South twins temper temple blow to Atal
Cong trashes Sangh Babri ‘bomb’ claim
Sonia courtiers take the cake
Mamata’s Panskura faces Buddha’s politics
Women’s lib with Sangh lakshmanrekha
Dawn chase nets dacoit kingpin
Enteric toll climbs in Bankura
CPM leaders beaten up
Mob rage after hit-and-run

New Delhi & Calcutta, Dec 9: 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s two most powerful southern allies today came out with carefully-worded criticism of his statements on the Ayodhya issue and warned the Centre against deviating from the coalition’s common minimum programme.

After a marathon meeting of its MPs in Hyderabad, the Telugu Desam termed the Prime Minister’s remarks “unwarranted and unnecessary” and cautioned that it would take a “very serious note” of any deviation from the common agenda. However, the Desam did not specify whether Vajpayee’s statements represented a deviation.

In Chennai, another BJP ally, the DMK, issued a mild rebuke to the Centre. “There should be a consensus on issues and thrusting a different point of view cannot be accepted,” Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi said.

Telugu Desam leader Yerran Naidu said Vajpayee’s statements have confused all the allies and a clarification was in order. “We have already sought a clarification in Parliament and in the business advisory committee. We have conveyed our views to the PMO and the BJP. We will wait for them to react,” Naidu said.

Asked how long the party will wait, he said: “We are not in a hurry. It is for the BJP and NDA to respond to our queries.”

The Desam meeting endorsed the view of party leader N. Chandrababu Naidu that the Ayodhya controversy was “a non-issue”.

“We have more pressing problems like the West Bengal flood and the farmers’ issues. Ayodhya is pending since 1992. The NDA government should get its priorities right,” Yerran Naidu said. The meeting expressed concern at the Centre’s “slow response” to the problems of farmers.

While Yerran Naidu insisted on a clarification, another Desam member of Parliament, C. Ramachandraiah, said there was no need for one. “He has already clarified on the issue. I do not see any reason for another clarification,” the MP said.

Unlike the Desam, which has been publicly frowning on Vajpayee’s statements, the DMK has been maintaining silence on the issue. DMK leader Karunanidhi had made himself virtually inaccessible to the media for the last few days.

However, following a burst of criticism in the media and from the Left, the chief minister today issued a statement. He pointed out that on the coalition’s national agenda there was a “clear commitment to the sharing of the hopes and anxieties of the people of India and to secularism – the emotional harmony of all Indians and full protection of minorities. Moreover, the Ayodhya issue, the uniform civil code and the deletion of Article 370 of the Constitution have not found place on the agenda”.

Karunanidhi took care not to mention Vajpayee by name or his office, but concentrated his firepower on the Congress. His statement began with a stinging attack on the Congress and the ADMK for their “hypocrisy”.

“Those who were in power at the time, those who had been silent spectators (read Congress), those who spoke in support of the kar seva at the National Development Council meeting (read Jayalalitha) and those who sent men and materials from here for the kar seva are now shedding crocodile tears,” the chief minister said.

But, he added, the DMK has “the same strong feeling with which it condemned the dem- olition of the Babri masjid.” He iterated that his party would serve as a “protector and affectionate friend of the minorities as ever”.


New Delhi, Dec. 9: 
The Congress today rubbished K. Sudarshan’s claim that a bomb had demolished the Babri masjid on December 6, 1992, and accused the Sangh parivar chief of “diversionary tactics” to shift the focus from the call for resignation of three Union ministers.

Congress spokespersons Anand Sharma and Anil Shastri said Sudarshan’s version was “fabricated”. “The entire nation is laughing at the ridiculous proposition,” Shastri said.

He said it was now an “open secret” that a day before the Babri demolition, a camp was organised where kar sevaks were given “lessons” in pulling down the 16th century mosque.

Sharma said statements of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Sudarshan amount to gross interference with the judicial process.

“Sudarshan’s claim that the then Congress government was part of it is astounding and outrageous,” he said, adding events of that day were in the records of the Supreme Court and the Allahabad High Court.

Denying the charge that the Narasimha Rao government did not act to save the mosque, Sharma said the disputed structure was in the custody of the Uttar Pradesh government headed by Kalyan Singh.

The Congress leader said that the Sangh and the BJP’s involvement in the demolition was clear from the findings of the special court on Ayodhya.

“The nation has not forgotten the fans of jubilant BJP leaders on December 6, 1992, justifying the demolition and proudly claim- ing credit for it. The nation will not be taken in by the preposterous claim of the RSS chief,” he said.

Shastri made a dig at the Prime Minister’s press adviser H.K. Dua, reading from his signed editorial titled National Shame that held home minister L.K. Advani and human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi responsible for the demolition.

“May be the Prime Minister can inquire from his press adviser,” Shastri said.

