Wanted by Vajpayee, Mamata melts
Disgusting, says Basu
Poll holds BJP patience
Twin strikes in Kashmir
MPs generous to themselves
Demolition hero left without a roof
Nuclear India tempts Germans
Lanka deportation debut
Eunuch offer stumps Sonia
Speaker tips for Sangh

 
 
WANTED BY VAJPAYEE, MAMATA MELTS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIALCORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 4: 
The drama unfolded last evening, but quitting had been on Mamata Banerjee’s mind since she visited the injured passengers of Amritsar Mail early yesterday.

She did not want to face the music from the Left benches in Parliament today. Aware also that as railway minister, she was the “team leader”, she wanted to go.

Sources close to Mamata said she had broken down on her way back. The sight of the corpses and grief-stricken relatives, the cries of the injured and the mangled coaches jolted her. “I am putting in 17 hours a day, yet I cannot prevent accidents. There is no point for me to continue,” she cried.

“Emotional as she is, she was too moved by the condition of the accident victims lying in the hospital,” said a Mamata aide. “There was always this fear of Mamata resigning if a disaster happened,” another said.

Mamata made up her mind while meeting officials at Rail Bhavan around 6 pm yesterday. She would quit and concentrate on Bengal politics, her forte.

The Prime Minister’s Office had got wind of the fact. Wary of what she might think, some at the office were even having doubts on putting out a customary PMO message on the accident.

The Trinamul Congress chief got busy with her quit letter, worded carefully in consultation with her aides and owning moral responsibility. It was past midnight when one of her personal secretaries, Sunil Chaturvedi, reached 7, Race Course Road with the letter. Vajpayee was asleep. There was no one else around. PMO director Sudheendra Kulkarni had returned home, too.

As Mamata’s aides were forced to tell journalists this morning that she had put in her papers, Kulkarni was briefed by Vajpayee to make it clear to her that her “impulsive resignation” would not be accepted. Sources said that Vajpayee spoke to her personally over the telephone but this could not be confirmed.

Kulkarni and Chaturvedi visited Mamata at her apartment and conveyed Vajpayee’s message. “Please do nothing in haste. You will have Vajpayee-ji’s full blessings and a free hand in dealing with the board as well as different levels of the ministry.”

Mamata was too eager by then to announce in Parliament that she had quit. She was dissuaded first by Kulkarni and then by Pramod Mahajan.

Realising she was not unwanted in Delhi and that Vajpaye wanted her to continue in the Cabinet, Mamata began to thaw. In her statement in the House, she did not mention resigning.

The Prime Minister issued a statement that Mamata’s resignation would not be accepted.

Mamata, it appears, will continue. She found it difficult to say no to a pampering Vajpayee.    


 
 
DISGUSTING, SAYS BASU 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 4: 
Jyoti Basu today described railway minister Mamata Banerjee’s resignation as a move to “shirk responsibility”, and said this will in no way help the railway solve its problems.

Basu convened a press conference at his Salt Lake residence this morning after knowing that Mamata had resigned. He left for Delhi this afternoon to attend the CPM politburo meeting beginning tomorrow.

The former chief minister accused Mamata of “trying to gain political mileage by sending her resignation as she had done once before during the hike in petroleum prices”.

“At that time, she had sent a scrap of paper to the Prime Minister but did not resign,” Basu said. He described her move as “thoroughly disgusting”.

Basu also blamed Mamata for her failure to reduce the number of railway accidents during her tenure. “There were more than 1,000 railway accidents in the last one year, but Mamata could not take any effective measures to prevent them,” he added.

“Instead of tendering her resignation, Mamata should have formed a high-power committee to look into the cause of such accidents and taken action against errant railway officials on the basis of reports. But she is running away from her responsibilities,” Basu said. “Has she become the railway minister just to get votes?” he asked.

Basu accused Mamata of “misusing” railway programmes for her own benefit. “She was busy flagging off trains and painting a few old bogies as railway minister. This is not responsibility, and now she is trying to run away by shirking her duties,” he said. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee also feels Mamata’s resignation will not solve any problem.    


 
 
POLL HOLDS BJP PATIENCE 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Dec. 4: 
With the West Bengal Assembly elections looming on the horizon, there is no way the Prime Minister or the BJP could have acted tough with Mamata Banerjee, well-placed BJP sources said.

