Cong backs Trinamul no-trust move
CPM leader shot dead
Enter rote writers, historians are history
Singhal meeting haunts House
Hero who blazed anti-hero trail
Hurriyat replays talks tape
Speaker skips iftar rush
Badal flashes signal from seat
IAF on lookout for sky scare
Temple clash blot on Kerala record

Calcutta, Dec. 10: 
Speaker Hasim Abdul Halim today admitted a no-confidence motion against the Left Front government moved by the Trinamul Congress and granted four hours for discussion on the motion on Thursday.

The Congress also supported Trinamul in bringing the motion against the government for its “overall administrative failure”.

The Assembly today witnessed protests from Trinamul and the SUCI for increase in hospital charges. Trinamul’s Sougata Roy threatened to hold demonstrations in all government hospitals. “We are determined to hold demonstrations in each hospital to force the government to withdraw its decision,” Roy told the Assembly.

Another MLA, Moloy Ghatak, claimed the cost of treatment at government hospitals was the same as in nursing homes. He said the government, which claimed to be pro-people, did not consider the plight of the poor who undergo treatment in government hospitals while increasing the charges.

Debaprasad Sarkar of the SUCI said during mention hour that the government had increased the charges four times, making it impossible for the poor to avail the services in government hospitals.

After the storm had died down, CPM MLA Debesh Das demanded the state government’s intervention to prevent the Centre’s move to close down the six mills under the National Jute Manufacturers Corporation. “Five NJMC mills are located in our state and thousands of workers will be rendered jobless once the mills are closed… from December 31. All the trade unions from West Bengal met the Union government… but in vain. Now only the Left Front government can take up the issue with the Centre,” Das told the Assembly.

Japan help

Two months after Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s trip to Japan, Mitsui Corporation has stepped in to solve the state’s attempts at coming to terms with the arsenic contamination of groundwater.

A team of Japanese engineers has visited parts of North 24-Parganas and Nadia to assess the situation there.

“Mitsui has agreed to carry out a feasibility study and the technology required at their own cost,” a senior state government official said.

“Once Mitsui submits their strategy, we are going to approach the Japanese government for funds for the project,” a senior bureaucrat pointed out.


Behrampore, Dec. 10: 
The CPM called a 12-hour Murshidabad bandh tomorrow after miscreants shot dead local leader Rezwan Seikh in front of the party’s office at Daulatabad this evening. Hundreds of CPM supporters blocked National Highway 34 for about three hours in protest against the murder. But no one has been arrested yet.

Police said Seikh, a CPM zonal committee member, was having tea at a roadside stall at Daulatabad market around 6 pm when some youths fired at him thrice and fled.

CPM district secretariat member Sekhar Saha alleged the Congress was behind the murder. He claimed the leader was murdered because he was instrumental in defeating the Congress in the panchayat byelection and the Kalupur gram panchayat. A large police contingent has been deployed to prevent any untoward incident.


New Delhi, Dec. 10: 
Guess who is writing the NCERT’s new textbooks on political science for classes XI and XII? B.L. Garg, who has churned out rote note books on social sciences by the dozen, is NCERT director J.S. Rajput’s latest find.

“Garg’s guides are very popular in Uttar Pradesh, particularly in Allahabad. He writes on all disciplines of social science. The books are cheap — a dream for students who study at the last moment,” said K.R. Kulkarni, a school teacher.

“My son once got one of these note books and I asked him to throw it in the dustbin,” he added.

Students often use guides as a shortcut. Instead of reading an entire chapter, they want to learn just the essential points. “A guide book author just cannot be competent enough to write full-fledged textbooks for higher classes like XI and XII,” said Kulkarni.

Earlier, the exercise of writing textbooks was carried out with total transparency. However, this time, the NCERT director is keeping the names of the authors secret.

Historians like Romila Thapar and R.S. Sharma have been dumped by the NCERT’s new dispensation. Human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi had recently said the new text- books would bring “cultural freedom”.

In its “battle for freedom”, the NCERT is zealously guarding the ideological preserve it has created over months. Names of several authors and states are taboo in the institute.

“Whatever little we know about the authors of new textbooks, one thing is clear that the NCERT is not going to touch professional academics in West Bengal. Several names have already been turned down,” said an insider.

Most authors belong to Uttar Pradesh,especially Benaras and Allahabad — Rajasthan being the next favourite.

