Poll sweep prompts Citu rethink on industry
BJP for Trinamul minus top two
Safe-passage promise to students
Delhi rules out conspiracy angle
Criticism fear prompts caution on massacre
Coronation rocks border
Mother of all roles beckons Titanic Kate
Mission Mumbai to set right the right
Heartland starts ticking
Delhi out of bounds for UP Congress

New Delhi, June 4: 
The Left Front’s triumphant return to power in West Bengal seems to have mellowed the CPM’s most stubborn outfit — its trade union wing Citu.

“We are ready for a debate on industrial revival in Bengal,” said Citu general secretary and CPM politburo member M.K. Pandhe.

He agreed that there is still inhibition on the part of the business community to invest in Bengal. “But the businessmen in Calcutta this time voted for us and we want to use the huge mandate the party had got to address some of the grievances the people have against the government,” added the politburo member.

West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has said one of his main responsibilities will be to tone up the state’s economy. The Citu is ready to extend a helping hand as long as the initiatives do not hurt the workers interests.

“We will abide by any tripartite decision reached by the industrial captains, the government and labour leaders,” stressed Pandhe. Will the Citu tune its demands keeping in mind the situation in different industries? “We will differentiate between big and small scale industry but there will be no compromise on labour laws,” said Pandhe.

He said when he went to campaign in Burrabazaar in Calcutta, he found the business community responsive to the Left Front. “The businessmen asked me why the party wrote them off,” said Pandhe. And he does not want to waste this goodwill the Left Front enjoys at the moment.

The current of change is strong. Over the years, fast-changing economic and technological movements have forced the Citu to remould itself, though many still accuse the trade union of “outdated dogma” and a dogged refusal to see the writing on the wall.

The Citu was sceptical when Jyoti Basu announced a new industrial policy. The state government had a harrowing time with the Citu before it could privatise Calcutta’s Great Eastern hotel. A section of the Citu, like in the party, was resistant to the government giving up control.

But the enormity of the state’s poll results seems to have sunk into the Citu and it is willing to rethink on industrialisation which, it concedes, has not taken off as expected.

Pandhe believes that the Citu has a responsibility to see that the mandate given to the Left Front is not frittered away. “We cannot gloat over this mandate but will have to honour it. And this can be done by overcoming our failings,” said Pandhe.

One area where the Citu has not changed is work culture, despite Basu’s repeated pleas to government employees for evolving an efficient work ethic. Pandhe is not agitated about the slack performance of employees in Bengal. In fact, he does not believe that there is any slack.


New Delhi, June 4: 
The Trinamul Congress can be invited back to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), but without Mamata Banerjee and Sudip Bandopadhyay.

That’s the condition set by the West Bengal unit of the BJP which has made it clear to the central leadership that the Trinamul top two are not welcome to return to the coalition.

Explaining the reason for their demand, state BJP vice-president Muzaffar Khan said: “They are the two real villains. We have no problems with the other MPs because officially and privately they spoke out against the manner in which Mamata ditched the NDA and ran to the Congress on the eve of the elections.”

Khan cited the example of Ajit Panja to show how his anti-Congress stance was “vindicated” by the poll outcome. “Panja was proved right, but for speaking out the truth, he has lost his position in the party and his daughter was defeated by Trinamul itself in the election,” the BJP leader said.

BJP sources claimed that its high command felt that given Mamata’s “impulsive political responses”, it was “unwise” to deal with her again. “She has shown time and again how fickle she is. But a party minus her would be a reliable ally so the ideal situation for us is to have the Trinamul MPs back minus Mamata,” the sources said.

They added that in the past, Mamata had threatened to quit the NDA on any ground whatsoever. “Anything was good enough for her — Ayodhya, oil price hike, withdrawal of public distribution system subsidy. Of course, she finally left us on the Tehelka issue, but what is the guarantee that once she returns, she will not find some other issue to part company again?” the sources asked.

BJP sources claimed that in her one-to-one with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on Friday, Mamata had “pleaded” with him to take her back and promised she would do nothing to destabilise his government again.

The central BJP is still of the view that in the long run it would be “politically viable” to have Trinamul back as a complete entity rather than as a breakaway group. Party sources admitted that in the absence of a charismatic leader in their own ranks, it made “sense” to project Mamata as the focal point of all anti-Left forces in Bengal.


