Prasada, and described the Uttar Pradesh veteran as a colleague. She ruled out Prasada’s expulsion from the party, pouring cold water on the schemes of a section of Congressmen who were promising to throw Prasada “out of existence”.

Sonia took care to paper over the bitterness in the party, but did not succeed completely. A booklet released by Jagdish Piyush, “the bard of Amethi”, Sonia’s constituency, described Prasada as a “traitor” and an “agent of the BJP”.

Going by the voting pattern and the mood among the delegates, the Sonia-Prasada contest was one-sided as expected. Unlike the day when nomination papers were filed, there were no pitched battles or fist-fights, save scuffles in Lucknow and Chennai. It was clear Prasada had little support outside Uttar Pradesh. Results will be announced on Wednesday.

The voting took place in 36 state party headquarters and all the ballot boxes have been kept at 24 Akbar Road, amid two security rings — the outer one manned by Delhi Police and the inner by Congress Sewa Dal volunteers.

The Congress’ central election authority chief Ram Niwas Mirdha said polling was largely peaceful. Mirdha’s office, though, was flooded with complaints. “There have been lapses and many shortcomings. But overall, we have made a serious effort for inner-party democracy,” he said.

Prasada’s house in New Delhi was deserted. A ‘Mishraji’, claiming to Prasada’s agent, objected when Delhi chief minister Sheila Dixit displayed her ballot paper stamped in favour of Sonia. After the verdict, she will have to convene an AICC plenary and hold the CWC election — another event that will test her political acumen.    

New Delhi, Nov. 12: 
Some are tickled to fits but there are others among Jawaharlal Nehru University’s elite faculty who see a sinister conspiracy in a proposal to implement the “Harvard Model” for teachers at the pinnacle of Indian academia.

The proposal was made by Amrik Singh, a member of JNU’s executive council and a prominent education administrator, at a meeting of the university’s apex body. Singh was asked to formulate his ideas in writing and send it to the vice-chancellor, Ashis Datta. For weeks, the vice-chancellor’s office did little but Singh was persistent. Then last week, the vice-chancellor sent copies of the letter to all departments and sought the faculty’s views. Since the letter was distributed, Singh’s proposals have been the subject that teachers turn to during chat sessions at the faculty club, over lunchtime and at leisure.

The Centre for Historical Studies has just called what is the first in a series of meetings of teachers to discuss the proposals. The hilarity with which the proposals were first greeted is just about beginning to dissipate: most are undecided whether the proposals are a joke or whether the joke is on them. JNU’s academic staff do not articulate the lurking suspicion — that the Amrik Singh programme is the stirring of an exercise in thought control — bluntly. That is left to the faculty union, the JNU Teachers’ Association.

Amrik Singh wants JNU, which prides itself on its rich academic life, to formally convert itself into an institution of excellence by adopting the Harvard Model, a system of recruitment that is designed to make teachers more accountable in their research output. “I feel deeply concerned about the divergence between profession and practice that characterises some aspects of the functioning of the JNU,” Singh wrote to the vice-chancellor.

“In theory, it is a research university. In practice, it prefers to follow other universities as a model. There is something inherently incompatible about this arrangement. One thing that has to be ensured is that JNU develops into an ideal research university and lays down its own rules and regulations” he said.

Singh then goes on to suggest the “Harvard Model” for confirming the faculty. “Those who are not confirmed at Harvard are fairly good and several other universities are glad to have them. Something of this kind should get evolved in JNU. In my opinion, if this system is adopted by this university (JNU), I have no doubt in my mind that both Hyderabad and Pondicherry will soon after follow this model...

“Once JNU asks for a relaxation of this kind from the UGC, JNU would be within its rights to move two additional proposals in course of time. One would be to increase the age of retirement from 65 to 70 and the other to be able to have a scale of pay which is different from that of most other universities,” Singh wrote.

Singh goes into the technicalities of how the system can be implemented. But he is insistent that the change be carried out from within. He urges the VC to set about three months for discussions within the faculty after which the proposal should be taken up by the academic council and then on to the executive council.

The immediate reaction of the JNU Teachers’ Association has been one of scorn. “I think Amrik Singh is the front paw of an attack by vested interests on the liberal traditions of JNU. Do you expect that in our country we can throw somebody out of a job after seven years?” asks Shankar Basu, president of the JNUTA and professor in the Centre for Russian Studies.

“It is sad that such attacks are being orchestrated from within the academic community with the help of people like Amrik Singh. JNU has been seen as a pro-Left institution and some people are trying to change its character. JNU is unique despite being within a university system that is common to the country. It consistently produces brilliant students,” he said.

A senior professor in the Centre for Political Studies says the Amrik Singh proposal is more in the nature of a “floater” and not a drastic change that is imminent. “I have known Amrik, who retired as the Patiala University vice-chancellor, for long. At a ripe old age he seems to have found a cause and a university (JNU) in which to fight for it. It’s laughable because Amrik has suggested a system which would have failed him.”

There are others who fear the proposal will only be used to tinker with the system instead of carrying out thorough reform that will have to encompass the education system in the country and not just one or two institutions. Doing things in half-measures will only distort the system further.

“I am all for the Harvard Model if the authorities are prepared to go the distance,” says Dipankar Gupta, professor in the Centre for Sociological Studies. “That means guaranteeing that we will get a Harvard-grade library, Harvard-grade infrastructure, Harvard-grade salaries, Harvard-grade teaching assistants and the lot. Are we ready for all that?”    

Siliguri, Nov. 12: 
The blood-letting in the Northeast spilled over to North Bengal as suspected Naga insurgents fought with police through the night in the jungles of Kalimpong and killed a homeguard.

“This was the first encounter with Naga insurgents in this region,” the north Bengal inspector general of police, N.R. Das, said.

The police mounted a raid last night after receiving information that a group of militants was proceeding to the forest.

A volley of bullets greeted the police when they reached the house of an orange-garden owner. Homeguard Lal Bahadur Rai, who was acting as a guide, was hit in the chest and died.

“The encounter went on through the night. Two militants reportedly fell to the police bullets. The other militants somehow managed to escape,” Das said. The body of one militant was found in the farmhouse.

The officer could not say whether the Gorkhaland Liberation Organisation was involved. The organisation was formed by a hardliner, Chattray Subba, who broke away from the fold of Gorkha leader Subhas Ghising.

“We have no specific information. Going by the way the militants seemed to know the remote jungles, they must have had local help,” Das said.    



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