Swadeshi language code for Lucknow varsity
Allies wait for Sangh temple date
Seer sounds Jamiat on temple talks
Centre shies away from talks with Pak junta
Television lays fantasy trap for poor children
Li long march via Mumbai
Picasso comes to India
Vanishing vultures fuel funeral rethink
Ghising party smells Left-GLO nexus
Plan for eco-tour hub

 
 
SWADESHI LANGUAGE CODE FOR LUCKNOW VARSITY 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, Dec. 17: 
How about saying “namaste” instead of “hello” on the phone?

The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) wants to cut “anti-Indian” greetings like “hello” and “hi” out of students’ vocabulary.

The BJP students’ wing’s revisionist zeal received a boost from chief minister Rajnath Singh, who has ruled out beauty contests from his state. The ABVP, which has now targeted the Lucknow University campus, also wants people to address their fathers as pitaji and mothers as matashree.

“What is this ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ business?” asks an indignant Premnath Tiwari, an ABVP activist. “These Western influences are not just polluting our environment but also our mind and soul.”

In a letter to the state government, which stipulates a new “code of conduct” for students of the university, the ABVP has asked for a total ban on the English terms.

Also on the junior BJP’s campus hit list are anti-Indian items of clothing like “skin-revealing” miniskirts and tight jeans, while the RSS here has identified some other Western “pollutants”.

The Sangh feels that cakes, birthday cards and most of all, honeymoons, are bad moral influences on the Indian society.

In the series of booklets entitled Adarsh Hindu Ghar the RSS asks newly-weds to do away with the “unnecessary and Western” concept of honeymoons. Spend time on prayers instead, they say, adding that the money can be utilised on social services and religious duties. In pamphlets released this week, the RSS said celebrating birthdays is all right, but doing it with cakes and cards is not.

The ABVP feels that Rajnath Singh’s beauty contest ban — which made Uttar Pradesh the first state to do so — is not just a justification of their intent but also a tacit encouragement by the powers that be.

“Why do you think the government has banned beauty contests?” asks Tiwari. Answering the question himself, he says: “Because such things are anti-Indian, anti-Hindutva and most of all immoral and useless. They serve no purpose at all except exploiting women and bending over backwards before MNCs.”

The ABVP warns that if the government delays or fails to implement the code of conduct for Lucknow University, it will invade campuses across the state and do it themselves.

But many students, especially the girls, are livid with the outfit’s “sudhro and sudharo’’ campaign. “Everytime it is the girls who are targeted. First they said no skirts, now they are saying no jeans,” Kanta Sinha, a university student, said. “With each passing day these organisations are dragging us back to the medieval ages,” she added.

   

 
 
ALLIES WAIT FOR SANGH TEMPLE DATE 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 17: 
With the shift in the stand of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on the Ayodhya issue, key allies are waiting for an opportune moment to dump the National Democratic Alliance government.

NDA sources said the moment could be the unilateral decision of the Sangh parivar to construct the temple at the disputed site. Emboldened by Vajpayee’s statements, VHP general secretary Acharya Giriraj Kishore had said on Thursday that work on the temple will start soon after a date is decided by the Dharam Sansad on January 19 and 20, at the Kumbh Mela.

Even as the key allies expressed their dissent, the Prime Minister, the sources said, is unmoved.

Vajpayee today expressed his displeasure at the conduct of some of the allies when a team of councillors from Lucknow called on him. “Running a coalition ministry is a difficult job. We are doing our best to take everyone along and our efforts will continue,” he told them.

Vajpayee appears to be preparing for life without the allies as he is provoking them to quit, NDA sources said. The Prime Minister is more concerned about the fallout of economic issues especially the widespread grouse of farmers against his government, considered to be pro-trader, they added.

“Lowly onions brought the Congress back to power in four states. The farmers’ grievances, if not redressed immediately, will prove to be a much more potent poison,” said an NDA source.

