Mouse jitters for New Left whizkids
Left mega bash to celebrate sixth win
Forward Bloc cautions CM on industry
CPM worker murdered
School uniform shield for goons
Struggle saga of work & dream
Cloud over Hurriyat protest halt claim
Pawar serves pullout notice in power war
Ajit Singh awaits Atal seal on pact
India, Bangladesh meet to hunt for border balm

 
 
MOUSE JITTERS FOR NEW LEFT WHIZKIDS 
 
 
BY SUNANDO SARKAR
 
Calcutta, June 11: 
The mouse is still a creature that cats love to chase. And the computer is still a machine that looks suspiciously like a television and has been given by the public works department to adorn their offices.

The New Left may have finally accepted that not much is wrong with e-governance and may be crying itself hoarse about the necessity of catching up with Andhra’s cyber-savvy Chandrababu Naidu. But old habits — like computer-illiteracy, for instance — die hard.

The government may have finalised plans to instal personal computers in the rooms of all 48 ministers of the new government so they can plunge into the worldwide web, but very few of them, officials said, are yet to show any inclination to get caught in the net.

The ambitious plans to connect Writers’ Buildings to the districts, sub-divisions and blocks may or may not materialise. But officials are sure about one thing: if Left Front ministers are ranked according to their scale of importance, there will be only one in the Top Ten: infotech minister Manab Mukherjee, who will pass any test on computer-literacy with flying colours.

Writers’ officials can’t get over one incident that occurred about 10 days ago. Enthusiastic about the plans to bring all hospitals under a common network, the officials were worrying about how to transmit ultrasonography reports and X-rays over the new Voice over Internet Protocol when a messenger came from Mukherjee’s office; the minister had himself downloaded something from a site that he thought could prove useful to the hassled officials and sent it over to them.

But Mukherjee is the exception. The rules are set by people like Amar Choudhury, PWD minister, whose department is in charge of installing 120 computers in ministers’ and important secretaries’ rooms in Writers’ but who is yet to differentiate between the keyboard and the mouse.

Choudhury, MLA from Baranagar, which is very much within greater Calcutta limits, has no plans to learn more about the computer, department officials disclosed. He, however, has asked his officials to master the computer so they know how to operate the PC in his room.

“Why should our minister learn computers?” an official asked. “We are there to do the job,” he said, explaining why his minister did not need to know computers.

Dasarath Tirkey, Choudhury’s junior, knows as much about computers as his boss. A first-time MLA like Choudhury, Tirkey’s staff, however, say their minister wants to know computers.

Also eager to master the computer is minister of state for health Pratyush Mukherjee. He wants to put his computer-savvy private secretary to good use. Mukherjee admits a crash-course from an institute would have stood him in good stead, but says he is going to overcome the handicap by devoting more time to his personal computer, courtesy his private secretary, during office hours.

But there’s a clear division between younger ministers and the older lot when it comes to their willingness to learn. On the one hand, junior minister for urban development Anju Kar has learnt a little about the machine from her staff; on the other hand is industry minister Nirupam Sen, in charge of bringing in technology-based industry to the state but has shown little inclination to master the ABC of computers.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, said officials, stands somewhere in between. He may not be an IT-whiz himself, but is, nevertheless, powered by an IT-tinted vision of the future.

   

 
 
LEFT MEGA BASH TO CELEBRATE SIXTH WIN 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 11: 
The Left Front will celebrate June 21 — the day it came to power in Bengal in 1977 — in a grand way to mark its “resounding victory in the Assembly elections” this year.

CPM politburo member Biman Bose, who is functioning as the front chairman as Sailen Dasgupta is indisposed, has convened a meeting of the front on Wednesday when the leaders will decide how they will celebrate their sixth consecutive victory in the Assembly elections.

It is learnt the front will organise a colourful cultural function at Netaji Indoor Stadium on June 21. All the top front leaders, including Jyoti Basu and chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, will attend the function at the stadium.

The Left Front committees will organise similar functions in all districts.

CPM state secretary Anil Biswas today said the party had received reports from a number of districts over the recent Assembly polls and “we will analyse our results in the districts after getting reports from all the districts”.

Biswas is touring the districts to meet party leaders there and gather first-hand information on the reasons behind their success or failure in the polls. He visited Midnapore last week and will go to Birbhum tomorrow.

