Case fate uncertain, varsity takes astrology plunge
Uneasy allies test waters to regroup
BJP chooses Rajnath over Atal as mascot
Engineering seat glut in TN
Sonia yatras for UP comeback
The writer who would be activist
TV ratings under cloud
SC decision shakes Jaya throne
Health policy pill for globalisation
Mahanta puts in papers

Lucknow, Sept. 4: 
Lucknow University has decided to step up the process of setting up a Jyotir Vigyan (astrology) department by the end of the month according to the University Grants Commission’s recommendations.

The university’s move comes in the wake of the Supreme Court notices to the human resources development ministry and the UGC on a petition by three scientists, questioning the move and seeking to quash the “giant leap backwards”. Non-BJP chief ministers had met recently to discuss attempts by the Centre to “saffronise education”.

Maintaining that the astrology course would be in place by the end of the month, A.K. Kalia, head of the Sanskrit department, said: “After years of neglect, we are finally reviving the science of astrology. It’s time we did something about it. The decision hasn’t come a day too soon.’’

The astrology department, which will be part of the arts faculty, will have one professor, a reader and two lecturers. In a meeting attended by vice-chancellor D.P. Singh and dean of arts Surendra Singh, it was decided that the course would be introduced in the post-graduate level during this semester and undergraduate and research levels from the next academic session.

It is learnt that the UGC has granted Rs 15 lakh to Lucknow University to introduce the course.

The varsity has approached five universities — Lal Bahadur Shastri Sanskrit Vidhyapeeth, Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidhyapeeth, Jagannath Sanskrit University, Sampoornanand Sanskrit University and Kashi Hindu Vidhyapeeth — to help prepare the astrology curriculum. Sanskrit teachers and scholars from various varsities in the country will camp in Lucknow University to ensure that the project takes off without hiccups.

Efforts are on to draw up the course by September 10 and table it before the board of studies of the Sanskrit and Prakrit languages by September 12. The course will include Jyotish Sidhanta, Falit, Jatak Samhita and Rekha Ganit among other vedic sciences.

The faculty members of the varsity, who do not hide their fondness for the RSS, are hoping of an early launch.

The UGC had on February 23 written to universities in the country to introduce astrology at undergraduate, post-graduate and research levels.

It had asked the universities to send in their proposals by March 15. Thirty-five universities had applied to the UGC for funds to set up the department and Lucknow University was the first to do so.


New Delhi, Sept. 4: 
Sceptical of the truce brokered by the Prime Minister’s troubleshooter George Fernandes, restive allies have started exploring the possibility of regrouping themselves to challenge the hegemony of the BJP.

Two Biju Janata Dal ministers yesterday called on Sharad Yadav, who was shunted from civil aviation to labour, to express sympathies with him. Ram Vilas Paswan, another disgruntled minister, too, was in touch with Yadav.

A senior Samata Party leader and Rajya Sabha MP, Dayanand Sahay, today fired the first salvo at the Prime Minister. Sahay claimed that Atal Bihari Vajpayee changed the portfolios of Paswan and Yadav under pressure from corporate houses. He said Vajpayee is the Prime Minister of a coalition and he could exercise his prerogative only if he was leading a single party. “There is no prerogative involved. It is a coalition government and he has violated the coalition culture,” Sahay said.

He added that the allies were in touch with each other and the day may not be far off when they come together.

“He (Fernandes) washed and washed and made untouchable BJP touchable. In the process, he himself has become untouchable,” said Sahay, expressing the hope that the former defence minister will now see through the BJP’s “game”.

Some allies are pinning their hopes on Fernandes who, a year ago, had tried in vain to bring erstwhile socialist groupings under one umbrella. However, the Samata Party leader, himself in a bind after Tehelka, is unlikely to antagonise the saffron leadership. Fernandes had spoken to Paswan on Sunday, but that was to mollify him, sources said.

But a group of allies feels that if the BJP delays Fernandes’ rehabilitation in the Cabinet, he would eventually emerge a rallying point for the dissatisfied partners.

Though Fernandes has managed to soothe the sulking allies for the time being, there is a growing awareness among them that the BJP is out to finish them. According to the year-old abortive plan, Fernandes wanted to bring together parties like the Janata Dal (United), the Biju Janata Dal, the then Lok Shakti, the Trinamul Congress and the PMK to keep the BJP in check.

The conglomeration would have had about 50 MPs. However, instead of uniting, the parties splintered further, much to the delight of the BJP.