Aware of the grim situation, especially in Uttar Pradesh, Vajpayee is assessing inputs from various quarters on whether his government can contain the fallout of the farmers’ plight and other economic issues.

While the VHP and the Bajrang Dal are going ahead with the communal agenda, “in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP is planning to buy grain from farmers and distribute surplus stocks to the needy. The party is monitoring the farmers’ problem carefully. As and when we are sure of containing the fallout, the Prime Minister may opt for general elections. He gave a hint of it during the course of his speech in Lok Sabha as he defended his remarks on Ayodhya with ‘let the people decide about it’,” a source added.

Asked if the DMK, which has nine MPs in Rajya Sabha, will abstain from voting on Ayodhya on Monday, a source close to DMK chief Karunanidhi said: “We will not. We will take the same stand that we took in Lok Sabha.”

He, however, added: “The day they decide to construct the temple at the disputed site, this government will fall.”

Sources close to Telugu Desam chief Chandrababu Naidu said their “cut off date” was construction of temple at the disputed site.

Naidu is likely to have a teleconference with his MPs tomorrow on the stand to be taken in the Upper House when the motion on Ayodhya comes up for voting.

Janata Dal (United) spokesman Mohan Prakash said: “Our clear cut stand is let all parties wait for the Supreme Court verdict. Pending the court verdict no one should talk about it.”

   

 
 
SEER SOUNDS JAMIAT ON TEMPLE TALKS 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Dec. 17: 
A tentative step for exploring the possibility of a negotiated solution to the Ayodhya dispute has been taken with a Hindu seer sounding a Muslim scholar.

Jagatguru Shankaracharya of Prayag Peeth Swami Madhavnand Saraswati has taken up the issue with Jamiat-e-Islami (Hind) Amir Maulana Siraj-ul-Hasan. The two religious leaders want political parties to create an atmosphere conducive to holding “meaningful talks” for a “lasting solution”.

According to Jamiat sources, the organisation is in favour of an out-of-court settlement, provided Muslim sentiments are acknowledged and respected. It also wants an undertaking that henceforth such disputes would not be politicised.

The Shankaracharya recently attended a function organised by the Jamiat-e-Islami on Prophet Mohammed. The head of the Vishwa Kalyan Parishad spoke in a language that pleased the gathering.

Bigger organisations claiming to represent the two religions have not yet initiated any formal drive to break the deadlock, but the Jamiat response reflects a view among the minority community that the Ayodhya dispute should be resolved out of court.

The preference for a negotiated settlement stems from a feeling that even if a court verdict favours reconstruction of the Babri masjid, the political class might not abide by it.

On the other hand, an out-of-court settlement can generate a greater sense of security among the minorities and it may prevent the Kashi and Mathura disputes from taking an ugly turn.

At the meeting, the Shankaracharya said no community should be pressured to give in.

He also disagreed with RSS chief K. Sudarshan’s statement about “Indianisation of Islam and Christianity”, maintaining that the spirit of all religions was the betterment of mankind, truth and honesty.

A significant part of the Shankaracharya’s speech was devoted to the Babri masjid-Ramjanambhoomi dispute. “There should be a temple and a mosque in Ayodhya,” the seer said, offering his services to negotiate with the Jamiat and other Muslim organisations.

The Shankaracharya expressed confidence that the controversy over the exact location of the shrines would be resolved if the government and other political parties cooperated with the peace initiative. He offered to lead an all-faith delegation to Ayodhya with representatives from the Union government to work out a settlement.

Jamiat chief Siraj-ul-Hasan, vice-president Maulana Shafi Moonis and other Muslim leaders said that they were prepared to join hands so that the bitterness of the Babri demolition came to an end.

   

 
 
CENTRE SHIES AWAY FROM TALKS WITH PAK JUNTA 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 17: 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee indicated today that the time is not ripe for dialogue with the Pakistan military regime.

