Li Peng in new-year date with Delhi
Cautious Desam holds fire
Opp.bares temple fangs
Basu book barb at ‘barbaric’ BJP
Fed on Ricky, Goa swings to salsa and samba
Buddha promises peace on battlefield
Backhanded compliment for month-old CM
Sulfa help to track Kamtapur rebels
Crackdown triggers Dooars exodus
Varsity in exam rehaul

 
 
LI PENG IN NEW-YEAR DATE WITH DELHI 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Dec. 6: 
Li Peng, chairman of China’s National People’s Congress and former Premier, will visit India in January.

Li, the number two in the Chinese pecking order, will be the senior-most leader from Beijing to come to Delhi since the Pokhran II blasts charred relations.

The date of his visit is still being worked out, but indications are that it will take place next month.

Li’s visit is part of the high-level interactions the two sides have been having over the past few years. Last year, foreign minister Jaswant Singh went to China, followed by a visit this May by President K.R. Narayanan. Chinese foreign minister Tang Jianxuan made a return visit in July.

Li visited India as Premier in 1993. But the coming one is seen as a key element in the normalisation of ties between the Asian giants. There is talk Premier Zhu Rongji will also visit India in the early part of next year.

The trip by Li is being viewed in the backdrop of the current ceasefire in Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan’s offer to show maximum restraint along the Line of Control (LoC). China is one of Pakistan’s closest allies with the ability to influence that country’s leadership in resuming dialogue with India.

Officially, China has so far said it has noted Pakistan’s announcement of showing maximum restraint along the LoC. But it has refused to react. During Li’s visit, the Chinese may offer a clarification of its position.

Relations between India and China soured after the May 1998 nuclear tests. Defence minister George Fernandes’ description of China as Delhi’s potential threat number one had irked the leaders in Beijing.

After the Pokhran II tests, China had taken the lead at multilateral meets to force Delhi, along with Islamabad, to dismantle their nuclear and missile programmes and sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

But India’s mature handling of Tibetan spiritual leader Karmapa’s escape from China and its recent assertion, overruling Arunachal chief minister Mukut Mithi, that there has been no incursion by Chinese troops appear to have gone down well with Beijing.

The leaderships in both countries now seem keen on settling their border dispute. There was evidence of this eagerness at last month’s experts group meeting in Beijing. For the first time since 1960, the two sides swapped maps formalising their boundary claims.

Although the focus was on the least contentious area — the middle sector between Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh — the fact that they exchanged maps on this sector marked the beginning of the process of settling the border dispute.

   

 
 
CAUTIOUS DESAM HOLDS FIRE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 6: 
The Telugu Desam Party, a major ally of the National Democratic Alliance government, today disapproved Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s statement that “the construction of the Ram Temple was an expression of nationalist feelings which was yet to be fulfilled”. The TDP said the statement was “unnecessary”.

The Trinamul Congress, however, reacted cautiously saying they did not know in what context the Prime Minister made the statement. Trinamul parliamentary party leader Sudip Bandopadhyay said his party believed in the secular commitment of Vajpayee and so far he had not uttered a word against the collective agenda of the NDA.

“We have full faith in the Prime Minister. We do not know in what context he made the statement. If necessary, we will talk to him,” Bandopadhyay said.

On Vajpayee’s controversial statement, Desam parliamentary party leader Yerran Naidu said: “The Prime Minister heads the NDA government. At this juncture this statement was unnecessary.”

Sena warning

Shiv Sena, a key ally in the NDA government, warned the BJP that it would be reduced to its earlier strength of two MPs if it compromised on the Ram temple issue.

The party’s Delhi unit chief Jai Bhagwan Goyal sent a strongly-worded memorandum to Union home minister L.K. Advani, asking whether the “Rath Yatra” undertaken by Advani in the 90’s was merely a “political stunt” to gain power.

“The Hindus of this country are not able to digest the manner in which you have forgotten Lord Ram and embraced Sukh Ram for the sake of power,” Goyal said.

“If Lord Ram deserts the BJP in the manner in which the party is trying to get rid of both the temple and the lord, then it may be reduced to its earlier strength of only two members in the Parliament,” Goyal said.

He urged Advani to remove all obstacles in the path of the temple’s construction at the disputed site at the earliest.

Earlier, hundreds of Sena activists staged a “Bhagwa (saffron) march” from Jantar Mantar to Parliament House and expressed their determination to build the temple.

   

 
 
OPP.BARES TEMPLE FANGS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 6: 
The war between the BJP and the Opposition today escalated with the Prime Minister’s controversial statement on construction of the temple at Ayodhya and the Opposition refusing to relent on its demand for the resignation of three ministers, chargesheeted in the Babri Masjid demolition case.

