Mamata muscle hope for BJP
Delivery death triggers mob fury
Training boost to business
State welfare war on Naxalites
Old code of conduct in new register
Sonia fires decorum gun at Atal
Lashkar strikes at highway camp
ISI bump in Delhi’s Valley plan
Laloo rolls into Kurukshetra
‘Calcutta boy’ shies away from heartland hotseat

 
 
MAMATA MUSCLE HOPE FOR BJP 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Nov. 25: 
The BJP today seemed confident of roping in Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee’s support for the proposed anti-terror Ordinance.

“As far as I know, Mamata has no reservations against the proposed Ordinance,” said BJP national president Jana Krishnamurthi, who was in the city to attend a private function.

Talking to reporters, Krishnamurthi said Trinamul had not informed the NDA of any reservations against the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance. “But Mamata’s party and other NDA constituents are welcome to offer suggestions and amendments to the proposed Ordinance when it comes up for discussion in Parliament,” he said, adding that Opposition parties had been approached on this score.

Stating that he was not aware of Mamata ever having opposed the decree in public, Krishnamurthi said: “The issue can be settled if we discuss it threadbare in an upcoming NDA meeting.”

When asked about the delay in Mamata’s reinduction into the Cabinet, Krishnamurthi put the onus on the Prime Minister. “Why are you asking me? It is the Prime Mi-nister’s prerogative to choose incumbents for his Cabinet,” he said.

The BJP chief emphasised that the proposed anti-terror Ordinance “is the need of the hour” to tackle growing terrorist activities.

Criticising the Congress and the Left for “vehemently” opposing the Ordinance, Krishnamurthi said it was an attempt to “defame” the BJP. “Everybody understands that the situation has changed across the world after the September 11 attacks and such a stringent Ordinance is necessary to deal with terrorist activities. Such things cannot be ruled out in the country after the attack on the Srinagar Assembly,” he said, exhorting the Opposition parties to rise above “petty differences” and support the Ordinance for the sake of the country’s security.

He said the DMK had opposed the decree fearing that the ADMK government might use it against them. “We understand the DMK’s apprehension about such an Ordinance after the harassment meted out to then chief minister M. Karunanidhi and a Central minister by the Jayalalitha government a few months ago,” he added.

Expressing concern over the “steady exodus” of Hindus from Bangladesh, the BJP chief said the Centre had taken a serious view of the matter. “Those who have crossed over should be persuaded to go back,” he said, urging the Khaleda Zia government to “create the conditions so that the exodus stops”. He also appealed to Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to ensure that the Hindus who have crossed over are not harassed.

   

 
 
DELIVERY DEATH TRIGGERS MOB FURY 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Chinsurah (Hooghly), Nov. 25: 
A mob ransacked a ward of the government-run Chinsurah Sadar Hospital after a 31-year-old woman died during delivery this afternoon. The baby was saved.

The police arrested Dr Gautam Das after the victim’s relatives filed an FIR with the police alleging that she had died due to the doctor’s negligence.

Superintendent of police N. Ramesh Babu has ordered a probe into the incident. “We are interrogating the doctor and some hospital staff who attended on the patient,” he said.

Swapan Nandy, husband of the victim, Molly, said his wife was admitted to the hospital on Saturday evening after developing labour pains. She was supposed to undergo a Caesarean section at 8 this morning. “But she was kept waiting unattended for over four hours outside the operation theatre. Around 1.30 pm she was taken to the OT, where she gave birth to a boy. She lay inside for another three hours as no trolleys were available. When she was brought to her bed around 4.30 pm, she collapsed and died,” alleged Nandy.

As the news spread, hundreds of agitated youths converged on the hospital and started ransacking the emergency ward, protesting against the doctor’s negligence. They demanded that Das be arrested. The mob was dispersed by the police.

Hospital superintendent S. Niogi, who could not be contacted in the hospital during the day, said from his Calcutta residence tonight that he had received a report on the incident and ordered a departmental probe.

   

 
 
TRAINING BOOST TO BUSINESS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Burdwan, Nov. 25: 
The state government went a step ahead in its efforts to encourage new enterprise and attract investment by deciding to set up special cells in all districts to guide new entrepreneurs in setting up and running their business. The first cell will start functioning from January 2002 in Burdwan, industry minister Nirupam Sen’s hometown.

