VHP temple-contempt charge to reach SC
Prickly PM furrows forehead at food jibe
Scribes kept inside lakshman rekha
‘Duped’ Cherie ticks off splash-thirsty guru
Cracker ban breather for Diwali
Shadowy ambush express chases soldiers
Panchayat death term for ‘affair’
Women sarpanch power ‘hijacked’ by husbands

 
 
VHP TEMPLE-CONTEMPT CHARGE TO REACH SC 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Nov. 3: 
The All-India Muslim Personal Law Board will move a contempt petition in the Supreme Court on Monday against Vishwa Hindu Parishad leaders for violating the court’s order regarding maintenance of status quo in and around the disputed area in Ayodhya.

The decision to file the petition was taken after the representative body of various factions of Muslims in India met here to take stock of the domestic and international situation.

The board also expressed “disappointment” with a Supreme Court judgment that advocated payment of maintenance to divorced Muslim women beyond three months. “The verdict is against our expectations and we will take it up at appropriate fora,” Kamal Farooqui, a board member, said. Soon after the Shah Bano ruling, the board had said the concept of maintenance beyond three months went against the shariat. It fought a protracted battle to force the Rajiv Gandhi government to amend the Constitution restricting maintenance to three months.

The highlight of today’s deliberations was the division over developments in Afghanistan. While the board members unanimously condemned Osama bin Laden’s brand of jihad, there were profound anti-US feelings over continuing bombings in Afghanistan.

The hawks wanted board chief Qazi Mujahid-ul-Islam to declare jihad against the US and call for a boycott of British and US goods. But the moderate leaders led by Qazi skirted the issue. They said it was not under the board’s purview to take a stand on the Afghan war. “Our role is restricted to implementation of shariat in Muslim personal law,” said Maulana Nizamuddin. Maulana Abdul Kareem Parekh criticised the clergy’s tendency to issue fatwas, wondering if it did not amount to imparting a communal colour to the Afghan crisis.

The board has decided to convene a national conference of intellectuals and religious leaders in January to pre-empt the VHP’s bid to construct a Ram temple at Ayodhya.

“Our invitation is extended to our non-Muslim brethren to stand up and be counted against fascism,” said Qazi Mujahid. National opinion is turning against violation of the sanctity in and around the disputed area in Ayodhya, he added.

The board has constituted a committee comprising Syed Shahabuddin, Yusuf Musharraf, Qasim Rasool Illyasi and Kamal Farooqui to keep track of the Ayodhya developments and take up the matter in the Supreme Court. “We have grave apprehension about the conduct of the Union government (and fear) that it may not be able to maintain sanctity in and around the disputed area in Ayodhya,” a member said, adding that the board had complete faith in the Supreme Court and the rule of law.

The board has also set up a panel to hold talks with the government, courts and women’s organisations to resolve what it calls a “deadlock” on the issue of maintenance for divorced Muslim women.

Though they emphasised that there were no provisions for payment of maintenance to divorced Muslim women beyond three months, the members said poor women should be supported by the cash-rich waqf boards, community organisations and relatives.

Protest threat

The VHP today threatened to launch a “strong” people’s movement from March 1 next year if the Centre failed to give land for the Ram temple, reports PTI.

There would be no alternative for Hindus but to fight if the Centre and the other parties failed to take a positive decision over the proposed construction of the Ram temple, VHP international general secretary Pravin Togadia said in Jaipur.

   

 
 
PRICKLY PM FURROWS FOREHEAD AT FOOD JIBE 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
Amritsar, Nov. 3: 
The BJP national executive bent backwards to humour Atal Bihari Vajpayee, but even the occasional note of criticism, however mild, was not taken to kindly by the Prime Minister.

Vajpayee apparently objected to a statement in the report by the BJP agricultural committee, headed by former Rajasthan chief minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat.

The report said the main problem before Indian agriculture today was that while over 60 million tonnes of foodgrain were lying in central godowns, about 30 per cent of the population did not get one square meal a day.

