Vajpayee lays dinner table for old ‘friend’
Samata sees Jaswant threat to George return
Bangaru digs in heels
From Virar Fast to gravy train
BJP snips Mamata link
Double offensive to tackle terror
Labour trouble twist to suicide
Beat the blues in paradise park
Police face fire for case pile-up
Youth stabbed in temple

New Delhi, March 28: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will take time off from his busy schedule to host a private dinner at 7 Race Course Road for “friend” Bill Clinton when the former US President visits India next month.

Clinton, who will be in the country for eight days from April 3, had played a key role in putting Indo-US relations back on track with a state visit last year.

The trip, according to many, had sparked off the bonhomie between the two sides and firmly brought Delhi back on Washington’s radar screen.

This time he comes here as a private citizen, mainly on the invitation of the recently-formed American-India Foundation set up after the devastating Gujarat earthquake. Neither daughter Chelsea nor his mother-in-law will accompany him on this tour.

The former President, who will be Vajpayee’s guest on April 7, will meet leaders of other political parties and senior members of the National Democratic Alliance government.

In Delhi, he will stay at the Maurya Sheraton, his favourite hotel, before leaving for London on April 10.

On April 4, a day after he arrives in India, Clinton will leave for Ahmedabad to talk to state officials and non-government organisations working there. On April 5, he will visit Bhuj — the worst quake-affected area in Gujarat. The same evening he will fly to Mumbai.

Clinton will spend a day-and-a-half in the country’s financial capital and hold discussions with leading members of Indian business houses and industries as well as political leaders.

On April 7, he will come to Calcutta to pay a visit to the Missionaries of Charity and meet Governor Viren J. Shah.

However, the same evening he will reach Delhi to attend the dinner being hosted by Vajpayee.

The next day, Clinton will visit Rampur, Uttar Pradesh, the village of dotcom millionaire Vinod Gupta, who is a close friend and an important functionary of the American-India Foundation.

On April 9, he will attend a dinner of the foundation before leaving for London the day after.

Though the foreign ministry says Clinton will be accorded the courtesies due to a former head of state, there are indications that it does not want to go overboard as it could send wrong signals to the Republican dispensation in Washington.

Sources, however, said that Vajpayee, who is on excel- lent terms with Clinton, will not disappoint his American friend.

According to them, the dinner being hosted in his honour — though a private one — is an indication of the Prime Minister’s appreciation of Clinton’s role in bolstering Indo-US relations.


New Delhi, March 28: 
The speed with which Jaswant Singh is making changes in the defence ministry has made the Samata Party suspicious that he is here to stay in North Block.

The external affairs minister was given additional charge of defence after George Fernandes resigned in the wake of the Tehelka exposé.

Though Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee has promised that Fernandes will be reinstated after the Justice Ramaswamy Co-mmission of Inquiry submits its report in four months, the Samata is not sure. The party suspects that Jaswant will retain defence, leaving external affairs to somebody else.

Immediately after assuming charge of the defence portfolio, Jaswant hired veteran journalist B. George Verghese as information consultant for the Tehelka-tainted ministry. Verghese has been asked to introduce transparency in defence matters, especially the information system.

Jaswant, considered the Prime Minister’s Man Friday, has also appointed Arun Singh as special adviser. Arun, who was minister of state for defence in the Rajiv Gandhi government, is already adviser (security) to the external affairs minister. In his new avatar, he will advise both the defence and the foreign ministries on security matters.

Arun is likely to undertake a thorough revamp of the defence ministry, which has come under a cloud after the Tehelka exposé.

Close on these appointments, the Group of Ministers headed by home minister L. K. Advani has mooted a new national security system. The proposal will be placed before Cabinet for approval shortly.

The government yesterday also decided to set up a defence procurement board to ensure transparency in deals.

Sources said the Samata is miffed with the fast-track movement in the ministry. “It means he (Jaswant Singh) is stationing himself there permanently. Otherwise, why is he effecting major changes?” asked a party source.

If Jaswant’s appointment was for a short run, the government would have waited for Fernandes’ return before taking policy decisions, the Samata feels.

