Parents assault strict invigilators
Raid on pirate hub
Race queen readies for poll marathon
Ghising case mission to Nepal flops yet again
Atal tees off gender party
Deshmukh shake-up to tame rebels
Yashwant budget meet to placate party MPs
Women’s rites for Parliament
Also-ran Cong banks on symbolic south
Delhi drive to maintain Clinton-era tempo

Kulpi (South 24-Parganas), March 8: 
Parents of Madhyamik examinees today fought a pitched battle with invigilators for not allowing their children to cheat in the Mathematics paper.

Six persons were injured in the clash at Karanjali B.K. High School which brought a large police contingent and the Kulpi block development officer rushing to the spot.

Trouble started less than an hour into the examination when some students complained that the questions were very tough and demanded that they be allowed to consult each other. The students also wanted to consult private tutors or guardians waiting outside.

The invigilators refused, but the examinees would not give up. When they found that persuasion was not working, they threatened the teachers.

Once the examination ended, guardians and private tutors barged into the school and beat up the teachers and non-teaching staff for not allowing the students to cheat.

“As soon as the last bell rang, a large number of guardians went inside the school and attacked the teachers with stones. The policemen on routine duty at the examination hall were also not spared,” said Radhashyam Bhuian, the school’s headmaster.

Five teachers and a policeman were injured seriously. The guardians also ransacked the classrooms and the school office, the headmaster said.

The invigilating teachers caught hold of four outsiders — guardians and private tutors — and locked them up in a classroom, refusing to let them go till the police arrived.

Demanding their release, furious guardians and students marched out of the school and squatted on the road for two hours, blocking traffic. The mob even refused to allow a teacher, seriously injured in the attack, to be taken to hospital.

The situation was brought under control only after a contingent from Kulpi police station arrived. Block development officer Soumyajit Das said he had asked the police to take action against the culprits.

Additional superintendent of police (rural) Rajesh Kumar Singh added that “we must take action against all those involved in the vandalism after getting a report from the officer-in-charge of Kulpi police station.”

However, one of the guardians alleged that “it was the policemen who attacked us without any provocation when the students were discussing today’s paper after the examination was over. The students were already exhausted and they lost their patience after the sudden attack.”

Arun Kiran Chakraborty, president of West Bengal Board of Secondary Education, clarified that the answer scripts were not damaged. “All the answer scripts are intact and in safe custody,” he said.


Calcutta, March 8: 
Police raided a pirate hideout in Kultali in South 24-Parganas and recovered two deer skin, three mechanised boats, 40 rounds of cartridges and one gun. However, no one was arrested.

Superintendent of police Deb Kumar Gangly, while exhibiting the items at the police head quarters in Alipore, said: “In the international market, the value of the deer skin would be around Rs 25 lakh. Each deer skin measured about six feet in height and four feet in breadth.”


Ranaghat (Nadia), March 8: 
When she won gold at the Jakarta Asian Track and Field Meet, she was dubbed the new Track Queen. When she struck two golds at the Bangkok Asian Games, she was Bengal’s sonar meye. Now she is Comrade Jyotirmoyee Sikdar.

The middle distance star entered her constituency, Ranaghat West, for the first time this morning and walked 10 km around the town in a procession.

The CPM candidate kicked off her poll campaign and her battle to wrest the seat from the Congress’ sitting MLA Shankar Singh.

The CPM had initially planned to hold a rally at the Friends Club ground, but then it dawned on the local committee that loudspeakers were banned because of Madhyamik. The examinations will get over on Monday and Jyotirmoyee should be on the dais the day after.

Today was more of an introductory march, slogans in full throttle as a 100-odd people followed Jyotirmoyee and showed her off along GNPC Road, Dakshinpara, Chhoto Bazar, the municipality area and the Station Road Bazaar.

Jyotirmoyee wore her smile well and trotted with party functionaries. “I can walk 25 km in a day, I have no problem,” she told The Telegraph, after a brief rest. “I am enjoying being with the people.”

Only, it was the first day of a two-month haul before the elections, and the Congress and Trinamul have not even started out.

The early bird theory has, of course, allowed the CPM to take control of many walls as colourful graffiti have appeared. Local leader and CPM district committee member Kalidas Adhikary said: “The response has so far been excellent. We are trying to utilise Jyoti’s celebrity status as a sportsperson to the hilt. Ranaghat should be proud to have her as the representative in the Assembly.”

Not all agree, in this 2,00,000-voter constituency. Basudeb Kundu, who runs a cigarette shop on GNPC Road, is not too eager to have Jyotirmoyee as the local legislator.

