Cop in Dubai & FBI in Ansari success
Buddha under fire from party faithful
Temple trust threat to start work on March 15
CM’s image does nothing for Bengal
Emissary Naidu in emirate
Filhaal arclights on surrogate dilemma
Musharraf’s US retreat with son
Calcutta Weather

 
 
COP IN DUBAI & FBI IN ANSARI SUCCESS 
 
 
BY AVIJIT NANDI MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, Feb. 10: 
When Aftab Ansari finished calling Calcutta police on January 22 to claim that he had orchestrated from Dubai the attack outside the American Center, little did he realise that his bragging would set the wheels turning against him.

One of the wheels was a Dubai crime branch constable, Al-Hasan Arabi, who played a pivotal role in trapping Ansari and Rajinder at the emirate airport where they had arrived to board a flight to Islamabad on January 23, the day after the incident.

A factor that has led to Ansari’s quick deportation is the presence in the background of the FBI.

Ansari was today given seven days’ transit remand for the CBI to take him to Gujarat in connection with an arms seizure case. “He has admitted that the American Center attack was carried out at his instance to take revenge for the killing of Asif Reza Khan (an associate) in a police encounter,” the CBI told the court.

FBI agents had visited Calcutta to gather details about the attack and the kidnapping of shoe company Khadim’s owner Parthapratim Roy Burman.

“We handed over clinching evidence to FBI agents,’’ a CID officer said. Dubai took time to hand him over because it wanted “concrete proof’’. Sources, however, said the deportation would not have taken place without the US’ help. “Last year, crimelord Abu Salem, wanted in the Mumbai blasts case, was arrested in Dubai, but was later released as India could not produce enough evidence,” they said.

Ansari, who owns an electronic goods shop in the Deira area of Dubai, monitored his India operations from an office on the mezzanine floor.

On January 22 night, the home ministry sent a message to Dubai police through the Indian embassy on Ansari’s involvement in the attack.

CBI officials said the message gave details of Ansari’s built, appearance, his criminal activities in India and the Dubai number, from which he had called a top Bengal CID officer claiming responsibility. The number was traced to public phone booth near Deira, Dubai’s commercial hub.

While probing the Roy Burman case, investigators had gathered information of links between Arabi and Ansari from one of the persons arrested.

“Arabi had information on Ansari and he helped us a lot,’’ the special inspector-general of police, CID, V.V. Thambi, said.

The CID and the CBI told Dubai police that Arabi was aware of Ansari’s whereabouts. “We gave the mobile phone numbers of Ansari and Arabi to Dubai police,’’ CBI officers said. A CBI joint director said Arabi speaks fluent Hindi and is connected with anti-crime operations in Deira.

CBI sources said that following the information, the Dubai police chief, Al-Kharab Dahamani, ordered a crackdown.

“According to our information, Arabi had asked Ansari to meet him before leaving Dubai. On January 23 evening, a team of Dubai police officials, including Arabi, trapped him,’’ the CBI officer added.

Police from four states — Bengal, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar — want to lay their hands on Ansari. “We have direct and clinching evidence against him in the Khadim’s kidnap case. He had also owned responsibility for the attack at the American Center,’’ Thambi said.

The deputy inspector-general of police (special investigative cell-II), CBI, Loknath Behera, said the CBI has a watertight case against Ansari. “We have strong evidence to connect him to the smuggling of RDX and Kalashnikov rifles from across the border in Gujarat.” Armed with the evidence, Arun Gupta, DIG, CBI, visited Dubai in the last week of January.

   

 
 
BUDDHA UNDER FIRE FROM PARTY FAITHFUL 
 
 
BY SUNANDO SARKAR
 
Calcutta, Feb. 10: 
Hours before hosting chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee at its annual conference, the CPM-controlled West Bengal Madarsa Shikshak Samiti vented its ire on the party and Bhattacharjee for their “anti-minority” stance.

The expressions of anger coincided with the Left Front re-emphasising its commitment to the minority community. Barely a couple of hours after the teachers’ delegate-only session ended, the Front released a note expressing its intent to “decide on the status of unaffiliated educational institutions, including those not imparting religious training, soon” and detailing what its government had done to improve madarsa education.

But, at the teachers’ meet, speaker after speaker took Bhattacharjee and his party to task for their “controversial” comments on unaffiliated madarsas.

Ominously for the government, this criticism came from a pro-CPM organisation, having its main office a few houses from the party headquarters on Alimuddin Street.

Although the association said it would wait till Monday, when they are meeting the chief minister at Rabindra Sadan, almost the entire first half of today’s session was reserved for some ruling party-bashing.

