Separation sours reunion rallies
Mamata vow
Flavour of beef begets mcdonald’s stink of dung
All the PM’s missing men
English literature, swadeshi style
Ayodhya cases dropped
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi & Calcutta, May 4: 
If yesterday was time to keep a long-awaited engagement, Sonia Gandhi and Mamata Banerjee today failed to make contact in public, by choice at three places, by coincidence at a fourth. They struck a common chord with their oust-the-Left message from distant platforms, but the distance left a trail of discord in the Congress and Trinamul camps.

The day’s disappointment for the alliance began at Cooch Behar. Bad weather, which had made Sonia return to Calcutta yesterday cancelling the planned night halt at Darjeeling, struck again today, forcing her to pull out of the Cooch Behar campaign with Mamata.

Round two of the day of despair was at Goalpokhar, where a large crowd gathered at the Chakulia high school ground, soggy from last night’s heavy shower. Excitement ran high as the three helicopters carrying Sonia and her entourage landed on the adjacent paddy fields. But the sound of a hushed silence rang louder than the “Sonia Gandhi zindabad” slogans as the leaders landed sans Mamata. The disappointment was not lost on PCC chief Pranab Mukherjee, AICC general secretary Kamal Nath and local MP Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, who got the proceedings started in no time.

In her nine-minute speech, Sonia picked up the thread where she had left it yesterday, accusing the Left Front of dragging Bengal to the pits, economically and politically. She contrasted the Left’s record of “ruination” of the state with the “sacrifices” the Nehru-Gandhi family had made “to give the best to the people of Bengal”.

Only a change to a Congress-Trinamul regime can now change the face of Bengal, she said. Courtesy Das Munshi, she had a word of praise for the people of Dinajpur, who had “kept the Congress flag flying”. Not forgetting Das Munshi again, she had a special word for the Muslims. She had kept her speech short as the party had taken “permission from the moulvi and did not want to disturb the jumma prayers”. Introduction of three Congress candidates — Das Munshi’s wife Deepa the most prominent of them — over, it was time to fly into A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury’s Malda.

To Englishbazar, to be precise, where the alliance partners are locked in a “friendly fight”. Mamata obviously was not there. She was not there in Sonia’s speech either. The alliance got just one indirect mention in her 18-minute speech and Trinamul, none at all.

Ghani Khan’s protégé and Congress candidate for Englishbazar, Gautam Chakraborty, was taken by Sonia into the arms of a stampeding crowd. Ghani Khan did his bit, too, but not before committing the mother of all goof-ups, calling Sonia “Congress sabhanetri Indira Gandhi”. He then made up, getting her name right three times in his five-minute speech.

By the time Sonia rose to leave, murmurs of a Trinamul counter-offensive on Englishbazar buzzed all over the ground. Trinamul had sought official permission to hold a rally for Mamata on the same Vrindavani Math after the Sonia meeting. The appeal was turned down by the administration which thought it might be “potentially dangerous to allow rival parties” to hold rallies on the same ground the same day.

Mamata’s rally, at a ground adjacent to Vrindavani Math, was a sell-out even though it started well past 10 in the night. The crowd was even bigger than that at Sonia’s meeting in the day. Mamata did mention the alliance but with a rider: vote for the Congress elsewhere, she said, but vote for Trinamul in Englishbazar.

The fitting finale came at Sonia’s last meeting at Behrampore, which local satrap Adhir Choudhury made almost out of bounds for Trinamul. Trinamul hit back its own way. Although all 19 candidates of the alliance were to be introduced to the crowd from the dais, only the Congress ones turned up.


New Delhi, May 4: 
Mamata Banerjee has given a “firm commitment” to Sonia Gandhi that she will not go back to the BJP-led alliance irrespective of the poll outcome.

At the end of her Bengal tour, Sonia was confident that Mamata will be the next chief minister. Her assessment is that voters are craving for change and Mamata is “most competent” to fulfil their aspirations.

Sources close to 10 Janpath said Mamata had told Sonia that she was looking forward to “long and lasting” relations with her, irrespective of the verdict.

