Help-or-hide dilemma for Malda VHP
Cong joins sympathy chorus
Finance transfers before take-off
Sonia stalwarts go shrine-hopping
Jaya and Congress drift apart
Dwindling Parsis in preserve-past push
Mahanta’s wife quizzed
MCC shuffles & shakes up to outwit police
Hiccups over Ayurveda
Lashkar storms army camp

Malda, Nov. 4: 
“Stand by the tortured Hindus of Bangladesh.” The blue words emblazoned on a yellow poster have been greeting visitors to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad office in Malda for some time.

But the official line the Sangh arm has taken about the whereabouts of the “tortured Hindus” is intriguing. “No clue, we have been hearing about an influx since the beginning of October,” would be the official VHP response to any question on the specifics of the problem.

The duality of the appeal — to “stand by the tortured Hindus” and the denial of any knowledge of the existence of the beleaguered people — admit senior VHP leaders in private, is a pointer to the problem they are in.

Like the administration in Malda, the VHP leadership, too, does not know whether an honest approach on the issue will add to the problems of the beleaguered refugees from Bangladesh, they say. That explains the stridency of the appeal — about a problem that is a necessary constituent of the Sangh parivar’s ideological basis — and the curious coyness about going into the whereabouts of the homeless from Bangladesh, they say.

Amal Kumar Chandra is one of the senior-most VHP parichalaks in the state. The VHP organising secretary of the Malda and Murshidabad divisions is now touring North and South Dinajpur, Malda, Murshidabad and Nadia, the districts under his charge, to get acquainted with the problem. He admitted the VHP had seldom been caught in such a bind.

“If we give the list of refugees from Bangladesh to the administration, the first thing that may occur is a pushback of the shelter-seekers,” Chandra said. “That, you know, may mean several wholly avoidable deaths.”

But the refusal to tell the administration about what it has already started a full-fledged campaign on — the “perils Hindus were in at the hands of Muslims” — was meaning an “immense loss of credibility”, Chandra admitted. “We are ending up looking conspicuously foolish,” he said.

District and army intelligence officials have already approached the VHP leadership for details of the oustees’ whereabouts, Chandra added. “The pressure on us to come clean is growing,” he admitted, but added that the VHP would bear “every pressure” to protect the Bangladeshi refugees.

Amid arranging “safe shelter” for the refugees — every VHP cadre’s family in Malda has been asked to put up at least two refuge-seeking families — the VHP-RSS combine in Malda is also getting impatient with the BJP-led Centre’s response to the problem.

The growing number of refugees may add to the BJP’s strength during the next panchayat elections in 2003 — the recent refugees could assimilate into the largely refugee population of the “borind” (high-lying) areas of Old Malda, Gajol, Bamungola and Habibpur where the BJP has always been a force to contend with. But a party that espouses the Hindu cause should not remain satisfied with only the political windfall of the “essentially human problem”, feels the VHP-RSS leadership.


Calcutta, Nov. 4: 
Echoing Mamata Banerjee, state Congress chief Pranab Mukherjee today said the persecuted minorities fleeing to India from Bangladesh should not be pushed back on humanitarian grounds.

Admitting that thousands have taken shelter in the border districts since Khaleda Zia came to power, Mukherjee said these people can neither be called infiltrators nor refugees.

“They are being forced to cross over under certain circumstances,” he said, adding that their cases have to be treated “sympathetically”.

Mamata has made it clear that the issue has to be handled carefully. “This is a sensitive issue and we cannot push back those who have taken shelter in the districts,” Mamata had said a couple of days ago.

In a bid to upstage the Trinamul Congress leader, Mukherjee said he would shortly take up the matter with the Centre.


New Delhi, Nov. 4: 
Hours before leaving for Russia, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee cleared a major reshuffle in the finance ministry, dumping finance secretary Ajit Kumar in the Planning Commission as its secretary.

Kumar was not getting along with either his boss, finance minister Yashwant Sinha, or with his immediate junior, adviser Rakesh Mohan, who had threatened to leave over the differences. Mohan, a development economist, was persuaded to stay back by Sinha.