The Fernandes camp was initially happy that the Prime Minister had strongly defended the former defence minister and made it clear twice — during his address to the nation on Doordarshan and at the NDA rally last Sunday — that he will be reinducted in four months.

Some Fernandes camp followers believe Vajpayee cannot afford to go back on his promise as the former defence minister knows “too much” about the government. But it is possible that Vajpayee might persuade Fernandes to accept an equally important portfolio once the probe is over.

Vajpayee cannot ask Bangaru Laxman to quit his Rajya Sabha seat or get him expelled from the BJP as Laxman, too, is privy to many decisions, the sources said.

Much to the Prime Minister’s discomfiture, three Samata Party MPs close to Fernandes and railway minister Nitish Kumar last week demanded action against PMO officials Brajesh Mishra and N.K. Singh and Vajpayee’s foster son-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya.


New Delhi, March 28: 
At a time when the BJP is desperate to present a clean image, its former president Bangaru Laxman has rejected a demand to resign from the Rajya Sabha.

In an interview to PTI Bhasha today, Laxman — who resigned as party president after he was shown accepting a donation from an arms dealer on the Tehelka tapes — said: “I don’t think I am a burden for the party and that is why I need not resign from my Rajya Sabha seat.”

Food and civil supplies minister Shanta Kumar had demanded Laxman’s resignation at the BJP’s recently-concluded national executive. Sources, however, said Kumar’s was a lone voice.

Laxman said only a few people had demanded his resignation but their reasons were different.

BJP sources said Laxman was alluding to Shanta Kumar’s reported unhappiness with him for not giving a “patient hearing” to the Himachal Pradesh dissidents who were clamouring for the replacement of chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, an old rival of the food and civil supplies minister. Laxman had his way by ensuring that Dhumal remained in power. The dissidents were allegedly acting at the behest of Kumar.

Laxman said he had met the Prime Minister thrice after he quit as party chief and A.B. Vajpayee had assured him that this “turmoil” would end soon. He added that his successor, Jana Krishnamurthy, had also said that he need not give up his Rajya Sabha seat.

Laxman was quoted as saying that in public life such things could happen with anyone and no leader could swear he had not taken money. BJP sources said Vajpayee himself was reportedly keen on Laxman not being “pushed against the wall” for three reasons.

One, to contain the anti-Dalit charge against the BJP which has been levelled openly by some Opposition leaders and tacitly by the party’s own MPs.

Two, to ensure that Laxman did not land the government in further trouble while deposing before the judicial commission probing the Tehelka episode. Three, to see that he did not turn a rebel and contemplate leaving the party.


Mumbai, March 28: 
The 8:30 Virar Fast whooshes by, but Chi Chi is not on the train, no longer faceless among the crowd of commuters jostling for space in the country’s largest metropolis.

Govinda misses it, though. The stench of sweat, jugglery of feet and the struggle of hands. Most of all, human contact, always face to face, sometimes back to back on a crowded train.

His starry lifestyle, which has replaced the train commute from a Mumbai suburb with air-conditioned car rides, keeps him away not just from the dirt and grime of everyday life, but from the people, who pay to see him on screen.

Jeeto Chappar Phaad Ke has at least changed some of that, bringing the Bollywood star out of his stuffy, sequestered existence.

“Once again, I can connect with the common people. I can meet and talk to them,” said the actor-anchor. “The tie I had with the people when I used to commute on local trains has been re-established.’’

After shielding him from the media since Chappar Phaad Ke went on air on January 26, the day the country was shaken by a deadly earthquake, the company today took a group of journalists to Goregaon’s film city to give them a glimpse of the man behind the success of the show.

Grinning ear-to-ear, Govinda spoke about his life, recounting his experiences with anecdotes and good humour, which Sony hopes would keep the show rolling.

“Very few can laugh and that too from the core of their hearts. but it comes naturally to me,” Govinda said of his infectious cackle. “Sometimes, I see something amusing even in a tragedy and that breaks me up.”

