Road repair prompts SOS to Buddha
Rescue work starts at Asansol mine
Dhakis drum to dream girl’s tune
Ghani calls for support to Centre
Naipaul claims piece of India’s intellectual life
‘Unprofessional’ Bollywood in Shah Rukh gunsight
Atal douses Laden fury
Quality clause for study Bill
Sonia warns against ripple effect
Jaya in tape trouble

 
 
ROAD REPAIR PROMPTS SOS TO BUDDHA 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Jhargram (Midnapore), Oct. 14: 
Residents of six villages in Jhargram sub-division have sent an SOS to the state government, saying the random extraction of stone with explosives has endangered their lives and led to a drastic increase in pollution levels.

According to the villagers, the Hindustan Construction Company, which has been given the contract to widen National Highway 9 from Kolaghat to Kharagpur, is extracting stone from Malabati. They add that stone chips are made in the crushers at the site.

Two hundred villagers have written to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, environment minister Manab Mukherjee and land reforms minister Suryakanta Mishra urging them to check the extraction.

“Cracks have developed in many houses in the adjoining villages. Besides, stone dust is polluting the entire area and stonechips are scattering on to the paddy fields, damaging the crop. Extraction and crashing must stop immediately, as our lives and crop are in danger,” said Lulka Shabar, a villager of Chianbera village. A portion of Shabar’s house has collapsed because of the intensity of the blasts.

The construction company had stopped work following vociferous protests from local clubs and mass organisations. However, the work has been resumed.

Local political leaders urged Jhargram sub-divisional officer Nobeshwar Baidya to ask the contractor to stop stone extraction and procure stonechips from other sources. Baidya convened a meeting where the company’s representatives were also present.

He asked the contractor to compensate the villagers for the damage caused by the extraction. He also asked the company to compensate villagers for crop damaged because of stone crushing.

The company’s representative, T.K. Bishnu, said they had taken permission from the government to extract stone for widening the roads as the quality of stones was very good. He said extraction and crushing were being done after consulting soil experts who had assured them that the bearing capacity of the soil was high. “However, we are trying our best to ensure that the villagers are not affected,” he said.

Quark Science Centre, an NGO, is up in arms against the stone extraction. “We shall not allow the contractor to continue to carry out explosions. They do not have the right to damage the villagers’ life and property,” said Bijan Sarangi, the NGO’s secretary.

Mukherjee said, in Calcutta, people could extract coal or stone after taking permission. He, however, added that the environment department would definitely look into the villagers’ complaints.

   

 
 
RESCUE WORK STARTS AT ASANSOL MINE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Asansol, Oct. 14: 
Rescue operations started at the abandoned mine of the Eastern Coalfields Ltd today, four days after it had collapsed, with a team experts supervising the use of payloaders and automatic shovels.

According to the rescue team, a tunnel will be built, through which specially-trained miners will enter the mine to search for people trapped by the cave in.

Nobody has been traced till late this evening, though about 3,000 cubic meters of earth has been shifted. The rescue team has found sandals, buckets, shovels and torn shirts.

Police today arrested 28 illegal miners from Pahargora, 10 kilometers from here, who were extracting coal from the abandoned mines. The police said those arrested have confessed that they got Rs 20 for every bag of coal. “We enter the abandoned mine for our livelihood knowing fully well that we are risking our lives,” said Manisha Soren and Badami Tudu of Salanpur village.

Burdwan superintendent of police B.N. Ramesh said the police were searching for those who had exploited the poor people by sending them to abandoned mines to bring up coal illegally. “We conducted raids at many places to arrest some members of the coal mafia but they fled,” he said.

Hundreds of people from the nearby areas, including Jamtara village, from where some people have reportedly gone missing, have assembled at the spot.

Residents of Jamtara have lodged complaints with the police that 30 people from their village, who used to extract coal from the mine, are missing since Wednesday, the day of the disaster.

Twenty others from an adjoining village have also been reported missing. However, there has been no official confirmation of this.