For junior classes, the job of writing textbooks is given only to insiders. Here, too, the scene is as chaotic. Savita Sinha, an expert in geography, has been put in charge of co-ordinating social science textbooks.

The new social science textbooks will contain lessons from history, geography, civics and economics. Sinha will look after all four subjects.


New Delhi, Dec. 10: 
The ghost of the Ayodhya issue continues to haunt the Vajpayee regime.

The Lok Sabha was today adjourned for 75 minutes after an agitated Opposition demanded that five Union ministers, who allegedly attended a “secret” meeting to discuss the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya, be sacked.

Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, Somnath Chatterjee and others demanded a statement from the government, accusing it of threatening the “country’s secular fabric”.

Das Munshi also demanded a statement from home minister L.K. Advani who was not present in the House. He accused Advani of “running away” from the House.

Das Munshi said Union ministers Ved Prakash Goel, Sripad Naik, Jayawanti Mehta, Annasaheb Patil and Balasaheb Vikhe Patil had no right to continue in the government as they had “defied” the Centre’s assurance that status quo at the disputed site in Ayodhya would not be violated.

The Congress leader referred to media reports about their alleged meeting with VHP leader Ashok Singhal.

He said the ministers should have been present in the House to clarify whether they shared Singhal’s views on the construction of the temple any time after March 12, irrespective of a court verdict.

Echoing Das Munshi, Ajoy Chakraborty of the CPI, Ramjilal Suman and Akhilesh Singh of the Samajwadi Party and Rashid Alvi of the Bahujan Samaj Party alleged that there was a conspiracy was being hatched to build the temple with an eye on the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls.

The Opposition MPs said the presence of the ministers at the meeting was “shameful and shocking”, especially in the company of Singhal who has openly declared that he will not be bound by government orders.

Deputy Speaker P.M. Sayeed tried hard to prevail upon members to restore order but his plea went unheeded. Sayeed then adjourned the House till lunch.

Sayeed repeatedly asked the legislators to refrain from slogan shouting but it had no effect. The code of conduct that has come in force since last week prohibits MPs from shouting slogans. But going by the mood in the House today, the code seems to be making no impact.

Many leaders were heard saying that there had been no official clarification on the presence of the ministers and BJP MPs at the VHP meeting.

Das Munshi said even M. Karunanidhi, president of the DMK, an ally of the ruling NDA, had warned that the status quo at the disputed site should be maintained at all costs.

Parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan rose to make a statement but his voice was drowned in the din.


Mumbai, Dec. 10: 
Indian cinema’s “Dadamoni”, Ashok Kumar, died today at his residence. He was 90.

The actor suffered from severe asthma. “He had an attack at 1 pm. Within an hour he was dead,” a family source said. The cremation was slated to take place late tonight.

He is survived by his son and three daughters, one of whom is the actress Preeti Ganguli. He was house-bound for the last four years.

One of Hindi films’ all-time greats, Ashok Kumar spanned six decades as an actor, beginning with Jeevan Naiya (1938). His career, which withstood the onslaught of the “trimurti” of the 50s and 60s, Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand, was marked as much by popularity as versatility.

Ashok Kumar was the first Hindi film hero to take on a “negative” role in Kismet (1943). The film, in which he played a cigarette-smoking anti-hero, ran for three years at a Calcutta theatre. The man who played a brahmin boy in love with an untouchable girl (Devika Rani) in Acchyut Kanya (1936) — an epoch-making movie — would go on to play a dirty old man, but a lovable one, in Shaukeen in the eighties.

In 1958, Ashok Kumar teamed up with his two brothers, the singer Kishore Kumar and Anoop Kumar, for Chalti Ka Naam Gadi, which was a laugh riot. The other landmark films of his career are Mahal, Mamta, Jhoola, Bandini, Ek Hi Raasta, Jewel Thief, to name a few.

But Dadamoni (Bengali for elder brother; Ashok Kumar was born Kumud Kumar Ganguli), who was an institution in Bollywood, became an actor by chance. Before entering films, he was a law student, but became a laboratory assistant at Filmalaya Studios founded by his future brother-in-law Sashadhar Mukherjee. Bombay Talkies’ Himanshu Roy cast Ashok Kumar as a hero in Jeevan Naiya when the original actor fell ill.

His last film was The Return of the Jewel Thief, a blockbuster. Its shooting began in 1996, but the film was not completed.