In his concluding address to the national executive, Vajpayee was quoted by BJP chief K. Jana Krishnamurthi as saying that the government was already giving food at cheap rates to those whose purchasing capacity was low. However, he admitted that no food was given to those with zero purchasing capacity.

The Prime Minister asked if it was being suggested that the government distribute free food. He added that at best, the government could have a food-for-work programme.

Vajpayee asked food and civil supplies minister Shanta Kumar to see what more could be done under such schemes and if foodgrain could be supplied at even lower rates. Such an attempt, he said, was also necessary to bridge the “growing gap” between the government and the BJP.

Vajpayee was apparently even more stung by the committee’s observation because Shekhawat was his close confidant even when the former chief minister was considered to be on the periphery of the BJP.

BJP economic cell convener Jagdish Shettigar defended Vajpayee when asked if the agriculture committee’s report that the poor were kept out of the food distribution loop contradicted the Prime Minister’s assertion that there were no starvation deaths in Orissa. Shettigar said the deaths were caused not by hunger but by “poverty”, which made food at present prices inaccessible to a large section of the poor.

At today’s executive meeting, Krishnamurthi quoted the Prime Minister as blaming the state governments for not lifting adequate quantities of food stocks. “The Centre is constantly at the receiving end though our effort is to make the policy practical,” he quoted Vajpayee as saying.

Vajpayee reportedly had a word of praise for home minister L.K. Advani’s “pro-active” policy in Jammu and Kashmir and said it went a “long way” in combating terrorism. But he added that care should be taken not to alienate Muslims.

“At a time when anti-US sentiments are being voiced, Muslims are looking up to us for assurances,” the Prime Minister said.

   

 
 
SCRIBES KEPT INSIDE LAKSHMAN REKHA 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
Amritsar, Nov. 3: 
When it was in the Opposition, the BJP’s strategists would count media management as one of the party’s main fortes. But once entrenched in power, the slips have started showing, and glaringly so.

At the ongoing national executive, the BJP seems to have perfected the art regulating information flow to the media or, better still, block it completely.

In the past executives — held out of Delhi or within the high security precincts of the capital’s Parliament Annexe — the BJP ensured that newspersons could interact unhindered with party members and leaders. The result was that apart from official briefings and handouts, the interactions gave insights into what happened at the in-camera sessions.

For the first time in Amritsar, the press was segregated from the venue — MK International Hotel. Although a special media room has been set up for filing copies, it has been cordoned off from the rest of the hotel and there is no way that security personnel would allow any reporter to overstep the lakshman rekha.

Even the PIB card issued by the government as proof of one’s credentials was dismissed.

A few ministers — notably law minister Arun Jaitley — and disgruntled MPs like Shatrughan Sinha cared to visit the media centre. But the former came with a specific agenda: expatiate the official viewpoint on the Prevention of Terrorist Activities Ordinance while Sinha was interested in voicing his disenchantment with the leadership. As far as the others were concerned the press did not exist.

Even the press briefings were arranged in a particular sequence to disable the press from trying to independently meet the leaders and find out what actually happened in the closed-door sessions.

For instance, yesterday, there were two briefings by general secretaries Maya Singh and Sunil Shastri within a space of two hours after which the press had to rush to attend a workers’ convention addressed by the Prime Minister. That left them with just enough time to file their copies.

The security considerations in Punjab and particularly Amritsar, which is just 35 km away from the Pakistan border, have served as a convenient façade to explain the restricted access given to the press. But the real objective seems to be to shut off reportage on the discussions which in the past were stormy. For instance in the last executive, a senior member openly berated the Prime Minister for having talks with General Pervez Musharraf. And his remarks were promptly leaked to the press.

There are indications that the closed-door policy vis-ŕ-vis the press may be implemented on a day-to-day basis.

