Surjeet sees NDA doom in Cong coalition
Malda terror trail leads to minor girls racket
Coal mafia-police links under scanner
More shells than 2 wars together
United colours of Maruti: cool blue to ice green
BJP brushes aside talks
After Nehru jacket, it’s Jodhpuri’s turn
Mee the at on National Library
Jat trouble for BJP

 
 
SURJEET SEES NDA DOOM IN CONG COALITION 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 6: 
Eschewing their differences, the Congress and Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party may come closer during the Uttar Pradesh polls and trigger the process of fragmentation of the National Democratic Alliance at the Centre, the CPM indicated today.

CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet today said his party believes that a few important NDA partners might pull out of the BJP-led alliance if they were assured of a durable alternative like the Congress-Samajwadi Party combine.

“The national political scenario will be considerably altered, thanks to the Uttar Pradesh elections… if they (the two parties) decide to come together, the resultant development may cause a rethink among certain NDA partners,” Surjeet said in Calcutta. He was of the view that a few NDA parties might consider ranging themselves against the BJP in Uttar Pradesh during the elections if the ground situation developed in favour of a new combine.

Surjeet, in Calcutta in connection with the three-day CPM central committee meeting, indicated that the CPM would act as a catalyst, pushing for the new formations. The central committee was in session in regard with the finalisation of the draft political resolution for the 17th party congress.

“The Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections are important because the event will have a bearing on national politics,” he said, adding that the parties comprising the People’s Front are gearing up to put an effective anti-BJP campaign in place.

The CPM will continue to maintain a distance from the Congress in the Hindi heartland, Surjeet said, making it clear at the same time that it recognises the CPI’s compulsions in forging links with the Congress for the Punjab polls.

A Congress-CPI alliance, according to the CPM leader, will have no negative impact on the Left Front’s image. “What negative impact? They (CPI) are a separate party and can decide unilaterally on the electoral tactic they will follow,” he said, declining to comment on the Congress. “All we can say now is that the CPM will contest the Assembly polls in Punjab without entering into an alliance with any political force there.”

Surjeet explained that the Congress, though a “bourgeois party”, was “secular” in nature. The reaffirmation of the Congress’ attribute buttresses feelings in political circles that the CPM regards the Congress as the arrowhead of its campaign against the BJP.

The CPM central leadership also discussed the international political situation, especially in light of the US offensive in Afghanistan, at the central committee meeting that ended today.

   

 
 
MALDA TERROR TRAIL LEADS TO MINOR GIRLS RACKET 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Malda, Jan. 6: 
“Babu, please save me, or else they will kill me,” wept the girl, throwing herself at the policeman’s feet. Tears streaming down her eyes, she told him that she was being forced to do “indecent things” and that she could not take it any more.

It did not take long for superintendent of police Pankaj Dutta to realise what was happening. Recovering from the initial shock, he ordered the rooms of the hovel to be searched. Fifty-one girls, all below 17 years, were rescued from Hansagiri Lane in Malda town around 10 pm yesterday. Seven persons, including four elderly women, were arrested.

Dutta had stumbled on a murky trafficking racket — girls between 10 and 17 were being forced into prostitution in the red-light area. Interestingly, Dutta had not informed the police outpost on Hansagiri Lane about the impending raid. Sources said the personnel were regulars at the brothels.

Terrorists and a possible ISI network were more on Dutta’s mind when he raided the area with a police team. The move came after four suspected terrorists arrested from a hotel on Wednesday disclosed during interrogation that they used to visit the red-light area.

Dutta said 10-year-old Banu, who had blown the lid off the racket by rushing out and seeking his help, and her mother, Paridas Sultana, had been lured to Malda from their home in Assam with the promise of a job. The “good samaritan” had sold them for Rs 5,000. Paridas was forced into prostitution. Banu was also being sucked into the hell-hole.

“We were duped by a man and herded into this brothel. My daughter and I have suffered enough. I will no longer remain in this profession. Please give me a job so that I can bring up my daughter in a healthy atmosphere,” wept Paridas.

Touched by their plight, the police officer promised to help Paridas and Banu resettle in more respectable environs. “I will help them in any way I can so that the 10-year-old girl does not have to return to the nighmare,” said Dutta. He has also raised some funds for the mother and her daughter.

