Bold BJP in temple thrust
Mum’s the word from Mamata
Array of stars under probe
Threat to hit postal staff with essentials’ Act
First day, first show: house full
Calcutta Weather

 
 
BOLD BJP IN TEMPLE THRUST 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Dec. 15: 
Bolstered by the defeat of the Opposition-sponsored motion in the Lok Sabha yesterday, the BJP today made it clear that there was no going back on its stand on constructing a Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya.

Home minister L.K. Advani, one of those chargesheeted by the CBI in the Babri demolition, set the tone, saying: “I need not be apologetic about my ideology. (Defence minister) George Fernandes has definite views on Tibet, but we cannot expect him to give up his ideology on Tibet.”

Drawing a parallel with the freedom struggle, Advani told reporters that “Gandhi and Nehru were poles apart, as far as ideology was concerned. But they came together to participate in the freedom movement.”

The home minister made a clear distinction between ideology and governance and said the NDA’s national agenda of governance was meant specifically for the purpose for which it had been drafted.

Brushing aside objections raised against the Prime Minister’s Ayodhya pronouncements by allies like the Trinamul Congress, he asserted that there was “no pressure” on Mamata Banerjee from her Muslim constituents. “I don’t believe there is any such thing,” he said.

Advani indicated that the Ayodhya issue was as good as clinched in favour of the Ram temple when he challenged the political spectrum to rise up and say if a mosque should be reconstructed on the disputed site.

“Can anyone say that a mosque can be built on that site?” he asked. When a reporter pointed out that former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao had said words to this effect, he retorted: “Even Narasimha Rao said it only once.”

If Atal Behari Vajpayee dominated the headlines for all of last week, it was Advani who delivered the sound bites today at the luncheon meeting hosted by Union rural development minister Venkaiah Naidu. Though badgered by the press, Vajpayee was silent throughout.

The get-together was attended by almost all BJP ministers and senior partymen, as well as Madan Das Devi, the pointman between the RSS and the BJP, who listened carefully to every word that the home minister said.

It was a vastly different Advani from the reticent person who had only last week refused to answer reporters’ queries in his first public appearance in Pune after Vajpayee’s pro-temple statements had created a ruckus inside and outside Parliament.

The home minister also questioned the veracity of the CBI chargesheet against him.

“After reading the chargesheet on me, I am really surprised,” he said, appearing beside sports minister Uma Bharti who was having an informal chat with reporters.

Then, alluding to the charges framed against cricketers Mohammad Azharuddin and Ajay Jadeja, he turned to Bharti and said: “You should look into what is happening in your ministry.” Sources close to Bharti said she herself had “second thoughts” on the alleged culpability of Azhar and Jadeja in the match-fix scandal.

Advani said the defeat of the censure motion was a “massive victory” for the BJP. “I believe the matter has been raised for political gains,” he said.

“Those who raised it should give a second thought about it because in the last three years, the government had left the three contentious issues (Ram temple, Article 370 and uniform civil code) to strengthen social and communal harmony.”

He stressed that the Prime Minister’s reply had “clarified the situation and no harm was done to communal harmony”.

   

 
 
MUM’S THE WORD FROM MAMATA 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 15: 
After giving vent to her passion in the Lok Sabha yesterday to keep the secular flag flying, Mamata Banerjee, finding herself in a Catch-22 situation, took recourse to maunavrata today.

Despite the Trinamul Congress leader’s veiled threats over Atal Behari Vajpayee’s remarks on the Ayodhya issue, the Prime Minister chose to ignore the sentiments of the secular allies.

The talk in political circles is that she may dump the NDA only after presenting the railway budget in February, just before the Bengal Assembly elections.

She had a meeting with her MPs in the morning, but Trinamul did not divulge its future course of action.

The Prime Minister’s camp is worried whether she would hit out at him in the Rajya Sabha on Monday or Tuesday.