Midnapore, June 4: 
Mass education minister Nandarani Dal today said many students in Keshpur had been forced to drop out of schools and colleges over the past three years because of Trinamul Congress’ terror tactics.

“My immediate job is to convince these students to go to schools and colleges again,” Dal told The Telegraph at her Midnapore residence this morning. She was about to leave for a felicitation accorded to her by the 12th July Committee in Midnapore town.

The only woman minister with Cabinet rank in the sixth Left Front government, Dal visited Biswanathpur village under Keshpur yesterday. Dal said the Continuing Education Programme (CEP) was in progress in Midnapore, Bankura, Burdwan, Hooghly, Birbhum and North and South 24-Parganas. “My primary job is to ensure the continuation of the CEP in all the seven districts,” she said.

Asked whether she had any special plan for Keshpur, Dal said: “No. Keshpur will witness development along with the progress of the state.”

“We had identified 1.41 crore people in our state as illiterate and many of them have become literate now. My job is to achieve 100 per cent literacy by 2005,” she said.

The CPM and the government have taken all measures to help villagers in Keshpur who were forced to abandon their houses due to Trinamul violence, she said.

“My party and the government will help them return to their homes. But neither the government nor the CPM will take responsibility of those who have killed innocent people in Keshpur. The villagers of Keshpur had witnessed gruesome killings and also identified many of the killers,” she said.


New Delhi, June 4: 
Where is the beauteous Devyani Rana, love for whom is said to have driven Dipendra to regicide and suicide? She is with the Scindias, but where: Delhi, London or Gwalior?

Devyani flew out of Kathmandu on Saturday and reached the Indian capital in the afternoon. She was accompanied by at least one person, her elder sister. The Scindias are incommunicado in this hour of private grief.

On her flight to Delhi, Devyani was escorted by her elder sister who is married into the Khemka family based in Chennai. The Khemkas ran the NEPC group of businesses that are now in troubled times. Delhi is where she would have found a place among her own people, but she could have also flown to London, where her maternal uncle, Madhavrao Scindia, is now camping.

Devyani is known to be close to, and fond of, Madhavrao. Her mother Usharaje is his elder sister. As a student in Delhi’s Lady Shri Ram College some four years ago, Devyani spent time in both the hostel and at Scindia House. Now, when her world is collapsing, it is only natural that she will seek and get refuge with her own people.

In college, a lecturer at LSR recalls, Devyani kept a low profile and rarely spoke of her lineage and connections. She was a student of political science though she is currently registered in Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu, for a Ph.D in sharing water resources.

Incidentally, her father, Pashupati Shamsher Jung Bahadur Rana, is a former minister for water resources. Water resources is a crucial portfolio in the Nepal Cabinet because it often determines the kingdom’s ties with India.

In Delhi, Devyani also discussed politics with Madhavrao when he could spare the time.

“What do you think defines the new political centre in the Indian polity? Is it possible to create a new political alignment by picking up blocks from existing political parties! Could such a centrist political formation (be) built around U? Do U have the killing instinct so badly needed to be Prime Minister of India?” (sic), a Devyani Rana asked Madhavrao Scindia in a 1996 Internet chat.

It is not known whether the questioner was indeed the Congress leader’s niece but the coincidence is striking. Scindia could not complete the chat due to technical problems and his answer is not listed.

Scindia House and the security and comfort it guarantees her is, therefore, likely to be Devyani Rana’s most favoured refuge now.

The Scindias of Jai Vilas Palace, Gwalior, have a long and thick relationship with both the Kathmandu royals of Narayan Hity Palace and the Ranas of Nepal.

Rajmata Vijayaraje Scindia was of Rana lineage but settled in Sagar, Madhya Pradesh, before she married Jiwajirao Scindia. Usharaje, her second daughter and Devyani’s mother, married into a branch of the Rana family.

The late Queen Aishwarya herself was from another branch of the Rana family. The two branches were not on happy terms — since the time of Juddha Shamsher J.B. Rana and Chandra Shamsher J.B. Rana — and Dipendra’s mother is said to have objected to her son’s liaison for that reason.

The inaccessibility of Jai Vilas (as also Usha Kiran palace) also makes Gwalior a possible refuge for Devyani right now.

Among other probable hosts of Devyani in India are Karan Singh, scion of the Jammu and Kashmir royals, Gaj Singh of the Jodhpur royal family and the Mahindras, all of whom have close ties with the Ranas through marriage.