Another teenager, Jyotsna Pal, had a similar tale. Two months ago, she had eloped with a youth from her home at Matigara in Siliguri. Her dreams of home and hearth were shattered when she was sold to the brothel for Rs 8,000. Before the police arrived last night, she had made two unsuccessful attempts to escape.

   

 
 
COAL MAFIA-POLICE LINKS UNDER SCANNER 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Burdwan, Jan. 6: 
Inspector-general of police (western range) Jit Ram Bhagat has ordered an inquiry into allegations of a nexus between the coal mafia and a section of district police officials — in service now and some recently retired.

Police sources said chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has been informed about the probe. “We are inquiring from every angle. Those found guilty will be dealt with sternly,” Bhagat said today.

A special team, led by additional superintendent of police Anirban Roy, raided a hotel on the outskirts of Burdwan town this morning in connection with the probe, and arrested Madhusudan Sarkar and seized incriminating documents.

The documents include residence and mobile phone numbers of senior police officers who have served in the district. An official connected with the probe said Madhusudan’s elder brother, Ajit, was a home guard who also worked as the police superintendent’s cook for 10 years.

Sources in the administration said Bhagat ordered the probe after a coal smuggler was arrested in Kalna a month ago while trying to bribe a police officer. During interrogation, he had revealed information on the nexus.

Police gala: The strikes on the World Trade Center came alive in dazzling fireworks at the district police gala held recently in Hooghly. Ministers Naren De and Pratim Chatterjee and Bhagat were present at the show.

   

 
 
MORE SHELLS THAN 2 WARS TOGETHER 
 
 
FROM GAJINDER SINGH
 
Bainglar (On the Indo-Pak border in Samba), Jan. 6: 
Gaping holes on rooftops, charred houses, the stench of rotting carcasses and bullets whistling by greet you as you wind your way up to the last house that Pakistani shells demolished on the night of December 23. Intermittent firing from heavy machine-guns and bullets hitting the ground or the side of a ditch keep the terror alive.

The firing increases in intensity as the sun goes down.

Welcome to the new front opened by Pakistan, less than 5 km from the Jammu-Pathankot highway, where every movement is greeted by a hail of bullets.

“It seemed all hell had broken loose when the shells began to rain on the village. Even during the 1956 and 1971 wars, it was not this bad. The 40 mortar shells that landed on our village that terrible night can never be forgotten. So many shells have never landed on our village, even taking the last two wars together,” said 22-year-old Ashutosh Sharma, among the few local residents to stay back in the village and help the army.

“All houses coming in the range of the Pakistani firing and shelling have been charred. There is nothing remaining,” Ashutosh said, warning not to move anywhere near a 12 ft long, 13.5 ft high and 2 ft thick pockmarked wall that the Pakistanis have been constantly aiming at.

“If the wall breaks, the village main road will become exposed. They had tried shelling it but failed,” Ashutosh added.

Bainglar with 1500 houses and 5000 people falls barely 500 m from the international border. After the heavy shelling last month, most residents have migrated to safer places. Only a handful of boys and village elders remain to look after their land, cattle and to prepare meals for soldiers coming back from patrolling.

The entire village has been declared a “dangerous zone” by the authorities. Villagers have built a number of bunkers, each capable of holding 15 adults, which they use at night when there is an increase in the intensity of firing .

Bansi Lal, 70, owner of a tea stall that falls right beside the 25-metre telephone tower, while pointing out the bullet marks on the walls, said Pakistani guns used to target the tower consistently because of the tricolour on it.

“Earlier, the national flag was right on top of the tower, but now we have lowered it. It has helped as the intensity of firing from the other side has lessened. But the Pakistanis still continue firing at the tower,” he said.

   

 
 
UNITED COLOURS OF MARUTI: COOL BLUE TO ICE GREEN 
 
 
FROM M. RAJENDRAN
 
New Delhi, Jan. 6: 
Maruti Udyog Ltd (MUL), the country’s largest car maker, is changing its colours. This time it’s turning green — the colour that spells “youth and freshness”.

