Forward Bloc keeps ‘big brother’ on toes
Citu upholds right to strike
2 killed in tease tragedy
Lashkar top-gun falls in flushout
Pakistan air force chief flexes muscle
Elders desert Sonia in UP
Small screen shahenshah returns as spycam scribe
Gunshots gone, Yuletide hope sweeps Nagaland
IAS officer tied in knots for casual wear
Court rein on statue decision

Calcutta, Dec. 23: 
The Forward Bloc — the second-largest constituent of the ruling Left Front — today indicated that it will continue to be a thorn in the flesh of “big brother” CPM.

Ashok Ghosh, who was re-elected as general secretary of the Forward Bloc, said his party would play an effective Opposition’s role if it felt that a decision taken by the CPM would actually weaken the unity of the Front.

“We will definitely pinpoint the weaknesses and mistakes committed by the CPM in order to strengthen the unity of the Front,” Ghosh told the journalists at the Salt Lake stadium after the conclusion of the party’s 14th state conference today.

The induction of Kamal Guha as chairman of the 11-member state secretariat is another indication that the party will continue its CPM bashing. Guha, who is well-known for his “anti-CPM stand”, replaced Bhaktibhusan Mandal.

Immediately after his election, Guha said he was ready to settle any dispute with the CPM through negotiations. “But how can I remain silent after knowing that the CPM cadre might be responsible for the death of my party colleagues?” he asked.

He held the CPM responsible for killing of a Forward Bloc leader and member of Agragami Kishan Sabha in Cooch Behar recently. “It is the CPM who had killed our leader in Cooch Behar. We had intimated the police that our leader was facing a life threat, but they remained inactive,” Guha alleged.

The new chairman said he had informed chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee about the killing of their leader by the CPM activists and police inaction.

“I also urged Bhattacharjee to convene a bilateral discussion between the CPM and the Forward Bloc over the Cooch Behar killing,” he added.

Guha had left the Forward Bloc in 1992 after his differences with the party over the Tinbigha issue. But he was reinducted in the party in 1999 and became minister in the sixth Left Front government.

The CPM is also unhappy with Guha. The CPM’s anger was reflected when Front chairman Biman Bose proposed at a recent meeting for a code of conduct for the ministers prohibiting them from making any public criticism of the Front.

Coming down heavily on the “big brother”, Ghosh said the CPM used to take major decision on important issues independently and call the Front’s meeting in a hurry to endorse its decision.

“The CPM’s tactic used to give birth of misunderstanding among the Front partners and we feel that convening the Front’s meeting after taking decisions unilaterally is nothing but a farce. We want the CPM to change this attitude,” he alleged.

Ghosh also criticised the functioning of the land reforms and panchayat departments run by the CPM by saying that the government had failed to provide financial back-up to those landless agricultural labourers whom the state had given land for cultivation.

“Many of these labourers had failed to maintain the land given to them due to extreme poverty and handed them over to rich people. We had a dream of using the gram panchayats as tools to our struggle against capitalism. But I am sorry to say that the dream has been shattered. Many people in Midnapore and Hooghly who were supposed to be with the Leftists, had joined the Trinamul Congress,” he alleged.

Relief minister Hafiz Ali Sairani, Gobinda Roy, party MLA Rabin Ghosh, Naren Chatterjee and Barun Mukherjee are the five state secretariat members who have been elected for the first time. The party also elected 55-member state committee.


Malda, Dec. 23: 
Citu today indicated that it would ask workers to take recourse to strike only as the last effective tool to realise “just” demands, making it clear that the agenda of the ruling CPM’s monolithic labour arm is different from that of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government.

“As we look at it, the strike is the last weapon in the hands of the working class,” Citu general secretary Chittabrata Majumdar said inaugurating the 13th state conference of the coordination committee of state government employees at the newly-built indoor stadium here.

“The oppressed worker cannot be asked to forsake this right,” Majumdar said, taking a position opposed to that of CPM politburo member Jyoti Basu, Bhattacharjee and other state CPM leaders.

The CPM as well as the Left Front have been trying to dissuade Citu and the other Left trade unions from holding strikes and bandhs in industrial units for the past few years in an attempt to portray a business-friendly Bengal and pave the way for industrialisation.

