CPM maps exile safe-passage
Murder in south badland
Trust card for Delhi return
Sleaze-film parlours sealed
Dunlop staff cling to home
Tiger’s snarl & purr survival strategy
Phoolan’s sister jumps on Umedh
Daily-date antidote for unruly MPs
Delhi doubts Pervez ‘durability’
Sonia clutches at Mamata straw

 
 
CPM MAPS EXILE SAFE-PASSAGE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Midnapore, Aug. 1: 
The CPM’s Midnapore unit today appealed to all those villagers who had fled their homes in this violence-scarred district to return without fear.

The assurance, in the form of a leaflet issued by district party secretary Deepak Sarkar, follows chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s announcement in the Assembly yesterday that the administration would ensure the return of 343 villagers to their homes. Bhattacharjee said he had given directions to ensure that everybody could return by August 18, when he would convene an all-party meeting in Midnapore to discuss the problem.

In the leaflet, Sarkar urged the villagers to approach him so that he could “personally take the responsibility of their safety and security, once they come back”.

Last week, party sources said, Bhattacharjee had hauled up Sarkar for not making arrangements to encourage the terror-stricken villagers to return. “I have myself arranged for the safe return of 300 such people to their villages earlier. I will do so again if the others approach me,” Sarkar said today.

The CPM leader accused Trinamul of “juggling with the figures”. “Many of their leaders in Calcutta have employed women who have fled their homes as maid-servants and are still claiming that they were forced to flee their villages because of CPM torture,” he said.

Midnapore police are also trying to arrange for the safe return of all Trinamul supporters who had fled during the violence, before and after the polls. Though district superintendent of police A.K. Maliwal said he did not have a list of those who were yet to come back, additional SP (headquarters) S.S. Panda has called Keshpur Trinamul leader Chitta Gorai to discuss the safe return of all party supporters.

Md Rafique, another Keshpur leader, said 686 persons had fled from Keshpur and some were still living in relief camps. But he added that it was becoming increasingly difficult for the party to raise funds for their maintenance. Many of them have turned beggars in Midnapore town, while some have been forced to work as maids.

“More than 2,000 bighas belonging to them could not be cultivated this year. About 200 licensed guns belonging to these people have been taken away by CPM hoodlums. They have been threatened not to complain to the police. The roofs of their thatched homes have caved in,” Rafique said.

Prodyot Ghosh, the district youth Trinamul president, said more than 250 people from Khejuri and 400 from Pingla were living in relief camps in Gobordhanpur, Moyna and Nimtouri.

   

 
 
MURDER IN SOUTH BADLAND 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS CHATTOPADHYAY
 
Joynagar, Aug. 1: 
A 60-year-old local committee secretary of the SUCI was shot and hacked to death, allegedly by CPM activists early today. Two more persons, including the victim’s son, were seriously wounded.

The SUCI has called a 24-hour bandh in Joynagar tomorrow. They have also lined up a state-wide agitation to “expose the communists”. However, the CPM was quick to deny the allegation, saying the murder was the result of the SUCI’s internal problems.

SUCI leader Swapan Basu said the incident occurred around 1.30 am at Manirtat, which falls in the Kultali Assembly area. About 40 armed men, allegedly CPM workers, knocked on the door of local committee secretary Hasem Khan. They identified themselves as police officials. As soon as Khan opened the door, the men struck at him with sharp weapons. One of them also fired at him from point-blank range.

According to Basu, Khan’s son and other family members rushed out on hearing the gunshots but were hit as well.

Local residents took Khan to the local hospital where he died.

Probodh Purakait, local SUCI MLA, said: “Khan was a veteran worker of the party. He was a target of the CPM since the last elections as he worked hard for their defeat.”

Khalil Rahaman Sheikh, CPM’s zonal committee member, denied his party had any hand in the murder. “Our party was not involved. Khan was murdered because of intra-party rivalry. Now to hush that up, they are trying to put the blame on us.”

SUCI workers refused to hand over Khan’s body to the local police and demanded the presence of South 24-Parganas superintendent of police Deb Kumar Ganguly. It was only after additional SP R.K. Singh agreed to camp in the area did they relent.

   

 
 
TRUST CARD FOR DELHI RETURN 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Aug. 1: 
Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress today sought to cash in on the UTI muddle, siding with the Vajpayee government which it had left before the Assembly elections over the Tehelka revelations.