Govinda acknowledged that he had accepted the offer to host the show with trepidation. He was not sure the people would pay to watch him on the big screen if they saw him free week after week on their television sets.

Two-and-a-half months on, that apprehension has faded away. “Six of my films are releasing this year. Do I need to say more about my film career?” Govinda asked.

And he is enjoying himself. “I am meeting people and dancing and singing with them. I am also learning about a lot of subjects, things I did not know earlier.”

If he sometimes keeps the Chappar Phaad Ke crew waiting at the sets because of his busy schedule as a star, Sony keeps him standing throughout the one-hour show.

Under the show’s format, he is to fire questions standing, while the participant answers them sitting in the lone chair in the middle of the set.

“It was actually my idea, but he lapped it up. Govindaji also wanted the show to look different,” director Ajay Kapoor said.

Quizzed on the actor’s rumoured habits of appearing late for shoots, Sony senior vice-president Rekha Nigam said the company was aware of the “pluses and minuses” of the star while signing him up. “We knew we would have to work out the timing for shoots with him.”

With a Rs 70 crore annual budget for the show, Sony’s gamble to take on Govinda as the show’s anchor appears to be paying off. A 10-second ad slot is earning the company more than Rs 2.50 lakh, said vice-president (marketing) Pratibha Vinayak.

Govinda said he has the “blessings” of the Big B and he was not perturbed over competition. “I went to Amitabhji and he gave me ashirwaad when I started the show.”

“In any case, a garden can have many flowers of different shapes and smell. So, why should we worry about competition?” he asked.

Though his foray into television appears to be a “success”, Govinda said he had no plans to delve into the medium. “For now, I just want to concentrate on Chappar Phaad Ke and make people laugh.”


Calcutta, March 28: 
Accusing Mamata Banerjee of stabbing the “Vajpayee government in the back”, the BJP today formally snapped ties with the Trinamul as the party moved closer to forging a poll alliance with the Congress.

Breaking the 16-month alliance, BJP all-India vice-president Kailashpati Mishra said his party will not have any more talks with Mamataji. “We have closed our doors on Mamata and will fight the coming Assembly elections with some NDA partners and small parties,” he said. The new alliance will field candidates for all the 294 seats.

BJP officials claimed to have received 450 applications from party functionaries seeking to contest the elections.

Trinamul leaders, however, said the party was still keen on a one-to-one fight in Bengal to defeat the ruling communists. “Our doors are still open for all anti-CPM forces,” said Trinamul general secretary Mukul Roy. Mamata, however, was not available for comment.

Mishra is in the city to attend a two-day BJP state election committee meeting beginning today. Two Union ministers, Tapan Sikdar and Satyabrata Mukherjee, have also come down for the meet.

Asked what would be the BJP’s role if Trinamul’s seat-share talks with the Congress failed, Mishra said there would be no change in the party’s stand unless Mamata “gives a written undertaking on extending support to the NDA government”.

“Much water has flown down the Ganga and the alliance with the Trinamul is a closed chapter... Mamata has fallen into the trap laid by the Left parties and the Congress. I am sure Mamataji will have to pay a heavy price for this,” Mishra said.

Sikdar alleged that Mamata had a dialogue over possible seat-sharing with Congress president Sonia Gandhi even before the Tehelka exposé. “The way Mamata treated us is worse than the Tehelka episode,” he said.

The BJP would make Mamata’s “back-stabbing” a campaign issue, he added. “We will hold a rally on the Brigade Parade grounds at the end of next month where the Prime Minister will be the main speaker,” Sikdar said.


Calcutta, March 28: 
West Bengal and Assam will launch a joint offensive against militants active in both states.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting with his Assam counterpart Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said: “We have agreed to conduct joint police raids in militant hideouts in the jungles on the Indo-Bhutan border and in the Darjeeling hills. Police of the two states are already cooperating in planning and training and are sharing intelligence inputs.”

Mahanta said he agreed with Bhattacharjee that militants from the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) and the Bodo insurgent outfits are helping separatist groups in north Bengal.