In Lucknow, the Samajwadi Party today said it would continue its protest in Parliament till Vajpayee apologised for his remarks.

“Till the Prime Minister apologises for his statement on the temple issue, there is no relevance of Lok Sabha proceedings and his party will continue its protest,” party president Mulayam Singh Yadav said.

“The Prime Minister’s statement is against the spirit of the Constitution and law of the land and a blow to secularism. He should express regret and apologise,” Mulayam added.

Imam boycott call

Imam of Jama Masjid Syed Ahmed Bhukhari today asked NDA partners to withdraw support to the Vajpayee government following the Prime Minister’s statement on the Ayodhya issue. MQM president Anis Durrani said that Muslims should avoid Vajpayee’s iftar to lodge their protest.

“The mask is off and everyone should now know where the BJP and Vajpayee stand,” Durrani said.


New Delhi, Dec. 9: 
The “mother of all cakes” was brought to mark Sonia Gandhi’s 55th birthday, which was turned into a celebration of sycophancy by her partymen.

Weighing about as many kilos as the number of years, each portion of the cake had a letter from her name. The Congress chief was amused but she stiffened on seeing another bulky cake that read: Long Live Sonia Gandhi. But in terms of weight, it was not even a quarter of the other cake. Later, a third cake, weighing 100 kg was given to her. One was sent by ‘Shivani’ from Ghaziabad.

Since morning, all roads led to 10 Janpath as far as Congressmen were concerned. Sonia came out at 10 am, and till 2 pm, she “allowed” partymen to greet her. The durbar was thrown open to chief ministers of the Congress-ruled states, party MPs, Congress Working Committee members and ordinary workers.

Virtually all those who had come to greet her came with flowers, sweets and cakes. By noon, Sonia ordered them to finish off the cakes and everyone pounced upon the creamy layers. This was followed by free distribution of laddoos for the “janata” — the lesser known party workers who were hanging around outside 10 Janpath.

Among the others who sent birthday greetings were the President, the Prime Minister, the Lok Sabha Speaker and several Cabinet ministers, including Mamata Banerjee, Yashwant Sinha and Jaswant Singh.

As Sonia is yet to decide the fate of chief minister Sheila Dixit and DPCC president Subhash Yadav, the partymen from Delhi were most vocal and active.

A live band kept playing for hours till they became dead tired. When working committee members Natwar Singh and Ambika Soni came out at 1.30 pm, the bandmaster again signalled: “Tum jiyo hazaron sal, sal ke din hon ek hazar!”

Ghani Khan Chowdhury, too, made it despite his frail health, scotching rumours that the veteran leader was not too happy with the high command, which removed him as Bengal party chief. “Barkatda is still hopeful that he would be retained in the CWC. That explains his presence,” one of his rivals claimed.

Congress leaders admitted that this year, partymen seemed to be more active in celebrating Sonia’s birthday, though the AICC chief wanted it to be a quiet affair.

The newly-elected Sonia is yet to constitute the 24-member CWC. She has to pick a new team of party general secretaries, secretaries and heads of various panels. In addition, about 12 new PCC chiefs need to be appointed and the selection of 1,000-odd AICC delegates is also being vetted by her.

The chief ministers are leaving nothing to chance. The findings of the performance appraisal are lying with Sonia. The assessment has reportedly given poor marks to Sheila Dixit and her Maharashtra counterpart Vilasrao Deshmukh.

Sources close to the Congress chief said she would take time off to spend the evening with daughter Priyanka and grandson Rehan Rajiv Gandhi Vadra. “The true celebrations will begin at 35 Lodhi Estate,” an aide said.


Uluberia, Dec. 9: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today issued a mild threat to the Trinamul Congress “which is trying to disturb the law and order situation in the state and instigating violence in the name of organising a political movement”.

Addressing a rally at Uluberia stadium, Bhattacharjee urged the Trinamul leadership to give up violence and face the CPM politically.

“I recently met the Union home minister who wanted to know about the law and order situation in West Bengal. I told him that in our state there are no communal riots, but Trina- mul activists are following the Panskura line.

“They are encouraging violence and attacking our supporters in some pockets of Midnapore, Hooghly and Bankura district. But out of 446 police stations in the state, the Trinamul has managed to create disturbance only in seven police station areas,” Bhattacharjee said.

He said he also informed L.K. Advani that the Trinamul was only trying to draw the attention of the Centre by demanding imposition of Article 356 on these seven places. CPM activists in these areas had merely resisted attacks by Trinamul supporters, he said.

“I, therefore, urge the Trinamul activists to forget the Panskura line and try to face us politically. We will come to you to place our programmes and political views.

“Let the Trinamul and BJP organise rallies and place their programmes and political views before you. I think you are the best judge to give the right verdict about our views and programmes,” Bhattacharjee added.

