Death at rally for ‘neo-Christ’
George sinks in Samata quicksand
NDA return route this week
Congmen play blame game
Gandhians follow in JP footsteps
Power-woman weighed down by purse strings
Jaswant takes Sangh stage
On second ramp of fashion
Rabri hems & haws over relief centre
Jaya lands, plastic broom in hand

 
 
DEATH AT RALLY FOR ‘NEO-CHRIST’ 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai, Aug. 12: 
One person was killed and dozens were injured when DMK protesters clashed with police at a rally today.

Thousands of supporters had gathered to protest against alleged “police excesses” at the time of DMK chief Karunanidhi’s arrest in June. Eyewitnesses said the rioters uprooted road dividers and stoned passing vehicles.

Before the rally took a violent turn, the DMK took recourse to the imagery of Christianity and Karunanidhi was depicted as the “Tamils’ neo-Christ”. Huge banners and posters juxtaposed pictures of the 78-year-old leader being forcibly arrested with Jesus bearing the cross before his crucifixion.

“That day the Christians of the world had shed tears (for Christ), today the Tamils of the world cry,” said a signboard along the route of the 10-km long procession from Saidapet to Marina beach here.

Though Karunanidhi had pleaded for restraint, the party cadre were in no mood to pay heed. The protesters shouted slogans against chief minister Jayalalitha and city police commissioner Muthukaruppan, condemning their “dark deed”.

Security had been beefed up with mobile cameras filming the procession. However, the rally turned violent when some protesters started throwing stones. Police fired teargas shells and resorted to lathicharge, injuring at least 20 persons, including several policemen.

“The mob attacked us with glass bottles and stones and also burned a bus and one of our jeeps and we were left with no option but to resort to a mild lathicharge and lobbing of teargas,” said a police official, adding that the rioters had dispersed and the situation was under control.

The procession culminated in a public meeting, where DMK leaders, including Karunanidhi and Maran, cheered the overwhelming response of the cadre in the show of strength.

Karunanidhi cut short his speech and urged the Centre to inquire into the incidents since his arrest. He also demanded a probe by a sitting Supreme Court judge into the alleged violation of the Constitution after the ADMK government assumed office.

Karunanidhi, however, said he was against the imposition of President’s rule in the state.

Samata Party chief George Fernandes also said here today that the Centre had no intention to dismiss the Jayalalitha government and impose President’s rule in the state.

Fernandes informed Karunanidhi on the PMK’s induction into the NDA at the Centre, though he said at the state-level the DMK would decide on the alliance with the PMK.

The NDA convener urging the former chief minister to hold talks with PMK leader S. Ramadoss comes close on the heels of Fernandes’ move to rope in the Trinamul into the NDA.

   

 
 
GEORGE SINKS IN SAMATA QUICKSAND 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 12: 
Samata Party leader George Fernandes may be hopping from one city to another to keep National Democratic Alliance partners in good humour and fighting fire for the Prime Minister, but the ground beneath him appears to be shifting in his own party.

Railway minister Nitish Kumar, whose Kurmi caste is the mainstay of the Samata Party in Bihar, has begun subtle moves to marginalise Fernandes, who is also convener of the NDA.

The Tehelka revelations and Fernandes’ forced resignation as defence minister subsequently weakened his grip on the party. Several MPs, who were earlier in the Fernandes camp, are warming up to Kumar. Some of them feel Fernandes is unlikely to come out unscathed from the Venkataswami Commission probe into the website disclosures.

A party meeting held in Lok Sabha MP Renu Kumari’s house last Tuesday turned out to be an occasion for the MPs to criticise Fernandes’ style of functioning. Former Samata president Jaya Jaitly and Digvijay Singh made an appearance, but Fernandes did not attend. MPs are restive as no parliamentary party meeting has been held even though the monsoon session is half-way through. The last such meeting was held during the budget session.

Sources said the Kumar camp was critical of Fernandes for first usurping power in Manipur and then creating a situation for the imposition of President’s rule in the state. The BJP was also miffed at Fernandes as he prevented a BJP-led government from taking over in the state.

Home minister L.K. Advani, sources said, is backing Kumar in the subtle power struggle in the Samata Party. While Fernandes is going around the country making friends — of late, he has met Mamata Banerjee, Balasaheb Thackeray and Chandrababu Naidu — Advani supporters view him as trying to emerge as leader number two in the NDA.

The sources said the Kumar camp is peeved with Fernandes for bringing Digvijay Singh back into the railway ministry. Singh, who was shifted to commerce and industry as minister of state on July 22, did not take charge for a week. He wanted to continue in railways. His other option was external affairs or defence. But a sulking Singh was given additional charge of railways, much to the surprise of senior minister Kumar.