Rejecting the Opposition demand, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today went a step further and said constructing a temple is a “manifestation of nationalist sentiment. And the agenda has been left unfinished”.

The resignation demand reached a crescendo as both Houses of Parliament met today on the eighth anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition. The Opposition, since 1992, has always put the Sangh parivar before a firing squad on December 6.

For the third consecutive day, the Congress-led Opposition forced an early adjournment of the Houses.

Vajpayee, who was present in the Lok Sabha today to make a statement on the loss of property and lives in natural calamities, remained a mute spectator as the Congress and the Samajwadi Party members rushed to the Well demanding the resignation of L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti.

The Prime Minister’s assertion hardened the Congress’ stand and cemented Opposition unity.

“Atal Behari Vajpayee’s statement is completely shocking. We demand an apology for equating the Ayodhya movement to our freedom movement,” said Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma.

Former Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu told reporters: “How do they know that it is people’s demand? Do you mean to say that the riots (that broke out later) are signs of public support for construction of the Ram temple?”

The Opposition claimed that the Prime Minister’s remarks have vindicated their oft-repeated stand. “The agenda of the National Democratic Alliance was a mask and the real aim of the BJP has always been to construct a temple,” a Congress leader said.

The BJP argued that the charges faced by the three are intrinsically different from those slapped on corrupt leaders or even the former minister of state for defence, Harin Pathak, who was forced to quit following charges of murder in the Gujarat riots.

For the Congress, however, it was a prime issue and a stick to beat the government with. It had pitched in its resignation demand on Monday and kept the heat on during the next two days. “We will not allow the chargesheeted ministers to speak on the Babri demolition,” shouted Congress members as they rushed to the Well.

Today being the anniversary of the demolition, the Opposition raked up the past, dredging up memories of that day when the Babri Masjid was razed to the ground. “December 6 will forever remain a black day in our history,” said the Opposition.

   

 
 
BASU BOOK BARB AT ‘BARBARIC’ BJP 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, Dec. 6: 
Inside Parliament, the Opposition was raising the pitch, calling for the resignation of the three top chargesheeted BJP leaders for their complicity in the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Outside, in the Banga Bhavan auditorium, West Bengal’s former chief minister Jyoti Basu was lending his voice to the Opposition’s demand.

The occasion could not have been more appropriate for squaring up with the Sangh parivar and putting it on the mat. Basu was releasing a book authored by eminent lawyer and columnist A.G. Noorani, RSS and the BJP — A Division of Labour, on the eighth anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya.

“It is only appropriate that a book like this should be released today. A book written on this subject is very important for the civilised people of India,” said Basu. There was a special accent on the word ‘civilised’ — the former chief minister had set off ripples when he had described Atal Behari Vajpayee’s party, the BJP, as “barbaric and uncivilised”.

No, it was not a personal attack on an individual leader, explained Basu as he had two years ago to Vajpayee who was keen to know from him the reasons for such a description.“I told him how else will I describe a party which razed the Babri Masjid to the ground, triggered riots and killed people,” he said.

Basu may be out of the chief minister’s office he had occupied for 23 years, but he is still marching in step with political events. And his call today— on the day of the Babri Masjid’s demolition, was unequivocal.

“We will have to go back to the people with A.G. Noorani’s book which exposes the RSS and the BJP. Have the book translated. It can be used in our ideological battle against the evil forces,” said Basu.

The CPM leadership has been repeating that Basu’s exit from the chief minister’s office will have no impact on his role in national politics, which, if anything at all, will only heighten. His adversaries and detractors have reasons to worry. “Victory will surely be ours if we can do our job properly,” he said.

Basu took the audience back to the days on the eve of the Babri demolition when Congress Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao was heading the government at the Centre. “Two days before the demolition of the mosque I had called up Narasimha Rao and asked him to use all the powers invested in him by the National Integration Council (NIC) and even to make use of Article 356, if need be,” he said.

Those days, the CPM was at the forefront of the opposition to the Ayodhya movement. And Basu, because of his wide sweep of acceptance and stature, was talking to every political leader who could stall the march of the BJP juggernaut.

“V.P. Singh asked me to meet L.K. Advani. I met him and asked him not to go on a rath yatra. But he said what is wrong with it,” Basu recalled. In the aftermath of the demolition, Vajpayee had told Basu that it was an “accident”. “I told him I did not expect such an answer from you,” he said.