Mamata claimed that the BJP and its allies were spreading “canards” that Trinamul would return to the NDA after the elections. “Soniaji, there is no question of that. Please do not pay heed to such reports,” she is reported to have said.


New Delhi & Calcutta, May 4: 
Whiff of beef in McDonald’s French fries in faraway America had Bharatiya Janata Party activists stamping their hooves in Mumbai.

What better weapon to fight beef with than cow dung. That’s what a group of about 15 protesters did at a McDonald’s, splattering cow dung on a hoarding and the door .

McDonald’s India, just settling down into good business in a new market, was bleating in protestations. There’s no animal extract in the French fries it serves in its fast-food outlets, the company said, a day after an Indian slapped a suit on McDonald’s Corp in the US, accusing it of “secretly” lacing its French fries with beef fat.

The BJP’s Mumbai president, Vinod Tawde, who led today’s agitation, said tonight McDonald’s officials would meet him tomorrow morning to “clarify their position”.

Tawde said the BJP would intensify its protest if the global fast-food chain failed to come up with a “satisfactory” explanation. “Let’s see what they have to say, but we are not going to let them go so easily,” he said.

The BJP leader said the franchise used the same recipe worldwide. “If they lace so-called vegetarian fries with beef in the US, they must be using the same stuff here too.”

Tawde said the party had no objection if the company sold foodstuff containing beef, but it should make it known to its customers. “But, as of now, they don’t. This is what we are objecting to.”

McDonald’s India has categorically said French fries served in India do not contain any beef or animal extracts.

In a statement, the company said: “We reiterate that right from the processing stage until it is cooked and served to the customer, we only use 100 per cent vegetable oil in India.”

The company response came after reports appeared today of the lawsuit filed by Seattle-based attorney Harish Bharti who has accused McDonald’s of “misleading vegetarians”.

The controversy could have an adverse impact on McDonald’s Indian operations most of whose numerous Hindu patrons would strictly avoid eating anything that may have beef content. Even the hamburger McDonald’s serves in India is not made of beef, as it is elsewhere, and the company had taken pains to explain while it entered the country that it were so.

McDonald’s serves about 30 lakh customers and has an average turnover of about Rs 15 crore a month across its 27 restaurants.

Bharti has cited an e-mail from McDonald’s that discloses its suppliers use tiny amounts of beef flavouring. He said the CEO of the company himself had publicly promised in the early 1990s that its fries would be cooked in vegetable oil following a controversy.


New Delhi, May 4: 
There’s simply too much to do for ministers to stick around in Delhi simmering in the summer heat. Half the council of ministers is away from the capital — busy campaigning in the five states going to polls or else visiting their constituencies or attending to some other urgent work.

Apparently, in other years their absence is not felt, not even by the Prime Minister. Today was different. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was almost caught in an embarrassing situation because of a heat-depleted team.

The Prime Minister was to attend a civil investiture ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan in honour of shehnai maestro Bismillah Khan, who has been honoured with the Bharat Ratna. Vajpayee’s worry was whether his ministerial colleagues would be able to make it to Rashtrapati Bhavan in adequate numbers. Thin attendance would have meant an unintended slight to President K.R. Narayanan, going by established norms of decorum.

Towards afternoon, it dawned upon the Prime Minister’s Office that a number of ministers were out of Delhi, barring of course the top two — home minister L.K. Advani and external affairs minister Jaswant Singh. Advani had just arrived after a hectic election tour of West Bengal. Murli Manohar Joshi, the human resources development minister, was away in Guwahati, but got to Rashtrapati Bhavan in the nick of time.

Concerned over the possibility of a lightweight crowd, harried aides of the Prime Minister started ringing up each ministry to find out if the minister was in town.

More than half the council of ministers, including Sushma Swaraj, Pramod Mahajan, M. Venkaiah Naidu, Nitish Kumar, Anant Kumar, Sharad Yadav, Satyanarain Jatia and Murasoli Maran, were out of Delhi. While most of them are campaigning for their respective parties, ministers belonging to the Biju Janata Dal and the Shiv Sena, who have no stakes in the elections, were away apparently serving their constituencies (often a euphemism for escaping the summer heat), sources close to the ministers said.

