Cops in minority panel line of fire
Roads budget to be slashed
CPM keeps door ajar to tap Cong base
BJP jitters over Kalyan revenge cry
Jaya in last lap of race for crown
Phoolan casts shadow on ‘second’ father
Manipur votes on truce lines
Traders switch over to Maulana Mulayam
Disenchanted first-timers scout for option
Minorities prefer reform from within

Feb. 13: 
Minorities commission chairman Justice K.M. Yusuf today blamed the police of excesses in the name of finding out details on madarsas but lent support to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s move to reform the Islamic educational institutes.

Referring to a late-night police raid on a madarsa in Englishbazar, Yusuf said he would not have objected had it been done in the daytime. “But why did they raid the madarsa late at night? I have already taken up the matter with the district magistrate and the superintendent of police, Malda,” he said.

Such indiscriminate raids, he added, had created panic among Muslims. “Police excesses have to be stopped to restore confidence among the minority community,” he said.

Yusuf said he will submit a report to the state government after returning to Calcutta. He held a string of meetings with representatives of the minority community and madarsas in the district during his three-day stay in Malda.

He also criticised the chief minister for sending wrong signals to the people by alleging that some madarsas were “fomenting anti-national activities”.

“The government can take necessary action if there is any specific evidence of such activities. No one can challenge such evidence. However, there are instances of the police resorting to excesses on the plea of finding out such evidences from madarsas,” Yusuf told a news conference at the Malda circuit house this morning.

He said though the chief minister had backtracked from his reported statements on madarsas, “the damage has already been done”.

But he welcomed Bhattacharjee’s move to modernise madarsas. “I fully endorse his stand,” he said.

He said only unaffiliated madarsas were engaged in imparting religious education. “But I strongly feel there is a need to modernise the present curriculum being followed by madarsas. The teaching of English should be made mandatory in such institutions,” he said.

In a related development, the state Congress today announced that it will organise a law violation programme and sit-in in front of Murshidabad district collectorate in Behrampore tomorrow to protest against the government’s “mishandling” of the madarsa issue.


Calcutta, Feb. 13: 
The good roads will get bad, the bad roads worse.

In the next state budget, the allocation for the public works department will be slashed by a third.

Till this year, the allocation was Rs 700 crore. But this will go down as the Central funds have dried up. Besides, PWD mobilised less resources this fiscal compared with the previous year.

“We will have less funds to work with in the coming months,” PWD minister Amar Chowdhury said today.

He pointed out that the Centre had sent a circular to states, saying their public works department had to downsize to be eligible for Central assistance.

Bengal took strong exception to the circular and did not sign a memorandum of understanding with the Centre in this regard.

With that avenue blocked, finance minister Asim Dasgupta is considering other options to raise funds for roads.

Finance department sources said Dasgupta has convened a meeting with senior officials of the Life Insurance Corporation of India on February 15.

“The minister wants to find out if the public sector insurance company would be interested in sanctioning loans at a reasonable rate,” the sources said.

The government had also decided to turn to the Housing and Urban Development Corporation (Hudco) for funds. However, the interest rates quoted by Hudco were too high for PWD, the sources added.


Calcutta, Feb. 13: 
The draft political document prepared for the 17th party congress of the CPM keeps an option open for tapping into the mass base of the Congress to fight the BJP.

According to the CPM leadership, though the Congress has not been in power in Delhi since 1996, it is still ruling a number of states by exploiting the grievances against the constituents of BJP-controlled National Demacratic Alliance.

“It is the Congress which first adopted a liberal economic policy at the Centre and there is no difference between Congress and BJP in regard to the economic policy. But Congress and BJP are not same in regard to their attitude towards secularism,” the draft political report suggested.

The two-day CPM state committee meeting, which began today, discussed, among other things, how the party could exploit the mass base of the Congress in its fight against the BJP.

The meeting also discussed at length the line defined by the Central leadership.

While politburo member and Left Front chairman Biman Bose presided over the meeting, party secretary Anil Biswas placed the draft report before the state committee members.

