CPM sees decadence in Buddha domain
Epidemic scare in Murshidabad
Naxalites kill jawan
Hills on Nepal alert
Sonia lesson of hilsa thorns for mellowed Mulayam
Ambush takes heavy army toll
Samajwadi sinks Cong aversion for unity
Joshi in education peace drive
BJP eyes poll gain in textbook tempers
Atal draws Kashmir line

 
 
CPM SEES DECADENCE IN BUDDHA DOMAIN 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Nov. 27: 
A CPM document on popular entertainment deals a blow to Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government as it provides a graphic account of how decadent culture has struck rural Bengal.

“Viewing obscene films in video parlours is a major time-pass in rural Bengal… What is disturbing is that we (the government) have failed to build up popular opinion against the peddling of sleaze,” the document says.

In an attack on the department of information and cultural affairs, directly overseen by Bhattacharjee, Party Letter No. 3, published in October, says the district cultural committees have failed to discharge their duties.

“The committees were formed a few years ago primarily to create the ideal cultural environment and educate the people about what is good or bad culture, with the help of the panchayats,” it says.

Claiming that the committees have “proved insignificant”, the CPM leadership calls for their reorganisation.

One of the party’s grouses against the committees, run by Bhattacharjee’s department, is that they have neither been able to take the panchayat bodies along with them in “the fight against decadent culture” nor “effectively oversee” the utilisation of funds.

The party document suggests that the district cultural centre, under Bhattacharjee’s information and cultural affairs department, had failed to guide panchayats on how to utilise the money and fight decadent culture.

In CPM circles, the letter is being interpreted as an expression of the party’s wish to tighten its grip on the government. Another pointer is the letter’s open advocacy of an advisory committee to monitor the working of the department.

The party mandarins have also closely examined plans executed by the department during Bhattacharjee’s tenure and have been critical of their progress.

Party sources said a section of the leaders is unhappy with Bhattacharjee for his bid to introduce an Ordinance to combat organised crime in Bengal without its knowledge. The party has always been opposed to promulgating Ordinances bypassing the legislature.

In a bid to hit back at Bhattacharjee, these leaders are believed to be trying to tighten the party’s grip on the government, especially the departments directly handled by the chief minister.

EU call

Coordinator for the Indian sub-continent at the European Commission, Edward Brown, has invited Bengal to hold roadshows in the European Union to attract investments. Brown met officials of the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation today.

   

 
 
EPIDEMIC SCARE IN MURSHIDABAD 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Behrampore, Nov. 27: 
Three persons died and at least 1,000 people were affected by enteric diseases over the past week in three panchayat areas under Kandi block in Murshidabad district.

Over 600 people are suffering from the disease in the Prabatipur and Bhavanipur areas alone, said block medical officer Prasanta Ghosh. Worried district officials, who met to work out a strategy to fight the menace, sent an alert to Writers’ Buildings asking for experts from Calcutta.

Ghosh described the situation as an epidemic but the district health authority was not ready to call it one. “We have taken precautionary measures on a war footing to tackle the disease. Leave of those on duty has been cancelled for the time being,” Ghosh said.

Sources in Calcutta said health secretary Asim Barman reviewed the situation during the day and sought a report from the district’s chief medical officer. “The situation is in control since those affected are not serious,” said a health official.

The health officials claimed they came to know about the outbreak only three days ago.

   

 
 
NAXALITES KILL JAWAN 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Salboni (Midnapore), Nov. 27: 
In an open challenge to the increased vigilance in the district’s forest areas, militants of the PWG-MCC combine have killed a National Volunteer Force personnel attached to the Pirakata police camp.

The body of Gour Mahato, with multiple wounds, was recovered from a bush at Mugbari village last night by police. It was sent to the Midnapore subdivisional hospital for post-mortem.

District superintendent of police K.C. Meena and officer-in-charge of Salboni police station Jayanta Chakraborty have reached the spot with a huge contingent of policemen to track down the assailants.

Seven PWG activists have been arrested from Gopalpur and Bamundanga villages and the adjoining Mugbari forest area in connection with the murder.

Mahato, of Gopalpur village, had been missing ever since he left for home after work on November 19. His body was extracted from a hole after some villagers called the police when they detected foul smell coming out of a bush.

