Problem of plenty after mango boom
Canning clash
Deal on talking points, timetable
Temple within Cabinet scope
Sonia call to satraps on reforms push
BJP oils machine for heartland hot chase
Front twin tracks on Congress
Telengana pushes BJP to the brink
Murder triggers Trinamul protest
Suitable boy salutes Malgudi magician

 
 
PROBLEM OF PLENTY AFTER MANGO BOOM 
 
 
FROM DEBARATI AGARWALA AND ALAMGIR HOSSAIN
 
Malda & Behrampore, June 12: 
It’s too much of a good thing. And it’s not being liked in Malda and Murshidabad.

Calcuttans may be enjoying every moment of this mango season — the year has seen a bumper crop — and have probably forgotten last year’s mango-drought. But for the growers in Malda and Murshidabad, which contribute most of West Bengal’s crop, this season will be remembered for the problems of plenty.

Mango-growers, many of whom had invested large amounts with an eye on profits this year after the off-year in 2000, are now in a fix; they don’t really know how to cope with the glut.

Most have resorted to distress sales, selling off the year’s bounty at prices unimaginable a year ago.

Ainul Sheikh of Kaliachak in Malda invested Rs 3 lakh and took on lease a cluster of mango groves, intent on making up last year’s losses. Today, he is a disappointed man.

“All varieties of mangoes have flooded the market,” he said, adding that the fruit was being sold by growers at anything between Rs 3 per kg and Rs 5 per kg.

He is not thinking of profits just now. “We will be grateful if we can get back the money we invested in taking the groves on lease,” he added.

Officer in charge of mango cultivation in Malda P.S. Yadav admitted that farmers were being forced to make distress sales.

The weather was exactly suitable for growing mangoes this year, he explained, and Malda saw a crop of 300,000 tonnes; last year’s figure was a measly 70,000 tonnes, he added.

It would take at least two months to clear the existing stock even if 300 trucks laden with mangoes left the district every day, said Jamal Sheikh of Manikchak. The only hope for them now is the opening of the Indo-Bangladesh border for export. “Otherwise, we are going to die,” he added.

The situation is the same in neighbouring Murshidabad. Mango-growing is big business in the district, though it accounts for about a tenth of Malda’s crop.

This year, 11,421 hectares of orchards have already accounted for over 21,000 tonnes of mangoes.

They come in 119 different types. The more ordinary ones have democratic names such as Champa and Swadulla and the better varieties — all named by Murshidabad’s erstwhile nawabs — have nawabi names like Ranipasand, Firdauspasand, Sultanpasand, Nusratpasand, Dilpasand and Ricepasand.

Here, the situation is only slightly better than that in Malda. With prices varying between Rs 6 and Rs 8 per kg, farmers admit they could have done with a little less of the “king of fruits”.

   

 
 
CANNING CLASH 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 12: 
Ten persons were injured when two groups of antisocials clashed near Canning railway station in South 24-Parganas this morning.

The clash broke out around 10 am and both the groups hurled bombs and fired at each other indiscriminately, leaving office-goers panic-stricken. Shopkeepers downed shutters as people started running helter-skelter.

Five persons were injured. They were taken to a local hospital where some of them were said to be in a critical condition.

Immediately after getting news of the clash, officer-in-charge of Canning Goutam Sil rushed with a large force. But the criminals had fled by then.

   

 
 
DEAL ON TALKING POINTS, TIMETABLE 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, June 12: 
After dragging their feet for months, India and Bangladesh have agreed to the terms of reference of working groups set up to look into “all aspects of the boundary issue” and complete the work within a year.

The move is a big step towards restoring trust between the two sides, which had received a severe bodyblow in April after clashes on the northeastern border.

According to the agreed formula, one working group will look for an early resolution of the dispute over 6.5 km of the border that is yet to be demarcated. The second group will be entrusted with expediting the process of exchanging the enclaves in each other’s adverse possession and putting concrete pillars on the 35.5-km land boundary between the two countries.

This was agreed after a meeting of senior officials of the two countries in Delhi this afternoon. The next round of talks is scheduled to be held in the second half of July in Dhaka. The two sides will make a formal announcement tomorrow.

Bangladesh is of the opinion that the two sides can exchange the enclaves in each other’s adverse possession that have been identified. This was the policy, Dhaka says, was adopted by India while settling its boundary with Pakistan and, therefore, it feels, the same principle should be followed specially while dealing with a friend like Bangladesh.

