CPM enlists Trinamul in Bajrang battle
Buddha calls off Delhi trip to keep an eye on home
Ghising eases out ‘tainted’ hill boss
Damodar clean-up
No one responds to Jafri’s calls
Jaswant on journey of defence
Sonia voices riots anguish
Kar sevak contingents mock Advani directive
SC places syllabus hurdle
Hip & hooked to hookah

Calcutta, March 1: 
Worried by the Gujarat flare-up, the CPM today urged all parties, barring the BJP, to thwart any attempt by the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to whip up communal passions in Bengal.

Describing the two as fundamentalist outfits, state party secretary Anil Biswas said he expected the Congress and Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress to join in the ruling Left Front’s campaign against communal forces.

“I appeal to the Trinamul Congress and the Congress also to act in a responsible manner when the entire country is facing challenges from communal and fundamentalist forces like the Bajrang Dal and the VHP,” he said. “If the political parties are serious about maintaining communal harmony in the state, they should join forces with us.”

Biswas said at a news conference the Front would not seek any support from the BJP because it was also fundamentalist. “They (BJP) are communal and we should not expect them to fight the fundamentalists,” he said. After the conference, Biswas left for Delhi to attend his party’s central committee meeting.

The CPM leader’s appeal to Trinamul is significant as this was the first time his party had sought cooperation from its main rival to maintain communal harmony in the state. Several parties, including small outfits like the SUCI, today organised a string of meetings and processions through the day to condemn the Gujarat massacre.

“The VHP gave a call for Bharat bandh today but there was no impact in the state. Here, people, political parties and the administration are alert to frustrate any efforts to disturb communal harmony,” Biswas said at the conference. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and labour minister Mohammad Amin have both cancelled their trip to Delhi to keep an eye on the situation in the state.

CPM politburo member and Left Front chairman Biman Bose accused the BJP of spearheading the communal frenzy in Uttar Pradesh after its humiliating defeat in the recent Assembly elections.

Bose slammed the BJP at the Centre for not taking any pre-emptive measures to stop communal clashes in Gujarat. “It is regrettable that the Vajpayee government allowed people from both groups to fight against each other for two days,” he said.

The Forward Bloc demanded that the Bajrang Dal and the VHP be banned immediately. General secretary and MP Debabrata Biswas said it was high time the Centre took action against such communal outfits. “These two forces are behind the clashes in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and other states in the country. They don’t even listen to the Prime Minister and disobey the Supreme Court’s verdicts,” he added.

Trinamul’s Pankaj Banerjee, leader of Opposition in the Assembly, said his party has already asked its supporters to co-operate with the administration. “We have already instructed party members to stand by the administration at this crucial hour,” he said.

Congress leader Abdul Mannan demanded a high-level probe into the Gujarat massacres.


March 1: 
Police fired in the air at two places and lathicharged demonstrators at various points as the state deployed its might to control the spin-off in Bengal of a Vishwa Hindu Parishad-sponsored Bharat bandh to protest against the Godhra carnage. More than a hundred people were arrested all over the state.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee cancelled his trip to Delhi this evening to attend a CPM politburo meet. He got in touch with Union home minister L.K. Advani and apprised him of the situation in the state and the steps taken by his government.

“I am personally monitoring the situation in every district,” Bhattacharjee told reporters at Writers’ Buildings. “All senior police officers’ leave has been cancelled and they have been asked to remain at their place of posting,” he said.

Protests were also held in Calcutta. Police arrested more than 30 people from Posta, Burrabazar and Mullickbazar, deputy commissioner (headquarters) Banibrata Basu said.

Police fired at Hasnabad railway station in North 24-Parganas, a few km from the border, and at Chandmari market in Asansol.

At both the places, the law-keepers were heavily outnumbered by mobs that were growing increasingly violent.

A train driver at Hasnabad sustained minor injuries when a glass splinter hit him in the ear after a bullet shattered a window, Eastern Railway said. He was released after first-aid.

At Hasnabad, a small mob was first dispersed after a round of lathicharge around 6 am. The protesters, however, came back in larger numbers two hours later and attacked the policemen with rods, lathis and stones. At least a dozen policemen were injured before they first tried to gas away the crowd. When that failed, they fired five rounds in the air.

