Strong voices rise for George return
Kashmir poser for Pervez
Uneasy lies the turban town
Gowda takes up cudgels for farmers
Air strikes take toll on Bihar
Wake-up call for three-time raja
Calcutta Weather

 
 
STRONG VOICES RISE FOR GEORGE RETURN 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Oct. 14: 
Ahead of the Cabinet changes signalled by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the government set top leaders into drumming up support for George Fernandes’ return to the ministry.

Foreign minister Jaswant Singh was the most important one among them since he holds the defence portfolio that Fernandes had to give up in the wake of the Tehelka revelations.

“I agree the portfolio should be given to my friend George Fernandes again. He is the right person to take over the responsibility in the present circumstances.”

Sources said the Cabinet expansion is proving to be the most difficult for the Prime Minister with a lobby working also for K.C. Pant, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission. They said the confusion is such that only by late tonight or tomorrow morning will the Prime Minister make up his mind.

But, from indications coming out of the government, it was quite clear what Vajpayee’s preference was. Rural development minister Venkaiah Naidu lent his voice to Jaswant’s.

“We have never had in the past such an honest and competent defence minister” as Fernandes, Naidu said in Agra.

The Prime Minister had a half-an-hour meeting with Fernandes yesterday. Official sources were tightlipped on what transpired at the meeting.

Speculation was rife that senior ministers Murli Manohar Joshi, Naidu, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Sharad Yadav, Nitish Kumar, Shanta Kumar and juniors Digvijay Singh, Shahnawaz Hussain and Munni Lal may be shuffled, but a senior Cabinet minister ruled out the possibility for the time being.

   

 
 
KASHMIR POSER FOR PERVEZ 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Oct. 14: 
US secretary of state Colin Powell arrives tomorrow in the subcontinent in a display of support for President Pervez Musharraf and to calm tensions between India and Pakistan.

There are indications that Powell may ask Musharraf to cool the temperature by ceasing to refer to separatists fighting in Kashmir as “freedom fighters”.

Deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage said in Washington that part of Powell’s mission to Islamabad and New Delhi was to see if there was a way to “lower the temperature” over the Kashmir dispute.

He referred to former CIA chief William Webster’s description of Kashmir as among the most dangerous places in the world. “He was right 11 years ago, and I think he’s still right now, and that’s one of the reasons the secretary’s going,” Armitage said.

   

 
 
UNEASY LIES THE TURBAN TOWN 
 
 
FROM SUNANDO SARKAR
 
Sonamukhi (Bankura), Oct. 14: 
The Taliban may be bad news for most businesses, but not for a bunch of weavers in this small town, thousands of kilometres from Afghanistan.

The fortunes of the fundamentalist militia, fighting an unequal war against a far superior enemy, are being watched with more than a keen interest in this Bankura town. The survival of a unique cultural heritage — some of the finest silk turbans are made here — depends on the Taliban’s survival now; if the Americans succeed in avenging the destruction of the World Trade Center by pushing out the Taliban, this age-old cottage industry will die. All the turbans made here go to Afghanistan via the Kabuliwallahs of Calcutta.

Sonamukhi’s turban-makers still remember the “euphoric” years of the early nineties when they shared in the Taliban’s victory celebrations; one edict the Taliban issued soon after seizing power was to make wearing turbans compulsory for every Afghan male. There was a boom, remember Sonamukhi’s turban-makers, that lasted a few years and they could not cope with the demand.

Cut to 2001: the same turban-makers are now refusing every order from the Afghans who have settled down in Calcutta but go back to their country every year with thousands of turbans they buy from Sonamukhi. “What is the guarantee that they will come back to take the turbans?” asked Naren Dutta, head of one of the families that make them.

“We have heard that the borders of Afghanistan are all sealed up and are reading every day of the reverses the Taliban are suffering,” he added.

Sonamukhi is already feeling the pinch. “Kamal Khan called me up from Calcutta and placed an order for 400 turbans,” Shibram Pal, the town’s largest turban-maker, said. He told Khan to wait.

“It means a loss of thousands of rupees,” he added. Each turban costs Rs 750.

Installation of a more liberal regime by the United States, a prospect that looks almost inevitable now, will see a dip in Shibram’s fortunes. The family makes at least 5,000 turbans every year with all members, right from 10-year-old Haru Pal to Shibram’s wife, Bharati, pitching in.

If someone starches the silk, someone else prepares the dyes. Though black and white are the most common, the Afghans have a colour closer to their home than Sonamukhi — that of Multani mitti — closest to their heart, says Shibram.