The government, which will extend the ceasefire beyond the Ramzan month, believes there is “some peace” on the Line of Control (LoC) but not enough to carry its leadership to the negotiating table.

Vajpayee, who was talking to newly-elected councillors from Lucknow this afternoon, said: “We are ready for talks but violence, terrorism and killings must stop.”

This implies that the government does not want to risk a dialogue with Pakistan at this stage. It is not convinced that the slump in violent incidents is a lasting one and is afraid that a fresh spate of bloodshed, provoked by Pakistan or committed by Pakistani-backed militants, might embarrass it.

Home minister L.K. Advani and defence minister George Fernandes made it clear yesterday that the ceasefire during the Ramzan month has been satisfactory, barring stray incidents perpetrated by Pakistan-based militants. There was a relative lull even on the LoC.

Vajpayee echoed the observation today. “Internationally, India’s stand has been recognised and Pakistan has been isolated. There is pressure on Pakistan to initiate talks with India,” he said.

External affairs minister Jaswant Singh had first dropped broad hints that India was preparing for a dialogue with its neighbour. Soon after the Ramzan ceasefire was enforced, Singh had told Rajya Sabha that once the killings stopped and the junta sent adequate signals that it wanted peace, the government would consider negotiating afresh.

Advani, who visited Wagah soon after, had also spoken of how the Lahore-II process was kicked off by the Ramzan ceasefire offer.

The Cabinet Committee on Security will meet within the next three days to ratify the renewed ceasefire offer. The Prime Minister wants to make a statement on the floor of the House. As the ongoing winter session of Parliament will close on Friday, the government will have to act fast and set the ball rolling within the next five days.

There is optimism in North and South Block, because though there were sporadic attacks on security camps, allegedly by mercenaries of Lashkar-e-Toiba, there were no mass killings as had occurred during the June ceasefire. Pakistani forces across the border have also been quiet.

The Vajpayee administration wants to take advantage of the winter season when the rate of infiltration drops and there is less violence.

Vajpayee, however, pointed out to the councillors that though there is peace on the LoC, militant groups were continuing to target the security forces and their camps. “There are certain Pakistan-based terrorist groups that are not accepting the ceasefire. They are against talks and are indulging in violence,” he said.

But peace is being given top priority. Vajpayee said the ceasefire has “shown how the Kashmiris and the Ladakhis have been yearning for peace. The common people in Kashmir are against violence”. He felt that it suited a few groups if violence persisted and added that the ceasefire did not imply that the security forces were refraining from taking action against them.

   

 
 
TELEVISION LAYS FANTASY TRAP FOR POOR CHILDREN 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, Dec. 17: 
There are two reasons why she is like Karisma Kapoor, Arti knows. “Everyone tells me I look like a heroine. And Karisma was also poor and earned money through hard work,” says the 12 year old whose mother is a domestic help; her father had deserted them.

Arti spends most of her time glued to the television, often late into the night, for how-to-be-a-heroine lessons. “I will first become a model and then a heroine. That is how it is shown on television,” she says, Bollywood stars shining in her eyes.

The small screen is fast turning into the opium of underprivileged children and reel life is wiping out the real.

A report by the Centre for Advocacy and Research on the impact of television — especially cable TV — on children and adolescents rings an alarm bell. Focusing on children between five and 17 years in the capital, the report covered street and slum children, children with disabilities and those from single-parent families.

“The effects of television are deep, especially on these children, who, because of their situation, are vulnerable to these influences,” the report says.

Television images give young viewers a deep sense of bonding with the stars. With Karisma, Kajol or Hrithik always there on the screen, it is easy to believe they could have been next-door neighbours.

“But the preferences of the children we surveyed are quite different from those of affluent children,” says Prakash Jha, one of the authors of the report.

Fantasy is the favourite way to escape. The most popular programmes are fantasies where usually an “invincible saviour” holds sway — Shaktimaan, Chandrakanta, Jai Hanuman, Mahabharat and Ahat. “A disproportionately high response in favour of the fantasy genre may indicate that greater availability leads to increased addiction,” the report stressed.

