Panja keen on split, BJP on full team
Badal betters Santa with polls in mind
Giant tumour puts doctor in Guinness
Gogoi rival falls in line
US model for technical intelligence hub
CPM probes vote sabotage
Mahanta jinx stares at wife
Serial trader murders singe Rabri regime
College cloud on Jaya minister
Left blames BJP for Kerala loss

 
 
PANJA KEEN ON SPLIT, BJP ON FULL TEAM 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 20: 
The Trinamul Congress Parliamentary Party is likely to meet here next week to take stock of the post-poll political situation in Bengal, even as rebel leader Ajit Panja said here today that he was with the NDA “in the past, present and in future”.

The MPs will authorise party chief Mamata Banerjee to chart their future strategy.

While Mamata appears to have succeeded in isolating Panja, the BJP has stepped up efforts to bring the Trinamul Congress back to the NDA fold on the premise that she may have to part ways with the Congress. At the national level, the Congress has shown an inclination to collaborate with the CPM to contain the saffron brigade.

Both Mamata and senior BJP leaders, including party chief Jana Krishnamurthi, had ruled out her return. BJP general secretary Narendra Modi said at Mussourie today that “there is no such proposal” to take back Trinamul in the NDA fold. The Vajpayee establishment, however, hopes to persuade Mamata to return.

That she has still not written to the Lok Sabha Speaker informing him of the decision to sever ties with the NDA is being cited as her desire to keep options open.

While BJP sources claim they are in a position to split the Trinamul any time, sources close to Mamata said barring Panja, no MP will crossover. They claimed that the BJP and Panja have failed to split the party as the MPs have made their intentions clear.

But Panja, who had talks with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, home minister L.K. Advani and NDA convener George Fernandes last night, appeared confident about the split.

Asked if he was isolated in the party, Panja said: “Wait and see how many will come with me.” He alleged that the Congress and the CPM conspired with a few newspapers to demolish the party.

Asked if he discussed with the Prime Minister the possibility of his joining the council of ministers, Panja said it was Vajpayee’s prerogative.

On whether Panja, the Trinamul chairman, will expel Mamata Banerjee, Panja said he had no right to do so. “But I am in the Trinamul and in the NDA.” He could not attend the meeting at party MP Krishna Bose’s house yesterday as he received the intimation late, Panja said.

Calling Mamata a “whimsical and erratic lady”, he said the poor did not support her. Panja also accused Mamata of stifling inner-party democracy.

The Trinamul leader said on March 15 the parliamentary party had expressed full faith in the Prime Minister. Panja claimed no formal letter withdrawing support to the NDA was sent to convener George Fernandes. “That is why I am still in NDA,” he said.

   

 
 
BADAL BETTERS SANTA WITH POLLS IN MIND 
 
 
FROM GAJINDER SINGH
 
Chandigarh, May 20: 
It is a season of sops in Punjab.

With Assembly elections slated for this year, the Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal)-BJP government has purchased 99.9 per cent of the entire wheat harvest, has announced promotions of over 100 policemen and appointed 101 new deputy superintendents.

Test star Harbhajan Singh is among those who have expressed willingness to accept chief minister Parkash Singh Badal’s offer of a deputy superintendent’s job.

While the move to promote and appoint more police officers is being seen as a sop for acting leniently against terrorists wishing to return to India, the effort to woo farmers stems from fears of losing the polls.

Farmers in the state have for the past two years resorted to agitations against the government for not lifting their produce. They have steadily moved closer to the Congress.

The government’s decision to procure over 101 lakh metric tonnes of wheat at Rs 610 per metric tonne has, however, invited allegations of purchasing poor quality wheat at inflated prices.

The state is now saddled with two years’ stocks with traders in Asia’s largest grain market in Khanna alleging that even the minuscule quantity bought by them is not likely to be lifted by mill owners as “unseasonal rain had spoilt the grain”.

