Workers batter Citu leaders
Unrest blame on union rivalry
Centre boost to Hooghly traffic
Runaway convict rakes up row
Salt Lake cracks licence whip on rickshaws
Centre stranded on terror law
Atal dons Indira mantle in CM shuffle spree
Ordinance hits rebel obstacle in Punjab
Asoka wows British critics, Asian audience
Delhi’s bungles, Abu to Nadeem

 
 
WORKERS BATTER CITU LEADERS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 30: 
Workers went on the rampage at the Dunlop factory in Sahagunj, attacking Citu leaders and setting on fire their union office.

Citu general secretary Deepankar Roy and vice-president Dipak Majumdar were among 12 union leaders wounded in the melee. Roy and Majumdar have been admitted to the Chinsurah Imambara hospital where doctors stated their condition to be serious.

Local residents rushed to the spot on hearing screams and rescued the Citu functionaries from the clutches of the workers armed with lathis and crowbars.

Hooghly superintendent of police N. Ramesh Babu said six people have been arrested so far in this connection.

The Citu accused the rival trade union Nagarik Mancha for the attack.

“Members of (the) Nagarik Mancha along with some outsiders attacked us,” said Ashoke Pal, one of the Citu vice-presidents injured in the incident. “They had a plan to kill the general secretary.”

Nagarik Mancha leader Bidyut Raut, however, vehemently denied the charges. “We are being wrongly dragged into the picture,” he said.

According to Pal, trouble started around 10.30 am when Citu members assembled in front of the union office for the weekly meeting. Nagarik Mancha members, also present at the meeting, demanded to know the latest on the possibilities of the reopening of the factory.

“But gradually, their demands turned into threats. They became abusive,” Pal said. “Suddenly, some of them rushed towards the office. Sensing trouble, we locked the gate. They were saying, ‘We don’t want any unions here. Our factory is not opening only because of this union’s activity. We will wash you off this place’.”

Pal said the situation took a turn for the worse. “The workers started shaking the gate. Our members tried to resist them. But the workers broke open the gate. We were surprised when we saw most of them were armed with crowbars and lathis,” he added.

The workers roughed up some Citu members, Pal said, adding: “Then, some of them entered the room and began to beat us up. They were saying they would kill the general secretary. I saw general secretary Deepankar-babu and vice-president Dipak-babu slump to the floor.”

“We fled through the backdoor of the union office and rushed out of the factory premises. Meanwhile, the local people rushed to the site and rescued the other injured members, including Roy and Majumdar,” said Pal.

But the violence didn’t end there. Pal said the workers then “collected kerosene and sprinkled it on our union office and then set it on fire”.

Senior policemen and fire brigade personnel rushed to the spot, but not before the union office had burned down.

   

 
 
UNREST BLAME ON UNION RIVALRY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 30: 
If the past was bad, the future looks worse for Dunlop workers.

The Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction has rejected the revival scheme which might have saved the day for the 4,500-odd workers of the Sahagunj unit.

Their anger has been simmering for far too long.

On February 7, 1998, the company declared suspension of work at the Sahagunj unit for the first time. The suspension was lifted on March 11 last year. The company started paying salaries. But payments stopped in January this year. Two months down the line, in March, production ground to a halt. Dunlop again declared suspension of work in the third week of August.

A section of Dunlop staff has for long accused Citu for the mess. Citu, in turn, has blamed non-resident chairman Manu Chhabria.

But today, there was no one from the company to comment on the violence. Managing director T.C. Goel was not in his Bangalore office. His cellphone was switched off. There was no one who could comment on today’s violence at the Calcutta office either.

But Harsimron S. Sandhu of India Infomedia — a PR agency that Dunlop has hired — said: “The incident appears to be a fallout of internal union rivalry. As the factory is closed, there were no management representatives present at the time of the incident. We are trying to ascertain facts.”

There are two recognised unions at the Sahagunj factory. One is affiliated to Citu, the other to Intuc. Nagarik Mancha was formed last year by a section of the employees when the suspension of work was lifted.

But before the company lifted suspension of work in March last year, it had put forward some austerity measures for the workers. Citu had categorically declined to accept them. Others, however, had said that a decision on this should be taken only after the factory reopened.