Next comes violence. The children justify it as a means of the triumph of good over evil, equating violence with power and authority, the report says.

Ramesh, a 13-year-old from a Delhi suburb, who has an alcoholic father, watches enthralled a film in which hero Sunjay Dutt goes on a killing spree, smashing up liquor outlets.

“My favourite is Sunjay Dutt. I will become a police officer like him and ban all liquor stalls. Those rascals have spoiled my father,” says Ramesh.

It is not boys alone who are into action. Thirty per cent of the girls said they preferred action movies — though the preference for violence showed a marked decline with the onset of adolescence. “A crucial aspect of children watching TV is that not only is it their favourite engagement, but also that it is done at the expense of other activities like playing,” says Jha.

Ads have their draw, too. “Responses show that 62 per cent of the children watch advertisements coming during the programmes. The lure of these advertisements is often found to be significant in keeping the children glued to the television,” says the report.

Says Asha, a 15-year-old student: “I love the song and dance in the Pepsi and Coca Cola ads. Otherwise, my favourites are Kajol’s smile and Salman’s fights.”

But commercials have proved fatal. A youngster had died when he bungee-jumped trying to clone the hero in a soft-drink advertisement.

After that incident, a young boy killed himself trying to jump out of the window like the eponymous Shaktimaan.

   

 
 
LI LONG MARCH VIA MUMBAI 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Dec. 17: 
China has finalised the date of National People’s Congress chairman Li Peng’s visit, which is being described as a “big step forward” in the process of normalising Sino-Indian relations.

Li, second in the Chinese pecking order after President Jiang Zemin, will come to India on January 9 for a week-long official tour of Mumbai, Bangalore, Agra and Delhi.

He will be the senior-most leader from Beijing to come to Delhi since the nuclear tests of May 1998, which had seriously strained bilateral relations. He had visited India earlier in 1991 as China’s Prime Minister.

Li arrives in Mumbai to meet representatives from India’s financial capital. He will visit the Taj Mahal in Agra — a de rigueur on any visit to India — and before leaving, spend some time in the country’s information technology hub, Bangalore. Most of his meetings at the political level will be held in Delhi.

Li is coming here on the invitation of Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi and protocol-wise, he will be treated as the vice-president of China. But unlike his Indian counterpart, he is a political heavyweight in Beijing.

That he had to be accommodated as the NPC chairman when Jiang brought in Zhu Rongji as Premier, shows that he continues to enjoy considerable support among party members.

In Delhi, Li is scheduled to meet President K.R. Narayanan, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and foreign minister Jaswant Singh. Besides Balayogi and vice-president Krishan Kant, he will also meet leader of the Opposition Sonia Gandhi.

But Vajpayee will be on a tour of Vietnam and Indonesia when Li arrives. A meeting between the two can be held only after January 14, when the Prime Minister returns.

Relations between India and China took a nosedive following Pokhran II, when defence minister George Fernandes identified China as India’s prime threat. Vajpayee in his letter to US President Bill Clinton a few weeks later repeated the observation as the main reason behind the tests, straining bilateral ties further.

In the following months, China not only became one of the worst critics of Pokhran II, but also took the lead in creating international pressure to get both India and Pakistan to dismantle their nuclear and missile programmes and sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

However, in the past one-and-half years, the two sides have made serious efforts to patch up. The process began with Jaswant Singh’s visit to Beijing in May last year, followed by President Narayanan’s sojourn this May.

The Chinese reciprocated by sending foreign minister Tang Jiaxuang in July and set in motion the move to identify contentious issues and settle them.

   

 
 
PICASSO COMES TO INDIA 
 
 
FROM ELLA DATTA
 
New Delhi, Dec. 17: 
France, the adopted country of Pablo Picasso, will showcase his works of art in Delhi and Mumbai in December 2001.

