Govindacharya set for Kumbh truce
Ghani mellows on mahajot
Surjeet praises stern Sonia
Powell briefed on India
Indonesian support for Atal Kashmir initiative
Fast-track welfare for restive north
Better-Haldia onus on CMDA
Fresh furore over Siliguri township
Police sorry for Trinamul ‘harassment’
Have a feast with pithe & payesh

 
 
GOVINDACHARYA SET FOR KUMBH TRUCE 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Jan. 11: 
K.N. Govindacharya will make his first public appearance since his exile from the BJP headquarters at the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad tomorrow. He will appear on his favourite platform — the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM).

SJM sources said the former BJP general secretary, who has left Delhi and will now be based either in Nagpur or Varanasi, is expected to address a press conference on the swadeshi line of economic and agricultural policies.

Sources said Govindacharya may not go after the government because he is still a primary member of the BJP and an attack on the Vajpayee government’s policies barely a week after he was sent packing from his 11 Ashoka Road residence would be construed as “personally motivated and biased”.

Govindacharya will address the press soon after inaugurating the swadeshi mela, organised by the SJM to propagate its ideology and programmes to the Kumbh devotees.

“But there will be no criticism of the government. If, by the way, a note of dissent is struck while speaking on agriculture or globalisation, we wish to make it clear that it will be just incidental and not intentional,” said SJM sources.

The SJM bosses here have taken exception to the manner in which one of their representatives spoke out against the Centre to news agencies in Allahabad.

Yogesh Shukla had said the SJM had decided to educate the people about the “faulty economic policies of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government” as well as appeal to them to boycott MNC products.

Shukla also said reduction of import duty and dumping of goods in India by some countries would also figure on the swadeshi agenda for the SJM’s meetings at the Kumbh Mela.

“The government’s policies have not been helpful to our cause. We will force the government to toe the swadeshi line by creating awareness among the masses,” he stressed.

SJM sources here, however, clarified that Shukla was not their authorised spokesman and as such his views should not be taken “seriously”. With the SJM announcement, the Vajpayee government seems to have reined in two key Sangh constituents.

The dharam sansad, convened by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), may end up being a tame affair now that the VHP has decided to defer the announcement of the date of construction of the Ram temple. And with the SJM, too, likely to pull its punches, the Vajpayee government has been given a much-needed respite in the run-up to the budget.

   

 
 
GHANI MELLOWS ON MAHAJOT 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Jan. 11: 
A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury once again surrendered before the high command after the Congress snubbed the veteran warhorse from Malda, rejecting the mahajot proposal with the Trinamul as long as the BJP is a part of it.

The former Bengal party chief called on Sonia Gandhi and underlined the need for a coalition in the state and invited her to visit Calcutta. “You come and see for yourself the ground level situation,” he said. He said Sonia accepted his invitation to visit Bengal but she will not be visiting Midnapore.

During his meeting with Sonia, Ghani did not insist on having an alliance with the Trinamul with the BJP as its ally. “I have nothing to do with the BJP. I am in favour of an understanding with Mamata,” he said.

Party sources said Ghani softened stand after Sonia’s emissary Kamal Nath met him. Nath is understood to have said Sonia had appointed him as a permanent invitee to the Congress Working Committee and that she was keen to “utilise” his vast experience in the apex body. The AICC plenary session will be held at Bangalore from February 14-16.

The veteran leader said he was opposed to the idea of imposing President’s Rule in the state. “It would help the CPM,” he said while admitting that law and order in the state had deteriorated.

Earlier, AICC spokesman Anand Sharma said there was no change in the Congress stand that it would not be party to any alliance if the BJP was a part of it. “The question of an ideological compromise does not arise. The stated policy of the party is binding on every member,” Sharma said. However, he ruled out disciplinary action against the veteran leader.

Sharma also indicated the party’s reluctance to slap Article 356 on Bengal pointing out that it was for the NDA government to take the lead. Sharma accused the government of withholding information on the prevailing political situation in the state. “The government is not consulting us,” he said.

Pointing at senior leader Ghulam Nabi Azad’s statement asking the government to spell out “ground rules” for Central rule, Sharma said the government sho-uld first clarify if killings alone could be a basis for stringent Central intervention. “Let them come forward with their formulations and then we will react,” he said.

Bangaru on Bengal

BJP chief Bangaru Laxman said in Ahmedabad that he favoured imposition of President’s rule in Bengal but conceded that he could not make the demand as the Congress was “playing a double game”, reports our correspondent.