   

 
 
‘DUPED’ CHERIE TICKS OFF SPLASH-THIRSTY GURU 
 
 
FROM SHRABANI BASU
 
London, Nov. 3: 
Cherie Blair, wife of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, has fallen out with her Indian New Age guru after the latter got the Prime Minister’s wife to open her clinic in a blaze of publicity.

Bharti Vyas — known in Britain as the holistic Ayurvedic practitioner who helps Cherie deal with stress — was at the receiving end of Cherie’s wrath yesterday after she publicised the fact that Cherie was opening her new clinic and invited the media in.

Photographs of a laughing Cherie hugging Vyas were all over the papers as she opened the Bharti Vyas Holistic Therapy Centre in Chiltern Street on Wednesday. The write-ups invariably carried references to Cherie’s love for alternative therapies like acupuncture, crystals, etc.

But, as The Daily Mail revealed today, while Vyas enjoyed the publicity for her new clinic, the Prime Minister’s wife obviously didn’t.

In a terse letter, reproduced by the newspaper, Cherie wrote to her one-time guru.

“Dear Bharti

I am writing to say how disappointed I was by the handling of the opening of your school on Wednesday.

I am very uneasy about being used this way (not for the first time) to promote your business. I am going to take a few weeks off from visiting the salon and hope in the meantime that you and Priti (Vyas’s 34-year-old daughter) will refrain from discussing anything to do with me in your press.”

The letter was signed “Cherie” and came simply from “The office of Cherie Booth QC”.

Cherie uses her maiden name Booth professionally.

Cherie had apparently been given to understand that the opening of the clinic was a small family affair. When she arrived she was appalled to find herself among 200 of Vyas’s disciples along with the media in full flow.

She disguised her feelings at the function and went on a tour of the facilities with her customary smile and enthusiasm.

But back home, she shot off a letter to the holistic guru mildly hinting that she would not be returning to her clinic again.

Cherie is known to rely on Vyas for special one-to-one stress-busting sessions. When she was pregnant with her fourth child in 1999, it was Vyas who told her to get Tony Blair to massage her every night.

The Prime Minister’s wife said she was shocked even before the function as she read interviews given by Priti to The Daily Mail. Cherie said she had understood that Vyas had an agreement with her office that they would never discuss anything to do with her with the press.

In her strongly-worded letter she said:

“You had clearly announced the event to the press without any consultation with my office.”

“I understand that Carole (Cherie’s fitness trainer) asked Priti to phone Fiona (her press secretary) once we realised this was not the quiet family affair I had told them it was. She declined to do this.”

“As a result the event was disorganised and shambolic, the coverage was embarrassing to my family and me and has caused distress and anger amongst the many other people who support me in my life whether they are practitioners, designers or my colleagues at Downing Street.”

Vyas has refused to comment about the rebuff from her famous client.

   

 
 
CRACKER BAN BREATHER FOR DIWALI 
 
 
FROM OUR LEGAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Nov. 3: 
The Supreme Court has modified its earlier order on bursting crackers on Diwali and other such festivals, saying the use of fire crackers and fireworks are prohibited only between 10 pm and 6 am.

A three-judge bench of Justice B.N. Kirpal, Justice N. Santosh Hegde and Justice Ashok Bhan in its modified order said: “It is evident that the prohibition with regard to use of fire crackers and fireworks is only between 10 pm and 6 am.”

The interim order came on a public interest litigation by Keshav Vaishya of Gwalior who submitted that the earlier court order restricting the use of crackers between 6 and 10 pm hurt the sentiments of a majority of Indians as Diwali was a unique and universal festival of India.

Appearing for the petitioner, counsel Ravi Shankar, P. V. Yogeswaran and S. Jaishima contended that the restriction order violated Article 25 of the Constitution, which guarantees religious freedom.

The order was passed in a noise pollution case seeking implementation of laws relating to sound and air pollution.

The bench listed the case for hearing “in normal course”. The case is likely to resume after six weeks. In view of Dussehra, Diwali and other such festivals, the petition said the court should give directions to prevent accidents arising out of fire crackers and fireworks.