In the Bihar context, realignment of forces is meaningless unless Paswan and Samata’s Nitish Kumar bury political rivalries. “Fernandes should bring Paswan and Kumar together, if he really wants a realignment to take place,” said a Janata Dal (United) leader.

Jharkhand infighting

The BJP high command has decided to expedite the process of organisation polls to prevent hostilities between the Jharkhand government and the party from turning into an open war of attrition, reports our correspondent from Ranchi.

The confrontation between the two resurfaced when BJP state president Dukha Bhagat served a notice on party Ranchi district president Nirbhay Singh for expelling spokesman Sanjay Seth and two others. Singh had expelled Seth for allowing the party office to be used by BJP MP Ramtahal Chowdhary, who openly criticised the chief minister and some of his colleagues.

Party insiders say the Bhagat Singh battle is a proxy war between chief minister Babulal Marandi and BJP rebel MPs led by Ramtahal Chowdhary, an MP from Ranchi. Singh reportedly chose a soft target to send a message to the rebels that actions such as that of Chowdhary would not be tolerated. Bhagat retaliated by serving a notice on Singh.


New Delhi, Sept. 4: 
He is Lucknow’s best known face in the Lok Sabha and outside. But for “reasons of strategy”, the BJP has decided that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will be kept in the “background” and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Rajnath Singh brought on centrestage for the Assembly polls.

Since the BJP expects the Assembly polls to be fought largely on state issues, its think-tank believes that it is “politically expedient” to project Singh — who took over as chief minister a year ago — as its mascot. Sources said he would be packaged as a “dynamic, go-getting” chief minister.

The BJP plans to hype the three “major” achievements of Singh: his “fight” against corruption, particularly the way he got rid of a heavyweight ally like Naresh Aggarwal of the Loktantrik Congress Party, his pro-teacher and pro-trader moves, and the special reservation quota for the most backward castes (MBC) and the Most backward Dalits.

A BJP general secretary claimed that the chief minister had more “surprises” to spring before the election but refused to divulge them. Party sources said Singh might sack another lot of allegedly corrupt ministers to strengthen his “commitment” to fight corruption.

Although the decision on the MBC quota was being peddled as Singh’s “trump card” at the BJP headquarters, state party sources were sceptical.

“The Hukum Singh commission (on whose report the new reservation policy was based) has revealed that Yadavs (Ahirs) form 19 per cent of the population, while the Kurmis and Lodhs form seven and three to four per cent, respectively.

This chunk of 29 per cent has been allotted a reservation quota of just 14 per cent, while the remainder has been given to the extremely backward castes.

In one stroke, Singh has given the message that this 29 per cent does not matter in his political scheme. Add to this the 15 per cent Muslim population and you have the 44 per cent whose votes we will not get,” explained sources.

A senior BJP functionary said the success of the “MBC card” would depend on Singh’s ability to project leaders from these castes and giving the MBCs a fair share of the tickets. There is concern over the manner in which the BJP’s main rivals, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, have sought to counteract the plank.

“Their leaders are asking whether the BJP will distribute tickets to the MBCs in proportion to their population. This can be done at the risk of antagonising the upper castes,” the leader said. If the rival parties’ counterpoint catches on, Singh’s gambit could fail, sources admitted.

As for propping up MBC leaders, BJP sources conceded that given the possibility of the polls centering around Singh, it was unlikely he would “share the spotlight” with anyone else.

Right now, the BJP has focused its energies on galvanising its cadre to spread Singh’s message on the MBCs and other issues across the state.

The first step is to put out the spin that thanks to the chief minister’s “dynamism”, the BJP was all set to emerge as the number one party bagging close to 170 seats.


Chennai, Sept. 4: 
Despite the increasing clamour for admissions to professional colleges, more than 16,800 engineering college seats have fallen vacant in Tamil Nadu this academic year.

Tamil Nadu education minister M. Thambidurai attributed this incredible surplus of seats mainly to the All-India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) “suddenly granting approval” to 66 self-financing engineering colleges in the state this year. He added that creation of additional seats in the popular branches and offering new courses are also responsible for the glut.

The minister lamented that there was neither any consistency in the AICTE approach of giving the go-ahead for setting up new colleges, nor in its procedure of consulting the state government before clearing the establishment of the institutions.