Majumdar also observed that a lack of unity among several trade unions had hampered the success of strikes in different industrial units. “I know that workers and their trade unions are capable of paralysing the country by calling strikes in rail, bank, port, telecom and petroleum sectors. But it is unfortunate that trade unions in these sectors are not united and have failed to prevent the Centre from going ahead with privatisation,” Majumdar felt.

He also wondered why employees of several public sector undertakings (PSUs) had not raised their voice against the Centre’s decision to reduce the interest rate on their provident fund.

“I have noticed that employees of these PSUs had protested against the Centre’s decision for a day or two. But they failed to sustain their effort to force the Centre to withdraw their decision regarding provident fund interest. I think you people (members of the coordination committee) have to play a major role in organising the workers and employees of the PSUs,” he said.

Altogether 2,400 delegates participated in the conference that will conclude on December 27. The chief minister will deliver the valedictory address.


Malda, Dec. 23: 
A youth, Zakir Hossain, was murdered by miscreants at Sujapur under Kaliachak police station on Saturday night after he tried to resist them from molesting his sister-in-law. Infuriated, villagers lynched a miscreant, reports our correspondent.

District superintendent of police Pankaj Dutta said the miscreants were locals and the police are on a lookout. One person has been arrested.

Police said the incident took place when Hossain, 35, was going to a relative’s house at Gangaprasad village with his sister-in-law, Arifa Bewa. On the way, some persons blocked their road and started eve-teasing Arifa. When the miscreants tried to drag her away, Hossain sprang to her rescue. An altercation and scuffle ensued, in which Hossain was hacked to death.

Arifa rushed to the nearest village and raised an alarm. The villagers dashed to the spot and chased the miscreants. They managed to catch one of them, Zia-ul Seikh, and started beating him. He died on the spot.


Srinagar, Dec. 23: 
As guns boomed along the frontline overnight, security forces shot dead two suspected “commanders” of the Lashkar-e-Toiba in the first sign of a “proactive” crackdown in Kashmir.

Lashkar deputy chief Saifullah Askari alias Owais was killed along with his aide in the encounter in Baramullah district, a defence spokesman said today. They were Pakistani nationals and figured in category A of the militant list, the spokesman said.

Askari and his aide Mirza alias Abu Ali were killed by a search team of the army and the special operations group of Jammu and Kashmir police at Watrena village near Lawaypora in Bandipora late last night.

A defence spokesman described the killing of Askari as a “major breakthrough”. Officials refused to say whether the encounter was the result of a shift in strategy but “high-profile” hitbacks were on top of Delhi’s drawing board after the attack on Parliament.

Among the scenarios being considered by the Centre surgical strikes within the border were the least risk-prone. However, poor intelligence had hampered earlier campaigns to “sterilise” militant-infested areas within the border.

The defence spokesman said troops of 15 Rashtriya Rifles, along with the police, laid a cordon around the village last evening following a tip-off on the presence of top Pakistani militants there.

As the army conducted house-to-house searches, militants hiding in a house started firing and lobbed grenades. In the gunbattle that followed, the Lashkar leader and his associate were killed, the spokesman said.

He said the Lashkar leader was the brain behind several suicide attacks on security camps and convoys in north Kashmir.

Besides being the deputy chief, operations, of Lashkar, Askari was also Baramullah district chief for the last several years.

However, the euphoria over the strike was tempered by an ambush by Pakistani troops in Samba sector, killing three paramilitary soldiers.

Defence sources in Jammu said Pakistani troops ambushed a patrol party of the BSF at Gallar village on the border in Samba sector.

The attack triggered heavy fighting on the border in the Jammu region. Defence sources said Indian forces targeted Pakistani posts in the area, destroying seven bunkers in Poonch and three in another sector. Unconfirmed reports said 20 Pakistani soldiers were killed

In Islamabad, Pakistan claimed that its forces blew up four Indian bunkers in the Poonch and Rawalkot sectors on the Line of Control (LoC).

The sources said the heavy artillery exchanges spread panic among civilians in three villages in Samba. The residents have fled their homes in panic. A civilian, identified as Rekha Devi, was hit by shrapnel.