   

 
 
ARRAY OF STARS UNDER PROBE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Mumbai, Dec. 15: 
Police are investigating several Bollywood filmmakers, actors and actresses with suspected mob links, a top police officer said today, a few hours after a diamond merchant involved in the film Chori Chori Chupke Chupke was summoned to the crime branch headquarters for questioning.

“The entire film industry is in the grip of the underworld. Some directors, actors and actresses are also involved. We are investigating them and trying to break the nexus,” police commissioner M.N. Singh said.

A few hours earlier, Bharat Shah, a diamond merchant and financier of Chori Chori Chupke Chupke, was questioned about his involvement in the film, which, police said, was funded by Chhota Shakeel, a Dawood Ibrahim confidant. The film’s producer, Nassim Rizvi, was arrested on Wednesday on charges of extortion, intimidation and plotting murders of Bollywood stars.

A senior police officer said they were trying to find out whether Shah, the financier of Dil Se and China Gate, had links with the mob and fronted for the D company in the film, the prints of which were seized by the police on Wednesday.

An angry Shah, emerging from the crime branch office after an hour of questioning, dismissed the allegations about his mob links as “rubbish”. He contended he had financed the film, produced by the arrested Rizvi.

The police did not say if they have any evidence of Shah’s involvement with the underworld. The police chief said all those involved in the case were being interrogated.

Two of the cast in the film had been summoned tomorrow to the crime branch for questioning, a police officer said. But he refused to disclose their names. The multi-crore blockbuster starred Salman Khan, Rani Mukherjee and Preity Zinta. It was to be released on December 22.

Singh called the producer’s arrest “the beginning of the end of the underworld operation in the film industry”. He said the police would crack open the mob network and find out “who are issuing threats, financing and controlling” the industry.

He said the producer’s arrest had provided the police with a “big lead which we are following now and hope to unearth the entire underworld operation”.

Joint commissioner of police D. Shivanandan said Rizvi had already confessed to links with Shakeel. The producer also admitted to “using Shakeel’s influence to see his film through”.

Rizvi had been remanded to the police custody for questioning till December 27.

   

 
 
THREAT TO HIT POSTAL STAFF WITH ESSENTIALS’ ACT 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 15: 
The Union government today decided to get tough with striking postal employees, threatening to invoke the Essential Services Maintenance Act (Esma), even as it drew up an emergency plan to get the huge postal backlog delivered.

As postal employee unions stuck to their demands and decided to continue with the strike, the Centre asked state governments to take “all” steps necessary to maintain law and order and to help those willing to rejoin duty.

The first state to invoke Esma was Delhi, which issued the order tonight prohibiting strike in postal services or agitation by postal employees for six months.

West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, however, said the government was against taking any harsh measure against striking employees. “We are against imposing such draconian laws like the Esma. What Delhi is doing is committing a terrible crime against the working class. We do not want to be a party to this,” he emphasised.

The Centre, meanwhile, announced it will urge retired postal employees, students from colleges and schools, home guards, NCC and NGOs to help maintain postal services. Computer institutes will be roped in to maintain VSATs or long distance hot lines used by computer networks.

The government threatened to use Esma as the strike was causing considerable inconvenience to the common man, it said in the Lok Sabha. The issue rocked both Houses of Parliament and the Left parties staged a walkout, protesting against government’s decision yesterday to invoke the Industrial Disputes Act and declare the strike illegal.

Union communications minister Ram Vilas Paswan told Parliament: “The Cabinet secretary has written a letter to all the chief secretaries of states directing them to take appropriate measures to maintain law and order.”

The Congress and the Left MPs, however, attacked the Centre for its “apathy” towards workers and described a Delhi High Court order asking it to bring services back to normal as “erosion of power of executive”.

Paswan said the government could not meet the pension demand for extra departmental assistants as it would have an impact on other workers in the Railways and other departments.

The minister accused the Left of playing politics with the agitation. He said the government had met several demands of postal federations.

   

 
 
FIRST DAY, FIRST SHOW: HOUSE FULL 
 
 
BY SHANKAR MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, Dec. 15: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s work ethics came into effect on Friday. The Telegraph looks at the Day I results at Writers’ Buildings.