New Delhi & Bhuj, June 4: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today said India was closely watching the developments in Nepal but made it clear that Delhi did not subscribe to any conspiracy theory behind the royal massacre.

The Centre’s cautious approach, sources said, was to ensure that it is not held responsible if the situation in Kathmandu deteriorates. Though reports of the crown prince’s death were received by South Block early today, till late evening it did not issue a condolence message.

One reason for this could be that Delhi is not sure which way things are moving in Nepal at the moment and has decided to delay — if at all it is to be issued — in coming out with a condolence message for Dipendra — reported to be the person responsible for the killings.

Vajpayee, who had gone on a tour of quake-affected areas in Gujarat, told reporters at Bhuj airport this afternoon that Delhi was “seriously studying” the developments in Nepal and had assured Kathmandu of all help.

The Prime Minister said he had spoken to his Nepalese counterpart, G.P. Koirala, about developments in the Himalayan kingdom. But it was not clear whether he spoke to Koirala today or was referring to his telephone conversation with him soon after he came to know of the palace massacre. Asked whether he suspected any conspiracy behind the developments, he said: “I don’t see any conspiracy from here.”

Nepal’s ambassador to India Bhekh Bahadur Thapa today briefed foreign secretary Chokila Iyer on the situation in his country, adds PTI. Thapa said Nepal, which has traditional bonds with India, seeks continuity in the warm and friendly relations between the two countries.

Foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal described the situation in Kathmandu as “tense and delicate”, but refused to say anything more lest it provoked adverse criticism in Nepal.

Asked about a report in a Pakistani newspaper blaming RAW, India’s external intelligence agency, for the royal assassinations, Jassal said he would not like to comment on the “ravings of an unhinged mind”.

The regent-turned new King, Gyanendra, is also not being seen as an adversary. South Block mandarins are preferring to overlook much of his past “anti-Indian” comments. Instead, more stress is being given on his interest on environment and Indian classical music.

What is worrying India is that its interest in the developments in Nepal should not be misread. India’s relationship with Nepal has gone through highs and lows.

The hijacking of the Indian Airlines airbus from Kathmandu and riots against Bollywood heart-throb Hrithik Roshan had strained bilateral ties. But on both occasions, it took only a few weeks for relations to be back on track.

It is this love-hate relation between the two sides that is worrying the Indian leadership, more so as Delhi realises that Kathmandu is going through one of its worst crises.


Indo-Nepal border (Raxaul), June 4: 
The wave of anger that rocked Kathmandu after Gyanendra’s coronation reached as far as the border, spreading panic in towns on both sides.

About 2,000 angry youths took to the streets of Birgunge, 50 km from here across the border, shouting slogans against the king and his son Paras. They stopped passing vehicles and forced the police to seal the border again.

The Raxaul-Birgunge border had been closed on Saturday. Trouble erupted today hours after private channels aired the news of King Dipendra’s death and Gyanendra’s coronation.

Towns along the border are crowded with shops owned by Indians and Indian-born Nepalese. “We feel absolutely unsafe. Whenever any violence takes place, we become the targets,” said Nitin Sharma, a trader in Birgunge.

Even as Sharma was talking, the protesters had an altercation with some shopowners in the main Birgunge market and pelted stones. People were warned to stay indoors. Shops downed their shutters.

With no specific target, the mob was turning against anyone who did not listen to it. At Jaleshwar, another small town on the border, youths were carrying effigies of King Gyanendra. Officers said a crowd of about thousand burnt the effigy and shouted slogans like: “Down with King Gyanendra and Paras”.

Late in the evening, hundreds of Indian traders crossed into Motihari, Raxaul, Bagha and Bettiah on the Indian side for a safe night halt. Raxaul, Motihari and East Champaran districts in Bihar share a border with Nepal. The superintendent of police of East Champaran district, D.N. Gupta, said he expected more Indians to flee Nepal.

Nepal Royal Police took up positions in the central street crossings of Birgunge, where prohibitory orders have been issued. On this side of the border, personnel of the Special Task Force, known in state police circles as “Cheetah”, patrolled the streets of Raxaul and Adapur on motorcycles, automatic rifles in hand.

“We are not taking any chances. We have alerted our police force but what is worrying is that I am unable to contact my counterpart in Nepal,” D.N Gupta said.

The police mobilisation on the border preceded a Special Branch report that some minority organisations active in the border villages were trying to direct the Nepali youths’ anger towards India.