“It is unfortunate that even some NDA partners are trying to weaken the coalition by criticising Vajpayeeji. But we don’t want the NDA government to fall. We stand by the Prime Minister in this hour of crisis and will offer issue-based support to the government,” said Pankaj Banerjee, leader of the Opposition in the Assembly.

Observers said the statement smacked of “political opportunism” as the party was ready to rejoin the Central coalition by using an issue of corruption though it had left it on another.

Banerjee said Trinamul chief whip in the Lok Sabha Sudip Bandopadhyay was in touch with the NDA leadership in Delhi. Mamata, who cancelled her trip to Delhi tonight following illness, has been apprised of the developments in the NDA by Bandopadhyay. “Mamata herself is in contact with NDA convener George Fernandes and the PMO,” he said.

Bandopadhyay wrote to Vajpayee yesterday, urging him not to relinquish office and expressing his party’s willingness to stand by him.

Banerjee insisted Trinamul’s primary aim was to prevent a mid-term election. “It has to be proved whether the Unit-64 issue is at all a scam. But we must not allow a steady government to be destabilised under any pretext,” he said.

The Trinamul MLA said the party’s parliamentary group will meet after Mamata returns to Delhi to finalise its stand on the NDA. “We cannot sit idle for an indefinite period and intend to clinch the matter as early as possible,” Banerjee said.

Most Trinamul MPs want Mamata to take an early decision since their seating arrangements in the Lok Sabha have sparked an “unnecessary controversy”. Ananda Mohan Biswas, Trinamul MP from Nabadwip, said: “We have authorised Mamata to take a final decision and are awaiting her green signal,” he said.

Banerjee also ruled out the possibility of reviving ties with the Congress. “We do not like to co-travel with the party any more because of its role in the Assembly polls,” he said.

The state BJP leadership alleged that Trinamul’s statement was a ploy to hasten its return to the NDA. “Why is Mamata in a hurry to support us when there is no crisis at all?” asked BJP vice-president Muzaffar Khan.

   

 
 
SLEAZE-FILM PARLOURS SEALED 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Chinsurah, Aug. 1: 
Hooghly district police have sealed three video parlours at Arambagh B.K. Roy supermarket for screening blue films.

According to SP N. Ramesh Babu, the district enforcement branch of the police raided the parlours on Monday night following complaints of screening of blue films. The owners of the three parlours — Nilendu Nandy, Akhtar Ali and Utpal Datta — have been arrested. The police have seized 63 cassettes, 31 CDs and 144 pirated cassettes from the parlours.

“We have received information that video parlours in Arambagh, Goghat, Khanakul, Pursurah and the Panduah area do brisk business by screening blue films in the night. Police stations have been told to be on their guard,” Ramesh Babu said.

There are about 500 video parlours in the district and they are run with the help of generators. Video parlours owners make a quick buck by charging double the amount for a ticket. Most of those who throng such video parlours are labourers and vegetable vendors, Ramesh Babu said.

Sex workers attacked: A group of rowdies attacked, assaulted and ousted about 120 sex workers and their children from their homes in the Unchu Matia area of Basirhat in North 24 Parganas on Monday night.

   

 
 
DUNLOP STAFF CLING TO HOME 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 1: 
Employees at Dunlop’s Mirza Ghalib Street head office have refused to move out though the management passed a resolution to shift its headquarters to Sahagunj.

The unions informed state commerce and industry minister Nirupam Sen about the company’s move about two weeks ago and sought his intervention, but the government has yet to take steps.

“The minister said the matter will be looked into. However, we do not know what will happen if the management suddenly asks us to vacate the office. We are apprehensive that the management will throw us out of employment without any compensation as they did to 150 employees — who were union members — in other locations,” said Aniruddha Sengupta, general secretary Dunlop India Ltd Employees’ Union.

Though the company has not issued any notice to vacate the premises, but it has informally communicated its decision to the employees. There are about 250 employees at Dunlop’s head office; 120 of them are union members.

The employees told the management they would shift, provided the company starts production and past wages and salaries are cleared. “(But) the company is noncommittal about starting production and clearing our salaries. So, we have decided not to vacate the head office if we are asked to do so,” said Sengupta. Dunlop owes it staff salaries and wages for 29 months – 22 months from May 1998 to February 2000 and seven months from January 2001 to July 2001.

