Heart goes out of Atal land
To sup or not with Mayavati
Cong savours Delhi dreams
Arjun swings India to golfing glory
CPM rallies behind govt reforms drive
Madarsa consolation for CM
Christie’s shies off Bengal
Calcutta Weather

 
 
HEART GOES OUT OF ATAL LAND 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 24: 
The BJP suffered its worst-ever electoral debacle today in the heartland after it was thrown out of power in Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal and lost Punjab which it ruled with the Shiromani Akali Dal.

The Congress continued its conquest of states, winning Punjab and Uttaranchal and seemed set to emerge as the single largest party in Manipur. However, it made little impact in Uttar Pradesh.

Uttar Pradesh produced a mandate that was as fractured as that in 1996. The real beneficiary of the anti-BJP mood was the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which notched its best-ever tally. But the Samajwadi Party, billed by pollsters to be within striking distance of power, failed to hit the mark. Although the Samajwadi has emerged as the single largest party, it appeared unlikely to touch the half-way point of 202 even with the support of two groups of potential allies — the Congress, and Independents and smaller parties.

Even the Lok Sabha and assembly bypoll results failed to cheer the BJP. Barring Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi who won Rajkot II, the BJP lost the other two assembly seats in the state — going to polls next year — to the Congress. The Samajwadi Party retained the Mirzapur Lok Sabha seat that fell vacant on the death of Phoolan Devi. Phoolan’s sister, Munni Devi, fielded by the Rashtriya Kranti Party, finished fifth.

The ADMK leader, J. Jayalalithaa, expectedly won the Andipatti seat virtually uncontested on her birthday. Madhavrao Scindia’s son, Jyotiraditya, made a spectacular debut in electoral politics by retaining his father’s Guna seat with a record margin. The former Prime Minister, H.D. Deve Gowda, who was out on a limb after his defeat from Hassan, bounced back from Kanakpura.

The three incumbent chief ministers, Rajnath Singh, Parkash Singh Badal and B.S. Koshiyari, put in their papers once defeat was imminent. But, even as the trends were emerging, political activity around Uttar Pradesh got under way in the capital.

The BJP brass and its alliance leaders, Ajit Singh and Sharad Yadav, met over a brief stock-taking session at Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s residence. Sources said the leaders were too “shell-shocked” to discuss the prospect of government formation in conjunction with the BSP, which was an ally on two earlier occasions.

Even as the BJP appeared to be split on whether or not take a stab at power again with Mayavati, a view was emerging that the Samajwadi Party and the Congress had to be stopped from cobbling together a government.

The BJP’s earlier designs to split the BSP — regarded by many leaders as the most “vulnerable” — died with Mayavati getting so many seats. But the party was apprehensive of the Samajwadi Party poaching on her Muslim legislators.

The Congress faced the same dilemma as the BJP because it had also propped up the Samajwadi Party twice at substantial loss to its own base. The Congress Working Committee has called a meeting to take a decision.

His tally not up to the expected mark, Samajwadi leader Mulayam Singh, who jettisoned the People’s Front in the election, is now looking at leaders of this reincarnation of the third force to ensure he assumes power in Lucknow. The Front is scheduled to hold a meeting with CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet again revelling in his role of kingmaker.

With the crucial budget session starting tomorrow, a meeting of the NDA has also been called to size up the fallout of the rout and devise defence mechanisms to face an Opposition onslaught.

Although the Congress and the Samajwadi Party slugged it out on the Uttar Pradesh battlefield, the Opposition has closed ranks on floor coordination. It appeared set to put the government on the mat on key issues like the coffin scam and Ayodhya.

Although the BJP and the NDA officially maintained that the elections were not a referendum on the Vajpayee government, privately there was an admission within the BJP that the Uttar Pradesh defeat might make it “susceptible” to allies’ pressure as well that of the more rabid elements within the Sangh parivar.

Taking advantage of the political uncertainty, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad has begun mobilising its kar sevaks in Ayodhya to start construction of the Ram temple from March 15.

Given these fears, a dominant view in the ruling coalition was that the BJP should forego its long-term political interests and prop up Mayavati or force her to back a BJP-led government.

All eyes are on Governor Vishnu Kant Shastri who indicated he would hear out all the parties staking claim to forming the government and perhaps give them a chance to present their numbers.

“We want to see on what grounds they base their claim to form the government. I will hear all of them,” Shastri said.

