White House the toilet in answer to India the cat
Altered Act boon for tenants
Mamata hits back at BJP
Selection test knockout blow to college teacher aspirants
CPM divided over district division
Destination Santiniketan
Party raps govt on ally re-entry
BJP, Samajwadi trade charges
Centre sounds security alarm
Phoolan’s death sparks vote war in UP

Calcutta, July 27: 
If Bush can name a cat India, Indians can name a cat Bush. The Left proved the point a couple of days ago in front of the American Center in the city.

That might have been the end of the story: with India purring in Washington, and Bush meowing in Calcutta.

But the Congress, never quite known for its America-bashing, came up with the idea of naming a public toilet in Esplanade after the White House.

Congress chief whip Abdul Mannan made the proposal in the Assembly today, amid thumping applause.

“If George Bush can name his pet cat after India, we can name the Esplanade lavatory after the White House, where he lives,” Mannan said.

Almost all Opposition MLAs, including those from the Trinamul Congress, applauded the proposal. Even some from the treasury benches joined in, CPM legislator Rabin Deb and RSP member Tapan Hore among them.

“Bush has disregarded our country and its people by naming his cat after India. He must get a proper reply,” Deb said. “We should tell the US president that the people of India haven’t lost their self-respect,’’ he added.

This is the latest among a series of protests that started soon after Mumbai BJP president Vinod Tawde accidentally found out the name of Bush’s cat on the White House website.

The BJP picked the US consulate in Mumbai to lodge its protest. Then the Left chose the American Center and a stray cat.

The Congress, with its proposal, seems to have scored a political point as well by winning over the Left.

But India, purring at White House, couldn’t be bothered about the White House in India.


Calcutta, July 27: 
Giving in to pressure from the tenant-trader lobby as well sharp differences within the Left Front, the state government has decided to alter some of the clauses of the newly-implemented tenancy Act.

A section of the tenant-trader lobby, however, isn’t taking the government’s word at face value. The Confederation of West Bengal Trade Associations has called a trade bandh on August 1, demanding that the government introduce an Ordinance to give teeth to the proposed amendments immediately.

State land and land reforms minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah told the Assembly today that the government will probably change some of the features of the West Bengal Premises Tenancy Act that have vexed tenants and the traders’ lobby.

“There appears to be, prima facie, some reasons for the government to effect more changes in some of the clauses,” he said. Legal experts will be consulted before the government takes the decision to effect the changes, the minister added.

Mollah’s statement in the Assembly — coming as it did after the state government implemented the Act with effect from July 10 — marked a climbdown from its earlier stand that it would go ahead with an unchanged Act. The minister admitted in his statement — albeit grudgingly — that the government had been unnerved by the protests from the powerful traders’ and tenants’ lobby, some of whom — besides calling trade bandhs — promised to launch “fast-unto-deaths” till the government agreed to change the particularly “galling propositions” in the Act.

The decision to consider changing some of those clauses was taken after taking into account the “allegations raised by various quarters”, the minister said. But Confederation of West Bengal Trade Associations president Feroze H. Ali said their August 1 bandh-call would stand. “We will withdraw the strike if the government introduces an Ordinance before that,” he added.

Federation of West Bengal Trade Associations spokesman Mahesh Singhania said the changes should be rational. “We don’t want any Act that victimises either tenants or landlords,” he said.

Differences of opinion within the Left Front also seem to have influenced the partial rollback decision. The West Bengal Premises Tenancy Act was the only Bill introduced by the Left Front government in its 24 years of uninterrupted rule that was referred to the Select Committee of the Assembly three times, officials said.

The Bill, after being passed by the Assembly in 1997, got the President’s assent and became an Act more than two years ago. The delay in implementation shows the government was afraid of the negative impact on voters.


Nanoor (Birbhum), July 27: 
Enraged at the BJP’s laying down of norms for entry into the ruling NDA, Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee today said her party was not greedy about ministerial berths at the Centre.

“We are not hankering for Cabinet berths, but will continue to work for the people,” she said.

Mamata’s announcement came in the wake of BJP president Jana Krishnamurthi’s assertion at the party’s national executive meeting that there would be “clear-cut norms for political parties intending to enter or re-enter the NDA”.