The CPM state leadership is not attaching any importance to Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee’s proposed visit to a number of districts. It is learnt that Mamata will visit Midnapore on June 23 to survey the performance of her party in the district in the Assembly elections. The Left bagged 27 of the 37 Assembly seats in the district.

Asked about Mamata’s Midnapore visit, Biswas said: “She can go to any part of Bengal, but she should not indulge herself in any kind of violence or instigate violence in any part of the state.”

He refuted Mamata’s allegation that there had been no development in Midnapore over the past 25 years. “She should know that Haldia is situated in Midnapore district where the huge petrochemicals industry is coming up,” Biswas said.

“Moreover, we don’t believe in regionalism and never take up any isolated development scheme for any particular region in our state. We always think about statewide development,” he said.

Biswas refused to comment on the possibility of Mamata joining the National Democratic Alliance.

   

 
 
FORWARD BLOC CAUTIONS CM ON INDUSTRY 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 11: 
Asserting its presence, the Forward Bloc today asked chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to consult its Left Front partners before chalking out a “new industrial policy” for Bengal.

“If Buddhababu wants a new industrial policy for Bengal, he must discuss it in the Cabinet,” Debabrata Biswas, general secretary of Forward Bloc, told reporters after the party’s central committee meeting last week. His party has a total of 25 seats in the Bengal Assembly.

The central committee cautioned that in the “name of industrialisation” there should “not be any compromise with capitalist forces”.

Biswas insisted the Left Front government’s policy “has to be different” from that advocated by the Congress and BJP.

He, however, did not specify what this “different” industrialisation could be.

In 1994, Jyoti Basu, then chief minister, had sprung a surprise on his party and the front partners by announcing a new industrial policy for Bengal.

The announcement had evoked sharp responses from a section within the CPM as well as other front partners.

“We all remember how Basu’s announcement had sparked controversy. That should not happen again. There must be complete transparency about a new industrial policy,” said the Forward Bloc general secretary.

He, however, hastened to add that his party is not “against multinational corporations or foreign investment”.

“But people in Bengal should know the terms and conditions of these agreements,” said Biswas.

So far as the CPM is concerned, it is clear it will have to perform on the economic front — mainly in the industrial sector — to live up to its mandate in the recent elections.

According to sources, Bhattacharjee has the full backing of Alimuddin Street in his efforts to turn Bengal’s economy around. For this, the CPM as well as other front partners will need to reposition themselves on important economic issues.

The central committee of the Forward Bloc pledged support to the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), the BJP’s trade union front, which has been indulging in anti-liberalisation rhetoric, opposing the Vajpayee government’s move to amend labour laws.

It is, however, to be seen how far the Forward Bloc will carry its opposition to liberalisation — whether it will follow two different policies at the national and the state level.

So far as West Bengal is concerned, the party will not want to be seen as blocking industrialisation but at the same time it will have to keep its trade union happy.

It is the same dilemma the CPM has grappled with since economic reforms were introduced in 1991.

   

 
 
CPM WORKER MURDERED 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 11: 
Tension erupted at Kultali in South 24-Parganas after a CPM worker was shot dead, allegedly by SUCI activists, at Nalgara village under Sonardhikari gram panchayat last night.

Local CPM leaders claimed that Raghunath Sardar had been targeted by the SUCI since the elections as he had worked for the CPM candidate.

Sardar, 40, was returning to his village with party workers when he was chased by a group of men, believed to be SUCI supporters. Sardar started running away with his men, but the other group hurled bombs and began firing.

   

 
 
SCHOOL UNIFORM SHIELD FOR GOONS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Asansol, June 11: 
Two groups of criminals, some of them in school uniform and carrying schoolbags which — instead of containing books had bombs and firearms — clashed at a busy morning market at Chitra in the Hirapur area of Burdwan district this morning. Four of the criminals were injured and had to be admitted to hospital.

The place where the clash occurred is known to be crime-prone, policemen said. Criminals felt emboldened enough to have shot at the officer-in-charge of Hirapur police station, Atul Chatterjee, and town inspector Amitabha Sen near the site of today’s clash on May 25. Chatterjee was critically wounded with a bullet in his neck and Sen escaped with minor injuries from splinters of bombs.