Now, to settle scores, Kumar has withdrawn facilities of the minister of state on the grounds that Singh is holding only additional charge. Samata MPs Raghunath Jha and Prabhunath Singh are also learnt to be unhappy with Fernandes going out of his way to reinduct Singh into the railway ministry. For a year, the Kumar camp has been trying to achieve a Samata-Janata Dal (United) merger. Jaya Jaitly, Singh and five other MPs then blocked the move as they suspected Kumar of being hand-in-glove with JD(U) president Sharad Yadav to marginalise Fernandes.

The latest developments in the Samata Party have again activated the pro-merger forces. The sources said renewed efforts will be made to consolidate the mass base of the two parties, especially in Bihar, by a reunion of a part of the Dal family.

There were reports that Fernandes had met Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, who lives a stone’s throw away, fuelling speculation that the NDA convener was trying to build new equations. Mulayam has denied any such meeting.

   

 
 
NDA RETURN ROUTE THIS WEEK 
 
 
BY BARUN GHOSH
 
Calcutta, Aug. 12: 
Keen to pave the way for the return of the Trinamul Congress to the Central coalition, the four-member NDA committee led by George Fernandes will meet in Delhi tomorrow or day after to draft a code of conduct on re-entry of coalition partners.

Vijay Kumar Malhotra, BJP chief whip in the Lok Sabha, said from Delhi that his Trinamul counterpart Sudip Bandopadhyay had been intimated about the matter.

“I have told Bandopadhyay that there is nothing to worry on Trinamul’s re-entry to the NDA. Things have taken a new dimension ever since Mamata Banerjee publicly announced her willingness to return to the coalition in the presence of Fernandes at a meeting in Midnapore. I hope the matter will be sorted out in the next few days,” Malhotra said. He also maintained that party chief Jana Krishnamurthi was not opposed to Trinamul’s return to the coalition.

On the state unit’s reservation against Mamata’s return to the NDA, Malhotra said the Prime Minister would talk to them to settle the issue. “We should welcome those willing to strengthen the coalition at this juncture,” he added.

Bandopadhyay said Malhotra has promised that Trinamul would not have to give anything in writing for returning to the coalition. Sources said the Trinamul leader had called up Malhotra at Mamata’s instance.

“I am quite happy after a dialogue with Malhotra who assured me that the BJP will not stand in the way of Trinamul’s return to the NDA,” Bandopadhyay said.

The Trinamul leader added that he had requested Malhotra to rein in Union minister of state for communication Tapan Sikdar from being “unnecessarily critical” about Mamata and other Trinamul functionaries.

Mamata, who was not available for comment, is learnt to have discussed the latest developments with party MPs. Trinamul sources said a meeting of the parliamentary committee has been lined up after Wednesday.

Undeterred by Malhotra’s statement, state BJP leaders have decided to take up the matter with another party spokesman Sunil Sastri, who is expected to be in the city on Tuesday for a rally.

That Mamata’s return to the NDA is almost certain was also corroborated by Congress chief whip in Lok Sabha Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, now camping in the city.

“We are convinced that Mamata is counting her days to re-enter the NDA, but to me this is an unfortunate development. The way she has parted company with the Congress is nothing but a betrayal of people in Bengal,” he said.

   

 
 
CONGMEN PLAY BLAME GAME 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Aug. 12: 
Judging by parliamentary performance, the Congress seems to be failing in its duty as the main Opposition party.

Many in the Congress candidly admit that the party had failed to capitalise on the UTI debate that could have given them an edge over the BJP and its allies.

The party also frittered away an opportunity to nail the Vajpayee regime over the Tehelka expose. Privately, senior Congress leaders blame each other, accusing some former Union ministers of “vested interests” that had prevented the party from going flat out over the UTI issue.

A party floor-manager alleged that a senior Congress leader had “advised” Mani Shankar Aiyar not to attack the Prime Minister during the UTI debate. Though the matter was brought to Sonia Gandhi’s attention, no action was taken.

Congress leaders also point at thin attendance in Congress benches during crucial discussions in both Houses.

The day Manmohan Singh spoke on UTI in the Upper House, there were hardly 16-17 MPs out of a total strength of 60. When Jaswant Singh was replying on the Agra summit in the Lok Sabha, out of 112 MPs, only 24 were present.

Party circles also blamed Sonia’s inexperience for the party’s performance in both Houses. Sources indicated the day Sonia was not present in the House, half her party MPs failed to show up.

