Buddha selloff plan testfired
Pak’s Sheikh skeletons out
Thousands descend on Ayodhya
Beta begets trouble for Saas
Calcutta Weather

 
 
BUDDHA SELLOFF PLAN TESTFIRED 
 
 
BY TAMAL SENGUPTA
 
Calcutta, Feb. 23: 
A day after committing itself to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s “aggressive” pursuit of private capital, the CPM today signalled a move to roll back the challenge from party hardliners and create space for the government to launch a disinvestment programme in Bengal.

On the second day of the party’s 20th state conference, the CPM placed a statement of its intent about the contentious and inter-locked issues of disinvestment, private capital and the impact of globalisation. The party picked industry minister Nirupam Sen — a favourite of the hardliners — for the job.

The document is expected to raise a storm when it is taken up for discussion tomorrow. To silence detractors, the document says, unlike the BJP, the state government would put in place a “safety net” before closing down or selling off sick units.

“What is going to happen in this conference is empowerment of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government,” said a party official. “It is something remarkable because never before has a state conference been asked to formulate decisions in the context of sweeping changes in the global economy, politics and technology. The leadership realises that this empowerment is necessary if we want to continue as the Front for some more time.”

Laying the roadmap for change, Sen said: “We would like all PSUs owned by the state government to do well on their own, but we should also be prepared to take practical decisions about the sick ones if they are beyond redemption. We may have to close them down and use their infrastructure and labour elsewhere. In the present economic situation, we cannot go on nursing this particular category.”

Sick PSUs will be clubbed into two categories: loss-making but salvageable, and loss-making and beyond redemption. “If necessary, we will have to consider a joint initiative of the state and the private sector to run some of these PSUs.”

“Because of globalisation, the Left Front government is finding it difficult to work like before for the poorer sections of society. The changed circumstances are forcing us to allow entry of private capital into our state. Wooing private capital is now the order of the day. All states are doing it, we cannot be seen to be lagging on this count,” Sen said.

Though a section in the CPM is likely to find the sweeping reforms unpalatable, state secretary Anil Biswas had said yesterday that the delegates were expected to support the party’s move to back the government’s initiatives on the economic front.

Sen, during his one-and-a-half-hour presentation, also proposed an appreciable reduction in government expenditure, especially on account of ministers and bureaucrats.

“More stress will be given to the cooperative movement and we will try hard to utilise the banking facilities to mobilise money for the benefit of the poorer section,” Sen said.

Today’s session also touched on corruption in the CPM ranks. “We believe we will not be able to remove corruption from the organisation by only taking penal action against a handful of party leaders. We have to inculcate among them the party discipline and Marxist ideology,” Biswas told reporters. A total six of resolutions was moved during the day by delegates.

   

 
 
PAK’S SHEIKH SKELETONS OUT 
 
 
FROM K. P. NAYAR
 
Washington, Feb. 23: 
Even as a debate rages in Washington about General Pervez Musharraf’s ability to steer his country along the road of further reform, more details — worrying for the Americans — are emerging about how the Pakistanis went about investigating the Daniel Pearl kidnapping.

Leaks from Pakistani investigators have now established that Omar Sheikh, the main accused, surrendered to Ejaz Shah, the home secretary of Punjab province, and was not arrested by Punjab police.

Shah was chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) apparatus in Punjab until almost the beginning of last year. He was then handpicked by Musharraf to be chief secretary in Pakistan’s most sensitive province over which the general has been struggling to establish control.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the first to say at an election rally in Uttar Pradesh after Islamabad announced Omar’s ‘arrest’ that the man ‘wanted’ for Pearl’s abduction has actually been in Pakistani custody much before his arrest was made public.

In Washington, Vajpayee’s claim was dismissed by sources familiar with the investigation as a product of Uttar Pradesh’s election fever — until Omar himself claimed in court on February 14 that he surrendered to the authorities nine days earlier.

It now turns out that Omar was under the protection of those who have been described to sources here as “non-police people” during these nine days.

Such details trickling in here have raised questions about a continuing nexus between those in the ISI, who made the Taliban and the Kashmiri jihad possible, and the Musharraf government.

It has raised serious questions here about how much Musharraf can deliver to the Americans at a time when the anti-terrorist coalition has failed in apprehending hardly anyone in the entire leadership of either the al Qaida or the Taliban.

State department spokesman Richard Boucher was peppered yesterday with questions about any role of the ISI in the kidnapping.

An exasperated Boucher said: “I can’t rule out that Martians were involved... I don’t want to be facetious on this, but you are asking me to speak for every member of a foreign government organisation. I don’t do that, whatever the question is.

“And I can tell you on the positive side, on the factual side — not to speculate on this, that or the other — but on the factual side that every possible agency of the Pakistani government has been involved, and we felt the cooperation was excellent.”

What should worry India in the context of the latest investigations is that Amjad Hassan Farooqi, a key link in the probe, is said to have slipped into Jammu and Kashmir last week.

The investigators have now established that it was Farooqi who picked up Pearl from a Karachi restaurant where he was to meet his militant contacts for a story on January 23. When the police reached Farooqi’s home, his family said he had left for Kashmir.

   

 
 
THOUSANDS DESCEND ON AYODHYA 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Ayodhya, Feb. 23: 
More than 15,000 people from across the country have poured into the temple town to join the VHP’s Poorna Ahuti Yagna, which will signal the “spiritual beginning” of the proposed Ram temple at the disputed site.

