RSS stands by Vajpayee, guns for his men
NDA retains Fernandes
Atal lines up rallies to counter Opposition
Congress smells Diwali polls
Molest protest cripples varsity
CM sops for Generatio Next
Crackdown on pirates
Decibel bar reminder for parties
Police face mob fury after crash deaths
Medicine purchase

New Delhi, March 16: 
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, fountainhead of the BJP’s ideology and inspiration, has got its claws into the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. Today, at its national convention, the RSS walked a tightrope between indicting the Vajpayee government for its numerous flaws, even as it pushed itself to defend the Prime Minister after the Tehelka expose.

No quarter was given to Bangaru Laxman, former BJP president, who was filmed taking a wad of notes from an “arms dealer”. Laxman has “failed” as a Swayamsevak, said RSS spokesperson M.G. Vaidya. “We teach many students in our school, it is not necessary that everyone passes, some also fail,” he added.

He dumped R.K. Gupta, one of the many the exposé indicts as a middleman in the deal. Gupta has claimed to be the RSS trustee. He reiterated that “the RSS has no links whatsoever with him”.

Though upset with the Prime Minister’s Office, the RSS leaders were careful to put up a public show of solidarity with Vajpayee. The government has no reason to resign, they said. “Even in the 1962 Sino-Indian fiasco, only the defence minister had resigned,” said Vaidya.

When asked about Brajesh Mishra and Ranjan Bhattacharya, whose names have cropped up in the scandal, Vaidya said: “Leave the son-in-law alone. How can anyone be responsible for the actions of one’s son-in-law?” But all those who are involved should be punished, regardless of stature or hierarchy, he added.

“It appears what has revealed is true and the government will have to take care of its administration,” Vaidya said at the RSS’ on-going general council meeting.

The organisation has demanded a thorough probe into the revelations and punishment for the offenders.

More than a thousand Swayamsevaks, including top leaders like Khushabhau Thakre and Govindacharya, gathered at the meeting to discuss the present situation. Even though they were hard put to defend the government, they were not inclined to dismiss the Tehelka trail as “bogus” as many in the Centre have been doing.

At one stroke the BJP mentors demolished the party’s incantation that Tehelka revelations are a “conspiracy” to defame the government. The RSS instead has certified the revelations as “true” — something that warrants a probe and prompt action against the guilty.

“After Bofors it was decided there will be no middlemen in defence deals but that rule has not been followed. It is unfortunate,” said Vaidya. Defence deals should be transparent and without corruption, he said.

The exposé has reaffirmed the RSS’ worst fears that have been stalking it since the Vajpayee government came to power. It was apprehensive the BJP will metamorphose into another Congress and power will erode the integrity and discipline of the party which till a couple of years ago had played the role of opposition.

The organisation, which has been consistently beating the Vajpayee government with a Swadeshi stick, went hammer and tongs at the Centre on the economic liberalisation issue.

“The country is passing through many a critical situation. On the economic front, there is a sense of despondency gripping the farmers and small entrepreneurs because of the illegal inflow of foreign goods and reckless concession for the entry of multinational companies,” said RSS general secretary Mohan Bhagwat.

“The warnings sounded about the dangerous consequences of Enron project are coming true,” said the RSS leaders. However, even now it is not too late to pull back the situation, they added.


New Delhi, March 16: 
He is down but not out. George Fernandes, former defence minister, who resigned yesterday, stepped out of the Prime Minister’s house to brief the media along with Union parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan this evening. He retained his job as convener of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

Fernandes tried to look his usual self. He let Mahajan — who showered praise on him for his resignation — do the talking. Later in the evening, Atal Bihari Vajpayee praised Fernandes in his televised address to the nation for stepping down even though no charge had been established against him.

Fernandes gave the impression that nothing major had happened and that his political career was far from over. It appeared that if the nothing was proved against Fernandes, he would be back in power in four months’ time.

He was upset, though, by Mamata Banerjee’s stand. Fernandes told reporters that he had been “hurt” by Mamata’s behaviour.