The finance minister has for long been backing expenditure secretary C.M. Vasudev for the top job. Vasudev, an old finance ministry hand, has been given the designation of secretary, department of economic affairs, and not that of finance secretary, but will be doing Kumar’s job.

The reason he has not been made finance secretary is that he is junior by a year to S. Narayanan, the revenue secretary. Giving Vasudev the designation of finance secretary would have made him Narayanan’s boss.

Sources said there are moves to transfer Narayanan, a protege of the powerful DMK leader and commerce and industry minister, Murasoli Maran, to one of the two ministries controlled by Maran.

Narayanan will either be found a slot within the next few weeks or be shifted only after the budget-making exercise, in which the revenue secretary plays a key role. One option is to keep Narayanan in his current job and move him to the commerce ministry in place of commerce secretary Prabir Sengupta, who is slated to retire early next year after the budget is over. Sinha is believed to be upset over the low tax collections so far.

Vasudev’s position will be taken by C.S. Rao, the director-general of the National Institute of Rural Development. Rao, too, has served in the finance ministry earlier.

The government’s fiscal deficit in the first five months of the financial year 2001-2002 has already reached 50 per cent of the targeted deficit for the whole year. This has caused alarm, especially as most of the big-ticket expenditure on highway projects and power plants and ports as well as disbursal of money for defence purchases will be made in the coming months.

The sources said the Prime Minister might well make another round of bureaucratic reshuffle after returning. He is believed to be unhappy with the working of several economic ministries, including civil aviation and power.

Several secretaries, too, have been seeking transfers away from ministerial bosses with whom they are not getting along.


New Delhi, Nov. 4: 
While the Samajwadi Party has roped in Amitabh Bachchan and Jayalalithaa to boost the party’s prospects in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, Congress president Sonia Gandhi is pinning her hopes on the “hand of God”.

Sonia sent family retainer M.L. Fotedar to Ajmer to seek the khwaja sahib’s blessings. Fotedar carried a letter for Diwan Zainul Abideen, asking him to campaign for the Congress.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had approached Abideen, too, but for a different reason. He wanted the diwan to help him settle the Ayodhya dispute.

AICC general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad is hopping from one dargah to another. He went to the dargah of Ala Hazrat at Bareilly, looking for divine blessings from the dead and political backing from those living in and managing the dargah.

Like Ajmer, the Bareilly shrine management is divided among those supporting the Samajwadi Party, the BJP and the Congress. Azad will also be visiting the dargah of Haji Waris Ali Shah at Dewan Sharief near Barabanki.

Former Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Salman Khurshid is off to Mecca to perform umrah. Khurshid said the visit is strictly personal, but his detractors in the Congress claimed that the visit had to do with his desire to be an important player in Uttar Pradesh politics.

Khurshid is planning to contest the Assembly polls.

The lone Muslim minister in the Cabinet, Shahnawaz Hussain, too, is visiting Mecca and Medina. Echoing Khurshid, Hussain described the pilgrimage as “strictly private”.

Sonia’s move to send Fotedar to Ajmer surprised many party leaders in Uttar Pradesh who claim that Abideen’s presence will not matter much in the state.

“There are dozens of important shrines in almost all cities in Uttar Pradesh. What is the need to get ‘outside support’?” asked a UPCC member.

He said Sonia should have approached religious heads of seminaries at Saharanpur, Azamgarh, Lucknow, Deoband, Bareilly and other places instead.

While Khurshid, Fotedar, Azad and Ahmad Patel have been asked to muster support from the Muslim clergy, another set of party leaders led by Digvijay Singh has been asked to get in touch with all non-VHP-BJP Hindu religious leaders.

The Congress leadership was also taken aback by Mulayam Singh Yadav’s “coup” of roping in Jayalalithaa. While the party does not think much of Jayalalithaa’s appeal to voters in Uttar Pradesh, it sees this as a sign of realignment of non-Congress, non-BJP parties and the revival of a third front in Delhi.