The Trinamul chief, addressing a big rally at Basapara to commemorate the massacre of 11 party workers on July 27 last year, gave enough hints about her intention not to rejoin the coalition in the near future.

Mamata had announced her decision to “go it alone” in Bengal and maintain an equi-distance from the Congress and the BJP at her July 21 “Martyrs’ Day” rally in Calcutta.

Reiterating her pledge to “fight the CPM’s misrule and police high-handedness tooth and nail”, the Trinamul chief warned the district administration against any attempt to shift the newly built “Martyrs’ Column”. “If there is any attempt to remove it from the present site, I will build it in front of Writers’ Buildings,” she said.

Mamata alleged that the CPM and police administration were trying to remove the “Martyrs’ Column” as it would remind the people of the “ghastly killings of Trinamul workers in the hands of CPM cadre”.

After paying floral tributes to the slain party workers at the “Martyrs’ Column,” the Trinamul leader launched a scathing attack on the CPM and police administration holding them responsible for her party’s poll debacle.

Urging people not to get disheartened by the poll debacle, Mamata said her party would observe July 27 every year as the “Nanoor Massacre Day”.


Calcutta, July 27: 
Many teaching posts in state-aided colleges are likely to remain vacant for another year as only a few cleared the State Level Eligibility Test (SLET) conducted by the College Service Commission to select candidates for the post of lecturers.

Only 6.6 per cent of the candidates cleared SLET this year, A.K. Banik, chairman of the West Bengal College Service Commission, said after the results were declared today.

This year’s success rate, however, is slightly higher than last year’s 5 per cent. A total of 6,797 candidates took the test in April this year. The success rate has been the lowest in Bengali, history and geography. Only three candidates qualified in Bengali, 13 in geography and 39 in history.

The mathematics results have improved considerably this year with nearly 48 candidates qualifying. Last year, not even a single candidate passed in mathematics.

Banik said it was found that most candidates did not answer all questions. “This indicated that the candidates did not know the answers. It gives us a clear indication that the candidates did not cover the entire syllabus,” he said.

Poor performance in the third paper was another reason behind the low success rate.

Private tuition

The government will amend laws from the primary school to the university level to ensure that teachers of government-aided institutions shun private tuition, finance minister Asim Dasgupta said in the Assembly today.


Midnapore, July 27: 
The government’s decision to bifurcate Midnapore district has reportedly created differences in opinion among key CPM functionaries in the state.

While CPM’s Midnapore unit secretary Dipak Sarkar is apparently against the proposed move, Lakshman Seth, the party MP from Tamluk, has publicly supported the bifurcation, saying that it was necessary for better governance of the country’s biggest district.

That the two key leaders have crossed swords over the bifurcation is evident from the manner in which they issued contradictory statements.

“Division of the district will not help all problems affecting the district. Instead, we will have to see how common people are benefited,” Sarkar observed while reacting to the proposal.

Seth, however, felt the bifurcation of the district would only help the administration govern the district better.

“Think of a man going from Haldia to Midnapore — the same distance between Midnapore and Calcutta — to get an official work done. If he fails to meet the officer concerned, he has to go back empty-handed. His whole day is lost. His hard-earned money is gone,” Seth added.

Worried over rising intra-party squabbles, the state CPM had convened a meeting of district leaders at the party headquarters today morning.

The marathon session was aimed at recording opinions from Midnapore on the issue.

State industries minister Nirupam Sen, who came here yesterday to lay the foundation stone of the District Planning Bhawan, reiterated that such a division would bring about speed in administrative decisions.

Decentralisation of power is beneficial for better governance of the district, he added.

CPM insiders, however, say Sarkar has opposed the bifurcation as he feels that he will no longer be able to wield clout over the entire district.


New Delhi, July 27: 
Talks have been initiated with the West Bengal department of tourism to develop Santiniketan as a focal point of rural tourism.

Rural tourism is the new mantra adopted by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) to expand the tourism base in the country. Promoting viable alternative destinations to the Golden Triangle is a part of the gameplan of the tourism industry.

In collaboration with the Udaipur Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Ficci is organising an international conference and exhibition on September 8 and 9 to promote the idea of rural tourism among both international and domestic tourists.

Other interesting destinations which could be developed in this category are tribal areas in Bihar, the scenic beauty of Meghalaya and many such locales. Cuisine of Punjab and Haryana’s Teej festival could also be promoted under this category. The idea is to present a taste of the village lifestyle and culture of different parts of India.