The recent merger of the PWG with the MCC in the district seems to have given a fillip to the extremist movement. The two outfits have been co-ordinating their activities at Belpahari, Lalgarh, Salboni, Garbeta and Goaltore areas during the past few days.

According to a secret report submitted to the superintendent of police by a former officer-in-charge of Salboni, the outfits have prepared a hit list.

The PWG leaders had recently held a meeting at Goaltore near Salboni and threatened to kill policemen and ruling party leaders to avenge the “indiscriminate arrests and harassment of activists”.

Sadhan Ahir, a known PWG leader, and two of his associates were arrested last week in connection with the murder of a CPM leader on the Bankura-Midnapore border last month.

“We have recovered important documents from the arrested PWG leader. We are determined to put an end to their activities in no time. A special force has just arrived after completing its training in the Salua academy. They have been given sophisticated arms and bullet-proof jackets to deal with the PWG-MCC combine,” Meena said.

   

 
 
HILLS ON NEPAL ALERT 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, Nov. 27: 
Concerned over the weekend mayhem in neighbouring Nepal and fearing a spillover of Maoist rebels from the kingdom, authorities in Sikkim and Darjeeling hills have moved into the alert mode.

With emergency declared in the Himalayan kingdom following a Maoist mayhem in which nearly 300 people were killed, authorities in the state and Sikkim are fearing a rebel spillover.

The rebels might seek refuge in the hilly terrain of the Darjeeling hills and Sikkim in the wake of the counter-insurgency crackdown in Nepal, the authorities feel.

Border vigil along the eastern Nepal districts of Jhapa, Ilam, Panchathar and Taplejung has been stepped up but the authorities are afraid that the Maoist rebels might sneak into the country through the densely forested, mountainous border, stretching across 450 km. A close tab is being kept on the pro-Maoist organisations active in the region.

Darjeeling additional superintendent of police Javed Shamim, officiating as superintendent in the absence of Sanjay Chander, said lack of proper roads along the porous, hilly border was a matter of concern.

“We have stepped up patrol along the 100-km international border with Nepal in Darjeeling. All the border police stations have also been alerted and stringent checking is on at the two main immigration checkposts at Raniganj in the plains and Pashupati Nagar in the hills,” Shamim said.

Though Ilam, Panchathar and Jhapa districts have so far been free of Maoist violence, Darjeeling police are apprehensive of the violence spreading to the relatively quiet eastern border districts.

   

 
 
SONIA LESSON OF HILSA THORNS FOR MELLOWED MULAYAM 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Nov. 27: 
Madam, sambhal kar, ye hilsa hai, kanta chubh jai ga (be careful, this is hilsa, the bones can get stuck in your throat),” said Mulayam Singh Yadav, cautioning Congress chief Sonia Gandhi at the dinner hosted by CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee last night.

Sonia’s response, in chaste Hindi, carried a political message. “Mulayam Singhji, main kanton se jujhna jan gai hun (I have come to know how to deal with thorns).”

The import of Sonia’s reply wasn’t lost on Mulayam who had, in May 1999, blocked Sonia’s bid to replace Atal Bihari Vajpayee as Prime Minister.

Sources said the Mulayam-Sonia chat was restricted to social niceties and the need to keep the BJP and the National Democratic Alliance in check. The two leaders did not discuss the possibilities of a broader alliance against the Rajnath Singh regime in Uttar Pradesh or any electoral understanding.

But both Sonia and Mulayam had reasons to be pleased over the outcome of Chatterjee’s dinner.

Supporters of the Congress president claimed victory, saying known Sonia-baiters such as Mulayam and Sharad Pawar had conceded the futility of targeting her.

“They have realised that they have to live and do business with her. It is a recognition of Sonia as a mature and serious politician,” said an AICC office-bearer.

Mulayam’s supporters said rapprochement with the Congress would send a “positive signal” to the minorities in Uttar Pradesh — that secular forces were together in their resolve to drive out the BJP and its allies.

“The Congress may be a smaller player in Uttar Pradesh but (it) is a national party. If we are one, there will always be hope that the Samajwadi Party will matter in (the) Delhi durbar,” said a Samjawadi Party MP.

At Raisina Hills, Chatterjee’s dinner party was considered a success and triggered off a chain of realignments within the secular camp.

Pawar was heard contemplating hosting a dinner for Opposition leaders. Ostensibly, the occasion would be his birthday on December 12, but in political circles, such events are used to consolidate ties.