This long rivalry might have have been behind today’s violence. But Santoshree Chatterjee, secretary of Citu state committee, feels it is more than mere rivalry. “It is a deep-rooted conspiracy. We strongly believe that Chhabria is involved in the incident to thwart the trade union movement at Dunlop.”

Another Citu leader said: “Survival has become a major problem for the Dunlop employees. They have been forced to take up any work to maintain their families. Rejection of the revival scheme by BIFR has also led to frustration among the employees.”

The management staff at the Sahagunj factory have been asked to go on indefinite leave.

Employees at Dunlop’s 57B, Mirza Ghalib Street head office are also not being paid salaries.

Aniruddha Sengupta, general secretary of All India Dunlop Employees Federation, said: “We are being forced to vacate the corporate office in Calcutta which employs 200 people.”

   

 
 
CENTRE BOOST TO HOOGHLY TRAFFIC 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Oct. 30: 
The Centre today approved the execution of regulatory measures aimed at increasing the navigational depth and reducing the maintenance effort in the Hoogly river.

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) today cleared the proposal to improve the draught in the Hoogly estuary of the Calcutta Port Trust. The project will increase the navigational depth in the shipping channel of the Haldia Dock Complex by one metre. The present navigational depth measures about 8.5 metre.

The Centre will provide the Rs 350.84-crore project cost through grants and aid. The project will also reduce the annual maintenance effort in the river by decreasing the dredging quantity from 18 million cubic metres to 15 million cubic metres, bringing about more water flow in the Haldia-Balari channel.

The government also increased the statutory minimum price for sugarcane by Rs 2.55 per quintal to Rs 62.0 per quintal.

The CCEA have also approved the central sector plan to study the cost of cultivation of principal crops. A sum of Rs 68.23 crore has been earmarked to study 29 crops. The committee passed the implementation of the rural employment generation programme with a revised estimate of an additional Rs 60 crore provision over Rs 120 crore provided in the budget. Five per cent of the margin money will be earmarked for the creation of backward and forward linkages.

   

 
 
RUNAWAY CONVICT RAKES UP ROW 
 
 
BY BARUN GHOSH
 
Calcutta, Oct. 30: 
The escape of an elderly and ailing undertrial prisoner from R.G. Kar Medical College and Hospital on Bijoya Dashami has triggered off a fresh row between the jail authorities and the health department over the upkeep of convicts undergoing treatment in government-run hospitals.

Both minister for jails and social welfare Biswanath Chowdhury and health minister Surya Kanta Mishra are expected to discuss the issue at a meeting early next week.

Though no official figures were readily available of prisoners escaping from hospitals, jail sources said on an average, at least five to six convicts, admitted for treatment, escape every year.

The issue first snowballed into a major controversy early last year, when a UP-based gangster Manjeet Singh Mange, lodged in Presidency jail, escaped from SSKM Hospital, where he was admitted for treatment.

Hours after the escape of Mange, a high-security prisoner, the jail authorities approached the health department for setting up a separate cell in city hospitals, but with no effect.

The jail authorities, alarmed at the repetition of the incident, reiterated the demand on Tuesday for setting up of such medical cells in city hospitals, exclusively for treatment of prisoners.

Health department officials, however, ruled out the demand, saying it was not feasible.

“It’s very difficult to open a cell in every city hospital for prisoners only, because there are so many wings. However, we may have to consider the issue if such a proposal comes from the jails,” said state health secretary Asim Barman.

Deputy inspector-general of prisons P.D. Mondal said during the day that jail wardens would find it difficult to keep a vigil on prisoners undergoing treatment in hospitals, unless they are kept in a separate enclosure.

“If ailing prisoners are kept with other patients in a general ward, how is it possible for the prison security staff to guard them round-the-clock?” he asked.

Such a cell for prisoners has already been functioning at Howrah General Hospital on an experimental basis, he pointed out.

“Though we are unhappy at the way the medical cell is being run in the Howrah hospital, we want such segregated enclosures for prisoners in every city hospital. Such an arrangement will help beef up security for the prisoners,” he added.

