Class enemy turns comrade
Mayor cuts into councillor turf
Fee to replace poll cards
Feather smugglers in airport cage
MLA kin kidnap
Mayavati nudges UP closer to President’s rule
Mamata murmurs, others wait
BJP makes hero of riot ‘villain’
Lonely Samata voice for Modi in NDA
Gender-test default summons to Bengal

 
 
CLASS ENEMY TURNS COMRADE 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, March 5: 
Landlords, traders and big farmers, pet hates of the ruling CPM till recently, are finding themselves in exalted positions in the party, which positions itself as a sarbaharar dal (party of the downtrodden).

The CPM’s shedding of the proletarian character is evident from the induction of its “class enemies” into the leadership, as indicated by the report of the party’s credential committee prepared on last month’s state conference. The report shows that representations of workers, labourers and poor farmers in the leadership is dipping and that jotedars, traders and rich farmers are taking their places.

CPM state secretary Anil Biswas does not agree. “It would be wrong to conclude this. Our party has expanded and is expanding because we are able to round up support from the downtrodden.” He, however, avoided a direct answer on the presence of landlords, traders and kulaks in the party leadership.

Contrasting sharply with Biswas’ comments, the credential committee report showed that only 23 delegates to the conference represented the working class this year, compared to 34 three years ago. Similarly, 13 agricultural labourers and 49 poor farmers attended the conference this year, compared to 14 and 50, respectively, in the 1998 party conference.

On the other hand, there were 30 jotedar and 17 rich farmer delegates to this year’s meet, compared to only 24 and 12 in 1998. The number of trader delegates has also increased from 8 to 15.

The credential committee report also revealed the sharp rise in the monthly income of those attending the party’s state conference. While during the 1998 state conference there were only 26 delegates with monthly incomes above Rs 10,000, this year there were 81 delegates with average monthly incomes of about Rs 10,000. There were only 88 delegates whose monthly income varied between Rs 5,000 and Rs 10,000.

The report indicated that the average monthly income of party delegates has gone up from Rs 3,706 in 1998 to Rs 5,716 in 2002, clearly suggesting that the number of rich party members is increasing by the day.

According to the report the highest number of delegates were elected from the middle class, who are considered as the most “opportunist class” by orthodox Marxists.

There was no delegate in the recently concluded state conference from among physicians and chartered accountants. The report also suggested that there was no delegate below the age of 30 at this year’s conference, while there were 53 delegates who were more than 70 years old.

The credential committee report of the party showed that while there were 43 women delegates at the 1998 state conference, there were 49 women delegates this year.

   

 
 
MAYOR CUTS INTO COUNCILLOR TURF 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, March 5: 
Mayor Subrata Mukherjee today took over council member (conservancy) Mala Roy’s department, signalling a twist to their cold war. The reason cited is Roy’s “continuous absence from office without any apparent reason”.

Mukherjee did not waste time taking the decision after some conservancy officials met him this evening to say they would no longer work under Roy.

“We have decided not to serve under her any more”, they said and narrated the “misbehaviour” they had been subjected to under her.

This is the first time in the history of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation that the mayor has taken over the department of one of his council members following revolt from department officials.

“I cannot pamper someone’s ego at the cost of piling up of garbage across the length and breadth of the city,” he said.

Sources in the civic body said the department may be put under Pradip Ghosh, member mayor-in-council (slum development), who has been vying for it.

The bickering within the Trinamul Congress board running the corporation gave the CPM a handle to poke fun at its rival. Leader of the opposition in the CMC Nirmal Mukherjee contacted Roy to tell her he was eager to see her as the first woman mayor of Calcutta.

CMC sources said half-a-dozen other members of the council, who have not reported for work since Monday, were grouping with Roy against the mayor.

The Mukherjee-Roy spat peaked last week when an expert team from the Gas Authority of India had come to visit Dhapa in search of methane gas at the mayor’s request. Roy had asked the chief engineer (conservancy), Arun Sarkar, not to attend the visiting team despite the mayor’s directive. Apparently, she even threatened Sarkar and the municipal commissioner, Debasis Som. Roy has not been attending office since this episode last Wednesday.

Mukherjee held a meeting with Som and Sarkar after taking over the department.

   

 
 
FEE TO REPLACE POLL CARDS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 5: 
Voters’ identity cards will no longer be replaced free of charge.

Chief electoral officer Sabyasachi Sen said at Writers’ Buildings today his office would begin issuing photo-identity cards by July. “Those who get the identity cards for the first time will not have to pay any fee. But the Election Commission has decided to realise a fee for issuing fresh cards to replace lost ones,” he said.