The two working groups were set up in December last year after a meeting of the foreign secretaries. The two sides, however, could not agree on the terms of reference of these groups. One reason was that, in Dhaka’s assessment, Delhi was not keen on settling the boundary dispute in a hurry.

Though the draft of the terms of reference was sent by India to Bangladesh in February, the Sheikh Hasina government refused to give its concurrence to it.

Dhaka was keen that the two sides at their meeting should agree upon a time-frame and chalk out a calendar for the number of meetings that India and Bangladesh are to have to settle the pending issues relating to the boundary question.

With India agreeing to this proposal at today’s meeting, the Bangladeshi delegation had little difficulty in accepting the terms of reference of the two working groups.

Of the 4,000-odd km land boundary between India and Bangladesh, only 6.5 km is yet to be demarcated.

On another 35.5 km, where preliminary joint survey has been conducted, no concrete pillars have been put up to formally complete the demarcation process. This apart, there are 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh, adding up to over 17,000 acres. The 53 enclaves that Bangladesh has in India adds up to nearly 7,000 acres.

In addition, the two sides have large plots of each other’s land under their adverse possession. According to estimates, India has more than 3,500 acres of such Bangladeshi land.

The 1974 agreement between Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had said that the two sides will try to complete the demarcation process and formalise the exchange of enclaves and areas under adverse possession at the earliest.

However, even after two-and-half decades this has not been possible. Parliament had amended the Constitution in 1958 while finalising its boundary with East Pakistan.

At that time, nearly 1,000 km of the boundary was left undemarcated. But Jawaharlal Nehru agreed with the Pakistani leadership that the two sides could exchange the enclaves and areas under adverse possession.

   

 
 
TEMPLE WITHIN CABINET SCOPE 
 
 
FROM OUR LEGAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 12: 
If a legislation is needed to settle the Ayodhya dispute, the NDA Cabinet will take the decision though the issue is not a part of its national agenda of governance, human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi said today.

Deposing before the Justice Liberhan Commission of Inquiry probing the factors leading to the demolition of Babri Masjid, Joshi said the BJP was now part of the NDA government, but “if a situation arose warranting a legislation or a negotiated settlement between the two communities, then the (present) Cabinet would decide (about it)”.

The minister, however, did not elaborate on the legislation or the type of negotiated settlement.

Earlier, home minister L.K. Advani had contended before the commission that a legislation to construct a Ram temple should be enacted by Parliament. Advani had stated that “either a legislation or a negotiated settlement” between the two communities alone could solve the problem. The home minister had said that a trust similar to the one formed for the Somnath temple should be constituted for the Ram temple at Ayodhya.

In his deposition today, Joshi said a “solution was in sight” before the demolition in 1992. During his tenure as Prime Minister, Chandra Shekhar had taken the initiative to resolve the issue through negotiations between the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the All India Babri Masjid Action Committee, he said. The talks were focused on only “whether a temple existed on the site” or not, Joshi added.

The human resources development minister said when V.P. Singh was the Prime Minister “there were many matters jumbling the issue”.

Joshi accused P.V. Narasimha Rao, who succeeded Chandra Shekhar as Prime Minister, of “keeping quiet” on the issue. The Rao government did not do anything substantial till the kar seva was announced, Joshi stated. He added that the kar seva was not part of the BJP’s agenda but the party supported the “movement” once it was announced.

Rao did not pursue the path of negotiation, Joshi stated. “The nature of the Rao government was totally different as it kept quiet and did not do anything till the kar seva was announced to be held in July 1992,” he said.

   

 
 
SONIA CALL TO SATRAPS ON REFORMS PUSH 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, June 12: 
After tackling the prickly issue of party funding, Sonia Gandhi plans to take on other thorny subjects, such as downsizing government, power sector reforms, subsidies, farmers’ problems and quotas in the private sector.

Sonia has summoned 11 party chief ministers on Saturday for performance appraisal and to thrash out a stand on key economic issues. They will also be briefed by Pranab Mukherjee, Manmohan Singh, Natwar Singh and Arjun Singh on national and international issues such as security environment, impact of WTO-related legislation and the possibility of Congress-ruled states sharing knowhow among themselves.

Sonia wants Congress states to follow Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh’s “people-oriented schemes” blending Manmohanomics with Senonomics. There are several, like the education guarantee and “grain for green” schemes, that have been appreciated for serving the twin purpose of providing employment and food security and mass literacy.