Pawar, whose birthday falls three days before Sonia, has invited Sonia to his birthday bash. But unlike Pawar, Sonia is not applying her mind to planning the guest list. Instead, she plans to throw an iftar on December 11, a day before Pawar’s birthday bash.

In Maharashtra, Pawar’s presence alongside Sonia has been taken as a sign that the two leaders are inching closer. Republican Party of India MP Ramdas Athawale, an ally of Pawar, today urged the Nationalist Congress Party to merge with its parent party.

“I plan to meet Soniaji and tell her to take Pawar back in the Congress. The issue of her foreign origins has become irrelevant,” Athawale said.

Pawar’s supporters said the Maratha strongman was gradually coming round to the view that his breakaway group has not achieved any purpose.

“He (Pawar) is eyeing Delhi. In case the BJP is routed in (the) Uttar Pradesh polls and (the) rumblings within the BJP lead to the collapse of (the) Vajpayee regime, Pawar will be a player in such a scenario,” an NCP MP said.

   

 
 
AMBUSH TAKES HEAVY ARMY TOLL 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD AND AGENCIES
 
Srinagar, Nov. 27: 
The army suffered one of its heaviest losses in Jammu and Kashmir today when 10 soldiers, including two officers, were killed in an ambush laid by militants.

Eight militants were also killed in the gun battle that stretched into the evening near Surankote in Jammu’s Poonch district.

Officials said an army patrol party was moving towards the upper reaches when it was ambushed near Kaka hills late on Monday night.

They said the insurgents hurled grenades and rained bullets on the patrol party, killing the two officers and three soldiers on the spot. Five other soldiers succumbed to their injuries later. However, defence sources in Jammu, the state’s winter capital, put the number of army casualties at five.

Reinforcements were rushed to the spot from adjoining areas after messages were flashed. In an encounter that followed, the eight militants were killed, officials said.

“The operation in the area is still going on and those killed included an army major and a junior commissioned officer,” a defence official said. He added that a massive operation had been launched to comb the area.

The army came under attack in Kupwara, too. Two soldiers were killed and six wounded in a bomb explosion in the forest area of Dooraswami in northern Kupwara district.

In the Pantha Chowk locality near the heavily-guarded Badami Bagh cantonment, a bomb disposal squad defused two improvised explosive devices this morning. The two devices were detected by police.

Two militants of the Hizb-ul Mujahideen were killed by security forces during a search operation late yesterday. The police said four houses were destroyed in a fire which started during the gun battle.

Decree bandh

The police decision to use the controversial anti-terror Ordinance in Kashmir for the first time in the country has provoked unrest in Srinagar.

Invoking the Ordinance, a house which was suspected to be a militant hideout was sealed yesterday and some occupants were picked up. The Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance allows suspects to be detained for 30 days without trial.

Kashmiri lawyers said the use of the Ordinance was illegal and called for a protest strike tomorrow. “It is the blackest law in the history of the judiciary. The High Court Bar Association has called for a Kashmir bandh on Wednesday,” the bar association said in a statement.

However, the police justified their move, saying the house was being used by the Al-Badr group. “We have sealed the house of G.M. Dar in Srinagar under the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance,” K. Rajendra Kumar, inspector-general of police, Kashmir range, said.

He said arms and ammunition were recovered from the house.

Kumar said more houses “used as hideouts by terrorists” had been identified and would be sealed under the Ordinance.

   

 
 
SAMAJWADI SINKS CONG AVERSION FOR UNITY 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Nov. 27: 
Last night, before the invitees turned their attention to the delightful cuisine at CPM MP Somnath Chatterjee’s residence, the patriarch of Opposition unity, Jyoti Basu, played out his role of a peacemaker.

The former Bengal chief minister told the Opposition leaders to rise above their differences and put up a solid front of resistance against the Vajpayee government. Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, the most difficult of all Opposition leaders, said he was “ready” to obey the command.

Chatterjee today said he was pleased with the outcome of the meeting. “We have reached a large measure of agreement. For the moment it will be confined to Parliament,” the CPM MP said.

He had reasons for sounding pleased. Leader of the Opposition Sonia Gandhi and the man who had kept her out of the seat of power in Delhi – Mulayam — had agreed to sink their differences, at least on the floor of the House.

