Ambush anger at Delhi, state
Teacher test postponed
Political divide dissolves around ailing Somen
Luck runs out for gamblers
State boost to infotech
Cong king vs monarch
Govt buys Jaya support with credit lolly
Lady and Miss at Atal durbar
Pant open to talks with Hurriyat
Wanted, a think tank to advise Rajiv trust

Siliguri, Nov. 13: 
Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) chairman Subash Ghising today tore into the Centre, the state government and neighbouring Sikkim, accusing them of conspiring against him and masterminding the ambush on his convoy early this year.

Addressing a rally after presenting the first DGHC awards for bravery and excellence at Chowrastha in Darjeeling this morning, the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) chief said: “The militants who ambushed my convoy were goons hired by the masterminds within the state and Central agencies. Though the Darjeeling police claim to have nabbed the masterminds along with the militants, they are actually shielding the masterminds who are moving around freely in Darjeeling, Kurseong, Kalimpong, Sikkim and Nepal.”

Two body guards, who were killed in the abortive attempt on his life on February 10 on Pankhabari Road near Kurseong, received the bravery awards.

After investigations, the police had arrested over a dozen people, including prime suspect Chattray Subba, who is chief of the militant Gorkhaland Liberation Organisation, and opposition Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League leaders Amar Lama and Norden Lama.

Blaming the state of harbouring the masterminds, Ghising said: “The state government is giving protection to the masterminds behind the attack. It has done everything within its powers to make the hill council defunct. These (the persons arrested) are only hired goons. Though we have information that the militants brought in as many as 19 weapons, including AK-47 and AK-56 rifles, to the hills during the attack, the police have failed to seize even one. The killers and the masterminds are moving around freely and I fear that unless they are stopped they might strike again,” an angry Ghising said.

He also questioned the Centre’s intention behind calling him to New Delhi in February for talks and hinted that it was a ploy to set up the ambush. “I don’t know why they (the Centre) called me to Delhi for talks and it was not a coincidence that I was attacked on my way back from Delhi. The conspiracy was hatched by a string of conspirators in Sikkim, Kalimpong, Kurseong and neighbouring Nepal. I challenge these conspirators to strike from the front and not like cowards, attacking me from my back in an ambush, the GNLF chief said.

Ghising did not hide his disappointment with the chief minister. “I told West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee during our meeting here last week that if the state government cannot arrest the masterminds, then let me take charge. I told the chief minister that given a free hand, I can bring these masterminds to book within 10-15 days. It seems that the government is reluctant to arrest these masterminds. We have the names and when the time comes, I shall unmask them to the people of Darjeeling.”

Youths stabbed

Two injured youths were found lying unconscious on the railway tracks between Ultadanga and Dum Dum stations late this evening. Krishna Sau, 25, and Durga Das, 20, were rushed to hospital, where the latter died. Sau was in a critical condition.

GRP sources said the youths had been stabbed and dumped by a gang after a clash in Ambedkar Colony of Dakhindari.


Calcutta, Nov. 13: 
The West Bengal School Service Commission examination for candidates in the eastern region has been postponed. It will now be held on December 29 instead of December 2.

Sources in the commission said the regional office will shortly begin sending admit cards to the examinees.

The examination was postponed due to unavoidable circumstances, the sources added.

Open varsity V-C

Surabhi Banerjee, former chief minister Jyoti Basu’s biographer and pro-vice-chancellor of Calcutta University, was appointed the vice-chancellor of the Netaji Subhas Open University today.

She will replace Radharaman Chakraborty, who will retire on November 17.

Banerjee is likely to join the open university next Monday, sources in the university said.


Calcutta, Nov. 13: 
Former state Congress president and MLA Somen Mitra was admitted to a south Calcutta nursing home early this morning after he suffered a massive heart attack.

Sunil Sen and S.K. Biswas, the doctors attending on Mitra, have kept him under observation at the intensive coronary care unit. “Somenbabu is now under sedation and it is difficult to make any comments before 72 hours have passed,” said Biswas.

Mitra’s aides immediately removed him to nursing home after the Congress leader fell ill late last night. Mitra had complained of chest pain that gradually spread to his left arm to state Congress chief Pranab Mukherjee last evening. Party sources said Mitra had a hectic schedule yesterday, inaugurating nearly two dozen Kali pujas in the city.

Mitra had also just returned from a long tour of north Bengal, where he had gone to strengthen the party organisation.

As soon as news about Mitra’s illness spread, political leaders, cutting across party lines, inquired after his condition.

Jyoti Basu and chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee called up the clinic while state CPM secretary Anil Biswas and Left Front chairman Biman Bose visited the nursing home in the evening. There they met Mukherjee, who updated them about the Congress leader’s condition.