Ficci has commissioned AF Ferguson & Co to prepare a study report on rural tourism. The strategy has a twofold objective. One, to offer newer and different destinations to both international and domestic tourists. Two, to give a fillip to both economic and cultural activities in this sub-sector of the industry.

Ficci plans to involve NGOs and panchayats to raise awareness of the potential of rural tourism. In the process, there will be a strengthening of infrastructure.

The international conference and exhibition on rural tourism in India is being supported by the Union ministry of tourism and culture, the Rajasthan department of tourism and culture and West Zone Cultural Centre. A Ficci spokesperson said the idea is to strengthen tourism thrust in different regions.

In this respect, the Kerala department of tourism and the Rajasthan department of tourism are leaders of the pack in the attempts to develop tourism in their states. Andhra Pradesh is following closely in the race.

Other states which are planning to gear up their tourism promotion efforts are Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

A few months back, Ficci, with sponsorships of Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh governments, also commissioned an analytical study on the prospects of tourism in South India.


New Delhi, July 27: 
Jana Krishnamurthi today criticised the way in which the PMK was readmitted into the NDA. The BJP president’s criticism is being seen as the party’s first expression of public disapproval of a decision taken by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.

The PMK, which was part of the NDA earlier, had parted company with the DMK on the eve of the Tamil Nadu elections to team up with the ADMK. But after getting the short shrift from Jayalalitha, the PMK sought a return to the alliance and was rather promptly allowed permit by NDA convener George Fernandes and Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee.

In his inaugural address on the opening day of the BJP national executive, which began here today and was attended by the Prime Minister, home minister L.K. Advani and finance minister Yashwant Sinha, Krishnamurthi said the PMK and Trinamul Congress had pulled out of the NDA for “reasons of their own”.

He noted that their “unprovoked” exit created an impression — “however insignificant it may be” — that the Central coalition had become shaky. “After achieving the purpose for which they left, they now appear to be desirous of returning to the NDA,” the BJP chief said.

“I feel none of the parties in the NDA can enjoy a right to hurt the alliance and then ask for benefits of the NDA. Well, the BJP is only a part of the NDA, although it provides the major part. I think it will be in the best interests of the NDA, both from the short term and long term point of view, if certain norms are formulated for entry or re-entry of any party into the NDA. I hope the NDA, as a whole, will give due consideration to this suggestion of mine,” Krishnamurthi said.

The stiff note of disapproval of the manner in which the PMK was reinducted, bypassing the party and, especially, its Tamil Nadu unit, was construed by insiders as a warning to the NDA government against rewarding the PMK with Cabinet berths.

PMK president S. Ramadoss has already dropped hints that his party would expect ministerial berths.

Krishnamurthi’s assertion also indicated that neither Trinamul nor Ajit Panja would find it easy to get back to the NDA.

This is the first time that a BJP president has commented directly on a development within the NDA. Earlier, an NDA-related incident would usually be brushed aside as its “internal matter”.

This was also the first time that the BJP chief’s inaugural address at a national executive was not drafted by the PMO as was the practice during the terms of Kushabhau Thakre and Bangaru Laxman.

BJP sources said Vajpayee was upset by the “tone and tenor” of Krishnamurthi’s speech and demanded to know if it was Sudheendra Kulkarni, his official speech-writer, who had composed it.

It was not Kulkarni but Surendra Arora, the convener of the BJP’s foreign affairs cell, who had prepared it, Vajpayee was told.

Sources said Vajpayee’s acolytes felt it “read like an Opposition leader’s speech” and “reflected Advani’s line” within the party. It is understood that the home minister did not want to rush through with the PMK’s reinduction.

However, Krishnamurthi’s address was secretly applauded by other national executive members who felt it was high time to “call a spade a spade”. Party spokesman V.K. Malhotra tried to underplay its import, saying “whatever the president said was not a criticism”. But party sources said: “There is immediate need to evolve some criteria on how parties should be inducted and reinducted, if necessary. It cannot be done in an ad hoc fashion.”

The sources added that Krishnamurthi departed from the written text at a certain point and spoke on the US-64 scam in Vajpayee’s and the finance minister’s presence. The move gladdened the hearts of those who repeatedly raised the issued at various BJP fora.