Thambidurai pointed out that then human resources development minister P.V. Narasimha Rao had, in 1986, assured that states would be consulted by the AICTE before the approval of new colleges. However, the council consulted state governments on this issue “only when they desired”, he added.

The minister underscored the need for greater consultation to ensure quality education in professional colleges and ruled out lowering the qualifying marks to help fill the “lapsed seats”.

Stating that none of the government colleges had any vacant seat, Thambidurai said it was only the self-financing engineering colleges that were straddled with thousands of “lapsed seats” this year.

They might have some apprehension about losing money with unfilled capacities, but the managements of the private institutions could offset this by offering the “unfilled seats” in the second year of the respective courses to diploma holders, he explained.

The minister assured TMC member C. Gnanasekharan, in the Assembly today, that Tamil Nadu’s HRD plan has not gone awry, though there are no takers for as many as 16,819 seats in 222 engineering colleges in the state. This is nearly five times more than the 3,549 unfilled seats last year.

With Tamil Nadu having one of the largest intake capacities in the country for engineering and polytechnic education, the total seat capacity has risen to 62,944 in these institutions, which include one regional engineering college, 11 government or government-aided colleges, four deemed universities, and 208 self-financing colleges.

The Jayalalitha government has decided to bring all the engineering colleges under the roof of one technological university.

The system of admission, based on the students’ performance in the common entrance examination, has brought within its ambit 57,187 seats in the current year. Of these, there were only 40,368 actual admissions.


New Delhi, Sept. 4: 
Aau ab laut chalen” is the new mantra of the Congress, pleading with voters in Uttar Pradesh to return to the party which has been out of power for the past 11 years.

Sonia will lead the campaign from the front, said Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Sriprakash Jaiswal. She will spend a day each in six yatras, beginning on September 15 from Saharanpur. She will also go to Ballia, Deoria, Varanasi, Lalitpur and Gautam Budh Nagar. These yatras would culminate in Lucknow on September 30, where Sonia will address a “maha rally”. The yatras are likely to touch all the 400 Assembly constituencies and cover 80 per cent of the blocks.

Falling behind the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the BJP in poll surveys, the Sonia-led Congress is counting on the development plank.

“Uttar Pradesh was in eighth spot in the economic development index when the Congress was voted out in 1989. It has now slipped to 19th spot. It is for voters to decide if they have gained anything from the Mulayam Singh, Mayavati, Kalyan Singh and Rajnath Singh regimes,” Jaiswal said.

The UPCC chief admitted that the party did not appear to be in contention for power but kept a brave face. “Once the voters realise we are in contest, things would change. The elections are still months away. We will turn the tables,” he said.

The Congress is organising a day-long minorities’ meet in Aligarh on Thursday. Aligarh is historically considered a nerve-centre of Muslim political thinking, courtesy the Aligarh Muslim University.


New Delhi, Sept. 4: 
Vijay Tendulkar waits and watches and absorbs till all of it wells up inside him to such a level that he simply bursts forth. That is how he writes, with all the coarseness of the world around him. It is the reportage of the crude, the way his world is.

More than a decade-and-a-half ago, such a force welled up inside him, and in one volcanic burst, he wrote Kamla, the play inspired by Ashwini Sarin’s expose in The Indian Express in 1980, of the flesh market in Morena, northern Madhya Pradesh, and, by extension, in the country.

Tendulkar’s Kamla went farther. “I have been a journalist and I followed the story, of course,” Tendulkar recalls. “But it was a small news item that had come out after the Express story, that impelled me to write. Apparently, the woman, Kamla, was kept in the house of the reporter for a day before a press conference in which the story was announced. That night, I read, Kamla asked the reporter’s wife how much had her husband paid to ‘buy’ her.”

In a torrent of creativity, Tendulkar wrote a play that questioned if the Kamla of the newspaper story was much different from the middle class wives and women, who read of her, aghast at her plight. Years later, Tendulkar, distinctly older and — though he denies it — more cynical, finds himself at a similar cross-road.

“The Tehelka story, now... it shows how things have not changed, cannot change for the Indian woman. At the same time, I am acutely aware how the question of ethics, the fact that sex workers were used by the reporters to uncover a story, is there. The incident by itself is objectionable. At the same time, there is a conscious effort to distract from the real story. That should not be allowed to happen. Such things — buying and selling of women — continue to happen,” Tendulkar lets it flow.

He is in Delhi to receive the second Katha Chudamani award, presented by the literary foundation and publisher, Katha, to writers for a lifetime of work. The first went to the Hindi writer, Krishna Sobti.