Jayalalithaa was a Congress ally in Tamil Nadu and if she does form a third front, it will be bad news for Sonia.


Chennai, Nov. 4: 
Jayalalithaa’s decision to campaign for the Samajwadi Party mirrors the widening distance between the Congress and the ADMK.

Samajwadi general secretary Amar Singh had called on the former chief minister yesterday at her Poes Garden residence and invited her to join the party campaign for the approaching elections to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly.

Singh’s low-profile visit to Chennai came close on the heels of a clear signal from the state Congress camp that it would explore the third front option in Tamil Nadu.

State Congress chief E.V.K.S. Elangovan asserted yesterday that his party was firm on “freeing itself from the clutches of both the Dravidian parties” in Tamil Nadu. He also made it clear that the Congress could bring back “Kamaraj rule” only by going it alone in the future.

The statements are being interpreted as loud signals that the Congress high command has given the state unit the go-ahead to pursue the third front line.

Jayalalithaa’s recent moves indicate that her political antennae had picked up some signals of the disquiet within her secular coalition. Most partners are awaiting the outcome of her appeal against the conviction in two land deal cases.

Jayalalithaa has refrained from making any public statements of late, and she has lined up one-to-one interactions with party members who have been elected to local bodies.

The choice of local body members to gauge the mood on the ground is not without significance. Jayalalithaa’s political problems had spiralled after the local body elections, which offered her allies a chance to size up one another after the ADMK’s Assembly poll sweep.

The Congress high command is said to be “encouraged” by the panchayat poll results that placed the third front, including P. Chidambaram’s Congress Jananayaga Peravai, in a “respectable third” position.

The CPM, which took a gamble and walked out of the ADMK front, too, fared well in the panchayat elections. “We have more or less bagged the same tally which we achieved in company with the MDMK during the 1996 panchayat polls. This proves that out grassroots base is intact,” said a CPM leader.

Besides, he added, the CPM won more seats than the CPI, which continued to be part of the Jayalalithaa front.


New Delhi, Nov. 4: 
Parsis in India totalled about 76,000 in the 1991 census. With their death rate twice the birth rate, concerned community members are waiting with trepidation for the results of the 2001 census.

Parsis know the clock is ticking fast. But the wait is not filled with helpless inaction: some members of the community have adopted a multi-pronged strategy to create awareness of the rich Parsi strand in India’s multicultural fabric. Few can forget the Parsi contribution to India’s economy, not to speak of politics, jurisprudence, medicine, education and the arts. These contributions will now be documented in a systematic manner.

Simultaneously, efforts are being made to strengthen the sense of cultural identity and highlight cultural heritage. The Unesco-assisted Parzor project has the support of a number of individuals and institutions. Shernaz Cama, professor of English at Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi, is the consultant and coordinator.

Side by side with time-bound medical and sociological research, several other research projects are being undertaken under the Parzor project. An international seminar to be held at Navsari, Gujarat, in a couple of months will focus on the preservation and dissemination of the archivally rich, 125-year-old First Dastur Meherjirana Library.

The library is replete with Zoroastrian manuscripts, Emperor Akbar’s sanad, Tansen’s lyrics, Abul Fazl’s letters and rare books. The seminar will be assisted by the National Archives and expects participation from scholars from Heidelberg University and the head priest of Mumbai, Dasturji Kotwal, a Zoroastrian scholar.

A recent exhibition at the India International Centre, including photographs by Sooni Taraporevala, recreated the Parsi ambience. Research is being undertaken by the Delhi-based NGO, Development Alternatives, of the Taka system of water purification and harvesting, instances of which are becoming rare with only a few remaining in Bharuch.

The Parzor project is divided into 10 modules. Perhaps the most important is the detailed documentation of the oral traditions divided into two parts, one on customs and the other on religion and priesthood.

Followers of the prophet Zarathustra, the Parsis came to India from Iran in the 10th century and settled in Gujarat. While adapting well to their new home, the settlers preserved many of the ancient customs and oral traditions, some as old as the Rig Veda. The Parzor project is expected to analyse and record these various strands.