“The government has gone for a record purchase and everybody knows the reasons. The Akali-BJP alliance is desperate to win the polls; otherwise it is hard to explain the move. Unseasonal rainfall has affected the quality. Even the little amount that private traders have bought cannot be sold above Rs 400 per metric tonne. No mill owner will buy it at a higher price,” said Sadhu Ram Nanda of the Commission Agents’ Association in Khanna.

Nanda felt that once the government stops buying, the price will fall drastically.

Even after so much wheat was purchased, farmers were still transporting their produce to the grain markets in the state, making it difficult for officials to stock the produce properly.

State food and civil supplies minister Madan Mohan Mittal justified the wheat purchase. “It is the government’s duty to ensure that farmers are not affected and get a good price for their produce,” he said. “Who else is there to look after the interests of the farmers?” he asked.

Nanda, however, evaded a question on the government’s refusal to lift the record potato harvest earlier this year. Farmers then had dumped potatoes in the streets of Ludhiana as a mark of protest. Mittal revealed that more than Rs 5,500 crore had been disbursed among farmers whose wheat was procured by government agencies.

He said 101.63 lakh tonnes of wheat had been procured by May 15. Out of this, 71.5 per cent had been procured by the state government agencies and the remaining 28.5 per cent had been procured by the Food Corporation of India.

The state government’s decision to procure the entire wheat harvest, senior officials said, means that Punjab is today saddled with excess food stocks even as other drought-ridden states reel under shortage.

The Badal government is going out of its way to keep the police force happy, especially after the criticism directed against it following the “arrest” of Khalistan Commando Force chief Wassan Singh Zaffarwal.

The state has ordered more than 100 promotions, besides establishing a new post of inspector-general (intelligence) and 101 new deputy superintendents. The promotions of inspectors are, however, temporary, and subject to Punjab Public Service Commission’s ratification.

“Keep the police happy till the polls has become the government’s motto. Elections cannot be won without help from the force,” said a senior minister.

   

 
 
GIANT TUMOUR PUTS DOCTOR IN GUINNESS 
 
 
FROM SUCHANDANA GUPTA
 
Indore, May 20: 
When he was 31, this neurosurgeon from Madhya Pradesh charged a needy patient only Rs 1.25 for an operation. Five years later, at 36, he has become the first doctor to enter the Guinness Book of World Records for a surgical success.

On May 25 last year, Dr Deepak S. Kulkarni removed a malignant cancerous tumour weighing 570 grams from the head of a four-year-old boy without causing any damage or side-effects to the brain.

After nine months of research by the Guinness World Records team, Jeremy Fine, the chief of the Guinness team, got back to him last month confirming that Kulkarni has become “the only doctor (to be) listed” in the Guinness Book on the basis of individual performance by a surgeon. Dr Kulkarni received his world record-holder certificate a week later.

The world record has put an extra skip into the doctor’s strut. “This four-year-old had complaints of fits, seizures, vomiting and headache,” says the doctor.

Kaushal Choudhury is the son of a farmer from a remote village in Badwani, 90 km from here. Initially, when the fits and seizures started, Kaushal’s parents took the child to ojhas and witch-doctors in rural areas because they thought the boy was “possessed”.

This only made the patient’s condition worse. He developed high fever. The parents then took him to a general physician who treated him for malaria and typhoid.

The child could now barely talk. His parents took him next to a paediatrician who recommended a CT Scan. The scan showed abnormal vagueness, which doctors confused with accumulation of thick puss.

The paediatrician then referred the case to Dr Kulkarni, in Indore who is neurosurgeon in 128 of the 163 hospitals and nursing homes.

“The picture was not clear,” recalls Dr Kulkarni. “I was half-convinced it wasn’t just puss. I asked for an MRI and it was clear that there was a huge tumour on the left side of the skull. The tumour covered one-third of the cranial cavity compressing the brain to the right side of the skull.