Beginning tomorrow, the maha yagna, organised by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and performed by the sadhus, will continue for the next 100 days and is expected to involve nearly two million people.

“It is obvious that in the hearts of millions of Hindus, the Ram temple issue still reigns supreme. Now the people have shed the shackles of politics. The country is asserting itself, (and) there will be no peace till the Ram temple is built here,” said VHP chief Ashok Singhal.

But Meghan Das doesn’t know why he is here. He was herded into a train with his family of eight for the 13-hour journey from Samastipur by the mukhiya of his village. He was told a great event is being held at Ayodhya. Asked why he was here, he smiled and said: “Mela dekhwa ke liye.”

Meghan is not the only one. Chanaraidevi, 88, from Begusarai, said: “We were told something very big is happening in Ayodhya. I don’t know anything else though I have been promised good food and warm clothes.” Several said they have gathered “in the name of Ram”.

A 60-acre plot has been acquired to house the devotees. Feeding the hungry will be five kitchens, each with a capacity to serve 5,000 people at one go. The mammoth habitation of tin sheds and hay-bedding has been christened Ramsevakpuram.

Sharad Sharma, a VHP activist and in-charge of the temple movement’s media cell, said at least 10,000 people are expected to attend the yagna every day. A new group of devotees will join the puja as those who have participated head home.

On the eve of the gigantic religious exercise aimed at motivating Ram bhakts, Singhal said he was satisfied with the response. VHP international secretary Pravin Togadia, too, was upbeat.

Asked how serious his organisation was about the March 15 deadline for starting construction, he said: “We said there will be shilanyas in 1986 and we performed a shilanyas, we promised a kar seva and held one in 1990, then we said the masjid will be removed and we did exactly that on December 6, 1992. Temple construction will begin on the date promised by us.”

The VHP and sadhu-sants have strictly divided their areas of action. While the VHP bosses are handling the “politics of the temple movement”, the sadhus are looking after the yagnas and pujas. The sadhus overseeing the yagna kunds will not talk about the construction, nor will they allow the media to photograph or film their puja.

But the younger sadhus are in no mood to let the VHP hijack the “momentous event that will take place on March 15”. “There are 14,000 mandirs here and be sure that on March 15, there will be more than 15,000 of us marching to the disputed site. The sadhus will not be left behind,” said Rakeshdasji, 35.

Hovering around the kund site in mufti, an officer from the intelligence department said the administration, though prepared for any eventuality, is adopting a “wait-and-watch’’ policy.

“It is obvious that they (the VHP) are very serious this time. But it is also true that much of their programme will take shape keeping in mind who forms the next government in Uttar Pradesh,” he said.

   

 
 
BETA BEGETS TROUBLE FOR SAAS 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, Feb. 23: 
Ekta Kapoor had the Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi’s script written; Birhanmumbai Municipal Corporation now wants to have it re-written.

It is the latest twist to the unfolding drama in the Virani family, something STAR Plus, which broadcasts the popular serial, had not bargained for.

The corporation has filed a complaint with the police against the channel and Kapoor’s Balaji Telefilms for “encouraging” the banned sex determination test in Kyunki’s February 5 episode.

The episode showed an expecting Puja going through the test. She was elated when she learnt that she was going to bear a son.

What made the corporation see red was that the doctor was shown congratulating the would-be mother of a male child. “This clearly violated the Pre-natal Diagnostic Technology (Regulation & Prevention of Misuse) Act of 1994. The Act bans the test and its publicity in any form,” additional municipal commissioner Sitaram Kunte said.

The IAS officer said the corporation was tasked with implementation of the Act. The offence is punishable with a three-year imprisonment and a fine of Rs 10,000.

A BMC health officer, Sheikh Iqbal Ahmed Siddiqui, lodged the complaint at Andheri police station — where STAR TV’s office is located. besides Kapoor and her company Balaji Telefilms, the channel has been named in the first information report as offenders.

The real-life twist to the family drama came just when Kapoor tweaked its storyline to keep viewers glued to the serial running for two years. the new generation of Viranis took over from their aging grandparents just a week ago.

“It was not intentional. there was a slight lapse on the part of the writer of the script,” Kapoor said, denying she had “ever wanted to encourage such a terrible practice”.

A senior STAR official called the episode a “genuine mistake”. He said the channel had already apologised to the viewers in a subsequent episode.

“We never meant to hurt anybody or break the law. the serial is for the women, not against them,” the channel official said, adding the issue was being “blown unnecessarily”.

BMC is not alone in taking umbrage at the episode. A number of non-government organisations has protested too. The State Women Commission said it planned to summon Kapoor as it received several complaints.

The STAR official said a few NGOs protested to the channel for broadcasting the episode. “We have already said sorry to them.”

But the municipal body is not in the mood to listen. “It is a popular serial watched by tens of thousands of people. you can imagine the impact of the wrong message it has sent,” Kunte said.

Though the act came into force in 1994, very few state governments took it seriously till the Supreme Court passed a stricture recently.

“We are now determined to crack down on anybody either practicising or eulogising the terrible practice in any forms,” the municipal official said.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 32.4°C (+2)
Minimum:18.9°C (+2)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 86%,
Minimum: 34%

Sunrise: 6.07 am

Sunset: 5.32 pm

Today

Mainly clear sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 20°C
   
 

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