Today’s clash started around 8 in the morning when the local market was teeming with morning shoppers. Puntia, a local gangster, entered the market with about 25 of his henchmen and attacked criminals belonging to Lallan Singh’s group. Most of Puntia’s men were wearing the uniform of a nearby school and carried schoolbags.

The goons hurled bombs — which they were carrying in the schoolbags on their shoulders — and fired 10 rounds at one another. Lallan Singh and his nephew, Brajesh Singh, were hit by bullets and two others of his gang — Alok Biswas and Shah Jahan Ali — were injured by splinters of bombs. The clash went on for more than an hour as morning shoppers fled the area and shops downed shutters.

Today’s clash was part of an ongoing war to wrest control of the area, police said. Deputy superintendent of police Nisad Parvez said the situation was under control. Asansol Municipal Corporation member, mayor-in-council, Biren Kar alleged police reached more than an hour after the incident though the clash occurred less than 250 m from the bungalows of the additional superintendent of police, the additional district magistrate and the sub-divisional officer.

   

 
 
STRUGGLE SAGA OF WORK & DREAM 
 
 
FROM RATHIN BHATTACHARAYA
 
Chinsurah, June 11: 
Mantu Baiz invested her life and a few rupees in her business. Some bricks, gunny bags and trapaulin sheets, a mirror, scissors: she didn’t need much to set up her small barber shop on Delhi Road in Chinsurah.

She didn’t need much money, but at 13, with a whole life ahead, she had to decide: “Is this what I want to do?”

She decided she had to do it whether she liked it or not. It wasn’t an easy choice. She is perhaps the only female barber in the district who has been running a saloon for over four years now.

But all along, she managed to keep up her studies as a student of Sugandha High School. It was tough. The work at the shop, the pressure of maintaining five people in the family, and then school. She did well in Madhyamik this year.

After the Madhyamik success, Mantu wants to taste bigger success in her profession. A beauty parlour is what she wants to graduate to from her brick-and-trapaulin shop.

For that she needs money, she needs to earn more. She also needs more money to bear the expenses of her younger brother’s studies.

“I would like to see Babai established as an educated person in society,” she says, talking about her brother who now studies in class V.

She also has a sister, Sikha, who is a class IX student. “But I would not like to bring her into my profession,” says Mantu.

That is when you realise that she isn’t happy with what she is doing. “This profession is not of my choice,” she replies. “I was forced to take up this profession, driven by utter penury and starvation when I was a student of class VI.

“My father was the only bread-earner in our family but he suddenly started losing his eyesight. My mother tried to support the family by selling jam and condiments but the earning was uncertain and not sufficient to support a family of five. So, I took up this,” she says, pointing to the shop.

Mantu does not forget to express her gratitude to “Rajamama”, owner of a nearby petrol pump, and two teachers of her school, Indrajitbabu and Prithvijitbabu, who helped her continue with her studies by providing books and guided her without taking any money.

Mantu now earns up to Rs 150 on a sunny day but her income plummets if it rains.

Her father, Samir Baiz, comes to her makeshift saloon every day. His eyesight nearly gone, he lathers customers before her daughter shaves them. That’s all he can do. At least, that makes Mantu happy.

   

 
 
CLOUD OVER HURRIYAT PROTEST HALT CLAIM 
 
 
FROM IDREES BAKHTIAR
 
Islamabad, June 11: 
Confusion reigned over the Hurriyat’s “suspension” of agitations in Kashmir in the run-up to the Indo-Pakistan summit with a spokesman of the combine telling Pakistan television that it was an “Indian propaganda ploy”.

However, the Hurriyat headquarters in Srinagar neither confirmed nor denied the statement.

“The Indian media is trying to give a wrong impression through false propaganda that the Hurriyat Conference has for the time being suspended its struggle,” Hurriyat information secretary Sheikh Abdul Rashid said.

“The Hurriyat wants to make it clear that the process of rallies, protests and meetings will continue unabated and all activities against Indian occupation and repression will be carried on at all cost,” Rashid added. He alleged that Indian intelligence agencies have gone berserk and “are now working on a dangerous plot”.