“The respiratory and cardiac sectors of the brain were twisted, following lack of space for the brain. The speech and comprehension centres are placed in the left side of the brain and this being the affected area the patient was unable to speak or comprehend. And the right side of his body became weak because the left of the brain controls the right of the body.”

But even then he did not know what type of tumour it was. “I did not wish to cause any surgical trauma to the child’s brain, which was already compressed and under pressure. So, I opted for an intra-tumoural debulking — I directly entered the cavity of the tumour and scooped it out from within without any disturbance to the brain.”

As the tumour was on the left side, the doctor entered the tumour directly from above the child’s left ear. He scooped out the tumour bit by bit till it was the size of a tiny ball. He removed it completely after that.

“I wasn’t sure anyone had removed such a huge tumour before from a child’s brain. I felt the tumour after the operation and was sure it was not a simple one.”

It wasn’t. It was cancerous — fibrosarcoma in medical terms. “The child improved and we recommended radio therapy. My patient is fine now.”

His friends told Dr Kulkarni that there was no mention of such an operation in either the Internet or medical journals. So, Dr Kulkarni wrote to the Guinness Book of World Records on June 6 last year.

On April 9, Dr Kulkarni made it to the book of records on three counts: the age of the child, rarity of the histological type (microscopic structure of tissues) and the weight of the tumour.

Talk to the doctor about money, and he says: “I don’t necessarily have to run after money.” After all, he had operated on a five-year-old child for only Rs 1.25 in 1996.

“I knew the tumour could be totally removed. If I can give a little child a symptom-free life, I don’t lose anything. I end up gaining experience,” says the doctor.

   

 
 
GOGOI RIVAL FALLS IN LINE 
 
 
BY UMANAND JAISWAL
 
Guwahati, May 20: 
Speculation about dissension in the Congress was today laid to rest by Bubhaneswar Kalita, who threw his lot behind chief minister Tarun Gogoi despite being denied a berth in the new ministry.

Kalita said the party was “very much” united and he had “full faith” in Tarun Gogoi’s leadership.

Kalita, who returned from New Delhi this morning, left little room for ambiguity when he told The Telegraph at his Christian Basti residence that he was neither a “rebel” nor “disgruntled” over being left out of the Cabinet.

A former Rajya Sabha member and elected to the Assam Legislative Assembly for the first time, he had been projecting himself as a chief ministerial candidate. He won from the Rangiya constituency in Kamrup district, defeating the AGP candidate and former education minister Thaneswar Boro.

It is widely believed that Gogoi denied berths to “first-timers” in his Cabinet, not because he did not have faith in their abilities, but to put Kalita in his place.

“Let me make one thing clear. Choosing the Cabinet is the chief minister’s prerogative. It is up to him to do the selection and we, as partymen, have to respect his decisions. It is as plain and simple as that,” Kalita said.

Apart from Gogoi, 12 Cabinet and four ministers of state, including one with independent charge, were sworn in on May 17 at the Raj Bhawan. Gogoi is likely to expand his ministry within a month.

Trying to set the record straight, Kalita added that he skipped the swearing-in ceremony not because he had an axe to grind with the PCC leadership, but because his presence was required in New Delhi.

“Nothing much should be read into my absence. I had informed AICC leader Kamal Nath before leaving,” he said.

Asked about what was so important that he could not be present at the Congress’ hour of glory, Kalita said, being one of the AICC secretaries, he was in charge of Haryana and Madhya Pradesh. “I had some organisational matters to settle and, among others, a rally to be held in Haryana today (Sunday). I had a meeting with Mohsina Kidwai the day I left.”

“No motives should be attributed to my absence. You can call for my tour programme which was prepared 20 days before the polls. Everything is above board,” Kalita said, requesting not to be misquoted because he did not want to add to the “baseless” theories doing the rounds.

He also said the Congress could not afford any infighting at a time when the state is passing through a “very” critical phase. “We have come to serve the people. For that we have to remain united,” he said.

