Show-stealer Sonia leaves Prasada in cold
‘Secret’ ballot takes photo test
Das Munshi casts vote, loyalists stay away
Black-flag parade lined up for Prabhat
Bachchan on catwalk, audience writes cheque
TUs in huddle against hotel sale
Social scientist bristles at old-style Reds
Sultan platform for Mamata
Orissa may have new PCC chief
Mix-up kills Archana

 
 
SHOW-STEALER SONIA LEAVES PRASADA IN COLD 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, Nov. 12: 
Jitendra Prasada cut a lonely figure as Sonia Gandhi waded into his home turf to take him on in the Congress organisational elections. But he remained defiant.

“Victory or defeat in this election for the Congress president is now immaterial,” Prasada said. “What is important is that I have scored a moral victory by taking home the message to the people that I had the courage to stand up against what is wrong in the party. People now know what is happening.”.

Prasada maintained that Congress election committee chief Ram Niwas Mirdha’s statement on “irregularities” in the party had vindicated his stand. “Mirdha has agreed with me,” Prasada said.

“He has said rules were flouted and that he has received thousands of complaints from partymen. Mirdha has, in fact, gone to the extent of saying that he is not at all happy with the way elections are being held,” Prasada added.

However, rebutting Prasada’s contention, Sonia said Mirdha’s statement had been “twisted and misinterpreted” by her rival. “Chunav nishpaksh ho rahi hai,” Sonia said, adding that people should not forget that elections were a “massive process” and that “little things” could have gone wrong. “But Mirdhaji is there to look into the complaints,” she said. She added that elections were a long process. She also said the delegates’ list which has been in the eye of a storm will be scrutinised.

But if Sonia was miffed by Prasada’s revolt, she showed no signs of it. Asked if the party high command would take action against Prasada for his defiance, Sonia quipped: “Why should we? He has done a perfectly democratic thing by contesting elections against me. I don’t see anything wrong with that.”

On her party’s view regarding Prasada’s dissidence, Sonia said there were different opinions within the party but “everyone is at liberty to express his own views”.

A total of 1,167 delegates cast their votes and in a show of solidarity, senior leader Ambika Soni took special permission to cast her vote in Lucknow though she is a delegate from Punjab.

About a dozen of Prasada’s supporters who wanted to barge into Nehru Bhavan, where the elections were being held, were caned by RAF personnel. Fearing violence between Sonia and Prasada loyalists, the administration had posted a huge contingent of the RAF and the PAC, along with a large number of policemen.

At the close of day, Sonia went away with the cheers, but Prasada remained adamant till the end. Refusing to see the writing on the wall, a valiant but tired-looking Prasada said: “I will not give up my struggle until I reach my destination. Even if I lose, I know the issues that I have raised have won.”    


 
 
‘SECRET’ BALLOT TAKES PHOTO TEST 
 
 
FROM SUCHANDANA GUPTA
 
Bhopal, Nov. 12: 
In the good old feudal days, they would possibly place their turbans at the feet of the gracious lady. But in a democracy, a camera will do.

Most of the 412 Congress delegates, who queued up at Gandhi Bhavan to vote for Sonia Gandhi as Congress president, would not budge without giving conclusive evidence of their loyalty.

Armed with cameras, they saw to it that as they stamped on the “secret” ballot paper, the act of faith was captured for posterity, and more importantly, for Sonia’s eyes, on film.

“Maine to bhaiyya pachchis photo utthaye hai mere ballot paper ke saath,” claimed party MLA Kalpana Parulekar. “Taaki baad mein koi ye na kahen ke maine Sonia Gandhi ko vote nehi diya. (I have got 25 of my photographs clicked showing my stamped ballot sheet, so that later no one can blame me for not having cast my vote in favour of Sonia Gandhi.)

All 412 votes of Madhya Pradesh probably went in favour of Sonia Gandhi, and there had been nothing secret about the delegates’ priorities, but hardly anyone took the chance to cast a secret ballot, lest there be trouble later in connection with bad boy Jitendra Prasada.

