CMs to Sonia: Who needs foes, we have our MPs
Moscow mission to push Pakistan
Mysore prince battles state for palaces
Girl-child killings threaten Bihar gender balance
CM calls Dalmiya on project
Panja campaigns for NDA return
Naxalite kangaroo court waits for more victims
Veerappan jolt to former MLA

New Delhi, June 17: 
Is Congress the biggest enemy of the Congress? The issue dominated the party’s chief ministers’ conference yesterday when Sonia Gandhi lectured on good governance.

Led by Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot, almost all the chief ministers said the same thing: “We do not face so much opposition from our opponents than from our own MPs and MLAs. Most of our problems are created by our own partymen.”

The chief ministers were unanimous that the leadership must rein in and check dissident activities. For once, the Congress chief was at the receiving end.

Sensing the mood, she too joined the chorus and asked party general secretaries to look into the matter. In the same breadth, she asked the chief ministers to sink their own differences. In an obvious reference to Madhya Pradesh–Chhattisgarh, Assam-Arunachal and Karnataka-Maharashtra inter-state rivalry, Sonia said differences should be amicably settled instead of rushing to the Centre or to the courts.

Even as Sonia was harping on the unity theme, Congress chief ministers were indulging in one-upmanship. Many did not like Sonia’s insistence on following the Madhya Pradesh model in decentralisation. Many privately said that Digvijay’s “public relations” was good and that he was able to “showcase” his achievements. They pointed at the planning commission’s figure where Madhya Pradesh is shown only ahead of Bihar and Orissa.

Chhattisgarh chief minister Ajit Jogi refused to accept the “district government” model as it was not practical.

Kamal Nath however, openly backed “Diggy raja”, suggesting that he should prepare a “manual” for chief ministers.

The leadership avoided taking a stand on the Enron deal though Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh made no secret that the issue was posing problems for him. The AICC president is in a dilemma over endorsing Godbole Committee recommendation that there should be judicial probe into the deal.

Former finance minister Manmohan Singh is against the probe as the deal was signed during his tenure. Maharashtra Congress leaders want the probe to corner Sharad Pawar. Sonia is in double mind fearing that it may destabilise the state government since Congress is sharing power with Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party.

In the meeting, there was consensus that economic reforms were irreversible but to many senior leaders, the leadership was seen adopting different standards.

As a Congress Working Committee member said: “In the party forums and in the Antony report, economic introspection panel and the Bangalore plenary, we had candidly admitted that reforms had hurt the poor. Here, we reaffirmed our commitment to downsizing (rightsizing), pruning of subsidies and widening tax net. It is clear that we are adopting one standard while in Opposition and another while in the government.”

The pro-reforms lobby however, defended Sonia’s move to push through reforms. “There is no other way out. There are 11 party chief ministers and they wanted guidelines on fiscal management and good governance. If anyone has an alternative vision, let him come forward.”


New Delhi, June 17: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s peace summit proposal to Pervez Musharraf has not deterred India from its efforts to isolate Pakistan internationally.

Delhi is sending two high-level teams to Moscow next week to discuss with the Russian leadership the security situation in the region and developments in Afghanistan. The talks will centre on Pakistan, which is considered to be the main backer of the Taliban and has been helping it after the United Nations imposed sanctions on it early this year.

The first delegation, headed by additional secretary (UN) in the foreign ministry T.C.A. Rangachari, will reach Moscow on Wednesday to participate in the first bilateral meeting on strategic security. Within days, foreign secretary Chokila Iyer will fly out for the second round of talks of the Joint Working Group on Afghanistan.

The move will help India stem allegations both at home and outside that it was leaning heavily towards the Americans, particularly after Delhi welcomed President George W. Bush’s controversial National Missile Defence proposal.

By the flurry of activity between Delhi and Moscow, which started with foreign and defence minister Jaswant Singh’s visit to Russia early this month, South Block is trying to send out the signal that it continues to be as close to its former ally as before. Moreover, through the Russians, who have a dialogue with the Americans on Afghanistan, it not only gets to know Washington’s perception of the situation in Kabul, but can continue its efforts to isolate the Taliban and, thus, put pressure on Pakistan.

The Moscow meetings come in the wake of the recent Shanghai Forum summit. Russia, China, Kyrgystan, Kazakhstan, Tajikstan and Uzbekistan are the members of this elite group, which is fast turning into a serious forum for cooperation on security and economic matters in the region. Most of the members, along with India and America, had sponsored the UN resolution calling for sanctions and an arms embargo on the Taliban.