The Entrepreneurs’ Development Cell will function in association with the district administration, chambers of commerce and reputed industrial houses. The seed for the cells was sown during a joint meeting of chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Sen with the different chambers of commerce and Confederation of Indian Industry leaders, in which the ministers expressed their desire to set up such a centre to guide new entrepreneurs.

The first cell, to consist of industry representatives, will be run jointly by the Burdwan district administration and the Bengal National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BNCCI). The zilla parishad and cottage and smallscale industry department will provide assistance to make the venture a success.

A delegation from the BNCCI visited Burdwan and held meetings with district magistrate Manoj Agarwal last week to finalise the formalities of running the centre.

The cell will prepare a database on availability of land, raw materials, man power, market and machinery in the district and provide technical knowhow. It will also prepare project reports on the different kinds of industry, starting from cottage to large-scale levels. Besides, new entrepreneurs and young people interested in setting up any industry would be trained on how to run a business. The cell will also help secure loans from financial institutions.

“Our move is to inspire the new generation to be business-minded and help them run a business successfully. We shall provide them the knowhow, training and even financial assistance so that youths can be self-employed,” Agarwal said.

   

 
 
STATE WELFARE WAR ON NAXALITES 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Nov. 25: 
The West Bengal government has set about bettering the lives of the people in the Naxalite-infested areas of Burdwan and Midnapore to stop them from joining hands with the red rebels.

“We have taken a two-way strategy to diminish the influence of Naxalites and their outfits. First, we have started a massive combing operation to weed out People’s War Group and Maoist Communist Centre activists hiding in the forests. Second, we have taken up programmes for the overall development of the Naxalite-prone areas, including providing employment and ensuring a better living,” said a senior officer of the home department.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had recently taken up the development package for the tribal areas of Burdwan and Midnapore with SC/ST and tribal welfare minister Upen Kisku and rural development minister Suryakanta Mishra. The chief minister also sought to involve the police in the project. On Friday, Kisku met officials from Burdwan — the programme will roll from that district — to prepare a blueprint for implementation of the package.

The government will construct houses in these areas, sink tubewells, set up more schools, reach power to the villages, construct health centres, provide employment under different schemes and help with financial assistance for self-employment.

Most of the areas under Naxalite influence are peopled by tribals living below the poverty line. “The Naxalite leaders lure them by providing them with either food or money. We felt that if the living condition of these people is improved and their demand for a better life is met, they will not join hands with any extremist force,” said a police officer in Burdwan.

The zilla parishads, Paschimanchal Unnayan Samity and the tribal welfare and rural development departments will work together with the district police to implement the project.

According to the plan, the police will meet the villagers to convince them not to get involved in any terrorist or subversive activities against any offer. Instead, the government will meet their demands.

Though Naxalites are not banned in the state, the government is worried about their increasing influence. The alarm bells started ringing after some PWG and MCC activists infiltrated into the state. The two outfits operate from Nepal and Jharkhand and provide assistance, including arms and ammunition, to the Naxalite factions functioning in the state.

Though Naxalite activities are spread over Burdwan, Midnapore, Birbhum, Bankura and Purulia, its is mainly concentrated in five police station areas in Burdwan and Jhargram sub-division of Midnapore.

   

 
 
OLD CODE OF CONDUCT IN NEW REGISTER 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, Nov. 25: 
Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi is “purifying” the institution he has under his jurisdiction— Parliament, and also a little beyond his direct jurisdiction — Assemblies.

If he is successful, MPs and MLAs will have to disclose their assets and income in registers which will be maintained by both Houses of Parliament and state legislatures.

At the end of a day-long conference on Discipline and Decorum in Parliament and Legislatures of States and Union Territories organised by the Lok Sabha, political leaders and 10 chief ministers passed a resolution which, if implemented, will clean the institutions and put its representatives on the right track.

“We will soon begin a process by which a register can be maintained which will contain all details about the financial status of MPs and MLAs, their association with private and public companies, if any, and even their shares in the stock market,” said the Speaker’s office.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee stressed on evolving a code of conduct for MPs and MLAs that would ensure true democracy inside Parliament and state legislatures where divergent views can be expressed freely. “In a coalition era, it is essential that parties cooperate with each other to improve the image of legislators and strengthen parliamentary democracy,” he said.

Nothing was said that was not said before. And the code of conduct that was finally drawn up had no new inputs. The punishments for breaching the code also read much the same: admonition, reprimand, censure, withdrawal or suspension from the House. But rarely have these been enforced.