At the moment, Tendulkar is coming to terms with the angst of a conscious and conscientious writer. He has not produced a play for some time now. “A book, I am now writing, might well turn into a novel,” he says.

“I am not cynical. I am feeling deceived. I am one of the people and the people do not know what is happening, what is being done to them, how they are being deceived. These politicians, they are hand-in-glove behind the screens. The people are being fooled.” Tendulkar speaks with such emotion and, yet, with such tiredness that it begs the question — Is he turning activist?

In the evening, after receiving the award from Mahasweta Devi, he says he envies Mahasweta and her activism. “I wish I were an activist and a writer. I wish I had made a difference to the life of even one person. I believe much of what I have done is futile.”

Age and personal tragedies is taking its toll on the mindset of one the most powerful writers of Indian fiction. The man who wrote Aakrosh and Manthan and Ghasiram Kotwal and Sakharam Binder — the last so shocking to the beautiful people with its story of the man, who lived off harassed, destitute women, — is today seeking succour that written words cannot deliver.


New Delhi, Sept. 4: 
Broadcasters went into a huddle and advertisers looked askance after a television channel today claimed that it had evidence that indices used to measure the popularity ratings of television programmes could be rigged.

Television Rating Points (TRPs) are provided by two viewership monitoring agencies — TAM, owned by IMRB, an arm of advertising major HTA, and INTAM, a wing of the market research firm, ORG-MARG.

TRPs serve as a benchmark that help decide where television advertising revenue should go. The rating systems have been criticised because the sample size is too small and non-representative.

The Indian Broadcasting Foundation, the organisation that represents most television channels, has called an emergency meeting in Mumbai on Friday after CNBC, a business news channel, put out a press release claiming that it has been able to acquire a whole list of sample households in Mumbai — who are regularly surveyed to arrive at the ratings — of both TAM and INTAM.

“Ultimately, it is a Rs 2,500 crore (Rs 25 billion) question. Advertisers play for the big stake on television based on TRP ratings provided by the two viewership monitoring agencies, TAM and INTAM. But what if the families, who stock their “people meters” and provide the agencies the crucial television viewing data, could be induced by an interested party to spend more time on one programme than its rival?” CNBC asked.

The channel claimed this was possible because the list of households surveyed was accessible. “The potential for twisting reality goes up steeply given the fact that the sample sizes taken by the agencies in metropolitan cities happen to be only a few hundred households,” CNBC claimed.

Currently, the top five programmes rated by both TAM and INTAM run on the Star Plus channel. They include Kaun Banega Crorepati and Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi.

“Confidentiality is the bedrock of an exercise like TRP measuring so it is disturbing to note that it (the list) is available to all people,” said the president of Advertising Agencies Association of India, Ramesh Narayan.


New Delhi, Sept. 4: 
Jayalalitha came under heavy fire in the Supreme Court today, with the petitioners challenging her elevation as chief executive of Tamil Nadu by equating the move to that of a dacoit or a convicted murderer being sworn in as chief minister.

Leading jurists pleaded against the Governor’s move after the Supreme Court refused to vacate the stay on Madras High Court hearing Jayalalitha’s appeals and allowed proceedings before its five-member Constitution bench, where her appointment despite conviction has been challenged.

The bench, led by Justice S.P. Bharucha and including Justice Y.K. Sabharwal, Justice G.B. Pattanaik, Justice Ruma Pal and Justice Brijesh Kumar, decided to go ahead with the hearing of the six petitions, rejecting a plea by Jayalalitha’s counsel K.K. Venugopal that the case be adjourned.

Attorney-general Soli Sorabjee, jurist and Rajya Sabha member Fali Nariman, amicus curiae in the hawala case Anil Divan, former attorney-general Ashok Desai and solicitor-general Harish Salve, argued that a convicted murderer or a dacoit could be sworn in as chief minister if the clause “any person” could be sworn in for six months was allowed.

Jayalalitha’s case is unique — for the first time, a convicted person has been sworn in as chief minister.

B.R. Kapur, an apex court lawyer, is the main petitioner, challenging Jayalalitha’s appointment. The petitions of Pratap Singh Chautala, brother of Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala, DMK activist V. Selvaraj, public interest litigant B.L. Wadhera and Janata Party chief Subramanian Swamy have been clubbed.