Jail officials said one Ajaharullah Khan, 60, who was shifted to Dum Dum Central Jail on July 18 from the Barrackpore sub-divisional jail, was admitted to R.G. Kar Hospital on September 17 with kidney problems. He was bed-ridden and unable to move.

But on Dashami, Khan walked out from the building under mysterious circumstances, with no wardens present on duty.

“Though four wardens from the jail were listed to be on duty for 24 hours inside the hospital ward where Khan was kept, none of them was present when the incident took place,” said senior jail official Anup Tripathi, who is probing the incident.

He said all four wardens have been suspended on charges of dereliction of duty.

   

 
 
SALT LAKE CRACKS LICENCE WHIP ON RICKSHAWS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Oct. 30: 
Bidhannagar municipality has decided not to allow unlicensed rickshaws in the satellite township from January. Rickshaw-pullers have been asked to apply for registration of their vehicles. The civic authorities have also decided to renew old licences, as well as issue new ones to the rickshaw-pullers.

Besides licences, sources say that the municipality plans to introduce number-plates for all registered rickshaws in the township. At night, rickshaw-pullers will have to use lights to avoid accidents.

At present, 920 licensed rickshaws ply in Salt Lake. Licences to these rickshaws were issued in 1994, when the Bidhannagar Notified Area Authority would look after the township. Since then, licences have not been issued by the municipal corporation.

Though there are 920 registered rickshaws in Salt Lake, more than 4,000 rickshaws ply every day without valid licences.

Since the public transport system is inadequate in Salt Lake, rickshaws have become an important mode of communication. Taking advantage of this, it is alleged that a section of rickshaw-pullers often demand exorbitant fares from the passengers, particularly during monsoon or any festival.

In 1994, the then notified area authority had fixed the minimum fare at Rs 3. Since then, no revision in fare structure has officially been made and rickshaw-pullers have taken due advantage of that.

The previous notified area authority had earmarked 33 spots within the township as rickshaw stands. But rickshaw-pullers park their vehicles at almost every important crossing. It is estimated that more than 100 rickshaw stands now exist in Salt Lake.

Chairman of the municipal corporation Dilip Gupta said that the decision to ban unlicensed rickshaws was taken some time back. “But we will issue licences to those who apply. We will have to renew the existing licences first, before issuing new ones,” he added.

   

 
 
CENTRE STRANDED ON TERROR LAW 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Oct. 30: 
After the initial gung-ho on terrorism and an Ordinance to check it, the Centre and the BJP have reluctantly conceded that it will not be easy to make the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance law.

Not only is the Opposition bent on blocking it in Parliament’s winter session, key ally DMK has voiced its reservations. Akali rebel G.S. Tohra has also egged on Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal to oppose it.

The Centre was banking on what it perceived as a “massive” groundswell of anti-terror sentiment to push through the Ordinance in the House. It had mistakenly thought that the political establishment, irrespective of “vote bank” compulsions, would support the Ordinance.

A senior BJP Cabinet minister said: “We can always countenance the Opposition’s efforts and tell people it is not interested in fighting a menace as serious as terrorism. But what answers will we have if our allies speak out?”

The BJP fears other NDA constituents — the Akali Dal, the National Conference and the MDMK — might pick up the cue from the DMK and orchestrate an anti-Ordinance campaign on the eve of the winter session. BJP sources said the only ally they could rely on was the Shiv Sena.

The BJP national executive meeting in Amritsar on November 2-3 is expected to discuss the entire gamut of terrorism-related issues. “We have to straddle two different worlds,” said the Cabinet minister.

“On the one hand are individuals from our own party, not to speak of the larger parivar, who are pushing for more aggressive action against Pakistan. They want a war. On the other, the government realises that given the respect India has won internationally after the Kargil war, it will not be easy at all to strike against our neighbour,” he added.

The BJP hopes to make the best of a “bad” situation by telling the domestic audience that despite global pressure to reopen the Agra chapter, the Prime Minister refused to speak Pervez Musharraf on the sidelines of the UN summit.

This is the “safest” option before A.B. Vajpayee with the Uttar Pradesh polls coming up.