Only a few months ago, Mulayam had scorned Sonia’s invitation to a tea party to discuss the Opposition’s floor strategy, but the BJP seems to have thrown the Opposition closer to each other. But for the time being, the unity will only be within the House. As Chatterjee said: “We did not discuss any electoral strategy yesterday.”

The Opposition will not find it too difficult to push the BJP into a corner if they can rise above their differences. On issues like the anti-terror Ordinance, Ayodhya, economic policies and saffronisation of education, there is unanimity among Opposition parties.

“There is a concerted attack on the secular fabric of the country and we must resist it together,” Chatterjee said.

For the sake of unity, the CPM is ready to give up its continuous needling of the Congress — and Mulayam his antipathy for Sonia. But Uttar Pradesh politics is still a sticky issue and none of the political leaders want to probe it now. When asked whether the CPM considered the Congress a secular party, Chatterjee said: “We have always said the Congress is a secular party. There have been aberrations from time to time.”

Chatterjee said his efforts at forging unity were now limited to Parliament and political combinations outside would be worked out in their own time. It is, however, likely that the People’s Front — including the Samajwadi and the Left parties — will go to the Uttar Pradesh polls together.

A post-poll alliance between the Samajwadi Party and the Congress cannot also be ruled out if Mulayam falls short of numbers to form a government.

   

 
 
JOSHI IN EDUCATION PEACE DRIVE 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, Nov. 27: 
A day before the Education Fundamental Right Bill is to be placed in Parliament, Murli Manohar Joshi has begun parleys with Opposition leaders to mobilise support for the Bill.

Yesterday, the Union human resources development minister invited Congress and Left leaders to discuss the Bill which has become a point of contention because of the age-group of children it seeks to address.

The Bill covers children in the age-group of 6-14 years while leaving out the 0-6 age-group. “We told the Union minister that early childhood care is crucial and the Bill must include the 0-6 age-group of children,” said CPM MP Nilotpal Basu. Joshi, however, stood his ground and repeated that the government was not in a position now to take on the "extra" load.

But the Opposition said they would raise the issue in the House tomorrow when Joshi introduces the Bill. The BJP has issued a whip to its members to be present in the House when it takes up the issue and also when the Bil on promotion for SC/ST government employees comes up for discussion.

The National Alliance for Fundamental Right to Education (Nafre) is already campaigning against the Bill. Nafre convener Saniv Kaura said the Bill must be reformulated in the best interests of children. Nafre is organising a Shiksha Satyagraha tomorrow on the Ram Lila grounds where they expect a 50,000-strong crowd.

The satyagraha will demand the inclusion of 0-6 age-group of children in the Bill, more financial allocation and quality education for all.

   

 
 
BJP EYES POLL GAIN IN TEXTBOOK TEMPERS 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Nov. 27: 
BJP managers have found the new controversy surrounding deletion of “objectionable” portions from school textbooks electorally appetising, following their failure to cash in on the ban on the Students’ Islamic Movement of India and the anti-terror Ordinance.

At least three of the five “objectionable” portions CBSE schools were ordered to delete from the textbooks have the potential to polarise votes in favour of the BJP, party strategists feel.

They are:

“The Jats, after establishing a state in Bharatpur, conducted plundering raids in the region around Delhi.”

Vedic Hindus ate beef and “beef was served as a mark of honour to special guests... “The cattle wealth (was) slowly decimated because the cows and bullocks were killed in numerous Vedic sacrifices by Brahmins and the Kshatriyas between 600-500 BC.”

“That the Guru (Tegh Bahadur), in association with one Hafiz Adam... had resorted to plunder and rapine, laying waste the whole province of Punjab.”

The BJP plans to paint the Opposition, and the Congress in particular, as anti-Jat, anti-Sikh and anti-Brahmin for opposing the removal of these “offending” paragraphs and take credit for standing up to the combined Opposition pressure both inside and outside Parliament on behalf of these segments.

The Congress and the CPM have refused to be brow beaten by the BJP. Senior CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee accused Atal Bihari Vajpayee of behaving like a Prime Minister of the BJP. “Our greatest objection is that he (Vajpayee) has encouraged this (saffronisation). Instead of leading the nation, he is only trying to lead his party and the RSS,” Chatterjee said.

“Everything is now being tested on the basis of a religion, and that too of the majority,” he said, adding he would request Vajpayee not to divide the nation on this issue “by misutilising his position”.