“We are the only political party in the country which has gone through this very democratic process,” said party leader Madhavrao Scindia.

“The BJP has a fascist approach, so it’s not them who would ever go for an election like this, but take the whole range of parties. None has ever gone through this.”

He added: “The election has been very smooth. The ballot papers were properly marked, very well organised. Just like a general election.”

It was only the party top brass in the state — Scindia, Arjun Singh, chief minister Digvijay Singh and Kamal Nath — who cast their ballots in secret. Their votes obviously went to Sonia.

The rest voted like at a photo-shoot. They walked on to the dais of a stage inside the Gandhi Bhavan, stamped on the ballot sheets, displayed it to photographers and video cameramen and after it was proved beyond doubt that they had not voted for change, dropped the sheets in the box.

Scindia said the fact that cameramen and photographers were inside the election booth was “living proof that we are going through a democratic process”.

The “process” had started early, at 9.30 am, with a meeting to elect the state Congress chief. After several suggestions, Digvijay Singh proposed that Sonia be asked to pick the person who can head the Madhya Pradesh Pradesh Congress Committee. Digvijay’s proposal was adopted unanimously.

The party leaders vouched that they had voted with their head and heart after listening to their “conscience”, a key word in Prasada’s demands.    


 
 
DAS MUNSHI CASTS VOTE, LOYALISTS STAY AWAY 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Nov. 12: 
About 438 of the 470 PCC members from West Bengal cast their votes today to elect the new Congress president.

Congress sources said 32 members owing allegiance to party MP and chief whip Priya Ranjan Das Munshi abstained from voting to protest against the leadership’s decision to drop a large number of deserving candidates from the PCC panel. Das Munshi himself, however, cast his vote.

Earlier, Das Munshi had met PCC chief Pranab Mukherjee and conveyed his dissatisfaction over the move to exclude important party functionaries from the PCC panel. “It is unfortunate that those working for the organisation are dropped from the panel,” said a Das Munshi loyalist.

Congress MLA Sougata Roy, who had also joined forces with Das Munshi, said they were promised that those dropped would be accommodated later. Another party leader said though the percentage of those who did not participate in the voting was small, it cannot be denied that some amount of resentment is there among partymen.

In another development, no Congress leader volunteered to become a polling agent for Jitendra Prasada, a contender for the post of party president. This indicates Sonia Gandhi will bag most of the votes from West Bengal.

A number of resolutions were adopted before the voting began to authorise PCC chief to finalise the names of 10-member pradesh election committee and 60 AICC members from Bengal, three vicepresidents, one treasurer and a 36-member PCC executive committee.

Nagendra Jha, AICC observer and returning officer for the organisational elections in West Bengal, said the results will be announced on Wednesday.    


 
 
BLACK-FLAG PARADE LINED UP FOR PRABHAT 
 
 
FROM RUDRA BISWAS
 
Ranchi, Nov. 12: 
The Jharkhand Party today declared that it will stage a black-flag rally to protest against Jharkhand Governor-designate Prabhat Kumar’s assuming office on Tuesday.

Jharkhand Party president N.E. Horo said hundreds of party workers carrying black flags will protest against the nomination of former IAS official Prabhat Kumar as the first Jharkhand Governor.

Horo said Kumar had been chargesheeted in the Babri masjid demolition case and the party would not allow a chargesheeted person to assume the office of the Jharkhand Governor.

Horo alleged that for more than five decades both the BJP and the Congress had opposed the Jharkhand agitation and creation of new states. However, sensing political gains in the Bihar tribal regions in the Nineties, the two parties jumped into the Jharkhand bandwagon to extract maximum political mileage.

Horo lamented that the pioneers of the Jharkhand movement were in the wilderness, while the BJP, which had opposed the movement for over five decades, was poised to become the ruling party in the new state.

He alleged that the BJP through its designated Governor is out to convert the Jharkhand region into a virtual RSS fort.