“Insurgents in Assam and the other northeastern states are trying to spread their tentacles to north Bengal because of its proximity to the international border with Bangladesh and Bhutan. We want to stop their subversive activities once and for all,” the Assam chief minister said.

Bhattacharjee said without the Assam government’s assistance and cooperation, it would be difficult to stop the supply of arms and ammunition from Ulfa and other extremist groups.

The Ulfa is active in some parts of north Bengal, particularly in the Kumargramduar block in Jalpaiguri near the Assam-Bhutan-Bengal tri-junction.

The militant Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) recruits its cadre from Kumargramduar, which is believed to be the cradle of the separatist movement in restive north Bengal.

The volatile tri-junction comprises the unbroken chain of the border villages of Uttar Haldibari, Madhya Haldibari, Dakshin Haldibari and Bulka.

The Bodo outfits and the Ulfa use this area to train their cadre. The border villages, which have a mixed Bodo-Rajbanshi population, are used as “safe-houses”.

The Ulfa runs it Nichula area command deep inside Bhutan’s Fifshu jungles, bordering the Kumargramduar belt. The Assam outfit also trains KLO activists at the Nichula camp, a day’s trek from the Kalikhola entry point on the Bhutan border, four km north of Uttar Haldibari village. The camp is 8 km from Allay Busty, the last Bhutanese border village.

Similarly, the Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) and its rival outfit, the National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB), are also active on the Assam-Bengal border in the Barobisha area of Cooch Behar.

Intelligence agencies believe that Bodo and Ulfa outfits have established hideouts in the bordering areas. Northeast insurgent groups also use the 350-km corridor that stretches from the Sankosh river on the Assam-Bengal border to the jungles of upper Dooars bordering Bhutan. The route is used by both Ulfa and the Bodo outfits. The corridor cuts through Jaldapara Wildlife sanctuary and Gorumara.

Gun-running through the corridor is rampant. Carriers, most of them local residents, are employed to carry arms in small numbers to delivery spots near the Barobisha-Kumargram-Samuktala region on the Assam border. The consignments are taken over by the militants holed up in the forest villages dotting the Bhutan jungles.


Calcutta, March 28: 
The deputy inspector-general of police, Burdwan range, today said he would start an inquiry to find out if labour dispute led Hooghly businessman Ashim Sen to commit suicide yesterday.

Sen, who owned Senco Biscuit Company and Neela Food Products, killed himself at his Chinsurah home, leaving behind a suicide note for local CPM MP Rupchand Pal.

Sen’s biscuit factory had been closed for over a year, but he had to incur a substantial monthly expense towards the salaries of his staff. The employees had neither been laid off nor had a lock-out been declared, leading to acute financial difficulties.

In his note to Pal, Sen had asked the MP to look after his family as well as the interests of the workers. However, he had not mentioned labour problems at his factory or held any trade union responsible for his death.

But late last evening, Pal’s son, Saibal Sen, filed an FIR with the Chinsurah police station, stating that labour problems in the factory had led to “massive financial problems” which finally compelled his father to kill himself.

The FIR also states that it was the “recalcitrant attitude” of the workers at the biscuit factory that had ultimately led to its closure. But no trade union was named in the FIR. Citu is the main trade union in the factory.

The FIR says that a day before Sen committed suicide, a section of workers had apparently threatened that they would gherao him unless he met his financial commitments towards them. It was under this mental strain, the FIR states, that Sen hanged himself from the ceiling fan of his bedroom.

Labour representatives have, however, alleged that a substantial chunk of the profits of the company were being siphoned off to a hotel that the Sens’ had recently started in Puri, leading to financial mess in the biscuit unit.

Local Citu leader and president of the trade union outfit at the biscuit factory, Nemai Bhattacharjee, said blaming the workers was “unfair”. “Sen’s suicide was for personal reasons,” he said. Bhattacharjee pointed out that Sen’s other business outfit, a bakery, which was running alongside the biscuit factory, was doing “perfectly well”. “So there is no real reason for a labour-management dispute in this case as the owner was the same,” he said.

Chinsurah police officials said they have begun a probe into the company’s financial affairs.