Sonia is also seeking the satraps’ seal of approval on her drive to clean up the funding system. She plans to approach the government for tax exemption under Section 80(G) for the planned Rs 50-crore corpus.

Saturday’s conclave is expected to settle on a principled stand on power reforms as the Congress states have been taking independent lines on it. Similarly, there is a sharp division in the party over the definition of merit and non-merit subsidies, which broadly deal with direct and indirect benefit to users. Pranab, for instance, favours an amendment to the policy paper on subsidy floated by P. Chidambaram four years ago, saying that many areas dubbed as non-merit, such as agriculture, cater to the basic needs of farmers and other marginalised sections.

The Congress had decided in its Bangalore plenary to give due “consideration” to the notion of reservations for weaker sections in the private sector. A section in the party feels that the chief ministers can take the lead in putting it as a precondition for large-scale disinvestment and privatisation.

Similarly, opinion is divided on downsizing — or what Diggy Raja calls “right-sizing” — of the government. There is no uniformity in the Congress’ approach towards the tricky issue. When Digvijay sacked thousands of temporary state employees, his party colleague and Chhattisgarh counterpart Ajit Jogi quickly inducted 4,000 of them in his state force. Moreover, party MLA Kalpana Parulkar is leading a state-level agitation against Digvijay on the issue.

Sonia had reviewed the performance of her satraps six months ago, where Digvijay and Karnataka chief minister S.M. Krishna had topped the score while Delhi chief minister Sheila Dixit and her Maharashtra counterpart, Vilasrao Deshmukh, had barely scraped through. The chief ministers will be an anxious lot, particularly Deshmukh, who is in the eye of a storm over the Enron deal.

   

 
 
BJP OILS MACHINE FOR HEARTLAND HOT CHASE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 12: 
The BJP has decided to focus on revamping the organisation in Uttar Pradesh in the hope that the party and its allies will emerge as the largest combine in the next Assembly.

The BJP, which has more or less reconciled to the prospect of a hung Assembly in the state, feels that such a combine stands the best chance of being the first to have a shot at government formation. The odds are “stashed in favour of us”, claimed party sources.

After sprucing up the organisation and “recharging” its rank-and-file, the BJP proposes to host a national council in Lucknow in end-August or early September. Though the ostensible purpose is to formally ratify K. Jana Krishnamurthi’s appointment as BJP president, sources said the reason behind holding such a huge congregation in the state capital was to set the tempo for the elections.

One of the factors “favouring” the BJP was that the Uttar Pradesh governor was the party’s hand-picked nominee. Assembly Speaker Kesri Nath Tripathi had also demonstrated his skill at legitimising mathematical jugglery in the past. Besides, the coalition government it headed was not only the first in the state’s history to complete its tenure, but also proved that the BJP was “the best mainstream party in sharing the loaves and crumbs of power with smaller parties”, according to sources.

These factors “make us the natural choice as a pivot for coalitions to revolve around, rather than the Samajwadi Party or Bahujan Samaj Party, which have proved hopeless in this variety of politics”, asserted BJP sources.

However, sources said the BJP would be in a position to take advantage of these factors only if its organisation was in place.

The two-day state executive at Saharanpur on June 15 and 16 is expected to come up with ways of doing this. “Our biggest drawback is that we have failed to disseminate the positive aspects and achievements of the government to our voters. Nobody seems to be interested in doing it, whether it is our MLAs, MPs, ministers or cadre,” admitted the BJP general secretary from Uttar Pradesh, Sangh Priya Gautam.

Gautam said the Saharanpur meeting would devise programmes to bridge the “gap”.

The satellite outfits, including the Yuva Morcha, Mahila Morcha and Kisan Morcha, have been asked to stand in readiness for UP, while Gautam and Sahib Singh Verma, another general secretary, have been asked to spend much of their time in the state. Verma’s mandate is to concentrate on the Jat belt, as he hails from the community. Gautam’s is to woo the Dalits, given his background as a founder-member of the Republican Party of India in Uttar Pradesh.

The Saharanpur meeting will be followed by a series of other sessions, including a meeting of the state prabaris (in charges) in the capital on June 20, a meeting of the central office-bearers on June 21, and of those in charge of the front organisations on June 22.

The office-bearers’ meeting is slated to debate the issue of more “transparent” funding in the wake of the Tehelka disclosures and find out how best to streamline the party’s Ajeevan Sahayogi Nidhi, which has been devised to enlist life-long contributions solely by cheque.