Divan, appearing for Chautala, wondered whether the constitutional rule of law has become so weak in India that “a convicted murderer or a dacoit can be appointed not only as a minister, but also as a chief minister and even as a Prime Minister of India...”. He said Section 8 of the Representation of People’s Act was equal to Article 191 (1)(e) as it barred a disqualified person from being a minister or chief minister.

At this, Justice Pal observed whether it was like “swearing in a terrorist in, say for example, Jammu and Kashmir as the chief minister”. Nariman, representing Selvaraj, said a governor could appoint a person chief minister even if that person was not a member of the Assembly. But that person could not be appointed if he or she was disqualified from being chosen a member of the Assembly.

Sorabjee said if this “swearing in any person for six months proposition continued”, it would strike at the roots of India’s democratic polity. A foreign national could say he or she would become an Indian citizen within six months and could be sworn in as chief minister. An insolvent person could also say he would clear his insolvency within six months and he could be sworn in chief minister. A 24-year-old man could say he would attain the age of 25 in six months, so he could be sworn in.


New Delhi, Sept. 4: 
Conceding that health-care is in a shambles in north India, the government today announced a national health policy to meet the pressures of globalisation and the WTO regime.

The ministry had put together a draft several months ago in consultation with state representatives. Since the challenges of globalisation have grown more formidable, health minister C.P. Thakur said he would petition the finance ministry to raise the budget allocation for his ministry from 5.2 percent to 6 percent of the GDP.

“The current annual per capita public health expenditure in the country is no more than Rs 160 and public health investment as part of the GDP has fallen from 1.3 per cent in 1990 to 0.9 per cent in 1999,” said Thakur.

One area of thrust in the document is neutralising the harsh impact of globalisation on medical care and drugs.

“We take into account the serious apprehension expressed by health experts of a possible threat to health security, in the post-TRIP era, because of sharp increase in prices of drugs and vaccines,” says the health policy document.

The government has proposed a “national patent regime” which will ensure accessibility to the latest medical and therapeutic treatments.

The policy also states that the government will use its influence in international fora like UN, WHO and WTO to lessen the burden of TRIP in the health sector.

The draft aims high — an increased financial outlay for the health sector, revamping the public health-care system, motivating doctors and toning up research to lighten the burden of the WTO regime. The health minister, however, was unable to explain how he would motivate doctors who did not attend to their duties.

“In large tracts of north India, no set of health services are offered and there is also no demand for it,” said health ministry officials.

As government investment in public health has been faltering, disparities between the north and the south — the non-performing and the performing states have become more glaring.

“The statistics put out by us reveal wide differences between the attainments of health goals in the better-performing states as compared to low-performing states,” states the document.

It points to “uneven” access to health-care between the well-heeled and the vulnerable sections of society. “This is particularly true for women, children and the socially-disadvantaged sections of society,” underlined the health document.


Guwahati, Sept. 4: 
In a deft political manoeuvre, scandal-hit former chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta today resigned as president of the AGP and legislature party leader to deny his detractors the upper hand in the crucial general house meeting on Thursday.

Today’s development left the AGP without Mahanta at the helm for the first time since the party’s inception in 1985. After its defeat in the May elections, the party has been passing through the worst phase of its 16-year existence.

Though Mahanta’s quitting the party’s top post had become almost a foregone conclusion in the wake of the bigamy charge against him, the timing took Mahanta-baiters in the party by surprise.

The anti-Mahanta camp was planning to nail the former chief minister at the September 6 meeting, called exclusively to discuss the bigamy charge, hurled by an Assembly secretariat employee, Sanghamitra Bharali.

Party spokesman Moidul Islam Bora said Mahanta’s resignation had “nothing to do with the bigamy allegation”, but there was little doubt what the former chief minister meant by the “personal problems” he cited in his letter.

Except for a few trusted aides, no one had any inkling of the developments as Mahanta arrived at the party headquarters this morning and left just as quickly, after handing over the letter to interim president Biraj Sharma. Mahanta had earlier handed over charge to Sharma for “two months”.

“Keeping in mind the interests of the party with which I have been associated since its birth, I am resigning from the post of party president due to personal problems,” Mahanta said in his letter addressed to Sharma. Sharma said “a final decision” will be taken by the executive committee tomorrow. But going by the mood in the party, acceptance of the resignation will only be a formality.

Former education minister Brindabon Goswami, tipped to succeed Mahanta as party president, today said he was “ready to accept the responsibility” if chosen.


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