“While Congress leaders in West Bengal demand imposition of President’s rule, their leaders in Delhi say they do not favour such a measure,” Laxman told reporters at a news conference here.

The Centre needs Congress support in the Rajya Sabha to ratify President’s rule in Bengal.

According to the BJP chief, democracy was in peril in the Left Front-ruled state. He claimed that about 350 people have been killed and thousands uprooted after the last general elections were now living in three relief camps.

Expressing concerning at the recent violence spiral in the state, Laxman said CPM workers were targeting Trinamul Congress supporters in a bid to terrorise them “because they know they will not win the coming Assembly polls”.

He welcomed the drive for a grand anti-Left alliance for the coming polls and said the Trinamul and the BJP could go in for seat adjustments with the Congress.

Laxman said he had appealed to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad not to announce the date for the construction of the Ram temple at its dharam sansad. “We have asked the VHP leaders to give a fair chance to the effort being made to solve the Ayodhya issue,” he said.

   

 
 
SURJEET PRAISES STERN SONIA 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, Jan. 11: 
After the snub to Ghani Khan Chowdhury, Sonia Gandhi today earned a good-conduct certificate from Harkishen Singh Surjeet. “The Congress is on the right track,” the CPM general secretary said.

Though he hasn’t spoken to Sonia on the issue because there was “no need”, the Congress, Surjeet certified, was behaving well, regardless of Priya Ranjan Das Munshi’s public indulgence of the Trinamul Congress, which is working overtime to wrest from the Left Front its closely guarded seat of power for over 20 years.

Mamata Banerjee is hankering for an alliance with the Congress, but Sonia’s party is interested only if she ditches the BJP. However, the spiralling violence in West Bengal has pushed the Congress closer to the Trinamul. The balance may start tilting dangerously against the CPM-led Left Front if the two get any closer.

This is where Surjeet — who has always liaised with the Congress — steps in, having advised and guided the party’s president through the political labyrinth of coalition politics.

Not that Sonia was always a dutiful student — she turned down the veteran Marxixt’s repeated requests to support a third front-led coalition in 1998. Notwithstanding the spurts of acrimony, Surjeet and Sonia have a direct channel of communication, often grating on the political “sensibilities” of some hardline CPM leaders.

This channel has served the Left Front well in its most critical hours. Surjeet has cautioned 10 Janpath against rallying with the Trinamul, especially when it is allied with the BJP. Sonia has remembered his advice. Das Munshi may sound as belligerent as Mamata and the West Bengal Congress leaders may start getting friendly with the Trinamul, but Sonia holds the party’s reins very firmly. Any talks or negotiations without her sanction can be just empty words.

According to the grapevine, if there is any one leader outside her party on whom Sonia relies, it is Surjeet. He laughs heartily at the conjecture, but doesn’t refute it.

No wonder the CPM warhorse sounds confident of holding Sonia true to her word: keeping a distance from the BJP. “Muslims are apprehensive of Mamata’s association with the BJP and the Trinamul is losing their support,” said Surjeet. The Congress will not want to be seen as part of a mahajot (grand alliance) that carries an overtly communal tinge.

When the possibility of a mahahot had begun to threaten the Left Front, Surjeet had used his goodwill with Sonia to keep the Congress on a leash. The CPM can breathe more easily if it does not have to guess the Congress’ plans in a state where it has been the Left’s principal adversary for more than a decade. Surjeet, however, seems to “know” the Congress’ “heart” in this turmoil.

   

 
 
POWELL BRIEFED ON INDIA 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, Jan. 11: 
The Clinton administration, in its final days in office, has advised the incoming government to explore the full range of relations with India and build on the momentum generated by the first presidential visit to South Asia last year in nearly a quarter century.

Karl Inderfurth, the outgoing assistant secretary of state for South Asia, briefed General Colin Powell, the secretary of state-designate, for two-and-a-quarter hours last week to prepare for the Bush administration’s engagement with India and other countries in the region.

Inderfurth was accompanied during the briefing by a battery of 10 officials from the National Security Council (NSC), departments of defence, commerce and energy and the office of the US Trade Representative.

Also at the briefing were state department officials dealing with non-proliferation, counter-terrorism and humanitarian efforts.

A surprise presence at the briefing was William B. Milam, the US ambassador to Pakistan.

Inderfurth said Powell came alone for the session, took copious notes and the left the impression on his briefers that he would be a hands-on activist secretary of state.

Inderfurth, who has been part of the Clinton team for all of its eight years in office, said in a farewell meeting with South Asian journalists here yesterday that it was for the Bush administration to decide on the remaining sanctions against India for its 1998 nuclear tests.