But the event of the evening was the visit of Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, one-time colleague of Mitra and now an adversary. She reached the nursing home with party MLA Partho Chattopadhyay around 5 pm.

Mamata’s move took the Congress leaders in the clinic by surprise. Mukherjee told Mamata that Mitra had complained of a pain in his left arm while travelling from one Kali Puja pandal to another.

“We politicians don’t take our illness seriously and people also find it hard to believe when we fall sick. I know Somenda has been pushing himself lately,” Mamata told Mukherjee.

Mamata went upstairs to the ICCU and spoke to the doctors on duty there. She also left a get-well message and requested them to convey it to Mitra. “Somenda should also control his food habits and learn to be a temperate eater,” Mamata reportedly told Mukherjee.

A section of Mamata’s supporters had tried to dissuade her from visiting Mitra. They argued that it may send a wrong signal to her party rank and file. But she brushed aside their objections in her inimitable style. “I have been part of many Congress movements along with Somenda. We may now belong to different parties, but I want to say that he has always been a Congressman and a nationalist.”


Siliguri, Nov. 13: 
Jalpaiguri police busted a gambling racket in a Kali puja pandal on Sevoke Road on the outskirts of Siliguri this evening and arrested six persons.

Three of them, members of the club organising the puja, were charged with extortion.

Police raided the pandal after a local trader complained against extortion and lodged an FIR with a subscription receipt of the club that showed a demand for Rs 11,000, said circle inspector of police (New Jalpaiguri-Bhaktinagar) Produt Das.

At the pandal, the police stumbled on an illegal lottery business. “Eighteen booklets of unauthorised lottery tickets were seized along with Rs 18,000 collected from the sale of tickets from the club members,” Das said.

Local traders, promoters, businessmen and shop owners in the area said members of the club, which enjoys the patronage of an influential CPM leader, intimidate and extort money from them.

The police have requested the Jalpaiguri district magistrate to cancel the club’s puja permit.


Calcutta, Nov. 13: 
The state government today announced an incentive scheme for IT-enabled services to woo investments.

Information technology minister Manab Mukherjee said the scheme would spur rapid growth in the sector. “I know that the IT sector is going through a rough patch at present but the service sector is important and has some movement,” the minister said.

The government, which has drawn up the scheme without the help of any specialised agency, has earmarked 14 services for the incentives, including engineering and design, medical transcription, revenue accounting, web services, back office operations and insurance claims processing.

Eligible infotech units in Calcutta, Howrah and adjoining districts will get a 15 per cent subsidy in capital investment up to Rs 1.5 crore. There are provisions for interest subsidy too. The state has also waived power duty for five years and the units will be reimbursed up to 50 per cent of the expenses incurred for contribution to ESI and Provident Fund.

Governor on leave

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today called on Assam Governor S.K.Sinha, who yesterday took additional charge of West Bengal as Viren J. Shah has taken a two-week leave.    

Behrampore, Nov. 13: 
Never the best of friends, relations between Atish Sinha and Adhir Chowdhury — two senior Congress leaders from Murshidabad — have soured further after Sinha took a pot shot at the district leadership.

Sinha — the Congress legislature party leader who was replaced as district party chief by Chowdhury — yesterday alleged that the district Congress has become a “contractors’ club” and that “genuine” Congressmen have no place in it. “It is very unfortunate that some vital posts have been awarded to contractors, ignoring the deserving candidates,” said Sinha, the King of Kandi.

But the remark did not go down well with the supporters of Chowdhury, the Congress MP from Behrampore and the uncrowned monarch of Murshidabad.

Political observers feel Sinha’s chips are down while Chowdhury’s career graph is looking up.

Sinha stepped down as district president four months ago. Sadhan Dhar, a former SUCI leader, was appointed president of the Berhampore Town Congress Committee — at Chowdhury’s behest. Sinha loyalists alleged that Chowdhury took care to exclude them from the new committee.

Rathin Bhattacharya, a former district Congress general secretary, accused the party MP of running the district committee like a dictator. He said party workers could not be vocal against Chowdhury, apprehending attacks from his “henchmen”.

Chowdhury, however, brushed aside the allegations. “I assumed charge only a little more than three months ago and have undertaken serious organisational work. Already, a large number of political workers of other parties, have joined the Congress,” he said.

“For important posts, I have selected only workers who can deliver the goods. What is the point of filling up the committee with persons who cannot perform? Besides, I have taken steps to reconstitute the committee in consultation with state Congress president Pranab Mukherjee,” he said.