The chief minister was very critical about the BJP-led coalition at the Centre which was trying to privatise all public sector undertakings.

“The BJP government is planning to allow private sectors and multinationals in our insurance, bank and coal industry. Once all these core sectors are privatised, nothing will be left to us except our national flag. What we will do with our national flag only?” Bhattacharjee asked.

He also criticised the Prime Minister for issuing statements on the Babri masjid issue. “Vajpayee had said that the construction of a temple will be allowed in the site of the Babri masjid and the mosque might be constructed anywhere outside the site. After this statement, communal tension is brewing in Uttar Pradesh and I believe the whole of the country will witness communal violence again,” he warned.


New Delhi, Dec. 9: 
The RSS will man the women’s movement from now.

One of the last male bastions of the country — the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh still bars women from enrolling in its shakhas — has scripted its own manual for the uplift of Hindu women.

Among scores of pamphlets the organisation is now distributing throughout the country in its door-to-door promos, one is exclusively focused on the empowerment of Hindu women.

But the don’ts for the sex far outnumber the dos. Empowerment, warns the RSS, should not transgress limits that are set by the institution of family.

“A woman has the right to accept the positive features of modernity. But this mindset often leads to many problems,” says the outfit.

“It is the woman’s responsibility to give birth, nurture and preserve our values. This, however, does not mean that she will be confined within the four walls of her house,” explains the RSS.

Women’s exclusion from the outfit is justified. “Women are not allowed to join shakhas because they primarily involve physical exercises,” the RSS says, adding the organisation has its women’s wing of Rashtriya Swayamsevikas who make important contribu-tions to the organisation from the sidelines.

During the Babri masjid demolition in 1992, however, thousands of Swayamsevikas had stormed out of the sidelines and marched shoulder-to-shoulder with the kar sevaks to pull down the mosque.

Historian Tanika Sarkar, who worked on the subject, described in her article how these women, who had seldom before stepped outside their familial boundaries, suddenly came to occupy a public space through a violent and criminal act.

The RSS leaflet quotes a human development report that says “no country treats women as well as men” as a way of substantiating the prevalence of gender-discrimination in society. “We must have a full debate on how to make women equal partners in national reconstruction,” says the RSS.

The ideal Hindu woman, according to the RSS, can be found in the writings of its teacher Golwalkar. “A woman, while fulfilling her duties as a mother, passes on to society qualities of purity and generosity,” the RSS quotes Golwalkar as saying. He had said Hindu women have always enjoyed a high status in a society that worshipped them as the fountain of “mother power”.

“Much of this sentiment has got washed away in the tide of modernity and its absence is deeply felt in a society immersed in consumerism,” says the RSS.

It has a few caustic remarks to make about the women’s movement in the West. “In the West the women’s movement grew with an aim to end gender injustice. But it has still not achieved any great height,” says the RSS. It commends women activists for protesting the excesses and injustice spread by the church.

Somewhere along the line, the RSS explains, the women’s movement in the West got de-railed and started hurting the institution of family, the bedrock of society. “In the women’s movement there were streams which gave more importance to sloganeering than reforming society. They started undermining society which led to their isolation,” underlines the RSS.


Calcutta, Dec. 9: 
Police today claimed to have arrested the kingpin behind a string of dacoities at Usthi in South 24 Parganas over a fortnight ago.

In a pre-dawn swoop, police nabbed 24-year-old Sheikh Sirazul alias Sera from Uttar Kanpur village. A country-made revolver was found on him.

Superintendent of police A.K. Maliwal claimed that Sera’s arrest was a major breakthrough. “We have got some leads after questioning Sera. It will help us track down the rest of the gangsters,” he said.

On the night of November 24, an armed gang of dacoits raided at least 34 houses in Usthi and escaped with valuables after beating up the residents.

Three days after the incident, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee visited the houses and assured the local people of an early arrest of those involved.

Preliminary investigations revealed that Sera also had a hand in three recent dacoities in the city and in South 24-Parganas.

Acting on a tip-off, a special task force, formed immediately after the chief minister’s visit, raided Uttar Kanpur last night. The policemen, led by Diamond Harbour sub-divisional police officer Deep Shankar Rudra, cordoned off the entire village before mounting a door-to-door search.

Eyewitnesses said Sera, who had taken shelter in a hut, fled when confronted by the police. After an hour-long chase, Sera, finding it difficult to escape the police net, jumped into a pond.

Over 50 policemen surrounded the pond. They ordered Sera to come out and surrender. But Sera refused and remained under water for almost an hour until the cold got better of him.

After sustained interrogation today, Sera confessed that nearly 30 other dacoits were involved in the Usthi raids. “We have come to know about some hideouts where the rest of the dacoits are holed up. We shall soon raid those places with Sera’s help,” Maliwal said.

