Old is gold for New Left’s ministry
Clashes scar north, terror slur returns to haunt CPM
Congress to cement pact
PDS pep-pill for Left
Victory violence kills two
Krishnamurthi to sift grain from chaff
Advani against state funds for Ram temple
Shiv Sena, BJP eat McDonald’s humble pie
Dental colleges under scanner after abuse charge
Customised security likely for Pant

Calcutta, May 15: 
Status quo is the mantra of the New Left for its Cabinet.

The CPM today decided to stick to the size of the outgoing ministry and also ruled out any changes in the distribution of portfolios among Left Front partners.

The decision was conveyed to representatives of the three minor Front partners — the Forward Bloc, RSP and the CPI — who called on CPM leaders separately at the Alimuddin Street headquarters this morning.

The CPM’s failure to gain absolute majority this time has apparently deterred it from shuffling portfolios, a move that could have antagonised the smaller allies. The Left Front had been confronted with a brief “portfolio crisis” in 1992 when the CPM tried to adopt a “big brotherly attitude” towards the Forward Bloc, CPI and the RSP, which led to the resignation of ministers from the three parties.

“We will maintain status quo on the size of the new Cabinet as well as on distribution of portfolios among Left Front partners,” former chief minister Jyoti Basu said, hours before leaving for Delhi to attend the Politburo meeting scheduled for tomorrow. He said a list of probables for the Cabinet will be placed before the party’s apex body for approval. “The one-day Politburo meet will review the election results in Bengal and other states,” Basu added.

He skirted a query on whether the Politburo had a major say in the formation of the Bengal ministry. “We acquaint the party’s apex decision-making body with the decision taken at the state level after every Assembly polls,” Basu said.

Left Front chairman Sailen Dasgupta later said that while the Forward Bloc and the RSP will have five ministers each with the existing portfolios, the CPI will get two. The latter, however, has demanded an additional Cabinet berth as the party’s tally has increased from six to seven and it also retained the Midnapore Lok Sabha seat. Smaller partners such as the Marxist Forward Bloc, Socialist Party and the Democratic Socialist Party will retain their respective portfolios.

Dasgupta said the CPM will induct a number of new faces in the ministry to tone up the administration. “We will stress more on better coordination between the party and government,” he added.

CPM sources said the probables would include Nirupam Sen from Burdwan, Md Selim, Debesh Das and Rabin Deb from Calcutta, Manas Mukherjee and Rajdeo Goala from North 24-Parganas, Kanti Ganguly and Rishi Halder from South 24-Parganas. They also hinted that the portfolios of two senior ministers in the outgoing Cabinet, Asim Dasgupta (finance) and Satya Sadhan Chakraborty (higher education), may be relocated. Lakshmi De, who wrested the Vidyasagar seat, may be appointed chief whip of the Left Front.

The Forward Bloc, which has convened a meeting tomorrow to choose its ministerial nominees, said that two former ministers, Kamal Guha from Dinhata and Chhaya Ghosh from Murshidabad, will be inducted.

The RSP said it will allot the public works department to new winners as Cabinet minister Kshiti Goswami and his minister of state Monohar Tirkey lost the elections.

The CPI will reinduct both Nando Gopal Bhattacharya and Sri Kumar Mukherjee.


Siliguri, May 15: 
Clashes erupted across north Bengal since last night, sparking a fusillade of charges from the Trinamul-Congress combine which alleged that the Left Front had renewed its “reign of terror”.

While 18 people were injured in a flare-up caused by an altercation over poll results between the Congress and the CPM in Chopra in North Dinajpur yesterday, a Congress panchayat leader was shot at and wounded inside the Raigunj court premises this morning.

Raigunj’s zilla sabadhipati and Congress leader Mohit Sengupta alleged that Prafulla Burman was shot at by antisocials backed by the CPM. “The CPM has unleashed a reign of terror in North Dinajpur district, where the Left Front failed to make a clean sweep. They are systematically targeting Opposition workers, especially Congress activists, in the district. Prafulla Burman, a panchayat leader from Maraikura village, was shot at by known CPM antisocials within the Raiganj district court premises at 11 am. Burman is battling for life at the district hospital,” Sengupta said.