For all those who accuse the CPM of irreverence towards religion and faith, Basu has a ready reply: “I have read Vivekananda and Ramakrishna. Our Hindu gurus have not asked us to love our religion and destroy others.”

   

 
 
FED ON RICKY, GOA SWINGS TO SALSA AND SAMBA 
 
 
FROM FREDERICK NORONHA
 
Panaji, Dec. 6: 
Their inspiration is Gloria Estefan and Ricky Martin. Their belief is that they too can carve out a fan following for their choice of music. Their goal is to build a name by belting out numbers which this pocket of India perhaps has a natural flair for.

Newly-formed Obligato calls itself Goa’s first Latino band.

“We really look forward to becoming Goa’s live music ambassadors with plans of performing all over India and abroad through Mumbai-based artiste management agency Freebase,” said bass player Colin D’Cruz.

“It sounds brilliant,” gushed Afro-British salsa dancer from the United Kingdom Tony Ainsley, who dropped in to watch the seven-member group practise in Calangute this weekend.

“That’s the essence of Latin music. It makes people get up and dance. It’s so infectious,” quipped Tony’s salsa dance partner Debi, who is British and deep into this kind of rhythm.

“I’ve been thinking for some time about forming this band in Goa, because this place is associated with Latin music. If a band from Goa plays in Delhi or Mumbai, it’s big news,” admits 40-year-old D’Cruz.

D’Cruz entered the Limca Book of Indian Records for playing with the most number of bands. “I’ve been with 54 groups. But unfortunately they mentioned me as a brass player instead of a bass player. And there’s a world of a difference,” he said.

Donna Noronha said she was singing in Spanish for the first time. “But I’ve been able to cope. It’s not so tough, though knowing a little French does help,” she said.

Noronha said she decided to try this form of music as she was looking forward to “something different” after six years of the same thing.

“I wanted something more creative. This music is very different and very challenging. We’re new to it. We have to keep hearing (Spanish) constantly. Thanks to the Internet, it’s now possible to go to a cybercafe and download Spanish songs. Then we hear it three to four times...or maybe a hundred times,” she said.

Julius Fernandes of Parra, who had earlier been part of Goan bands like the Cascades for eight years, also wants to try something different. Given that Goan bands have been accused of being repetitive, the Latino beat could offer a change.

“It’s lovely. It’s full of rhythm and pulse,” Fernandes said.

He is confident that this experiment will work. “It’s rhythm that everybody understands. They get a lift instantly,” he said.

   

 
 
BUDDHA PROMISES PEACE ON BATTLEFIELD 
 
 
FROM NARESH JANA AND KUMARESH GHOSH
 
Keshpur, Dec. 6: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee crowned his one month in office on Wednesday, drawing a big turnout at strife-torn Keshpur and aggressively advocating the return of peace in the area.

Nearly 1.5 lakh people, some marching 15 km, turned up to see and hear Bhattacharjee, who became the first chief minister in years to visit the region.

“This huge gathering proves that we have overcome the trouble and strife in the Keshpur-Garbeta-Pingla areas,” he claimed, after remembering the 35 shahid partymen who had lost their lives here over the past two years.

Placing the onus of restoring peace on the shoulders of the CPM, Bhattacharjee called upon his partymen to rise to the task. At the same time, he asked them to be on their guard so that the Trinamul Congress did not get any chance to revert the present calm by creating disturbances.

“I admit that some of our men were at fault. Those who have crossed sides must be won over again. We have to take the lead, I appeal to my partymen to see that Keshpur does not flare up again.”

Without naming Mamata Banerjee even once, he called on people from both sides to return to their homes. He reiterated that the administration would help in maintaining peace.

“No more killing, no more burning of houses, no more rape. Keshpur has become known all over India because of these incidents. I have assured the Prime Minister and the home minister that there will be no more violence.” Keshpur can prove that, without goondas and weapons, it is the people’s awakening that can tackle trouble.

In a no-strings attached invitation, he urged Trinamul supporters to “join our party... we have fought for your cause whether you are a farmer, a landless labourer or a teacher. The redistribution of benami land to adivasis and the poor was done years ago. As much as 14,500 acres have been redistributed”.

Villagers had walked to the venue from distant places like Narajol, 15 km away. One of the processions was so long that it took two hours for the whole of it to reach the field, next to the Keshpur party office. Seating arrangement was made at the ground for 80,000 people, and additional speakers had to be fitted for the speeches to be heard.

Ministers Surya Kanta Misra and Sushanta Ghosh were present, though the latter was not among the speakers. District leaders Dipak Sarkar and Tarun Roy were also present, both claiming triumph over the Trinamul by the size of today’s crowd.