Prominent among those who took the lead were representatives of the Malda and Howrah units. “The association stands by what they said as we felt that they were speaking their mind on behalf of the entire community without taking into consideration partisan politics,” a senior association functionary from North 24-Parganas said.

“We are still trying to maintain a cordial relationship with the CPM as it is the ruling party,” a Hooghly unit leader said. “But the party’s stance has definitely rubbed most Muslims the wrong way,” he added.

Calling the protests “spontaneous”, association leaders said there was no attempt at gagging the speakers as that could have resulted in an outburst in front of Bhattacharjee tomorrow.

After the ire-venting session, however, there were some attempts at playing down the disenchantment. A few speakers “congratulated” the chief minister for his clarifications, blaming the media for twisting his statements.

West Bengal Madarsa Board president Abdus Sattar himself took over most of the damage-control responsibility during the second half. Although most of his speech was devoted to attacking the media, Sattar himself could not prevent “cautioning” the government against initiating a “witch-hunt” against the minority community.

“We should always remember that we (in the government) don’t end up behaving like Hitler,” he added.

   

 
 
TEMPLE TRUST THREAT TO START WORK ON MARCH 15 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, Feb. 10: 
The Ram Janmabhoomi Trust today announced that construction of the temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya would start on March 15, ignoring the Vajpayee government’s efforts to avoid a showdown and arrive at a settlement on the basis of a pending Supreme Court verdict.

“On March 15 we will begin the temple construction process,’’ chairman of the trust Ram Chandra Paramhans said, adding that kar sevaks would start congregating near the site from March 13.

“On March 15, we will start taking parts of the prefabricated structure to the Ram Janmabhoomi site.’’

On Saturday, he had attacked the BJP, accusing it of riding to power solely on the strength of the wave generated by the Ram temple movement. In a scathing criticism of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Paramhans said the temple issue had made him the Prime Minister and L.K. Advani the home minister.

“The BJP has no right to show the sadhu samaj the door leading to the courts,’’ Paramhans said in his first direct attack on the BJP or its leaders.

One of the leading lights of the temple movement, Paramhans said Vajpayee had let the sadhus down. “Hum ne PM pe bharosa kiya lekin unhone dhoka diya (We had depended on him, but he has fooled us).’’

The trust chairman warned that sadhus would wait two more days after March 12 for the government to hand over the land or go ahead on their own.

He left one option open for the government to avoid a conflict by suggesting that if it could not give them the disputed 80/40 ft area, the surrounding land should be offered so that construction could begin. This is a suggestion that has already been made by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

The government had sent an envoy, George Fernandes, who is the National Democratic Alliance convener, to the Sankaracharya of Kanchi to get him to use his influence to rein in the VHP and the sadhus.

That effort would seem to have failed, if Paramhans’ declared programme of construction is taken seriously.

While the BJP has been officially distancing itself from the temple agenda, if the heat generated by the controversy does turn into an election fever, it will be the party that stands to gain.

VHP chief Ashok Singhal today rejected BJP president Jana Krishnamurthi’s statement that the temple was not on the NDA’s agenda till 2004. “We can no longer blindly follow the NDA as they have failed to honour the sentiments of Hindus in the country,’’ Singhal said.

Both the VHP and the trust maintained that they would not wait for the “legal procedures’’ to be completed. “Section 6 and 7 of the Ayodhya Land Acquisition Act 1993 makes the Central government the trustee receiver of the land with absolute right. It is not difficult to solve the problem,’’ Singhal said.

About 55 per cent of the proposed temple has been completed in Kar Sevakpuram. “The ground floor is ready and so are the 126 pillars needed for it,” Sharad Sharma, a VHP activist in Ayodhya and editor of Ayodhya Samvad, said.

“This time the sadhus are very serious about the March 15 deadline,’’ Sharma said, adding that today’s announcement was a deliberate and unanimous decision.

   

 
 
CM’S IMAGE DOES NOTHING FOR BENGAL 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 10: 
Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee may have found a place in India’s hall of fame for chief ministers, but he won’t like to hear this. A World Bank-CII study has nailed a truth and blasted a myth about Bengal.

The study says Bengal is one of the worst investment destinations among 10 states in the country. It has been lumped in the “worst” category along with Kerala and Uttar Pradesh.

The verdict is by potential investors in the country — 1,099 manufacturing companies in four major sectors across 10 states that responded to a questionnaire. It is no good saying there are other surveys that rate West Bengal higher up the totem pole when the investors — the people who actually stump up the cash — rubbish the state’s investment climate. This is a gut-feel reaction — a subjective ranking — but it exerts a great deal of influence on future investments.