However, much to the relief of the Prime Minister, a decent-sized gaggle of ministers arrived at the investiture ceremony in the evening. Apart from Jaswant Singh, Advani and Joshi, others who turned up included Yashwant Sinha, Arun Jaitley, Ramvilas Paswan, Jagmohan, Shanta Kumar, Maneka Gandhi and Santosh Kumar Gangwar.

Elections or not, come summer, ministers tend to disappear from the dessicating Delhi heat. Often, almost the entire Cabinet goes missing.

Ingenious ministers have alibis aplenty to head out — constituency work, foreign junkets and personal engagements being the most common.

The tours not only provide a window out of Delhi, but frequently come loaded with pecuniary benefits. On tour, a minister gets air fare and travel allowance for himself and his personal staff, besides commanding the hospitality — food, transport and accommodation — of the state government concerned.


New Delhi, May 4: 
The buzzword is “Indian” and the new school syllabus for English literature will have more swadeshi than videshi authors in it.

“At present the literary content relies heavily on Western concepts and is irrelevant to our children,” says R.K. Dikshit, the convener of the curriculum committee of the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT). The panel is currently putting together the syllabus.

But there will be no Arundhati Roy or Amitav Ghosh for the students. “Their books have too many psychological complications and should be kept for a later stage,” says Dikshit.

The committee may also drop R.K. Narayan, the author of Malgudi Days, as he is allegedly charging a very high fee for allowing the council to publish his works.

Rooting itself in the concept mooted in the curriculum framework, the committee wants to strengthen the “Indian component” in every subject — whether English or history.

“It is unfair to expect students to relate to an alien background and a culture far removed from reality,” stresses Dikshit. His other objection is that most of the pieces in the present textbooks date back to a bygone era with little or no flavour of the contemporary.

“It is not that we will not have Keats, Shelley or Wordsworth but the list should not stop with them,” says Dikshit. He points to scores of young Indian writers who have made their mark in literature. “For instance, there is a young boy in England, writing poetry that has been broadcast by the BBC. We should include in our syllabus the work of people like him,” he says.

What the curriculum committee is planning is a major syllabus revamp. They have two major objectives:one, to make the content more Indian; and two, to link it more to contemporary events.

Even Munshi Premchand is no longer sacrosanct. The committee believes some of his pieces reflect a society that has ceased to exist. “They talk about a kind of social exploitation that no longer exists,” says Dikshit, underlining the need to be “careful in selecting the pieces”.

The same strand of “Indianness”, the committee believes, should be woven into the history syllabus. World history should focus more on connecting with India through events and personalities.

“Why should the syllabus give so much importance to Hitler and say nothing about Germany’s interaction with India?” asks Dikshit, who is also the head of NCERT’s social science department.

The curriculum framers want to “cut down history to its appropriate size”, a proposal that has raised many eyebrows.


Lucknow, May 4: 
Cases against Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh and 11 others were today dropped by the CBI special court on the Babri masjid demolition.

It said the cases could not be pursued till the state government corrected a legal lacuna. That takes the number of those against whom cases have been set aside to 21, including L.K. Advani, Uma Bharti, M.M. Joshi and Ashok Singhal.

Justice Srikanth Shukla of the special court said the cases would be defunct till the government rectified the legal defect in the constitution of the court. The flaw is that the state government did not take permission of the Allahabad High Court for forming the special CBI court to try cases of criminal conspiracy in the demolition. It can, however, proceed with cases relating to destruction alone.

On February 12, the Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court had quashed the proceedings against Advani and seven others on the same grounds.

The remaining 26 found guilty will now have to appear before the court on June 8 since they will be tried for participating in the demolition.

The onus is now on chief minister Rajnath Singh who will have to issue a fresh notification after getting the high court’s permission for the special court to try criminal conspiracy cases, too.

The high court had ordered separation of the accused in cases relating to criminal conspiracy and demolition.




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