He said the designation of Lashkar-e-Toiba, the Pakistan-sponsored extremist outfit active in Kashmir, as a terrorist organisation was still under review by counter-terrorism officials of the state department.

The outgoing administration has particularly briefed the Bush team about its hopes for peace in Kashmir.

Inderfurth said the significance of the latest peace efforts initiated by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was that “it is home-grown, not coming from outside” the region. “But others are very interested”, he said, adding the planned trip by Hurriyat leaders to Pakistan was an “important step”.

The outgoing assistant secretary of state expressed hopes that Congressional committees, the NSC, the US Agency for International Development and the department of defence will all have separate units for South Asia as in the state department to devote greater attention to the region.

At present South Asia is clubbed with the “Near East” in all these US agencies except the state department.

Although Inderfurth is relinquishing office on January 20, the Bush administration has not yet named anyone to succeed him. Indeed, caught up with perils of senior Cabinet confirmations, the Bush team has not considered anyone yet for any assistant secretary-level jobs in the state department.

Meanwhile, the Clinton administration has further relaxed controls on the export of high-performance computers to India, Pakistan, China, Russia and several other countries.

This followed the administration’s conclusion that these countries could no longer be prevented from acquiring such computers and that American companies were losing business on account of export restrictions.

   

 
 
INDONESIAN SUPPORT FOR ATAL KASHMIR INITIATIVE 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
Jakarta, Jan. 11: 
Indonesian President Abdurrahaman Wahid, busy fighting separatists and an economic slowdown, today supported Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s peace initiative in Kashmir.

“We reject terrorism everywhere,” Wahid, whose country has been rocked by a wave of bombings, said. “We are tied by our treaty with India and other countries,’’ he said while trying to explain his stand on Kashmir. “Personally, of course, I support Vajpayee’s position on Kashmir,” he added.

If there was ambiguity on this “position”, senior ministers of his Cabinet clarified: “What President Wahid meant was his support for the suspension of military action against the militants in Kashmir as announced by Prime Minister Vajpayee.’’

They added that Jakarta was in favour of a resolution of the Kashmir problem through a dialogue between India and Pakistan.

Vajpayee, who had yesterday expressed unequivocal support to Indonesia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, iterated his stand this afternoon at a joint press conference.

“As multi-ethnic, multi-religious and diverse societies, both our countries support each other’s unity and territorial integrity,” he said. “We have common maritime borders and common security concerns. For this, and other reasons rooted in our age-old friendship, India and Indonesia will always stand by each other through good and difficult times.’’

Wahid, who is keen on building strong relations with India, accepted Delhi’s support.

Vajpayee made an oblique reference to the developments in East Timor, Aceh, Iriwian Jawa — places where separatist campaigns are gaining ground. “At the present juncture, your great country is again going through a process of political and economic transformation which is affecting your society and polity at many levels,’’ the Prime Minister said.

Vajpayee, diplomatic enough not to mention the places by name, said: “India wholeheartedly supports the people of Indonesia in the process of national transformation.’’

The two leaders, along with the delegation which includes minister of state for foreign affairs Ajit Panja and junior minister of commerce Omar Abdullah, held discussions on areas where they can work together.

Several agreements and memoranda of understanding were signed by the two sides. An agreement on defence will lead to the establishment of a joint commission to look after training, technical assistance and supply of defence equipment.

Other pacts covered a proposal to set up a joint commission between the two governments and between the foreign offices. Deals were also reached for cooperation in science and technology, culture exchanges and agriculture.

A joint business council meeting was held between the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) and its Indonesian counterpart, Kadin.

“I am confident that the governments and businesses of our two countries will shape the evolving contours of bilateral trade and economic relations. I am equally sure that these will reflect and also magnify our historically cordial political ties,’’ Vajpayee told the business council meeting.

Vajpayee identified the possible areas of greater cooperation. These include, oil and natural gas, agriculture, science and technology and information technology.

   

 
 
FAST-TRACK WELFARE FOR RESTIVE NORTH 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 11: 
Concerned at allegations from its own ministers that north Bengal has been neglected, the government has drawn up a comprehensive plan for the overall development of the restive region.

The plan will be monitored by the newly formed North Bengal Development Council.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who is also the chairman of the council, held a meeting today with his Cabinet colleagues from north Bengal and directed them to make all efforts for speedy infrastructure development in the seven districts of the region.