India and Russia face a common threat from the Islamic fundamentalist groups trained and supported by the Taliban. It has found support from China, a traditional ally of Pakistan, and the central Asian republics.

Two developments at the Shanghai Forum have warmed India’s heart. One, the resolve of the members to jointly fight the threat of terrorism, specially that which emanates from Afghanistan and, two, the group’s refusal to allow Pakistan into the forum.

Islamabad, desperate to establish itself as a major player in the region, has been trying for the past few years to get into the Shanghai Forum. But in the absence of a consensus among the members, its entry seems to have been put off for at least a year.

A recent report of the UN Security Council, reviewing the sanctions on the Taliban, has observed that the student-militia continues to receive material and arms support from Pakistan to carry on its fight against rivals, mainly the Northern Alliance. It was also sceptical about the Taliban’s claim that opium production in the country has gone down following strict measures adopted by it.

By isolating the Taliban and encouraging the Northern Alliance to keep up the resistance, India hopes that it will draw the Kabul regime’s fire and keep it from concentrating on Kashmir. Also, the pariah status of the Taliban will continue to exert pressure on Pakistan.

India’s efforts clearly indicate that Delhi will exert diplomatic pressure and use its negotiating skills to convince Islamabad that violence in Kashmir will not pave the way for normalisation of relations between the two south Asian neighbours.


Bangalore, June 17: 
The Prince of Mysore is prepared for a long-drawn battle at any cost to wrest control of the resplendent Mysore Palace, which the government has acquired through legislation.

“The matter is before the high court. I think the issue will be sorted out in a year’s time. I am prepared for a long-drawn battle and at any cost,” Srikantadatta Narsimharaja Wodeyar told The Telegraph at the Bangalore Palace, also under litigation. The royal family has also challenged the state takeover of its Bangalore base in the Supreme Court.

Wodeyar, the Congress MP from Mysore, said successive governments — both Congress and non-Congress — have targeted his family since the 1950s. “We are not being targeted now, it is going on from my father’s days in the 50s. It is not something new.”

Both palaces were acquired by the previous Janata Dal regime, but the present Congress government has not been helpful.

It has been over 100 days since the Karnataka Power Transmission Corporation Limited (KPTCL) cut off power to the mini-palace, adjacent to the famous Mysore Palace, where he lives. KPTCL officials said they got the nod from the state to black out the Prince’s home for arrears running to over Rs 17 lakh.

“We are running on gensets. I am not bothered,” asserted Wodeyar, obviously hurt by the government’s decision. But he stopped short of attacking the S.M. Krishna ministry. Asked about its performance, Wodeyar diplomatically put it that “there is scope for improvement”.

An adamant Wodeyar said he will not clear his power dues till the palace takeover issue is resolved. “I want the law of the land to settle this issue once and for all. There should be no more takeover bids,” Wodeyar said.

After the issue is resolved — he believes the ruling will go in his favour — Wodeyar plans to acquire palaces and havelis in disuse. “There are so many in bad shape. I want to acquire some of them and promote them for tourism.”

But for now, he is focused on regaining the Mysore Palace, a major tourist attraction. The value of the palace is estimated at between Rs 5 and 10 billion. The government proposes to develop it as a museum of royal treasure.

The palace has priceless artefacts including the golden throne, which is put on public display during the famous annual Dusshera festival attended by tens of thousands of people from all over India and abroad.

The Mysore Palace (Acquisition and Transfer) Bill provides for the takeover of the palace, its treasures and works of art, paying the legal heir Rs 32 crore as compensation.

On the political horizon, Wodeyar believes elections are round the corner as the NDA government will fall soon. “Astrologically, this government will go soon. It will come under the spell of Rahu and it will fall,” said the Congress MP.

A former royal and a believer, Wodeyar was rattled by the Nepal royal massacre and concerned about the future of the Hindu Kingdom. “I was shocked. I could not believe it,” said Wodeyar, adding that a tantrik has said the moment Nepal ceases to be a Hindu kingdom, it will be the end of the world.


Patna, June 17: 
Almost a decade after female infanticide came to light in north Bihar’s rural heartland, the menace now threatens to create a demographic imbalance.

The state today ranks at par with Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh in female foeticide and infanticide. The latest census figures in Bihar shows an alarming imbalance in the sex ratio and a sharp decline of girls in the 0-6 years age group.

While Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have less than 800 girls per 1,000 male babies, in some north Bihar districts it is as low as 600 per 1,000 male children.