No. of employees: 6,164

Present: 5,644
Late: 566
Time: 9.30 am;
Place: Bowbazar

Thousands of people hotfooting it towards BBD Bag. The ignorant might have mistaken the onrush for a procession. From 9.30 am to 10 am, BB Ganguly Street — the arterial road that links Sealdah station to BBD Bag — is virtually under siege of Writers’ babus. About 10,000 to 15,000 of them get off trains every day and walk to office along this road. The difference on Friday is the number walking, almost racing, together at the same time.

Time: 10 am
Place: Writers’

Gate 1 is virtually choked and policemen on duty step aside to make way for the press of employees scrambling to get in first. Traffic on Brabourne Road in front of the gate comes to a standstill for about 15 minutes. Many do not wait for the elevator and clamber up the stairs. The footfalls on the wooden staircase sound like an army on the march.

Time: 10.15 am
Place: Finance department

Some have already taken their seats and about 20 are in the queue to sign the attendance register. “Sir, I have entered office in time, don’t stop me from signing the register,’’ said one. At 10.30, the register is sent to the joint secretary, as mandated by the chief minister.

Time : 10.30 am
Place: Agriculture department

Forty employees are already at their place of work. Realising that the attendance register is not in the department, two employees rush to the joint secretary’s office and show him that the time on their watches is 10.15. They are allowed to sign, but asked to adjust their watches to the office clock.

Time: 10.30 am
Place: Finance department

Minister Asim Dasgupta emerges from his office and proceeds towards his department without informing anyone. He wants to see the attendance register in the budget department and asks the officer-in-charge to send the register to the joint secretary as time is up.

Some people see a chance to get in a word. “Launches from Howrah do not operate on time. Traffic jams at Hatibagan and Moulali are a regular feature. To reach office in time, we have to leave home early in the morning without having meal,’’ said Santanu Das. Others nod in agreement.

“I shall definitely see that trains and other transport ply in time during office hours,’’ Dasgupta replies.

Time : 11 am
Place: Information department

This is where mediapersons were assaulted by employees for taking photographs. Seeing cameras again, some of them said: “You will not get the photo you want. See, all of us have reached in time.”

Time: 11.30
Place: First floor corridor

Tea, cigarette and a deafening buzz. Is this military rule? “I have to come from Ranaghat and left home at 8. How much earlier should I leave home, at dawn? Where shall I eat?” asked an employee. “Will the government pay lunch allowance?” questioned another sarcastically.

Asked why they are gossiping in the corridor, one of them said: “Are you a reporter? Then listen: they have asked us to come to office in time and we have come, that’s all.’’

Time: 1.30 pm
Place: Ground floor

Unusually heavy crowd at all canteens and food stalls inside Writers’. One canteen-owner, Bhola, is surprised to see so many customers asking for dal, bhat, aluchokha. Same rush at Ratan’s food stall.

“What shall I do? I am compelled to eat here. I had to leave home at 8 am after only breakfast,’’ said an employee of the PWD department.

Time: 5.30 pm
Place: Writers’ press corner

With the state secretariat virtually empty, Asim Dasgupta tells the media: “Ninety-one per cent of the employees at Writers’ Buildings, New Secretariat and Bikash Bhavan in Salt Lake turned up before 10.15 am.”

Dasgupta said senior officials will keep regular vigil. “This is not a matter of a couple of days. It will be maintained,” he said.

But the sceptic had the last word. “It is just like a marriage. Bowbhat, fulsajya, honeymoon. For one or two months it will continue. After that as usual — quarrel between husband and wife,’’ said a senior employee.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 26.5°C (0)
Minimum: 13.6°C (0)

Rainfall:

Nil

Relative humidity

Maximum: 91%,
Minimum: 44%

Today

Sunny day. Clear night. Minimum temperature likely to be around 14°C
SUNRISE: 6.15 am
SUNSET: 4.50 pm
   
 

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