The silk market of Malda, from where turban-makers buy their fibre, will be another loser if the Taliban are unseated.

Each turban needs six square yards of silk and, if the town sends at least 10,000 turbans to Afghanistan in a year, Malda’s loss will not be insignificant.

But it wasn’t like this for Sonamukhi always. Though the close-knit bunch of tantis have been weaving some of the finest silk clothes for centuries, making turbans for Afghan patrons is a relatively new trade.

Raghunathpur in neighbouring Purulia district used to be the Afghans’ turban-buying centre till the early 1980s but unfair trade practices — weavers there started introducing coarser cloth in the turbans — diverted the Afghans Sonamukhi’s way.

The Rakshits, one of the oldest weavers’ families in Sonamukhi, came to know of the Afghans’ predicament and approached them, say weavers here.

The rest, they add, is now history. The Afghans tested what Sonamukhi offered, were happy and have, since then, been coming back here in search of turbans every year.

But, ironically, the Rakshits have been pushed out of the trade they began.

Employing weavers proved unsustainable for the family, headed by Tinkari, because of the high wages they demanded and they have now branched off into the rice-mill trade. Now, families like Shibram Pal’s or Naren Datta’s or Swapan Soo’s control the trade.

These families — townsmen call the Soos, the Pals and the Dattas their pride — along with the rest of Sonamukhi are now looking at the images of the pounding Afghanistan is receiving with bated breath.

Each missile that lands in the country also hits Sonamukhi hard, they say.

   

 
 
GOWDA TAKES UP CUDGELS FOR FARMERS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Bangalore, Oct. 14: 
In a desperate bid to rejuvenate his flagging political career, former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda is taking up the cause of beleaguered neera farmers with an eye on the Kanakapura parliamentary constituency.

The death of two farmers in police firing last week in Vittalenahalli village near Channapatna town has come in handy for Gowda, a self-proclaimed champion of farmers, to beat the Congress government with.

Channapatna falls within the Kanakapura parliamentary constituency, which sent Gowda’s son, H.D. Kumaraswamy, to the Lok Sabha when Gowda was Prime Minister.

Gowda, who lost his home constituency Hassan in the last parliamentary poll, is toying with the idea of contesting from Kanakapura in the next elections. Kanakapura is seen as a safe bet for Gowda because the former Prime Minister belongs to the dominant community here, the Vokkaligas.Gowda spent nearly half-a-day at Vittalenahalli village, mourning the death of the two victims of police firing. Not only did Gowda attack the state government for its anti-farmer policies, but he also threatened to lead an agitation to protect the interests of farmers in the region. Kumaraswamy was the first politician to visit the village.

Police opened fire after farmers attacked a police van to protest against the arrest of farmers involved in neera tapping, which is illegal. Neera or coconut sap juice is used mostly as an intoxicant. The state government has banned the sale of neera, calling it a health hazard. However, Gowda has joined forces with the local farmers association against this government ban.

   

 
 
AIR STRIKES TAKE TOLL ON BIHAR 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Patna, Oct. 14: 
Yesterday’s violence over air strikes on Afghanistan left one person dead in Phulwarisharif, about 10 km from the capital.

The 40-year-old victim’s body was found this morning. Police said he was missing since yesterday. His motorcycle was burnt and miscreants abducted him. He was coming from a market to the riot torn area on a motorcycle.

For the last two days, tension simmered in the western part of the city over protests for and against the air strikes on Afghanistan. Tension escalated today following the recovery of the body.

The district administration has reinforced security measures. Rapid Action Force has been despatched and the army alerted. Prohibitory order under Section 144 CrPC was clamped.

   

 
 
WAKE-UP CALL FOR THREE-TIME RAJA 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, Oct. 14: 
After Laloo Prasad Yadav was elected the national president of the Rashtriya Janata Dal for a third time today, he was besieged with appeals from RJD presidents of different states: cut short your long prayers at home and pay some attention to units outside the state.

“Whenever we call up the Anne Marg house of our president, we are told that he is in prayer,” Maharashtra RJD president Lakshman Menon said. “We now want to request our president to wake up from prolonged hours of meditation and pay some attention to units outside the state,” he added.

Party insiders confirmed that the national president prayed for at least three hours at his “puja ghar” and that he didn’t tolerate distraction during these hours.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 31.4°C (-1)
Minimum: 25.8°C (+2)

Rainfall

7.9 mm

Relative Humidity

Max: 95%
Min: 75%
Sunrise: 5.37 am
Sunset: 5.09 pm

Today

Light to moderate rain, accompanied by thunder, in some areas
   
 

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