   

 
 
TO SUP OR NOT WITH MAYAVATI 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Feb. 24: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will meet Uttar Pradesh leaders Rajnath Singh, Kalraj Mishra and Lalji Tandon tomorrow morning to be briefed about their assessment on whether the BJP should sit in the Opposition or have an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

Later in the day, the BJP’s apex decision-making body — its parliamentary board — will meet to take a final view. It is expected to authorise the Prime Minister to have the last word. But sources said the BJP continued to be split on the issue of going in for an alliance with BSP leader Mayavati again.

In the past, whenever a decision was taken, just the views of a section of state leaders, Vajpayee and Murli Manohar Joshi counted. But this time, it is learnt that MPs from the state have vociferously opposed an alliance, saying it would wipe out the BJP in the state in the next Lok Sabha polls.

However, of the three leaders conferring with Vajpayee tomorrow, two — Mishra and Tandon — are staunch advocates of Mayavati. This may eventually tilt the leadership’s opinion in her favour.

Mayavati reached the capital this evening amid rumours that she had sought an appointment with the Prime Minister. However, sources close to Vajpayee did not confirm such a request.

Rajnath was reportedly of the view that the BJP should sit in the Opposition for a while. BJP sources said Rajnath’s concerns would also be addressed, particularly since the party has realised that it lost a leader of Kalyan Singh’s stature in Uttar Pradesh primarily because he was opposed to Mayavati. “After building up Rajnath as a tall leader, we should be careful not to humiliate him only for short-term gains,” a leader said.

The BJP brass and its alliance leaders, Ajit Singh and Sharad Yadav, met briefly at the Prime Minister’s residence this evening apparently to “exchange notes”.

The dilemma within the BJP was whether it should allow the Samajwadi Party and the Congress to combine and provide a government or pre-empt the move by putting up a coalition with Mayavati.

The party feels that although the Samajwadi-Congress duo will fall short of the halfway mark even with the support of Independents and smaller parties, the combine could poach on a section of the BSP’s legislators.

A dominant view within the BJP was that Mayavati should be cajoled into propping up a government led by the party and allowed to name a BJP chief minister of her choice. But it was tempered with the realisation that such an idea might push her Muslim legislators into the Samajwadi’s arms.

The “prevent Samajwadi-Congress” school of thought found a supporter in Uma Bharati. Asked if the BJP would align with the BSP, she said: “We should do everything to ensure people of the state do not feel insecure.”

   

 
 
CONG SAVOURS DELHI DREAMS 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Feb. 24: 
Ab Dilli door nahin,” Congressmen sang in chorus, convinced that today’s mandate would sooner than later pave way for a Sonia Gandhi-led government, though it might not automatically lead to the “numerical destabilisation” of the Vajpayee regime.

By evening, the mood in the Congress was extremely upbeat. At 24 Akbar Road, everyone — from Ghulam Nabi Azad to Jaipal Reddy to block-level party officials — were speaking the same language: the BJP’s days are numbered and the Congress will soon replace it at the national level.

At 10 Janpath, ordinary party workers were ushered inside in groups of 20-30 where a smiling Sonia greeted them with folded hands. “Madam it’s all because of you. You will be the Prime Minister soon,” said one. “Apke munh mein ghee shakkar,” added another, stuffing a laddoo into his mouth.

Outside Sonia’s house, the atmosphere was festive. There were band parties and drummers, horses, cars, buses, trucks, free distribution of laddoos and slogan raising in praise of the Congress chief.

A beaming Sonia merely said the verdict in Uttar Pradesh had gone against the BJP. She declined comment on the possibility of backing the Samajwadi Party to set up a secular government in the state.

“Let us see. I have to sit down with my colleagues and discuss many things, including this one,” she said.

The Congress Working Committee met informally and expressed satisfaction at the poll outcome. But it felt the party should wait and watch instead of acting in haste in Uttar Pradesh.

Having secured a majority in both Punjab and Uttaranchal, Congress leaders are looking at the big picture. They accept the verdict may not automatically set off the downfall of the Vajpayee regime, but believe the NDA’s defeats in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Uttaranchal will demoralise the ruling coalition.

All four states that went to the polls this time had NDA governments.

Parliament’s budget session is starting tomorrow. The Congress game plan is to wait for rumblings to surface within the NDA and the BJP instead of going for the kill. The party’s think-tank feels the Congress should prepare for early polls instead of trying to stitch together a rainbow coalition in the 13th Lok Sabha.

