Pak wins prize and praise
Panchayat crown for a price
Jaya takes it out on Delhi
Mayavati inches towards BJP
Soiree bandh brunt on media
Rogues risk tusk loss

 
 
PAK WINS PRIZE AND PRAISE 
 
 
FROM IDREES BAKHTIAR AND KAY BENEDICT
 
Islamabad and New Delhi, Sept. 23: 
The US and Pakistan showered praise on each other after the sanctions were lifted, while India shrugged it off as a welcome but token gesture.

Pakistan said it was expecting more and wanted the remaining curbs – a legacy of the coup – to go but it termed last night’s waiver a “positive development” which will help strengthen the “mutually cooperative” relationship between the two countries.

America was generous in its applause, too. Secretary of state Colin Powell today lauded Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s decision to support the US offensive against Osama bin Laden as “courageous” and predicted that the military government would remain stable despite pressure from Muslim groups.

Powell also said he had no concerns about risks to Pakistan’s nuclear defence programme. “Everything I’ve seen over the past two weeks convinces me that President Musharraf made a courageous decision and he did it with full awareness of the potential domestic consequences,” he said.

“He is supported by all his military commanders and all others in the government, so I’m confident Pakistan will remain stable, and I have no concerns about their nuclear programme,” he added.

Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, Maleeha Lodhi, underscored her government’s commitment to back the US-led effort, and said the situation at home was calm.

Delhi said the sanctions waiver was on “expected” lines, but NDA convener George Fernandes said the step would not mean much unless restrictions on technology transfer were withdrawn. The Congress, too, said the decision would make no difference to India but the BJP found “psychological comfort”.

A former defence minister, Fernandes said the US had not done India any great favour “if it has only lifted the post-Pokhran sanctions”. He told reporters in Lucknow: “If restrictions on the transfer of technology, exchange of scientific knowhow and items of dual use have not been removed, lifting of sanctions do not mean much for us.” He, however, rejected suggestions that the US lifted the sanctions under Pakistani pressure.

Soon after the US decision was announced, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee held a meeting with external affairs and defence minister Jaswant Singh, finance minister Yashwant Sinha, home minister L.K. Advani and Planning Commission deputy chairman K.C. Pant.

Singh spoke with US deputy secretary of defence Paul Wolfowiez over phone. “It is a development which was expected. As far as the news is concerned, it is welcome news,” Singh said. Delhi is awaiting details of the formal announcement, he added.

The chairman of the AICC foreign affairs cell, Natwar Singh, said the sanctions were proving counter-productive for the US.

   

 
 
PANCHAYAT CROWN FOR A PRICE 
 
 
FROM M.R. VENKATESH
 
Madurai, Sept. 23: 
Ringed by rocky mountains, Aiyanarkulam, 40 km from here, has notched up a first in independent India. People of the seven hamlets of this panchayat, where bumpy muddy patches masquerade as roads, auctioned the panchayat president’s post on September 12, a week before nominations for the local bodies polls were to open in Tamil Nadu.

This is the first time that a price has been put on the post. Gram panchayat elections are fought on a non-party basis and often consensus candidates from the dominant caste, Thevar, are elected to avert a contest.

K. Bose, who bid Rs 5.43 lakh to pip 12 others to head the body, said the auction decision was taken by the villagers of all seven hamlets following a proposal being put forward a month earlier.

Elders at the Aiyanarkulam village square, abutting a huge peepal tree, mumbled: “Too much is being read into the auction aspect.”

Mused a Thevar: “Why is the government so curious about this? After all, we have no funds even for laying roads, providing drinking water or rebuilding our temple.” His grouse is not without reason. There are 2,000 households and not a pot of water, dismayed farmers complain of the government-run Alanganallur cooperative sugar mill not having paid cane arrears for nearly a year, and the panchayat has run up an electricity bill of Rs.1.8 lakh.

“Technically, Bose has been elected unopposed. The money that he raised, along with other members of his family, is a donation to renovate the dilapidated temple of Nally Kurumbar Samy,” said Ponchi Kodangi Thevar and Doraisamy Thevar. “We have not offered the traditional animal sacrifice to our community deities for the last 19 years,” they added.

The efforts of the elders to bring about reconciliation through the temple points to the underlying tension. During the 1996 panchayat elections, the first to be held in the state under the new Panchayati Raj Act, faction feuds had broken out. Many pucca houses were destroyed on both sides of the divide and FIRs are still pending against nearly 200 people. Fights even broke out over the allocation of the meagre panchayat funds, said A. Maayi Thevar, who heads the milk cooperative society.

“This time, when 13 people wanted to contest, we feared there might be at least 10 murders,” said Doraisamy Thevar. Hence, in a bid to restore peace, the Thevar elders made the renovation of the local temple the focal point of a possible way to resolve the dispute and unite everyone under a powerful cultural motif.