There was no accountability regarding attendance and speakers were chosen ad-hoc instead of their field of expertise. During the UTI debate, the party fielded Aiyar after Priya Ranjan Das Munshi failed to deliver. An unprepared Aiyar tried hard but lacked the punch to counter the likes of Arun Jaitley in the absence of facts and figures.

The Congress chief, however, has made elaborate arrangements to chalk out the party’s strategy. Everyday at 10 am, she chairs a meeting of a political affairs committee consisting of about 30 senior leaders from both Houses. Insiders say the leader of the Opposition allows a “free discussion” on all issues.

“In Sonia’s presence, everyone vies for her attention but the issues are seldom followed up,” a senior leader complained. The Congress Parliamentary Party executive, supposed to identify issues for discussion, has been defunct since Sonia took over as leader of the Opposition.

With stalwarts like Narain Dutt Tiwari, K. Karunakaran, Shyama Charan Shukla, M.O.H. Farooq and N. Janardhan Reddy (all former chief ministers) in the Lok Sabha, these leaders seldom participate in debates and discussion.

There is also a long list of former Union ministers who avoid speaking, leaving the floor for a select band of Madhavrao Scindia, Aiyar, Jaipal Reddy, Das Munshi and Renuka Chowdhury.

   

 
 
GANDHIANS FOLLOW IN JP FOOTSTEPS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, Aug. 12: 
A group of Madhya Pradesh-based Gandhians has decided to revive Bihar’s rich legacy of people’s movements — once spearheaded by stalwarts like Vinoba Bhave and Jayaprakash Narayan — that has been lost in the unending cycle of bloody caste violence.

The group has raised an army of volunteers, oriented in non-violence, from Bihar’s districts for a padayatra next month seeking to re-enact Jayaprakash Narayan’s feat. The volunteers will criss-cross 400 km in central Bihar from Jamui to Patna in the month-long march, interacting with thousands of villagers in Nawada, Gaya, Nalanda and Jehanabad, who consider themselves “exhausted of violent outbursts and falling behind”.

This stretch has turned into the killing fields of Bihar over the past decade as a result of clashes between farm labourers, demanding their share of land, and rich landlords, forcibly controlling their land with the help of upper-caste private militia like the Ranbir Sena.

Focusing its agenda on the land rights of the poor, the Gandhians under Ekta Parishad, an umbrella organisation of NGOs, will revive Bhave’s slogan of land rights as “people’s right and control over basic livelihood resources”.

Bhave’s Bhoodan Andolan had acquired about 21.98 lakh acres of land to be distributed among the poor and deprived in Bihar. “However, of this only 7.28 lakh acres were distributed and 13.95 lakh acres are still pending for the last many decades,” said P.V. Rajagopal, who will lead the group.

“This means that only 36.53 per cent has been distributed and nearly 63.47 per cent is tied up in courts and remains undistributed due to the lack of coordination and dispute between the Bhoodan Yagya Samity and the government of Bihar,” Rajagopal clarified.

As many as 18 lakh people are without land for either cultivation or a home in the state. They do not even have the minimum six cents (0.06 acres) to bury or cremate their dead, the padayatra volunteers pointed out.

The padayatra, to be carried out in true Gandhian spirit, aims at lifting the cloud of terror covering central Bihar and helping people articulate their grievances. “For the first few months, interaction helped us understand their psyche. The poor villagers had so much to say, but could articulate so little,” said Goldi George, one of the Gandhians. Though terror-struck, the “give-peace-a-chance slogan” is helping the villagers break their silence, he added.

This morning, over 200 voluntary organisations decided to join the non-violent crusade. They said the villagers had initially expressed cynicism, saying “Gandhian peace lovers always lived in the cities in Bihar, while those with guns in the villages”. But an earnest and sympathetic hearing has helped them change their sentiments.

   

 
 
POWER-WOMAN WEIGHED DOWN BY PURSE STRINGS 
 
 
FROM DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Uttarpara (Hooghly), Aug. 12: 
Twenty-one-year-old Nilima Chatterjee carries weight. Not only in Uttarpara but abroad, too. Literally.

The housewife, who cooks and washes for her family, has been selected by the Indian Powerlifting Federation to represent India at the World Powerlifting Championship in Bulgaria next month.

But she is not sure whether she will be able to participate. For, she does not know how she will mobilise at least Rs 1 lakh required for air fare and expenses during her 18-day stay in Delhi and Bulgaria.

Sponsors are not showing much interest as weightlifting organisations in the country and abroad do not allow display of brand logos on costumes.

A typical middle class housewife, she is shy to ask husband Subrata Chatterjee for the money. Subrata has a small stationery business, and he supplies to schools. Her father-in-law encourages her, but is of not much help as he is retired.