In his 35-minute address, the chief minister criticised the Centre for not sanctioning adequate funds for flood relief, for raising diesel and kerosene prices while reducing the costs of TVs and Marutis and for the Babri masjid demolition.

“We need peace and unity for the development of more schools and factories,” he said. After Haldia Petrochemicals was set up, 142 ancillary industries have come up, he said.

Earlier, both adults and children lined about 12 km of the route to the venue, showering flowers and waving, even as people streamed in from different directions. He was given a salute by over 1,000 red guards. Local MLA Nandarani Dal handed him a cheque of Rs 1 lakh for flood relief.

Addressing reporters at the Midnapore circuit house in the evening, Bhattacharjee said he did not see any trouble in the region prior to the elections. “I have spoken with the officials here; big incidents are unlikely to take place.”

   

 
 
BACKHANDED COMPLIMENT FOR MONTH-OLD CM 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 6: 
Turning a month old in office today, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee earned grudging acknowledgment from Bengal’s Opposition parties for faring better than expected.

Although Bhattacharjee, unlike predecessor Jyoti Basu, appeared to be under greater control of the CPM, his personalised functioning, especially tours of the city and districts in quick response to situations, has made the government and the party look nimble-footed, said Congress leader Pradip Bhattacharjee.

At one level, his going over the head of the party and the bureaucracy to reach people in distress looks a carbon copy of Mamata Banerjee’s style. But, at another, Bhattacharjee, is fashioning a style of his own, drawing upon his experience of the days of mass movement and years spent in governance.

“We are taking note of his mobility which has made ordinary CPM supporters happy because all these days they could not dream of coming into direct contact with the chief minister,” Pradip Bhattacharya, general secretary of the state Congress, said.

Both Bhattacharya and Mukul Roy, a Trinamul Congress leader, felt that Bhattacharjee’s exercise would not be of much use in electoral terms because the party would not allow his government to function freely.

“We do not think he will be able to make his government responsive to popular requirements because his party bosses will not allow the government to act positively,” they said .

“It is true he (Bhattacharjee) has started visiting the districts. But his visits will serve no purpose, except making his party comrades active and fight against us,” said Roy.

Left Front partners, who had earlier expressed reservations about Bhattacharjee, also showed a change of the heart.

“The Left Front was formed on the basis of collective leadership and Bhattacharjee is following that model,” said Manju Kumar Majumder, CPI state secretary.

A senior Forward Bloc leader echoed the sentiment and said “we are happy with the functioning of Bhattacharjee”. “He gave a patient hearing to all the ministers during his first Cabinet meeting as chief minister,” RSP leader Sunil Sengupta said.

By matching Mamata visit for visit, Bhattacharjee has robbed the Trinamul leader of her unique selling point of always being present at the spot of action. His Keshpur rally today is an example.

No senior CPM leader, including Jyoti Basu, had visited Keshpur and tried to bring back peace. Bhattacharjee went to Keshpur within a month of becoming chief minister, said a senior CPI leader on condition of anonymity.

Bhattacharjee’s action against some senior police officers “stunned” many in police and political circles. He suspended at least two officers. “This kind of step was not initiated earlier against senior policemen,” said a CPM leader.

   

 
 
SULFA HELP TO TRACK KAMTAPUR REBELS 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Cooch Behar, Dec. 6: 
The district police today launched “Operation Shadow” in its effort to establish the existence of the Kamtapuri militant outfit, Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO). Police believe the KLO is behind the recent spurt in militancy in restive North Bengal.

A top source said the police have employed surrendered Ulfa (Sulfa) activists to identify suspected members of the KLO and their Ulfa “masters”.

Sulfa activists have been brought to Cooch Behar from Assam to identify the Kamtapuris who have reportedly received arms training from the Ulfa in camps located in the Bhutan jungles.

“The blueprint of Operation Shadow was chalked out last evening by district police authorities. A meeting presided over by superintendent of police K.L. Meena was attended by half a dozen Sulfa men,” sources said.

An official disclosed that the former militants, who are armed with 9 mm pistols, are also being provided plainclothesmen escorts. Each “spot-and-identify” team consists of one Sulfa member, an officer from the state intelligence department and an armed escort in mufti.

Meena, while refusing to comment on Operation Shadow, said: “We have established the KLO’s definite links with the AKSO (All-Kamtapur Students’ Organisation, the KPP’s student wing). Documents received from the arrested AKSO central committee general secretary, Bishnu Mohan Patwari, from his Dalwarpara village home last week have revealed the AKSO’s links with KLO’s alleged “commander-in-chief” Tushar Das alias Tamir Das alias Jeeval Singh.