“We thought the animal sacrifice (5000 goats are axed to appease the gods) should be performed at least this year after renovating the temple to rid ourselves of the curse of a prolonged drought and for the gods to bless our progeny,” explained Doraisamy Thevar. “We called all 13 aspirants for the post and told them at the village assembly that whoever contributes the maximum to the temple renovation will be made the panchayat president unopposed,” he said.

On the appointed day, though the village elders had fixed a floor price of Rs 50,000, the first bid was Rs 3 lakh. The shouting, as in any auction hall, went on for the next three hours, recalled the auctioneer.

At one stage, the outgoing president’s son, Vijayan, emerged a top bidder at Rs 5,42,500. Then Bose, who had lost the 1996 election, threw his hat in the ring to take the bid up to Rs 5.43 lakh. With no further bid, Bose was declared the winner.

Bose, who will nominate the other panchayat ward members for Aiyanarkulam, has already given Rs 2 lakh. This has been kept in the village safe, which has four keys entrusted to four elders of the Thevar community.

“Strengthening or weakening democracy is one thing, but the motivation to renovate the temple will augur well for the unity and development of the village,” reasons Bose, cooling his feet at his small office in Usilampatti, when asked whether or not auctioning the post undermines democracy.

As the Thevars constitute a majority in these seven hamlets, everyone agreed to this mode of dispute resolution. However, if the caste composition is more complex as in other village panchayats, this sort of “auctioning” will be rejected, argues Shivakumar of neighbouring Chokkathevanpatti village, who is a post-graduate in finance.

The local CPM secretary is already squirming at the possibility of the Thevars attempting the same pattern at the panchayat union ward members election.

   

 
 
JAYA TAKES IT OUT ON DELHI 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai, Sept. 23: 
Two days after the Supreme Court verdict unseating Jayalalithaa, the ADMK has turned its ire against the Vajpayee regime in an offensive that avoids targeting the judiciary.

The anger seething in the party was given vent to with the party organising an impressive protest rally here today. It was to condemn what the ADMK termed the “conspiracy” by some individuals in the BJP-DMK combine at the Centre “to put an end to the functioning of Jayalalithaa as chief minister.

“Amma’s enemies will be nowhere and truth will triumph,” shouted party cadre as they walked through the dusty roads of north Chennai, carrying portraits, banners and placards hailing Jayalalithaa.

The electricity minister, D. Jayakumar, led the procession, in which the party’s organising secretary, K.A.Sengottaiyan, and other functionaries took part. The party has planned protest rallies tomorrow also.

The slogans raised by the rallyists and the posters, in particular, targeted Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, Union law minister Arun Jaitley, industry minister Murasoli Maran and the DMK president, M. Karunanidhi, suggesting that “they are behind this conspiracy”.

Reports of five more suicides, by either consuming poison or self-immolation, by party supporters in various districts have reached here.

Effigies of Vajpayee, Jaitley and Karunanidhi were burnt near the town bus-stand at Mayiladuthurai in Nagapattinam district by a group of ADMK volunteers early today.

A similar attempt to protest against the Vajpayee government by burning effigies at Sembanar Kovil in the same district was, however, prevented by police.

Jayalalithaa said in a statement today, she was deeply pained and grieved at the continuing suicide attempts by party cadre.

Appealing to them to maintain calm and not to resort to acts of self-annihilation, she said: “This is the time to take courage”. She also announced a help of Rs 50,000 to each family of the deceased.

   

 
 
MAYAVATI INCHES TOWARDS BJP 
 
 
FROM GAJINDER SINGH
 
Hoshiarpur, Sept. 23: 
Suggesting a possible realignment of forces in the heartland, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayavati today voiced support for Uttar Pradesh chief minister Rajnath Singh’s decision to pass the reservations Bill in the Assembly.

“The Bill is aimed at elevating the status of the backwards in the state and we support it,” Mayavati said at a rally in the Roshan Grounds here.

The former Uttar Pradesh chief minister lashed out at Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav for his decision to ask his legislators to resign from the Assembly en masse. “Mulayam Singh does not want the reservations Bill to be passed and that is why he asked his legislators to resign. The move has proved that the Samajwadi is hand-in-glove with the BJP in the state,” she said.

Mayavati questioned Mulayam’s claim of being a champion of the downtrodden. The Samajwadi, which is now talking of toppling the government, did not make a similar move before the Bill was passed, she alleged.

“We support the Uttar Pradesh government on the reservations Bill issue,” she declared. The BSP is seriously considering quitting the Assembly after October 17 “when the term of the House ends and morally the BJP should not continue in office after that”, Mayavati said.

