CM orders madarsa survey
CESC promise on dues
Executive shot in Lake Gardens
Two held for leader murder
Snapshot of poll truths in Bhatti’s ‘suitcase’
Party steers clear of VHP Atal jibe
Misled Mamata goes into sulk
Next-week start to US give & take
Cong objects to handover
Hurriyat blueprint for rebel polls

 
 
CM ORDERS MADARSA SURVEY 
 
 
FROM ALAMGIR HOSSAIN
 
Behrampore, Jan. 28: 
Pushing his madarsa reforms programme, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today asked the administration to conduct a survey of these institutions and create a database.

Bhattacharjee’s directive readily concerned Murshidabad, the border district which has the heaviest concentration of madarsas, and some other districts where such institutions have been set up without permission.

In a meeting with senior Murshidabad district officials late Sunday night, Bhattacharjee said he would like to see the survey findings and the database in place by next fortnight.

Three days ago, the chief minister had said in Calcutta that the government would shortly announce some special conditions on running madarsas once the A.R. Kidwai commission on the minority community submits its report to the Assembly. Kidwai, a former Governor of Bengal, was commissioned about a year ago to submit a report suggesting reforms in the madarsa system of education.

“Please find out the details of the madarsas, including the number of students, teachers, and particularly, boarders. I must know the whereabouts of those coming from outside to study in madarsas. Besides, launch a hunt to locate those madarsas not affiliated to the state board and take steps against them accordingly,” Bhattacharjee was learnt to have instructed those present in the meeting.

The chief minister was on a two-day visit here to attend the CPM’s Murshidabad district conference.

Addressing an open session of the conference at Domkol maidan, about 30 km from here, the chief minister said all madarsas have to take approval from the state board. “We will not allow unaffiliated madarsas to run here,” he said.

Bhattacharjee’s warning assumes significance following Friday’s arrest of a madarsa teacher from Lalgola. Habibur Rahman, a Bangladeshi national, who has been teaching Arabic in the madarsa, was suspected to have links with ISI agents.

“ISI agents are active here to convince the Muslims to isolate themselves from the mainstream. This is dangerous. I urge my Mussalman bhai not to listen to those divisive forces because this will lead to disaster,” he told the gathering.

In Calcutta, CPM state secretary and politburo member Anil Biswas echoed Bhattacharjee. “Pakistan and Bangladesh have already modernised madarsa education. We should also initiate the process of modernising it,” he said.

Bangladesh protest

Bangladesh deputy high commissioner Mohammad Touhid Hossain today complained to state home secretary Amit Kiran Deb, alleging that the media were maligning the image of his country by campaigning that some Bangladeshi nationals were involved in last Tuesday’s terrorist attack at the American Center in Calcutta.

“I conveyed the sentiment of the people of Bangladesh and the concern of the government.” Hossain wanted to know from Deb if there were any specific charges against any Bangladeshi.

   

 
 
CESC PROMISE ON DUES 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 28: 
CESC vice-chairman Sanjiv Goenka today assured the state government that his company will clear the “current dues” — or bills for the past two months — of the West Bengal State Electricity Board and work out a schedule by April to pay the arrears. The board claims the arrears stand at Rs 960 crore.

The assurance came at a meeting with power minister Mrinal Banerjee in which power secretary K. Bagchi and board chairman G.D. Gautama were present.

Banerjee made it clear to Goenka that he should immediately clear the board’s dues. The board had restricted power supply to CESC over non-payment of dues. The minister also asked the Goenkas if they had any intention of quitting CESC.

Sources said Goenka told the minister that his company was passing through a temporary cash crisis but they had no plans of pulling out of CESC.

Gautama said: “We are happy over today’s developments. Let’s see whether CESC keeps its commitment or not.”

Goenka assured the government that his company will start clearing the current dues from this month. The payment will be made according to an agreement reached on February 28 last year. Gautama, however, added: “CESC had violated the agreement last August.”

The power utility also promised to clear arrears worth Rs 52 crore — this had fallen due as CESC had defaulted — from April. The company has sought a year’s time to clear the full amount.

Gautama said questions were raised today on how long it would take CESC to clear its Rs 960-crore arrears. According to the February 28 pact, CESC has five years in which to settle them.