Explaining Atal Behari Vajpayee’s prompt rejection of Mamata’s resignation following the train accident in Jivanpura, sources said all that mattered at the moment between the BJP and the Trinamul Congress leader was “political expediency”.

The poll equation overtook the note of mild warning in the Prime Minister’s statement yesterday: “I assure my countrymen that the government will deal with this issue with utmost seriousness and without any further delay.”

The BJP’s official response reflected the soft view towards Mamata on the train tragedy. BJP spokesman Jana Krishnamurthy said: “The remedy for preventing such accidents lies in paying more attention to track maintenance and better training for running staff and other staff members. The minister’s resignation alone does not solve such problems. A more positive approach is needed.”

Given the importance of West Bengal in the BJP’s scheme and that it cannot get anywhere on its own in the Assembly polls, sources said the state leaders and cadre have already been directed not to make the question of seat-sharing with the Trinamul a “prestige issue”. The unstated message to Tapan Sikdar and Ashim Ghosh is to allow Mamata to call the shots.

Although for the moment the BJP has decided to prepare its own election manifesto, sources said the leaders would try and prevail on Mamata to work out a joint programme to convey that the alliance was “firmly cemented”.

Sources also said the BJP had planned a number of joint campaigns in all the districts to be addressed by Vajpayee and other star campaigners.

The BJP does not immediately have a stake in the outcome in West Bengal, but sources said the elections were “significant” because the state was the “last citadel” of the Marxists.

“The Left may not have a nationwide presence like the Congress has, but its importance for us rests on the fact that like the BJP, it is ideologically-oriented and has a cadre-based organisation. The challenge on both counts is bigger for us,” a source said.    


 
 
TWIN STRIKES IN KASHMIR 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, Dec. 4: 
Day Seven of the unilateral ceasefire was marred by a powerful explosion in Baramullah town in north Kashmir. In another incident, militants attacked a CRPF camp killing a jawan and injuring five others.

A powerful bomb, planted in an auto-rickshaw, exploded near Khanpora on the outskirts of Baramullah while an army convoy was on its way to Uri in north Kashmir, police sources said.

Two persons, including a jawan, were killed and 28 injured of which 20 were armymen. Four army vehicles were destroyed in the blast, the sources added.

An army jawan, identified as Lance Naik Jai Chand of 16 Field Regiment, died on the spot. The condition of 13 injured jawans was said to be critical. The jawans were shifted to the army hospital in Baramullah.

Of the eight injured civilians, Aqeel Ahmad Shah, an engineer of Khanpora, succumbed to injuries at the SMHS hospital.

Witnesses said jawans retaliated by opening fire from automatic rifles. Security forces allegedly roughed up passers-by and smashed window panes of passing vehicles. No one has owned responsibility for the blast. Senior army and police officials rushed to the spot. Troops later moved into the area and mounted searches.

Militants also stormed a heavily-guarded CRPF camp late this afternoon at Ashajipora in Anantnag district. Police said three militants in a car forced their way into the CRPF battalion headquarters in the Heewan cinema complex.

Sources said the militants opened fire at CRPF soldiers guarding the camp killing one person and injuring five. One militant was killed in the return fire, the police said this evening.

Forty policemen killed

Forty Jammu and Kashmir policemen were killed when their bus fell into a deep nullah at Ramban on the Srinagar-Jammu national highway this evening.

A police spokesman said the bus coming from Srinagar skidded off the road. The policemen were going to Udhampur and Jammu to fetch detenus. Twenty-five bodies have been recovered.    


 
 
MPS GENEROUS TO THEMSELVES 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 4: 
Members of Parliament today recommended a bonanza for themselves. They have proposed a hefty hike in their pay and allowances to Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi, deputy Speaker P.M. Sayeed and parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan.

The Cabinet is likely to consider the proposal tomorrow. If the Cabinet approves the package, a Bill may be introduced in the current session of Parliament, sources said.

The parliamentary affairs ministry is trying to get the finance ministry’s nod before the proposal goes to the Cabinet for approval.

The suggestions are an improvement over the recommendations of the K.P. Singh Deo committee on MPs’ pay, pension and perks submitted two years ago. The details were worked out at meeting of party leaders with Balayogi and Mahajan.

The recommendations include an increase in the salary from Rs 4,000 to Rs 11,900 per month, daily allowance (for each sitting ) from Rs 400 to Rs 500 and constituency allowance from Rs 8,000 to Rs 10,000 per month.