Sources said a “miffed” Kalita had given the swearing-in ceremony a go by, to be in New Delhi and impress upon Sonia Gandhi to set right the “wrongs” committed by the “Gogoi lobby” in the “larger” interests of the party.

After the swearing-in ceremony, Kamal Nath had said first-timers were left out “on principle”.

“We want first-timers to take the oath as members of the Assembly before inducting them into the ministry,” he was quoted as saying.

Though the Congress swept the polls in Kamrup district by winning all the 10 seats, none of the MLAs got a ministerial berth.

The reason attributed by Congress leaders was that barring Gopinath Das of Boko, all the others were debutants.

   

 
 
US MODEL FOR TECHNICAL INTELLIGENCE HUB 
 
 
FROM CHANDAN NANDY
 
New Delhi, May 20: 
In an ambitious move, the Vajpayee administration has decided to establish a National Technical Facilities Organisation modelled on the US National Security Agency to handle technical intelligence.

Such an organisation was one of 24 proposals accepted by the Cabinet committee on security after studying the L.K. Advani-led group of ministers’ report on reforming the national security system.

Although the organisation will be looked after by the technical coordination group to be headed by the national security adviser, its principal responsibility will be to plan, design, set up and operate key new strategic and advanced technical intelligence facilities.

The organisation will be vested with the authority to “explore and establish” facilities required for monitoring missile launches “in any country of interest”.

The group’s job will be to “coordinate and regulate plans for acquisition of all new, costly, major strategic facilities and equipment by the intelligence agencies and oversee the technical intelligence capabilities of the secret services, besides examining issues related to allocation of funds”.

The organisation will have powers to examine and process plans of intelligence agencies looking for new equipment costing over Rs 3 crore, plan and establish modern, secure digital networks connecting the headquarters of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and Intelligence Bureau here and their subsidiary offices across the country.

It will be a storehouse of information for security agencies.

With increasing cases of cyber-terrorism and cyber-crimes, the organisation will have full powers to develop capabilities for “defensive and offensive” operations in this area. The CBI has a fledgling anti-cyber-crime cell which is being developed and equipped with the software to detect cases. But the organisation’s charter is expected to go beyond the functions of the CBI cell.

The RAW, and defence intelligence wings handle technical intelligence. The government feels improved technical equipment will enhance the capabilities of all agencies in the business of collecting and collating information, based on which the National Security Council can form threat assessments.

Even the Subrahmanyam Committee, which went into the circumstances leading to the Kargil war, had pointed out that the area of technical intelligence needed upgradation.

   

 
 
CPM PROBES VOTE SABOTAGE 
 
 
BY BARUN GHOSH
 
Calcutta, May 20: 
The CPM today ordered a probe into the alleged sabotage by the party-backed Biplabi Bangla Congress (BBC) councillor and her husband at Jorasanko. Forward Block (FB) nominee Shyam Sundar Gupta lost to Trinamul Congress candidate Satya Narayan Bajaj here by a margin of 676 votes.

Rita Chowdhury, the councillor from Ward 41, and her husband Umesh Chowdhury were Gupta’s election agents.

Gupta has charged both Umesh and Rita of maintaining “clandestine” links with Bajaj to ensure his defeat.

In his two-page complaint with Left Front chairman Sailen Dasgupta, Gupta alleged that his opponent had won the elections with “active support from Chowdhury and his wife”. “Chowdhury’s activities had all along been suspicious as he used to pass on information to the Trinamul nominee about my weaknesses,” he said. “I am definite that he was instrumental behind by electoral debacle in Jorasanko,” he added.

“We are looking into the allegations brought by the FB nominee against councillor Rita Chowdhury and her husband,” said Krishna Chandra Mitra, a CPM Calcutta district committee member. Mitra was assigned to oversee elections in Jorasanko and Jorabagan.

Mitra said he had also received complaints from party managers regarding Chowdhury’s “suspicious” role during the elections. “But nothing can be said at the moment until the probe is complete,” he added.