“WBSEB feels that by paying Rs 6 crore a month, CESC will not be able to clear the Rs 960-crore arrears (that include late payment surcharge of Rs 172 crore) within five years,” Gautama said.

“So Goenka has been asked to work out a schedule of payment. He has said that the accounts should be reconciled first and then they will come up with a complete plan for clearing the dues.” CESC feels the arrears to WBSEB are much lower at a little over Rs 600 crore.

   

 
 
EXECUTIVE SHOT IN LAKE GARDENS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 28: 
A senior executive of a liquor company was shot dead in front of his Lake Gardens house tonight. Initial investigations have revealed that 48-year-old Pappu Chowdhury and his driver were shot from point-blank range. His driver, however, survived and is being treated at a private nursing home.

Four people are suspected to have been behind the attack. They had demanded Rs 25,000 from Chowdhury, but shot him when he refused.

Chowdhury and his driver were taken to a private nursing home where the executive was declared dead on arrival.

   

 
 
TWO HELD FOR LEADER MURDER 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Chinsurah, Jan. 28: 
Hooghly police today arrested Anil Sahu and Asgar Beg for their alleged involvement in the murder of veteran Citu leader Prabodh Sen.

Sen, who was in charge of the Citu-controlled union at the Ganges Jute Mill, was murdered last night while returning home after attending a meeting at the local party office.

Police said the assailants surrounded the 54-year-old leader at the Swadhin Colony crossing, a few yards from his Bansberia home. They hacked him and pumped bullets into his body.

Citu has called a 24-hour bandh in the area demanding arrest of those named in the FIR.

   

 
 
SNAPSHOT OF POLL TRUTHS IN BHATTI’S ‘SUITCASE’ 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Chandigarh, Jan. 28: 
Injecting humour to an otherwise dull poll campaign in Punjab, satirist Jaspal Bhatti today announced the launch of the Punjab Suitcase Party.

Bhatti, who shot to fame with Ulta Pulta and Flop Show television serials, launched the party amid applause from hundreds of people who had gathered at the open-air Sector 17 Plaza here.

“The first five tickets have been officially allotted to family members. The tickets for my wife, son and three brothers-in-law have been reserved for all future elections. For the remaining 112 seats, the candidates will be decided by the shape, size and currency in the suitcases they carry to my office,” he announced.

A paper crown was then placed on Bhatti’s head by a perplexed onlooker who had no idea of what was going on and wanted to honour Bhatti for making the people laugh.

“You are a maharaja now,” the unidentified person said.

Presenting his party’s one-point manifesto, Bhatti said if his outfit won the polls, he would give his ministers equal chance to loot the state after filling his own coffers.

“Let me add here that Punjab Suitcase Party candidates are present in all political parties. As soon as they win we will woo them to our side by offering them suitcases,” he said, holding aloft two suitcases.

Bhatti also formed a “suitcase management committee” led by his wife Savita. “No one will be allowed to join the party without providing suitcases filled with money,” she said.

“For years, many political parties have been looting the state. The Punjab Suitcase Party should now be given a chance to loot and plunder,” Bhatti appealed.

He added that if his party was successful in Punjab, he would open units in other states. “It is only a note-filled suitcase that can unify the country,” he said.

While satirising the corruption in the state, Bhatti asked the people to vote sensibly. During the Lok Sabha polls in 1999, Bhatti had organised a similar satiric programme on the hawala scam.

   

 
 
PARTY STEERS CLEAR OF VHP ATAL JIBE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 28: 
The BJP has refused to react to the abuse the Vishwa Hindu Parishad heaped on Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee at its public rally yesterday.

“I have not heard what they said. Only after I hear can the party take a stand,” general secretary and spokesman Sunil Shastri said when asked if the party would condemn Acharya Dharmendra’s diatribe at Ram Lila Maidan.

Shastri dismissed Dharmendra’s outburst as “irrelevant” when reminded that the BJP has always been quick to react to even the mildest criticism by Opposition parties. “Political parties are a different kettle of fish,” he said.

Two BJP MPs — Swami Chinmayanand and Mahesh Chand Sharma — and Delhi unit president Mange Ram Garg were on the dais when Dharmendra launched into his verbal assault on Vajpayee.