“My father started this shop 40 years ago and after years of misrule, we have been seeing some peace now. Also, every time I need to contact Shankar Singh for any signature or any manner of official help, I take a rickshaw for Rs 2.50 and reach his home in Chakdah. I have heard Jyotirmoyee will be staying put in Salt Lake in Calcutta and we’ll see her only for these two months now.”

“Surely not,” rebutted Jyotirmoyee. “I will be here and I must be here. I have quit my job and this is for me now my full time occupation. If I win, I will arrange for a small living quarter here and be around.”

She claimed that as a “native” of the Nadia district (in which Ranaghat falls), she had more right to this constituency than Singh, “who is primarily from Bihar, and then is around for no more than six months a year”.

That, of course, is that Singh has built a strong base here. Tapas Kumar Khan has been running Ranaghat Sweets, a shop in Dakshinpara, for 16 years.

“It will be a breath of fresh air if she wins,” he says. But he confirms that Singh (who is known to be a “tough”), has a lot of say in what goes on and the regular “haftas” have actually been discontinued. He, too, confirms there is a bit more peace now. “The murders still happen, but they leave the common people to themselves.”


Siliguri, March 8: 
Investigators who had gone to Nepal on yet another mission to get their hands on one of the masterminds of the ambush on Subash Ghising have again returned empty-handed.

Police here claim their Nepalese counterparts are unwilling to hand over Deven Gurung as he holds dual citizenship and is also a subject of the Himalayan kingdom.

An official with the special investigation team (SIT) told The Telegraph today that the sleuths who had gone to the Nepalese hill district of Ilam to “bring over” Gurung returned empty-handed. “Gurung’s Nepal citizenship has become a major hurdle to his unofficial extradition,” he said.

Gurung, a resident of bordering town of Mirik in Kurseong subdivision, holds a Nepal passport under the name Dipendra Rai. “Unlike the case of Sharan Dewan and Arjun Tamang, who were handed over to us last week, the Nepal police put their foot-down in then case of Gurung,” the official added.

The investigators claimed they had “broken” Sharan’s resistance. Sharan, who had headed the Kurseong wing of the GNLF’s militant arm, had initially proved a tough nut to crack. But police say he has begun “squealing” under sustained interrogation.

Sharan has revealed that though he was not a part of the actual strike force, he was to supposed to have been the unit’s getaway man.

“Sharan has admitted he arranged the accommodation of the attackers at a private guest house in Kurseong. Both Gurung and Kamal Thapa, the militant killed in the ambush, spent a couple of nights at this guest house in the heart of Kurseong between February 8 and 9. Kamal later moved out and spent the night before the February 10 ambush at Dimple Dewan’s Pradhan Nagar residence along with Vijay (Dimple’s husband),” the official said.

Sharan also claimed that he was under the impression the strike would be on the GNLF’s Kurseong branch committee chief and not on Ghising.


New Delhi, March 8: 
Budget 2001 is not for women. The women’s reservation Bill might as well be lying in a garbage bin in Parliament. The RSS will not brook women wearing jeans. But Atal Bihari Vajpayee will prove he is different.

He created a ripple today by being the first Prime Minister to celebrate International Women’s Day with a tea-party at his residence, overflowing with the right mix of Page Three celebs and national conscience-keepers, mahila morcha activists and animal rights crusaders, and politicos of all sizes — from heavyweights to wannabes and has-beens. They had one thing in common — all were women.

First Lady Usha Narayanan was there, as was Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Delhi chief minister Sheila Dixit. There was cosmetic queen Shehnaz Hussain, designer divas Ritu Kumar and Ritu Beri, classical dancers Sonal Mansingh, Uma Sharma and Swapna Sundari and TV star Maya Alagh.

Lending a tone of “seriousness” fit for the occasion was Manushi editor Madhu Kishwar, former National Commission for Women chairperson Mohini Giri and women activists Ranjana Kumari and Veena Nayyar.

Sonia attracted as much attention as Vajpayee himself. Without batting an eyelid, she slammed the government for dragging its feet on the women’s Bill — within Vajpayee’s earshot.

“We have heard it again and again,” she said, sounding exasperated when some journalists told her of the Prime Minister’s pledge to place the Bill for discussion in the budget session. “Let us hope this is the last time,” Sonia said.

If she wanted to disconcert the government on the Bill, Vajpayee did not mince words on the Congress’ stand on Balco disinvestment and accused it of behaving “unreasonably” again within the Congress chief’s hearing range.