That the BJP and the Centre were mellowing was evident in statements made today by senior ministers Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley. Sushma voiced the fear that if the US lost the war against Afghanistan, it would be a “loss” for India and the rest of the world as well.

“Loss of face for the US in the war against terrorism will not in any way help India. If we want to eliminate terrorism even from Jammu and Kashmir, it has to be eliminated from Afghanistan first,” she was quoted as saying.

Sushma also stressed the war was not against Islam or Afghanistan but against terrorist camps.

Jaitley was defensive when asked about provisions in the Ordinance dealing with journalists and their sources.

   

 
 
ATAL DONS INDIRA MANTLE IN CM SHUFFLE SPREE 
 
 
FROM MAHESH RANGARAJAN
 
Oct. 30: 
Atal Bihari Vajpayee is following in Indira Gandhi’s footsteps. The central leadership brooks no rival. No chief minister from the ruling party sits easy on the throne.

It was Gujarat in October and it’s Uttaranchal in November. Time to change the guard at New Delhi’s behest. In both cases, the hope is that a new, younger pair of hands will revive the party’s fortunes and lead it to victory in the next Assembly polls.

There the similarities end. Keshubhai Patel attempted a fightback when forced out of office for the second time. His base in Saurashtra, and many years at the helm of affairs gave his supporters heart until the central leadership made its preference clear. The elections in the western state, the only one to have an elected BJP ministry, are only due in April of 2003.

Uttaranchal is a different story. The polls are weeks, not months, away. Elections for the Assembly are due in March next year, and the new chief minister has been given a crown of thorns.

His great advantage is that unlike his predecessor, Nityanand Swami, he does not have to suffer an “outsider” tag. Rivals often berated Swami for not being a true pahadi or hill person. Further, having been in the Congress for a brief period, he never won full acceptability among the ideologues of the Sangh.

Bhagat Singh Koshiari is a study in contrast. A former organisation secretary and ideologue, he is an old hand in saffron circles. In fact, this is a trait he shares with the man anointed as chief minister in Gujarat, Narendra Modi.

The ascendancy of former pracharaks is nothing new. Several senior leaders at the Centre, including Vajpayee and Advani, cut their political teeth as pracharaks in the RSS. But it marks a new role at the state level for men of the apparatus that still makes up the backbone of the party.

What is significant is the absence of any tussle between a centralising, liberal Vajpayee and such elements. In fact, the parent body is being drawn ever more closely into the whirlwind of politics, and may find it difficult to extricate itself.

But the central leadership seems unable to stick with any choice that it makes. Uttar Pradesh has seen three chief ministers in less than five years. Delhi saw the same level of fluidity in the period from 1993 to 1998. These constant changes, especially those in the immediate run-up to an election, rarely pull a party out of trouble.

But the BJP’s own legacy is a troubled one. Only two leaders at the regional level have ever completed a full term in office. V.K. Malhotra was chief executive councillor in Delhi for a full term ending 1971. Bhairon Singh Shekhawat served a full term as chief minister in Rajasthan.

Unlike in the past, it cannot blame its rivals, the Congress or the Third Front of destabilising its state governments. This was the case in Gujarat in 1996-97, when internal fissures and eventually a split in the party led to the ouster of the BJP. The problems are now due to the shift in the internal dynamics of the ruling party.

It is fast acquiring features historically associated with the Congress high command. Even strong leaders like Keshubhai and Kalyan Singh have had to eat crow. The difference is that it presides over a much smaller clutch of states. Today, only six of the 28 states have BJP chief ministers.

As it grapples with complaints of non-performance and internal squabbles, the easiest recourse is to change the chief minister. Nobody knows whether this will do the trick. The past record does not inspire much confidence in this respect.

When the elections in Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal are held next spring, it will be the central leadership too that will be on trial. And if the party slips, it will feel the heat.

   

 
 
ORDINANCE HITS REBEL OBSTACLE IN PUNJAB 
 
 
FROM GAJINDER SINGH
 
Chandigarh, Oct. 30: 
The Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance hit another roadblock with Akali rebel Gurcharan Singh Tohra asking Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal to oppose its passage.