“I have left everything to fate. I am keen to appear for the championship,” said Nilima, a resident of Raj Krishna Street and the proud winner of eight gold medals. She broke the Asian powerlifting record in Delhi in May, lifting 310 kg. So far, only the chairman of the Uttarpara Municipality Pinaki Dhamali has promised her Rs 10,000.

At the 1999 national championship in Durgapur, she had bagged four gold medals and broken the long-standing national record of D. Jyoti of Karnataka in squatting.

Nilima stands out because of her diligence. She cannot afford a domestic help as her husband is a small businessman and finds it difficult to make ends meet. After a two-and-half hours of practice every morning, she slogs in the kitchen. In the evening, too, her routine is the same: cooking after two hours of training.

What does she eat to maintain her weight and strength? Nothing special, except cottage cheese prepared from half a litre of milk. After eating it with two biscuits in the morning, she goes for her practice and exercise. Around 1 pm, she has a meal of rice, vegetable and fish. She does not eat anything in the evening. For dinner, she has an egg and the same food she had for lunch. There is no fruit, meat or chicken for her even once a month.

Nilima, who cleared the Madhyamik a few years ago, has not yet applied for a job. But, she is badly in need of funds, particularly to buy costumes from abroad as they augment the lifting capability.

Nilima is a relative newcomer in weightlifting. She started participating in competitions just two years ago after she proved her mettle in shotput and hammer throwing.

   

 
 
JASWANT TAKES SANGH STAGE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Bangalore, Aug. 12: 
Had foreign minister Jaswant Singh worn khaki shorts with white shirt he would still have looked the odd man out in a conclave for Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh activists. In the event, he turned up in his trademark cotton trouser and sleeves-rolled-up shirt looking very much the odd man out, but odder still was the fact that he had turned up at all.

Jaswant Singh’s relations with the Sangh have been less than courteous and so far the foreign minister stands unaccused of having ever tried to make them any better. By addressing a group of overseas delegates at the end of their training camp organised by the RSS on the outskirts of Bangalore, he set tongues wagging about the moderate face of the BJP trying to make peace with hardliners, or at least putting up a diplomatic countenance for their benefit.

If there are precedents of Singh taking the centrestage, like today, at an RSS conclave, no one could recall them. But his hosts did not betray any signs of considering his presence and salutations to the gathering of swayamsevaks as anything out of the ordinary at all.

“I am truly honoured to be here. I go back enriched from this experience,” Singh said. In return, he won accolades for building India’s assertive image on the international stage from a gathering blessed by the presence of Sangh chief H.V.Seshadri.

Speaking to reporters later, Singh declined comment on the progress of talks between the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan in Colombo.

   

 
 
ON SECOND RAMP OF FASHION 
 
 
FROM CHANDRIMA BHATTACHARYA
 
Mumbai, Aug. 12: 
At the New York Fashion Week, about a 100 designers – the gods of international fashion — take part. The models are gawked at by the biggest buyers of the rag trade. A big show by a big name can cost between $200,000 and $500,000. More than a thousand journalists from all over the world descend there to cover 92 shows: 10 to 13 per day.

At the Lakme India Fashion Week, which wrapped up today, there were 44 designers from various parts of the country. As indigenous retailers and store-owners – the event was planned to target them — flirted with the designers’ labels, sniffing at the high prices, Selfridges from London created upheavals just by being here. The designers had to pay no more than a lakh for solo shows – the rates looked subsidised by the government.

There were only about 25 journalists from abroad, heavily courted, even by their counterparts from here. Shows numbered 27: three to five per day.

Almost every figure seemed to exaggerate how small – even presumptuous – an event like an Indian fashion week looked when pitted against the circuit – Paris-Milan-London-New York. There was not even much style — except in spots like Tarun Tahiliani — but a lot of bhangra-style clothing, unaffordable sequined salwar kurtas, ghaghra-cholis and saris, masquerading as reasonably-priced prêt-a-porter (ready-to-wear), many sniggered.

But the organisers are not disappointed, because India has company. The Indian show belongs to the “other” fashion weeks of this earth.

“The event here is a lot like the one held in Sao Paolo,” said Fern Mallis, executive director, New York Fashion Week, who was here for a dekko. “There the show was 99 per cent Brazilian. It is the same in Mumbai,” she said.

Fashion weeks are sprouting all over the world — in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Korea and Brazil. They are not more than 10 to two years old. A fashion week has in all probability started in Argentina, Mallis said.

The major difference between these and the New York-Paris-London-Milan events is that the newer ones are meant basically for the domestic market, she added.