AICC spokesman Jaipal Reddy was quick to score a political point. “The BJP-NDA’s defeat is a serious and comprehensive reflection on the performance of the Vajpayee regime. Poto was the BJP-centric issue in UP. In spite of exploiting an emotive issue, the BJP has received its worst drubbing in the last 10 years in UP,” he said.

By early next week, the Congress will have governments in 14 states, if it wins in Manipur. In addition, it is sharing power in Bihar and Meghalaya.

   

 
 
ARJUN SWINGS INDIA TO GOLFING GLORY 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, Feb. 24: 
What Prakash Padukone had done to Indian badminton more than two decades ago Arjun Atwal did to golf today. Calcutta’s Arjun became the first Indian and the fourth Asian golfer to win a European Tour event, sweeping to victory in the Singapore Masters at Laguna National Golf and Country Club, warding off challenges from, among others, three-time British Open champion Nick Faldo.

A few hours later, once the triumph had sunk in, Arjun —who won by a convincing five shots, reeling off four birdies in a closing 68 to finish 14-under-par 274 — was far from being over the moon. Speaking from his Singapore hotel in the evening, the 28-year-old, who had first teed off under the watchful eyes of his father at the Royal Calcutta Golf Club at 14, oozed quiet confidence.

“Yes, it’s very special to win on the European Tour, but I’ve played with these guys before and the sort of ball-striking form I was in, I thought I was always in with a chance. I just hope this goes out as a message to all the Indian youngsters who have turned pro that all it takes is self-belief,” said Arjun, even as elder brother Govind, who walked with him on the course in his hour of triumph, laid out the champagne for a small party.

Arjun pocketed a purse of $150,000 and, more important, won passage into all European Tour main events without having to play in the qualifying rounds for the next two years. The champion admitted that he was flooded with fond memories of his growing up in Calcutta, where “dad (H.S. Atwal) and mom (Rupi) have been the major influences”.

He dedicated the Singapore victory to his father-in-law Chand Bhalla, “my greatest fan”, while acknowledging the calming influence of wife Sona, who watched the action live on television in London.

The youngster with a passion for sports cars vaulted into sixth place on the 2002 European order of merit with this win. Arjun shifted base to Nassau university in New York to polish his putting after studying at St James School in Calcutta till Class IX and training at the Royal. He has been honing his skills under coach Sam Frost for the last three years.

Fellow Calcutta golfer and close friend Indrajit Bhalotia, who followed every hole of the Singapore event on the Net, said he is “not surprised” at his buddy’s feat. “Arjun has been on top of his game of late and has been mentally strong and very relaxed. So, there was no way he would be intimidated by that formidable field. But, of course, it’s great news for golf in Calcutta and India,” he said.

Atwal Senior was ecstatic. “We always knew Arjun is special, particularly after he became back-to-back junior national champion in the US while he was in college in New York, something even Tiger Woods hasn’t achieved.”

Calcutta’s golfing fraternity shared the euphoria. “This is a brilliant win and a great career boost as Arjun has beaten a terrific field. His ball-striking has always been his strength and he is superb from tee to green. To complement that, Arjun has really lifted his short game of late. I feel he has the potential to become number one in the world,” said ‘Bunny’ Lakshman Singh, former Asian Games gold medallist, who has seen the youngster flower before his eyes.

Brandon D ‘Souza of Tiger Sports Management, which handles most domestic golf tournaments, feels Arjun has authored a “brand new chapter” in India and shown the world that “we are ready”. Said Brandon: “He has always driven the ball to prodigious distances, but to pip 100 among the top 200 guys to the post is a miracle.”

Arjun’s hour of glory will galvanise corporate interest in the game, said the IMG, which manages the golfer. “Arjun is our only individual client in the game in India and till now, he had Ping and Alfred Dunhill as sponsors. Hopefully, this victory will enthuse Indian companies to come forward and support the game more,” said Rishi Narain, IMG’s director, golf business, South Asia.

   

 
 
CPM RALLIES BEHIND GOVT REFORMS DRIVE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 24: 
Stepping out of frayed ideological cordons, the CPM today sought to dispel doubts about the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee-government’s ability to unveil bold initiatives on the economic and industrial fronts in the face of opposition from within the party.

On the third day of its 20th state conference, the party pledged support to the government which gives the impression of foundering on party orthodoxy while seeking to formulate policy initiatives aimed at ensuring go-go development for Bengal.