Citing the “oppressive action” of the Indian security forces in Marmar, Doda, Ashpora, Kupwara, Badmaloo and recently in Chrar-e-Sharif, Rashid said Indian secret services and security forces were attacking the dignity of Kashmiris to fulfil their nefarious aims before the summit. “In such a situation, it is the responsibility of the Hurriyat to continue its activities with full vigour.”

The Pakistani government has so far refrained from giving an official reaction to the Hurriyat’s reported decision to suspend political activities. “Does this mean that the Indian military will also stop their atrocities so that the Hurriyat does not react?”, a government official asked.

On the reported decision, Pakistan foreign secretary Naiz Naik told The News: “This is a great development as every day people were getting killed and there were strikes. Our people have been telling the Hurriyat to give peace a chance and they must have agreed as General Musharraf leaves for New Delhi in the first week of July. But what we have to watch and see is whether this decision of the Hurriyat is filtered down to the militant wings in the party.”

BJP welcomes decision

The BJP welcomed the Hurriyat’s reported decision and said it was a “positive step” towards making the meeting “meaningful and successful”.

But BJP spokesman Sunil Shastri said despite the “positive note” in the announcement, the party was perturbed by reports quoting the Hurriyat spokesman likening the Chrar-e-Sharif incident to “Israel-type state terrorism in the Valley”.

   

 
 
PAWAR SERVES PULLOUT NOTICE IN POWER WAR 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, June 11: 
To Sharad Pawar, a judicial inquiry to dig out the dirt on Enron is a no-no. Out, too, is scrapping the Phase II of the Dabhol power project.

To Vilasrao Deshmukh, judicial probe is the only way to bring out the truth. His government, at the same time, is not going to “touch” the power produced by the Phase II of the project.

The Nationalist Congress chief and the Maharashtra chief minister, long on a collision course, are headed towards a flashpoint as they duel over the Madhav Godbole Committee trying to haggle down Enron’s prohibitive tariff.

Flexing his political muscles, Pawar, whose party is the second-most dominant group in the Congress-led ruling Democratic Front, said in a newspaper interview in New Delhi last week that “anything might happen” if the issue was not resolved, hinting at an eventual pullout.

Undaunted, Deshmukh said the Congress was prepared for mid-term elections in the event Pawar pulled the rug from under his feet.

“We are not afraid of facing people. Our stand on Enron is widely appreciated all over the state and if elections are held, we will return to power on our own.”

Pawar, who had okayed the project as a Congress chief minister, accused Deshmukh of trying to make it out that the “project was my baby and the Congress had nothing to do with it”.

Deshmukh countered: “Mr Pawar himself is giving the impression by making repeated statements on Enron that he alone is concerned about the project.”

Though political circles are rife with speculation on the future of the state government, Congress and NCP sources said the exchange of words were little more than political muscle-flexing.

But the proposed judicial inquiry and scrapping of the project’s Phase II could really endanger the government.

A Deshmukh confidant said the Enron review committee, headed by Godbole, former Union home secretary, was virtually pressed on Pawar, who had wanted the issue settled without a fuss.

Pawar, who had long defended the project, was forced to do an about-turn and call for a cut in tariff after the Godbole Committee came out with a report suggesting a steep reduction in the power price. Pawar, an adroit politician, had feared that people would turn against him for being seen supporting a multinational corporation.

The NCP boss, however, made it clear he was not going to accept the judicial inquiry under any circumstances.

“We need to take a pragmatic view and resolve the deadlock quickly. A judicial inquiry would not solve the problem,” he said, publicly.

A Congress source said Pawar feared a judicial inquiry might indict him for going into the agreement with the US company in the first place, a position he might find politically indefensible.

The source said deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal, who belongs to Pawar’s party, favoured the judicial probe because it might land Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray in trouble.

   

 
 
AJIT SINGH AWAITS ATAL SEAL ON PACT 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, June 11: 
The pact between the BJP and Ajit Singh for the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections is on the verge of being clinched after the Rashtriya Lok Dal leader informed the BJP top brass that he would not make his demand for a separate Harit Pradesh an issue and was willing to settle for 45 to 50 seats as against his original claim of 100.

BJP and RLD sources said a formal announcement of the alliance will be made by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee after he returns from Mumbai.

Sources said Singh, who met home minister L.K. Advani today, and former BJP president Kushabhau Thakre, who is now looking after the state, was assured that Haryana chief minister, Om Prakash Chautala, has been “taken care of”. Chautala had opposed the BJP-Singh tie-up and had declared a turf war against him in the scramble for Jat votes.