   

 
 
DHAKIS DRUM TO DREAM GIRL’S TUNE 
 
 
FROM ALAMGIR HOSSAIN
 
Behrampore (Murshidabad), Oct. 14: 
Dhakis of Murshidabad will now play their dream beats for dream girl Hema Malini and singer Abhijeet during the Durga puja festivities in Mumbai.

The stars, who are members of a puja committee in Mumbai, contacted three drummers of Banschator village in the district. Lalit Mohan Das, Madan Das and Santosh Das of Banschator have the tickets sent by Abhijeet and money as advance payment.

All three have been going to Mumbai for the past five years to drum up the sound of the festival for the Bengalis there and seem to have developed a liking for these sojourns. “People there are very appreciative and we enjoy our ‘vacation’ there,” the trio said.

These three are, however, not the only ones performing outside the district during the pujas. Many dhakis throng Howrah and Sealdah stations and other places in Calcutta to be picked up by organisers of puja festivities. About 500 dhakis reportedly come to Calcutta from Murshidabad, every year, on an average.

One group — Uttam Das, Hemanta Das and Prahlad Das — has already booked its berths on a train to Khurda Road in Orissa, as has been doing for the past 15 years. The three have become regulars at a big-budget community puja in Orissa.

Another team, comprising Jiban Das, Chetan Das and Nibaran Das, plans to start on Friday for Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh. The team is busy making the last-minute repairs to their dhaks, kanshis and flutes.

The lure for these dhakis is the heftier remuneration that puja committees outside Bengal pay. A drummer on contract with a middle-budget puja committee in Calcutta may get Rs 500, while the team going to Mumbai has been promised Rs 51,000, said Mohan, one of the members of the team.

“Every drummer hopes to get a contract from outside the state,” Mohan said. “But only the better ones realise their dreams,” he added, a hint of pride in his voice.

   

 
 
GHANI CALLS FOR SUPPORT TO CENTRE 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Oct. 14: 
Former PCC president and Congress MP from Malda, A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury today asked partymen to stand by the Centre in this “hour of crisis” and temporarily shelve their agitational programmes across Bengal.

“The war is on and that’s why I ask you to stop all your political programmes and stand by the government at the Centre,” the veteran Congress leader told partymen at the district committee office in Malda town, while announcing a 48-member executive committee.

Ghani’s stand evoked a sharp reaction from party members in Calcutta who had earlier in the week organised a day-long dharna at Rani Rashmoni Avenue to protest the state government’s failure to improve the public distribution system. PCC chief Pranab Mukherjee was among those who had addressed the rally.

“We cannot sit idle when the CPM is causing hardship to the people of Bengal,” said PCC general secretary Pradyut Guha, adding that the Congress has planned an agitation against the BJP at the Centre for its “anti-people” policies. Echoing Guha, several Youth Congress leaders said the party has no option but to agitate against the CPM and the BJP.

Ghani, however, reiterated that it was not right to launch a “political agitation” during wartime. “We should postpone all agitational programmes until the war is over,” he said.

He also criticised the Left for bringing out a Maha Micchil against the attack on Afghanistan.

   

 
 
NAIPAUL CLAIMS PIECE OF INDIA’S INTELLECTUAL LIFE 
 
 
FROM SHRABANI BASU
 
Cheltenham, Oct. 14: 
Sir Vidia Naipaul says he is very much his own man, uninfluenced by the Nobel laureates from the countries that his life crossed — Rabindranath Tagore from India, William Golding of Britain and Derek Walcott of the Caribbean.

“They haven’t marked me,” he told an audience of 500 at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature a day after winning the Nobel Prize, “My writing has been my own. I had to find my way. I wish I could say I was born out of this tradition, but I am not.”

As the audience cheered him loudly, Naipaul told interviewer Patrick French he had not yet seen the messages he had got from Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and President K.R. Narayanan.

“I don’t know about these,” he said gently. “I haven’t even seen the citation from the Swedish academy. You see, I don’t take the newspapers.”