The party would like to contest the polls in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Uttaranchal “independently”, she said. A BSP leader speaking on anonymity, however, said the party had been approached by the BJP in Uttar Pradesh and “talks for an alliance have begun”.

Today’s rally in Kanshi Ram’s stronghold was held to test the party’s hold over the backward castes in the state before the polls slated for early next year.

Speaking on the occasion, Kanshi Ram hoped that like in Uttar Pradesh the BSP will be able to unite the Dalit voters in Punjab.

   

 
 
SOIREE BANDH BRUNT ON MEDIA 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Burdwan, Sept. 23: 
The fury fanned by an illegal cultural function in Monteswar yesterday refused to die down with violence marking the 12-hour bandh called today in protest against yesterday’s police firing, which left 30 people injured.

Police had to open fire when the organisers of a musical soiree — members of the Trinamul Congress-affiliated Monteswar Bus Workers’ Union — clashed with them after being stopped from going ahead without permission from the district administration. At least 42 persons were arrested.

Trinamul activists took out a string of processions since early morning in support of the dawn-to-dusk bandh. They forced shop-keepers to down shutters and blocked several roads demanding removal of the officer-in-charge of Monteswar police station, Shyamal Biswas, and the block development officer, Sanjoy Das.

The situation worsened when police lathicharged protesters to clear main thoroughfares. The agitated activists ransacked two houses and assaulted reporters.

Officials said nearly 200 Trinamul supporters gheraoed two cars carrying a group of journalists when they reached the spot to cover the incidents.

Some of them were dragged out and beaten up. The injured reporters and their colleagues were escorted to two nearby houses by residents, but the enraged activists went after them and ransacked the houses.

The situation was brought under control when district superintendent of police B.N. Ramesh arrived with a large contingent.

Realising that the supporters’ rage could tarnish the party’s image, local Trinamul leader Swapan Debnath convened a press conference, where he apologised for the “unpleasant” incident. He condemned the attack on reporters and promised to look into it.

School poll turns violent

Two groups of guardians clashed over the election of school representatives through ballot in Kankinara, North 24-Parganas, forcing the police to fire three rounds of teargas shells and lathicharge to quell the mob.

Four persons were admitted to hospital with injuries and a large police contingent was pressed into service to bring the situation under control. The election at Himaytal Gorba High School was held later under police surveillance.

Hundreds of guardians had gathered in front of the school early on Sunday for the poll. “The two groups initially started arguing over some issue, which soon took the shape of a fight, forcing us to take stern action,” said district superintendent of police M. Hari Sen Verma.

The situation went out of control as the groups, facing off a few metres away from the school, began hurling stones at each other. “All of a sudden, someone hurled a bomb,” an eyewitness told the police. Within minutes, several men, identified as local goons, joined the pitched battle.

The police swung into action in the face of heavy brickbatting and later rounded up several persons.

   

 
 
ROGUES RISK TUSK LOSS 
 
 
FROM RANJAN LAHIRI
 
Burdwan, Sept. 23: 
Struggling to rein in the rogue tuskers roaming Bankura, the forest department has settled on a “toothless” campaign to deprive the tuskers of their pride and glory.

The operation began today with a tusker — one among a herd of 37 harassing residents of 60 villages in north Bankura — losing its ivory.

Forest officials, led by wildlife director Subrata Pal Chaudhuri, tranquilised the elephant with a double-dart blow and then sawed off its tusks early this morning. Enthused by the success of their plan, forest officials told The Telegraph that the mission to make more pachyderms tusk-less to minimise their potential to cause damage would continue.

The herd has been marauding in the villages of north Bankura for the past three weeks. Nityanandapur, Purushottampur and Amdiha, each with multiple attacks, head the list of the 60 villages terrorised by the elephants.

The elephants lie low during the day, but come out every night, said villagers. “Our entire crop of paddy spread over many acres has been destroyed by this herd,” said Swapan Murmu of Amdiha.

Forest officials said the elephants have come down from the Dalma forests. “The water table has been sinking and food sources have become scarce over the past few weeks because of the drought-like situation,” an official said, explaining the exodus.

The forest staff have had to walk a tightrope between the plight of the elephants who need their protection more then ever in the face of expanding human habitation and the rage of villagers ruined by the pachyderms’ ravenous hunger. There have been reports of several attacks on the officials by angry villagers, who feel they are not doing enough to tackle the menace.

A team of five officials, led by block ranger Salboni Mullick, was beaten up by villagers on Thursday. Forest offices in the area have also witnessed a series of demonstrations. Officials at the Hamidhati beat office were stumped when villagers descended on them recently, demanding that the forest department compensate them for the destruction wreaked by the marauding herds. The attacks and demonstrations have sparked panic among the forest staff with few willing to go to the fields and risk the villagers’ wrath, say officials.

   
 

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