Stick and carrot

The Jammu and Kashmir government today scrambled to control damage after allegations that policemen stood helpless when militants gunned down Sikh women on Friday night.

The government decided to dismiss nine policemen for “dereliction of duty” at Poshkreeri village in Anantnag district where the women were gunned down.

“They failed to retaliate and save the lives of the members of the minority community,” said an officer.

The villagers had complained to visiting ministers that the policemen did not fire a single shot when they came under the militant attack.

As part of a carrot-and-stick policy, the government also gave out-of-turn promotion to two policemen who saved the lives of members of a family belonging to the minority community.


Islamabad, Dec. 23: 
Pakistan’s chief of the air staff, Air Chief Marshal Mushaf Ali Mir has said that Pakistan’s defence forces were fully prepared to give a matching response in case of any misadventure from across the border, meaning India.

“There is nothing to be worried about. Pakistan’s armed forces are fully prepared,” he said while talking to reporters after inaugurating a seminar titled “Role of air power in the 21st century” at the Institute of Strategic Studies on Saturday.

“There is some military build-up and preparations across the eastern border and we are fully aware of the situation,” he said, adding that the commanders had been undertaking a series of brain-storming sessions to streamline strategies to effectively counter any misadventure from India.

Replying to a question whether India would carry out airstrikes on Kashmir, the air chief referred to the recent statements by Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and his Cabinet colleagues that they had all the options to choose from. So, he said, “we are vigilant and keeping vigil on all the latest happenings”.

“We are fully prepared and can take any challenge,” the air chief said when his attention was drawn to the recent military build-up by India.

Mir said India had 800 aircraft while Pakistan had 350, but “our efficient force can overwhelm them.”

The air force chief added that Pakistan had just received 10 Chinese F7-PG aircraft and a similar number were expected next week. Another 20 aircraft were expected in a couple of months.

The first prototype of the Super-7 aircraft (a Sino-Pak joint venture being executed at the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex) would roll out by June 2003, while regular production was expected to begin in 2004-05, the air chief said.

“We are well aware that India had been preparing since the Kargil war and have inducted some new hardware and are in process of inducting some more. Seeing the situation, we have been making all out efforts to keep the minimum level of deterrence in the nuclear and conventional sectors,” he said.

Referring to Pakistan-China relations, with special regard to defence, he said: “We already have a number of pacts of strategic nature with our friendly countries, which have always been standing with us through thick and thin.”

Musharraf meeting

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf is scheduled to hold a series of high level meetings with top military officials tomorrow to chalk out a defence and political strategy in the face of rising tensions with India.

Musharraf is expected to convene after his return from China tomorrow the Joint Chief of Staff Committee, a high-level military policy body that comprises the top brass of all three services, to review the situation on the border.

After the meeting, Musharraf is also expected to convene the National Security Council, which also comprises the top brass of the three services.

Later he is expected to call a meeting of the corps commanders followed by ground level commanders meeting to review the situation.


New Delhi, Dec. 23: 
Congress president Sonia Gandhi wants senior leaders to contest the Uttar Pradesh elections but many of them are not willing.

About 16 former Union ministers, governors, chief ministers and state unit chiefs are on Sonia’s short-list. But they feel they are “too senior” to contest at the Assembly level and will not be able to “serve much” as MLAs because they have earlier been elected to the Lok Sabha.

Sonia’s rationale is that the presence of these leaders will shore up the Congress’ sagging image, enhance its credibility and make it a serious contender. As of now, the Congress is perceived to be well behind the Samajwadi Party, the BJP and the Bahujan Samaj Party.

But Ram Naresh Yadav, Chandrajit Yadav, Lokpati Tripathi, Mata Prasad, Satpal Malick, Ratnakar Pandey, Ram Lal Rahi, Mahabir Prasad, Syed Sibtey Razi and others are reluctant. So far, only former state party chief Salman Khurshid has shown inclination to contest from Farukhabad region.

Sonia is worried that leaders in the state unit will sing the same tune. The Uttar Pradesh unit has five working presidents, 17 vice presidents and dozens of general secretaries. If they refuse to contest, there will be few credible contenders in the fray. The AICC’s screening committee met in Lucknow today to study the observers’ report that has listed probable candidates from each constituency.