MPs getting close to fisticuffs over the women’s reservation Bill have got away; wild gesticulations and intemperate language are mostly ignored.

By hosting this conference, Balayogi seems to be following the footsteps of his predecessors —— Shivraj Patil and P.A. Sangma. Both tried the “impossible” — to implement a code of conduct. “Are we just indulging in rituals by holding this conference?” asked Vajpayee.

Recently when Balayogi tried to put in place a rule forbidding members to move to the well of the House, he met with resistance from Opposition parties. The Prime Minister and the Speaker drew the attention of the House to the number of working days lost because of the MPs’ “unruly” behaviour. The resolution made it clear that the intention of today’s conference was not just to apply the rod to peoples’ representatives but also to restore their honour and prestige.

   

 
 
SONIA FIRES DECORUM GUN AT ATAL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Nov. 25: 
This was not Sonia Gandhi, a great stickler for discipline inside Parliament, speaking. This was Sonia Gandhi, leader of the Opposition, who wanted to rub the government’s nose into the ground.

“We can certainly try and legislate discipline and decorum, but I feel the fundamental requirement is for a government that seeks consensus and cooperation,” the Congress president said at today’s all-India conference to work out a code of conduct for legislators.

Interestingly, it was Sonia who had put her party colleagues in Parliament on a leash, urging them not to rush to the well of the House and to behave with dignity.

She did speak on the need to maintain discipline inside the House even today. But made it clear that the Vajpayee government had much to blame for when it came to triggering unruly scenes inside Parliament.

As far as discipline is concerned, there must be no compromise, Sonia said. “To minimise disruption there must be an absolute ban on entering the well of the House and an automatic enforcement of strict disciplinary action against any breach of this rule,” the Congress president added.

But the government has to introspect, went the underlining message from Sonia.

“It is when governments behave arbitrarily and try to impose their will without discussion, it is when governments consider dissent as ‘antinational’ and approach the House with a closed mind that serious problems arise in the functioning of the legislatures,” Sonia said.

The Congress has been blaming the NDA, particularly the BJP, for riding roughshod over consensus. Sonia, while ruing the lack of discipline and debate, blamed the government for trying to bulldoze the Opposition to push through unpleasant decisions without much discussion.

“We have a collective responsibility, but that extra responsibility lies with the government,” the Congress president said.

The Congress president reminded the gathering that her party has offered “constructive support” to the government.

“Although many believe that the basic rule of parliamentary democracy is ‘where you stand depends on where you sit’, we have not followed this rule in the national interest,” she added.

Members would like to air their grievances before Parliament or legislative assemblies. But often there is not enough flexibility, Sonia said.

“There ought to be enough flexibility for members to vent their genuine feelings in the House on highly emotive issues or else these emotions will spill out on the streets,” Sonia added.

   

 
 
LASHKAR STRIKES AT HIGHWAY CAMP 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar Nov. 25: 
At least four persons, including three securitymen, were killed and four wounded after two militants stormed into a heavily-guarded camp of the paramilitary forces guarding the Jawahar Tunnel, which connects the valley with Jammu.

The Lashkar-e-Toiba has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Police sources here said two militants attacked the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) camp in the wee hours this morning with grenades and assault rifles.

“They later sneaked into the camp and hurled several grenades inside a barrack. Later, the militants fired indiscriminately,” said a senior police officer.

He said two members of the India Reserve Police and an ITBP jawan died on the spot. The officer said one civilian also died in the heavy firing near the camp.

Three ITBP jawans and a policeman who were injured in the attack were rushed to hospital for treatment. The condition of three is stated to be critical.

Though there was no damage to the 300-km Jammu-Srinagar national highway, it was closed for traffic. The ITBP and the army cordoned off the area and launched a massive search operation.

However, sources said no one has been arrested. “We are still searching the hills around the tunnel,” said the officer.

Lashkar spokesman Abu Osama phoned newspaper offices in Srinagar to claim responsibility for the attack. He said two fidayeens (suicide squad members), Abu Abdul Rahman Kashmiri and Abu Rafay, had attacked the camp near the tunnel and both had escaped.

This is the second attack on the highway in the past one week. On November 18, a Lashkar fidayeen attack killed 15 securitymen and injured 29. Four civilians were killed in the retaliation by the jawans near a transit camp at Ramban on the highway.

After the attack, security on the highway was beefed up by the state administration.

A report from Bandipore in the northern Baramullah district said two securitymen and a militant died in a fierce encounter at Reshipora Bandipore village yesterday.