Addressing a seminar on “Gender Bias Focusing on Female Foeticide and Infanticide” organised by Bihar chapter’s Indian Medical Association (IMA), Union health minister C.P. Thakur asked NGOs and the state government to launch a direct intervention programme.

He warned that if the sex ratio imbalance continued to widen, there would soon be no “daughters left in the state”. He linked the trend to the spate of abductions of girl children in north Bihar where child marriages are common. These districts have also seen a decline in marriageable girls.

The lowest number of girls are in Kishangunge district followed by Samastipur and Muzaffarpur, according to a survey by the IMA, Patna.

Infanticide was first detected in Bihar in the early nineties by a local NGO, Aditi, in Katihar district, where nurses allegedly admitted poisoning female children.

The Unicef also detected anomalies in the sex ratio in the northern districts, especially in Kishangunge, Araria and Samastipur early last year and referred the pilot studies to the state welfare department. The government then asked the census department to look into the gap in the sex ratio.

The census reports having confirmed the abnormal sex ratio, the social welfare department is now expected to inquire on accounts of infanticide.

But the initiatives have failed to impress health activists. Despite the revelations, the Rabri Devi government has been accused of sitting pretty. “Patna abounds with illegal abortion and ultra-sonography clinics which carry out selective sex elimination under the garb of medical termination of pregnancies, said IMA president of Bihar chapter Dr Ajay Kumar.

Doctors attribute the trend to the lack of political will. They contend that the IMA cannot crack down on the offenders without evidence and neither can they take the law into their own hands.

“The state government, police and the NGOs must mobilise opinion against the practice. Only then will the victims who are forced to undergo the trauma can come up with evidence,” said Dr Ketan Desai, national IMA president.

The health minister said female infanticide is related to the “tilak system” (a marriage ritual) prevalent in Bihar in which dowry is an integral part of the ceremony. While the bride’s family in Andhra Pradesh has to pay the groom in crores, in Bihar the amount ranges between Rs 5 lakh and Rs 50 lakh. “So Bihar ranks just after Andhra Pradesh in foeticide,” said Thakur.

The methods of elimination are gruesome. If the foetus cannot be aborted, it is allowed to be born and then gagged to death, the minister said. According to a medical researcher, girls till 5 years of age near Sitamarhi are choked to death by stuffing chappatis. Often infants as young as three months are killed in a similar way.

However, the practice is not endemic in Bihar as it is in Punjab and Haryana. “Women were never a problem in Bihar since historical times. A girl child was always welcome. But migration from the western and northern parts of the country over the past 30 years has brought about a radical change in the parents’ mindset,” Thakur said. He said the problem is a legacy of the north Indian culture which has swamped the state.


Calcutta, June 17: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has asked Jagmohan Dalmiya, promoter of the tannery complex at Bantala on the eastern fringes of the city, to speed up the work.

Bhattacharjee called Dalmiya to Writers’ Buildings on Friday to discuss the progress of the project and find out the causes of delay.

Bhattacharjee asked Dalmiya to inform him if there is any hurdle in implementing the project.

The state government has constituted a five-member committee to monitor the progress of the project. The committee is expected to submit a status report on the project by June 30.

Dalmiya welcomed the formation of the committee and said it would help in solving the problems. “What is the harm in setting up a panel to monitor the project?” he asked. “It will be beneficial to us as the officials themselves will realise the problems and help overcome them,’’ he added.

The committee, which visited the complex on Wednesday, has sent Dalmiya a questionnaire on the project’s progress and the problems it is facing.


Calcutta, June 17: 
Bolstered by NDA convener George Fernandes’ formal endorsement of the Trinamul Congress’ possible return to the BJP-led coalition at the Centre, Trinamul dissident Ajit Panja has lined up a convention at Mahajati Sadan on June 30 to mobilise public opinion in support of rejoining the NDA.

“This is part of our attempt to strengthen the NDA and also rejuvenate the Trinamul Congress,” Panja said this afternoon, adding that the party would announce a new core committee, comprising key party functionaries, at the function.

Panja called upon those sidelined by Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee to join him by June 25.

“All those willing to help me revamp the organisation will have to meet the deadline without fail,” he said, adding that they will have to follow six pre-conditions, including total commitment to the party and no relations with the Congress.

He said the move, which began last month by organising a meeting of “disgruntled” party workers near Sealdah flyover, will continue till the end of next month when public rallies will be planned in the districts.

He said the seven party MPs, who have virtually threatened to split demanding a return to the NDA, would be invited.

“However, I have no intention of inviting the Trinamul MLAs as they have agreed to a floor co-ordination in the on-going monsoon session of the Assembly,” he added.