The survey, carried out by a CII team headed by Omkar Goswami and a World Bank side headed by David Dollar, reveals that the investors have given a negative ranking to Bengal at -21 per cent (which is a number derived by taking the percentage of respondents rating it as the best state minus the percentage rating it as the worst state). Uttar Pradesh is the only state that is worse off with a ranking of -32.6 per cent.

Maharashtra and Gujarat were classified as the states with the best investment climate with figures of 38.6 per cent and 23.1 per cent respectively. The second group of states with a good investment climate included Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The third group — medium investment climate states — comprised Delhi and Punjab.

What this means is that over 60 per cent of the firms located outside Maharashtra considered the state to be better than the one in which they operate.

Conversely, over 79 per cent of the non-Bengal respondents considered Bengal to be worse than the state where their firms were located and almost 22 per cent felt that it had the worst investment climate.

The study also explodes the myth about Bengal’s much-touted power surplus. It says Bengal has the highest number of firms with their own generators at 97.2 per cent against a 10-state average of 70 per cent. What is particularly surprising is that states like Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, which have massive power shortages that have prompted them to slap restrictions on power consumption by industry, have fewer firms relying on generators — 82.2 per cent and 76.4 per cent respectively. Even in Uttar Pradesh, which has one of the highest incidence of power thefts in the country, only 76.5 per cent of the firms said they own generators.

At the government-industry conclave called Destination Bengal in January 1999, McKinsey had highlighted this poor perception about Bengal in the minds of potential investors and it had agreed to help the state government change that perception. The CII-World Bank study is proof that three years down the line, there has been no change in industry’s mindset.

The study states that India’s lower cost of labour is offset by its lower labour productivity. India as a whole generates lower value added per worker compared to Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and South Korea.

Bengal also figures at the bottom of the pile in terms of labour productivity, which is measured as value added per unit of labour cost. In wage unit terms, Bengal is at the bottom of the rung with a figure of 3.90; Kerala was at the top with 6.64 and Andhra Pradesh second with 5.93. In rupee terms, Bengal is seventh among the 10 states at Rs 163.6 with Kerala at the top with Rs 281.6 and Maharashtra at Rs 225.2.

According to the study, the average value added per worker is Rs 225.2 for states with the best investment climate and merely Rs 137.7 for the worst ones.

Turning to India’s position in the world order, the study says India figures among the aggressively globalising developing countries with a per capita growth of 3.7 per cent during the 1990s. However, this was far lower than that of other aggressively globalising countries like China, which registered a per capita growth of 8.8 per cent during the same period.

India’s advantage because of its low labour cost is more than offset by the low labour productivity, high costs due to regulatory hassles, delays in customs, poor power supply and interest costs.

The study has thrown up an interesting statistic — almost 16 per cent of management time in India is used to deal with government officials on regulatory and administrative issues. This compares poorly with China (11 per cent), transitional Europe (8.3 per cent), OECD countries (5.8 per cent) and Latin America (4.3 per cent).

Delays in customs houses during export and import increases the average production cycle and increases working capital requirements, the study says. In this respect, even the states with the best investment climate are doing pretty badly. Maharashtra and Gujarat have average delays of over 15 days.

   

 
 
EMISSARY NAIDU IN EMIRATE 
 
 
FROM JAYANTA ROY CHOWDHURY
 
Dubai, Feb. 10: 
Was the dramatic deportation of Aftab Ansari by Dubai the result of India’s Track II diplomacy?

Even as the CBI team was escorting the Calcutta’s most-wanted to Delhi from Dubai, Chandrababu Naidu was quietly holding a series of meetings with the top leadership in the UAE at the behest of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

India is trying to get Dubai to side with Delhi in its fight against terrorism by sending in its most suave politician on an unofficial visit to woo the crucial emirate with promises of more flights, more business.

Naidu, ostensibly in town to inaugurate the India section of the Dubai trade fair, has been accorded considerable importance by the UAE government. A virtual who’s who of the sheikhdom’s political leadership, including top ministers and emirate rulers, will be sitting across the table from him.

Top Indian diplomatic sources said Dubai ruler and UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Makhtoom bin Rashid al-Makhtoom had ordered the red carpet for Naidu, Vajpayee’s unofficial emissary.

Delhi had laid the ground for Naidu’s diplomatic push by sending several MPs with links in the Gulf on similar unofficial visits. They, too, quietly held meetings with top sheikhs, especially with the Dubai ruling family.