State CPM secretary Anil Biswas, one of the principal architects of the party’s refashioned attitude, said the party would infuse its own dynamics into Bhattacharjee’s attempts to reconstruct the state’s economy and industry by getting Citu, the monolithic labour arm, to support them.

“We, as a party, will stand firmly by the side of the government when it embarks upon executing its programmes. And we will take an ‘active’ role in ‘convincing’ our trade union (Citu) and other mass organisations to support the government in its endeavour to ensure progress of the state,” Biswas said.

Underlining the need for better coordination between the government and the party, Biswas said: “We would work unitedly and help each other in tackling problems and obstacles.”

Citu, one of the perceived hurdles on the road Bhattacharjee’s government wishes to walk down, and its responses to the contentious economic, industrial and labour issues figured prominently in today’s discussions.

The 800-odd delegates at the conference examined the Citu factor in light of the changing economic and political scenario across India. Many of them called for a balanced approach.

Biswas admitted that a large number of delegates expressed concern at the problems facing industry and workers in the state and the role Citu and the other Left trade unions were expected to play in the changed political and economic situation.

But he deftly skirted the question on whether the party would put a cap on the trade union movement in the state. Going by signals, a clash between the government-party combine and the trade unions is in the realm of possibility now that the CPM has pledged support for the Bengal government as and when it unveils its disinvestment programme.

Party delegates like Dilip Sen, an influential member of the Calcutta district committee, argued that trade unions will be made irrelevant once the party and the government put a cap on labour movement, dispose of sick public sector undertakings and begin to woo private capital.

“How can we oppose the BJP for its plan to close down the PSUs run by them when our government is going to take a similar decision regarding our own PSUs?” Sen asked during a discussion on “Left Front government and our responsibilities”.

But he stopped pressing the point after he realised that both the party and the government had made up their minds.

Five delegates, including Harekrishna Samanta from West Midnapur, Tarani Patra (Bankura), Amal Halder (Burdwan) and Laxman Seth from Midnapore East discussed the report placed by industry minister Nirupam Sen yesterday.

However, except Sen, all the other delegates remained silent on Citu’s role in regard to the state government’s plan to close down the loss-making PSUs.

   

 
 
MADARSA CONSOLATION FOR CM 
 
 
BY TAMAL SENGUPTA
 
Calcutta, Feb. 24: 
Nearly a fortnight after forcing chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to take an embarrassing U-turn on the madarsa issue, the CPM appears to be moving towards giving him a sense of small victory.

The CPM leadership almost finalised plans today to effect big changes in Ganashakti, the influential party morninger which Bhattacharjee accused of behaving like a “bourgeois newspaper” and misreporting his pronouncements on madarsas during his visit to Siliguri last month.

Editor Dipen Ghosh — originally handpicked for the job by state party secretary Anil Biswas who relinquished the post four years ago — may have to step down, making way for a lesser known functionary as successor.

Till this evening, party mandarins debated on whether it would be appropriate to allow Ghosh — currently at the receiving end of Bhattacharjee’s wrath — to continue as editor and force him to relinquish his position in the state secretariat.

In a separate development, the CPM leadership is believed to has decided to induct into the secretariat two new faces, school education minister Kanti Biswas and Madan Ghosh, secretary of the party’s powerful Burdwan district unit.

The name of housing minister Gautam Deb, a state committee member known for his proximity to the controversial Subhas Chakraborty, is also doing the rounds.

The plans for changes in Ganashakti had been set in motion before the madarsa issue exploded in the party’s face with a view to making the organ — a virtual Bible for party leaders and supporters — more responsive to the party’s new thrust areas.

But Ghosh, a former trade unionist, found himself in the leadership’s line of fire when a beleaguered Bhattacharjee not only publicly denied the Ganashakti reports that attributed the controversial remarks but also gave vent to his feelings before the leadership.

“Is Ganashakti a party newspaper or a bourgeois one?” Bhattacharjee had asked at a recent state committee meeting. “It does not bother to check things with me. Like others, it goes ahead and publishes what it likes.”

Predictably, the Ganashakti reports had been used by the Opposition to kick up a row against Bhattacharjee and the CPM. The subsequent Muslim backlash forced the party to deny the reports that quoted Bhattacharjee as saying that certain unauthorised madarsas were “anti-national.” Never before has the CPM leadership issued a disclaimer of news items published by its own mouthpiece.

