Helipad rite heralds Modi reign
Bollywood turns Hollywood’s page
Samajwadi, UP govt on warpath
America comes between Roy and Rushdie
Britain joins

Gandhinagar, Oct. 7: 
Swearing-in ceremonies are traditionally held at the Raj Bhavan, the Governor’s house. Some to-be chief ministers have been known to prefer open-air venues.

But a helipad!

Narendra Modi made sure on the day of his swearing-in itself that he started as a new-age chief minister — flying straight into the company of Chandrababu Naidu, S.M. Krishna, Digvijay Singh and, according to some, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

Modi, who at 51 represents the the younger face of the BJP, was sworn in as the chief minister of Gujarat along with nine other members of his Cabinet at the helipad here in front of a crowd of around 50,000.

Cyber-Naidu had better watch out — the entire ceremony was webcast live for the benefit of the substantial non-resident Gujarati community.

Every BJP legislator was told to mobilise at least 5,000 supporters for the swearing-in as Modi wanted to begin with a bang.

A galaxy of Union ministers, chief ministers and senior journalists who are known to be close to the BJP was flown in to grace the occasion. At least three of the journalists — two from a single weekly magazine — even sat on the dais.

In a state where the memory of last Republic Day’s earthquake is still fresh, the ostentatious ceremony has not gone down well, giving the Opposition Congress a stick to beat the BJP with.

It boycotted the event — said to be the biggest ever swearing-in in Gujarat’s history — and said the ceremony cost Rs 4 crore.

The extravaganza stood in sharp contrast to what Modi had said a few days ago. He told his supporters to desist from the practice of putting out congratulatory advertisements in newspapers and send the money instead to quake-devastated Kutch.

Former Gandhinagar mayor and president of the BJP Mahila Morcha Bhavnaben Dave a Modi loyalist, justified the ostentation, saying: “Even if Modiji did not want it, his supporters are so excited at his elevation that they would not listen to him.”

Union ministers Arun Jaitley, Suresh Prabhu and Kashiram Rana, NDA convener George Fernandes, Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Rajnath Singh were among the guests brought in from outside.

Modi’s new team includes former chief minister Suresh Mehta, who had initially refused to work under a “junior leader” and two new faces, both known baiters of his predecessor, Keshubhai Patel. The others were in the Patel ministry as well.

If anyone thought that the powerful Patel lobby will rally round Keshubhai Patel, who was “ousted unceremoniously”, Modi proved them wrong.

He is going out of his way to woo the Patels, inducting five from the community into his ministry.

One of them, Nitin Patel, is a Keshubhai man, but appears to have played an important role in quelling the rebellion. The chief minister has also tried to strike a caste balance by taking in a Brahmin, Suresh Mehta, a Scheduled Caste Fakir Vaghela, a Kshastriya I.K. Jadeja and a tribal Kanji Patel.

The chief minister compromised by dropping the plan to select Jayanarayan Vyas, the former Narmada minister who was forced to resign after he called Keshubhai a “liar’’. The former chief minister put his foot down.


Mumbai, Oct. 7: 
With Asoka the book, a trend has been set in Bollywood.

Taking a cue from Hollywood, actor Shah Rukh Khan has come out with a coffee-table book documenting the making of his blockbuster on Emperor Asoka.

The book is the first of its type in Hindi filmdom, penned by Mushtaq Shiekh, a journalist-turned-scriptwriter and a Shah Rukh confidant.

Two other books on Devdas and Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham are already in the making, as Bollywood filmmakers begin to see them as a new way of drawing people to their films. “Such books have long been an effective marketing arm in Hollywood. Shah Rukh is now trying it out in Bollywood,” Mushtaq said. “Our book on Asoka is an absolute first in India.”

The book, Making of Asoka, is due out on October 10, two weeks before the film is set for a worldwide release. Soon after the film’s release, Shah Rukh plans to go on a book-reading tour of Calcutta, Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad. “The book is very much part of my dream that is Asoka, the film,” Shah Rukh said.

The trend-setting idea struck him long after director Santosh Sivan planted the seeds of Asoka in him on the roof of a train more than two years ago. The actor was shaking his legs to the beats of Chaiya Chaiya on the sets of Mani Ratnam’s Dil Se when Sivan, who was the cinematographer, asked him to give Asoka a shot. Shah Rukh was instantly hooked.

“That was typically Santosh’s way of bringing up his idea. No one else can do that,” Mushtaq said. The idea of a book on the film came much later.