   

 
 
ISI BUMP IN DELHI’S VALLEY PLAN 
 
 
FROM SEEMA GUHA
 
New Delhi, Nov. 25: 
Attempts to scuttle the formation of a political party by the Hizb-ul Mujahideen have begun in right earnest across the border. The announcement last week has galvanised Pakistan’s Inter-Services-Intelligence into action.

Islamabad knows well that policy planners in New Delhi, floundering for years over a strategy in Kashmir has now set out a simple task for itself. Hold free and fair elections in the state next year, and make sure that some of the local separatists are also involved. The Hizb, some of the Hurriyat groups and Shabir Shah’s Democratic Freedom Party could be a good start, to begin with. The National Conference, the BJP, the Congress and other national parties have always been in the fray.

A proper election, with a modest turnout in the Valley is all that India wants for now.

Islamabad naturally wants to thwart this Indian calculation. The ISI has not surprisingly persuaded Syed Salahuddin, the Pakistan-based chief of the Hizb to summon Abdul Majid Dar and other commanders for discussions to the party’s base camp at Muzafarabad in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Soon after Dar, the commander of the Hizb in India, announced a unilateral ceasefire in July, there was a rift between him and Salahuddin. In fact, Dar was unceremoniously replaced by Saiful Islam as commander of the Hizb in India. Since then the Hizb has been wracked by factional differences and the gap between the Pakistan-based Salahuddin and Dar grew wider.

The fear Dar is making the first tentative moves to prepare grounds for launching a political outfit had taken the ISI by surprise. Salahuddin, who had for sometime been sidelined by the Pakistani authorities, once the Lashkar-e-Toiba, Harkat-ul Ansari and Jaish-e-Mohamad were operating smoothly in India, is now back in favour.

Though the base camp meeting has been called to stop factional rivalry within the Hizb, Indian officials believe the primary task of the Muzafarabad conclave is to persuade Dar not to launch a political party.

Though Dar has been replaced in the valley by Saiful Islam, a commander in his early thirties from Kulgram in South Kashmir, he has not yet been able to assert his authority over the outfit, long used to working with their former commander. There is the fear that Dar could upset Pakistan’s strategy in Kashmir.

Through a succession of rigged elections in the past, Indian authorities have ensured that the people of the state are totally disillusioned with the electoral system.

Islamabad has taken advantage of the opportunity provided by India in the past, to ensure a near total boycott of state elections in the valley, thereby ensuring a question mark on India’s claims of a popular government in Srinagar.

Will India’s plan to hold elections succeed or can Islamabad scuttle attempts to get Kashmir’s home-grown militant outfits to be part of the electoral process? The next few months will give an indication of how things actually shape up in Kashmir.

   

 
 
LALOO ROLLS INTO KURUKSHETRA 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Hazaribagh, Nov. 25: 

Surrender ride turns spectacle

The ride to prison was lonely in 1997. Wailing supporters had accompanied Laloo Prasad Yadav up to a certain point only to desert him before he reached the court. Bihar’s supreme leader, his shoulders drooping, had gone alone to surrender to avoid the humiliation of arrest.

Four years later, Laloo has turned his visit to Ranchi to surrender before the CBI special court into a modern-day Dandi march.

In the first case in which a former chief minister is made to face criminal cases — and also a likely jail term — in a hostile, neighbouring state, Laloo today undertook a mammoth roadshow between Patna and Ranchi, crossing his state’s border at Koderma around 3.10 pm with over 1,000 cars.

But once he reached Ranchi, Laloo lowered the tone of his rhetoric and said he will go to the court “alone”. He also pleaded supporters to exercise restraint.

More than a dozen musicians accompanied the Bihar leader as RJD ministers, MPs and MLAs played Bhojpuri music on their car’s systems all through the 350-km journey.

Advised by astrologers, Laloo began the journey exactly at 8 in the morning. The astrologers told him to seek the blessings of Chhinnamasta kali in Rajarappa near Ranchi.

Laloo used the trip to rebuild his contacts with the people. The roadshow continued even as the RJD leader addressed people who had gathered at various places since morning. The speeches were vintage Laloo, humour laced with venom; his message was simple, he would fight the BJP regime in Jharkhand that was out to crush him.

“Sri Krishna is out again on the streets and my new Kurukshetra is Jharkhand,” thundered the king of Yadavs at a roadside rally in Koderma. “Remember I was and still am the raja of not just Bihar but of Jharkhand as well,” he told a group of Jharkhand policemen keeping an eye on the caravan.