“The management is also asking the unions to sign another memorandum of understanding which is detrimental to the interests of the workers. We have already signed an MoU according to a directive by the BIFR. But the management is trying to get an MoU signed under threat of suspension of work,” Sengupta alleged.

   

 
 
TIGER’S SNARL & PURR SURVIVAL STRATEGY 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, Aug. 1: 
One step forward, two steps backward is an axiom Bal Thackeray appears to live by.

But if you take it to mean the Shiv Sena chief is beating a hasty retreat from the political mess his party MP Sanjay Nirupam created in Delhi, you’ve got another thought coming.

Thackeray flips and flops. He takes a U-turn when an about-turn is not possible. He disowned editorials in the party mouthpiece he edits when he came under pressure. He distanced himself from the remarks his MPs made in Parliament when things became too hot for him.

It’s all part of a well-thought-out Thackeray strategy, sources familiar with his working style said. It was on display when he called up Atal Bihari Vajpayee yesterday to soothe his frayed nerves and pledge continuing support while making sure that Sena MPs stayed away from the NDA meeting today.

The last thing Thackeray wants, with his 15 balance-tilting Lok Sabha MPs, is to be taken for granted by Vajpayee, sources said. He wants to be consulted regularly on major national issues. When affronted, Thackeray, who likes to symbolise the snarling tiger on his party flags, growls, sending shivers down the government’s spine.

Aware of the vulnerability of the Prime Minister, dependent on allies like him for survival, Thackeray keeps his cards close to his chest, playing them right.

The Sena shoved Vajpayee to the brink, but Thackeray made sure the Prime Minister did not fall off into the abyss. A fall of government would cost him as dearly.

Thackeray enjoys the trappings of power, without holding any official position. Power gives him a sense of immunity from the state government, determined to cage the roaring tiger.

The Centre put pressure on chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh when the state government arrested him in connection with the Srikrishna Commission report on the Mumbai riots. He was bailed out within an hour of the arrest.

What deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal, a Sena-turned-Nationalist Congress Party leader, can do to rein in the Sena chief, the BJP cannot, party leaders rued. Not just at the Centre, the BJP relies on the Sena in the state too to make a comeback.

When former deputy chief minister Gopinath Munde, now a BJP national vice-president, upped the ante in the run-up to the Kalyan-Dombivili municipal elections last year and tried to call Thackeray’s bluff, he was silenced by a jittery BJP leadership. Pramod Mahajan, Munde’s brother-in-law, was sent to Mumbai immediately to straighten Thackeray’s ruffled feathers.

As the cold war between the BJP and Sena rages, Thackeray wants Vajpayee to step in and resolve the Enron impasse once and for all, sources said. Thackeray had given the green signal to the US energy giant after ordering the project scrapped. The Prime Minister has so far shown little interest in getting into the controversy.

The Sena chief is peeved because Vajpayee paid no heed to the party’s demand for another ministerial berth in the place of Ram Jethmalani, the Sena-backed Rajya Sabha MP who was dropped from Vajpayee’s Cabinet. Thackeray asked Vajpayee not to see the Sena attack on his office as an assault on him or his integrity, but only after he drove the message home: give in or perish politically.

The Sena, clearly, wants to keep Vajpayee on his toes, no matter how weak his operated knees are.

   

 
 
PHOOLAN’S SISTER JUMPS ON UMEDH 
 
 
FROM AMBEREEN ALI SHAH
 
New Delhi, Aug. 1: 
Phoolan Devi’s husband Umedh Singh called the news conference, but the slain MP’s sister, Munni, hijacked the show, accusing her brother-in-law of being hand-in-glove with those who plotted the murder.

The drama began this morning at 44 Ashoka Road, Phoolan’s official residence. Umedh as well as members of Phoolan’s family are staying there at present.

“I have called the conference to resolve the property dispute that has been widely reported in the media,” said Umedh. “The family has decided to form a trust that will work for the uplift of suppressed people. It will be registered very soon.”

At this stage, Munni butted in. “The money will be given to anyone but him,” she said, opening a can of worms.

Umedh, in turn, pointed an accusing finger at Munni and said: “She is eyeing Phoolan’s property and that is why she does not want the trust to be formed.”

He, however, refused to comment on the value of the property left behind by his wife. He said he will appoint evaluators after the shradh ceremony.

Munni claimed Umedh knew Sher Singh Rana alias Pankaj and Uma Kashyap very well, and that they would meet often. Umedh denied this and said he knew the three only by face.