Panja claimed that dissidents from all 42 parliamentary segments had contacted him over the past one month to discuss ways to revamp the organisation from the grassroots level.

Among the prominent dissidents were Tapan Dasgupta from Hooghly, Bani Sinha Roy from Howrah and a dozen others from Calcutta and neighbouring districts.

Outlining his strategy for overhauling party organisation, Panja said a core committee or task force, which will be formally announced on June 30, will be at the helm of affairs.

This apart, booth-level committees will be formed to man the polling stations.

Reacting to Panja’s move, Trinamul spokesman and MP Sudip Bandopadhyay said tonight that the party did not attach any importance to such “childish activities”.

“Ajitda’s convention will have no bearing on the organisation,” he added.

He pointed out that Mamata is herself working out plans to revamp the organisation. “Instead of strengthening the NDA, we should concentrate more on setting the organisation in order in this hour of crisis,” he said, adding that let alone leaders, no party worker had contacted Panja.


Hyderabad, June 17: 
It was a different court of law that the People’s War Group had organised in the forests bordering Nizamabad and Karimnagar districts on Friday evening.

Though chief minister Chandrababu Naidu had somewhat succeeded in tackling extremist menace with frequent raids on rebel camps, the PWG bounced back with yet another surprise to the administrators.

The Naxalites ferreted 24 people from their group for being “double agents” and executed 10, in cold blood. Six others are waiting for their turn while eight are hiding in the forests.

“The government will be responsible for such acts. Since it cannot face us openly and directly it had taken covert routes,” said a senior PWG leader in Hyderabad.

PWG leaders forced their “prisoners” to confess their sins. Ten youths, including an active dalam member, were produced before reporters. With their hands tied behind their backs and fear written on their faces, they told how they had received funds from police.

In the impromptu session there was no verdict. After they had heard the confessions, the newsmen were sent away. Next day, the bodies of the prisoners were left on the roadside, 30 km from Siricilla on way to Karimnagar. Another four were left there the next day.

According to reports, six alleged police informers are still in the Naxalites’ custody.

A day or two before their action, the PWG had all of them photographed and their pictures were distributed in the press.

The toll of extremist “justice” in the state has touched 33, including two people killed by the Janashakthi group of the rebels.

According to a PWG source, frequent police raids on secret meetings had raised doubts about some of their own members and informers. Two “action teams” were formed to trace out the black sheep by the provincial committee in April after a senior “commander” of Karimnagar was slain.

“We have identified 24 persons as covert agents of the police, of which we have been able to take into custody only 16. Eight others are absconding,” said a senior PWG operator. Five of them were said to be hiding in the Dandakaranya villages.

The PWG leader, Azad, said the rebels who were being punished were inducted into the organisation three years ago. Not only were they given arms training but also funded and provided with cellphones and walkie talkies.

“We have realised our mistake and will be very careful in future recruitments. Perhaps we wanted to increase our numbers hastily,” the Naxalite leader said.

In the recent past, “covert operations” of the police had paid dividends. Four of the top Naxalite leaders were killed and two plenary sessions disrupted. Three dalams, in Karimnagar, Nizamabad and Medak, were annihilated, three arms and ammunition dumps and crores of party funds were seized in the past nine months.


Bangalore, June 17: 
A former MLA and pro-Kannada leader, Vatal Nagaraj, has sought police protection following a letter, believed to be written by Veerappan, seeking his address.

Nagaraj is a former legislator from Chamarajnagar, bordering Gajanur village, where actor Rajkumar was kidnapped by Veerappan.

Chamarajnagar MLA C. Guruswamy received the letter, which has been handed over to the district superintendent of police for investigation.

“What the government has provided in terms of my security is a joke. One security guard came for a day and vanished. Whenever I travel to Chamarajnagar, the police jeep provided to me is in bad shape and the police personnel are not fully armed,” Nagaraj complained, reiterating his demand for a CBI probe into Rajkumar’s kidnap and release. “Only a CBI inquiry will reveal the truth,” he said.

In the letter, Nagaraj said, the bandit has also demanded Rs 2 lakh.

The police said a letter in Kannada did reach Guruswamy but it is yet to be established whether Veerappan had sent it.

The letter is not signed but bears fingerprints, which are believed to be Veerappan’s.

The former legislator said he was on the bandit’s hitlist as he had consistently campaigned for a crackdown on Veerappan and his gang.

He blamed the governments of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka for giving in to the bandit’s demands after he took Rajkumar hostage.


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