Dressed in a dapper red shirt and dark green trousers, and accompanied by wife Nadira, who sat in the audience, Naipaul looked relaxed and happy, and said he was delighted to be at the literary festival.

It was vintage Naipaul: scolding members of the audience who asked tough questions, humouring the British, and reflecting with absolute honesty on his life and work.

Asked why he had said the prize was a tribute to Britain and India, but left out the Caribbean, his place of birth, Naipaul paused and said: “It would have encumbered the dedication. If I had said ‘last but not least’....The truth is for the last 40 years I have been attached to India. I am much more intellectually there than I am at Trinidad. I have moved on from there. It has been a long time since I went to Trinidad, nearly 15 years.

“I do a lot of work in India. I talk to a lot of people. And when I go, I don’t just sit in towns but go to the villages. I have some depth of knowledge of India.”

Asked about how opinion in India about him had shifted from early hostility after he wrote An Area of Darkness (1964) to his present popularity, Naipaul said: “That was a time when there was no intellectual life in India and people were enraged. But India has developed since then. The books are accepted now. I helped them to see in a way.

Civilisation is not to step inside ourselves. People live with rituals and there is no knowledge of the passage of time. No self-assessment. I helped India with this self-assessment in the last few years.”

There were moments of reflection in his 90-minute talk: “I can’t think of myself as being displaced. I am made up of many things. I don’t think the world tribal any longer. The world has been in movement all the time.”

And there was wit: “I made lots of notes about sex. These observations came out in the book” (His latest novel Half a Life).

The writer, with over twenty books of fiction and non-fiction to his name, said he had always wanted to be a writer of fiction. But the decision, he said, had led to him feeling trapped.

“I felt it had to be fiction. It was the highest intellectual activity of all the forms I know. But I felt fraudulent sitting down and writing just because I had an ambition to write. I was stuck in my novel. I had written three or four books by the time I was 22. I knew then that unless I added to my interest by travelling and going back to history, I would have dried up. I had to add to what I had in my head.”

Naipaul avoided being drawn into any controversies. Asked by the audience whether his recent comments about Islam having a “calamitous” effect reflected his opinion on fundamentalist Islam, or Islam in general, he said: “I would have said it in a context. What is the context?”

“It was in the context of conversions.”

“Yes..conversions...My dear, I think you have read this somewhere and you are troubled by it and that is why you are asking me....”

Another questioner wanted to know if he supported the Afghanistan attacks. “Do you want him to say yes or no...” said Patrick French, as Naipaul looked aghast.

“‘No,” screamed the members of the audience. And French quickly diverted the question.

Naipaul left the talk immediately after it was over, not giving his fans the chance to press the flesh and sign their books personally. Only 50 signed books, signed privately by the author, were given out to those in the queue. The writer had gone back to his shell.

   

 
 
‘UNPROFESSIONAL’ BOLLYWOOD IN SHAH RUKH GUNSIGHT 
 
 
FROM AMIT ROY
 
London, Oct. 14: 
Shah Rukh Khan, who has begun an expensive campaign in Britain to publicise his mega movie, Asoka, has launched an astonishing attack in the western media on the “unprofessionalism” of his fellow Indian actors.

The superstar, who is both the male lead and producer of Asoka, has told the influential Time Out magazine in London that the practice of dubbing dialogue encouraged Indian stars to be lazy.

In an interview with Tom Charity, one of the weekly’s writers, he has edged close to being what his colleagues in Mumbai, at least, will consider a namakharam.

“People miff their lines but they know they can fix it in the dubs,” he alleged.

He explained that a star would shoot three or four films simultaneously, bouncing from one set to another without a pause. There is an apparent attempt to emulate and even outdo Aamir Khan’s Lagaan.

The latter has enjoyed both critical and commercial success in the UK — westerners who have never before seen a Bollywood movie have been charmed into submission.

Now, no fewer than 60 prints of Asoka are to be released on October 26 following a star-studded premiere in London on October 23. Most Indian films aim for half this number of prints.