Dharmendra said Vajpayee had made it to the Prime Minister’s post only after he shared a dais with VHP’s sants and sadhus at a meeting in Delhi’s Boat Club in 1991 and by hanging on to Ram Lalla’s “pallu”.

Dharmendra recounted that at a meeting just before the Prime Minister embarked on his Lahore bus journey, he had told Vajpayee that he should go on a tank rather than a bus.

Dharmendra then mimicked Vajpayee’s reply, saying the Prime Minister asked the VHP not to indulge in light-hearted banter.

“He called us non-serious then, today we will force him to consider who’s serious and who’s not,” he thundered.

The acharya also took a dig at Vajpayee’s knee surgery, saying the Prime Minister had got his knees set from the “offerings made by Ram bhakts”.

He also asked Vajpayee to get his eyes operated so that “you can see better what are the sentiments prevailing on the ground”.

Dharmendra then shouted a war cry, telling Vajpayee “missiles were not meant for pickling”. “If you cannot take on (Pakistan President Pervez) Musharraf, what good are you?” he asked before delivering the punch line: “If you cannot live with honour why don’t you please die? If you are so scared, why don’t you step down?”

Shastri was circumspect when questioned about the Prime Minister’s decision to ask the law ministry to examine if the “undisputed” portions in Ayodhya could be handed over to the VHP.

“We once again reiterate our stand that a solution should be found either through negotiation or dialogue. If this fails, the court verdict will be taken as a verdict for implementing its decision,” the spokesman said.

Asked if the BJP favoured construction of the temple on the disputed site, Shastri was again noncommittal: “The BJP’s top priority,” he said, “is to root out the last terrorist from the soil of India.”

   

 
 
MISLED MAMATA GOES INTO SULK 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 28: 
Atal Bihari Vajpayee may have bought temporary peace with VHP hawks and “sants” yesterday, but the Saturday meeting of NDA leaders left Mamata Banerjee with a bitter taste in the mouth.

Not because the Trinamul Congress chief is opposed to the VHP agenda, but that the meeting did not discuss her single-point agenda: return to the Union Cabinet.

Other NDA allies were equally peeved but for a different reason. They are opposed to forced temple construction at Ayodhya and are planning to harden their stand against Sangh hardliners after Assembly elections are over in the four states.

Mamata is upset because she was misled into believing that the meeting convened by Vajpayee was exclusively for herself, or maybe a couple of others, to discuss a Cabinet expansion. She had rushed to Delhi the moment she got defence minister George Fernandes’ invitation, though not on his letterhead as alliance convener, asking her to come to the capital for the meeting. The miffed Trinamul chief flew back to Calcutta yesterday evening.

Sources said Mamata did not have the slightest idea till she arrived at 7, Race Course Road that the meeting had been called to discuss the demand of the “sants” and VHP leaders.

Mamata has been waiting a long time to be reinducted into the Cabinet but the Prime Minister’s hands are tied as he has to sort out the issue of rebel leader Ajit Panja, who she expelled from the party. Then there is also Nitish Kumar’s reluctance to hand over railways, Mamata’s portfolio before she resigned before the Bengal polls last year.

Allies like the DMK, the Telugu Desam Party, the Indian National Lok Dal and the Janata Dal (United) are worried over the dangerous route Sangh hawks are taking to build a temple at the disputed site.

A senior NDA leader said the allies were united on the issue and bolstered Vajpayee’s stand at the meeting. Another leader said the allies were holding informal talks on ways to rein in the VHP.

Fernandes held talks with Andhra Pradesh chief minister and Telugu Desam chief Chandrababu Naidu before the meeting. Naidu, sources said, issued a strong statement against the VHP as did DMK chief M. Karunanidhi.

“If it is not nipped in the bud, it could go out of hand,” said an alliance leader. He said after the Uttar Pradesh elections, the allies —at least some — would send across the message that they could even topple the Vajpayee government if the VHP does anything unconstitutional.

   

 
 
NEXT-WEEK START TO US GIVE & TAKE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 28: 
The Indian and US militaries begin a new series of service-to-service exchanges from next week. This series of exchanges is expected to be qualitatively different from past engagements as it takes off after the two countries last fortnight put the seal on an agreement to maintain secrecy in military exchanges.