It was about one-and-a-half years ago. The shooting of Asoka had just begun. Shah Rukh and Mushtaq were “chilling out” one evening at the end of a tiring day at Filmistan studio when the actor brought the idea up. “Hey, why not have a book,” he asked his friend. “If they can do it in the West, there is no reason why we cannot.”

Mushtaq lapped it up. “I love writing and I thought it was a good idea. It was something we had not done before. I mean, none of us in Bollywood,” he said.

The writer spent the next one-and-a-half years virtually on the road, trailing the Asoka unit and the cast from Igatpuri to Panchmari to Bhubaneswar to Jaipur. “It was a mind-blowing experience as the entire unit travelled from one location to another,” Mushtaq said.

Shah Rukh had only one advice for the budding writer: turn yourself into a camera, take the snaps through your eyes and then process them into words. “This is what I did, furiously writing on my laptop what I saw at the shoots, almost as soon as they were over,” Mushtaq said.


Lucknow, Oct. 7: 
With the Lucknow police raiding the Samajwadi Party’s headquarters on Friday, the war between Mulayam Singh Yadav and chief minister Rajnath Singh is breaking out into the open.

Charging the BJP with victimising party activists, the Samajwadi has served an ultimatum to the state government to release its workers from various prisons in the state, failing which they would gherao the Prime Minister and the home minister in New Delhi on October 16.

The state government had allegedly arrested 90 people, claiming that they belonged to the recently banned Students Islamic Movement of India. The Samajwadi Party, however, claims that most of those arrested were party workers wrongly accused of being Simi activists.

Moreover, the state government has also openly accused the Samajwadi of “engineering” the September 27 riots led by some Simi activists. Police maintain that some Samajwadi leaders were seen “inciting and fanning” the violence which left five persons dead. The party has been further charged with spreading rumours that the state administration had swooped down on Muslim clerics who were being arrested indiscriminately.

Taking the war to the Samajwadi camp, police teams from four police stations yesterday raided the Samajwadi Party’s Vikramaditya Marg office looking for three senior leaders who have been accused of leading rioters on September 27.

The police were looking for Mulayam’s brother, Shivpal Yadav, Arun Shanker Shukla and Shyam Kishore. Two of its leaders already arrested, Ravidas Mehrotra and Fakir Siddiqui, are currently lodged in the district jail.

The state home department denied there were any raids on the Samajwadi office.

Interestingly, though the police denied that FIRs had been filed against Shivpal Yadav and others, it is now common knowledge that FIRs were lodged on the day of the riots against these leaders, charging them with disrupting communal harmony, fanning communal hatred and breaking peace.

Even when the arrest of Shivpal Yadav could result in a serious law and order crisis, the state government seems ready to face the consequences.

“The law has to take its course as the charges against these Samajwadi Party leaders are very serious,” said a top police official on condition of anonymity.

Mulayam Singh Yadav today announced a jail bharo agitation that would continue till October 17. Accusing the BJP of “behaving like the Congress during Emergency,” Mulayam said the arrest of Samajwadi activists on false charges was aimed at terrorising party workers and breaking their morale.

Even as 50,000 legitimate Muslim voters had been removed from the voters’ list, Mulayam said there are one lakh fake voters registered in Lucknow alone. “We are going from door to door with voters’ lists to see to it that the BJP does not do any more mischief,” Mulayam said.


London, Oct. 7: 
Salman Rushdie has written a remarkably pro-American article which must be seen as an indirect rebuke to a fellow Indian he normally supports — Arundhati Roy.

Both were commissioned by the Guardian newspaper in London to give their points of view.

The author of The Satanic Verses, who has suffered from the threat of terrorism from Iran since 1989, has called his article Let’s get back to life.

The author of The God of Small Things called hers The Algebra of Infinite Justice.

Rushdie has tackled head-on the view held across the world, including among influential sections of the Indian intelligentsia, that America was somehow to blame for the blowing up of the World Trade Center because of its backing for Israel and dictatorial and undemocratic regimes (such as Pakistan). Rushdie, who now lives part of the time in New York with his girlfriend Padma Lakshmi, acknowledges that for America “it is time to stop making enemies and start making friends”.