New Delhi, Nov. 13: 
The NDA government is going all out to please the “amma” of Tamil Nadu. In a quid pro quo deal, the finance ministry on Monday approved a Rs 442-crore cash credit facility to the state government in exchange for ADMK chief Jayalalithaa’s support for several controversial Bills and Ordinances, particularly the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance.

The government is keen to drum up support from all potential allies before Parliament reconvenes on November 19, when the Opposition plans to paralyse parliamentary proceedings by an orchestrated campaign against issues such as the anti-terror Ordinance. Sources said the finance ministry and the Planning Commission cleared the bailout package for Tamil Nadu — since ratified by the Reserve Bank of India — within five days of receiving the request.

There are more lollies in the pipeline for Tamil Nadu aimed at bringing the former chief minister and her party on board. The Centre has promised the state government financial assistance to three of its rural sector projects and two projects in the information technology sector.

“The state government of Tamil Nadu had sought Central assistance to beef up its public distribution system. We were told that the state government needed the money for procurement of foodgrain and its distribution,” an official in the finance ministry said.

“It is true that the Reserve Bank of India has been requested by the finance ministry to release the demand raised by the state at the earliest.”

Besides the Ordinance on terrorism, there are several controversial Bills that have been referred to the standing committees of Parliament. These include the Banking Companies (Acquisition and Transfer of Undertaking) and Financial Institutions Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2000, the Financial Companies Regulation Bill, 2000, the Insurance Amendment Bill, 2001, and the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Bill, 2000.

An all-party meeting convened by the Prime Minister last month had identified important legislation that would be given priority during the winter session. The pending legislation include the Constitution Scheduled Castes Order (Amendment) Bill, 2001, the Constitution 93rd Amendment Bill, 2001, the Constitution 83rd Amendment Bill, 1997, the Central Vigilance Commission Bill, 1999, and the Freedom for Information Bill, 2000.

Business for the winter session would also include a discussion on the 9th Five Year Plan, (1997-2002). Of the non-legislative priorities, there would be a resolution seeking extension of President’s rule in Manipur.

Pondicherry pullout

The ADMK today withdrew support to the Rangasamy-led Congress coalition in Pondicherry less than a month of backing it, reports our special correspondent.

However, there is no threat to the ministry. The new chief minister, who had called on Jayalalithaa at her Poes Garden residence a few days ago, was in for a jolt when the ADMK Pondicherry unit chief met the Lt Governor and handed over the letter announcing withdrawal of support.

“There is no problem with the Congress ministry,” said Pondicherry Congress chief V. Narayanswamy. Without the three ADMK MLAs, the Rangasamy government enjoys the support of 19 MLAs in the 30-member House. Another ally, the Tamil Maanila Congress, continues to support the Congress, Narayanswamy said.

It is learnt that a “small bickering” led to the standoff between the parties. The ADMK had extended support on the condition that it would be accommodated in the Cabinet but Rangasamy had only inducted three Congress MLAs when he expanded his ministry.


London, Nov. 13: 
January next year has been pencilled in for a full-fledged official visit to India by British Prime Minister Tony Blair with his wife, Cherie — who is interested in things India — pressing her husband to keep the engagement.

A reliable source in London said that those who want Blair to make the trip “see Cherie Blair as our champion”.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who attended a reception for an estimated 700 people last night after his talks with Blair, flew home to Delhi today.

Vajpayee did not address the reception last night nor did he give TV interviews — he apparently does not like to give interviews to television, especially in English — but he did sit on a raised platform, flanked by Indian high commissioner in London Nareshwar Dayal. Deputy high commissioner Hardeep Puri acted as bouncer and ushered a long queue of people to meet Vajpayee.

“This is more like a durbar,” commented veteran journalist Phillip Knightley.

Vajpayee patiently shook hands with all, briefly exchanging the odd word here and there. A number of dignitaries were fast-tracked behind the platform.

Two former Prime Ministers, Sir Edward Heath and Lady Thatcher, came to see him. Lady Thatcher was allowed by the security team, which had set up elaborate check-ups, to take in her legendary handbag with which she was said to have kept her Cabinet under control.

Another woman who was allowed to keep her daintier handbag was former Miss World Diana Hayden, who wore a sparkling Rina Dhaka outfit for the occasion. She told Vajpayee she had been in Washington when he had been there on an earlier occasion.

“Are you following him or is he following you?” quipped Puri. To which Vajpayee gallantly cut in: “I must be following her — she is too beautiful to follow me.”

Others who met Vajpayee included Sir Richard Branson, who wants the number of Virgin Atlantic flights from London to Delhi increased to seven a week; Andrew Lloyd-Webber, who is producing the musical Bombay Dreams; A.R. Rahman, who is composing the music for the musical; and Shekhar Kapur, who denied he was making a film on Kapil Dev (“I have been asked to advise on a documentary on Kapil”).