Talks between the two sides are expected to be wide ranging, including business and politics, besides an exchange of messages from and for New Delhi.

India, traditionally closer to Sharjah, one of the seven emirates that make up UAE, has been wooing, with some degree of success, the economically and politically more powerful Emirate of Dubai over the past few months.

In the ‘80s and early ‘90s, Dubai was a safe haven for several Mumbai underworld dons. Dawood Ibrahim had stayed in the emirate for long, escaping to Pakistan only after the UAE turned on the heat. His brother still runs discos and shopping centres here.

India has realised the need to ally with this emirate to gain success in its fight against terrorism. Till last year, it operated no flights to the city principality. Delhi now plans to go up to 16 flights a week, rivalling the 25 flights a week it operates to Sharjah.

India, in fact, is Sharjah airport’s biggest revenue generator. Dubai, quite naturally, wants a slice of the lucrative Indian business. The Dubai ruling family, which also runs the airport, is keen that India takes advantage of its open-skies policy and sends in not only more flights, but also shopper-tourists.

The Dubai tourism authority is leaving no stone unturned to bring more Indians, seen here as compulsive buyers, to the Dubai Shopping Festival.

“India has to be a key economic partner here if we want to succeed diplomatically. And we need to succeed diplomatically if we want West Asia’s continued help in our battle against terrorism. We can’t just see the Gulf as an area from where we will earn labour remittances; we have to create other financial avenues for the sheikhdoms to earn money back from us too,” a senior Indian diplomat here said.

India is already one of the top 10 trade partners of the oil-rich emirate, thanks mainly to a healthy trade in bullion out of its Gold Souk, the largest business centre dealing in precious metals in Asia.

But Dubai feels it can get more out of its India link. It’s now planning several ambitious tourism and industrial and electronic park projects, including a mid-sea chain of hotel resort complexes, where it feels Indians could be key investors.

   

 
 
FILHAAL ARCLIGHTS ON SURROGATE DILEMMA 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, Feb. 10: 
When Meghna Gulzar set out to make Filhaal, she hadn’t thought she would strike a medical chord with her debut film.

“I never looked at the film from the medical viewpoint. I did it primarily because I wanted to do something different,” the young filmmaker said. But along the way, the film caught the imagination of doctors. Infertility specialists are wowing the film as loudly as the critics, but for a different reason.

Filhaal has highlighted an issue we are desperately trying to put under the spotlight. And this is nothing but the emotional conflict between the donors and recipients of eggs needed to produce a test-tube baby,” Dr Hrishikesh Pai, an infertility specialist with Leelavati Hospital, said.

The film revolves around surrogate motherhood, depicting emotional conflicts between close friends Sia and Rewa, played by Sushmita Sen and Tabu. A fertile-yet-unmarried Sia lends her womb to an infertile Rewa, agreeing to bear her married friend’s child with implanted eggs.

The result: a baby torn between the pulls of the biological and surrogate mothers. Filhaal focuses on the emotional tug-of-war between the women claiming rights to the child and the resultant tensions between their husband and boyfriend.

The conflict — and the film — ends when Sia gives up claim to the child she gave birth to marry boyfriend Saahil, played by Palash Sen of Euphoria fame.

As more and more childless women — especially between 40 and 60 — are seeking the solace of motherhood by using the in vitro fertilization or IVF method, doctors often find themselves caught in the centre of a parental dispute.

Pai said women who volunteered their eggs had often ended up claiming the babies. “It’s an emotional issue. There are instances when even sisters who had helped their barren older sisters with eggs later claimed the children, complicating not just their lives, but doctors’ as well.”

Dr Mukesh Agarwal, who runs an IVF clinic, said the film would lend weight to the doctors’ demand for a government regulation on anonymous donation of eggs, which he said was “absolutely necessary” to avoid emotional conflicts. “Once it is done, neither donors nor recipients of the eggs will know where the eggs went or where they came from.”

The filmmaker, daughter of lyricist-director Gulzar and actress Rakhi, said she had tried to depict the inherent conflict in surrogate motherhood. At the same time, she stressed that it is not a film on surrogate motherhood alone.

“I also wanted to show how all the four main characters in the film reacted in a situation like this. I tried to show what they all went through because of a child born this way,” she said.

The idea came to her in late 1998, when she saw her pregnant sister-in-law develop “serious complications”. “I had watched her very closely, but honestly, I had no idea medically of the emotional conflict a test-tube baby could cause. It was all in my imagination at that time,” she said.