But he adds — and this must be taken as a savaging of Arundhati – that “to say this is no way to join in the savaging of America by sections of the Left that has been among the most unpleasant consequences of the terrorists’ attack on the United States. ‘The problem with the Americans is’, ‘what the Americans need to understand...’ — there has been a lot of sanctimonious moral relativism around lately, usually prefaced by such phrases as these. The country which has suffered the most devastating terrorist attack in history, a country in a state of deep mourning and horrible grief, is being told heartlessly that it is to blame for its own citizens’ deaths”.

Arundhati’s argument, however, is as follows: “America is at war against people it doesn’t know (because they don’t appear much on TV). Before it has properly identified or even begun to comprehend the nature of its enemy, the US government has, in a rush of publicity and embarrassing rhetoric, cobbled together an ‘International Coalition Against Terror’, mobilised its army, its airforce, its navy and its media, and committed them to battle.”

She adds: “The trouble is that once America goes off to war, it can’t very well return without having fought one. If it doesn’t find its enemy, for the sake of the enraged folks back home, it will have to manufacture one.”

She goes on: “People are being asked to make two leaps of faith here. First, to assume that The Enemy is who the US government says it is, even though it has no substantial evidence to support that claim. And second, to assume that The Enemy’s motives are what the US government says they are, and there’s nothing to support that either.”

Arundhati describes the September 11 attacks as “unconscionable” but also says: “America’s grief at what happened has been immense and immensely public. It would be grotesque to expect it to calibrate or modulate its anguish. However, it will be a pity if, instead of using this as an opportunity to try and understand why September 11 happened, Americans use it as an opportunity to usurp the whole world’s sorrow to mourn and avenge only their own. Because then it falls to the rest of us to ask the hard questions and say the harsh things. And for our pains, for our bad timing, we will be disliked, ignored and perhaps eventually silenced.”

Although Rushdie has not mentioned Arundhati by name, his view clearly runs counter to hers. He states: “Let’s be clear why this bien-pesant (well thought out) anti-American onslaught is such appalling rubbish. Terrorism is the murder of the innocent; this time, it was mass murder. To excuse such an atrocity by blaming US policies is to deny the basic idea of all morality: that individuals are responsible for their actions.”

He develops this argument: “Furthermore, terrorism is not the pursuit of legitimate complaints by illegitimate means. The terrorist wraps himself in the world’s grievances to cloak his true motives. Whatever the terrorists were trying to achieve, it seems improbable that building a better world was part of it.”

However, Arundhati writes about the hijackers in America thus: “The world will probably never know what motivated those particular hijackers who flew planes into those particular American buildings. They were not glory boys. They left no suicide notes, no political messages, no organisation has claimed credit for the attacks. All we know is that their belief in what they were doing outstripped the natural human instinct for survival, or any desire to be remembered.”

Rushdie is not impressed and declares: “The fundamentalist seeks to bring down a great deal more than buildings. Such people are against, to offer just a brief list, freedom of speech, a multi-party political system, universal adult suffrage, accountable government, Jews, homosexuals, women’s rights, pluralism, secularism, short skirts, dancing, beardlessness, evolution theory, sex. These are tyrants, not Muslims.”


London, Oct. 7: 
British Prime Minister Tony Blair confirmed today that British troops were involved in the military action against Afghanistan and said the coalition was “mindful of the determination to avoid civilian casualties”.

Addressing the nation from 10 Downing St an hour after the attacks had begun, Blair said the coalition would act with “reason and resolve and take action against the Taliban regime”.

Blair confirmed that British bases in Diego Garcia, British reconnaissance aircraft and British missile firing submarines were helping the US forces. The missile-firing subs were in use tonight, he added.

He said the effort was on three fronts: military, diplomatic and humanitarian. He said he could not recall when he had such a powerful coalition of support from so many countries in his time as Prime Minister.

“That coalition has strengthened our resolve,” he said. “There is danger of acting,” he acknowledged. “But the dangers of inaction are far greater and a threat to the stability of the world.”

On the humanitarian front, he pledged that the Western alliance against terrorism would deliver stability to Afghanistan. Pointing out that four million Afghans had been on the move even before the events of September 11, he pledged that the coalition would try to see that some form of stability returned to Afghanistan and that people from the region could return or stay in the region.

Blair praised President George W. Bush for his measured action as it came nearly a month after the attack on America and only after it had been established that Osama Bin Laden was indeed responsible for the attacks. The Taliban in supporting bin Laden had also become a legitimate target, he said.

“The Taliban were asked to face consequences of siding with justice or siding with terror. They chose terror,” said Blair. He also praised the British armed forces as the finest in the world.


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