The exhibition, which is being mounted as a homage to the artist who radically changed the language of modern art, will be in India till March 2002.

Last week, Marie Laure Bernadec, a senior curator in the French museum hierarchy, visited Delhi and held talks with Sharyu Doshi, the Indian commissioner for the show and the director of the National Gallery of Modern Art in Mumbai.

Picasso was born in Spain, but he spent most of his adult life in France. He died in 1973.

The show will feature 130 to 150 works of Picasso representing all the phases of his manifold creative expression — paintings, etchings and lithographs, sculptures and assemblages, ceramics and weavings.

The work of Picasso, considered a landmark in the history of modernism, will be drawn from public and private collections in France.

The exhibition will offer Indians a rare opportunity to savour the variegated genius of Picasso. All the major phases of Picasso’s work — the blue period, the rose period, the famous Cubist period which started with the startlingly different Les demoiselles de Avignon in 1907 and the classical period — are likely to be represented.

The show, which will need massive sponsorship support in order to travel, will be mounted at the National Gallery of Modern Art in Delhi and Mumbai.

The cost will be borne by France, which is depending on corporate support. In India, the local expenses will be undertaken by the Union ministry of culture.

Reciprocating France’s grand gesture, the Union government will send an exhibition of Gupta art to France in 2002-2003. This splendid sample of the golden age of Indian cultural expression will be mounted at the Grand Palais in Paris.

   

 
 
VANISHING VULTURES FUEL FUNERAL RETHINK 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, Dec. 17: 
No screeching, no sound of their flapping of wings. An ominous quiet hangs over the Towers of Silence, the Parsi tomb for the dead, at the heart of the financial capital, where fewer and fewer vultures are flying in to feast on the bodies.

With the bird’s population taking a nosedive in Mumbai and in many other areas in the country, the community is searching for ways to dispose of the rotting bodies without the help of nature’s most efficient clean-up brigade.

Behram Contractor, a veteran journalist from the community, said Zoroastrians prohibits burial or cremation of bodies.

“But still, many Parsis may prefer to be buried after death as an alternative, though it may not strictly have the approval of the religion,” Contractor, the editor of tabloid Afternoon Despatch, said.

“It does not really matter what happens to your body once you are gone and burying the body in any case is better than leaving it out to rot,” he said.

Instead of burying or cremating their bodies, devout Zoroastrians leave their bodies out for vultures at the open-air amphitheatres nestled in 20 hectares of forest on upscale Malabar Hill.

“The community is facing an unprecedented crisis in its 2000-year-old history,” B.K. Karanjia, a Parsi writer of repute said. “There are very few vultures left to do the job,” he added.

A 1999 study by the Bombay Natural History Society reported an alarming drop in the vulture population in the country. Some ornithologists attributed this decline to an unidentified virus sweeping across South Asia.

“You could see hordes of vultures circling over the Towers of Silence on Malabar Hill a few years ago, but now they are all gone,” director of the society, R. Rahmani said.

“No one knows for sure what’s happened to them, but they may have become victims of the mysterious disease killing the vultures in other parts of the country,” he said.

Alarmed by the rotting and stinking corpses piling high in the towers, some senior members of the community recently met the Parsi panchayat, the community’s custodian, and offered several alternatives including the setting up of a crematorium or a burial ground for its approval. Contractor said there was enough land for a graveyard in the towers if the Parsi panchayat gave the green light.

Karanjia said several members of the community were in favour of cremation after Dastur Daboo, a reformist, was cremated. “But the problem is with the priests who generally refuse to perform the last rites.”

He said though the Towers of Silence, dakhmas to the Parsis, had enough land, the government might not give the go-ahead for a crematorium in the heart of the city.

   

 
 
GHISING PARTY SMELLS LEFT-GLO NEXUS 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, Dec. 17: 
The Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) has blamed the CPM for the resurgence of the militant Gorkhaland Liberation Organisation (GLO) led by former Gorkha militant leader Chattray Subba.