Horo said his party would demand the rescinding of the Centre’s proposal to appoint Kumar as the Governor and to replace him with an eminent person with a clean image to initiate planned development in the new state.

He added that despite temporary setbacks, the Jharkhand movement would continue to demand a greater Jharkhand comprising the 26 districts of Jharkhand, West Bengal, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh.    


 
 
BACHCHAN ON CATWALK, AUDIENCE WRITES CHEQUE 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, Nov. 12: 
It was all over in four minutes and 35 seconds.

The glitterati of Mumbai in the cavernous studio oohed and aahed as Big B, in his Crorepati-famed grey goatee, came striding down the ramp in a gold achkan in what was his debut as a model.

Escorted by a lithe, swan-necked model, who stood almost shoulder to shoulder on a pair of high heels, he walked as far as the tip of the ramp, flashed an Amitabh Bachchan smile at the Rs 5,000-a-chair guests, before turning his back on them and vanishing into a cloud of smoke.

A collective gasp went up.

But he was back soon catwalking in the same achkan, flowing down to his ankle and dazzling in the strobe lights. Suddenly, he stopped in his tracks and pointed his right index finger at the audience, moved it in a semi-circle in the air and brought it to his lips, blowing a kiss. The crowd was ecstatic. Bachchan the actor — with his hand on the pulse of his audience, had clearly outperformed Bachchan the model.

The Big B’s second appearance as a model in the Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla show last evening lasted as long as his first one — a little more than two minutes. The audience, including steel baron Laxmi Mittal and socialite Parmeshwar Godrej, were too polite to moan how short the much-touted performance in the hour-long fashion show was.

“We would have loved to see more of him on the ramp,” a teenage girl, sitting at a table with her parents, piped.

But then, the show was not about fashion at all. “Behind the glitter of the shows are stark realities — the realities of AIDS, of thousands of HIV-stricken people in our country,” Bachchan’s voice boomed at the outset from behind the curtain.

The proceeds from the show will be donated to Concerned Communities Development Trust, a volunteer outfit working for HIV-afflicted women and children.

Bachchan brought along his wife Jaya and son Abhishek.

A shy Abhishek, resplendent in a red, sequined achkan, ambled up and down the ramp twice, to the cheers of the audience. But the big applause was reserved for the Big B only.

In his inimitable style, Bachchan senior, used to decades of adulation from swooning fans, responded with a smile as he picked up the microphone.

“I would request all of you to pick up a pen and write the amount you want to contribute on a piece of paper left on your tables,” he urged the audience, flanked by Jaya and Dimple Kapadia. “Please give and give generously.”

He got off the ramp as lights came back in the hall and picked his way through a maze of chairs and tables in the studio, collecting offers of help from those who cared as much as he did.

Organisers said they collected Rs 24 lakh on Friday itself. The count for the Saturday show was still on.    


 
 
TUS IN HUDDLE AGAINST HOTEL SALE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Nov. 12: 
The state tourism ministry has officially informed all the trade unions in the Great Eastern Hotel that it would be handed over to Accor Asia Pacific.

After receiving the official notification, both trade unions affiliated to the Citu and the Intuc are planning agitation programmes to prevent the handover.

The Citu-affiliated employees’ union of the hotel will hold its executive meeting tomorrow to decide its future course of action. “We will try our best to prevent the government from giving the hotel to Accor,” said Citu leader Piyush Kanti Roychowdhury.

Tourism minister Manab Mukherjee today told The Telegraph that he had asked all the hotel unions to submit the names of their representatives to the government to enable the ministry to sign the final agreement with the Accor authorities.

“There will be a bipartite agreement between the state government and Accor. But we want the trade unions to help us in protecting their interests while signing the agreement,” Mukherjee informed.

“The unions will guide the government in determining the fate of the employees before signing the agreement. We will seriously consider their plight,” he added.

The Calcutta district committee of the CPM had met yesterday and discussed the Great Eastern issue. Most of the committee members were of the opinion that the government should protect the interests of the employees.