The government has received feedback that the lack of development and growth is one of the reasons for the north Bengal unrest.

The PWD minister of state, Monohar Tirkey, demanded that the council be given autonomous status similar to the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council. The chief minister, however, rejected the plea.

North Bengal University has been given the responsibility to prepare a plan for socio-economic development. The university will constitute an expert committee, comprising economists, engineers and scientists, which will draw up the detail of the plans to be implemented. The committee will submit its report to the chief minister through the vice-chancellor.

Another panel has been formed to prepare a blue print on utilisation and protection of water resources and remedial measures to protect the north Bengal districts against recurring floods.

Bhattacharjee has asked the committee to draw up both short term and long-term plans on flood prevention.

Other infrastructure development projects which are to be taken up include augmentation of drinking water supply, repair of roads, improvement of transport services, minor irrigation, rural electrification, agro-based industries, sericulture, fisheries, self-employment and setting up of vocational education centres.

The North Bengal Development Council was formed last year to supervise and monitor development projects in the seven districts — Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Cooch Behar, North and South Dinajpur, Malda and Murshidabad.

Dinesh Dakua, minister for scheduled caste and tribe, was named the vice-chairman of the council.

State ministers from North Bengal, including Tirkey, Jogesh Burman, Biswanath Chowdhury, Biren Maitra and Anisur Rehman, had lodged a complaint with Basu, saying that development work carried out in the region by the government is much less as compared to south Bengal.

Basu had asked urban development minister Ashok Bhattacharjee and finance minister Asim Dasgupta to take up programmes to ensure a balanced development.

At today’s meeting, Chowdhury raised the issue of recurring floods in Malda, Murshidabad and North and South Dinajpur which damage crops and take several lives every year.

He urged the chief minister to chalk out a plan to save the people of the four flood-prone districts.

The massive erosion caused by the Ganga and the Padma in Malda and Murshidabad has been a cause for worry for the government.

   

 
 
BETTER-HALDIA ONUS ON CMDA 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 11: 
The government has asked the Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) to implement infrastructure projects in Haldia in an effort to speed up development work in the industrial town.

Realising that industry’s first choice is Haldia, the government has drawn up an action plan which includes several projects to develop the entire township and provide infrastructure facilities and better civic amenities to prospective investors.

A sum of Rs 700 crore has been earmarked for the purpose initially. The projects include construction of new roads and a modern sewerage system and solid waste management.

A water treatment plant will also be built to provide safe drinking water to the people of Haldia.

According to officials at Writers’ Buildings, the rush of investors has increased after the government unwrapped a host of incentives for setting up industries, including downstream projects of Haldia Petrochemicals.

The government said it was unhappy with the poor performance of the local authority in implementing development projects and, therefore, decided to engage CMDA for the purpose.

Urban development minister Ashok Bhattacharya, who is also chairman of the Haldia Development Authority, recently held a meeting with chief secretary Manish Gupta and the managing director of the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation, D.P. Patra, to finalise the action plan and work out ways in which to speed up development work in and around the Haldia industrial area.

The government plans to project the Haldia Petrochemicals Complex during its election campaign. It does not want to give the Opposition any opportunity to ask embarrassing questions.

“More and more entrepreneurs are lining up in the industrial town. The importance of Haldia is gradually increasing. To cope with the rush and to provide all infrastructure facilities to the investors, we are giving priority to develop Haldia. Haldia Development authority, Haldia municipality and other agencies are engaged in the purpose,” Bhattacharya said.

The minister said CMDA had vast experience in implementing time-bound development projects. Besides, it had experienced engineers, technicians and sufficient number of dedicated workmen. “To avail of the expertise of CMDA, we have engaged them in implementing projects at Haldia,” Bhattacharya added.

“We are taking several measures to speed up infrastructure development at Haldia so that the new entrepreneurs can set up their industries without facing any problems,” chief secretary Gupta said.

   

 
 
FRESH FURORE OVER SILIGURI TOWNSHIP 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, Jan. 11: 
Trouble is brewing at the controversial Chandmani tea plantation, which is to be turned into a satellite township, as displaced workers have threatened to forcibly “re-occupy” the garden following a “lockout” at the Subalvita division where they had been “rehabilitated”.

Tension gripped the area after the management of the Chandmani garden in the Terai declared a lockout in the Subalvita division on January 5.

In December 1997, then chief minister Jyoti Basu had announced that a satellite township would be built, spread over 406 acre of the Chandmani garden on the outskirts of Siliguri.