Munni said on the day of Phoolan’s murder Umedh had disappeared in a car an hour before the Samajwadi Party leader left for Parliament. Vinod Pal, Phoolan’s driver, who had gone to collect the MP’s car that day from a garage in Okhla, said: “He had left in a white or cream Maruti that he had borrowed from a friend two days ago.”

Earlier, Munni claimed Phoolan’s marriage to Umedh had not been happy. “In the initial stages of their marriage, Umedh used to beat up Phoolan. She had lodged a couple of FIRs. They slept in different rooms.... For Umedh, Phoolan was non-existent,” she said.

She alleged that Umedh had married Phoolan for her property. “He would get people over to his house, and this would anger Phoolan.... He has another wife and two daughters who live in Timarpur (west Delhi).”

Umedh, on the other hand, called Phoolan’s murder a political conspiracy, and said his life could be in danger. “Weapons were recovered from the garage even after a thorough check was conducted before the Prime Minister’s visit to the bungalow. I am carrying on the work of my wife. Those who killed her can kill me also,” he said.

Umedh added that he had no idea if the murder was an inside job.

   

 
 
DAILY-DATE ANTIDOTE FOR UNRULY MPS 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 1: 
An all-party meeting convened by Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi today decided on daily interactive sessions between MPs and parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan to check the increasing indiscipline on the part of Lok Sabha members.

The Speaker had conveyed his concern and anguish over repeated interruptions and the tendency to rush to the well of the House at the slightest provocation.

Barring ratification of President’s rule in Manipur, the monsoon session, which began on July 23, has not transacted any business because of repeated adjournments.

It was agreed that Mahajan will make himself available to all MPs, including those from the Opposition, for discussions every morning before proceedings start in the House.

Senior CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee was the first to suggest the need for regular interaction between the government and the Opposition. Chatterjee said a fractured polity and social tensions were casting a shadow on proceedings in the House. Inadequate government-Opposition interaction has aggravated the situation, he said.

Congress leaders Madhavrao Scindia and Priya Ranjan Das Munshi said the main Opposition party was willing to support any move that would ensure smooth functioning of the House.

But barely an hour later, the members appeared to ignore the Speaker’s initiative as heated exchanges erupted between the Opposition and treasury benches, disrupting question hour for almost 30 minutes with Samajwadi Party members seeking a discussion on the murder of party MP Phoolan Devi and the BSP asking the government to make a statement on the killing of Dalits at Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh last week.

As the din engulfed the House, Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, who was joined by Left members, demanded the resignation of finance minister Yashwant Sinha over the UTI fiasco.

This prompted the BJP and Samata Party members to protest against the “disruption” of question hour by the Opposition. Balayogi was seen asking members from both sides to take their seats and allow the House to transact listed business.

BSP members trooped to the well shouting slogans to protest against the Muzaffarnagar killings. Later, Mayavati asked them to return to their seats. The ruling coalition members were quietened by Mahajan.

But trouble erupted again as angry Samajwadi Party members led by Mulayam Singh Yadav walked out protesting against home minister L.K. Advani’s remark that House proceedings were being disrupted by members who had their eyes on the coming Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections.

Advani was responding to Mayavati’s statement on the killings of Dalits and those belonging to backward communities and the minority community in Uttar Pradesh.

Before walking out, Mulayam said the remark was improper and Advani being the home minister should have avoided making such a statement. Congress member S. Jaiswal also protested against Advani’s remark.

   

 
 
DELHI DOUBTS PERVEZ ‘DURABILITY’ 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Aug. 1: 
One fallout of the “inconclusive” Agra summit appears to be the replacement of the word “longevity” with “non-durability” in the Indian diplomatic lexicon while describing Pervez Musharraf.

Soon after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had announced his decision to invite the general for talks, one of the arguments put forward by the Indian establishment to justify the move was the ground reality in Islamabad. It was argued that the military leader, despite international pressure, was there to stay in Pakistan, and Delhi had little choice but to deal with him.

But Musharraf’s refusal to accept cross-border terrorism as a major issue during the summit has led Indian leaders to wonder whether their assessment of his longevity was misplaced. “We have a serious question mark about his durability now,” a senior Indian official said soon after the talks in Agra that saw the inability of the neighbours to narrow their differences on Kashmir and cross-border terrorism and come out with a joint declaration. The remarks indicate that Delhi is now seriously thinking whether Musharraf is in a position to control the situation in his country.