Defective cards and those damaged because of natural calamities will, however, be replaced free of cost, Sen said. Though the replacement rate has not yet been fixed, it could range between Rs 15 and Rs 19, the chief electoral officer said.

“We are yet to receive any guideline. We expect the directive to reach us once the process of revision of the voters’ list is complete in April,” he said.

The state electoral office will publish the revised voters’ list on April 12. Tomorrow is the last day for inclusion and deletion of voters’ names. The hearing will continue till March 20, Sen added.

   

 
 
FEATHER SMUGGLERS IN AIRPORT CAGE 
 
 
BY OUR AIRPORT REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 5: 
Six passengers were arrested from the city airport today on charges of smuggling peacock feathers.

An anonymous caller told sub-inspector Anjan Dutta of airport police station that peacocks feathers were being smuggled, airport sources said. The caller added that the group was headed by one Kamalesh Gupta.

Gupta and five others, who were on board the Bangkok-bound IA flight were taken off the flight and arrested. The six, who belonged to Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, were trying to smuggle 140 kg of feathers in cloth bags.

Teacher’s murder case

The case of the murder of a local school teacher has been cracked with the arrest today of a Darjeeling district Trinamul Congress leader, police claimed.

Bharat Chandra Roy, a 36-year-old teacher at the Siliguri Boys’ Higher Secondary School had been found on the road on February 15 with his throat slit.

Police arrested Sanjay Paul, a 26-year-old Trinamul member. Paul “maintains he had kept Roy confined in a room”, police said.

   

 
 
MLA KIN KIDNAP 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, March 5: 
Last evening’s abduction of Assam Congress MLA Chandan Sarkar’s son was a joint operation by Ulfa and KLO, according to Jalpaiguri police.

However, Sarkar’s sister said her brother was “not ready to pinpoint anyone” adding that the family had not received any ransom demand.

Sarkar’s son, Pradeep, was kidnapped at gunpoint from Joteswar Hat under Falakata police station by three armed miscreants, eyewitnesses said.

“Roy’s eldest son was snatched at gunpoint by militants armed with sophisticated weapons, including a carbine while he was sitting on his motorcycle talking to friends at a club at Joteswar Hat around 8 pm,” police said, quoting eyewitnesses.

“Two of the abductors had Rajbonshi features. Two miscreants — one banishing a revolver and the other a sophisticated carbine — sandwiched Pradeep on his own motorcycle while the third rode the scooter they had come in,” the police said.

“Eyewitness accounts said the abductors had taken the road to Lalmamdabri-Salkumar forest and were heading towards the Jaldhapara Sanctuary,” the police added. Police have launched a combing operation in the Jaldhapara Wildlife Sanctuary bordering Bhutan.

Senior police officials are supervising the combing operations in the Jaldhapara jungles by a massive force including district commandos.

   

 
 
MAYAVATI NUDGES UP CLOSER TO PRESIDENT’S RULE 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, March 5: 
Uttar Pradesh could be heading for President’s rule. Yet again.

Tired of the pressure politics being played by the BJP even after expressing its “wish to stay in the Opposition’’, Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayavati today called Governor Vishnu Kant Shastri and told him that the BSP, with its 98 MLAs, has “decided’’ to sit in the Opposition.

This leaves Shastri with little choice but to recommend President’s rule.

Though Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav has staked claim to form the new government, Shastri seems to be in no mood to invite him.

Dismissing the Samajwadi claims to sit in power by virtue of being the single largest party — it won 145 seats along with allies in the third front — the Governor has emphasised that his priority is “stability”.

Indications from Raj Bhavan are clear: the Samajwadis don’t qualify.

The BJP and the BSP are also in no position to form a government unless they come together.

The Samajwadi, however, is crying foul. Let down by a Governor who they feel “refuses to see reason”, the party is now mulling legal options.

A group of high court lawyers supporting the Samajwadi has announced that it would file a public interest litigation tomorrow seeking a court directive dissolving the Assembly and directing Shastri to invite Mulayam to form the government.

Led by A.K. Agarwal of Allhabad High Court, the lawyers will also demand that Mulayam be given a month to prove his majority on the floor of the House rather than in the Raj Bhavan as Shastri has been insisting on.

Samajwadi insiders feel this period will be enough for Mulayam to either break a party or cobble up a rag tag majority. “The smell of power is very strong. Our party has received assurances from other MLAs that they would come out in support of Mulayam Singh. Their only condition is that he should be called to prove his majority in the Assembly,’’ said a Samajwadi legislator.

The party is also resorting to other pressure tactics to “rein in the Governor”, whose role is already being questioned. Tomorrow, the Samajwadi has called a state-wide dharna to protest what they allege to be the Governor’s “delaying tactics and his partisan policy”.