The committee suggested that the government should consult the unions in the hotel before finalising the agreement with Accor. Several committee leaders like Mohammad Nizamuddin criticised the government for “ignoring the employees’ interests” while handing over the hotel to Accor.

The tourism minister agreed to consult the trade unions after his party’s Calcutta unit made such a demand.

Though Citu leader and Calcutta district committee member Rajdeo Goala is in the city, he did not pay any visit to the hotel. Goala is the leader of the Citu-affiliated hotel employees’ union.

Though the Citu union at the hotel was supposed to hold its general body meeting on Friday, senior Citu leaders and members of the Calcutta district committee had urged it not to do so as the committee was supposed to discuss the issue on Saturday. The committee, however, met yesterday and discussed the issue.    


 
 
SOCIAL SCIENTIST BRISTLES AT OLD-STYLE REDS 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, Nov. 12: 
M.L. Sondhi, chairperson of the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR), is spitting fire at his Marxist colleagues for “continuing to live in the Seventies” and refusing to break out of “conventional” thinking.

“All research has been reduced to field trips to Moscow. The ICSSR institutes have become pocketboroughs of certain individuals,” said Sondhi, who is remoulding social science to suit the demands of a fast changing world.

For the time being, the government as well as the ICSSR chairperson are denying plans to dismantle the research centres. But both academic and financial knots are tightening and many of Sondhi’s colleagues sniff a sinister plot underlying the talk of re-orienting research. “Human resources development minister M.M. Joshi has made it clear that he only considers ‘US-style’ social sciences relevant. And Sondhi is merely mouthing his opinion,” a social scientist said.

However, Sondhi claims the ICSSR is merely reverting to its original mandate, which was put on the backburner because of “political exigencies” since 1975. In Sondhi’s direct line of fire are Marxists who, according to him, are only interested in perpetuating “mediocre rhetoric”. “We should remember that the proletarian revolution led to Pol Pot while the intellectual revolution led to US, France and Belgium,” the chairperson pointed out.

Sondhi’s tirade is also directed at authors like Arundhati Roy. If his Marxist friends are refusing to buy the new brand of social science research, writers like Roy are refusing to accept the glory of a “nuclear-India”, he alleged.

“If she has the guts, why does not she go to Beijing and protest? She wants India to give up nuclear weapons and suffer the fate of Hiroshima,” Sondhi said.

The battlelines are now becoming sharper with Sondhi ready to wage war on his Marxist compatriots and the Marxists refusing to let him have a free run. Several months ago, Sondhi had a stand-off with the head of the Calcutta centre over dwindling funds that failed to match the increasing costs of maintaining a research institute. But the issue goes beyond finances and touches the core of social science research. His message is clear: remould yourselves in the institute’s new line of thinking if you want our support.

For instance, he wants all the 27 ICSSR institutes to widen the scope of social science and make it more interactive with disciplines like biology, geology and natural sciences. “The whole idea of social science research is to find solutions to conflicts and warn of impending risks,” Sondhi said.    


 
 
SULTAN PLATFORM FOR MAMATA 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Nov. 12: 
Congress MLA Sultan Ahmed, who has joined the Trinamul Congress, is sponsoring a Muslim conference which will be addressed by Mamata Banerjee. Tuesday’s conference is being organised under the banner of the West Bengal Pradesh Quami Tanzeem at the Netaji Indoor Stadium.

Ahmed said Mamata will be the main speaker at the rally in which more than 15,000 Muslims will participate.

Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu and Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah are expected to attend. Besides, state minister for food and civil supplies Kalimuddin Shams, PCC chief Pranab Mukherjee and state BJP president Asim Ghosh have been invited. Mayor Subrata Mukherjee will also be present.

“My sole purpose is to capture Muslim voters for Mamata because they have so far mostly sided with either the CPM or the Congress,” Ahmed said.

He added that the Left Front’s “dismal failure” in ensuring job reservations for Muslims in Bengal during its 24-year regime will be on the top of the agenda.