Sources said Vajpayee’s announcement is expected to set the ball rolling for the Assembly elections. “If the alliance with Singh is sealed, it can be taken for granted that polls will be held in October or November,” sources said.

As the BJP continues to debate on the benefits of the alliance, the party’s state unit is sceptical of a positive outcome. The Central leadership’s perception is that it will “create the aura that the BJP is still the central pole around which Uttar Pradesh politics revolves and the fact that new parties are getting attracted to it proves it is not as down and out as its opponents have made it out to be”.

The other argument is that since it has been taken for granted that no single party will get a majority, the best the BJP can do in the given circumstances is to “work towards emerging as the single largest combine”.

“The alliance with Ajit can help us add at least 25 more to our tally,” claimed sources. With the Governor, a hand-picked BJP nominee, and the Speaker, Kesri Nath Tripathi, having proved his skills in legitimising numerical jugglery, BJP sources are confident that once the coalition gets the numbers, forming a government will be “child’s play”.

“The BSP is bound to break and so too the Congress. And you have Independents for whom securing a ministership is the ultimate goal. With a well-entrenched government, we have an advantage over our opponents in doling out ministerships and other positions,” sources said.

The BJP’s slogan is likely to be that for the first time, a coalition government could complete its term and it would be better to elect a coalition led by the BJP rather than the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party, which have never headed a stable government.

Party sources said chief minister Rajnath Singh has asked his key strategists to identify the SP and BSP’s potential winners so that they can be “worked upon” if the BJP falls short of numbers.

   

 
 
INDIA, BANGLADESH MEET TO HUNT FOR BORDER BALM 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, June 11: 
The much awaited meeting between India and Bangladesh on “all aspects of the boundary” issue will begin here tomorrow.

The meeting, which comes in the wake of the border clashes between the two sides in April, is likely to apply balm on frayed tempers and help restore the neighbours’ confidence and trust in each other.

The two-day meeting would discuss the terms of reference of the working groups, set up to look into the issue of land under “adverse possession” and exchange of enclaves as per the 1974 land boundary agreement between Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

A nine-member Bangladesh delegation led by Janibul Huq, a joint secretary of the home ministry, will hold discussions with its counterparts in the external affairs ministry. The Indian side will be led by Meera Shankar, joint secretary (north) in the Indian foreign ministry.

The Bangladesh delegation, which is already in Calcutta, will arrive in Delhi tonight.

In the evening, Bangladesh high commissioner Mustafa Farooque Mohammad called on Union home minister L.K. Advani and handed over a letter from Bangladeshi home minister Mohammed Naseem.

The two working groups were set up last year after a meeting between the foreign secretaries of India and Bangladesh. The two sides have a land boundary of over 4,000 km of which only 6.5 km remains undemarcated. There are 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh, while the latter has 58 enclaves in India. Besides, the two sides also have land in each other’s “adverse possession”.

This April’s border conflict in the Northeast was over a Bangladeshi village, Pirdiywah, under India’s adverse possession and part of Meghalaya. Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) personnel wanted to take over Pirdiywah forcibly.

The bloodshed, however, took place in a similar piece of Indian land in the Assam sector under Bangladesh’s adverse possession. Sixteen BSF jawans were killed when they launched a retaliatory attack on a BDR outpost in the area and tried to capture it.

The border clashes created much heartburn in both countries and strained the otherwise friendly relations between India and Bangladesh.

The meeting which was being contemplated by leaders of both countries could not take place earlier in the absence of convenient dates.

But that it is taking place will go a long way in soothing ruffled feathers in both India and Bangladesh.

For Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the ruling Awami League, the meeting can be a major plank for the coming elections. It will give her the opportunity to tell her electorate that the border clashes notwithstanding, she had been able to engage India on this crucial issue.

The fact that despite several promises such a meeting had not taken place for nearly 27 years will go in Hasina’s favour. The fact that she has done this without yielding any land to India will also go to her credit.

Agencies had quoted Bangladesh foreign secretary Syed Muazzem Ali as saying: “Bangladesh attaches particular significance to the Delhi meeting because it is taking place after the unfortunate incident on the border last month which claimed lives on both sides.”

   
 

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