Taking a cue from the CPM, the BBC has also appointed a two-member enquiry commission to probe into the matter. “We have to look into the allegation as it comes from the FB nominee in Jorasanko,” party general secretary Sunil Chowdhury said. He added that several party workers from the area had also corroborated the allegation.

Calcutta FB district secretary Nihar Roychowdhury said Gupta’s allegation was true. “We have come to know from our sources that both Chowdhury and his wife were in league with the Trinamul nominee to ensure his (Gupta’s) defeat,” he alleged. He reminded that a similar allegation was made against Umesh during the 1996 elections.

Umesh and his wife, however, denied the allegation. “We worked hard to ensure Gupta’s victory but he lost as the area is traditionally a Congress stronghold,” Umesh said, adding that the allegation was made to “tarnish my image”.

   

 
 
MAHANTA JINX STARES AT WIFE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Guwahati, May 20: 
After being comprehensively voted out of power, the Asom Gana Parishad is now facing the prospect of losing its lone seat in the Rajya Sabha.

The tenures of two Rajya Sabha members, Jayasree Goswami-Mahanta, wife of ousted chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, and Congress leader Manmohan Singh are set to end on June 14. Elections to the two seats will be held on June 11.

Goswami-Mahanta’s re-election is unlikely given the fact that the AGP came a cropper in the just-concluded Assembly polls. She was elected to the Upper House after the death of senior party leader Paragdhar Chaliha.

A defeat for Goswami-Mahanta will leave the AGP’s ambition of seeing her as a minister in the Vajpayee government unfulfilled.

The AGP’s pre-poll alliance with the BJP, which turned out to be suicidal, centred round the saffron party’s “promise” to give Goswami-Mahanta a berth in the NDA government during the next ministry expansion.

However, the AGP does not have the requisite numbers in the Assembly to ensure her re-election to the Rajya Sabha. Not even the support of legislators from the BJP, the Absu-BPAC combine and the ASDC(U) can do the trick.

The AGP has 20 legislators in the 125-member Assembly (election to the Dibrugarh seat was countermanded). The BJP has eight, the ASDC (U) two and the Absu-BPAC combine over half-a-dozen seats.

The ruling Congress, with 71 legislators, faces no such problem. Two other legislators have pledged their support to the party, strengthening its position further.

Given the complex voting pattern in elections to the Rajya Sabha, the AGP needs 42 first-preference votes for Goswami-Mahanta’s re-election. This is why the Congress clearly has the upper hand. All things remaining the same, it can retain Manmohan Singh’s seat and wrest the other from the AGP.

Though the AGP enjoys the Absu’s support on paper, it cannot take the students’ organisation for granted. The Absu has said its alliance with the regional party will continue. But the organisation has also indicated that it could support the Congress if the new government is inclined to resolving the Bodo issue.

Each legislator is entitled to two votes in elections to the Rajya Sabha. For any party to win both the seats, it must ensure that each of its two candidates get more first-preference votes than the Opposition candidate(s).

Assuming that all legislators from the BJP, Absu and ASDC(U) agree to cast their first-preference votes in favour of one of the AGP candidates, the tally adds up to just 37. The Congress needs just 13 more legislators to shut out the AGP and its allies.

Compounding the AGP’s woes, even the BJP has developed cold feet when it comes to backing Goswami-Mahanta. Senior AGP leaders, led by Prafulla Mahanta, rushed to Delhi after the poll results were announced to convince the BJP leadership to continue supporting them in the Assembly.

   

 
 
SERIAL TRADER MURDERS SINGE RABRI REGIME 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, May 20: 
Another trader was killed by thugs even as a 24-hour traders’ bandh was being observed here yesterday.

Antisocials killed Md. Iqbal of Bhojpur district in Arra, stepping up their campaign of violence against the government. This has caused a near breakdown of law and order in the state.