US ambassador Robert Blackwill, who met defence minister George Fernandes here this evening, said teams from the US army, air force and marines will visit New Delhi.

India and the US signed the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) earlier this month during Fernandes’ visit to the US. Blackwill said “there is an excellent convergence of views” between the two defence establishments.

The signing of the GSOMIA has also made US companies eager to sell military equipment to India. Blackwill said a team of officials will work on India’s specific requirements in weapon sales.

Defence ministry sources said it is possible that a Joint Technology Group comprising representatives of each country will meet later in the first quarter of the year. The group coordinates transfer of technology and areas of scientific cooperation.

Blackwill said the US is considering the release of 20 arms sales licences that will make it possible for Indian establishments to buy equipment. This was not possible earlier under the sanctions. He did not give details, but it is known that India has been lobbying hard with the US to release the engines and components it requires for the Advanced Light Helicopter and the Light Combat Aircraft. The arrival of teams of officers from the US services will signal the beginning of joint exercises between the armies and the air forces.

   

 
 
CONG OBJECTS TO HANDOVER 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 28: 
The Congress today made it clear that it is opposed to the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government’s move to explore the possibilities of handing over the land adjoining the disputed structure in Ayodhya. The Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid controversy should be settled by the court first, the party asserted.

AICC spokesman Jaipal Reddy said the 1994 Supreme Court verdict in favour of the then Narasimha Rao government taking over land around the disputed area did not permit the government to hand over the adjoining land without a judicial pronouncement.

“The government is merely a statutory receiver of this piece of land,” Reddy said. The government can take a decision after the dispute is settled by the court, he added.

The spokesman objected to Vajpayee’s meeting with the VHP leadership on grounds of its timing.

“The election process (in Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Punjab and Manipur) has been set in motion. The reference to the law ministry at this point of time is intended to give a fillip to the agenda of the Sangh parivar,” Reddy said.

   

 
 
HURRIYAT BLUEPRINT FOR REBEL POLLS 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, Jan. 28: 
The Centre may be firm on holding elections in Jammu and Kashmir this year but the state’s main separatist political conglomerate has its own ideas about it.

After a three-day meeting of its executive, the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference today said it is “constituting an impartial and non-partisan election commission of its own to elect representatives who will engage in tripartite talks between India, Pakistan and thus chosen representatives of the state”.

A Hurriyat statement said: “It plans to conduct the elections in a phased manner beginning with (the) Valley and later Jammu and Ladakh to be followed by a similar exercise in the PoK.

“(The) Hurriyat will formulate an election commission which will initiate a democratic process to choose representatives from the three regions of the state and Azad Kashmir (PoK).”

A panel to work out the modalities has been constituted. Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chairman Mohammad Yasin Malik said the “election commission” would be named in two to three days.

Asked about the validity of such a commission, Malik said there is scope for everybody to participate in the “election”, including chief minister Farooq Abdullah.

Today’s development sets at rest speculation that the Hurriyat is seriously considering the idea of participating in the Assembly polls.

When pointed out that it cannot expect Delhi to recognise the commission, Malik said: “The whole international community will recognise it as it will be a free and fair election commission.

“People from all over the world will come to Kashmir and watch the proposed election,” he said. They will guarantee that it is free and fair, he added.

Asked if the “election” would be for the formation of a government or a referendum, Malik said: “It will be an election to elect people’s representatives to represent them in the tripartite talks.”

Post September 11, there is a realisation that “no political objective can be achieved by force”, the Hurriyat statement said. “It fully endorses the Hurriyat stand that issues can be resolved only through meaningful talks.

“We hope the influential and democratic governments in the world will use their influence on both India and Pakistan to facilitate the said democratic process in both parts of Kashmir.”

The statement added: “Sometimes the representative character of the Hurriyat Conference is made a topic of debate. The Hurriyat represents the political and historic aspirations of the Kashmiris.”

Hurriyat chairman Abdul Gani Bhat said: “I don’t know if (the) government of India will allow such an exercise.

“It is for the two governments of India and Pakistan to decide.

“In a disputed territory, it is the people in whom the authority wrests. The election we are proposing will have no link whatsoever with the so-called state Assembly polls in September. We are talking in terms of representative character to discuss the issue with the two governments and resolve it.

“We are for resolution of dispute and not for formation of government.”

   
 

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