On Radhika Ranjan Pramanik, the CPM parliamentarian currently in the doghouse for questioning a party decision, the party indicated that he may be punished shortly.

Party officials said a decision to either suspend Pramanik or warn him would be taken by the CPM state committee.

The MP from Mathurapur in South 24-Parganas was dropped from the district committee for his known proximity to party rebels, especially those in the Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS) run by Saifuddin Chowdhury and Samir Putatunda.

Pramanik told reporters that he had become a victim of intra-party rivalry in the CPM’s South 24-Parganas district unit and was dropped because of this. The party leadership had taken serious exception to what Pramanik had told reporters immediately after his removal from the district committee. It is also learnt that he had questioned the district leadership on the reasons behind his ouster in presence of senior CPM leaders.

The district party leadership had asked Pramanik to carry on as MP. “You need not be worried about our decision to drop you from the district committee. You are a senior party MP and the party wants you to function properly as an elected representative to the Lok Sabha,” senior district leaders reportedly told Pramanik during the district conference held recently.

CPM sources said Pramanik had also raised questions about some important district party functionaries, who had reportedly raised funds for the formation of the PDS.

But these CPM leaders did not join the new party and also misappropriated the funds they had raised. Pramanik reportedly wanted to know why no action was taken against these leaders.


Lucknow, Feb. 13: 
The west, it is said in Uttar Pradesh, decides the rest.

But as 92 constituencies in western Uttar Pradesh go to polls tomorrow, the question uppermost on the minds of both politicians and the people is: will Kalyan Singh spoil the party for the BJP.

The former chief minister, who formed his Rashtriya Kranti Party (RKP) after being forced to quit the BJP, has a formidable sway over voters of the Lodh community in this western belt. Moreover, the Lodhs have responded to his call for revenge.

There are about 19 lakh Lodh voters in the entire state, but their concentration is more in places like Bulandshahr, Pilibhit and Bareilly. In some Assembly segments, they make up about 25 per cent of the electorate. The RKP has fielded candidates in all the 403 seats.

Humiliated by the BJP, Kalyan’s self-professed mission is to eat into BJP votes and stop the party from coming back to power.

Kalyan himself has a good chance in both the seats he has filed nominations from Atrauli, where he is hoping to win for a record 10th time, and Dibai in Bulandshahr. The RKP is also strong in Gangiri (Aligarh), Kesganj and Soron (both in Etah district), Farukhabad, Jhansi and Jalaun.

Kalyan’s impassioned call for justice reverberated through the Lodh community across the state. The Lodhs, who see him as a hero, took his exit from the BJP as a personal affront.

The former chief minister’s standing went up further when he left the BJP guns blazing, sparing no one, not even Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in his blistering verbal assault.

Though his party may at best win 12 to 15 seats, observers say it is the votes taken away from the BJP that could make the vital difference.

To neutralise Kalyan’s challenge, the BJP sent Lodh leaders Uma Bharti and Sakshi Maharaj, who recently quit the Samajwadi Party, to campaign in western Uttar Pradesh. But the ploy has not really worked.

While Sakshi — who had earlier defected from the BJP — is not much trusted by the Lodhs, Union minister Bharti cannot match Kalyan’s popularity within the community.

The BJP also tried to offset Kalyan’s threat by giving 37 seats to Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal. But Singh has lost the confidence of Muslims by aligning with the BJP.

Besides, a section of Singh’s disenchanted Jat voters would be rooting for another Jat leader, Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala and his Indian National Lok Dal.

Kalyan minces no words when asked about his chief aim in these elections. “I have taken a vow not to rest until the BJP falls flat on its face,” he says.

His emotional appeal to voters reflects the “hurt” and “loss of prestige” — “Kalyan Singh ki pehchan, maan, samman, swabhimaan ka elaan.”

He knows that the Lodhs see him as a national leader, so he has added in his slogan: “Rashtriya pehchan par na lagao chot, Rashtriya Kranti Party par lagen vote.”