Terming it a “fraud on minorities”, the Panthic Morcha leader said: “They issued the Ordinance knowing well that it would not be passed in the Rajya Sabha in face of opposition from the Congress and other parties as it has been issued with an eye on the Assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Uttaranchal.”

He added: “Is it any surprise that only organisations represented by the minorities have been dubbed terrorist and banned by the Ordinance?”

He vowed to oppose the Ordinance in the Rajya Sabha, claiming the police would misuse it like they did the Tada in Punjab.

Questioning the BJP’s hurry in issuing the Ordinance, he demanded that the Centre explain what “terrorism” and “terrorist” mean.

“I think the BJP-led government at the Centre must explain to the nation whether construction of a temple after demolishing a mosque was an act of terrorism or a peaceful agitation,” he said.

Tohra clarified that he was not against the construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya but said the controversy ought to be solved by either the Supreme Court or through negotiations.

“I do not agree with home minister L.K Advani’s contention. He wants to construct the temple without taking into consideration the sentiments of the Muslims…. I am against the use of terror to construct it,” he said.

Adding a new twist to the multi-crore celebrations of the bi-centenary of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s coronation in Amritsar in the third week of November, Tohra urged Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee not to participate in the celebrations as there was no concept of Tajposhi (coronation) in the Sikh religion.

“In Sikhism, it is the Guru who is supreme and not an individual. The performance of such ceremonies is against the basic tenets of the religion. The people of Punjab are being misled on the issue,” he said. Tohra explained that no historian has confirmed the coronation of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. “Vajpayee’s participation in the ceremony will erode his popularity among Sikhs,” he claimed

Tohra said he had doubts about Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s coronation as the Sikh ruler was a firm believer in the supremacy of the Akal Takht and sought punishment from the body when his conduct as a Sikh was questioned whereas Badal had made all efforts to demolish the institution.

   

 
 
ASOKA WOWS BRITISH CRITICS, ASIAN AUDIENCE 
 
 
FROM AMIT ROY
 
London, Oct. 30: 
Despite being almost universally acclaimed by mainstream cinema critics, the Shah Rukh Khan-produced and Santosh Sivan-directed Asoka has still not managed to make it as Bollywood’s first “crossover” film which appeals equally to Asians and westerners alike.

Martin Myers, whose distribution company, Miracle Communications, handled the nationwide release of Asoka with more than 80 prints, said it had performed strongly as expected in Asian areas.

There had been high hopes that Asoka, with its mix of adventure, music, romance and visual excellence, would build on the success of Lagaan and introduce western audiences to the Bollywood genre. But these hopes have not been realised, at least not fully, admitted Myers.

Four days after its release on October 26, the film had grossed £235,000, enough to secure an entry into the British Top Ten at number nine. “Over the weekend, it has taken £18,000 in Feltham, between £10,000 and £11,000 in Woodgreen, £10,000 in Southall, and outside London, £6,000 in Bradford,” he said.

But in such mainly white areas as Belfast, Plymouth, York and Leeds, Asoka had not done well. “It will be taken off after a week. It seems western audiences are still not ready for Bollywood,” explained Myers. He said: “The film has not crossed over. Films finish as they begin so I don’t think the audiences will get better.”

He added: “I have handled it just like any other western movie. I have spent about £150,000 on marketing and PR and I think we did a good job. We just have to keep working for more and more awareness.”

Western audiences were not convinced by favourable reviews. “There is no correlation between reviews and audiences,” remarked Myers. “I would be prepared to re-release if Asoka is nominated for an Oscar — I think the Indian entry will probably be between Lagaan and Asoka.”

Shah Rukh and Sivan will be thrilled by the reviews, though.

Christopher Tookey, the film critic of the Daily Mail, confessed: “I enjoyed it immensely.”

He believes that “here at last is a Bollywood movie that deserves to be seen by everyone.” He called Asoka “a majestic epic on the scale of Gladiator. The battle scenes are as impressive as anything in Braveheart, and were achieved for a tiny fraction of the budget.”

He told his readers that “there’s real visual flair on display” and added: “Western film-makers could learn from its emotional directness and determination to involve the audience, not to mention a respect for inner spiritual development.”

