Atal asks Buddha to rein in clash spiral
Dharna to keep Basu busy
Manmohanomics gives way to middle path
Hurriyat turns truce heat on govt
23 and counting, baby bomb ticks
Calcutta Weather

 
 
ATAL ASKS BUDDHA TO REIN IN CLASH SPIRAL 
 
 
FROM DIPTOSH MAJUMDAR
 
New Delhi, Nov. 30: 
A “politely firm” Prime Minister today asked chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to end the “growing” violence in West Bengal and the propaganda that the Centre was not doing enough for flood-hit areas.

Atal Behari Vajpayee said with elections around the corner, he did not expect the Left Front regime not to be critical of his government. But Vajpayee, whose criticism of Jyoti Basu had always been either muted or oblique, added that the propaganda should not convey the BJP-led coalition was doing nothing at all.

Bhattacharjee, who had called on Vajpayee for the first time since taking over as chief minister, heard the lecture patiently. At a press conference later, he described his visit to the Prime Minister’s house as a courtesy call and said the only issue discussed was the floods.

Government sources, however, said the Prime Minister told the chief minister that “you must do something to end violence” and urged him to cooperate with the Opposition for smooth elections next year.

Bhattacharjee pointed out that he has been calling all-party meetings but Mamata Banerjee was not attending them. He told reporters political clashes were restricted to seven police station areas in Midnapore. Even in this district, he said, violence was on the wane and people who had fled were returning home.

When the chief minister accused Mamata of instigating violence with her provocative speeches, Vajpayee was quick to respond. “Mamata keeps telling me that in your party mouthpiece, her statements are distorted and published in a provocative manner. This vitiates the atmosphere,” he said.

Vajpayee, supported by the Union secretary of expenditure, contested the state government’s claim that it was not getting enough flood relief from the Centre. He got his officials to provide the break-up of the help the Centre has provided since the floods in September-October. The figures were later released to the media.

The official sources suggested that even without the Rs 430 crore assistance provided by Hudco, the government had pumped in about Rs 800 crore under different schemes. The Prime Minister also said he was aware that Union finance minister Yashwant Sinha had met his West Bengal counterpart and Asim Dasgupta had gone back satisfied.

But at the press conference, Bhattacharjee said the Centre had not done enough to offset the damage estimated at over Rs 5,600 crore. The state badly needed Rs 1,487 crore, he said.

When Bhattacharjee called on the home minister, L.K. Advani echoed Vajpayee in advising the chief minister to check political clashes. Advani heard out Bhattacharjee’s demand for help to solve the Kamtapuri problem but asked him not to be soft on infiltration from across the border.

The chief minister told reporters that the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation was being helped by the Ulfa militants. Some GNLF dissidents were also being trained by a Naga militant group.

He pointed out to Advani that Mamata’s call for job reservation for Muslims could cause tension. He also told reporters that the Trinamul Congress leader had a soft spot for the Kamtapur movement.

The meetings with Vajpayee and Advani had a few rough patches but, on the whole, were cordial. Ending the meeting with the Prime Minister, Bhattacharjee said the former Calcutta University professor and Uttar Pradesh Governor, Vishnukant Shastri, had introduced him to Vajpayee’s poetry, which he had enjoyed reading. Vajpayee thanked the chief minster for his kind words.    


 
 
DHARNA TO KEEP BASU BUSY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Nov. 30: 
What does a chief minister of nearly 24 years do to keep himself busy after handing over the reins of power? Hold dharnas, of course.

A month on after retirement, Jyoti Basu will take part in the Left Front’s sit-in in front of Parliament on December 7. All front ministers, MPs and MLAs from the state will join the dharna to protest against the Centre’s refusal to sanction funds for flood rehabilitation.

Basu made it clear he would join the dharna as an MLA and not as the leader of the Left Front. “I’m no longer a chief minister now. Therefore, I will participate in the dharna as an MLA. I think no one will disagree that I am still the MLA from Satgachhia,” the 87-year-old former chief minister said at the CPM headquarters on Alimuddin Street.

Basu said he will leave for Delhi on December 4 to attend the inauguration of the party office which will be named after B.T. Randive. “I’ll be in Delhi from December 4 and must participate in the dharna,” he added.

Basu, who is facing criticism for retaining the trappings of power while giving up power, offered an explanation for accepting a police guard of honour during his recent visit to Murshidabad.