“We have recovered several letters, two of which are regarding the ‘removal’ of some AKSO leaders from their posts. The others throw light on the KLO’s meetings.”

Meena admitted that the district police have some information on KLO militants who have undergone armed training at Ulfa camps in Bhutan. “We are on the lookout for a number of KLO activists who have been identified by those who had trained them,” he added.

The police superintendent said the action to nab KLO and Ulfa militants believed to be operating from the jungles of Bhutan will continue.

“We have definite evidence against several KLO activists, who pass off as members of AKSO. The line dividing the two outfits has thinned considerably,” Meena added.

   

 
 
CRACKDOWN TRIGGERS DOOARS EXODUS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Dupguri, (Jalpaiguri), Dec. 6: 
While the ruling CPM is trying its best to “bring back” the disgruntled Rajbonshis to its fold to counter the Kamtapuri onslaught, the ground realities may not be as rosy as the party thinks.

Villagers along the Dooars belt are increasingly feeling alienated by last week’s police crackdown on suspected Kamtapur People’s Party (KPP) activists.

“We were traditional supporters of the CPM. But recent events in the district have disturbed us,” says Saifuddin, a jute and betel nut trader in Purba Salbari under Dupguri police station.

The head of a 15-member family, Saifuddin says: “The political scene in Salbari panchayat changed when the Trinamul Congress wrested the seat from the CPM. Salbari gram panchayat had been a CPM stronghold. Ever since the Trinamul-BJP combine started gaining ground, the CPM began ignoring us.

“Over the past month, a whispering campaign has been taking place to alienate our Rajbonshi brothers in the area who form a minority in the village.”

On the Kamtapuris’ growing influence, Saifuddin says: “The Rajbonshis have been living harmoniously with us. Now they seem to be distant. We do hear a lot about the KPP in the neighbouring villages. In Dupguri, the All Kamtapur Students Organisation is more active than the KPP. They hold closed-door meetings in the village and have even approached us for support.”

“Police atrocities have become intolerable. Neither can we sleep safely at one place every night. Since the police crackdown, I have been moving from village to village seeking shelter at friend’ homes,” said Prithviraj Singha, KPP Cooch Behar secretary, who eluded the police dragnet last week.

Hiding in a village along the border of Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar districts, Singha said: “The police is desperately trying to establish the existence of the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO). If they have evidence, they should come out with the names of the KLO activists. Random arrests are being made and sedition cases are being clamped down on innocent people. Don’t we have any democratic rights to raise constitutional demands for a separate state and language?” the youthful KPP leader asked.

Even women and children are not spared. “Women and children are forced to flee their homes at night,” says Budhiram Choudhury, who operates a mechanised boat on the Torsha river at Sajarpur village. “We have to operate the ferry at night as villagers want to cross the river to “safer places” to escape police raids.”

   

 
 
VARSITY IN EXAM REHAUL 
 
 
FROM RANJAN LAHIRI
 
Burdwan, Dec. 6: 
Allegations of malpractice have spurred Burdwan University to introduce changes in its examination system, the first overhaul since it was set up 30 years ago.

Sources said that over the past few years, the university had been receiving a large number of complaints that a section of teachers was leaking out questions to the students in the form of suggestions “in exchange for huge amount of money”.

The move to recast the examination procedure is also aimed at checking the mushrooming of private tutorial homes in Burdwan. The university recently discovered that a section of paper-setters and moderators were involved in running tutorial schools where students were charged high fees for purchasing “suggestion question papers”.

“For instance, we will totally change the pattern of the questions,” said Amit Mullick, vice-chancellor of Burdwan University.

Mullick claimed that the new system will not only stop corruption, but it will also help students score higher marks.

For the past 30 years, students were required to answer only essay type questions. “In the new system, 30 per cent of the marks will be allotted for objective-type questions,” Mullick added.

This, he argued, will reduce the chances of corrupt teachers letting out questions. Also, this system will force students to study the course thoroughly, instead of preparing subjects selectively.

Henceforth, question papers will have two parts. Of the total 100 marks, 30 will be allotted to objective-type questions.

The majority of the students welcomed the move. “Since the university had been following an obsolete examination system, students in the various undergraduate and post-graduate courses were unable to score high marks and were thus deprived of an opportunity to sit for national competitive examinations,” said Jhuma Banerjee, a student of the university.

University sources said the question banks will be set up for students. They will also be provided with model questions to dissuade them from taking admission to tutorial schools.

   
 

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