With Asoka, Shah Rukh is trying to reach an even bigger western audience than Aamir was able to with Lagaan. In Birmingham, for example, at the Star City multiplex, three prints — one in Hindi and two subtitled in English — will be screened concurrently. Elsewhere in the country, cinemas that have never shown a Bollywood movie will “give it a go”.

The distribution has been handed over not to the usual Indian outlets but to Martin Myers, an experienced British distributor.

According to Myers, it had not been difficult to find exhibitors. “At the end of the day, if you like the movie and they think it will make money, that’s all they ask. No, it hasn’t been that hard.”

The risk is that if the film does not work — and the initial reports about how good the film actually is are mixed — the cause of Bollywood will suffer a setback.

Shah Rukh said: “I want people to give it a chance — and may be come and giggle at it like I’d laugh at a Chinese movie. “That’s okay. But may be they’ll also find it colourful and know that the next Hindi film might be interesting.”

The final battle scene doubled the budget to over $3 million. “I don’t need the money. I just want it to be seen by enough people to tell me if it’s worth making this kind of film,” Shah Rukh added.

Charity was approving of Shah Rukh — “urbane and charismatic” — and the film. He pointed out that at the Venice film festival, where audiences saw a 150-minute version — the original is three hours — there was “huge acclaim” for the movie.

“Exciting, bigger than life, with an expressive, elemental charge, Asoka, is mythic cinema given its head,” Charity commented.

“No wonder people are looking at Asoka and wondering if there might be another Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon in the wings.”

   

 
 
ATAL DOUSES LADEN FURY 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
Shastripuram (Agra), Oct. 14: 
As speaker after speaker spewed rhetoric against the Islamic world, Pakistan, Osama bin Laden and the outlawed Students’ Islamic Movement of India, it was left to the Prime Minister to defuse the communal temper and instil moderation in his concluding address at the two-day BJP Youth Front convention.

In the surcharged atmosphere, the presence of the lone Muslim minister in the Union Cabinet, Syed Shahnawaz Hussain, next to Atal Bihari Vajpayee on the dais seemed more than a symbolic gesture. The minister had failed to turn up at the convention yesterday, when he was due to come.

This morning, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Rajnath Singh told a delirious crowd: “If any mai ka lal is heard raising slogans in praise of the Taliban, Pakistan or bin Laden, be sure that he will be pulled out of his house and thrown into the prison.”

His warning had an instantaneous effect as some activists burnt an effigy of bin Laden outside the convention pandal, barely an hour before Vajpayee’s arrival.

While dwelling on terror, Vajpayee said a “sense of nationalism” and “spirit of communal harmony” must be inculcated in those who have “taken the wrong path”. He stressed that the war against terrorism must be fought by all communities and exhorted “misled youths” to give up arms and return to the “mainstream”.

“We are determined to keep fighting against terrorism and secure the lives of all our citizens. There will be no let-up, no compromise in this fight. But in this hour of crisis we all have to stand together. The government and the Opposition must emphasise their common concerns rather than their differences,” the Prime Minister said and went on to thank the Opposition for its cooperation.

He urged the gathering to make a distinction between “terrorism and religion”. Referring to the suicide bomb attacks in Srinagar, he asked: “Were not innocent Muslims killed in this incident? Religion does not permit the killing of innocents.”

If Hussain’s presence was meant to reinforce his moderate image, the inclusion of former BJP chief Bangaru Laxman in Vajpayee’s entourage conveyed another signal: corruption would not weigh heavily in his scheme of things. Laxman had quit in disgrace after the Tehelka tapes showed him accepting money from undercover journalists. He was recently rehabilitated with his appointment as chairman of the Rajya Sabha housing committee, replacing Ved Prakash Goyal who became the shipping minister in the last Cabinet reshuffle.

Vajpayee’s speech contained a fleeting reference to corruption though the convention pledged to fight corrupt practices. “It is wrong to think that corruption is a national phenomenon. Everybody is not corrupt,” he said as Laxman occupied a prominent place on the podium after being duly garlanded.