The Congress’ campaign panel for Uttar Pradesh has about 40 “senior leaders” but most do not seem to relish the prospect of contesting the elections. Narain Dutt Tiwari, who has been the chief minister, heads the panel but he is not likely to contest because he does not hail from the state. Tiwari is the Lok Sabha MP from Nainital, now in Uttarakhand. But Sonia does not want to restrict the old war horse to the tiny state.

There are other “stalwarts” also who hold high positions in the AICC but are unlikely to contest. Their excuse is they are AICC functionaries and their services are required in Delhi on a day-to-day basis.

AICC general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad wants Sonia to “direct” many of these “stalwarts” to enter the fray.


Mumbai, Dec. 23: 
Tehelka on Doordarshan? Well, almost. After seven years, Shekhar Suman, the “big star” of the small screen, is returning to the state-run television in a new soap modelled on the Tehelka expose.

Suman plays the role of an intrepid, investigative reporter in the soap, Shayad Tum, a character, which Mudra Videotec, the producer, said bore striking similarities to Anirudh Bahal, the journalist behind the expose.

“I have always been inspired by the journalists exposing the misdeeds of the government. They risk everything including their lives to get a big story and that’s what I find inspiring about the Tehelka,” Suman said.

The 52-episode soap, appearing weekly on DDI from January 3, promises to explore the workings of the media as well, including the corporate attempts to plant and stall stories.

“The soap is a lot like the Tehelka. There are quite a few parallels. The journalist here, too, keeps exposing government misdeeds at the risk to his life,” Videotec’s programming head Abhigyan Jha said. “The reporter in the soap looks somewhat like Anirudh Bahal of the Tehelka, who became bigger than the organisation he worked for.”

Jha said the soap, revolving around an office romance, would reveal what politics and media were all about. “It will detail how the media glorifies and then dump a person.”

To get Doordarshan to accept the soap, the producer has steered clear of any direct reference to the Tehelka. The reporter in the soap does not work for a website, but for a magazine.

“It was a conscious decision because we did not want to get into any controversy,” Jha said.

Videotech, division of the Mudra Communications, is still wondering whether to have any reference to the defence scams that Tehelka had exposed, in the soap. “We are still debating the issue, but we feel there should be a reference to make it look realistic,” Jha said.

Videotech CEO Kaushik Roy said they had no trouble getting Doordarshan to accept the soap. “We decided to go to Doordarshan because of its huge reach. We are certain that this soap is going to emerge as a blockbuster on the small screen.”

Jha said Doordarshan authorities were not just excited about the soap, but lapped it up.

“This is all because Sekhar Suman is involved and everyone knows his relationship with information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj.”

Swaraj was the first Union minister to appear on Suman’s former talkshow, Movers and Shakers. And ever since, they have retained a “special relationship,” Jha, executive producer of Movers and Shakers, said.

For Suman, playing a reporter comes easily. “I made it big playing a journalist in Doordarshan’s serial Reporter eight years ago. Now, I am back to where I belong.”


Kohima, Dec. 23: 
Nagaland is in the grip of Yuletide festivity, prompted by the “journey of reconciliation” spearheaded by the Naga Hoho and the ceasefire declaration by the NSCN’s Khaplang faction. Nagas are gearing up for what is likely to be an “historic” Christmas, marked by the pledge to “forgive and forget past wounds”.

The mood is best reflected in the illuminated skyline of all major towns, including Kohima, Dimapur and Mokokchung. Gunshots and bloodshed have given way to merrymaking, pre-Christmas events, musical evenings, community feasts and picnics since Friday. Shops in the capital town are teeming with people scouting for Christmas paraphernalia. “Santa Claus has come home to peace,” a teenager said.

Salaries for the month of December have been held up owing to the tight financial situation of the government, but this has had little impact on the people.

Earlier, the state government used to clear bills of contractors and suppliers before Christmas. This practice has been stopped due to the shrinking exchequer.

Gauging the mood, the Dimapur Naga Students’ Union has relaxed its stricture on closure of shops and business establishments in the commercial hub of the state.

Christmas trees, Santa Claus, stars are ubiquitous on private and government buildings, hotels, churches and streets.

The students have organised a special musical evening at the city clock tower tomorrow. The district Youth Congress has already organised a “Christmas cake relay race” in Dimapur, which was attended by senior state ministers and legislators.