The former railway minister had stuck to her stand that since the defence ministry had come under a cloud, George Fernandes would have to go.

“I feel very hurt by Banerjee’s decision,” the former defence minister said.

Fernandes implied that Mamata had been ungrateful. “Whenever she has been in any kind of problem, (the) only man she could look forward to was George Fernandes. And when time came for a crucial decision, she did not even show the courtesy of talking. Sudip Bandyopadhyay told me several times that she is attending the NDA meeting on Wednesday,” Fernandes said.

His Samata colleagues stood by him, lending him solid support. Two party MPs, Prabhunath Singh and Renu Kumar, went to the extent of demanding the “immediate removal of Prime Minister’s aides, Brajesh Mishra and N.K. Singh, if he (Vajpayee) is keen on presenting a clean government”.

They demanded a probe into the charges levelled against Vajpayee’s son-in-law, Ranjan Bhattacharya.

The two MPs said they would give their demand in writing to the Prime Minister. There were some suggestions that this stand was not without the tacit approval of Fernandes himself.

However, the NDA convener later told reporters that these were the individual views of the MPs and the Samata Party had nothing to do with it. It continued to back the government.

Outside the Samata Party office, where his party workers were cheering him on with slogans of “George Fernandes sangharsh karo”, the former Socialist said his agitation would focus on “discipline and honesty”.

He told the workers that they need not advise him on ways to struggle. If there was a battle he would always be in the front. “I have been doing so for 52 years,” said the former trade union leader.


New Delhi, March 16: 
Even as Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee took a series of belated steps to contain the fallout of the Tehelka exposé, the BJP has decided to launch an aggressive political campaign to blunt the Opposition challenge.

Senior party leaders will address meetings and rallies in almost all state capitals between March 19-25 to educate the people against the “disinformation” campaign against the party and its leaders.

A delegation of BJP MPs met Vajpayee to convey their support to him in whatever steps the government would take to counter the Opposition’s moves, party sources said. The party feels though the crisis will be blown over soon, “the Opposition, which has no issues, has succeeded in confusing the people”.

The BJP today set up three committees “to strongly counter” the challenge posed by the exposé, which it alleged is part of an “international conspiracy” against the government.

The committee will also highlight the “series of scams” that dogged the Congress regimes and will effectively manage positive media coverage.

It will circulate a white paper highlighting the good work of the Vajpayee government at various spheres and achievements at national and international levels.

To this end, the party will launch a week-long campaign at the district level between March 19 and 25, a party source, who attended the office-bearers meeting today, said.

A senior party leader alleged that there is a conspiracy behind this as anti-India forces want to “establish Sonia Gandhi as Prime Minister”.

Party leaders at the district level, MLAs, MPs and senior functionaries will hold meetings and rallies to mobilise grassroots workers against the “disinformation campaign” against the BJP.

The three committees will comprise Pyarelal Khandelwal, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Narendra Modi, Sahib Singh Verma and Kailashpathi Mishra. The third committee on media will be headed by J.P. Mathur and Sunil Shastri.

Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Kashiram Rana, M. L. Khurana, Narendra Modi and V. K. Malhotra met at home minister L. K. Advani’s office and took stock of the situation arising out of the Tehel ka expose.


Bangalore, March 16: 
The Congress will not take the lead in pulling down the Vajpayee government. Instead, it will wait for it to totter and fall.

The party believes that even if the government were to survive a no-confidence motion, it will not be able to last the year. “Diwali mein chunav ho sakte hain (Polls may be held during Diwali),” a top Congress leader said.

During her presidential address at the 81st AICC plenary beginning here tomorrow, Sonia Gandhi will draw up the blueprint for a nationwide campaign to press the demand for the resignation of the Vajpayee government on “moral grounds” following the Tehelka expose.

With an eye on the Bengal elections, Sonia will also acknowledge Mamata Banerjee’s “historic and courageous move” to part ways with the “corrupt NDA”.