These sessions will be followed by the national executive, either in Punjab or Delhi.

   

 
 
FRONT TWIN TRACKS ON CONGRESS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 12: 
With Uttar Pradesh polls beckoning, the Congress conundrum plaguing third force politics has surfaced again. Will Mulayam Singh Yadav keep a line of communication open with the Congress?

“There is no question of a pre-poll alliance with the Congress,” said a Left leader. He, however, added that CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet has been trying to persuade Mulayam to keep an open mind about a post-poll alliance with the Congress.

The battle for Uttar Pradesh is expected to be fought between the BJP and the Samajwadi Party with the Bahujan Samaj Party in the third position and the Congress coming a poor fourth. Since Mulayam holds the trump card, he is least inclined to make peace with the Congress, which is vying with his party for the minority votes.

“In case Mulayam does not have a majority to form a government in Uttar Pradesh and needs the support of other secular parties, we will keep the BJP out,” said a Left leader. But that will only be after the poll outcome — not before.

Till then, the People’s Front will keep up its anti-Congress rhetoric. The Samajwadi Party has decided to team up with the Left Front and former Prime Minister V.P. Singh for the heartland polls. The Left will benefit by hitching a ride with Mulayam and V.P. Singh will be an asset in netting the votes of Thakurs.

Alliances that will emerge in Uttar Pradesh can affect political configurations at the national level since this is the largest as well as politically and electorally the most “effective” state in the country. “We are all waiting for the Uttar Pradesh polls,” said Surjeet.

Though his party is harsh on the Congress for its economic policies and its “compromises” with communal forces, Surjeet does not want a repeat of the 1999 scenario when Atal Bihari Vajpayee returned to power because Mulayam refused to support a Sonia Gandhi-led government at the Centre.

In case political compulsions force Mulayam and the Congress to thrash out a minimum working relationship in Uttar Pradesh, it could pave the way for an alliance at the national level. Sources, however, say Mulayam is rigid on not backing Sonia and will agree to lend support only if it is a Congress government without her.

“Chances of that are extremely slim. Congressmen will never agree to it,” said CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan. In such a scenario, third front leaders are hard put to explain how they will notch up the numbers in the Lok Sabha in case they have to outflank the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government on the floor of the House.

Their standard response is, “we will see when the time comes.” Their main strategy is a general election, where they hope to do well enough to exercise enough clout in Parliament.

   

 
 
TELENGANA PUSHES BJP TO THE BRINK 
 
 
FROM G.S. RADHAKRISHNA
 
Hyderabad, June 12: 
The BJP’s Andhra Pradesh unit is heading for a split on the Telengana issue on the eve of the three-day meet of the state executive committee at Visakhapatnam called to discuss the problem.

A fissure has emerged among the rank and file of the BJP, following the national leadership’s veto of the state unit’s decision to promote a separate Telengana. Troubled by this trend, BJP mouthpiece Jana Sandesh has in its latest edition emphasised the “compulsions” of the national leadership that led it to turn down the demand as well the earlier resolution of the state unit for a separate Telengana.

“The national leadership is ready to move a bill in Parliament for a separate Telengana even at the cost of the TDP opposing it and withdrawing its support. But will the congress support such a bill ?” was the question posed to Telengana leaders in the BJP.

The forthcoming panchayat elections has prompted state BJP leaders to take a final decision on whether or not to promote Telengana in the face of handing over the issue that it nourished over last five years to the Telengana Rashtra Samiti.

The BJP gained nearly five Parliament seats (out of eight) and 8 Assembly segments (out of 12) in the Telengana region where it bartered its strength of nearly 18 per cent popular vote to the TDP and contributed to its success in various Telengana districts.

More than 30 prominent BJP leaders of the Telengana region, who met recently at BJP legtislator R. Ravindranath Reddy’s house have tentative decided to float a Telengana BJP Forum (TBF). Prominent among those who attended the meeting were state BJP vice-president B. Balreddy, Medak Parliament member

A. Naredra, state disciplinary committee president Bhupathi Reddy and others decided to wait till June 17 for the outcome of the state executive meet for a final decision. “A split will be inevitable if the executive gives up the Telengana issue” says Narendra.

   

 
 
MURDER TRIGGERS TRINAMUL PROTEST 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Howrah, June 12: 
A 60-year-old man, said to be a Trinamul Congress supporter, was beaten to death at Mourigram in the Domjur police station area of Howrah early on Tuesday.