Superintendent of police Akhil Kumar Roy, however, denied that the incident was political and said that an antisocial had fired at Burman. “Burman, a primary school teacher, was shot at by one Kamal Dey, an anti-social. Dey has been arrested and a pipe-gun has been recovered from the spot. The situation in the area is tense but under control,” Roy said.

The firing followed last night’s clash in Gadaganjhat under Chopra sub-division. “The clashes took a nasty turn after two houses, belonging to supporters of the Congress and the CPM, were torched. Of the 18 injured, the condition of two is stated to be critical. The district authorities had to deploy personnel from the Eastern Frontier Rifles to defuse the tension. Sixteen people, eight each from the Congress and the CPM, have been arrested. CRPF jawans have been patrolling the area since this morning and the situation is under control today,” said a local police official.

Reports of similar clashes poured in from Jalpaiguri, Cooch Behar and the plains of Darjeeling district. Leaders of the Congress-Trinamul combine alleged that the Left Front workers had ransacked Congress party offices, shops and houses belonging to supporters of the combine.

Trinamul leader from Dinhata in Cooch Behar, Deepak Sengupta, alleged that CPM and Forward Bloc supporters attacked his party’s offices at Chowdhuryhat and Radhanagar and beat up supporters. Cooch Behar superintendent of police Kailash Chandra Meena denied such reports.

Darjeeling district Trinamul chairman Pratul Chakrabarty alleged that CPM cadre damaged shops of Trinamul supporters in Mallaguri, on the outskirts of Siliguri, and intimidated party supporters last night. Police rebutted the allegation.

The CPM scoffed at the charges. Senior party leader Jibitesh Sarkar said Trinamul was trying to hide its poll-debacle shame by putting out false and fabricated reports. “There has been no attack on any Trinamul or Congress workers by Left Front supporters. Neither do we believe in such violence nor do we indulge in such activities,” Sarkar said.


Calcutta, May 15: 
The Congress high command has ruled out any immediate change of guard in the state unit and intends to strengthen its ties with Trinamul with an eye on the next Lok Sabha elections.

The leadership has directed state Congress bosses to develop greater rapport with Mamata Banerjee and launch joint movements against the Left Front. The party also wants to ensure smooth coordination with Trinamul in the Assembly and confront the new government on every major issue.

Sources said state Congress leaders are somewhat sore with Mamata for the manner in which she bargained for seats and denied nomination to 14 former party legislators. “Had she been a little more liberal, our party could have substantially raised its tally,” a Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) general secretary said.

At the same time, he made it clear that Congress president Sonia Gandhi does not want the state unit to rub the Trinamul leader the wrong way and intends to exploit her current anti-Centre crusade to bring down the NDA government “as and when required”.

The Congress legislature party will meet here on Sunday to elect its leader. Atish Sinha, the MLA from Kandi, is expected to be re-elected to the post. The state Congress executive committee will meet the next day to discuss the poll results and take stock of the post-election political scenario.

PCC president Pranab Mukherjee left for Delhi last night to discuss the party’s electoral performance with Sonia. He is expected to return on Friday. Mukherjee has expressed his desire to give up the post of PCC chief and help the party chairperson in national politics. However, Sonia wants him to continue in office until she finds a suitable replacement, sources said.

PCC insiders said none of the three party MPs — A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi and Adhir Chowdhury — are willing to take over the mantle from Mukherjee as they will have to concentrate on their respective Lok Sabha constituencies in the event of a mid-term election.

Sonia also does not want former state unit chief and legislator from Sealdah Somen Mitra to replace Mukherjee as he is yet to work out a rapport with Mamata. Besides, Sonia has not forgotten Mitra’s role at the time of the Rajya Sabha polls, which led to the official party nominee’s defeat.


Calcutta, May 15: 
The party which was formed purportedly to bring about the downfall of the Left Front now feels that lack of a credible alternative helped the Left Front coast to victory.

People couldn’t trust the hastily-formed alliance between Trinamul and the Congress, president of the Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS) Saifuddin Chowdhury said today. “Most of them understood that Trinamul left the BJP not because of any ideological reason, but merely to avoid being tarred by the same corruption brush as the BJP,” he added.

