CM readies for court war on WTO
HC scans Purulia release
Identity barb at Trinamul
BJP on Panja dais
Jaundice spreads in Hooghly
Polo diplomacy push to defence ties with US
Venkaiah on toes over power games
Vajpayee raises UP poll stakes
Shirtless shock for ladies
House salutes art of today

 
 
CM READIES FOR COURT WAR ON WTO 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Aug. 28: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today said he would take the Vajpayee government to the Supreme Court for not consulting the states before signing the World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreement on agriculture.

“By signing this agreement, the BJP-led government has invited disaster to the agriculture sector,” the chief minister said. Bhattacharjee pointed out that agriculture was a state subject and the Centre had no right to ignore the interests of its provinces.

Bhattacharjee said he had already received a missive from Tamil Nadu’s Jayalalitha on the issue, but he refused to disclose which other states had offered him support. “I am in touch with several of them and I will disclose their names at the right moment,” he said.

Asked whether the Supreme Court would pass judgment on an international protocol, the chief minister said: “I want the Supreme Court to say whether Delhi has acted legally while signing an agreement on a subject directly related to the rights of the states as far as our Constitution is concerned.”

He argued that the WTO agreement would destroy the country’s agricultural diversity. “Our farmers will be devastated once imported seeds, especially those of paddy, are dumped in our country at prices beyond their reach,” Bhattacharjee said.

He indicated that the case would be filed either by West Bengal only or by a group of like-minded states after the September 2 meeting of non-BJP chief ministers in New Delhi. “The September 2 meeting at Banga Bhavan will address the BJP’s education policy. The WTO will come after that,” the chief minister said.

Japan strategy

West Bengal will cash in on the recession in the Japanese industrial scenario so that companies there are interested in setting up shop here. The chief minister, who is leaving for a week’s visit to Japan on September 15, will speak to the heads of at least eight industrial corporations in Tokyo and Osaka.

“I want to take advantage of their economic situation and seek investments for Bengal,” he said.

   

 
 
HC SCANS PURULIA RELEASE 
 
 
BY OUR LEGAL REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 28: 
The high court today directed the superintendent of Alipore central jail to appear before it and clarify how and why the five Latvians involved in the Purulia armsdrop case were released though cases were pending against them in the court.

The Latvians were released early this year following a mercy order from President K.R. Narayanan.

The division bench of Justice N.A. Chowdhury and Justice N.C. Seal said when the hearing of the appeal filed by the Latvians against the verdict of the city sessions court sentencing them to life had came up for hearing before the high court, the petitioners’ counsel, Shernik Singhvy, said the appellants had been released from jail and they already left India.

“Singhvy was directed to place the order of this court or any other court asking the jail authorities to release the Latvians, but he was absent on every occasion when the matter was called for hearing,” the court said.

The bench said that since the lawyer failed to inform the court about the order on the basis of which the guilty persons were released, the court had no other alternative but to ask the jail superintendent to appear before the court and tell the real story.

The bench directed the superintendent of Alipore jail or any other jail in which the Latvians were kept after the pronouncement of sentence by judge P.K. Biswas of the city civil and sessions court last year to appear before it on September 10 at 10.30 am.

The judges also passed a directive allowing Peter Bleach, the main accused in the armsdrop case, to appear before the court at noon on September 21 to argue his case. Bleach had earlier written a letter to the secretary of the chief justice of the high court, seeking permission to argue his case in person.

The bench directed Singhvy to file an affidavit by September 10 affirming his submission informing the court that his clients were released from jail.

   

 
 
IDENTITY BARB AT TRINAMUL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 28: 
The CPM today said it expected the administration to ensure that Trinamul Congress councillors, who had won the civic polls on the Congress ticket, resigned and sought re-election on moral grounds.

CPM state secretary Anil Biswas said political morality required such councillors to seek fresh mandate in the wake of the Congress decision to withdraw support from civic bodies jointly run by the party and Trinamul following Mamata Banerjee’s return to the NDA.

“Many of them won on the Congress ticket and showing cheap opportunism, shifted to Trinamul. We think they should resign on moral and legal grounds. If they do not, the administration should take prompt action against them,” Biswas said.

The CPM leader said his party would not exploit the situation to capture the civic bodies that were jointly run by the two parties because it was opposed to forming a board with Congress support.