   

 
 
SHADOWY AMBUSH EXPRESS CHASES SOLDIERS 
 
 
FROM SUCHANDANA GUPTA
 
Bhopal, Nov. 3: 
Three times in five days, the “heroes of the nation” were taken for a ride.

Over the past one week, 11 armymen, all in uniform and travelling by the Chennai-bound Tamil Nadu Express, were found drugged and looted when the train arrived at Bhopal station.

They were admitted to the Command Hospital here. Doctors claim they are all out of danger.

The baffling sequence began on October 28, when the south-bound express arrived at Bhopal station around 7:30 in the morning. Passengers in the general compartment noticed a uniformed jawan lying unconscious and informed the railway police.

Some of his belongings were stolen, though neither the police nor the army is willing to give details of articles lost. It is not known whether any arms were stolen.

Even as the first victim, who was heavily sedated and regained full consciousness only after four days, was struggling to recover, the shadowy operatives struck again.

Three days later, on October 31, the Tamil Nadu Express reached Bhopal station with five unconscious armymen, all in the general compartment. Their “vital” belongings had been stolen.

The faceless gang was at it again the very next day – and on the same train. As the Chennai-bound express stopped at Bhopal station during breakfast hour, five jawans were lying limp in their seats. This last batch of victims has been identified as R.K. Reddy, Vinod Kumar, Baghmare, Pawan and Shesh Ram.

According to the superintendent of railway police, B.B. Sharma, all the soldiers were drugged between New Delhi and Agra. “There are more than one person involved. We suspect several of them because one man could not have carried away so many belongings as have been stolen,” Sharma said. The official said their “preliminary investigations were over”, but refused to reveal any more details.

The Tamil Nadu Express starts from New Delhi at 10:30 pm. By the time the train reached Jhansi around 4:30 am, none of the soldiers were conscious of their surroundings, police said. The culprits leave before the train reaches the state of Madhya Pradesh, railway police officials claimed.

“The drug becomes effective within half-an-hour of its consumption,” Sharma added.

Railway sources said all the jawans were first befriended by strangers, who spoke to them as “heroes of the nation” before offering them biscuits, cake, a mango drink and even water. One of the victims ate a full appetite. He regained consciousness after five days.

The police have sent samples of the drugged food packets to the forensic laboratory. Cases under Section 328 (causing hurt by means of poison with intent to commit an offence) and Section 379 (theft) have been registered against the unknown miscreants.

The army top brass have been officially informed of the incidents and the railway police have instructed soldiers not to eat anything offered by strangers while travelling by train, especially on the Tamil Nadu Express.

   

 
 
PANCHAYAT DEATH TERM FOR ‘AFFAIR’ 
 
 
FROM GAUTAM SARKAR
 
Sarashdangal (Dumka), Nov. 3: 
A tribal woman and her “paramour” were lynched by villagers even as the immersion of Durga idols was in progress.

Before being done to death, the duo was stripped and paraded in the village, allegedly on the orders of the panchayat on Sunday. Many fear-stricken non-tribals, who are in a minority, have begun to flee the village, situated on the Dumka-Rampurhat road.

The main accused, Hapan Babu Kisku, the relative of the woman, is still at large. A case of murder has been registered with Shikaripara police station.

The officer-in-charge of Shikaripara police station, T. Soren said a property dispute was behind the killing. He said Hapan Babu and his associates were absconding.

The panchayat was summoned by Hapan Babu to decide the fate of Tarky Baski (35), wife of Ramesh Soren, and Dinesh Mandal (30) of the nearby Benaghari village on Sunday evening.

Most of the villagers were busy with the fair, organised on the occasion of Durga Puja. Hapan Babu and his associates, who forcibly brought the duo to the panchayat, claimed that they had seen them in a compromising position.

A group of tribal youths forced the panchayat to pass a “death decree” against the duo. They were stripped and paraded even as the fair was in progress.