The PDS is now looking to strengthen its base in districts where it got a decent share of the votes that helped it garner about 3 per cent throughout the state, Chowdhury said. The districts on which the party will concentrate are South 24-Parganas, Murshidabad, Nadia, North 24-Parganas, Burdwan and Birbhum, besides Calcutta.

Party bigwigs, including Samir Putatunda who, despite finishing a distant third to Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Trinamul candidate Madhabi Mukherjee in Jadavpur, created a dent in the CPM organisation, helping Trinamul and the SUCI bag most seats in South 24-Parganas, met at the PDS office to chalk out future plans.

Besides strengthening the organisation, the PDS plans to release a “manifesto”, which will be in the nature of a suggestion to the government regarding what its main duties should be in the next five years.

“We don’t want to take a narrow, partisan view when it comes to the state’s development,” was how Chowdhury explained the rationale behind the “manifesto”. “The government can ignore it at its own peril,” he said.

Another task, evident from the party mood, will be keeping up the morale of the cadre following the humiliating defeats of its leaders, including Chowdhury himself — he got about 5,000 votes from home turf Nadanghat — and Putatunda. The party has already found two reasons to be happy about the results: one, the CPM, for the first time failed to get an absolute majority in the Assembly; two, the share of votes it got in some seats in Murshidabad and Nadia.

The PDS appears optimistic about the CPM’s problems in leading a “real coalition”. “The CPM will have to respect other parties in the coalition for the first time,” Chowdhury said.

The PDS is also keeping its doors open to a future tie-up with the Congress. “The PDS is ready to share any anti-communal platform with the Congress but it will have to end its opportunistic alliances,” the PDS president said.

Despite the polarisation of voters in the Left and the Trinamul-Congress combine, the PDS feels there is scope for a middle-of-the-road party. Just because there wasn’t enough time to lay the road doesn’t mean there wasn’t any road, was how PDS leaders explained their optimism.


Burdwan, May 15: 
Two people were killed in a clash sparked by a CPM victory march at Bastipota in Memari area of Burdwan this afternoon.

Mafizur Haq Mullick, a CPM cadre and one of the rallyists, died in an explosion allegedly triggered by Trinamul workers. Two Trinamul men, Mustafa Mullick and Mehboob Rahman Mullick, were beaten up by Mafizur’s comrades and sent to hospital. Mustafa died in the evening.

Mafizur died in an attack by Trinamul activists — he played the lead role in winning back the village from Trinamul after reverses in the last panchayat polls, explained CPM MLA Tapas Chattopadhyay. However, Trinamul’s Memari municipality councillor Swapan Bishoyi said Mafizur died as bombs carried by CPM marchers exploded accidentally. Bishoyi alleged the attack on the two Trinamul activists was pre-planned.

Burdwan superintendent of police Manoj Malviya said Trinamul supporters first attacked the CPM procession. Seven Trinamul activists have been arrested.

Contai clash: At least 40 people, including the officer-in-charge of Contai police station, were wounded in a clash between Trinamul and CPM supporters at Chotodarna.


New Delhi, May 15: 
If Bangaru Laxman’s special agenda was to bring the minorities, Dalits and backward castes in the saffron fold, his successor K. Jana Krishnamurthi’s primary goal is apparently to reinfuse “ideological purity” in the party.

The BJP president has made a move in this direction by convening a two-day meeting of all the former RSS pracharaks now working for the BJP in Jhinjholi on the Delhi-Haryana border.

Home minister L.K. Advani is expected to interact with the pracharaks over a special session in this “chintan baithak” (introspective session). Those scheduled to attend the baithak include J.P. Mathur, Kailashpati Mishra, Narendra Modi and Pyarelal Khandelwal.

Krishnamurthi, who is slated to reshuffle his team of office-bearers after consulting Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee once he returns from Malaysia, is believed to be keen on inducting more pracharaks to tone up the organisation, restore its ideological orientation and “purge” it of “time-servers and opportunists”.

Such persons, according to BJP sources, were more interested in using the party as a ladder to fulfil their political ambitions than serve it in a “meaningful” way.