The actor, who loved the good life, was paired with every leading lady of his time. He started to take up character roles from the seventies, after reportedly joking that he wouldn’t act as a hero opposite 14-year-olds.

Ashok Kumar was also one of the first Indian actors to adopt the “natural” style of Hollywood when the order of the day was melodrama. He was the winner of many awards, including the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1989.


New Delhi, Dec. 10: 
After the government yesterday disclosed that a core group had been set up for Kashmir negotiations, the Hurriyat Conference has predictably shot back a familiar line: talks on Kashmir have to be a three-way affair involving Pakistan.

Though the Hurriyat has rejected the government’s offer of talks with the newly-announced core group, policy makers are not put off by this rejection.

Officials believe this to be an expected opening gambit. “We never expected the Hurriyat to welcome talks without Pakistan. The initial reaction in such situations is always to say no,” a senior official explained.

The Centre had announced a core group of officials to assist K.C. Pant, the pointsman for Kashmir, to begin official or unofficial talks with Hurriyat leaders.

“It is premature to comment on the constitution of a core group by the Centre to hold talks with the Hurriyat leadership, individually or collectively, as nothing has been officially conveyed to the Hurriyat as yet,” Abdul Gani Bhat, chairman of the group, was quoted by PTI as saying in Srinagar.

The Hurriyat executive can discuss the Centre’s move once the invitation for talks with the core group is sent to Kashmiri groups.


New Delhi, Dec. 10: 
Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi has cancelled the iftar he planned to hold this week even as the rest of the capital’s political brass continues to throw one lavish iftar after another.

Balayogi’s iftar last year had become the talk of the town for its sheer presence of heavyweight VVIPs.

The Telugu Desam Party is planning to stay out of Sonia Gandhi’s iftar tomorrow. Party chief Chandrababu Naidu has not yet authorised his parliamentary party leader, K. Yerran Naidu, to attend.

Sources close to Yerran Naidu said he would boycott the party if Sonia did not invite Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar.

The iftar hosted by Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav on December 5 left a sour aftertaste with Congress president Sonia Gandhi refusing to be photographed with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and other senior BJP leaders.

With elections round the corner in Uttar Pradesh, Yadav’s was widely acknowledged as the mother of all iftars with over 2000 rozedars attending.

Hordes of politicians, filmstars, celebrities and journalists swarmed Yadav’s Krishna Menon Marg residence. Shatrughan Sinha remarked he had not seen such an iftar even in Pakistan.

But amid the festivities, food and courtesy were the casualties. The rush of VIPs was such that Yadav even forgot to greet Jayaprada, Desam member in the Rajya Sabha.

An embarrassed Yadav personally visited Jayaprada at her residence the following day and profusely apologised for the discourtesy.

When asked if Balayogi had cancelled his iftar to avoid controversy following reports that Muslim clerics had asked the devout not to attend the political durbars that masquaraded as iftar, sources close to him denied it.

They said the Speaker was finding it difficult to find a suitable date for his iftar with so many of them scheduled in the coming days.

Moreover, “December 15 to 17, most MPs are leaving for their respective constituencies,” the sources added.

Though Balayogi has decided against the iftar, others are going ahead, with the exception of BJP president Jana Krishnamurthi and labour minister and Janata Dal (United) chief Sharad Yadav.

Besides the iftar held by Sonia, other prominent politicians who will organise iftars over the coming days are the Prime Minister on December 13 and President K.R. Narayanan on December 14. Vice President Krishan Kant had hosted one on December 6.

Minister for coal and mines Ram Vilas Paswan will be hosting two iftars — one for the VIPs on December 12 and the another for the commoners (mostly his Dalit Sena supporters) on the following day.


Chandigarh, Dec. 10: 
His thighbone fracture prevented him from standing up. So chief minister Parkash Singh Badal addressed over 2,000 party workers who had gathered at his residence sitting down.

The meeting was aimed at sending out a strong message to his detractors that he was “politically” active despite the fracture he had suffered last month in Amritsar.

Admitting that he was yet to recover fully, the Shiromani Akali Dal chief said it would take him another fortnight to hit the campaign trail. “I must thank all those who prayed for my recovery,” the Punjab chief minister said.

Badal said those who had written him off would have to eat their words. “My each and every minute and drop of blood is for the people of Punjab,” he said as his supporters cheered. “I have given my life for the betterment of the people of Punjab and the country and no injury can stop me from completing the task that I have set for myself. The two-week separation from the people of Punjab has pained me the most.”