Calcutta, June 4: 
Blessed art thou, Kate Winslet. Here’s a perfect plot to showcase the fruits of reluctant dieting that motherhood foisted on you.

An Indian director, known for his obsession with themes maternal, is offering Winslet a chance to play the frail Mother Teresa in a full-length film on the champion of the wretched.

Winslet has not yet said yes to Rajiv Nath, who won the national award for best director for the Malayalam film Janani. But Nath said over the phone from Thiruvananthapuram that he was expecting a response within 10 days from Winslet.

After the blockbuster Titanic, Winslet was in the news for first lambasting Hollywood’s fetish for thin actresses and later conceding to diet to salvage her career. Winslet, who gave birth to daughter Mia in October last year, had gained weight during her pregnancy. If Winslet agrees to do Mother’s role, will she have to starve herself a la Ben Kingsley in Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi? “Let her agree first,” Nath said.

Asked whether he will be able to find funders who can afford Winslet, Nath said his immediate concern was to crystallise the creative contours of the venture. But he indicated that agencies like the Catholic Youth Movement have shown interest in the project.

Nath has found his Mother, but a bigger challenge awaits him in Calcutta, where the movie would be shot on location. He is scouting around for an actor to play a young Jyoti Basu, “who has a great regard for the Mother”.

Nath said the idea to make a movie on Mother’s life since she reached Calcutta germinated during a conversation with a Malayali priest in Europe. A common friend, who knows Winslet’s agent, got into the picture and is now spearheading the negotiations.

Motherhood is a common thread that runs through the films of Nath. Even the European trip was linked to his latest film, Mama is waiting, which explores the relationship between a mother and son.

The award-winning Janani, too, chronicles the maternal angst of all women, telling the heartrending tale of a group of nuns whose life changes overnight when a child is dumped at their doorstep.

Nath, who was in Calcutta last year to attend a film festival, said he expected to start shooting from the beginning of next year.

“Unfortunately or fortunately, time has stood still in several places in Calcutta. So, I need not rely too much on sets and can go for location shooting,” Nath said.

Nath, who had seen Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee at the film festival function, said he was keen to meet Basu to discuss the film.


Mumbai, June 4: 
After the left, the right is bearing down on Atal Bihari Vajpayee as he wobbles towards the political centre.

The Prime Minister’s troubled knees are a painful reflection of his troubled times in office. He dodged the Left which screamed for his scalp after the Tehelka scandal.

But dodging the right is not easy. Unable to stomach his centrist policies, the right-wing Sangh parivar — the political family Vajpayee belongs to — is tormenting him as much as his right knee, set to be operated on by the same surgeon at Mumbai’s Breach Candy hospital on Thursday.

Doctors hope the operation would end the leader’s off-on pain in the right knee, afflicted with osteoarthritis, a degenerative disease that progresses with age and had prompted the operation on his left knee last October.

Surgeon Chittaranjan Ranawat, who had flown in from New York, saw Vajpayee’s right knee afflicted with the disease when he operated on his left knee on October 10 last year. Immediately afterwards, he declared to the media that the right knee could do with a joint replacement operation.

Though Ranawat, who was later awarded Padma Bhushan, refused at the time to say when the Prime Minister would feel the need to have his right knee joint replaced, those who assisted him did not think it would be so soon.

“The Prime Minister appeared comfortable when I saw him at Rashtrapati Bhavan during the distribution of national awards. He certainly looked ambulatory,” said Dr Nandu Laud, Ranawat’s co-surgeon. Laud, a Mumbai-based ortheopadic surgeon, will assist Ranawat this time, too.

After spending 12 autumn days at the hospital — with his office just a door away — Vajpayee is returning to Breach Candy on Wednesday in the run-up to the city’s rippling wet season.

Except the change of knee, everything else will be the same as last time for Vajpayee before, during and after the operation at Breach Candy, down to his entourage. Coming with the Prime Minister are his office, foster daughter Nandita, son-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya, L.K. Advani and Pramod Mahajan.

On his arrival at the hospital on Wednesday afternoon, Vajpayee will be led down the same side entrance, used exclusively by him in October, up the same elevator, to the same seventh floor, where all 14 rooms are booked for him and his entourage as it was last time. But hospital officials are not sure he will stay in the same corner room number 707 because police feel that the room may prove “unsafe”.