The murder took place when chief minister Rabri Devi was holding a special meeting yesterday with senior officials on law and order that is being threatened by a series of killings. After the meet, she issued a stern warning to the officials that nobody found negligent about the security of traders would be pardoned.

Tension gripped Bihar’s capital this week as a spate of killings of traders and businessmen shattered its fragile peace. The beleaguered traders took to the streets and enforced a bandh yesterday.

In a rare show of solidarity, the traders downed shutters, squatted on the streets and took out processions demanding security. Joining the chorus were some ministers in the Rabri Devi government led by Roma Devi who dared to antagonise Laloo Yadav, her party president, to urge the traders to take up arms in their battle against antisocials.

Even as the bandh was on, a petrol pump dealer, Jagannath Chowdhary, was killed at Pataliputra colony. Some youth riding a motorcycle came to the petrol pump and fired on him, killing him on the spot.

A wave of anger swept Patna when newspapers splashed the picture of the bloated body of an Ahmedabad-based industrialist, Om Prakash Kamalia, related to former finance minister Shankar Prasad Tekriwal, now a rebel leader. He had been abducted by thugs three days ago when he was on a morning walk. His body was dumped into a pond after he was shot dead from close range, sources said.

Two days back, a hotel owner, Vinod Kumar Gupta, was killed in broad daylight in the city when thugs hurled bombs at his hotel and ransacked it.

   

 
 
COLLEGE CLOUD ON JAYA MINISTER 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Bangalore, May 20: 
Tamil Nadu education minister M. Thambi Durai is faced with his first crisis, but it has nothing to do with his department in Chennai. Student unrest in his private education venture in neighbouring Karnataka is threatening to discredit ADMK chief Jayalalitha’s close lieutenant.

Students of the Bangalore College of Engineering and Technology, of which he is chairman, are threatening to take to streets for allegedly being conned by the management. A cloud of uncertainty hangs over their future as there is a possibility of the college being derecognised, for the second time.

Education department officials have pulled up the institute for admitting excess students flouting rules. The number of seats for Durai’s college was fixed at 270, but the college admitted 365 students. But the price for the management’s fault is being paid by all the students, whose first semester results have been withheld. The results for other engineering students were announced by the Visvesvaraya Technological University last month.

“Our educational future is uncertain because of the management’s decision to take more students. We are attending second semester classes but we are not sure whether we will be allowed to appear for the examinations,” a student said.

The students are angry but are afraid to take on the management because of the minister’s clout. Student leaders were intimidated and a students’ strike was put down with a heavy hand a fortnight ago.

   

 
 
LEFT BLAMES BJP FOR KERALA LOSS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Hyderabad, May 20: 
Prakash Karat has blamed the Left’s defeat in Kerala on the transfer of BJP votes to the Congress-led United Democratic Front.

“Nearly 3 per cent of the total 8 per cent BJP votes in the last parliamentary election went to the Congress, giving the UDF a much-needed boost,” the CPM politburo member said.

He also blamed the fall in agricultural output in Kerala for the Left’s poor performance in the state. “However, the sixth historic victory with two-thirds majority in Bengal has established the relevance of the Left movement,” he said.

A major outcome of the polls, Karat said, was the rout of the BJP in all the five states. “The BJP has no presence in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Bengal. It was drubbed in Assam as well.”

Ruling out allowing the ADMK to be part of the People’s Front, Karat said: “We are not looking for expansion of the front but setting up a common minimum programme on which all partners should come together under the umbrella of the front.”

“While in the United Front, we framed the common minimum programme after Deve Gowda was sworn in, we want to adopt a common minimum programme which will become the Bible of our new front which is now even more relevant in the present political context.”X

A five-member committee headed by former Prime Minister V.P. Singh and including Mulayam Singh, Harkishen Singh Surjeet, Deve Gowda and A.B. Bardhan, will draft the common minimum programme, he said.

The CPM leader said his party will oppose the trade union legislation proposed by the Centre as it is against the interests of labour and infringes on the rights of trade unions.

   
 

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