After his injury, the chief minister, known for his aggressive campaigning, had been written off as a “spent force” by the Congress, which is on a comeback trail in the state, and by dissident Akali leaders who have demanded his resignation. “Those who are seeking my resignation on any grounds do not believe in a strong Punjab. Today, Punjab’s relationship with the Centre cannot be explained in mere words. Our relationship with neighbouring states is the best in 50 years. People of all religions, caste and creed are living harmoniously together in the state,” Badal said.

Blasting the Congress for “keeping Punjab out of India” since Independence, Badal said the coming elections would prove that his party still enjoyed the people’s support. “We have made mistakes. We will rectify them the next time. No government can accomplish all tasks,” Badal said.

The chief minister said he was not worried by the impressive showing by the Panthic Morcha (an umbrella organisation of dissident Akali leaders).

Without naming Gurcharan Singh Tohra, he said: “They have a leader who was head of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee for 25 years.

“Everyone knows the trials and tribulations the Sikh religion passed through during his reign. What did he do to solve the religion’s problems? And yet they say Sikhism is in danger with me as Shiromani Akali Dal chief,” he said.

Referring to Tohra’s visit to the Delhi hospital where he was operated upon, the chief minister said no unity talks were held.


Gandhinagar, Dec. 10: 
Air chief marshal A.Y. Tipnis today said the air force was on high alert and prepared to meet any contingency. He said every flight was being monitored to pre-empt a repeat of the September 11 attacks.

Addressing a news conference at the South West Air Command here, Tipnis said though there was no perception of any immediate threat, the air force was not taking any chances and that ground security at all air force stations had been upgraded.

Tipnis, who is to retire on December 31, was on his farewell visit to the command headquarters.

“If a plane strays out of its route, we have different stages to monitor its activities and we are capable of meeting any contingency,” he said.

Tipnis disclosed that India had received two modified versions of MiG-21s, which will be available for use within a year. He sought to dispel what he called a “wrong perception” about MiG-21s, which he admitted had some “technical problems” that have been addressed.

Talking about “air-worthiness” and safety of old aircraft, Tipnis said: “It is a wrong notion that old aircraft are not safe.’’ He cited the example of the MiG-21, which is still in high demand.

Referring to MiG–21 crashes, the air chief pointed out that 32 MiG-21 had crashed in the last decade — less when compared to the total accidents in the previous decade.

Tipnis expressed hope that “there will be less MiG crash(es) once the Advance Jet Training project takes off”.

While talking about the airborne warning and control system and the air-refuelling aircraft that will join the fleet soon, the air chief stressed the need for “character and personality development’’ for any fighting force.

But for that the airforce is required to provide attractive salary and perks so that it gets and retains the best talent available in the country.

Regarding the damage caused by the January earthquake, he said the air force had suffered major losses in Kutch. Tipnis said 50 per cent of the airforce houses were damaged of which 40 per cent have been reconstructed.


Kochi, Dec. 10: 
Widespread communal violence in the last four days is threatening to tarnish Kerala’s reputation as a model state devoid of communal discord.

A public strike called on Monday by a group of organisations such as the BJP and the Hindu Aikya Vedi to protest against attacks on devotees of the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple by alleged activists of Muslim fundamentalist organisations, turned violent when strikers clashed with police and activists of the National Democratic Front and the CPM in several parts of the state.

Police fired rubber bullets at Hindutva activists trying to forcibly close shops and offices in the northern Kasarakode district. Violence spread to other parts of the state, including capital Thiruvananthapuram, when clashes erupted between supporters and opponents of the strike and strikers set fire to residences and business establishments of Muslims.

Life came to a standstill as shops, offices and public service establishments could not function properly. The government’s effort to operate a skeletal public transport service was disrupted when strikers resorted to organised stone pelting. Educational institutions observed a government-sanctioned holiday.

Incidents over the last four days have disrupted communal harmony in Kerala, which remained free from communal problems and violence even while the rest of country was intermittently consumed by sectarian disturbances.

The sequence of events that led to Monday’s violence began with the strike organised by the Muslim fundamentalist People’s Democratic Party on the Babri demolition anniversary on December 6. The strike called for the reconstruction of the masjid.

PDP chief Abdul Naser Mahdani is one of the prime accused in the 1998 Coimbatore blasts.

The PDP strike was marked by extensive attacks against people, some of it Ayyappa devotees making their annual pilgrimage to Sabarimala.


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