Sera disclosed that a core-group of 30 dacoits, all of them from the city and South 24-Parganas, was behind the dacoities. “All core-group members took part in the Usthi dacoities,” Sera told the police. He also revealed their names.

Police officials said the group’s modus operandi was the same as that of gang behind the twin dacoities in Kasba. “The latest trend is criminals forming core-groups with gangsters from different areas. We are collecting information. A combing operation will be launched shortly,” Maliwal said.

Eleven other dacoits were arrested in South 24-Parganas after police raided some hideouts early today. A group of eight dacoits was arrested from Buroshibtala in Behala. Police raided an abandoned godown where the dacoits had taken refuge.

In another raid, three close associates of gangster Selim were arrested at Mograhat station.


Bankura, Dec. 9: 
The toll in the enteric disease outbreak climbed to six with one more person dying at Bankura Sadar Hospital on Thursday.

According to official estimates, of the 30 patients admitted to hospital over the past six days, the condition of 19 is said to be critical.

Debaprasad Kundu, chairman Bankura municipality, said: “We have mobilised all our resources to ensure that it does not become an epidemic.”

Kundu said the first case was reported last Saturday at Chatpukur slum. After that, the disease spread to Moinabandh and Lalbazar areas.

Situated on the eastern fringes of the municipality, these places are the neglected parts of the town dominated by Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes people.

Hordes of flies greet visitors at the cluster of hamlets of around 20 families surrounded by two ponds, locally called Chatpukur and Rathpukur. Accumulated municipal drain water has almost filled up these two ponds.

The residents, however, are nonchalant. They use these ponds to wash utensils and clothing. There are two tubewells, but they remain idle most of the time, says Aswini Mahanti, who runs a local weekly.

Indra Narayan Patra, ward councillor, is supervising the municipality’s sanitation drive. “We are mainly sprinkling bleaching power and cleaning the drains in the locality. At the same time, we have started an awareness campaign, asking people to drink only boiled water and not to use pond water to wash utensils,” he said.

His doctor-son Ananda Mohan has opened a free dispensary. “My job is to attend to the patients, prescribe medicines for immediate relief and refer them to the Sadar hospital,” he said.

Municipal health officer Abirlal Banerjee said the patients were suffering from an upset stomach and nausea. Some of them also complained of severe headache.

Subdivisional officer Ashraf Ali Mullick said the municipal health officer had been asked to submit a detailed report and arrange a medical team.


Calcutta, Dec. 9: 
Four CPM supporters, including deputy chief of Judhitistirpur panchayat Bhaskar Nayek, were seriously injured when a group of alleged Trinamul Congress supporters attacked them on Friday night at Patharpratima in South 24-Parganas.

Nayek is admitted in hospital. Two persons have been arrested.

The incident took place around 10 pm when Nayek was returning home with his supporters. Police said Nayek had gone to Patharpratima to attend a street-corner meeting.

The party cadre held a series of meetings on Friday to prepare for Sunday’s function at Salt Lake stadium where Jyoti Basu will be felicitated.

Nayek and his partymen were attacked near Bhagabatpur, known as a Trinamul-belt. Nayek’s associates, who had come to rescue him, were also beaten up.

Officials from Patharpratima police station raid the area and arrested two persons.


Farakka, Dec. 9: 
Tension gripped Farakka as local people went on the rampage after a speeding lorry ran over a college student on NH-34 this morning.

At least 10 people, including officer-in-charge of Farakka police station Pradip Dam, were injured in a clash that followed between the policemen and residents.

Dam, who received injuries on his head, was taken to hospital.

The trouble erupted around 9.30 am after 19-year-old Niranjan Mahapatra, a first-year student of D.N. College, was hit by a lorry coming from the opposite direction. Niranjan, who was on his way to college, died on the spot.

Eyewitnesses said the driver of the lorry, oblivious that he h ad knocked down Niranjan, drove on for more than 100 feet with Niranjan trapped under the wheels.

Minutes after the incident, residents assembled on New Farakka More on the highway and blocked the road.

They alleged that despite repeated requests to the police to post a traffic policeman at the site, nothing had been done.

An accident had occurred at the same place three days ago in which a motorcyclist was killed. The residents alleged that their request to set up a speed-breaker had also been ignored.

When the police arrived at the site, the mob turned violent and started pelting stones. In retaliation, the police resorted to lathi charge.

The clash continued for nearly half-and-hour. The residents then set the lorry on fire.

The lathi-charge continued. Then the mob barged into a nearby police outpost, inaugurated recently by the superintendent of police, Murshidabad. They ransacked the place and also broke the walls, doors and windows.

Police said after four hours, local MLAs intervened and the situation was brought under control. The driver of the lorry fled, they added.


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