Other suggestions include a hike in stationery allowance from Rs 2,500 to Rs 3,000 per month and the allowance for secretariat service from Rs 6,000 to Rs 10,000. The MPs are also getting franking allowance of Rs 1,000 per month. Local conveyance allowance may be hiked from Rs 6 to Rs 8 per km.

Another suggestion is to give a pension of Rs 2,500 per month to members who complete four years in Parliament.

The leaders at the meeting are also learnt to have decided to amend the relevant laws to fix a limit of five years before which no decision can be taken on the proposed hikes.

The leaders who met the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker and the parliamentary affairs minister to finalise the hike include Priya Ranjan Das Munshi and K. P. Singh Deo of the Congress, CPM’s Hannan Mollah, Yerran Naidu of the Telugu Desam Party, Madan Jaiswal of the BJP and Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party.

Sources said the leaders discussed the prevailing rupee value as against the previous years in the context of the MPs’ salaries.

To buttress their claims for pay and allowance hikes, the leaders came armed with reports of the Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, the Fifth Pay Commission and the views of former finance ministers and retired deputy chairmen of the Planning Commission.    


 
 
DEMOLITION HERO LEFT WITHOUT A ROOF 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, Dec. 4: 
After demolishing more than 1,00,000 illegal houses across the financial capital, including those belonging to Dawood Ibrahim, Govind Ragho Khairnar faces eviction at the end of his 26-year-long municipal career.

The demolition man, who retired as officer on special duty at Birhanmumbai Municipal Corporation last Thursday, after an extension granted six months ago was abruptly ended reportedly under political pressure, said he was asked to leave his Shivaji Park municipal quarters immediately or forgo his retirement benefits.

“I have no place to go to, no permanent roof over my head,” Khairnar, 59, said. “I don’t have an inch of land anywhere in Maharashtra, not to speak of a house. I have already given up my share of our family property in Nashik.”

“The state government job was a gazetted one, but there were no quarters available to the officers. The municipal job was not gazetted, but it offered housing. I accepted the demotion because I was desperately looking for a place to stay,” Khairnar said.

Khairnar has been living with his family in the 700 sq ft quarters since 1983. “It was too small for an officer of deputy municipal commissioner rank, but I did not mind because my needs in life are few. I had turned down a proposal to renovate it because it would have cost Rs 14 lakh,” he said.

Regarded as an honest officer who had often defied powerful politicians, including Sharad Pawar and Bal Thackeray, in his efforts to bring errant builders to book, Khairnar said he had not saved enough to buy a flat in the city.

“My salary went mostly on meeting household expenses. I had to also support my parents living in villages,” he said.

Tasked with clearing the city of encroachers and illegal buildings as deputy municipal commissioner since 1992, Khairnar could easily have had a flat or two in prime localities, a colleague said. “The fact that he does not have a place to stay in this city after spending so many years only shows his integrity,” he said.

Not having a place of his own, however, does not worry the man born to a wealthy farming family in Nashik, which lost all its wealth to repeated droughts in the past two decades. “When I came to Bombay in 1964 looking for a job, I used to sleep on pavements. I am not worried about anything,” said the tall and lean official.

Khairnar said he and his wife had planned to buy a flat on loan. But the plan went haywire after he was suspended in June 1994, soon after demolishing 29 highrises built illegally by the D Company.

“There was huge political pressure on the municipal administration to stop me. I was asked to stop the demolition,” he said.

Khairnar earned Pawar’s wrath for publicly criticising the political establishment for derailing the demolition drive, leading to his suspension. He spent the last six years fighting the suspension order in court. He was reinstated in April this year, barely two months before he was to retire.

In June, he was given a two-year extension. But last Thursday, the government abruptly terminated his job.

“I could not buy a flat before my retirement because I was under suspension for the last six years and denied loan by the corporation,” he said. “I can try to buy a small one in suburbs, but not until the government pays my dues.”    


 
 
NUCLEAR INDIA TEMPTS GERMANS 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Dec. 4: 
Till a few years ago there were very few takers for India in Germany. It appeared there were no issues in India that would interest the Germans. But all that seems to have changed in the last two years, specially after the nuclear tests of May 1998.

“Overnight everyone has become an expert on India,” says Angelika Koester Lossak, head of the German-Indian parliamentary group. And she should know, for the two-term MP from Hiedelburg has had a tough time bringing the German government’s focus on the country.