The memorandum of understanding, signed between the government and Chandmani Tea Company in November 1997, had spelt out that “the existing workers who were likely to be displaced because of the construction of the satellite township will be rehabilitated by the Chandmani Tea Company Limited”.

The management had cited “un-economical production at the plantation”, established in 1929, and the need for greater urbanisation of Siliguri town as the reasons for agreeing to turn plantation land into a township.

Under the agreement, the government will hand over the 406-acre land to a company under the Chandmani estate’s management on a lease of 99 years along with a payment of Rs 13.23 crore as salami.

However, the project was mired in controversy with strong opposition from political parties and environmentalists.

Township detractors alleged that land reforms and plantation laws were “conveniently” flouted to suit certain vested interests.

Under a tripartite agreement between the government, Chandmani Tea Company Limited and the trade unions, it was agreed that displaced workers would be transferred to the garden’s Subalvita division. Around 170 labourers were shifted to Subalvita in 1998.

On January 4 this year, the Subalvita management issued a notice announcing suspension of work from the next day because of “lawlessness and lack of orderliness and forceful prevention of the management for executing managerial functions”.

Protesting against the move, the Intuc-affiliated National Union of Plantation Workers has threatened to “remove all workers to Chandmani tea estate if the management does not withdraw the lockout by January 15”.

Intuc’s Darjeeling district secretary, Aloke Chakravorty, said: “The problem arose after the Subalvita management instructed the workers to work at Fulbari tea estate, also owned by the same company, citing non-availability of work at Subalvita. But the workers refused.”

   

 
 
POLICE SORRY FOR TRINAMUL ‘HARASSMENT’ 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Durgapur, Jan. 11: 
Police today apologised in public for “having caused harassment” to family members of Trinamul Congress workers during raids on their houses last night.

The police searched the houses of 10 Trinamul workers who had allegedly threatened Ajit Ghosh, a local committee member of the CPM, with dire consequences.

Ghosh had lodged a written complaints with the police, saying the Trinamul men had threatened to kill him on January 5, the day the party had called a Bangla bandh.

Trinamul supporters today blocked G.T. Road for two hours from 9.30 am to protest against the raids. Prabhat Chatterjee, a leader of the party’s youth wing, alleged that the police had also “insulted” women during the operation.

The agitation was withdrawn after the officer-in-charge of Waria investigation centre, Saikat Ray, apologised over loud speaker for the raid. “Please don’t misunderstand me. I have no political affiliation. I just did my duty by conducting the raid on the basis of a written complaint. I will do the same if you make a specific complaint...” he said.

   

 
 
HAVE A FEAST WITH PITHE & PAYESH 
 
 
FROM DEBASISH CHATTOPADHYAY
 
Howrah, Jan. 11: 
News for those with a sweet tooth — this Sunday, Konnagar is hosting a pithe and payesh competition. Only women will be allowed to participate, though tasting the sweet dishes, presumably, will be open to both genders.

At the competition, to be held on Paus Sankranti — the annual occasion for grandmother to make her famous dudhpuli and a host of other Bengali delicacies — prizes will be given to the best three pithe-artistes. But there will be consolation prizes for everyone who don’t come into the top three.

Entries at the competition include payesh, patisapta, dudhpuli, gokul pithe, bara pithe, chitai pithe, chitai chandrapuli and a plethora of other pithes. There is no entry fee. The competitors have to enlist their names by January 13 and must collect the pithe patra — the container in which they will have to submit their items before the judges. They must submit their pithe patra between 11 am and 1 pm on January 14.

The feast has been organised by a social welfare outfit, West Bengal Mass Benefit Society at New Park in Konnagar.

The announcement of the competition has created a flutter among residents. Shila Biswas of Konnagar, one of the participants, gushed: “We have been waiting for such a programme for long.”

But the news has reached distant lands too. “Participants from Behala and Bhowanipur in Calcutta and Santragachi in Howrah have put in their names. But we hope to get more from other places. We hope the number of participants will be more than 100,” said Biswas. Konnagar is about 15 km from Calcutta.

Indrani Dutta, another participant, said: “The competition is mainly based on nalen gur, gobinda bhog rice and milk. The programme should attract all as everybody likes to have uncommon sweets which are not easily available in shops. So we are welcoming all not only as participants but also to taste the variety of pithe.”

The judges will be selected from the locality who are not members of the society or participants.

There will be a noble side to the competition as well. “This programme is aimed at those who like sweets. But we will also felicitate meritorious students and eminent persons of our locality to spread more sweetness,” said Sunil Chakroborty, one of the organisers.

   
 

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