It is not clear whether the pressure on Musharraf, that South Block is hinting at, is being exerted by the army. According to some, despite becoming the President, Musharraf continues to be under pressure from some senior generals, particularly those who played a key role in the October 12, 1999 coup that overthrew the Nawaz Sharif government.

Though others in the Indian establishment argue that Musharraf is fully in control of the armed forces, doubts have been raised about his position vis-à-vis the Mujahideens. His apparent logical and straightforward approach notwithstanding, Musharraf has so far refused to say anything that could anger the armed rebel groups operating from Pakistan. This inability to take firm action against them has led the Indian leadership to question how long he can maintain this approach.

The Pakistan President’s refusal to accept India’s concern over cross-border terrorism has led Vajpayee to toughen his stand. The Prime Minister made it clear that in future, if talks between the two sides is to make meaningful progress, Musharraf has to accept the importance and significance of terror export from Pakistan.

There is also mounting pressure on Vajpayee not to go to Pakistan on a return visit unless the leadership in Islamabad shows signs of seriously addressing India’s concerns. The Prime Minister has been formally invited by Musharraf to visit Pakistan at a convenient date. Though Vajpayee has accepted the invitation, there is little doubt that he will not undertake the journey unless he is assured by the Pakistani leadership that cross-border terror is an important issue and the military rulers are serious about combating it.

The two leaders as well as their foreign ministers — Jaswant Singh and Abdul Sattar — are likely to meet on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in September in New York. Signals emanating from Delhi indicate that at the meetings in New York, Pakistan will be told that if it wants the Indian leadership to take Musharraf seriously, he will have to take urgent steps to curb terrorist organisations operating from Pakistani soil.

   

 
 
SONIA CLUTCHES AT MAMATA STRAW 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Aug. 1: 
The West Bengal unit of the Congress may have given up on Mamata Banerjee, but Sonia Gandhi has not.

AICC general secretary in charge of Bengal Kamal Nath will call on the Trinamul chief as part of the Congress central leadership’s last-ditch effort to woo Mamata and dissuade her from returning to the NDA.

Party leaders said the move to approach Mamata was cleared by Sonia, who is yet to reconcile herself with the idea of snapping ties with her. Sonia would like to continue with Trinamul, but a powerful section of the WBPCC is opposed to her plan.

The task before Nath is daunting. His first mission is to persuade Mamata to publicly distance herself from the NDA and seek separate seats for Trinamul MPs in the Lok Sabha. If Nath succeeds in convincing Mamata, he would then be expected to force state leaders like Somen Mitra, Pradeep Bhattacharya to toe the official line of reviving ties with Trinamul.

In the last 48 hours, many Congress leaders, including Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, have questioned the way Bengal Congress chief Pranab Mukherjee had announced the “end” of the alliance.

Mukherjee has, however, clarified that he had merely stated the obvious —- that there would be no truck with Trinamul as long as it was part of the NDA. Congress leaders said party spokesman Jaipal Reddy, too, had endorsed this aspect of the “principled stand”.

Today, there was a move to hold a meeting at 10 Janpath to lay the ground for the Nath-Mamata talks. But the meeting was called off as many felt such a session would not be prudent if the Trinamul chief did not show any inclination for revival of ties. “Wait and watch” and “cautious optimism” are the buzzwords at 24 Akbar Road as far as Bengal and Trinamul are concerned.

The Sonia camp is not keen to dump Mamata as it stands to gain nothing from her exit. In recent days, Congress-Left relations have hit a new low, which is why the prospects of the two coming together at the national level are dim. Given the Congress’ weak organisational network in Bengal, the leadership has no illusions about the Bengal unit standing on its own. Carrying on with Mamata seems best for Sonia.

The Congress leadership is aware of Mamata’s precarious position vis-a-vis the NDA and the sharp divisions within Trinamul about future ties with the Congress. But it wants Mamata to choose between the NDA and the Congress.

“She cannot have both. It’s time she makes up her mind. We cannot give her ministerial berths, but we can restore her sense of honour and prestige. Mamata has all along maintained a secular profile so we are hoping against hope for a reunion,” an AICC functionary said, adding that even Sonia was keeping her fingers crossed.

   
 

FRONT PAGE / NATIONAL / EDITORIAL / BUSINESS / THE EAST / SPORTS
ABOUT US /FEEDBACK / ARCHIVE 
 
Maintained by Web Development Company