GNLF leaders in Kalimpong have accused the CPM of having “propped-up” Subba, former Gorkha Volunteers’ Cell chief, to counter the GNLF’s influence in the Darjeeling hills.

Gorkha councillor K.N. Subba bolstered the accusation by pointing to the release of Tilak Rai, who was arrested for his alleged links with the GLO, after the intervention of two CPM Kalimpong zonal committee members, Sita Ram Thapa and Samuel Gurung. Rai, Subba’s second-in-command during the Gorkhaland agitation, was arrested on November 27 after the reported encounter between the police and suspected Naga militants at Tinkathari in the Jaldhaka forests on November 11.

Subba said: “The police arrested Rai for his alleged links with Naga insurgents involved in the Tinkathari shootout, which left two dead. Within days of his arrest, CPM leaders got him released. The entire episode smacks of a conspiracy hatched by the CPM to destabilise hill politics.”

Political observers in Kalimpong, too, point an accusing finger at the CPM. “Ever since the Marxists lost ground to the GNLF in the hills, the party has been trying to lure away GNLF strongmen. Not only did the CPM get Rai released, the party has allegedly granted him a Rs 90,000 drinking water scheme contract from the MP fund barely a week after he was released,” an observer said.

“The Tinkathari shootout was an eye-wash. Both the press and public were taken for a ride. No Naga militants have been identified or apprehended. The encounter was a part of the plot played out by the CPM-controlled state police,” a GNLF leader said.

The CPM’s half-hearted criticism of the GLO is evident from statements made by senior leaders, including Jyoti Basu and urban development and municipal affairs minister Ashoke Bhattacharya.

Bhattacharya, who visited Kalimpong yesterday, blamed the GNLF-ruled Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council’s neglect of panchayats for the resurgence of militant activities in the hills. Basu termed the renewed Gorkhaland demand as a “pre-election stunt” that will fizzle out after the elections.

But the seething GNLF minced no words last evening, when party Kalimpong heavyweight C.K. Pradhan publicly threatened to hound senior CPM leader and former DGHC councillor Tara Sundas from Kalimpong. Pradhan had earlier called for Sundas’ boycott when he became the only CPM councillor in the DGHC in 1996.

Apart from boosting the GLO, an observer said that the CPM was trying to weaken the GNLF by wooing its more militant members. “The CPM has time and again tried to weaken the GNLF muscle power by wooing the more militant members. The party, instead of supporting the official Left Front candidate from Kalimpong, Mohan Singh Rai, in the 1996 Assembly polls, covertly lent support to GNLF dissident N.T. Moktan. He had left the GNLF and remained an Independent member of the Assembly. He, however, lost to the GNLF’s Gaulon Lepcha.”

The Left party has also lured away a GNLF hardliner with a criminal background, Purtey Kancha, who at one time terrorised the upper and central Dooars belt. Kancha, however, went back to the GNLF.

   

 
 
PLAN FOR ECO-TOUR HUB 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 17: 
The forest department has decided to set up the state’s first “eco-tourism” centre in Chandrakona near Midnapore.

The project is scheduled to be implemented with the help of the Garbeta panchayat samity in Midnapore.

Located about 40 km from Midnapore town, the Chandrakona Environmental Circuit Scheme aims to provide “pollution-free environment” to tourists. Tourist cars will be screened for polluting emissions before being allowed into the circuit area, which will be covered with deep forest.

The scheme will come up in 40 acres with a huge waterbody and is estimated to cost around Rs 2 crore.

A pagoda similar to the one located in Eden Gardens in Calcutta will be built near the waterbody. Boating facilities will be made available to tourists.

The project will have a children’s park, a toy train and a number of picnic spots which will be rented out. A rose garden is also being planned.

The circuit scheme is expected to convert Chandrakona into a tourism hub from where travellers can visit famous sites in Purulia and Bankura.

   
 

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