A belligerent Congress Working Committee (CWC), that met here tonight, reiterated the demand for Vajpayee’s exit though it acknowledged the NDA’s numerical strength in the Lok Sabha. “The Vajpayee government has lost the moral right to govern. We are not challenging the numerical strength of the NDA,” Congress spokesman Jaipal Reddy said.

Dismissing as “pointless” Vajpayee’s decision to set up an inquiry by a Supreme Court, Reddy said: “When the allegations involve persons like the principal secretary to the Prime Minister and the PMO secretary, it will be difficult to conduct an impartial inquiry.”

The Congress, however, does not believe that the composition of the 13th Lok Sabha would benefit the party even if the Vajpayee government were to go.

According to the Congress, its best bet is in Vajpayee remaining in the saddle for some more time. The party believes that his authority would be undermined to such an extent that he would not last beyond a year. The Congress will then emerge as the first choice of the electorate.

If the government is replaced by another NDA-led coalition, the Congress will fail to benefit as the charges of corruption would lose relevance.

The third possibility is that Vajpayee goes and the People’s Front comes to power. The Congress does not want a repeat of the United Front experiment. It is also averse to the idea of a Sonia Gandhi-led government with the help of the newly-floated People’s Front. It has also not ruled out elections but is not keen to contest polls now.

Keeping coalition politics in mind, the Congress will project itself as an alternative to the BJP in an alliance that will rival the NDA. It has kept the doors open for “like-minded” parties. The party has taken the “pragmatic” approach in view of its bleak prospects in Uttar Pradesh, Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Bihar — states that send about 200-odd MPs to the Lok Sabha.

Arjun Singh, Mani Shankar Aiyar and Salman Khurshid have added a page on corruption, promising to nail those involved in the defence scam. The drive against corruption is high in the presidential speech which is being described as a “vision document”.


Bolpur, March 16: 
Students of Visva Bharati University today boycotted classes to protest against the alleged molestation of a girl of Kala Bhavan by a doctor attached to the university hospital.

The doctor, Chandra Shekhar Kundu, has been arrested and a showcause notice slapped on him by university authorities. Kundu has denied the allegation.

There were a series of demonstrations in the university for the second day today with students demanding Kundu’s removal. They have also raised their voices against police excess on them.

Officials said tension had been brewing since yesterday after news about the alleged assault on the girl spread on the campus.

Priti was allegedly molested on March 10 by Kundu during treatment for a painful shoulder. Kundu and another physiotherapist had then attended to her and prescribed medicines.

The girl had to go back to Kundu after two days as the pain did not subside. But when she visited the hospital, the staff told her Kundu had gone back home. So she called on the doctor at his quarters where she was allegedly molested again.

Priti broke down on returning to the hostel and blurted out the story to her classmates. The girls, however, kept the incident under wraps for a few days, lodging an FIR with the Bolpur police only yesterday.

After news broke, students demanded that the doctor be immediately arrested, but the police were reportedly reluctant to take action. Furious, they rushed to Kundu’s residence and ransacked it.

Police had to resort to lathicharge to disperse the students, nine of whom were injured in the melee. Bowing to student pressure, the police later arrested Kundu.

The officer in charge of Santinekatan investigation centre claimed that three policemen were hurt during the lathicharge. The students today observed a strike in the university to protest the “police excesses” on them.

Asif Mehboob, a Kala Bhavan student who was hurt during the lathicharge, alleged that the police indiscriminately lathicharged “innocent” students demanding action against the “guilty doctor.”

The students later organised a sit-in at the chamber of the university registrar condemning “police highhandedness”.

Kundu denied the allegation. “The allegation is false and baseless. This is a pre-planned move to malign me,” he said.

“The student tried to force me to issue a prescription, but I did not oblige. She kept insisting on a prescription saying that only then could she ask the university authorities to reimburse her medical expenses,” he added.

University registrar Dijyadas Banerjee confirmed that Kundu was censured pending an inquiry.

Students’ union general secretary Raja Banerjee said the students would launch a bigger movement if the “guilty” doctor was not removed from the university within the next 48 hours.