BJP office-bearers who have hit the big league in politics include Pramod Mahajan, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and M. Venkaiah Naidu. Among those who have fallen by the wayside are K.N. Govindacharya, while those who continue to be loyal to the party include Krishnamurthi and Modi.

As a first step towards purging the organisation of “opportunists”, the BJP’s constitution has already been amended to stipulate that any pracharak who holds a post in the party organisation and wishes to contest elections must fend for himself for at least a couple of years before the party considers his eligibility to secure a ticket. “This is the only way we can sift the grain from the chaff and find out who is truly dedicated and who is not,” said sources.

If a pracharak wants to enter politics indirectly either through the Rajya Sabha or a legislative council, he will have to seek the permission of the RSS, as well as the BJP high command. In many cases in the past, the Sangh has turned down individual requests without giving any reason.

At the baithak, the 30-odd pracharaks from the BJP’s central headquarters and the states are also expected to share their experiences of working in the field.

“There is a feeling that with the BJP being in power in the Centre and some states, the organisation has been overshadowed by the government. This has demoralised the full-timers who are working actively without expecting any tangible returns. They are not hankering after ministerships, bungalows, contracts or cars. But when their services are not recognised by the party bosses, they feel really bad,” said sources.

The BJP functionaries felt it was “high time” the leaders realised that though the governmental apparatus had its own place, the party apparatus could not be ignored. “It is the latter that matters during an election. With the crucial Uttar Pradesh Assembly election round the corner, it is time the party apparatus was revved up,” stressed sources.

The BJP’s performance in the recent elections — whether the byelections or the Assembly polls — was, by its internal assessment, “bad”.

The party feels the cadre was not enthused enough to propagate the “achievements” of either the Centre or the state governments “because they feel left out from the process of governance”.

The Jhinjholi chintan baithak is expected to focus on their grouses and possibly convey them to the Prime Minister.


New Delhi, May 15: 
Union home minister L.K. Advani today made it clear that there should not be “state funding” for the proposed Ram temple at Ayodhya.

Deposing before the Justice M.S. Liberhan commission, probing the factors leading to the demolition of Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, Advani said he would propose a trust for the construction as was done by Sardar Patel during his “Somnath temple movement”.

Advani blamed the P.V. Narasimha Rao-led Congress government of delaying the Allahabad High Court verdict on acquisition of land in and around the mosque, resulting in “public anger leading to the demolition of the mosque”. He said the Rao government could have requested the high court to speedily decide the case.

“Throughout the month of November in 1992, from our side we were making direct approaches to the high court for an early verdict as the arguments had been complete for over a month. But the (Rao) government did not bother to request the high court to speed up the hearings,” Advani told the commission.

“(Atal Bihari) Vajpayee met the Prime Minister (Rao)... I met the PM... we both urged him (Rao) to request the high court to give an early verdict. After all, it was entirely upto the high court to time its verdict,” he said, adding that Rao did nothing to get an early verdict.

When asked whether requesting the judiciary would not amount to interference, Advani underlined “the government, like any other authority, could request it”.

“When it is publicly known that the government has conveyed to Vajpayee, Advani and others that the government is not going to make even a request for an early verdict, what is the message conveyed to the judiciary except what I said in the statement,” Advani wondered.

Had the Rao government requested for an early judgment on land acquisition, the demolition (of the mosque) would not have occurred, Advani reiterated. He said then RSS chief Rajendra Singh also held the same opinion. “The RSS then had doubts about keeping the lakhs of ‘restless’ kar sevaks under ‘control’ and wanted an early judgment,” Advani said, quoting Singh’s comments to him after his meeting with the Prime Minister.

Advani quoted Singh as telling Rao that if the judgment was delivered, irrespective of whether it upheld or rejected the Uttar Pradesh government’s notification acquiring 2.77 acre adjacent to the mosque, it would have helped defuse the situation.

Advani told the commission that if Allahabad High Court had ruled against the state government acquiring the land, the “physical” kar seva would have started on the land belonging to the Nyas committee.


Mumbai, May 15: 
The BJP and the Shiv Sena are eating humble pie — possibly pure veg — after tests conducted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation have shown that McDonald’s French fries contain no beef.

The FDA and the corporation carried out the tests after BJP and Sena activists charged that the French fries were laced with beef extracts.