At Asansol’s Chandmari market, bandh supporters asked shopowners to down shutters. Later, they started ransacking the shops. Police fired two rounds in the air to disperse them.

Railway traffic was disrupted at several places, including Chittaranjan, as bandh supporters held up several long-distance trains for more than six hours since 8 in the morning.

In Malda, where most private buses stayed off the road, the district administration took to hiring cars to take examinees to their centres.


Siliguri, March 1: 
A day after the man who led the ambush on Subash Ghising last year was gunned down, the Gorkha leader quietly eased out DGHC principal secretary Prashant.

Some believe Prashant had tried to get released on bail those arrested for masterminding the attack on Ghising.

The GNLF leadership said the party’s Darjeeling committee reached the unanimous decision to remove the “tainted” bureaucrat. But they were not willing to provide any evidence against the official.

However, GNLF Darjeeling unit chief Deepak Gurung said: “We have enough evidence against his involvement in trying to secure the bail of the accused in the assassination attempt on the DGHC chairman as alleged by the people of the hill.”

He added that there was tremendous public pressure to ease out Prashant.

Prashant, who was holidaying in Delhi, returned to Darjeeling yesterday. He said he had taken “earned leave” for seven days, starting Thursday. “I have spoken to the highest authorities in the state government on the issue and am already on a seven-day earned leave since Thursday and I have no comments to make. It was for the government to take a decision.”

Ghising, it is believed, had asked Prashant to proceed on leave for 20 days when he reported for duty yesterday morning.

Political observers in Darjeeling claimed this was Ghising’s way of maintaining his stranglehold over the party and the hill council.

The GNLF had of late openly hinted that the state government had been behind the attack on the party chief. Ghising himself at a public rally last year had accused the state government of sheltering the “actual” masterminds behind the plot to assassinate him.

The GNLF leadership maintained that the 13 people arrested, including the militant Gorkhaland Liberation Organisation chief Chattray Subba, were merely “pawns” used by the actual masterminds.

Ever since the bid on his life on February 10 last year, Ghising has been wary of a plot to topple him. He had all along nursed a suspicion that a section in his party was involved in the assassination attempt, a GNLF leader claimed.


Asansol, March 1: 
The Asansol Municipal Corporation has taken up a Rs 4-crore project to clean up the Damodar.

The Damodar Action Plan, an extension of the Ganga Action Plan, will be implemented in four phases. The Centre and the state government will share the cost.

Chief municipal engineer Sukumar Mukherjee said in the first phase, electric crematoriums will be installed at an estimated cost of Rs 1 crore and existing ones closed down at Domahani and Dishergarh ghat.

In the second phase, gardens, children’s parks and bathing ghats with modern facilities will be constructed at different points along the riverbank. The corporation will concentrate on improving solid and liquid waste management in the third phase, including modernisation of the garbage disposal system and setting up of effluent treatment plants. “We will not allow a single drop of polluted water to fall into the river. We have asked all factory owners to set up effluent treatment plants immediately,” said Ramananda Singh, member, mayor-in-council.


Ahmedabad, March 1: 
For hours yesterday, Ehsaan Jafri called the police control room as a mob surrounded his bungalow in the Chamanpura area. Help did not arrive. The 76-year-old former MP and his entire family were burnt alive.

Killings by fire in the train compartments at Godhra were avenged with killings by fire across Ahmedabad and on its outskirts yesterday.

Nothing illustrates police role better than police commissioner P.C. Pande’s statement that police “were not insulated from the general social milieu”.

“(When) there’s a change in the perception of the society, the police are part of it and there’s bound to be some kind of contagion effect.”

Criticism of the administration’s role — and of the police — has come on the heels of nearly every big riot, in Delhi after Indira Gandhi’s assassination and in Mumbai after the demolition of the Babri masjid.

Until about 2 pm yesterday during the VHP-called bandh, the police were either absent or spectators as rioters burned, looted and killed. In the afternoon, the police commissioner’s office itself was targeted by a stone- pelting mob. Pande came out on the street to see faces of helplessness and fear in his force.

Chief minister Narendra Modi patted the force on the back for handling the situation efficiently. He even provided them an escape hatch, putting the blame for the Meghaninagar carnage on Jafri. “The incident is condemnable, but then we cannot absolve Jafri what did.”