Among the other suggestions put forward by the BJP chief to the government was evolving a coordination and consultative mechanism between the Centre and state governments to ensure that all public distribution system-related schemes were duly implemented.

He also advised the ministers to “extensively tour and periodically assess and monitor the implementation of various programmes and keep the people informed”.

Though Krishnamurthi mentioned the Agra summit and the Manipur scenario in his address, the national executive is expected to discuss both the issues in detail tomorrow and either adopt separate resolutions or incorporate them at length in the political resolution.


New Delhi, July 27: 
The BJP and the Samajwadi Party today continued to blame each other for Phoolan Devi’s death even as home minister L.K. Advani agreed to make a statement in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday on the murder.

Though investigating agencies are working on the case, Uttar Pradesh BJP chief Kalraj Mishra said he suspected the hand of the Samajwadi Party behind the killing. On the other side of the fence, Samajwadi general secretary Amar Singh said the possibility of the BJP’s involvement could not be ruled out.

Singh demanded that police interrogate Uttar Pradesh home minister Rangnath Mishra, who along with two others had visited Phoolan a day before she was murdered. It was well known that Phoolan was not friendly with Mishra, Singh added. He accused the BJP of spreading disinformation and said his party had nothing to do with Uma Kashyap.

The party will observe a “shok divas” (day of mourning) on August 1 all over Uttar Pradesh as a mark of respect to Phoolan, Singh said.

Singh termed Phoolan’s killing a “political conspiracy” and reiterated that the Rajnath Singh government in Uttar Pradesh was “fully responsible”.

He said the failure of the state government to provide security to Phoolan had led to her murder. The Samajwadi leader also rejected the state government’s claim that Phoolan had not sought additional security.

The Lok Sabha, too, felt the impact of vote-bank politics. It plunged into chaos as soon as it assembled for the day, with Samajwadi and Rashtriya Janata Dal members storming the Well of the House.

The agitating members held the BJP responsible for Phoolan’s murder and demanded Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s resignation. Some also raised slogans demanding the resignation of home minister L.K. Advani.

Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi repeatedly requested Mulayam to control his men so that proceedings could resume, but the Samajwadi chief ignored his pleas and defended the protesting MPs.

Balayogi then ordered the TV cameras to be switched off and, a few minutes later, adjourned the House. Soon after, Balayogi met former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar, parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan and Mulayam.

Sources said the Speaker was displeased with the Samajwadi chief as his party members had demanded the resignation of Vajpayee and Advani.

Samajwadi member Akhilesh Kumar Singh and the RJD’s Raghuvansh Prasad raised the issue as soon as the House met after the lunch recess. But Mulayam, who was belligerent in the morning, appeared subdued. Mahajan then informed the House that the home minister would make a statement on Tuesday.

Balayogi told the members that, as a special case, he would allow them to seek clarifications from the home minister in view of the gravity of the issue — the murder of a sitting MP when the House is in session. Lok Sabha rules do not permit seeking of clarifications after a minister has made a statement, he pointed out. This pacified the Samajwadi and the RJD members.


New Delhi, July 27: 
The government has ordered a fresh threat-perception exercise for all MPs after they flooded Delhi Police and the home ministry with requests to upgrade their security soon after Phoolan Devi’s assassination.

Even BJP members like Madan Lal Khurana are convinced that the MPs, coming from all over the country, are on “soft ground” in the capital. But, for Delhi Police, it is a mission impossible to provide round-the-clock security to the 800-odd lawmakers who have residences here as the police force is hopelessly short of hands.

Security experts have been suggesting multi-storeyed apartments in high-security zones. But barring a handful, no MP is willing to move into these apartments from the lush green bungalows spread over acres of land. These bungalows have servants’ quarters and garages, besides front lawns and gardens at the back, which are usually used for maintaining “cows”. There are dozens of MPs who keep buffaloes and cows.

Informed sources said many MPs had directly approached home minister L.K. Advani and Delhi Police chief Ajai Raj Sharma for additional security personnel. Ministry officials, however, insist that there is no need to panic as Phoolan’s murder seems to be an isolated incident.

For many former MPs like Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar, Phoolan’s murder has come in handy for putting pressure on the government to review their security. The home ministry had recently downgraded their security after a thorough review. Tytler said he has sought an appointment with Advani to get back the “Black Cats”. “I want guards who know about security,” he said. “I don’t want policemen who are not interested in the job.”