“If they think we will approach them (Congress) for support, they are mistaken,” Biswas said. The CPM’s response came in the wake of speculation that it could team up with the Congress to run the civic bodies, encouraged by state Congress chief Pranab Mukherjee’s announcement terminating ties with Trinamul in the municipalities.

On Monday, the CPM state secretariat had formulated the party’s response to the rupture in Congress-Trinamul relations. While the party is determined not to seek support from the Congress, it does not want a political party with a thin majority to run the municipalities, Biswas said.

   

 
 
BJP ON PANJA DAIS 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Aug. 28: 
A day after Mamata Banerjee was readmitted to the NDA, the BJP’s West Bengal unit shared a platform with suspended Trinamul Congress MP Ajit Panja this morning to register its protest against the decision.

Party leaders said they had informed BJP president Jana Krishnamurthi about workers’ resentment against Mamata’s induction into the alliance when he was visiting the city recently.

The Trinamul Congress and the Panja faction today organised separate functions at University Institute Hall in north Calcutta and Sarat Sadan in Howrah to mark the 48th foundation day of Chhatra Parishad.

State BJP vice-president Muzaffar Khan, along with half-a-dozen party leaders from Howrah, attended Panja’s programme. “We have our reservations about Mamata since she ditched the NDA during the Assembly elections to tie up with the Congress,” he said.

   

 
 
JAUNDICE SPREADS IN HOOGHLY 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, Aug. 28: 
Concerned over the outbreak of jaundice at Uttarpara in Hooghly district, the government today held a meeting at Writers’ Buildings and sought a report from the chairman of Uttarpara-Kotrung municipality.

Nearly 1,000 people have been infected with the Hepatitis-A virus and their bilirubin count is between 3 and 10, far higher than the normal range of 0.1 to 1.

People living in Jaishankar Lane, Netaji Subhas Road, Shyasagar Mukherjee Lane, Amarendra Sarani and Shibtala Street are worst-hit.

Heads of Uttarpara Government High school, Uttarpara Girls’ School, Model School and Amarendra Vidyapith have been directed to check pipelines and clean reservoirs as the schools are located in the affected zone.

Over 100 students of Model School and Uttarpara Girls’ School are down with jaundice. Many students of Uttarpara Government High School and Little Flower School are also ill.

It is suspected that the water-borne disease, which has been wreaking havoc over the past two months, spread through contaminated filtered water supplied by the Uttarpara-Kotrung municipality.

   

 
 
POLO DIPLOMACY PUSH TO DEFENCE TIES WITH US 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, Aug. 28: 
If it was ping-pong which led to the historic thaw between China and the US in the 1970s, India’s defence establishment has now opted for polo as a route to contacts with the US army.

Heralding the resumption of regular exchanges between the defence set-ups of the two countries following the visit of the chairman of America’s joint chiefs of staff, General Henry H. Shelton, to India, a polo event here during this weekend will see the Indian army’s polo team playing against the “Blue Devils” of the US army.

Defence ministry officials in New Delhi are delighted that the two sides are resuming regular contacts with each other on the polo field. Structured exchanges between the two defence establishments are still controversial, both in India and the US.

In a one-off exception, a 50-member US army contingent is said to be undergoing training in counter-insurgency and jungle warfare at the Indian army’s Parvat Ghatak School at Vairengte in Mizoram since mid-July, but the American presence in the Northeast is shrouded in secrecy.

New Delhi had unequivocally denied any plans to train US army personnel at the school early this year. South Block’s secrecy stems partly from Chinese sensitivity to the idea of training US army men so close to China’s border with India in the Northeast.

In the US, military contacts with India are controversial because of the continuing American sanctions against India for its 1998 nuclear tests. The Pentagon is also deeply divided over the advisability of linking up militarily with India. Only last week, Peter Rodman, US assistant secretary of defence for international affairs, described the scope of US-India relations as limited. “India is not going to become an ally of the US. I think India values its independence. It values its non-alignment. So I don’t think anybody should expect that India is going to collude with us,” he said.

Rodman also cautioned against downgrading relations with Pakistan. “Our relationship with Pakistan is valuable to us. Pakistan has been an ally over many decades. I don’t think we, as a great power, should be dispensing with allies when, you know, we think conditions have changed.” He continued: “It (Pakistan) is an Islamic country in a very complicated region of the world. I think it is useful to the US to have a friend in that part of the world.”