The tests, conducted both on the French fries and the palmolein oil, showed that they were free from any animal fat, a corporation official said.

“Since the FDA has said the fries have no beef, we have to accept the result,” said BJP leader Vinod Tawre, who was at the forefront of the McDonald’s andolan.

“But the state government should carry out random checks on McDonald’s for a year,” cautioned Atul Shah, another party leader.

The Sena said they accept the “no beef” verdict, but reminded that the party was conducting its own tests on the French fries. “The tests are over and the results have been submitted to Bal Thackeray. They will come out soon,” said Subhas Desai, a Sena leader.

McDonald’s, which had maintained that there was no beef in its products in India, did not comment today. The matter was sub judice, they said. The BJP has filed a public interest litigation on the case. The hearing is on June 21.

BJP activists had gone on rampage on May 4 at the McDonald’s outlet at Victoria Terminus, smearing a mascot with cowdung to “purify” the place which was “tainted by beef”. Following the protests, the FDA and the corporation collected samples of French fries from eight McDonald’s outlets on May 8. The tests were carried out at the corporation laboratory.

BJP activists had started their protests here after a lawyer of Indian origin had filed a case against McDonald’s in the US, saying that the fast food giant had misled him into eating beef-flavoured French fries.

McDonald’s had acknowledged that it used beef flavour in its fries in the US, but said that it was clearly stated in every outlet. McDonald’s India had issued a statement saying that it used neither beef nor pork in any of its products in the country and its vegetarian products in India were 100 per cent veg.


Patna, May 15: 
The home department of Bihar has ordered a “discreet vigilance” on Kashmiri women studying in private dental colleges in the state, though the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) dismissed the allegation they were being sexually exploited by college administrators.

The Jammu and Kashmir People’s Vigilance Bureau had alleged that Kashmiri women studying dentistry in Bihar and Jharkhand were being sexually exploited. The allegations were sent to the Supreme Court early last month in a letter, which the apex court had taken cognisance of.

On May 6, the state government was summoned by the apex court for its failure to submit replies to the allegations. The court also sent notices to the S.M. Naqvi Dental College in Darbhanga, which is one of the colleges identified by the bureau.

Despite the Intelligence Bureau alert in early March that Kashmir militants were using this issue to fan fresh tensions on the border, the Bihar government failed to move fast. Following the apex court’s notice, the government ordered a probe into the affair.

The state’s CID team visited Kashmir and Darbhanga and interrogated the students early this month. The team spoke to the trusts that run the colleges. The relatives of the students were also reportedly questioned.

The CID, however, says the students were not forthcoming.

In an earlier statement to the court, the state chief secretary had said the women students “seemed to be hiding something. They were not frank”. In the absence of evidence, the Supreme Court had dropped charges against Bihar.

The chief secretary is, however, intrigued by the campaign being kicked up by some people in the districts.

The state government has now ordered a vigil on the functioning of dental colleges, recording the number of outstation students. The police have been asked to be in touch with the students’ bodies.

The state government was uneasy over the issue as human rights organisations were putting pressure on the police for other probes. The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has called for a thorough investigation into the running of dental hospitals in north Bihar.

“Most of the students in these colleges are women and some of the colleges are run from buildings that would not fit a high school. With the poor teaching facilities available, the scope of foul play or even exploitation could not be ruled out,” said Kishori Das, Patna PUCL general secretary.

Another report from a Central agency, routed to the state government by the Union home ministry, listed about a dozen dental hospitals in north Bihar run by minority organisations, which allegedly “operate under a veil of secrecy”.

Most of the dental colleges are located in far-off places but get students from Kashmir, Assam and other states. Muslim women students get an easy degree in dentistry from these colleges before starting their practice in their state. One of the colleges located in Katihar is run from a big building that has come up very recently.

“All these colleges run by minority trusts advertise prominently in Jammu and Kashmir, northeastern states and students expend hefty capitation fees for admission,” said the report.

Often the dental course is available along with Islamic teachings that attract students. “There are madarsas, Islamic studies and engineering and technology training in one compact building that has suddenly sprouted in a rural surrounding,” the report added.