Meghaninagar police inspector K.S. Erda rushed to clear his force: “The mob was enraged because Jafri opened fire and some of his supporters threw acid bombs on the mob that surrounded the society.”

An officer said the police had been told not to be firm with rioters. The force has a boss in new home minister Gordhan Zadhapia, a staunch VHP activist.

Even after curfew was clamped in eight police stations in the city, it took the administration more than 32 hours to issue shoot-at-sight orders.

One officer admitted helplessness. “We are too few to stop armed mobs. Why should we go into confrontation that might lead to more problems?”

In some cases, there was more to the role of the police than simply a frightened freeze. S.K. Mishra saw his driver being burnt alive on Sola road. The mob punched him, hit him with stones and set him on fire after pouring kerosene.

“This was done after policemen signalled the mob to check his driving licence. As soon as they learnt his religious identity, they started beating him. The mob let me go after seeing my identity card. Within 20 minutes, five persons were burnt alive in front of me after their identities were confirmed.”

“It was not possible for the police to be present everywhere,” the state government said.

Observers blamed the state for its “partisan and biased role”. Equating the Godhra incident with the carnage that took place in Ahmedabad yesterday, Gandhian Prakash Shah said if the chief minister wanted to act under the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance against the culprits of the first massacre, the same law should be applied on the retaliators.


New Delhi, March 1: 
Till a few days back India was thinking of exposing Pervez Musharraf’s dual-policy on terrorism to the world, but the violence in Gujarat has put Delhi in a position where it has to defend the secular credentials of the nation and convince the international community that there is no shift in its policy.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee spoke to his Australian counterpart John Howard today and apologised for his inability to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meet (Chogm) and calling off his bilateral visit.

Howard sympathised with Vajpayee for the violence and showed understanding about the Prime Minister’s decision not to leave the country at this juncture.

Foreign minister Jaswant Singh, who is now leading the Indian delegation at the Chogm, left for Australia early this morning. It is now left to Jaswant to defend India’s position and convince the international community that the communal violence was being contained and the government is determined to punish its perpetrators. Indian officials put up a brave front when asked how difficult it would be for Delhi to convince the world that the situation in Gujarat had not gone beyond control and India’s secular credentials were not to be questioned. “The violence in India is not part of the agenda for the Chogm,” a senior South Block official said.

But Jaswant, while in Australia, will have a series of meetings with leaders of other countries on the sidelines of the Commonwealth meet where the situation in India is bound to come up.

“If it is raised by some leaders, the foreign minister will be able to convince them that these unfortunate incidents were stray and not widespread and the government is totally in control of the situation,” the official said.

“One should not use the broadbrush to paint India for the Gujarat incidents,” he added.

But the flare-up couldn’t have come at a worse time. It coincides with Delhi’s attempt to sell the country as an attractive destination for foreign investors — the Enron controversy notwithstanding — and is fighting a diplomatic battle with Pakistan in the aftermath of the December 13 terrorist attack on Parliament. It also comes at a time when India is busy telling the world not to be taken in by Musharraf’s brave speech to fight terrorism as infiltrators continue to pour in from across the border and violence in Valley and elsewhere shows no signs of ebbing.

This point will still be made by Singh but the other members of his delegation will also have to prepare themselves to explain to the world leaders what exactly is happening in India and how the Vajpayee government plans to check them.

For the ruling coalition, the problem is mainly with its image. Many in the West continue to describe it as a “Hindu-hardline party” and the violence in Gujarat is only going to strengthen that view. Apart from the Chogm — which is the first major multilateral meet that India is attending — South Block is already gearing up to assure leaders in other parts of the world, particularly in the Gulf region and in the Arab countries, that Delhi remains committed to secular traditions.

During the attacks on Christians about two years back, India had been faced with tough questions from different parts of the world about the safety and security of religious minorities.


New Delhi, March 1: 
Dismayed by the Centre’s inability to pre-empt the Gujarat flare-up, over 150 Opposition MPs today marched to Rashtrapati Bhavan and asked the President to ensure effective deployment of the army in the state. K.R. Narayanan assured them that he would speak to the Prime Minister.