Among the modules of the project is the classification and protection of heritage sites in India, Iran and along the Silk Route into western China. The preservation of archival material is another major module.

Other modules constitute researching the contribution of Parsis in public life, professional life, industry, agriculture, trade and science, the performing arts, arts and craft, institutions and charities.

Tie-ups have been established such as the research project with the National Institute of Fashion Technology in Ahmedabad, to study the Gara embroidery.


Guwahati, Nov. 4: 
Delhi police today questioned former Rajya Sabha MP Jayashree Goswami-Mahanta in the capital in connection with her charges of assault against her husband and former chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta.

However, Mahanta claimed that his spouse “has not lodged any complaint” against him with Delhi police. “What I am saying is on the basis of a telephonic conversation I had with her (Jayashree) early this morning,” the former AGP chief said.

Sub-inspector Vijendra Singh, one of the officers manning the Tughlaq Road police station in Delhi this evening, said over the phone that investigating officer Subhash Chand met Jayashree and quizzed her regarding the complaint. Jayashree’s complaint was registered by the Tughlaq Road police station on Friday night after Mahanta allegedly assaulted her. “A final decision whether or not to register a case against Mahanta may be taken tomorrow,” a police source said.

The medical report from Ram Manohar Lohia hospital, where the police took a bleeding Jayashree on Friday night, could not be obtained today.

Senior Delhi police officials are understood to have spoken to Mahanta over telephone today. He, however, denied such a development. Home department sources said there was no formal request by Delhi police as yet to question Mahanta in Guwahati.

City police chief Paresh Neogi said: “There is no communication from Delhi police to us in this regard till now.” He said all information he had was based on newspaper and television reports.

Throughout the day, Mahanta was closeted with aides at his official residence, trying to gauge the political ramifications of the matter. Mahanta, who had maintained that he was with Jayashree in Delhi because she was undergoing medical treatment, said he had “no plans of returning (to the capital) in the immediate future”.

AGP president Brindaban Goswami — who replaced Mahanta as the party chief — said the party would wait for the details of the alleged incident before deciding on any action.

Women’s organisations in the state said law should take its own course. Saila Kalita, a leader of the Assam Mahila Sangh, said: “If Mahanta has really beaten up his wife as reported, legal action should be taken against him.”

State BJP Mohila Morcha described the incident as “very unfortunate, if true”. “Although we cannot comment on personal matters of Mahanta and his wife, in this particular case the matter has become public as Jayashree Goswami-Mahanta herself made it public by going to the police as reported in the media,” said Kalyani Sinha, state general secretary of the BJP women’s wing.

The Asom Mahila Parishad, the women’s wing of the AGP, was, however, guarded. Its leader Queen Oja said: “It is a personal matter of Mahanta and Jayashree. Hence, I would not like comment. However, we will come out with our stand if the matter is taken up at the party forum.”


Ranchi, Nov. 4: 
The Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) has restructured its set-up and reshuffled “portfolios” of its zonal functionaries to outsmart the police, hot on the trail of the extremist outfit, especially after the Topchanchi ambush. Thirteen policemen were killed in an attack on a picket last week.

The MCC’s central committee has been divided into new zones and sub-zones. Sources said the central committee held three rounds of meetings over the past four days under the leadership of Pramod Mishra to revamp the organisation base. The first meeting took place at Kharar-Khajuria, bordering Jharkhand and Gaya, on November 1. The second meeting took place two days later at Jhuggi in Dhanbad district while the third was held in the dense forests of Chatra on November 4.

Uma Shankar of the MCC central committee, P.N.G. alias Nathnu Mistry and Pramod Mishra attended all the three meetings, which saw a sizeable presence of women. Besides these leaders, several sub-zonal and area commanders also attended the meetings.