Governor Om Prakash Sharma, in a message, has wished the people of Nagaland on the occasion.

Christmas will bring fulfilment of the cherished wishes of the people of Nagaland, with peace being the highpoint, the Governor said.

“The message of Christ sets a universal goal for all times and all people that seeks to bind men together with ties of love, understanding and common pursuit of truth,” Sharma said.

The NSCN(K) has declared cessation of hostilities against its rival groups to enable the people to celebrate Christmas and the New Year.


Ranchi, Dec. 23: 
It happened to M.F. Husain and Viv Richards. Now it’s the turn of Ranchi Area Industrial Development Authority managing director Bachcha Thakur to join the elite club of the rich and the famous who have been rebuffed for “dressing carelessly”.

The master painter had been refused entry to an elite Mumbai club for being barefooted. The master-blaster West Indian cricketer was denied admission to a premier Calcutta club for being dressed in bermudas and slippers. Thakur, though otherwise immaculately dressed, was not allowed to be a part of a group-photo of Jharkhand bureaucrats. His “crime”: he was not wearing a tie.

During the India International Trade Fair (IITF) at New Delhi’s Pragati Maidan last month, Thakur was discreetly asked to leave a photo-op after some of his colleagues noticed that he was not wearing a neck-tie.

Thakur had been among the many officials of Jharkhand who were at the trade fair since it was the state’s debut at the high-profile event. The authority had put up its stall demonstrating products manufactured by hundreds of units located in 15 industrial estates of Jharkhand.

Besides Thakur, among those who went to Delhi were industry secretary P.P. Sharma, industry director Arun Kumar Singh, finance secretary Laxmi Singh, roads secretary Ashok Kumar Singh and Adityapur Industrial Area Development Authority managing director Vandana Dadel. On November 26, when the Jharkhand pavilion was to be inaugurated by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, almost the entire state Cabinet, including chief minister Babulal Marandi, landed in Delhi.

Just before D-day, the Jharkhand industry department organised a photo session in the shadow of a larger-than-life statue of tribal icon Birsa Munda, erected at a vantage point inside Pragati Maidan. Several Jharkhand officers gathered near the statue to get the historic moment captured by a photographer. Among them were Arun Kumar Singh, Bachcha Thakur, Dadel and her husband. “Before the photographer could click, Vandana Dadel and her husband, an officer of the Indian Revenue Service posted in Jamshedpur, asked me to leave the place as I was not properly dressed for the occasion. When I asked what was wrong with my dress, Dadel’s husband told me that I was not wearing a tie. The humiliation was such that I had to leave the spot in the presence of many other officers,” alleged Thakur, who is an “indirect” (promotee) entrant to the coveted IAS.

“I thought I had done something very wrong. I went to the nearest market the same evening and bought a tie. I even learned to tie a knot,” he added.


Chennai, Dec. 23: 
The impasse over the ADMK’s removal of the statue of Kannagi, the tragic heroine of Tamil epic Silapadikaram, from the Marina Sands here, took a dramatic turn with Madras High Court putting the brakes on any final decision till the petition was dismissed.

Acting on a public interest litigation seeking restoration of the statue at its original spot, a two-member bench, including Chief Justice Subashan Reddy, said the government should not finalise the spot for relocating it until further orders. The next date of hearing is January 22, 2002. Thus, till then, the DMK-led Opposition will also find itself, indirectly, constrained.

Installed during the World Tamil Conference in 1968, the removal of the Kannagi statue, after a ‘freak’ accident had damaged its pedestal — ostensibly on the grounds of Vaastu Shastra that its present position neither augured well for “Amma’s political future” nor for metropolitan Chennai — had sparked off the row, with the Opposition refusing to buy the state’s argument.

DMK president M. Karunanidhi termed the Jayalalithaa dispensation’s move as an “affront on the Tamils self-respect and even amounting to a war on Tamil culture” and demanded that the government reinstall the statue at that very spot.

In a zero-sum game move, apparently with Amma’s blessings, the government has appointed a five-member committee headed by the Chennai police commissioner, to recommend a “suitable place” alongside the Marina sea-front itself, which will not pose a traffic hazard.


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