MUL, which was the first Indian corporate to adopt the Japanese system where everyone from the chief executive down to the lowest toolroom attendant wears the same uniform, has undertaken an elaborate exercise to design a new outfit for its employees. This is the third time that the automaker is changing its colours — from staid grey in 1983 and cool blue in 1993.

The new uniform — foliage green trousers and ice-green shirts and jerseys for men, ice-green saris for women — has been designed by the National Institute of Fashion Technology (Nift) and is being dubbed as its “millennium uniform”.

About 4,600 employees of Maruti switched over from their cool-blue outfits to spanking new ice-green uniforms this month.

“At long last, the wait is over. The new uniforms have finally arrived. So all employees can come together to paint Maruti a young and vibrant green,” says an internal note issued to the employees by MUL managing director Jagdish Khattar.

“Maruti enters the new millennium brushing over recent past troubles, turning adversity into strength and impatient to face the new challenges ahead. We have changed for the better and what better way to signify that than by changing the colour of the uniforms!” added the note.

The note looks optimistically at “a fresh new year, a fresh new uniform, and a fresh new energy to face the challenges ahead.....”

While Nift was given the job to design the uniform, Oswal Group’s OCM has supplied the fabric; the jerseys are being supplied by Mohini Knitwears. A Geneva-based inspection agency SGS Group was asked to test, verify and certify the quality, design and fabric.

MUL is 50 per cent owned by Suzuki Motor of Japan. So, it is interesting to note that the green colour in Japan exemplifies the dragon — fearsome and invincible.

Company executives were tightlipped about the price paid for the huge colour-change exercise where for the first time all sections of employees were consulted.

“The cost runs into a few crores. But the effort and thinking behind choosing the colour was a unique experience, which we would not like to calculate in terms of money,” said a senior executive.

The company executives said green was chosen because it is a fresh colour; different from the usual blue or grey themes that is worn in most industrial concerns.

“We in MUL had the grey and blue themes with different variations to it. With greater environment consciousness and commitment to the ecology, green was the natural choice. Green signifies youth and freshness,” said a senior executive of the company.

To choose the millennium uniform, a cross-functional team comprising employees at various levels across the divisions was constituted.

“The committee of employees short-listed two colour themes — one in blue and the other in green. The green theme received overwhelming support from the employees. The directors approved the design, colour and texture,” said a company executive.

Nift had proposed six different colour stories or themes ranging from turquoise blue, light olive green, charcoal grey, dark grey, chocolate browns to a lemon yellow. In addition, they offered four different shirt styling, three different trouser styles and four different jacket cuts.

Maruti, which had seen its car sales drop early this year before clawing back some of its marketshare, currently estimated at around 55 per cent, is an angry dragon that is starting to breathe fire.

The big question: Is there anyone out there who’s prepared to twist its tail?

   

 
 
BJP BRUSHES ASIDE TALKS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 6: 
The BJP central leadership today played down the relevance of talks between Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf in Kathmandu.

“These talks do not have any meaning till the Pakistan government hands over to India the 20 terrorists named by India,” said Sunil Shastri, BJP general secretary and party spokesperson.

Till last evening, the hawks in the party were happy that the “line of tension” was in place between the two leaders who had no choice but to run into each other at the Saarc summit. But Musharraf today proved a “spoilsport” by calling on Vajpayee after the summit was over. As a result, India’s aggressive cover seems to have got a bit dented.

The Prime Minister, however, said there was not much to be read into Musharraf’s courtesy call. His party leaders are likely to echo the same statement. But that the leaders met exclusively seems a bit of a climbdown from the relentless build-up of tension in Kathmandu.

The RSS would definitely have preferred to keep the temperature below freezing point. In fact, some hardliners would have wanted the government to engage in some kind of a “minor skirmish” on the border, if not an all-out war against Pakistan.

   

 
 
AFTER NEHRU JACKET, IT’S JODHPURI’S TURN 
 
 
FROM SUMAN BHUCHAR
 
London, Jan. 6: 
Tony Blair’s decision to wear a Nehru suit while his wife was attired in a silk petrol blue suit at the banquet in Bangalore has created front-page headlines in many British papers. In short, it was a PR triumph for Blair.