Vajpayee told actor Paul Blackthorne, who plays Captain Andrew Russell in Lagaan, India’s Oscar entry: “I loved the film.”

Earlier yesterday, bilateral relations figured in Vajpayee’s discussions with Blair.

Blair said: “In respect of Britain and India, I like to believe that they (relations) are stronger today than they have been for many, many years. I also welcome it because increasingly we see India playing its true and right role on the world stage, and that is important, I think, for the stability and security of the whole of the world community. And I know that our trade and commercial relations are very strong at the present time, but I like to think that our political relations are strong also. We want to see those relations strengthened still further.”


Amritsar, Nov. 13: 
The Centre’s Kashmir emissary, K.C. Pant, today accepted the Hurriyat Conference’s offer of talks, saying the Centre has always kept its doors open to discussions with anyone wishing to solve the Kashmir problem.

Addressing a rally held to commemorate the 200th coronation anniversary of Maharaja Ranjit Singh here today, Pant said: “We have always kept our doors open for talks with anyone and are even now willing to speak to anyone who can bring peace back to the Valley. But there should be no conditions attached to the talks,” he said.

Pant said Ranjit Singh was instrumental in getting the people together. “We must learn from the Sikh ruler who at the young age of 19 established the first kingdom of the Sikhs. We must learn how he managed to keep his flock together when everyone was seeking a kingdom for himself,” he said.

George push

If Pant invoked Ranjit Singh’s memory to promote unity, defence minister George Fernandes did so to push his security agenda.

Pointing out that Ranjit Singh had the resolve to establish a kingdom that extended to Afghanistan, Fernandes said: “What the maharaja did by achieving a kingdom at a young age proves that we are a strong nation. But the problem is we are complacent when it comes to the security of the nation and we must remain one in at least this sphere.”

Referring to plans to establish a defence university in the country, Fernandes said: “I will recommend to the Cabinet Committee on Security to name it after the Sikh ruler. The university could also be set up in Punjab as desired by chief minister Parkash Singh Badal.”

There are only two defence universities in the world — one in the US and the other in China.


New Delhi, Nov. 13: 
The high-profile Rajiv Gandhi Foundation (RGF) is in disarray. The reasons: its chief Sonia Gandhi’s preoccupation with politics, lack of official support and paucity of funds.

The trust, set up in 1991 in memory of the late Prime Minister, took up a series of welfare projects, acted as a catalyst of social change and functioned as a “think tank” to provide inputs for policy-oriented research. But ever since 1998, when Sonia formally took over as Congress president, the RGF’s profile has taken a beating.

Till 1998, the trust played host to international leaders and luminaries like Nelson Mandela, Margaret Thatcher, Hillary Clinton, Edward Said, J.K. Galbraith and Mahbul Haque.

Today, RGF seminars lack the glamour and seriousness they had earlier. For instance, at the last seminar on terrorism, there were only political leaders like Amar Singh, Sitaram Yechuri and A.B. Bardhan. The Congress put up a brave face, touting the event as Sonia’s move to build bridges with the Opposition.

RGF insiders say they now find it difficult to rope in international statesmen as personal links with the Nehru-Gandhi family are getting weaker with the Congress being out of power for almost a decade.

“Several new leaders are dominating the world polity who had little or no personal interaction with Indira Gandhi and Rajiv. We have to route our requests through the ministry of external affairs. Obviously, they do not take a lead in such matters,” a foundation official said.

The exit of Abid Hussain as vice-chairman of the Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies was another blow. The present incumbent, designated secretary-general, Manmohan Malhoutra, a protégé of P.N. Haskar, lacks Hussain’s vision.

There are reports of in-fighting and one-upmanship that were alien when Hussain, Wajahat Habibullah and Pulak Chatterjee were calling the shots.

The foundation insiders also attribute other factors for the decline in the trust’s activities. First, chairperson Sonia has little time. It has been months since she visited Jawahar Bhavan, which houses the RGF, preferring to chair meetings from her residence.

The trust has some top names from almost all walks of life — P. Chidambaram, Suman Dubey, Y.K. Alagh, Shridath Ramphal, M.S. Swaminathan, R.P. Goenka, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Manmohan Singh — and Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi. But it meets only once a year.

The foundation has abandoned many of its popular activities like taking the “lifeline express” to the rural poor. The project was a revolutionary concept — a hospital on wheels. The train stopped at stations in rural areas and providing sophisticated but free medical care to those unable to travel long distances. The hospital on wheels — with a fully equipped air-conditioned surgery room that could take care of disorders like cataract, polio and curable deafness — offered on-the-spot diagnosis and medical and surgical treatment.


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