In the event of Ghosh having to vacate the editor’s chair — it all depends on the attitude Biswas, former chief minister Jyoti Basu and a few others adopt — the mantle will most probably fall on a lightweight functionary. Narayan Dutta, a state committee member and Biswas groupie, looks like a possible successor.

Two faithfuls, Abik Dutta and Atanu Saha, are also expected to find themselves at an elevated position in the publication whose running will continue to be remote-controlled by Biswas.

The changes are expected to be in place by Monday, the concluding day of the four day-state conference of the CPM.

Senior party leaders are believed to be angry with Ghosh for his misjudgement. In their view, he should have had anticipated the shock value of the pronouncements and blacked them out.

“He and other senior officials of the party mouthpiece should have taken special care before publishing such controversial news items,” they argued in support of Bhattacharjee’s position.

There are marked differences between the styles of Biswas and Ghosh. When the former edited the newspaper, he would personally go through important political copies, talk to the chief minister, if necessary, and shape them in tune with the party line. But Ghosh would allow a free hand — somewhat unexpected in a communist party organ — to his colleagues to handle serious political reports even if they involved a top leader like Bhattacharjee.

The CPM leadership is handling the issue very carefully because it realises that a section of the party thinks that Ghosh is being made a scapegoat.

Some leaders have argued that the party mouthpiece had committed no error in reporting the pronouncements as they had been made by the chief minister at public rallies.

   

 
 
CHRISTIE’S SHIES OFF BENGAL 
 
 
FROM ELLA DATTA
 
New Delhi, Feb. 24: 
Christie’s is shying off the art produced in Bengal in the early decades of last century, thanks to the well-entrenched market for fakes in Calcutta.

The global auction major is consciously turning away from pre-Independence paintings given the controversies over shady provenances of fakes and stolen works. Exceptions can be made if the provenance is impeccable, but by and large the decision is not to touch art from Bengal.

Christie’s decision is understandable given the debates that have surfaced at many auctions over the fakes. There was the case of a Rabindranath Tagore brought under the hammer by Sotheby’s two years ago.

More recently at the first Bowring’s auction in Delhi, experts declared a painting by the early 20th century Japanese artist Shunsho Hishida was a fake. There have been doubts raised about some Jamini Roys, Hemen Mazumdars, Ram Kinkars and Abanindranath Tagores at several recent auctions.

Recently, a Ravi Varma painting showing women bathing — displayed in Delhi — was declared a fake by conservator Rupika Chawla in her column in a daily. Chawla went public because some interested parties were allegedly claiming she had authenticated it.

Christie’s seems to be testing the waters in its search for new markets for contemporary Indian art. On April 28, the auctioneers will put on the block a small sale of contemporary Indian paintings as a part of a larger sale in Hong Kong. Christie’s held a slightly larger sale in Singapore last summer.

While pre-Independence art will be a no-show in Hong Kong keeping the special character of the market in mind, the autumn sale in New York is expected to be more comprehensive.

“The Hong Kong sale will be the first time for Indian art. The city is a younger, more contemporary market and we have selected the lots keeping that in mind,” said Mallica Sagar, Christie’s Indian representative.

There are 25 lots of post ‘47 artists. The earliest work is one of Hebbar while the most contemporary is a watercolour by Anju Dodiya. The high point of the auction will be some early canvases by Ram Kumar, one of which has a reserve price of HK$75,000 to HK$100,000.

An Akbar Padamsee oil on canvas has a similar reserve price. Two Hussain canvases and one Arpita Singh oil on canvas have higher reserve prices.

Two small Ganesh Pyne mixed media have reserve prices ranging from HK$30,000 to 50,000. One is of a sadhu that has the same Pyne intensity rendered in wonderful ochre and brown. The other is “Woman before the Tree” where Pyne has used a softer, simpler rendering.

“We selected works which would have easier appeal for a younger generation of buyers,” said Sagar. She said that earlier Ravi Varmas and works from Bengal artists were faked, but now even established contemporary artists were not spared.

“There are fake Hussains, Tyeb Mehtas, Padamsees and even Gaitondes. We have to be very careful and we take the search for provenance as far as it can go. If the artist is living, we check with the artist. If he is dead or unavailable, we check with people close to the artist or established galleries who have dealt with the artist for long.”

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 33.6°C (+4)
Minimum: 20.5°C (+4)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 91%,
Minimum: 38%

Sunrise: 6.06 am

Sunset: 5.33 pm

Today

Mainly clear sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 23°C
   
 

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