Before meeting the President, agitated Opposition members forced adjournment of both Houses, protesting against the government’s failure to protect the lives and properties of people. Home minister L.K. Advani could not make his statement.

After a 30-minute meeting with Narayanan, the Congress president told reporters that the delegation had expressed “extreme anguish” over the riots.

Sonia said she had, in her meeting with the Prime Minister last night, insisted that the army be deployed, but the Centre chose to put it on stand-by. “This is not at all satisfactory. That is why we came to meet the President,” she said. Narayanan said he was aware of the “burning situation in Gujarat and its possible consequences in other parts”, she added.

Sonia said Opposition leaders strongly condemned the atrocities in Godhra and appealed to the people to maintain peace and harmony.

The Congress chief said she had been seeking an appointment with the Prime Minister since 4 pm yesterday, but was given time only at 8 pm. When reports of violence intensifying poured in, Sonia asked Manmohan Singh to speak to home minister L.K. Advani at 11.30 pm.


Ayodhya, March 1: 
Is the goverment telling the truth? Around 6,000 kar sevaks have assembled at Karsevakpuram here in the last 12 hours despite the claims of the Uttar Pradesh government and the local administration that their entry has been banned.

At Karsevakpuram, where the Poorna Ahuti Yagna is taking place amid unprecedented security, two large contingents arrived this morning.

While a group of nearly 2,100 arrived from Gujarat today, the other from Maharashtra with 2,000 members also found their way to the puja site, making a mockery of home minister L.K. Advani’s directive to the state government to stop kar sevaks from entering the city.

Only yesterday, the principal secretary (home), Naresh Dayal, announced that entry points to Faizabad and Ayodhya had been sealed and that kar sevaks were being sent back. None of this is happening.

While kar sevaks completing a day’s puja at the site are going back on their own — they have to, as facilities at Ramsevakpuram cannot accommodate more than 10,000 people at any one time — others are coming in almost at will.

Vijay Dhodelkar has just arrived from Satara, Maharashtra. “We did have apprehensions when we set off, but it is very easy to come here,” Dhodelkar boasted. “No one stopped us anywhere.”

Gujarat’s Suresh Togadia, too, said there was “no inconvenience at all” throughout his journey from Rajkot to Ayodhya. Togadia, however, is happy with the security at various railway stations he passed on his two-day journey.

The only “problem” kar sevaks streaming in here faced was the long walk from the railway station to Karsevakpuram. “No one stopped us, though we were questioned at a few places,” said Raju Rao from Andhra Pradesh.

VHP activists camping and coordinating the arrival and departure of kar sevaks confirm that there were at least 4,000 volunteers who had reached the site by this afternoon. They are expecting another lot by nightfall.

“It is not true that the administration is sending back kar sevaks,” said VHP activist S. Sharma. “In fact, they haven’t even come here for any kind of checking. Go to Ramsevakpuram and you will find 10,000 kar sevaks.”

Caught on the backfoot, a senior police official, who does not want to be quoted, said: “We are making attempts at stopping them, but it is true that a few are still making their way to Karsevakpuram. When vehicles are stopped they get down and start walking. How can we stop that?”

At times, the administration offers the excuse that kar sevaks coming in claim they are visiting Ayodhya to meet their families. But it is not difficult to make out that Raju Rao, for instance, cannot belong to Ayodhya. He can barely speak two correct sentences of Hindi.


New Delhi, March 1: 
The Supreme Court today stayed implementation of the new National Council for Educational Research and Training syllabus, to have been introduced from the forthcoming academic year in schools across the country.

The National Curriculum Framework for Secondary Education was mired in controversy with many educationists describing it as an attempt to “saffronise” school syllabi.

Issuing the interim stay, a three-judge bench of Chief Justice S.P. Bharucha, Justice Shivraj V. Patil and Justice Bisheshwar Prasad Singh adjourned the matter for two weeks.

The stay came on a PIL by social activist Aruna Roy, former editor of Hindustan Times and Indian Express, B.G. Verghese, Meena Radhakrishna Tyabji and others.

The petitioners’ counsel, Fali Nariman, contended that the decision to change the syllabus was taken without consulting the Central Advisory Board on Education, the apex body on education policy comprising education ministers of all states and Union Territories.