“I was hesitant to accept the guard of honour because I’m no longer the chief minister. I told the police officials as much. But they informed me that as I am still entitled to Z-category security, there is no harm in accepting the salute,” Basu said.

“Moreover,” Basu argued, “the programme in Murshidabad was drawn up earlier and my party had decided that I will be there to inaugurate the projects.”    


 
 
MANMOHANOMICS GIVES WAY TO MIDDLE PATH 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Nov. 30: 
Taking a tentative step away from Manmohanomics, the Congress today launched its struggle within to come to terms with political compulsions.

Sensing the mood of the hawks, Manmohan Singh stayed away from the deliberations of the introspection committee headed by Pranab Mukherjee.

The summary of the economic introspection was that reforms are irreversible but there is a need to take a left-of-centre stand on the direction of liberalisation.

Most leaders appeared ready to bow the pressures of realpolitik and tread a middle path. “The exercise was by a political party in Opposition. The question was whether to be an aggressive Opposition or an aggressive one. The verdict seems to have gone in favour of the latter,” a leader said.

Speaker after speaker said the purpose of all economic policies was to deliver the goods to the backward sections, but the second generation reforms mapped by the BJP have deviated from that path.

There were occasional clashes between the hawks and doves, but Mukherjee’s frequent interventions avoided any ugly scene.

The pro-reforms lobby led by Jairam Ramesh argued that there was no going back and the only course available for the party was to make the best use of the reforms. The hardliners, in turn, cited examples of how the reforms process had completely ignored the Congress’ traditional support-base.

Mukherjee drew flak for a position paper prepared by him. Jaipal Reddy said the document was open to “various interpretations”. Mukherjee saw nothing wrong in it and said the purpose of the exercise was exactly that.

However, the Congress appears to have made up its mind on opposing public sector disinvestment, denationalisation of banks and cut in farm subsidies. But it’s stand on government downsizing is still not clear.

A member of the introspection panel said nobody criticised Singh by name, but there was a view that the Congress should not remain “a prisoner of the past”.

Leaders were critical of the defensive attitude of the party whenever the BJP made a reference to the Narasimha Rao regime in which Singh was the finance minister. A speaker said the Congress should not worry too much about industrialists as they would become friendly once the party comes close to power. “They have to run their business.”    


 
 
HURRIYAT TURNS TRUCE HEAT ON GOVT 
 
 
FROM SANKARSHAN THAKUR
 
Srinagar, Nov. 30: 
Amid continuing exchanges between the security forces and armed militants, the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) today virtually withdrew its tentative support to the government’s unilateral ceasefire saying it was being used merely as a “political card to deceive the international community and the Kashmiri people”.

In a long and terse statement that left no confusion that the separatist outfit was damning the three-day ceasefire, the APHC said: “The reality of the government’s ceasefire now stands exposed. The security forces have been openly violating the peace and have let loose a reign of terror. They have intensified their activities and have been harassing civilians and torturing Kashmiris.”

Asked whether the statement meant the APHC had written off the ceasefire initiative, the APHC chairman, Abdul Ghani Bhat told The Telegraph: “Let me just say that we are stating facts, not endorsing or withdrawing anything. The fact is that everything is a hogwash unless we are prepared to address the core issue at the right level and of that there is no sign so far, we can only wait and watch helplessly while our people suffer.”

Lamenting the lack of a “visionary move” from New Delhi and making a strong plea for a summit level meeting between India and Pakistan on the Kashmir issue, Bhat said: “Unless Vajpayee and Musharraf meet nothing will matter in Kashmir. Even our meeting Vajpayee or our meeting Musharraf will not mean anything. What can we achieve with such meetings or such ceasefires? Vajpayee and Musharraf must meet and then perhaps they can make history.”

In the absence of any follow-up political initiative from New Delhi, the APHC said the ceasefire had been called only because “the government was under mounting international pressure to clear its poor human rights record and to show a will to solve the Kashmir problem”. The statement also alleged a series of attacks and search operations carried out by security forces on civilians in Poonch, Kupwara and Anantnag.

The government has, of course, contested these allegations but the larger importance of these allegations may lie not in the allegations themselves but in their motive: the APHC is restive about its broad support to the ceasefire and is looking for a way out of it. It is significant that none of the militant groups, least of all the Hizb-ul Mujahideen, a faction of which had briefly come out for talks with the Centre this summer, has supported or responded to the government’s ceasefire.