Chennai, Feb. 13: 
It is a campaign by Jayalalithaa, for Jayalalithaa.

In her single-minded quest to return as Tamil Nadu chief minister after the Supreme Court stripped her of the post, Jayalalithaa today emerged as one of the rare leaders in recent poll history to canvass only for herself.

The ADMK chief, who is the strongest contender for the February 21 byelection in Andipatti, kickstarted her campaign, which, party sources said, she considers a “facilitator aimed at completing and legitimising the mandate the people gave in May last year to the ADMK led by her”.

Jayalalithaa had recently said the outcome of the bypoll would not have a significant turning-point ring to it as the ADMK had a comfortable majority in the House and would be in the saddle for the next four-and-a-half years.

But its significance for Jayalalithaa, the leader, cannot be lost on her. A thumping win would boost her political destiny after last year’s humiliation — returning officers of four constituencies, including Andipatti, had rejected her nomination as she had been sentenced to more than two years in jail in the Tansi land deal case.

Jayalalithaa began campaigning from Kandamanur village in Kadamalaikundu Panchayat Union and, reports reaching here said, she would cover as many as 18 villages tonight. DMK chief M. Karunanidhi will begin his one-day tour of the constituency on February 16.

Jayalalithaa, who reached the district headquarters Theni yesterday, has put up at a plush bungalow, believed to have been refurbished exclusively for her tour by local MP T.T.V. Dinakaran, a close relative of Sasikala, Amma’s confidante.

The entire constituency wears a festive look with the ADMK party offices displaying the party’s most potent symbols, including pictures of MGR, and playing popular film numbers and propaganda songs. Loudspeakers are blaring the speeches of various leaders, too.

The state government has stepped up security in the area by deploying Central Reserve Police Force personnel, fearing that “some groups” might try to instigate violence. Jayalalithaa and chief minister O. Panneerselvam have firmly told the party cadre not to be provoked. They want polling to be completed smoothly as four Central observers are keeping a watchful eye.

HC holds poll order

Delhi High Court has reserved its order on a petition for deferring the Andipatti bypoll where ADMK chief Jayalalithaa is contesting. The Election Commission said it is “helpless” to correct the electoral rolls once the notification is issued adds PTI.


Mirzapur, Feb. 13: 
No temples have yet been built for her. But in Vindhyachal’s folklore, Phoolan Devi has acquired the status of a goddess barely a year after she was killed.

Kehar Prasad, a boatman in Varanasi’s Dashashvamedha ghat, is a Kewat or Mallah like Phoolan. Long fed on the upper castes’ version of her as a “woman of loose morals” and a “bloodthirsty killer”, one meeting with Phoolan was enough to shatter the canards.

The “Dasayu Sundari”, as she was pejoratively termed by the regional press, emerged as a woman of substance — a woman who had the guts to stand up to the Thakurs.

“I saw her for the first time when she became a member of Parliament in a meeting with Varanasi’s boatmen. My hair stood on end as she narrated her life story. She told us she was not a bloodthirsty woman, but someone who wanted to avenge the wrongs done to her. At the end of it, I realised that the lower castes have been more sinned against than sinning,” said Kehar.

But Kehar was honest enough to admit that the journey from the Chambal ravines to Parliament — from being on the run to acquiring a position of settled respectability— would not have been possible for Phoolan without Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav’s help.

“He was her second father, in fact, more than a father for her,” he said.

However, while Phoolan is firmly etched in the collective consciousness of the Mallahs, Mulayam has had no such luck — he has faded from their political memory. If anything, they are upset with him for denying her sister and heiress apparent, Munni Devi, the Mirzapur Lok Sabha seat. Munni is contesting for Kalyan Singh’s Rashtriya Kranti Party on the plank that it was Mulayam who had Phoolan killed.

While the allegation has not cut ice even with the Mallahs, caste loyalty could force them to vote blindfolded for Munni, knowing fully well that she would merely play the spoiler for the Samajwadi Party candidate, Ram Rath Bhind.