“Even as there are job reservations for Muslims in Assam, Kerala and Karnataka, the government here has done nothing,” he complained.

“This indifference on the part of the government will help Mamata make inroads into the Front’s traditional Muslim votebank,” he said. He said reports concerning harassment of Muslims will also be placed at the conference.

Mamata today ruled out any hike in rail passenger fare or freight charges, adds PTI. “The Railways had absorbed Rs 475 crore additional costs from the petro price hike last year. We will absorb the effects of petro price hike this year as well,” the minister said at a function here.

Despite rising costs and no increase in fares, the Railways’ income would increase like last year, she added.    


 
 
ORISSA MAY HAVE NEW PCC CHIEF 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Bhubaneswar, Nov. 12: 
Speculation is rife that the Orissa Congress will have a new chief in the next few days.

As the election for the AICC president’s post came to a close this evening, this question seems to be occupying the minds of most Congressmen in Orissa.

With Sonia Gandhi’s election as party president a near-certainty, both dissidents and loyalists in the state Congress are now watching her moves.

Having packed the PCC with his cronies, PCC president J.B. Patnaik would ideally have liked an election for the post to be held. In that case, he would have romped home.

But matters have taken a different turn and the wily Patnaik has had to change tack.

Patnaik asked partymen to ask Sonia Gandhi to choose the next PCC president as it became clear that Jitendra Prasada, the pretender to the AICC president’s throne, would be outnumbered. Though Patnaik swears loyalty to Gandhi, he is seen as close to the Jitendra Prasada camp.

Sensing victory, dissident leaders like Hemananda Biswal and Kanhu Charan Lenka have joined the race to please Sonia Gandhi. Lenka told The Telegraph that all leaders of the party should authorise Sonia Gandhi to choose the next president as her election as AICC president was a foregone conclusion. The PCC also met today to pass a resolution urging her to choose the next PCC president.

In his bid to please the AICC president, Hemananda Biswal accused Patnaik of not taking enough measures to ensure Sonia Gandhi’s smooth election. In a letter to Patnaik, Biswal accused him of creating confusion in the party’s ranks over the nomination of Jitendra Prasada.

On his part, however, Patnaik has also urged Sonia Gandhi to choose the next PCC chief.    


 
 
MIX-UP KILLS ARCHANA 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
New Delhi & Calcutta, Nov.12: 
The killing of the Hazaribagh deputy commissioner’s wife last evening has sent shockwaves in Jharkhand on the eve of statehood.

Archana Sharma, wife of deputy commissioner Deepak Prasad, was ambushed by suspected Maoist Communist Centre extremists at Barachatty near Gaya. She was travelling in her husband’s official vehicle. Sources said the militants mistook Sharma for the superintendent of police, Hazaribagh, Shobha Ahotkar, who is also on the Naxalite hitlist.

S.M. Cairie, who took over as the new director-general of police, Jharkhand, said curbing extremism would top his agenda. However additional director-general of police Rameshwar Oraon, who rushed to Hazaribagh early this morning, said the incident was a fallout of the family’s “disregard” for security norms.

Oraon said strict instructions have been issued to all government officials to travel with requisite security and “avoid travelling after dusk.” He said the police as well as the district administrative officials, who have been provided security, were required to fend for themselves. Oroan said Sharma, accompanied by two bodyguards, had left Hazaribagh yesterday morning for Gaya, where she was supposed to receive some of her relatives. After picking up her relatives, she offered prayers at the Bishnupad temple located at Gaya. While returning, her vehicle encountered a road blockade.

As her car stopped, one of her bodyguards alighted to take stock of the situation. On seeing the bodyguard, the MCC extremists, who had put up the blockade, asked him to surrender his arms. But the guard ran back to the car and asked the driver to flee from the spot. As the car picked up speed, the extremists opened fire and a single bullet hit Sharma.

Bihar home commissioner U.N. Panjiyar said, “It will now be easy to tackle Naxalite activities since the state will be bifurcated.’’    

 

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