Appropriately, this weekend’s polo contacts have also been given a veneer of political correctness here by designating the match as commemorating India’s contribution to UN peace-keeping during the Korean War half a century ago.

India and the US are now cooperating on peace-keeping and a Joint Working Group has been set up to exchange experiences in this effort and to coordinate UN peace-keeping work.

The weekend’s match is being hosted by the United Services Organisation (USO), which was founded in 1941 to provide services for the upkeep of the morale of the US forces posted abroad.

USO’s shows became controversial in India when Indian beauty queen Rita Faria entertained American troops in Vietnam along with Bob Hope during the long war in Indo-China.

The Indian army team will be led by the international polo star, Colonel Bhawani Singh. His team members will be Major S.S. Kashyap and Lieutenant Ravi Rathore. The USO Show Troupe of Metropolitan New York will perform after the match.

   

 
 
VENKAIAH ON TOES OVER POWER GAMES 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Aug. 28: 
With the Prime Minister launching a drive to refurbish the image of the BJP and the National Democratic Alliance before the do-or-die Uttar Pradesh polls, rural development minister M. Venkaiah Naidu appears to have become a pawn in a tug-of-war between Atal Bihari Vajpayee and party president K. Jana Krishnamurthi.

Official sources said Vajpayee was keen to send Naidu back to the party, hoping his return would infuse the “much-needed dynamism” in the party and ignite the cadre before Election Year.

Apart from Uttar Pradesh, the BJP faces Assembly polls in Punjab and civic elections in Delhi and Maharashtra early next year. Its stakes are high in all four states.

The sources said Naidu, who has barely spent a year in government, is unwilling to return to the BJP headquarters at 11 Ashoka Road. Naidu has instead suggested that the Prime Minister could constitute a group of “young ministers” to serve as a coordination mechanism between the BJP and the government and articulate the views of both.

Apart from himself, Naidu proposed that the group could include Pramod Mahajan, Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj. Naidu, Mahajan and Swaraj were part of L.K. Advani’s team of whizkids when he was party president.

Speculation of a big Cabinet reshuffle gained ground after a luncheon meeting yesterday between Vajpayee, Advani and Krishnamurthi at 7 Race Course Road.

Naidu’s possible reinduction into the party would be part of a bigger exercise, sources said. The context for this change was Krishnamurthi’s bid to assert his authority over the BJP unlike his predecessors, Kushabhau Thakre and Bangaru Laxman, both of whom were happy playing second fiddle to Vajpayee. Sources said Krishnamurthi’s call to the NDA to frame a code of conduct did not go down well with Vajpayee.

When Thakre was heading the party, Naidu virtually functioned as a shadow president and ensured that there was parity between what the government did and how the BJP reacted. The government feels this “balance” is getting topsy-turvy under Krishnamurthi.

Official sources said the Prime Minister might hold another meeting with Advani and Krishnamurthi before leaving for New York to attend the UN session on September 20. Thakre and Mahajan are also likely to be present.

A covert exercise is on to assess the performance of the BJP ministers before the reshuffle. “The Prime Minister will have a free hand this time. He has been in office for two-and-a-half years and the National Democratic Alliance has grown in strength. The next reshuffle will be a demonstration of his authority,” sources said.

It was hinted that several heads may roll, including those of Sunderlal Patwa, C.P. Thakur, Shanta Kumar and Satyanarain Jatiya, all Cabinet ministers. BJP sources have also raised questions about finance minister Yashwant Sinha’s survival chances.

   

 
 
VAJPAYEE RAISES UP POLL STAKES 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 28: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today conceded that the outcome of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls could have a bearing on the NDA government.

Addressing the BJP MPs in the last parliamentary party meeting of the monsoon session this morning, the Prime Minister urged them to take the UP election “very seriously” and work collectively for the party’s success.

Quoting Vajpayee’s speech, BJP spokesman V.K. Malhotra said: “The Uttar Pradesh polls are very important together with the Uttaranchal, Punjab and Delhi elections. All MPs should come forward and do whatever best they can for Uttar Pradesh.”