Breach Candy medical director K.G. Nair said visitors will not be allowed to park their cars in the hospital yard this time for fear of car bombs. Vajpayee is expected to stay at the hospital for eight to 10 days, a couple of days less than the last time.

His office is likely to run up a bill of Rs 7 lakh for his treatment this time, almost the same amount it paid last October.


New Delhi, June 4: 
The seriousness with which the BJP and the Samajwadi Party have begun preparations suggest that Uttar Pradesh might go to polls before the end of this year, possibly by October or November.

While a high-level meeting to discuss Uttar Pradesh has been convened at the residence of home minister L.K. Advani tomorrow evening, the two-day national executive of the Samajwadi began in Jaipur today, again as a warm-up exercise for the polls.

Tomorrow’s meeting will be attended by chief minister Rajnath Singh, state BJP chief Kalraj Mishra and senior state minister Om Prakash Singh, who is likely to be projected as the BJP’s “backward caste” face in the polls.

The Delhi contingent will comprise BJP president K. Jana Krishnamurthi, Pyarelal Khandelwal — who is in charge of Uttar Pradesh — Narendra Modi and former party chief Kushabhau Thakre.

As a prelude to tomorrow’s session, Krishnamurthi and his office-bearers went into a huddle this evening with two Uttar Pradesh organisational secretaries — Hridyanath Singh and Ram Pyare Pandey, who look after the western and Avadh regions, respectively. BJP sources said Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee would be briefed about both the meetings before he leaves for Mumbai for his knee surgery.

Today’s sitting, sources said, focused on whether the party should have an alliance with Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal. If the state unit’s feedback was “satisfactory”, the sources said a last meeting would be held between Singh and the Prime Minister or Advani, before a formal announcement is made.

The input from the state unit has become necessary after it was reported that prospects of a pact with the RLD was “resented” by a section of the BJP’s Jat MLAs who feared that they might have to give up their seats. “If the alliance with the RLD is sealed, it is as good a signal that elections would take place in October,” a BJP functionary said.

The party’s assessment is that in the event of an early election, it would reach a score of around 150 seats in a House of 403 — the present strength after Uttaranchal became a separate state. If elections are delayed, “this figure could come down drastically”, the sources said. “We feel better to consolidate whatever advantage we have gained by having Rajnath as the chief minister right now than to put it off for a later date.”

Sources said the tomorrow’s meeting would evaluate the BJP’s strengths and weaknesses district-wise, what issues to take up in the campaign, and who should be enlisted as the main canvassers. Although Vajpayee would be the star campaigner, sources said that given the time constraint, it was “unfair” to expect him to devote all his time to Uttar Pradesh.


New Delhi, June 4: 
Uttar Pradesh satrap N.D. Tiwari was once described as “New Delhi Tiwari” because of his weekly trips to the national capital, but Sonia Gandhi may no longer tolerate proxy rule of Lucknow from Delhi.

Ahead of the heartland’s Assembly elections, Sonia has issued a series of directives barring state party office bearers from visiting Delhi for the next seven months.

It is a different matter that 14 AICC office-bearers from Uttar Pradesh, including Tiwari, Mahabir Prasad, M.L. Fotedar, Ram Naresh Yadav, Salman Khurshid, Mohsina Kidwai and Anil Shastri, live either in Delhi or in the satellite towns of Noida, Faridabad and Ghaziabad.

Partymen are sceptical of how Sonia will implement her guidelines. They pointed out that Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Sriprakash Jaiswal was in Delhi for at least 20 days in a month.

Jaiswal offers a tame defence. First, being an MP he has to be there. Then, in the absence of the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee executive, it is futile for him to tour the state.

AICC general secretary incharge of Uttar Pradesh, Ghulam Nabi Azad, has a more daunting task. He has to pick 41 office- bearers from 500 aspirants for the executive.

However, the state Congress office-bearers are not expected to contest the Assembly polls. The joke doing the round is: it is better to be an office-bearer for five years than be a candidate for 20 days.

Madhya Pradesh chief minister and Congress leader Digvijay Singh chaired a party meeting to review the political situation in Uttar Pradesh. It identified procurement prices, farmers’ plight, WTO, Tehelka and Ayodhya as some of the issues that will be taken up during campaigning.

The chief ministers of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Delhi and Rajasthan would be given charge of various divisions. Earlier, the party had plans to rope in all the chief ministers of Congress-ruled states. But finally, the chief ministers from the south and the Northeast have been spared.


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