The occasion was used by both host and guest to address impromptu news conferences on a range of issues. Vajpayee’s comment on the stock market crisis was a short “I don’t know, an investigation is on”. As an afterthought, he said: “After liberalisation the government has a limited role.” Sonia condemned the Taliban destruction as “totally unacceptable”.

There were spin-offs as well, what with beauty and brains being in surfeit on the manicured lawns — as was the food spread. Information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj had a pow-wow with designer Ritu Beri on the merits of blacking out FTV. “We have nothing against the channel, but why don’t they show clothes which can be worn by most women?” she asked Beri, after hugging her.

Apart from scoring brownie points, what did the occasion achieve? The comment from a BJP mahila morcha member summed it up: “We have not come here to eat chaat and burfis. We want concrete assurances on women’s reservation from the Prime Minister, but they don’t seem to come.”

But some came looking for smaller gifts. Two young women from the air force and the navy came up to Vajpayee as he took his seat with Usha Narayanan and Sonia. “So what do you want?” he asked in a matter-of-fact way. “To be photographed with you,” they cooed as Vajpayee sat stony-faced.


New Delhi, March 8: 
Flashing a warning signal to dissidents, Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh today dropped five ministers and inducted eight new faces in a Cabinet shuffle.

Deshmukh, who heads a fragile coalition with Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), said the shake-up was aimed at giving more representation to members of the Legislative Assembly.

“It’s an attempt to accommodate more lower House members and give representation to all the legislators,” he told reporters soon after the swearing-in ceremony at Raj Bhavan.

“It is a normal, routine reshuffle done as per my discretion,” he added.

Though the high command tried to downplay the developments, senior leaders said the shuffle would intensify power struggle in the state.

Insiders said Deshmukh and his deputy, NCP’s Chhagan Bhujbal, teamed up to mow down political rivals headed by Ranjit Deshmukh, who was sacked after he refused to put in his papers. The other four ministers complied with his direction to step down.

Ranjit, who held the agriculture portfolio, had clashed with the chief minister over separate statehood for Vidarbha.

While Bhujbal engineered Datta Meghe’s ouster to nip an emerging rival power-centre in the NCP, the sacking of Ranjit and Hussain Dalwai is a snub to Maharashtra state Congress chief Govindrao Adik.

The Vidarbha leader was vying for the chief minister’s post when Deshmukh was chosen. Once a close associate of Pawar, Ranjit had refused to go with his mentor when he revolted against Sonia Gandhi. “Now Pawar has decided to get even with him and no tears will be shed,” said an NCP MP.

But Congress leaders said Ranjit had influence over at least 20 MLAs. “He is a cool customer. You don’t know what will happen next,” they added.

As news of the shake-up reached the high command, Sonia hurriedly convened an informal meeting of the working committee to discuss the situation in Maharashtra as well as in Bengal and Tamil Nadu, which are going to polls soon.

She also reviewed preparations for the 81st AICC plenary in Bangalore on March 17 and 18.

The party stepped up pressure on Jayalalitha, making it clear that her offer of 40 seats to the Congress-Tamil Maanila Congress combine was “insufficient”. The party wants 60 seats for the combine.

The Congress also wants to go alone in Pondicherry, where the ADMK boss has promised the first two-and-a-half-years of governance to the PMK if their alliance comes to power.

However, the Pondicherry Congress received a jolt today after state general secretary K. Govindaraju quit the party and joined the PMK.

As for Bengal, where eight MLAs defected to the Trinamul, the party’s aim is to prevent further defections and search for suitable candidates.

“If we, along with Saifuddin Chowdhury’s party, manage to get about 30 seats, we will dictate terms on who should move into Writers’ Buildings,” said a Congress leader in the state.


New Delhi, March 8: 
Finance minister Yashwant Sinha is expected to meet BJP MPs soon and try and clarify the doubts and anxieties they have expressed on the budget.

Party spokesman V.K. Malhotra said a number of MPs has given in writing suggestions for amendments to the budget. Among the major changes they have proposed are relief for the salaried class and government employees, barring IAS officials, and doing away with the excise duty imposed on the garment industry.

The garment sector was up in arms against the budget and retail stores downed shutters on Wednesday to protest against the levy.

“The excise duty was originally sought to be levied only on branded garments to give the non-branded manufacturers, catering to the less well-off sections, a level-playing field. But even in the small-scale sector, a number of garment manufacturers has been using brand names and our MPs’ plea was they should be exempted from the excise duty,” Malhotra said.