Mulayam’s alleged pro-Yadav politics was another sore point with the Mallahs. Har Narain, a fisherman of Behasada Karla village near Mirzapur, said: “If he becomes the chief minister, be sure the Yadavs will not let any one of us live in peace. They are as bad as the Thakurs.”

Phoolan’s victimisation by the Thakurs had suppressed the Yadav dadagiri in the consciousness of the depressed classes of Mirzapur, but her death has resurrected their reputation as the “backward caste bullies”.


Imphal, Feb. 13: 
Set against the backdrop of the epic June 18 uprising, the first phase of Assembly elections in Manipur tomorrow will be an acid test for not only the candidates but also for an electorate that has never been more confused than it is now.

Polling will be held in 40 constituencies in the Manipur valley, with nearly nine lakh voters deciding the political fate of 244 candidates. The second phase of elections, to be held in 20 hill constituencies, is slated for February 21.

Voters in this northeastern state have always been inclined to select candidates on the basis of their political credentials instead of party affiliations. This time round, the electorate in the valley is likely to be influenced more by a candidate’s stand on the ceasefire issue than anything else. The fact that Naga candidates in the hill districts were recently made to sign a declaration supporting extension of the ceasefire in Nagaland to Manipur has added a new dimension to the polls.

The Congress has fielded candidates in all 40 constituencies that will go to the hustings tomorrow. The Federal Party of Manipur (FPM) and the Manipur State Congress Party (MSCP) are contesting 33 seats each.

Formed by those who led the anti-ceasefire agitation, the Democratic People’s Party (DPP) is making its electoral debut with the promise to build a “new Manipur”. The party is being touted as the dark horse, but lack of political acumen in its leaders could be a problem.

The BJP and the Samata Party, who the people blamed for the crisis last year, hope to win a few seats in the valley despite their fall from grace. Two former chief ministers — R.K. Dorendra Singh of the BJP and Radhabinod Koijam of the Samata Party — are in the electoral fray. Dorendra Singh is contesting the Yaiskul seat, while Koijam is the Samata candidate in Thangmeiband constituency.


Moradabad, Feb.13: 
Mulayam Singh Yadav is no longer Maulana Mulayam in Moradabad.

This bustling town in western Uttar Pradesh, a BJP bastion so far, does not any more consider the Samajwadi Party chief the leader of only Muslims, which earned him the sobriquet, and Yadavs.

Now traders, too — who have traditionally voted for the BJP — want to shock the party and vote for Mulayam, who has somewhat managed to shed his casteist image with help from Big B Amitabh Bachchan and party colleague Amar Singh.

The extent of the anti-incumbency wave became clear when several traders said they would teach the BJP a lesson as its rule in Lucknow had pushed them to the brink of bankruptcy.

An RSS worker from the vaishya (trader) community summed up the BJP’s situation when he said he was campaigning for Mulayam. “My father is a Sanghi from the pre-Partition days. I also go to the sakhas. My son is also a Sanghi. Even my little grandson holds the BJP flag. But this time, we will not vote for the BJP,” he said.

Several traders in the area expressed similar sentiments. Asked why they were disenchanted with the BJP, Anil Kumar Gupta, a shopkeeper, said traders were worst hit by the economic recession in the state.

“Never in the past has our business been so badly hit. To cap it all, land grabbing and extortion have become rampant. Even BJP MLAs and MPs are demanding money,” he said. The traders and Punjabis here have decided to back the Samajwadi Party, Gupta added.

The mood was reflected on February 5 when Union home minister L.K. Advani was here to address an election meeting at Mansarovar. The turnout was poor despite the fact that the BJP holds four of the eight Assembly constituencies in Moradabad district.

The Samajwadi holds three and the Bahujan Samaj Party one. Loktantrik Congress Party leader Chandra Vijay holds the Lok Sabha seat.

Chief minister Rajnath Singh also drew a poor crowd at his meeting, in a nearby locality, which was held in a petrol pump for want of a decent gathering.