German foreign minister Joscha Fischer has already met his Indian counterpart Jaswant Singh four times this year. Twice he met Singh in Delhi when Joscha had flown down for talks with South Block mandarins.

In January, Singh is scheduled to visit Berlin, ostensibly to inaugurate India’s new Chancery building, but also to have another round of interactions with the German leadership on key international, regional and bilateral developments.

Lossak is scheduled to lead a team of senior Parliamentarians to India in February. But unlike in the past, she is not having much difficulty in finding takers for the trip.

Is this sudden interest in India because Delhi’s worth as a potential nuisance-maker has shot up after the nuclear tests?

German leaders don’t agree. “We may not have liked the South Asian nuclear tests but we can hardly blame India and Pakistan for having gone ahead with the tests,” said Karl-Heinz Kamp, head of the International Planning Staff at the Konrad Adenauer Centre, Bonn.

Though reluctantly, there now appears to be an attempt on Germany’s part to accept the changes. “We cannot ignore what happened. But we have decided to live with it,” Henning Rieke of the Berlin-based think-tank, German Society for Foreign Affairs, admitted.

The nuclear tests have forced the Germans, like many of their partners in the West, to take a new look at India. And today Berlin finds a number of areas of common interest with Delhi — economy, science and technology, railways and infrastructure development, culture, challenges of environment — where they can work together.

A major shift in the German thinking has been in looking at India and China, as major Asian players. There is a growing feeling that Delhi will be a better bet as a strategic partner. “China is a major player in the region, but it is not a mediator. India can play this role,” said Lossak.

The argument stems from the fact that China is not acceptable by many of the Southeast Asian nations as Beijing has disputes with most of them. Southeast Asia is one of the focus areas for Germany where its investors and industries are well entrenched.

Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Tibet and Afghanistan are other areas where Berlin feels Delhi will be able to make an impact.

“Hopefully, Indian politicians will be able to play this role according to their potential,” Lossak said, adding that both in the US and the European Union there were a lot of expectations about India asserting itself as a major power in the 21st century.

As a country with an export-driven economy and whose every third Duetsche Mark is earned from foreign markets, Germany is a little disappointed with the cooperation with India in the economic field.

The cooperation lags behind because of trade barriers and other hurdles in India. “The Indian bureaucracy is the biggest hurdle,” admits Alexander Batschari, representative of the German medium and small scale enterprises — over 1, 000 of which are present in India in a wide range of areas from food and fruit processing, to machine tools and textile.

Batschari pointed out Germans realise that for a country of India’s size and diversity it is not easy to bring about economic changes overnight. “But in today’s free-market economy if you don’t change fast enough you are going to be left behind,” he said.    


 
 
LANKA DEPORTATION DEBUT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai, Dec. 4: 
The government today sent back to Sri Lanka a prominent member of the pro-LTTE lobby, Eelavendhan, the first high-profile Tamil to be deported to the island from India.

He is reported to be safe in Colombo, and the Lankan government might not initiate any action against him at the moment , sources claimed.

However, state and Central government sources were tight-lipped on the move.

Eelavendhan, a 63-year-old retired official of a Sri Lankan bank, had fled Lanka in the wake of the anti-Tamil riots of 1983.

Though he led a forum called the Tamil Eelam Liberation Front (TELF), he subsequently turned a supporter of the Tamil Tigers.

He was known to have maintained links with the LTTE high command and run some errands for them. He and another Lankan Tamil intellectual were charged in 1997 with procuring and smuggling medicines for the Tigers, but they were acquitted.

When the BJP came to power, he had said: “We’re delighted. Bal Thackeray has already supported us. There’s not much of a conflict of interests between us and the BJP. If anything we are fighting the Sinhalese Buddhist chauvinism. We expect the BJP, wedded to Hindutva, to support us. In any case, unlike the Congress, we don’t expect them to be hostile towards us ...”

But what he failed to take into account was that Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi, would not allow them any quarter with Jayalalitha and other Tiger-baiters kicking up a storm.

When he continued to carry on his pro-LTTE campaign and distribute pamphlets in Tamil nationalist meetings, the state and Central intelligence wings kept him on their sights.

In May last, there was an attempt to deport him and his publisher friend.

However, the order was withdrawn reportedly at the behest of a political party and a Central leader known to have a soft corner for the Tigers.