As the idea of a film germinated, she decided to research the subject. “The first thing I did was to call up my gynaecologist and ask about the subject,” Meghna said. The doctor confirmed the would-be filmmaker’s fears. In detail, she was told about the painful emotional conflict that surrogate motherhood at times caused between the donors and recipients of the eggs.

Soon after, Bosky — as her parents call her— got down to penning the script.

   

 
 
MUSHARRAF’S US RETREAT WITH SON 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, Feb. 10: 
Whatever else may be true of visits by Pakistani leaders to Washington, one thing must be said: they pick their dates with panache.

Nawaz Sharif was here three years ago on July 4, America’s independence day, to sign on the dotted line as demanded by Bill Clinton, agreeing to withdraw from Kargil. Now Pervez Musharraf is to visit the US capital on a trip which is being referred to as the Pakistani general’s “Valentine Day tryst” with President George W. Bush.

Like Sharif, who arrived in Washington two days before Independence Day, Musharraf is landing here two days before Valentine’s Day. But he has a full day of engagements in this city on February 14.

Musharraf’s trip has been an eye-opener — but for the wrong reasons — even as arrangements are being made to receive him in the White House on Wednesday.

Notwithstanding all the hype about Pakistan as a close ally of the US for half a century, it has come as a surprise to many in the Bush White House that there has been no “state visit” by this close ally to Washington for 13 long years. The last state visit was made by Benazir Bhutto in 1989 in the full glory of her rise to power as an elected leader after 11 dark years of General Zia-ul-Haq’s dictatorship.

Like Musharraf now, Sharif made an “official visit” three years ago, but in rcumstances which no self-respecting political leader could be proud of.

Four months later, he paid the price for it by being thrown out of office.

The second eye-opener is the “Americanisation” of the presi dency in Islamabad, ending a quarter century of Islamisation of the institution started by Zia and followed, however reluctant ly, by Benazir and Sharif be cause of political compulsions.

Starting yesterday, Mushar raf is having a three-day presi dential retreat in Boston before getting down to some hard bar gaining with Bush in Washington. Like US Presidents who go every weekend to the mountain ous seclusion of Camp David, or in the case of Bush, an occasion al foray to his ranch in Texas?

Well, almost. Except that quite unlike the well-appointed surroundings at US presidential retreats, Musharraf is staying in a rented room in the only hotel in Canton, a small town about 25 km from Boston.

Why Canton, whose only at tractions are whaling, which Musharraf is unlikely to in dulge in, and punting, which is now too cold to be enjoyed even if the general and his wife Begum Sehba were interested in trying?

The small town off Boston has been chosen for Musharraf’s three-day “private stay” in the US because it is home to his son Bilal, who lives there with his wife Iram. Bilal shot into brief fame after his father usurped power and was severely criti cised in the US, especially in the liberal precincts of Harvard, where he was a student then.

Bilal wrote a treatise titled “He had no choice” about his parent, defending the coup. It was picked up worldwide by media outlets as the anguished cry of a son in defence of his fa ther who was being “unfairly judged”.

Bilal, who has now opted out of Harvard and is working as a chartered accountant, once again had a brief tryst with fame when he became associated with the music group Junoon.

The association was short, but it helped rehabilitate “the Pakistani band with a global message of peace”, which was an outcast during Sharif’s days in power. Junoon, among other things, was accused of hobnob bing with enemy India.

Bilal, at least for now, has no plans of going back to the coun try which his father rules. He has become a “resident alien” in America, which means he has a green card.

His wife works in a bank in Boston and together they bought a two-bedroom house in Canton recently.

Should Musharraf be over thrown, as dictators often are, he would have no difficulty finding a roof. A roof in America, for that matter, would be no problem for Musharraf. The general will be joined during part of his Boston retreat by his brother

Naveed, who is a doctor in Chicago, his wife and two daughters.

Naveed has been practising medicine in the US for close to three decades, but his profession is somewhat a misnomer since the rise of the brother in uniform to the top job in Islamabad.

Naveed has been, for two years now, Pakistan’s chief unofficial lobbyist in the US. Easily, he is also the most important Pakistani in this country, with access to the White House, Capitol Hill, indeed, any part of official America, since September 11.

So, what will Musharraf’s retreat be like? Actually, even the Americans are keeping their fingers crossed since they have never had the experience of a Pakistani President taking a break, however deserved, in the US.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 29.6°C (+1)
Minimum: 19.5°C (+3)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative humidity

Max: 89%
Min: 47%
Sunrise: 6.16 am
Sunset: 5.25 pm

Today:

Partly cloudy sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 19°C
   
 

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