Giving details of the jurisdiction of the outfit commanders to The Telegraph, sources close to the MCC said Pramod Mishra of central Bihar (north zone) has been shifted to central zone under which Jharkhand falls. This area lies between Kuleshwari-Chauparan and Pratapur-Kunda. Sub-zonal chief Ujjwal has been promoted to the post of chief lieutenant of the area located between Deo-Sultani and Chhattarpur, sources said.

Chhattarpur chief Mulayam Prasad has been given additional charge of Bijua-Barwadih, while Brajesh Yadav has been given charge of Chatra and Palamau areas, sources said. As a “security” measure, new zones have been created in Koderma and Simdega districts, the sources added.

They said the shake-up was prompted by the deployment of BSF and paramilitary forces at Dhanbad, Hazaribagh and Chatra. To combat the security forces, the outfit is also procuring more sophisticated weapons.


New Delhi, Nov. 4: 
The war over introducing alternative medicine in the medical curriculum is yet to be declared, but the battlelines have already been drawn.

Advocates of the Indian system of medicine (ISM) and homoeopathy accuse the pharmaceutical industry, in collusion with some doctors, of blocking the entry of traditional Indian medicines into the market.

“It is not the top doctors who are opposed to popularising and assimilating ISM as part of medical treatment,” said an official in the health ministry. “It is those in the lower levels, who have a nexus with pharmaceutical companies, who are resisting it.”

A senior representative of Ranbaxy, one of the country’s top pharmaceutical companies, says his company is not losing sleep over the possibilities of a parallel system of medicine entering the market.

“It could happen 30 years down the line,” the Ranbaxy official said, though the department of ISM believes it will happen earlier than that.

Even when alternative medicine does not compete for shelf space in the open market with its western counterpart, ayurveda and unani medicines annually fetch Rs 4,000 crore, while allopathic medicine revenues amount to Rs 16,000 crore.

While price differences persist, experts say alternative medicine could become as expensive as their allopathic counterparts if strict quality control was enforced on their production lines.

“If the Centre issues strict guidelines to monitor the quality of Indian medicines and with patenting, prices could go up,” says a health ministry official.

The market is currently flooded with cheap traditional Indian medicine, but no effort is being made to monitor their quality.

The head of the department of ISM, Shailaja Chander, fails to understand what this fuss is about. “We are not trying to ride bandwagon on everything that is allopathic,” she says.


Srinagar, Nov. 4: 
Three militants raided a heavily-guarded army camp at Dialgam in southern Anantnag district late last night, killing four soldiers and injuring five.

Police sources said around 9 pm, the militants began firing rockets and grenades on the camp of 36 Rashtriya Rifles. Two of them, dressed in army fatigues, then attacked with their guns blazing. “Under the cover of fire, the militants managed to enter the camp,” said a police spokesman.

In the intense gunbattle lasting over two hours, three jawans were killed and six injured. One of the jawans succumbed to injury later.

Immediately after the militants intruded into the camp — consisting mostly of houses vacated by migrant Pandits — troops who had rushed in after receiving information surrounded it.

A search operation was launched and then abandoned as the militants were in army uniform.

The third militant, who was holed up inside a wooden structure, opened fire and lobbed grenades when the troops moved in to sanitise the area early this morning and was killed in retaliatory fire, army sources said. However, his accomplices could not be traced. The sources said the two militants managed to escape.

A Lashkar-e-Toiba spokesman phoned reporters in Srinagar to claim responsibility. He said three Lashkar activists — Abu Hashim and Abu Muslim (both Kashmiris) and Abu Umar (Pakistani) — were involved in the attack. He claimed that eight soldiers were killed in the attack and that the Pakistani and a Kashmiri militant had returned to their hideout.

A search operation has been launched in the villages adjacent to the camp to trace the militants.

Confirming the attack, an army statement said four soldiers and one militant were killed in the incident. “In the ensuing encounter, security forces killed one Pakistani terrorist. Four security personnel were killed,” it said.

In another encounter, three militants were gunned down by the army and the special operations group of the police at Ratnipora village in northern Baramulla district. Police said three AK-47 rifles were recovered from the site of the encounter.


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