The dead was identified as Sheikh Mohammad Ali.

As the news of murder spread, Trinamul supporters staged a demonstration with his body before policemen who had rushed to the spot. They squatted on Bombay Road for over an hour demanding immediate arrest of the assailants. The local unit of Trinamul also called a 12-hour Domjur bandh.

Police said the murder was a sequel to a continuing feud between Sheikh and the local club.

The incident took place around 6 am near Phatik Pole when Sheikh was going to the market. According to police, three miscreants, who were waiting there, called him. Even as he tried to avoid them the trio dragged him and started beating him with iron-rods.

On hearing someone scream, residents rushed out and found Sheikh lying in a pool of blood. The villagers and some Trinamul supporters took him to a nearby hospital where the doctor declared Sheikh dead.

The irate residents brought the body back to the site of the murder. They refused to handover the body to the police. Senior police officers had to intervene and finally the residents allowed the body to be released for funeral.

Elaborating on the motive behind the killing, police said Sheikh had bought a plot in the area. But trouble erupted when he wanted to erect a boundary wall around it. The local club resisted as they were using it as their “play ground”.

The situation worsened when Sheikh sought help from his party. Recently, a group of Trinamul supporters had gone there and threatened the club members. They also assured Sheikh that he could erect the boundary wall.

Local Trinamul leaders alleged that the club, backed by CPM, had grabbed Sheikh’s land.

But the district CPM denied the charge. A CPM leader said: “All the charges have been framed against us only to create panic in the area. The person has been murdered because of his personal rivalry,” he said.

The police, however, said: “We have not found any political link behind the incident. A massive manhunt is on to track down the culprits,” said an officer of Domjur police station.

   

 
 
SUITABLE BOY SALUTES MALGUDI MAGICIAN 
 
 
FROM SHRABANI BASU
 
London, June 12 : 
Vikram Seth admitted yesterday that he would never have been able to write about north India as he did in A Suitable Boy if R.K. Narayan had written about it before. Paying tribute to the novelist, considered the father of Indian writing in English, Seth said Narayan’s description of south India and the fictional village of Malgudi was the finest ever.

“He had the eye for detail, the ability to capture the essence of life in a small village and the everyday lives of the people,’’ said Seth.

He revealed, however, that as a boy he had not enjoyed Narayan’s works when he read them for the first time. It was only when he was in his twenties that he re-read them and became a fan.

“It is a reflection of the reader rather than the writer,’’ the novelist said. “When I was young I didn’t like George Eliot either. Later Eliot became one of my favourite novelists.’’

Seth also joked that he had heard that R.K. Narayan had not liked A Suitable Boy much when he had first read it. “So I guess we had something in common there,’’ he laughed.

Also paying tribute to Narayan at the function organised at the Nehru Centre, were novelist Pankaj Mishra, author of the The Romantics, and Andrew Robinson, literary editor of the Times Higher Education Supplement.

Mishra talked about how Narayan had reacted to his first lesson in English: reading A was an apple pie, B bit it and C cut it.

“Narayan could relate to the B and the C as they were actions, but living in Madras, as a young boy, he had never seen an apple, and had absolutely no idea what an apple pie was,” said Mishra.

“Thus began his journey into an unfamiliar linguistic territory with unfamiliar images. Yet he was to master it and relate it to his reality.’’

Concluding the evening, Andrew Robinson recalled how Narayan was a very private person and believed in simply going on with the business of writing. Once when Robinson had asked him to contribute to a commemorative volume to mark Satyajit Ray’s 70th birthday, the writer had simply replied: “Birthdays are inevitable. I do not think there is any need to make a fuss about them.’’ He had said he did not believe in “hero worship”.

Though a great admirer of Ray’s films — Narayan had said he had seen most of them, liked them immensely and never found anything wrong with them — he said he did not much care for Ray’s writing. He described them as being “too cinematic’’, written as if each page had been viewed through a lens.

“It was his suspicion of people who experimented with different formats, because he himself was a purist,’’ said Robinson.

Incidentally Narayan, who was deeply suspicious of film producers and directors filming his stories, was happy for Satyajit Ray to film one of his novels. But, said Robinson, the project did not materialise because Ray did not want to work on south India as he was not familiar with it.

Narayan was even happy for Ray to adapt the story and set it in Bengal. But that, Ray said, would be a complete injustice to Malgudi. And so South stayed South and East stayed East and never the twain did meet.

   
 

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