Taldangra (Bankura), March 28: 
Dawn breaks with the twittering of a variety of birds, ducks paddling in a crystal-clear pond, spotted deer prancing to the beat of the sylvan symphony. Welcome to paradise, here in Bengal.

Chenchuria, an otherwise sleepy tribal hamlet 26 km from Bishnupur in the Taldangra jungles, is the state’s first model eco-tourism park, the result of a plan drawn up by the government in the early nineties to protect the sal forests by involving the tribal residents.

The park, run by 33 tribal families, has fetched them nearly Rs 65,000 in the last three months from tourists and picnic groups.

The park has arrangements for boating and angling. There is a children’s corner as well.

For tourists interested in staying the night, there is a six-seater dormitory and two family cottages.

The meandering forest tracts are a trekker’s delight. But, cautions beat officer Ranjit Mahapatra, one must be accompanied by a guide provided by the committee because elephants and wild boars roam the area.

The park, spread over 850 hectares of forest area, was aimed at preventing jungle depletion by the tribals and also to help them earn their livelihood by tapping forest resources, explains Panchet divisional forest officer Kalyan Das.

“Now they believe that the forests should be protected for their own interest. The park was set up with an assistance of Rs 5 lakh from the area development fund of local CPM MP Sandhya Barui and a grant-in-aid of Rs 1.2 lakh from the zilla parishad. Infrastructure facilities and other assistance was provided by the forest department,” Das said.

Ramakrishna Mission has trained the tribals in accountancy and has also provided them vocational training in duck-rearing and pisciculture.

Besides the revenue from tourism, the tribals also earn a sizeable sum by selling eggs, duck meat, fish and fruits.

The forest department will approach the power department shortly for arranging solar electric system in the park.

The tribal residents of Laltagora, Suknibas, Asna and other adjoining villages are happy that they are a part of the park. Says Ranjit Hansda: “Initially, we were not ready to believe what the forest babus wanted to convince us. Now we are proud of what we are today.”

Sukul Tudu agreed: “We no longer depend on the money-lenders nor do we have to leave for other districts in search of work during the lean season.”


Midnapore, March 28: 
At least 20 people are forced to go to courts every day to file complaints because the police stations refuse to accept general diaries in the violence-scarred areas, district and sessions judge Samarendra Nath Dutta said.

“This is really alarming. I have spoken to the Midnapore police superintendent about this at the district monitoring committee meeting today in the presence of the district magistrate. I hope the situation will be set right soon,” Dutta said.

A couple of months ago, district magistrate M.V. Rao issued a circular to all police stations that they should not refuse any diary from the public. Rao had been flooded with complaints that thanas in the violence-hit areas of Keshpur, Garbeta, Pingla, Dantan and Sabang were not accepting diaries.

People were being forced to file general diaries in the courts and it cost them a lot of money.

Dutta’s statement today indicates that the situation has not improved despite the district magistrate’s circular.

Superintendent of police A.K. Maliwal agreed to look into the matter. “I have already warned the officers-in-charge of different thanas that serious steps will be taken against them if they do not accept complaints from the public,” he said.

The judge alleged that “even after the court accepts the complaints and refers them to the thanas, they refuse to take action. According to the law, they are bound to begin proceedings as soon as we refer the cases to them”.

Dutta criticised the police for dithering on serving and executing warrants. He said thousands of warrants are pending, which means that criminals are roaming the trouble-prone district.

Six subdivisional judicial magistrates submitted lists of such cases to Maliwal and expressed fears that the criminals could create law and order problems during the elections. They alleged that even summons issued by the courts were not being served on time.


Malda,March 28: 
A youth was hacked to death by criminals at a temple in Harish Chandrapur village last night.

The priest of the temple has been arrested for his alleged involvement in the incident, which occurred when Sentu Das visited the temple with his wife, Bijali.

Deputy superintendent of police Subrata Mitra said the attackers were armed. Sentu, who was stabbed repeatedly by the criminals, died on the spot. Villagers said the priest was the target of the attack. Trouble had been brewing for a long time over the land on which the temple stood.


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