This morning, the police surprised him at his suburban residence, served the deportation order, forcibly removed him to the airport and bundled him into a plane bound for Colombo, the sources said.

This is the first time since the abortive deportation of Anton

Balasingam and C. Chandrahasan during Rajiv Gandhi’s reign that a Lankan Tamil who is not part of a militant group has been deported.

The development could trigger protests from the pro-LTTE groups in the state.    


 
 
EUNUCH OFFER STUMPS SONIA 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Dec. 4: 
Sonia Gandhi is in a fix on whether to open the party’s doors to eunuchs or not.

Shabnam Mausi, the lone eunuch MLA from Suhagpur in Madhya Pradesh, has directly approached the Congress chief to draft her into the party.

During the meeting with Sonia, Mausi expressed her desire to join the Congress. She said she felt isolated and lonely in the Vidhan Sabha. But the Madhya Pradesh Congress unit, led by chief minister Digvijay Singh and PCC chief Radha Krishan Malviya, is against her entry on grounds of gender.

For once Digvijay shed his politically correct image when he endorsed Malviya’s statement that “we (men) will never tolerate her in the Congress”.

Mausi wondered why Malviya was so allergic to eunuchs. “I never asked him if he was Radha or Krishan,” Mausi said making a dig at him. Mausi is known for her free use of invectives inside and outside the Madhya Pradesh Assembly. She recently threatened a Congress MLA with slippers.

About 25 Congress MLAs have given a notice to the Madhya Pradesh Speaker demanding action against Mausi. As there are no proper gender distinctions for addressing eunuchs, Mausi likes to be addressed as a woman.

Mausi’s conduct notwithstanding, the issue before Sonia is different. Should she discourage Mausi just because the MLA belongs to the third sex, as advocated by Digvijay and Malviya? Or should she make a new beginning, act as a catalyst of change and induct the MLA? After all, Mausi is popular for her honesty and has the image of a go-getter.

The Suhagpur District Congress Committee has sent a resolution to Sonia backing Mausi’s entry into the party. Besides, senior leaders like Kamal Nath and Ajit Jogi do not have a strong reservation against her entry.

According to AICC secretary Pratap Bhanu Sharma, who hails from Madhya Pradesh, the Congress constitution does not make any distinction on gender. “Our doors are open for all irrespective of gender. I do not think we have any bias,” he said.

Margaret Alva, who heads the parliamentary panel on empowerment of women, is more sympathetic. She said political parties should encourage “all sexes” and that the criteria should be on performance and not gender.

Mausi is not concerned about the raging debate in the Congress. The disquiet among the male order is understandable to her. She feels the coming years will see many more eunuchs joining politics. “We have Lord Rama’s blessings” Mausi said and narrated a story.

“When Lord Rama was leaving for 14-year banvas, Ayodhya denizens came to see him off. With tears in their eyes, they bid farewell. Lord Rama asked nar (men) and nari (women) to return to their homes while stepping into a boat on river Saryu. But the kinnars (eunuchs) kept waiting for him for all 14 years as he had left no instructions for them.

“When Lord Rama returned, he was deeply impressed and blessed them: You will be a ruling class in kalyuga,” Mausi said.    


 
 
SPEAKER TIPS FOR SANGH 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 4: 
In a bid to give itself a minority-friendly image, the RSS today took its public relations exercise to the doors of Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi. But the Speaker exhorted the Sangh leaders to allay misgivings among the minorities about the RSS and convince them that it was not anti-minorities.

RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan was to call on President K.R. Narayanan, Vice-President Krishan Kant and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee among others to market the Sangh philosophy. But the scheduled meeting on Friday with Narayanan did not take place as the President, a staunch RSS critic, cancelled all his engagements following an attack of viral fever. The RSS leaders had met the Prime Minister last month.

Balayogi, a Dalit from Andhra Pradesh’s Amalapuram Lok Sabha constituency and a member of the Telugu Desam, told the Sangh leaders that some sections, especially the minorities, feared that the RSS was against them and that it was “your responsibility to remove their fears”.

The Sangh leaders explained to Balayogi that they did not discriminate between minority and majority communities and that they would do their best to convince the minorities that they meant no harm to non-Hindus. Sources close to the Speaker said the RSS leaders told Balayogi that misgivings about the Sangh in various sections of society was “misplaced” as they were a socio-cultural organisation.    

 

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