On Monday evening, police found their bodies with multiple injuries near Borugorh, a hilly place near the Jamropani forest.

Tarky, the elder daughter of Jai Ram Baski and Malhan Kisku, had come to spend the puja with her parents. Her husband Ramesh Soren from Kandapur in Burdwan district at West Bengal had also joined her.

On Sunday evening, the couple went to the fair to set up a counter to sell pochai (country liquor). According to Ramesh, after they finished selling their stock of pochai, he went to a nearby paan stall.

When he returned, he found his wife missing. Durga Marandi, a villager who had set up a food stall at the fair, said he saw Hapan Babu beating Tarky.

According to villagers, Dinesh had an affair with Tarky. Dinesh, married with two children, hails from nearby Benaghari village. He, too, had set up a sweet shop in the village during the fair.

Tarky’s mother, Malhan, said: “Hapan Babu eliminated my daughter because she was our main strength and used to protect us.” Tarky had purchased some plots of land to meet the need of her parents. Tarky’s mother said there was dispute over the property.

Lukhi Baski, Tarky’s sister, alleged the involvement of Hapan Babu in the dispute over the property owned by her mother.

“They cooked up a story about my sister’s involvement with Dinesh Mandal only to settle personal scores. Now they will kill my parents,” said Lukhi.

   

 
 
WOMEN SARPANCH POWER ‘HIJACKED’ BY HUSBANDS 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, Nov. 3: 
Women’s reservation in panchayats has not broken the back of patriarchy. It has given women some sort of visibility but not “empowered” them to the extent of exercising powers they can rightfully claim as their own.

“There are now three official categories in the panchayat system: sarpanchpati (husband of the sarpanch), panchpati (husband of the panch) and pradhanpati (husband of the pradhan),” said N.R. Bhasin, Rajasthan’s election commissioner, at a meeting organised by the Participatory Research in Asia (Pria) in Delhi yesterday.

He was narrating to chief election commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh some of his experiences in the state — one of the most backward and unfriendly to women in the country.

At a recent panchayat meeting, Rajasthan’s chief minister Ashok Gehlot had wanted to meet the sarpanch. A man stood up and said he was the sarpanch. The chief minister then asked for the deputy sarpanch. The man once again claimed the designation. The surprised chief minister then asked how the same person could be both.

“The man then introduced himself as the sarpanchpati — husband of the sarpanch, who was sitting in an inconspicuous corner of the room. When the chief minister asked her to come forward she said she was fine where she was,” Bhasin said.

With panchayat elections round the corner, election commissioners of several states were sharing and evaluating their experiences with the chief election commissioner. The one point that emerged strongly was that reservation of seats does not guarantee either equality or equal stake in power for women.

“In fact, what we have found is that it is very difficult to empower women in the reserved categories,” said Rajasthan’s election commissioner.

The state’s track record on gender has always been poor with patriarchy retaining its grip. But women’s organisations, trying to break the stranglehold, say they have inched forward, though at a slow pace. The visibility of women panchayats was proof. But men, threatened by what could turn out to be a shift in gender power, made it difficult for the elected women representatives to function.

“Sometimes these women sarpanchs would just find themselves locked out of their office. The key would be missing,” said an activist of a women’s organisation in Rajasthan.

“With women coming into the panchayat arena, a lot of men saw their rule ending within panchayats and, therefore, piled pressure on their wives or other female members of the family to contest elections,” Pria said.

One way of obstructing smooth functioning of women representatives was by choking information. The women were not given a brief about their roles and responsibilities.

In most states, 90 per cent of panchayat secretaries are males — local government officials are dismissive about women leaders and do not like to deal with them. Caste bias is clear in case of SC/ST women representatives.

Madhya Pradesh, however, appears to be emerging from the gloom. “We also have sarpanchpatis. But after the second panchayat polls, women representatives seem to be coming into their own,” said G.S. Shukla, the state election commissioner.

   
 

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