The sheer lack of backing from the “boys with the guns” has made sections of the Hurriyat leadership nervous and edgy. They not only fear for their physical safety in case they overstep the grey limits in New Delhi’s direction, several among them also remain convinced that the Centre will not agree to preconditions for talks and in the end, therefore, there will be no political breakthrough.

Militant assaults and exchanges continued on day three of the ceasefire, the most serious incident happening in Baramulla’s main market. Militants breached the high security zone and fired two BSF jawans at point blank range, killing one and critically injuring the other. Another attack by militants was carried out at Duroo near Sopore —- this time the target was the residence of a local National Conference leader, but nobody was injured.

The new director general of Jammu & Kashmir police, A.K. Suri, fired off a strong message to militants on his first day in office saying: “If they surrender we will accept them with open arms and allow them to live a decent social life, but if they want to fight, we will deal them a heavy hand.”

But surrender seems nowhere on the militant’s agenda at the moment. In fact, since the failed one-day talks in August, quite the reverse has happened. Not only have the five commanders who came overground gone back in hiding to direct field operations, the government’s estimates are that local boys have joined militants’ ranks in greater numbers. According to a senior state police officer, a record number of Kashmiri youth has crossed over to Pakistan for training before the snows closed the passes this winter. “Our reports are that more than 2,000 local boys may have crossed into Pakistan for training, there was a sudden spurt in recruitments after the peace talks in August failed and the Hizb leadership renewed its call for jihad from Pakistan,” the officer said.    


 
 
23 AND COUNTING, BABY BOMB TICKS 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Biharipur (Farukhabad), Nov. 30: 
Their only sport is making babies. They also believe there’s a prize for the winner.

From the moment 30 years ago when someone whispered to Sonkali, the shy 15-year-old bride, that the “Sarkar” rewards women with a large number of children, she has never looked back.

She has notched up 22 children and at 45, is pregnant with her twenty-third.

“I will continue to give birth to children until the Indian government recognises my effort and gives me the reward,” says Sonkali, committed as ever. Of her 22 children, 14 have survived.

Sonkali occupies pride of place in her village Biharipur — 55 km from Farukhabad, it appears overlooked by civilisation — where everyone is in the race of making babies.

In the village of about 500 people, there is no family with less than 12 members in it. Having less children is frowned upon.

“Procreation is our entertainment,” smiles Daleram.

Not that there is much choice. With nothing to distract the villagers — there is no electricity, no roads, no radio or no television — they fall upon reproduction as the only source of fun.

Many like Sonkali believe that the government will reward those who produce more children and have never heard of family planning.

Both Sonkali and her husband Kushiram are very proud of their “achievement”.

A grinning Kushiram says: “Humara nakal karne ab aur log bhi bahut bacche paida kar rahe hain” (People are imitating us and making more babies now.) Daleram, the proud father of 12, and Ramnivas, of 13, guffaw happily in unanimity: “Sahi kaha, sahi kaha.

They cheer Kushiram on his mission to score “30”. It is a health-workers’ nightmare. Only, no health-worker has ever stepped into Biharipur, if the villagers are to be believed.

The nearest health centre is 50 km away. The only school nearby is 7 km away and its survival is dependent on the vagaries of nature. “No one has the courage to come here and stay,” says Ramnivas sarcastically.

Reaching Biharipur itself is an ordeal. One had to abandon the vehicle 8 km from the village and trudge through narrow, slushy roads criss-crossed by three rivers. Most of the year Biharipur remains cut off by the water.

Ironically, the office of the chief medical officer (CMO) at Farukhabad shows contraceptive pills and condoms worth thousands of rupees being having been “sent” to the villagers. CMO Dr Daya Prakash also adds there have been attempts to take family planning to Biharipur.

“We did send a team once but no one there is interested in learning. What can we do?” he asks. He said he couldn’t break through the resistance of the villagers who are happiest multiplying.

Daleram admits he knows something about family planning, but does not care a fig.

That most of her grown-up children — the eldest is 26 and the youngest, 6 months — are landless farmers doesn’t worry Sonkali too much. She says she wants at least 25 of her children with her when she dies. She says it’s not too much of a problem.

Asked what motivates her, she says: “The reward of the government, of course.”    


 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 29.8°C (+2)
Minimum: 18.5°C (+3)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative humidity

Max: 94%
Min: 47%

Today:

Mainly clear sky. Minimum temperature likely to be 17°C

Sunrise: 6.05 am
Sunset: 4.47 pm
   
 

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