There is no uniformity in providing security cover to members of Parliament. For instance, barring Pranab Mukherjee, MPs from Bengal — whether they are from the Trinamul Congress, the Left Front or the Congress — are hardly given much security cover. When Mamata Banerjee was a Union minister, she was seen moving around in the capital with just one personal security officer.

Home ministry sources said MPs are given security cover in accordance with the threat perception assessed by various law enforcing agencies.

“If we get a feedback or a specific information, we direct Delhi Police to upgrade security,” an official said, pointing at the “fool-proof” system.

The threat-perception panel for MPs is headed by the Union home secretary and includes senior intelligence officials.


Mirzapur-Bhadohi, July 27: 
A boatman on the Ganga throws a garland of marigolds and a dozen hands lean across the short wall of Chaube Ghat to catch it. The grateful boatman, hands folded, pleads that the garland be placed on the body — it is all he can do.

Phoolan Devi is fighting the Bandit Queen as her body burns.

In death, she has metamorphosed into Mulayam Singh’s magic mascot to win the election in Uttar Pradesh. But for those who believe she is one of their own, such simple gestures cannot take away the politician from Shekhpur Gurha’s fearless daughter. The boatman who threw that garland is a Mallah, Phoolan’s caste-kin.

“She had to go, we always knew it,” says Ram Babu, Shekhpur Gurha’s village pradhan, jostling his way through the crowd to catch a glimpse of Phoolan’s body. “It is difficult for someone like her to live to a ripe, old age.”

He pushes his way to where Phoolan’s mother Moolah is sitting with the family. Today, she cannot talk. “Do not bother her,” says Ram Babu. “Will you understand that she is not a dacait, and that is why there are so many people here?”

Back in 1983, when Phoolan surrendered, her mother told biographer Mala Sen: “She has had a hard life. Poverty and desperation lead to many things. Who can judge her except Durga Mata? Don’t blame her for what she has done or is supposed to have done — it is not her fault, it was her fate. The One Above knows…”

Across Mirzapur and Bhadohi — the constituency that Amar Singh describes as Phoolan’s karmbhoomi — there is little doubt that the Samajwadi Party is playing politics over her dead body. “Drama-baazi” (theatrics) is the commonest refrain even among those who have actually come out on the streets, like in Aurai where women with children in arms want to meet Phoolan’s mother and console her. Mulayam is launching his election campaign here, but he cannot be sure that the mourning will translate into electoral victory.

Mirzapur is not in the Chambal. Shekhpur Gurha, too, is a couple of hundred kilometres west of here. Yet, in the heat of the last election campaign, Phoolan was reported to have said in a public meeting in a Thakur-dominated village: “I will turn Mirzapur into Chambal.” There is more to that statement than braggadocio.

Caste-divides in eastern Uttar Pradesh are so many and so sharp that Phoolan’s godfather Mulayam is trying to run through them as if it were she herself negotiating the ravines.

He is not alone. Chief minister Rajnath Singh, himself from Mirzapur, has taken the lead, announcing a policy that could effectively drive a wedge through the OBC votebank.

Rajnath’s key is a reservation policy for MBCs — Most Backward Classes.

On the verge of the elections, Uttar Pradesh is a mosaic of castes in conflict. The BJP is banking on the upper caste — Thakur and Brahmin — votes that are roughly 25 per cent of the electorate. The Samajwadi Party believes it has a traditional vote of about 26 per cent — primarily Yadav and Muslim. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) claims the rest — the “backwards”.

Rajnath is trying to split the backward caste votes and win over a section to the BJP. Mulayam is trying to keep his own votebank intact while using Phoolan’s death to break into the BSP’s. In effect, the BJP, the Samajwadi and the BSP are fighting over the same votes — the newly christened “MBCs”.

It will be no surprise if the image of Phoolan, late lover of the late Vikram Mallah — yes, the Mallahs are MBCs — is used to win sympathy votes. Who better than her husband, Umedh Singh, to contest in her name? The question cannot be posed though, for the theatrics are not yet over.

Shekhpur Gurha’s daughter is dead. The choice between Phoolan Devi and Bandit Queen is still wide open.


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