Malhotra quoted Vajpayee as saying while the NDA had added to its numbers at the end of the Parliament session with the reinduction of the Trinamul Congress and the Pattali Makkal Katchi and had trounced the Opposition in all the major debates, on their part the MPs should purvey the government’s achievements “properly” to the people and help create a “favourable” impression.

Malhotra said: “He told members that just before the session started there was a lot of sound and fury on how the ruling coalition would be cornered on important issues. It was said the Opposition had all the weapons in its arsenal to demolish the government. But the opposite happened, and it is the Opposition which was forced to bite dust. There was no coordination among the Opposition and it came across as a house badly divided.”

Vajpayee was quoted as saying that although the country was facing a “tough” economic situation, things were still in the Centre’s favour. He appealed to them to disseminate its “achievements”.

Although the Prime Minister did not list these “achievements”, Malhotra counted the treasury benches’ success in scoring brownie points over the Opposition in Parliament debates and Vajpayee’s yet-to-be-launched road yojana and schemes for farmers.

In his speech, Vajpayee also asked his MPs to prepare to face TV and parliamentary debates and check out libraries for the purpose. He also lauded parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan for “managing the monsoon session well and ensuring the passage of all the Bills we wanted”.

Farooq support

Two days after threatening to pull out from the NDA protesting against Vajpayee’s alleged insinuation against fairness of Valley polls, chief minister Farooq Abdullah tonight said his National Conference will continue to support the alliance at the Centre.

   

 
 
SHIRTLESS SHOCK FOR LADIES 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai, Aug. 28: 
It was a “shirtless spectacle” in the Tamil Nadu Assembly today. PMK MLA A. Murugavel Rajan caused a flutter when he entered the House without wearing a shirt in protest against the “injustice” meted out to Dalits.

Sitting through question hour for almost 40 minutes, the MLA, who left behind his shirt in the lobby, and attired only in the traditional dhoti, drew the ire of women ADMK members, who complained to the Speaker about Rajan’s action.

“How can we sit in the House when a male member attends proceedings without wearing proper dress. The PMK member’s action has offended the dignity of women members and hurt their sentiments,” social welfare minister B. Valarmathi said. Speaker K. Kalimuthu took objections to the PMK member’s “method of protest”. He said Rajan should have chosen some other form of protest.

Rajan, representing the Vandavasi constituency, said a Dalit leader, Ganesapandian, and three others were killed and that there was no protection for the community. He said the House was yet to take up his call-attention notice on the killings of Dalits in southern districts. Rajan was bitter that “Pallars”, a section of the Dalits concentrated there, had not been represented in the state Cabinet.

When the Speaker turned to PMK’s legislature party leader G.K. Mani for an explanation, the latter said that the member should explain his action. Rajan, on his part, said: “I, too, have sisters at home and my intention is not to embarrass anyone.”

   

 
 
HOUSE SALUTES ART OF TODAY 
 
 
FROM ELLA DATTA
 
New Delhi, Aug. 28: 
In a rare instance of patronage of contemporary art, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee unveiled a mural at the Parliament Annexe building. The mural called The Journey of India from Mohenjodaro to Mahatma Gandhi is painted by Delhi-based artist Jatin Das.

The mural, painted with oil on canvas, measures 68 feet by seven feet. It was commissioned by the Parliament Secretariat in 1998. Studio facilities were provided at site and it took Das three years to complete the mural. The commission is said to have had a budget of Rs 15 lakh. Das had the help of a young historian to provide information for conceptualising the mural and two assistants to help with the painting.

The presence of BJP politicians at the unveiling ceremony was in sharp contrast to the assault on Das by members of the Sangh parivar. About three years ago, Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena activists had protested abusively against a painting of M.F. Husain being shown at the Academy of Fine Arts and Literature, Delhi. When Das tried to defend the senior painter and asked the demonstrators to be calm, he was jostled and mauled by them. Women activists pulled at Das’ beard and manhandled him. The BJP blessings today is a far cry from the roughing up by the Sangh activists then.

Seen at the Parliament Annexe corridor were home minister L.K. Advani, minister of law and company affairs Arun Jaitley, minister of tourism and culture Ananth Kumar and minister Venkaiah Naidu. Also present were G.M.C. Balayogi, Najma Heptullah and Sonia Gandhi.

   
 

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