In the city especially, voters are weary of the Ram temple issue and terrorism. “Every time there is an election they suddenly remember about the mandir. But we are not going to be fooled,” said Subash Kyshap, owner of a stationery shop.

Vinod Gumber, in charge of the Samajwadi’s campaign in the town, said Mulayam has given tickets to a large number of upper-caste Hindus.

Asked why they would not vote for the Congress, he said the Samajwadi was most likely to form the next government and that Mulayam, as chief minister earlier, had created the Moradabad corporation.


New Delhi, Feb. 13: 
Uttaranchal will go to its first Assembly polls tomorrow not with enthusiasm but dark foreboding. Faced with severe unemployment and a stagnant economy, the people have lost confidence in all political players who are bidding for power.

The ruling BJP is pounded by stringent criticism from all sections. Fourteen months of governance has sullied the image of the party, which till a year ago was a favourite with the people.

But if disaffection with the BJP is running at an all-time high, there is no great love for the Congress, the main Opposition party, either.

Sandwiched between the two frontrunners are smaller political players, particularly a tottering third front led by the Uttarkhand Lok Vahini, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party, who can play a crucial role in case of a hung Assembly.

The possibility of a hung legislature cannot be ruled out entirely. Of the 29 seats in the outgoing Uttaranchal Assembly, the BJP has 23 while the Congress has only one.

With the BJP facing a strong anti-incumbency factor, the Congress could well be in a position to emerge on top, but the party would have to cover a lot of ground before it is in a position to form the next government.

If it falls short by a few notches, it would be up to the minor political players and the Independent candidates to back the Congress. P.C. Tewari, the third front’s candidate from Almora, has said the front could consider such an option.

But the third front will not give unqualified support to any party and the Congress would have to agree to some of the issues and demands on the third front’s manifesto. Third front leaders have ruled out any support to the BJP, which may get the BSP to its side.


New Delhi, Feb. 13: 
The spotlight on madarsas and talk of “modernisation” of religious schools is making the minority community uncomfortable, which is reflected in the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board veering to a stand against “state interference” in “day-to-day” functioning of community-run institutions.

The issue of “modernisation of madarsas” is also not going down well with the community leaders, who are wondering why such measures are not being recommended for the Bal Shishu Mandirs and other RSS-affiliated educational institutions which are often accused of fanning communal abhorrence.

Moreover, the plight of Urdu medium institutes is being cited to counter the argument that a “secular curriculum” would link education with the job market. In Delhi, for instance, results of Urdu medium schools have been pathetic — often not a single student cleared the Class X or XII examinations.

The overwhelming opinion among Muslim leaders, intellectuals and political activists is that “reforms, modernisation and change” should come from within the community instead of “state-sponsored measures”.

There is also a great deal of scepticism about the government’s ability to fund thousands of madarsas all over the country when the state seems to be itching to get out of all non-core sectors due to a resource crunch.

In this sense, the Muslim community is at variance with both the Vajpayee regime and the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee administration in Bengal. Renowned religious leaders like Maulana Asad Madni, Maulana Abdul Rabey, Qari Mujahid-ul-Islam, Maulana Kalbe-Sadiq, G.M. Banatwala and others feel there is neither a case nor the need for “sweeping reforms” as madarsas have been doing “splendid service” in offering primary education where the state has failed to deliver.

Muslims leaders do not buy the argument that many madarsas are being funded from “outside” (ISI and other agencies hostile to India). According to the Milli Council, an overwhelming number of madarsas are “clean”, surviving through zakat (charity) and community support.

“It is obligatory for every Muslim to contribute Rs 1 out of every Rs 40 earned. It serves as a basic resource for madarsas that are not funded by the government,” Milli Council office-bearers said.

Personal board functionaries said the Muslim community was alive to the post-September 11, December 13 and January 22 incidents. “There is a great deal of churning, discomfort and a sense of unease within the Muslim community in India about religious institutions being linked to terrorism,” they said.


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