Although the proposed amendments have kept the urban class in mind, many BJP members from the semi-rural and rural constituencies are also worked up at the alleged failure of Sinha’s budget to give the farmers a better deal for their produce and lower the cost of agricultural inputs like fertiliser, urea and diesel.

Sinha’s session with the MPs is likely to take place before the BJP’s national executive meets in Calcutta at the end of the month. According to party sources, if an economic resolution is brought, it would seek to endorse the budget without any rider or qualification. However, to silence the “dissenting” voices — which may assert themselves when the resolution is discussed — Sinha has been asked to take them along too.

The RSS has also come down on the budget, though Sinha was its candidate for the finance minister’s post. As many as three articles in the latest issue of the Sangh mouthpiece, Organiser, have slammed the budget. One titled Maha Kumbh of Budget 2001 by Akhilesh Bhargava describes the exercise as an “economic edition of this mega event, the Kumbh Mela”.

It says: “And like the redoubtable sadhus of Juna Akhara, the Finance Minister, once again, jumped into the sangam of fiscal deficit and subsidy, disinvestment and privatisation and second generation reforms, with only faith as his shield.”


New Delhi, March 8: 
For six years, Parliament has observed the same ritual on International Women’s Day.

This year, too, women MPs in both Houses raged against the government for dumping the women’s reservation Bill into the cold storage. Their male colleagues, cutting across party lines, sneered and sniggered — some ready to bludgeon the wilting Bill into pulp.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee also came up with the usual response. “The Bill will be brought up in this Parliament session,” he said, adding it would not have any quotas for backward castes and minorities, as demanded by some parties. “We will try to work out some other solution for the sub-quotas,” he said.

Leader of the Opposition Sonia Gandhi would not buy the assurance the Prime Minister has doled out often.

At the end of the day, the Bill was as much under a cloud of uncertainty as it has been over the past years. An all-party meeting has been summoned, said the Prime Minister. But the anti-reservation lobby has nothing to fear — a consensus will be as hard to work out now as it was last year.

Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav did not work himself into a frenzy — he, as well as his other colleagues in government and in the Opposition, knew the Bill has been given a burial. “By seeking a consensus on the matter the government has made it plain it will not push through the Bill even when it can with the support of the Congress and Left members,” said an activist of a women’s organisation.

Almost all women MPs — barring those whose parties are opposed to the Bill — spoke for the Bill, while the men cracked jokes. “The whole Bill has become a joke,” said Jyotsna Chatterjee of the Joint Women’s Programme.

In the Rajya Sabha, Congress MP Ambika Soni blamed the government for not doing enough to pass the Bill. “Why can’t you bring the Bill up for a discussion?” she asked. In the Lok Sabha, her party colleague Margaret Alva raised the matter and asked the government to pass the Bill.

“There will be no change unless women are included in the decision-making power hierarchy. No government can succeed when 50 per cent of its population is lagging behind,” said Alva. The ritual followed the usual course — women MPs grilling the government, some male MPs indulging them and the government dodging.

Mahajan reminded MPs of the sordid scenes that had scarred Parliamentary proceedings last time when they tried to discuss the Bill in the house.


Whatever the eventual shape of the alliances in the forthcoming Assembly polls, the place of India’s oldest party is undergoing a significant shift. Nowhere is this as clear as in Tamil Nadu where the Congress had to publicly engage with the formidable J. Jayalalitha for a higher share of seats.

The paradox is that the party is fighting hardest for its corner in those states where it is relatively weaker. In Assam, it is banking on the anti-incumbency factor that will undermine the Prafulla Kumar Mahanta-led ruling party. In Marxist-ruled Kerala, the first post-E.M.S. Namboodiripad Assembly election finds the Leftist bloc more riven with clashes than the Congress-led combine.

West Bengal appears a holding action against Mamata Banerjee’s bid to co-opt any Congressmen who is willing to flock to her banner. Had a mahajot actually materialised, it would have been a tense arrangement given the problems of accommodating her supporters with her former rivals in the parent party. But the party will fight for the second place and has little hopes of actually coming to power.

Tamil Nadu is a picture of contrasts. The Congress was first swept out of power in the state the same time as in West Bengal. But it never made it back to power, soon opting to cling to the coat tails of one of the two rival regional parties. The only straw in the wind was the creation of the Tamil Maanila Congress in 1996, but that dream has withered.