The bench also issued notices to the human resource development ministry, the Central Board for Secondary Education (CBSE), the NCERT and the National Human Rights Commission. The respondents have been given two weeks to reply to the PIL.

The order has come at a time when new text books have been printed and are ready to enter classrooms in the academic session beginning this April.

NCERT counsel M.N. Krishnamani contended the parliamentary sub-committee, formed in 1990 to look into the change of syllabus, had recommended the introduction of “spiritual education” and “value-based subjects” on the basis of which the new syllabus had been prepared. The committee was headed by Congress member S.B. Chavan.

Appearing for the Centre, additional solicitor general Mukul Rohtagi dismissed the allegation that the new syllabus was an attempt to “saffronise” education.

Rohtagi requested the court not to pass an interim order and said he would come back with the response of the Union government.

Nariman contended that the Centre, CBSE and the NCERT had not “consulted the Central Advisory Board on Education despite the fact that the National Policy Education, 1986, clearly states that the advisory board shall be consulted on issues relating to education”.

“All the respondents have deleted portions of existing text books without the permission of the concerned authors”, the petitioners alleged. References to beef eating, varnashrama dharma and the Hindu tradition of sacrificing cows had been deleted, they said.

The petitioners charged the Centre of “promoting political and religious ideology favoured by some sections of the ruling regime”.

Enron petitions

The Supreme Court today disposed of a batch of petitions by the US multinational Enron against the Maharashtra State Electricity Board in the Dabhol Power Project.

But the court kept open “all questions regarding enforceability of letter of credit No.39 of 1999”, as the parties decided to withdraw the petition by consent.

After the disposal of the writ petition before Bombay High Court on the question of jurisdiction of the Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission, the parties will be free to adopt appropriate proceedings. Such proceedings, if instituted, would be decided on merit.


Mumbai, March 1: 
The flavours of the season are strictly Arabic — strawberry, apricot, apple, green apple, flowing gently from a hookah.

Pool parlours have been overtaken as chill-out zones in the city. Mumbai is hooked by hookahs as the latest in cool is an Arabian night (or day) in a “sheesha bar”, or hookah joint. Here’s an assortment of health-inducing, delicately-crafted, glass-bottomed, metal-stemmed “sheeshas” — Turkish for hookahs — which would look straight out of bygone Persia if they were not updated for contemporary consumption.

With negligible tobacco content, the hookahs are fruit-flavoured. They are said to help digestion. The mint-flavoured hookah reportedly is good for a bad cough.

At Koyla, a cane-and-bamboo sheesha bar on a terrace by the sea that kicked off in December, things happen in the night. The ambience may not be purely Arabic (“it’s an ethnic village setting. You may call it Mexican. No, make it Bali,” says Abu Farhan Azmi, partner and son of Samajwadi Party leader Abu Azmi) but the mood is carried over pure from the Gulf.

At Mocha, the ambience is more Persia, except for Mumbai’s hip spread out in groups in the low sofas. The light is soft and so is the mood.

Mocha, too, started out in December and hasn’t looked back since. “There are 40-45 regulars already,” says Ismail Abdul Salam, the manager. “Even doctors come here.”

Hookahs are cool,” says Riya, a college-goer who drops in at Mocha often, drawing from a strawberry hookah. “There’s no real tobacco in it. And you can sit for hours with a hookah without burning a hole in your pocket.”

A hookah at Mocha, which also serves coffee of several kinds, costs Rs 150. It lasts 45 minutes. The double-barrelled hookah, from which two people can smoke together, costs Rs 200. Koyla is even cheaper — a hookah there costs just Rs 100. The perfect places to hang out.

Olive, a place to be seen at, and Maroush, a Lebanese restaurant in Grand Maratha Sheraton, have also started fruit hookah very recently. But they are more for the serious socialite with heavy purses, as they cost Rs 250 upwards.

The idea of serving hookahs came to him because of the visitors that come to the city from the Gulf and the Arab countries, says Azmi. The concept of sheesha bars has been imported directly from there. “In Egypt, Syria and Jordan, hookah bars are very common. They also use the same fruit flavours,” says Riyaaz Amlani, the owner, Mocha. The fruit flavours, just tinged with tobacco to keep them burning, are imported from Dubai.


Maintained by Web Development Company