“We want Kundu’s immediate removal from the university,” he warned.


Calcutta, March 16: 
In a rare and frank face-to-face with the intelligentsia of the city, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today admitted that the best students and talents were leaving Bengal for better opportunities in other cities and abroad.

“I don’t blame them. We are responsible for not creating a situation for them to stay back. We have produced the largest number of science, engineering and other specialist graduates ... many of my own friends are working in Bangalore and Haryana. It’s a pity, and I really feel sorry when our boys go out...”

Bhattacharjee was at home while replying to questions at a session organised by the Ladies’ Study Group. The ball room at Grand Hotel seemed like a large drawing room as the “Big Dialogue” continued for over an hour.

Asked how he planned to retain GeneratioNext in Bengal, he said: “Things are changing. We are very serious about it. We want centres of excellence in genetic engineering, oceanology, biotechnology and IT in our state.

“In the coming years, industry based on talent and intelligence will come to the fore, and the manufacturing sector will take a back seat.

“For this, we are encouraging private companies and units to set up institutions. Already, 19 new colleges have been set up, including an IIIT at Salt Lake. Purnendu Chatterjee will be setting up another three in the state.” His group has established a centre for research in biotechnology as well, again in Salt Lake.

“We have set up plans. We are in touch with US universities for help in establishing an IT centre at IIT, an environment department at BE College, Shibpur, and a genetic engineering centre at Jadavpur University. We are seeking NRI assistance in this,” the chief minister said.

When asked about the poor infrastructure in the state, Bhattacharjee held hope. “At a time when investments are coming in, our biggest hurdle is the state of the roads. In fact, when Mitsubishi’s chairman came to Calcutta, I was seriously considering whether to take him to Haldia by helicopter,” he said.

“But seriously, we are giving utmost importance to infrastructure development. We have appointed a task force that will oversee building a Calcutta-Haldia expressway and other roads connecting Uluberia, Palta and Kalyani as soon as possible. In the long term, a north-south corridor connecting Siliguri will be constructed in three years time.”

Asked how he planned to project Bengal in the next five years, he said: “We are trying to send a message to the West that, being a leftist state, we have nothing to hide. We need foreign investment. On March 21, all top executives of US companies in India have been invited to Calcutta to be told about what’s going on in the state. We have to work hard to change this pessimistic attitude that nothing is happening in Bengal.”

On education, Bhattacharjee said English would have to be given importance in keeping with the shift to IT.

“But the problem is quality of teaching. You can introduce English in Class II or earlier. But we have to teach the teachers how to teach the subject.

On law and order, he said his main aim was to change the attitude of the police force, particularly in Calcutta. As for politics, he admitted he “had no clear idea of what was going on” in Delhi now.


Calcutta, March 16: 
Alarmed at the crime spiral in and around the Sundarbans, the Bengal government has set up a top-level committee to check river piracy.

It has also decided to send an armed police team to keep vigil along the rivers and provide security to fishermen. The team will be given sophisticated arms, wireless systems and speedboats.

Fisheries minister Kiranmoy Nanda announced at Writers’ Buildings that the panel would be headed by the South 24-Parganas district magistrate and comprise superintendents of police, fishery department officials, senior BSF officers and representatives of the fishermen’s union.

The panel will draw up strategies to tackle the pirates and ensure that fishermen are not robbed. Regular meetings will be held to update the action plan.

The committee has been asked to prepare a report on problems faced by fishermen in the Sundarban areas. The government is flooded with complaints from fishermen that they do not feel safe enough to carry on with their work.

Senior officials from the fisheries department said the main problem was that pirates were sneaking in from Bangladesh and Myanmar, robbing the fishermen and decamping with the cargo.

Though police have chased the pirates on several occasions, and even exchange fire, few arrests are possible as the robbers cross the border. According to the district administration, at least seven incidents of piracy have been recorded in the past year. The pirates have robbed fishermen of cargo worth several lakhs.