   

 
 
QUALITY CLAUSE FOR STUDY BILL 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, Oct. 14: 
It’s common knowledge that constructing a school building is far easier than ensuring proper education. In the light of this realisation, the Centre is gearing up to tackle one of the prickliest issues plaguing the education sector: quality.

The education right Bill, likely to be passed in the next session of Parliament, will ensure that quality of teaching is not compromised.

“We are hoping to put in a clause which will provide for a sort of ombudsman in every district — someone who will listen to the complaints of parents and students,” said a senior official in the human resources development ministry.

The ministry concedes that inequality of opportunities and income will deepen unless the gap between good and bad education is bridged.

The Bill is now receiving final touches. One of the issues uppermost in the minds of policymakers seems to be working out a mechanism that will make quality of education a priority in the Bill. “Earlier, the government had tried the ombudsman experiment in the insurance sector. It had worked very well,” said an official.

   

 
 
SONIA WARNS AGAINST RIPPLE EFFECT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Oct. 14: 
In the wake of growing anti-US sentiment in Pakistan that is finding an echo in India and speculation that the BJP plans to cash in on the situation with an eye on the Uttar Pradesh elections, Congress president Sonia Gandhi has asked the government to be vigilant and exercise utmost caution in dealing with the situation “as a minor incident could lead to a major communal conflagration”.

Sonia said there are one or two “disquieting” areas with potential to put severe strain on our democracy. “There is a possibility of the Pakistan government being unable to control events within Pakistan,” she said.

In a letter to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the Congress president said: “We are passing through turbulent times and our region has become an arena of conflict and war. In some ways the situation is perilous and could get out of hand unless extreme caution and wisdom are exercised by all concerned.”

Sonia feared that the telecast of scenes of protest and violence in several Pakistani cities by television channels “is bound to have an effect on our minority community”. She, however, added: “I have no doubt that you are closely monitoring the situation.”

Sonia said she has advised the Congress chief ministers to be vigilant and wanted to share her views with the Prime Minister.

“I have heard rather disturbing reports about the daily increase of resentment and bitterness amongst certain sections of our people. Even a minor incident could lead to a major communal conflagration. This we must avoid at all cost,” the Congress chief said.

In another letter to Vajpayee, Sonia expressed concern over the reported move by the NCERT and the human resources development ministry to develop a new syllabus and suggested that they must be scrutinised by an expert panel before being introduced.

“The government needs to immediately demystify the process of changing our textbooks by announcing the names of the experts who have written and scrutinised the new books. For the satisfaction of all constituents and groups, these new textbooks must be examined by a panel of academicians and experts, constituted on the basis of consensus, well before they are introduced in our schools,” she wrote.

Sonia said the secrecy surrounding this alleged exercise to develop a new syllabus for schools is alarming. Such secrecy in academic matters was unprecedented, she said.

“I do hope this important matter will receive your immediate attention,” the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha said.

   

 
 
JAYA IN TAPE TROUBLE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Oct. 14: 
Jaya Jaitly’s criticism of the Venkataswami Commission’s observation that the Tehelka tapes were not doctored has not gone down well with the powers-that-be.

A Prime Minister’s Office source said the commission, functioning under the home ministry, was appointed at the behest of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Jaitly’s attempt to cast aspersion on the panel has left a bad taste at a time when the Prime Minister is keen to reinduct George Fernandes into the Cabinet. The former defence minister was forced to quit following the website expose.

Reacting to the commission’s verdict, Jaitly said: “The commission should have gone for the truth and not given a ruling that no prima facie case of doctoring of tapes was made at all as it only helped Tehelka.com.

Jaitly was forced to quit as Samata president in the wake of the tapes showing her discussing defence deals.

The source said it was only after a prima facie case was establis hed that the government took action against the defence officials shown in the tape while Vajpayee got his handpicked man Bangaru Laxman to step down as BJP chief.

Laxman had admitted to taking money from the Tehelka journalists and his only defence was that it was meant for the party fund. It is unlikely that the tape in Bangaru’s office was genuine while that in Fernandes’ residence was doctored.

   
 

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