Though these education trusts vow to spread education for the poor Muslims, there is always a veil of secrecy on the functioning of the trusts, the report observed.

“If factually, there is no case of sexual exploitation of Kashmiri women — and that is the conclusion we have so far arrived at — we are more alarmed. For then we have to understand who are behind the campaigns,” says a senior CID officer who interrogated the women students in dental colleges. The effort now would be to scan the operation of the colleges to get to the bottom of the truth.

A section of medical experts believe the ugly campaign could be sparked by rivalry between trusts who run the colleges. “It could be to damage the business of some hospitals,” said the owner of a dental college in Patna.

However, the state government has kept its fingers crossed. The location of the dental colleges in districts like Darbhanga, Sitamarhi, Kishangunge and Motihari, which are close to the porous Nepal border, has added to more worries.


New Delhi, May 15: 
K.C. Pant will sleep easy now. Pant, the Centre’s interlocutor for negotiations on the Kashmir issue, has been provided a security cover that many “endangered” politicians will envy.

North Block has finally heeded Pant’s request for greater security. Pant had earlier pleaded with home minister L.K. Advani that he deserves foolproof security. A senior official said Pant will be provided “much more security” than a Cabinet ministers is entitled to under the security norms revised about 18 months ago.

As Planning Commission deputy chairman, Pant holds the rank of a full-fledged Cabinet minister with “non-specific positional threat”. Thus, according to rules, he is entitled to Y category security.

Now the Centre appears to be convinced that as its principal interlocutor on the Kashmir issue he “might face some degree of danger” for which no chance will be taken.

“After all, he will be holding parleys with all kinds of groups active in Kashmir. So it was considered that there might be some threat to him from terrorist organisations inimical to the Vajpayee administration’s peace efforts,” the official said.

He, however, refused to disclose the category of security that Pant will enjoy.

The securitymen who will provide “proximate” security to Pant will comprise crack commandos to be drawn from one of the Central paramilitary forces. These commandos, armed with AK-47s, will surround Pant while he is in Kashmir or based in Delhi.

To avoid any controversy in Pant’s case, the home ministry did not recommend use of Black Cat commandos of the National Security Guard who, except in the case of a few politicians, have been withdrawn from performing VIP security. Black Cats have been provided as security cover to Advani (when on tours outside Delhi), Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh and Bahujan Samaj Party vice-president Mayavati.

Soon after being chosen as the Vajpayee government’s main negotiator for peace talks, Pant made several representations to the home ministry for security, which officials had described as a “customised demand”. It had exceeded even the Z+ security cover provided to VIPs with very serious threats. Pant had also made a request to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Pant will visit Jammu and Kashmir towards the end of this month to hold talks with representatives of some political groups and social and religious organisations. An exercise is already underway in the home ministry to prepare a brief for him. There is every likelihood of his opening channels of dialogue with the Hurriyat Conference during the trip.

Now that Pant is satisfied with security and will seriously pursue the Centre’s peace agenda, the RSS has reportedly asked Advani to give a “second thought” to continuing with the ceasefire in Jammu and Kashmir as well as Vajpayee’s peace initiative.

RSS’ political affairs joint secretary Madan Das Devi is understood to have met Advani yesterday over lunch and expressed apprehensions over the Centre’s insistence on continuing with the ceasefire.

The meeting took place in the backdrop of Advani’s May 19 visit to Srinagar where, along with external affairs and defence minister Jaswant Singh, the home minister will chair a meeting of the Unified Headquarters. Farooq Abdullah will also take part in the meeting.

Pant missive

Kashmiri separatist leader Shabir Ahmad Shah is likely to meet Pant, but the venue is yet to be decided, reports our Srinagar correspondent.

Handing over a letter to Shah answering his queries on the scope of the talks in Srinagar, Naresh Kumar Jain, the junior interlocutor, said: “Pant has invited Shah for talks to Delhi. The dates are yet to be decided.”

“But I will not go to Delhi. Instead, I have no hesitation in meeting him in Srinagar,” Shah, chief of the separatist Democratic Freedom Party, said.

“We will have to keep in mind the historic background and the sacrifices made by the Kashmiris in past 11 years while responding to the latest missive from Pant,” Shah added.


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