Congress spokesperson Jaipal Reddy said the BJP had realised that the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance was not a potent electoral plank and was desperately searching for an issue. “We are prepared for the challenge,” he said.

“Rewriting or de-writing history should not be based on ideological motivation, but be transparent,” he added.

The party has asked the Prime Minister to set up a panel of academics and historians of impeccable integrity, and without any political affiliations, to take a final view of the subject.

“RSS quacks have become qualified historians, thanks to the Midas Touch of Joshi,” Reddy said.

But even as the Opposition hardened its stand, parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan yesterday rejected the demand for withdrawing the controversial circular. Mahajan also said people understood those who sat on the other side.

BJP spokesman V.K. Malhotra went a step further today, saying: “If the Congress does not apologise, it will be made an election issue.”

Malhotra told reporters the parliamentary party in its meeting tomorrow would brief MPs on how to launch an aggressive campaign to counter the Congress stand. The MPs, he said, will fan out to each and every constituency to explain to the people the “insult” the Congress headed by Sonia Gandhi was heaping on “Indian culture”.

“What kind of history is being taught in the last 40-50 years?” Malhotra asked. But he had no answer when asked if “history should be written or something nice should be written”. He hedged when asked to name a few historians who had objected to the deleted portions.

Malhotra said it was the Congress government in Delhi that had deleted portions from textbooks that portrayed Tegh Bahadur in poor light as well as Jats and the Jain Tirthankars.

While the Delhi government had sought deletion of these portions, the Congress was accusing the Centre of “Talibanisation” of education, he said.

   

 
 
ATAL DRAWS KASHMIR LINE 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Nov. 27: 
A tough-talking Atal Bihari Vajpayee today said though he was not averse to meeting Pervez Musharraf on the sidelines of the Saarc summit in Kathmandu, India would not compromise on Kashmir to improve relations with Pakistan.

The Prime Minister said if Musharraf thinks India is willing to give up Kashmir, he must be told not to harbour such notions. “We want a stable and prosperous Pakistan. But we will not allow another partition,” he said, emphasising that these were the views of the whole nation.

The remarks came a day after Musharraf had said India-Pakistan relations could improve only if the Kashmir dispute was resolved. The general had also implied that there may not be too many takers in India for Vajpayee’s stand that Kashmir was an integral part of the country.

“The country is fully united on the Kashmir issue. It will not allow another partition to take place,” Vajpayee told the Rajya Sabha, winding up the two-day debate on India’s foreign policy.

Though he could not recall the name of his foreign minister for a while, the Prime Minister gave glimpses of his oratorical skill during his hour-long humour-laced speech. “Let me remain a man. I need not wear a burqa for I have nothing to hide,” he said in response to a remark that he wore a burqa during his recent visit to New York to avoid meeting the Pakistan President.

Vajpayee made it clear that if the meeting with Musharraf was not in country’s interest it should be avoided, but hinted he could meet Musharraf on the summit’s sidelines. “If I go to Kathmandu and if Musharraf also comes there, then there is a possibility of an informal meeting.”

Though Vajpayee did not react to Musharraf’s remarks yesterday that “Pakistan will teach India a lesson” if it tried to launch an offensive, foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao did. “The only thing that Pakistan can teach us is IT. And by that I don’t mean information technology but international terrorism.”

The Prime Minister also highlighted the gains made during his three-nation tour, particularly in discussions with US President George W. Bush. Claiming that his discussions with Bush were a success, Vajpayee said not once did the US President bring up either Pakistan or Kashmir. He said one of the main topics of discussion was how the two countries could work together against terrorism.

Vajpayee maintained that Delhi was on “equal terms” with Washington.

Referring to Opposition charges that he had gone to the US with folded hands, Vajpayee said: “Such allegations cause pain... They put question marks on our patriotism that we are compromising our country’s self-respect.”

Vajpayee said suggestions that India was begging the US for friendship was not only “ridiculous, but foolish.”

WTC Indian toll

The terrorist strike on the World Trade Center killed 250 Indians, according to Suresh Deshmukh, supervising fire inspector in New York City, reports PTI.

Most were youths below 30, the Mumbai-born Deshmukh said while speaking at a meet the press programme. He said the Indians killed in the attack were IT experts or computer engineers.

   
 

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