“Another big difference from the international shows is that there the designers work closely with the textile industry,” Mallis said. “The fashion week in Sydney is a sophisticated show,” she added.

However, the Indian event is only two years old, Mallis soothed, and, therefore, on the learning curve. But the week has placed Indian on the right route to world fashion, she said. Though the road remains long and winding.

   

 
 
RABRI HEMS & HAWS OVER RELIEF CENTRE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, Aug. 12: 
The storm of anger at the Rabri Devi government over the death in police firing of 12 people seeking flood relief has gathered force with revelations that the state failed to utilise Central funds to set up a relief management centre.

The state had to return the funds last year as it could not open a disaster mitigation management centre. In fact, it is still undecided where to locate it.

Delhi proposed setting up the centres following a world disaster report drafted at an international convention in Virginia. Accordingly, the National Institute of Rural Development decided to open disaster mitigation management centres in all states. The Bihar centre was supposed to come up in Patna. But while such centres are already operating in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat, the Rabri Devi dispensation is yet to decide on a location.

“The plan for the centre was kept pending because we did not find the right institution in the state to run it from. Initially, we had decided to run it from the Administrative Training Institute, and then we were toying with the idea of starting it from the Institute of Rural Development. But both of them went to Jharkhand after the bifurcation. So we had to wait again for the next suitable place,” said relief and welfare commissioner Girish Shankar.

After a round of discussions, the state had decided to open the centre at the A.N. Sinha Institute. However, sources alleged that the decision has been pending as a high-profile NGO in Patna is lobbying to run the centre. “Like many other major decisions, the state government failed to act quickly on this,” said a senior officer. As a result, the Central funds — Rs 90 lakh — had to be returned.

The centres are supposed to train relief workers, help the government frame a disaster management plan and inspire preparedness for disasters.

Although Bihar suffers annually from both natural and man-made calamities, the state has shown little preparedness in the past. Bad relief management led to the police firing on relief seekers in Muzaffarpur in north Bihar last week.

“There have been occasions when the air-dropping was unplanned and ill-conceived. The food packets often fell in dirty nullahs, the flood water or places far off from the shelters,” said Sachindra Narayan, an expert on disaster mitigation management.

With twin disasters — floods in the north and drought in the central areas — staring the state in the face, the need for the centre is being felt strongly. Even government officers admit the need for direction in relief measures, particularly when specialised NGOs, like Care India, have pulled out of the state.

   

 
 
JAYA LANDS, PLASTIC BROOM IN HAND 
 
 
FROM M.R. VENKATESH
 
Chennai, Aug. 12: 
When the local media splashed a picture of ADMK boss Jayalalitha wielding a broomstick, it was no sweeping political message that she wanted to convey. It was her way of kick-starting a statewide “no to plastics” campaign by urging people to use eco-friendly products.

A mobile exhibition which Jayalalitha opened is now doing the rounds in the city’s schools and colleges to convince the young and the impressionable to kick the “imported throwaway culture”.

The “anti-plastic publicity vehicle” displays a range of eco-friendly alternatives like cloth and paper bags. The publicity campaign seems to have converted quite a few. “We are getting a very good response from the students,” an official of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board said today.

“Previously, in temples, prasad used to be given in thonnais (cups made of plantain leaf). So, why should they now be put in plastic packets? We don’t want these throw-away plastic products,” the official added.

He said plastic when burnt harms the environment and when indiscriminately thrown clogs underground drains. “We don’t have enough land-fills and the material is not bio-degradable.” According to him, food articles should also never be kept in plastic containers as there is no way of knowing “whether they are virgin plastics or recycled plastics”.

But the anti-pollution board’s pro-activism has triggered a counter-campaign by manufacturers of plastic products and the merchants’ association here, which yesterday organised a rally to protest against the proposed move to ban plastics in the state and to counter what they called “disinformation” on the use of plastic products. There are about 4,500 plastic-making units in Tamil Nadu with an employee strength of nearly eight lakh. The manufacturers also claim an annual turnover of Rs 125 crore.

“When the Centre imposed a rule that plastic bags should have a minimum thickness, we welcomed it,” said a member of the merchants’ association to back up his point that plastic bags with a certain thickness can be recycled.

The association maintains that the “scare” being created about plastic containers is “unfounded”. Instead of a straight ban, “let the state government appoint an expert committee and get its view”, said a representative of the plastic manufacturers. “After all, one of the largest research facilities in South Asia, the Central Institute of Plastics Engineering and Technology, is in Chennai and there are also polymer experts in IIT Chennai.”

   
 

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