Under Sonia Gandhi, there has been a major patch-up with G.K. Moopanar. The two together are putting pressure for more tickets. Earlier, the formula was simple: in the local elections, the national party fought 40 per cent of the seats. In the Lok Sabha, the reverse formula came into play.

What makes the Tamil Nadu scene different from that of all the other states polling next month is the fact it has virtually no experience of coalitions. The Congress has no chance and nor does the TMC, if they go it alone. Given a respectable performance as part of an alliance, they hope to play power broker. Better be kingmaker if one cannot be the ruler.

Going it alone would yield a poor harvest. The Congress came to naught in the 1998 general elections. Two years ago, Moopanar’s forces bit the dust, and despite polling one in 10 votes, could not win a single Lok Sabha seat. Both now realise that a presence in the legislature counts more than votes gone waste in the ballot box.

There is no option but to play second fiddle. The only choice is who to fall in line with: Karunanidhi or Jayalalitha. Power or at least the promise of proximity to it is too deep a habit in the Congress. It lacks in a state like Tamil Nadu the grit to stay out in the wilderness and rebuild itself from the grassroots up.

In this respect, the southern state is different from either West Bengal or Maharashtra. In the latter two, the parent party still has a distinctive identity and social base. The success or failure of the breakaway group hinges on its ability to chip away at Sonia’s legions. In one state they share power and in the other they discussed seat-sharing arrangements though in vain .

Tamil Nadu is still of symbolic significance. Every single time the Congress has formed a government in New Delhi, it has done so by calling the cards successfully in Chennai.

In their heart of hearts, Congress’s strategists hope that a victory in the south will help open fronts elsewhere. This is why Sonia’s ability to drive a good bargain matters more than the numbers might lead us to believe.


New Delhi, March 8: 
South Block is pressing for a bilateral meeting between foreign minister Jaswant Singh and US secretary of state Colin Powell this month.

The government is insisting on an early date for the meeting because it is keen not to lose the initiative in the current bonhomie in Indo-US relations and also because it wants to build up “an early rapport” with the new dispensation in Washington.

Though it’s a bilateral visit where the entire gamut of the India-US relations will come up for review, the proposed trip is being termed as a “familiarisation” programme for Singh with the key players in the Bush administration, particularly Powell.

If the visit materialises, it will not only be the first meeting between the two, but also the first high-level visit from Delhi to Washington after the Bush became President early this year.

Senior foreign ministry officials here feel that earlier Singh builds a rapport with his American counterpart the better. “Moreover, we should not let go of the momentum the two sides have been able to build during the Clinton administration,” an official in South Block said.

Chinese foreign minister Tang Jiangxuan and British foreign secretary Robin Cook have had meetings with their American counterpart over the past few months. South Block officials feel Singh should not lag behind.

The only problem with the dates of Singh’s visit — which are still being worked out — is that the foreign minister is also the leader of Rajya Sabha and, therefore, may not be able to be away from the country for a long time when Parliament is in session.

But external affairs ministry officials argue that Parliament is in session for nearly six months in a year and though it curtails trips abroad for the foreign minister, it should not be made to stand in the way of his undertaking important visits.

The provision for regular interactions between the Indian foreign minister and the US secretary of state has already been thought of in the Vision Statement the two sides announced during the visit of Bill Clinton to the country early last year. Though it is unlikely that Singh will get a chance to meet the President, he will get the opportunity of meeting other key functionaries, including Vice-President Dick Chenny and national security adviser Condeleeza Rice.

Though Singh got a number of opportunities of interacting with his former US counterpart Madeline Albright, his main discussion on key issues like disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation were held with the number two in the state department, Strobe Talbott. The two had last met in London in January during the 12th round of their talks on these key issues, before Clinton embarked on his state visit to India — the first American President to come here in 22 years.

Despite the excellent personal chemistry between Singh and Talbott, no meetings between the two had taken place after Clinton’s visit. This is primarily because the Clinton administration was at the end of its tenure. And perhaps because there was no further movement on the contentious issue of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) — an agreement on which the Americans were keen to see Delhi put its signature to.

Singh can at least go ahead with the meeting with Powell in the full knowledge that CTBT under the Bush administration is no more an issue. The Republicans had played a key role in ensuring that the American Senate does not ratify it. It is unlikely that they will press India to put its signature to the treaty, which, according to many experts, is almost a dead agreement.

This apart, the two sides will get a chance to talk about a number of important issues, including the US-proposed national missile defence system, international terrorism, developments in Afghanistan and the status of India-Pakistan relations and the possibility of resuming their stalled dialogue.


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