Atop his Garib Chetana Rath — a large bus that Laloo usually uses for his election campaigns — the RJD president slowed down wherever he saw large crowds. Using the in-built public address system of the “rath”, Laloo told the Dalits that he was being harassed by his opponents because he represented the poor. The crowds lapped it up, lustily cheering his every word.

His partymen, who had spent the past few days digging deep into history to find a parallel for their leader’s journey, likened the trip to the Dandi march. Laloo, to them, was the mahatma who was on his way to “liberate” Jharkhand from “pakhandies (crooks)”.

But underneath the pomp and show lay the fear that their leader could be on a long visit to Ranchi. “Laloo tum salamat raho, jaldi ghar laut aao (Laloo, take care and come back soon),” read one banner, signalling that party workers have reconciled themselves to the fact that Laloo could now face a lengthy prison term.

People turned out in huge numbers within Bihar but the crowds thinned as the car- cade reached Koderma. Even Koderma MLA Annapurna Devi failed to get an impressive response despite her popularity in the area.

The crowds in Bihar, brought out of their homes early in the morning, however, saw the new face of their leaders. Most MLAs were in their Boleros and Armadas, puffing expensive 555s and spraying expensive perfumes on their silk kurtas as they continued their search for historical parallels.

A group of six leaders in Nawada brought out leaflets urging their party workers to look at history. “Gandhi, JP and Lohia. They all fought against the odds. Now our mahatma is doing the same: suffering for the poor,” they said.

Earlier in the morning, chief minister Rabri Devi said she would have no difficulty running the government in the absence of her husband.

“I will do the job perfectly. Lalooji never accompanied me to the secretariat. So where is the threat?” she said.

   

 
 
‘CALCUTTA BOY’ SHIES AWAY FROM HEARTLAND HOTSEAT 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Bareilly, Nov. 25: 
It is a shaky stage the Samajwadi Party leaders are sitting on. “Don’t crowd in here, the stage might cave in,’’ a man shouts as he pushes off the unending horde of people desperate to find a toe hold on the wooden platform. But few heed the warning. They all have their eyes riveted on a portly figure, squatting in the middle of the stage. They all know that’s their man.

The “boy from Calcutta’’, as Amar Singh likes to call himself, has obviously grown up to be a very powerful man, both within the Samajwadi and outside.

With party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav too busy with the BJP, it is up to Singh as the national general secretary to deal with the party — the small favours to be dished out, the little intrigues to be handled.

As he clutches the stack of business cards and scraps of paper with names written on it, requesting a “small meeting’’ with him, he says with a grin, “sab ko kuch na kuch kaam hai”.

With the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh slated for February, Singh knows he has a tough job at hand. He knows, at least for the next three months he will have to stop hobnobbing with the rich and famous, the page three people who like to be seen around him, and concentrate on the polls.

Talking at breakneck speed, he first vehemently denies “rumours’’ of his ambition to be the next chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. “I was forced into politics,’’ he says, adding: “I didn’t even want to be a Rajya Sabha member, so the question of harbouring ambitions of becoming the next chief minister doesn’t arise.’’ Maintaining that he will remain a “humble party worker”, he says: “It will obviously be Mulayamji. I am not in the running, these are rumours aimed at hurting me and my standing within the party.’’

Another thing Amar Singh strongly denies is his growing fondness for Sonia Gandhi and the Samajwadi’s changing equations with the Congress. “Things are often blown out of proportion,’’ Singh says with a practised grimace. “There is absolutely no chance of a Congress-Samajwadi tie-up.’’

Ask him why, then, is the party quiet on the Congress and on his pet subject of Sonia’s foreign origin and Singh says: “The truth is that we don’t want to focus our attention on a diminished party. We have no perceptible threat from the Congress. We have decided we won’t criticise the party.’’

Talk to him about the BJP and the Bahujan Samaj Party and Singh is suddenly at ease in his vitriolic criticism of chief minister Rajnath Singh and BSP leader Mayavati. “The BJP will break this country,’’ he says. The proposed Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance will have disastrous consequences for an already “fragile country”, he adds.

“The minorities are scared but the whole thing (the Centre’s insistence on the terror Ordinance and Rajnath’s promise of promulgating a similar decree in the state) has backfired. That is because while it is not an issue with Hindus, it is a big issue with Muslims.’’

   
 

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