In the Observer, Philip French wrote: “The opening sequence in which Asoka the child seizes the emblematic sword of conquest abandoned by his pacifist grandfather is memorable.”

He also found the acting “much more naturalistic than it used to be in Indian epics”.

The Sunday Telegraph’s Jenny McCartney agreed with Shah Rukh that Asoka was over the top. “In the case of Asoka, over the top proves rather a gripping place to go.” She said: “The film manages to be shamelessly sentimental and moving at the same time.”

Asoka also got a mention in The Independent, whose critic, Charlotte O’Sullivan, found it “oddly moving”. She was also intrigued that “superstar Shah Rukh Khan’s spots don’t get covered up”.

The Times carried not only a review but also an interview with Shah Rukh. “If films were placed under starters orders,” noted James Christopher, “the clear winner this week would be Santosh Sivan’s Asoka.” He added that “in terms of colour, length and gaudy bravura, there’s nothing in British cinema to touch it.

To Christopher, “the real stroke of genius is that the director Santosh Sivan has created a movie that can be endlessly revisited.”

In the Evening Standard, Neil Norman said: “A romantic epic in the old-fashioned mode, with the accent on high emotions, it is guided by a stunning visual sense and an intelligent script which even allows for a quota of irony. This is a tremendous feat of populist entertainment.”

Such endorsement could not have been bought even with a weeklong expenses paid trip to a five-star hotel in Juhu.

   

 
 
DELHI’S BUNGLES, ABU TO NADEEM 
 
 
FROM SEEMA GUHA
 
New Delhi, Oct. 30: 
It’s been a bad fortnight for the home ministry. Whether it was the Abu Salem fiasco, the kidnapping of Vidyasagar Rao’s relative in Andhra Pradesh or the government being asked to pay compensation to music director Nadeem, wanted by Indian police for murder.

In all these cases, the ministry appeared completely out of depth, and fumbled through the muddle, believing the best way out was to hide behind a wall of silence.

Home minister L.K. Advani’s reputation as India’s man of steel could well take a battering if his officials continue to waffle as they have done in the last two weeks.

It began with Mumbai gangster Abu Salem, wanted for the Mumbai blasts. He is also an accused in 20 murders, some involving people in the film industry.

Though the Maharashtra government went public on Salem’s detention in Sharjah, New Delhi remained mum. There was no attempt to scotch rumours or give India’s side of the story. Last night, the CBI issued a short statement, which was as obtuse as only a government handout can be.

Even more astonishing is the ministry’s reaction to the kidnapping of minister of state for home Vidyasagar Rao’s relative in Andhra by Janasakthi, a Naxalite faction operating in the state.

Strange as it may appear, considering that the government is on the forefront of the fight against terror, the minister’s relatives were ready to negotiate with the outfit. Though the minister has denied reports of the kidnappers demanding Rs 1 crore as ransom, it is well known the family has asked the police not to interfere.

If the family of a Central minister is willing to negotiate with kidnappers, what message does it send down the line?

The message is simple: there are two sets of laws, one for ordinary people and the other for members of the Union government.

Former Prime Minister V.P. Singh was criticised when his home minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed’s daughter was kidnapped by militants in Kashmir and the government gave in to terrorists’ demand to ensure her release.

The present government did the same in Kandahar and quickly swapped three militants in exchange for the lives of the passengers in the Indian Airlines plane. Does this mean that despite the rhetoric, Indian leaders can always be persuaded to wilt under threat? There are no answers forthcoming from the home ministry.

To add insult to an already disastrous week was the news from London. A London court ordered the Indian government to pay £920,000 as compensation to Nadeem, the music director Delhi wanted extradited for the murder of Gulshan Kumar. Nadeem is believed to be a friend of Salem. India paid up in London yesterday.

Delhi can complain about the lack of political will in the case of Salem and the UAE. But what excuse can it have about its failure to extradite Nadeem from a friendly country like Britain? “It’s simply a case of shoddy investigation by the police,” said a lawyer involved in extradition cases. “The evidence produced by the police is often so flimsy that no self respecting court can be convinced by it.”

   
 

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