Things have taken a turn for the worse with the pirates beginning to kidnap fishermen for ransom. The matter was brought to Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s notice by the fisheries minister.

The chief minister has assured Nanda that he will speak to the Centre to mobilise BSF personnel to patrol these area. He has also asked Nanda to urge the BSF men to increase vigil in these areas.

Nanda also held talks with the district administration and BSF personnel to find out ways to check the pirates.


Calcutta, March 16: 
State chief electoral officer Sabhysachi Sen has issued a circular directing all political parties to strictly observe noise pollution rules during election campaigns.

The circular was issued today on a request from state pollution board chairman Kalyan Bagchi. The circular has also asked parties to avoid using election materials that are not biodegradable.

According to pollution control board sources, violating the 65-decibel limit is punishable under environment laws. “Elections or no, no one will be allowed to violate pollution control laws in the state,’’ sources said.

Bagchi had written to Sen saying the use of synthetic paper to prepare election posters and flags should be banned as they are poly-unsaturated and not biodegradable.

The Election Commission has not yet notified the state on guidelines regarding defacement of walls with graffiti. “We can only appeal to parties to keep walls free from visual pollution,’’ Sen said.

According to the state defacement of walls Act, walls of government offices and public premises cannot be defaced with graffiti. The law is not applicable if parties use walls of private premises with prior permission of the owners.

Political parties in the state pay scant heed to environment norms while campaigning for elections. Grassroots activists seldom bother to take permission from owners of private premises before defacing the walls with party slogans. But houseowners cannot protest against defacement of their properties due to the muscle power wielded by political parties.

However, Sen has assured that his office will strictly enforce Election Commission guidelines on poll norms as soon as the notification is issued.

According to the commission’s guidelines, government officers on election-related work will not be allowed to continue in the same place of work beyond four years. The officers will be transferred to other cities or districts as the case may be.

After the election notification is issued by the Election Commission, the state government will not be allowed to make fresh recruitments without the sanction of the commission.

In a note issued to the five states where Assembly elections are due, the Election Commission has said: “Some states are trying to recruit a large number of constables and home guards in the run-up to the elections. There are apprehensions that such recruitments are done with a view to dispense favours to an individuals or group of individuals. The commission has, thus, decided to freeze all new recruitments from beginning to end of the election process.”

The commission had earlier barred ministers from laying foundation stones and participating in functions organised at the government’s cost after the election notification is issued.


Kalyani, March 16: 
Angry residents clashed with police last night after two persons died in a road accident near the township. Police had to fire two rounds in the air to quell the mob.

Trouble started when a private bus on the Barasat-Kanchrapara route knocked down two cyclists, identified as Ratneshwar Karmakar and Nimai Mandal, at Kalibazar.

While Karmakar died on the spot, Mandal died while being taken to the Kalyani State General Hospital. A pedestrian was also injured after being hit by the speeding bus.

Superintendent of police Ramphal Power said the agitated residents brickbatted policemen when they reached the spot. The mob then set the killer bus on fire but the driver and his helper managed to escape. The crowd also damaged a fire engine and attacked fire brigade officials.

Fearing more trouble, police fired in the air. The mob dispersed but returned soon to block National Highway 34, demanding immediate arrest of the driver.

The blockade was lifted when senior police officials assured them that action will be taken against the driver. Police said that two racing private buses may have caused the accident.

Youth murder

A 22-year-old youth, Bappa Sardar, was murdered at Gobindapur, under the Diamond Harbour police station area, late last night.

Police said the goons first called Sardar out of his house and then abducted him. The body was recovered today in a paddy field.


Calcutta, March 16: 
The state has decided to streamline the existing system of purchasing medicines for district hospitals following complaints about corruption.

The traders’ association has urged the health minister to conduct a probe on medicine purchases over the past two years.

“We have specific rules and system in procuring medicine for Calcutta and the districts. We often receive allegations on corrupt practices. Officers from the health department will verify all the cases involving such allegations. We are also planning to frame new rules to bring about transparency in medicine purchases,” health minister Partha De said.


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