The Guardian described it as “Goodness Gracious Blairs go for an Indian”, reminiscent of the joke by the comedy act, Goodness Gracious Me.

The Daily Telegraph and The Times also carried the picture on their front pages.

A delighted Bubs Mahil, who designed the two-piece outfit in black sandwashed silk, told The Telegraph: “I think he looks really handsome. They really make a nice couple."

Her view was echoed by Sameena Saeed, editor of the fashion magazine, Asian Bride. “He should wear them more often. He could set the trend,” she said.

Fashion pundits in London had earlier predicted that Blair would wear his Nehru suit only for his meeting with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

However, Mahil revealed that “he has got another one”. The latter outfit, also in black, is an open Jodhpuri jacket worn over a Nehru shirt and waistcoat teamed up with black trousers.

Although Mahil has refused to discuss prices, it has not stopped many of the papers have been speculating about them.

The Times said Blair’s suits would have cost around £900 each and his wife’s wardrobe around £20,000.

The Daily Mail, which has devoted a full page to the story, commented that this was “the ethnic look that suited the Beatles”. It said: “Tony Blair was keen to make an impression on his hosts”.

The paper added that his clothes cost around £500 each, while his wife’s eight outfits “worth a total of up to £16,000”.

   

 
 
MEE THE AT ON NATIONAL LIBRARY 
 
 
FROM ELLA DATTA
 
New Delhi, Jan. 6: 
Will the National Library of Calcutta lose its premier position as the apex bank of books?

It is not an unlikely prospect with a section of library professionals citing “mismanagement and crippling labour unrest” to push for a sweeping restructuring. At the first-ever round table convened by culture minister Jagmohan on modernising libraries, several participants proposed that a string of national libraries be set up.

They also suggested that the Calcutta institution be designated the national library of humanities as a national science library and a national medical library exist.

The lackadaisical implementation of the Delivery of Books Act that makes it mandatory for publishers to send four copies of every book to the four depository libraries also came up. The statutory commitment is seldom fulfilled. The department of culture is considering a proposal to add teeth to the law to punish defaulting publishers.

But discussions over the National Library dominated the open forum of the inaugural session. Flagging off the round table, Jagmohan expressed concern at the “pathetic” state of libraries in the country. The minister said he had reports that around 6 lakh books had been damaged in the National Library due to seepage. The librarian’s post at the Asiatic Society in Calcutta is lying vacant for 10 years. There is need to reorganise the library movement, Jagmohan said.

Jagmohan proposed a minister-level conference to expedite legislation in all the states that have not enacted the Libraries Act. Only 12 states have so far passed the Act. He also suggested an incentive scheme for states that encourage a library movement. Funds for the reward project could be drawn from the Rs 112 crore allocated in the 10th Plan, he said.

Jagmohan promised to speak to members of Parliament to allocate Rs 15-20 lakh for public libraries in their constituencies out of the Parliament local area development fund of Rs 2 crore.

The minister is also planning to set up an assessment committee to examine the state of the library movement and the premier libraries in the country.

Though the debate over the status of the National Library has started gaining momentum, sources in the culture department said a status quo is likely to be maintained.

National Library will celebrate its centenary next year. The government has spent Rs 77 crore to build the Bhasha Bhavan on the National Library campus, making it a unique complex.

   

 
 
JAT TROUBLE FOR BJP 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 6: 
The rivalry between the Jat parties — the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) led by Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) of agriculture minister Ajit Singh — is proving to be a headache for the BJP. Both parties are taking on each other in the Uttar Pradesh elections in February.

Though both are NDA allies, a section of the BJP leadership comprising Uttar Pradesh chief minister Rajnath Singh and home minister L.K. Advani, are not in favour of entertaining the INLD. They believe the RLD is a better bet as it has considerable sway over the Jats in western Uttar Pradesh.

Chautala, sources said, is trying to work out an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party to force the BJP into offering him a few seats. An emissary of the INLD chief recently met Mayavati with the offer of an alliance.

But Mayavati rejected the proposal as she did not want an alliance with an NDA partner, BSP sources said. She is understood to have insisted that the INLD pull out of the NDA first.

Jat sources said even if an alliance is forged between the INLD and the BSP, it is doubtful whether the pact would translate into electoral gains.

   
 

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