Shastri, however, is unfazed. “My role will be decided by the people,” he said. Posterity would best comment on the fairness of his “final decision’’, he added.

With the 14-member Lok Dal assuring Shastri that there is “no question’’ of supporting Mulayam, the spotlight is again on the 25-member Congress.

But two questions are doing the rounds. Will the Congress punish Mulayam for what it perceives to be an injustice to Sonia Gandhi in 1999? Or will it forgive him for the “greater cause’’ of a “secular, non-BJP’’ government in Uttar Pradesh. The Congress is meeting Shastri tomorrow.

If the Congress does support the Samajwadi, Mulayam will have to garner the support of 31 more MLAs. Samajwadi leaders said the process of enticing legislators will be easier if the Congress comes along. If that does not happen, Shastri has only one option — the “last option’’ as he had said earlier.

The other thing that the Governor can hope for is that the BSP and the BJP stop their game of political brinkmanship. Shastri is hoping one of them blinks first.

   

 
 
MAMATA MURMURS, OTHERS WAIT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 5: 
The lone NDA ally to oppose the Centre’s move on Ayodhya, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress today said the formula would only “aggravate” tension between Hindus and Muslims.

All the other partners are preferring to “wait and watch” to assess the mood on either side before coming out with a formal response to the proposed settlement.

“We oppose the move and do not want the land to be handed over to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. It will not lead to any cooling of tempers,” said Trinamul MP Sudip Bandyopadhyay after party leaders met here tonight to discuss the situation in the temple town. But he evaded replying when asked if his party would withdraw support to the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.

Last week, most of the allies were hammering away at the government for its failure to control the Gujarat flare-up. But they are treading cautiously now on the larger question of construction of a Ram temple.

“Since the matter is sub judice, every party should abide by the court decision,” said Telugu Desam MP Yerran Naidu, whose party holds the key to the survival of the Vajpayee government at the Centre.

Devendra Prasad Yadav of the Janata Dal (United) said “any breakthrough must be seen in the light of a constructive dialogue between the two sides”.

Observers say political equations between the BJP and its allies could have been jolted if the communal frenzy had persisted as the violence was threatening to alienate the minority vote bank of the partners. This was one issue on which the allies could have dredged up “political will” and pulled down the government.

When Gujarat was burning, Desam chief Chandrababu Naidu mounted pressure on the Prime Minister to act, while Trinamul and Dal (U) leaders went into a huddle to devise a course of action that would take care of their public “image”.

Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi’s sudden death in a helicopter crash seems to have delayed some of the tactical moves planned by the allies. Trinamul and the Dal (U) had planned to submit a memorandum to the Prime Minister on the Gujarat carnage. “Now we will resume our plans after the three days of national mourning are over,” said a leader.

Of the 21 allies, the Desam, Trinamul and the Dal (U) have been the most restive. “Even the DMK is seething inside,” said an NDA leader. All the three allies maintain that the government should not yield to Hindu fundamentalist groups on the Ayodhya issue. “This was not part of the NDA agenda,” said Yadav.

But none of the grumbling partners is readily going to ditch the Vajpayee government, which has propped them up at the Centre with ministerial berths. “In a way they are as dependent on the government as it is on them,” said an Opposition leader, though the communal outrage drove them to a point where they considered quitting might be the only way to save their “honour”.

What the allies are “praying” for, sources say, is a formula that would quieten the rage, even if temporarily. A solution that is acceptable not only to the majority but also to the minority community.

   

 
 
BJP MAKES HERO OF RIOT ‘VILLAIN’ 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 5: 
Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi may be the “villain” of the communal mayhem and carnage for the Opposition and the common man, but for the BJP’s central ministers, leaders and the rank-and-file he has emerged as a “hero”.

“He has salvaged the party’s credibility and honour in a way no one has done after we came to power in the Centre,” said a Central minister known for his pro-Hindutva leanings.

But another from the “liberal” stream said much the same as well. “For the first time in years, we have had an upsurge of popular sentiment that brought together Dalits, tribals and middle-class Hindus on the same platform,” he said.

After its debacle in the recent Assembly elections, especially in Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal, there was a feeling within the party that giving up on the Hindutva plank was a prime reason.

“It’s not as if Ram mandir was a big issue. But the problem was the BJP had failed to deliver on the governance front. We made tall promises about food for all, jobs and what not. But at the end of the day there was nothing. We lost out on Ram and roti,” said a senior leader.

BJP sources said the cadre’s perception was that its leaders and some of those from the RSS had compromised on Hindutva in the pursuit of power.

“They told us the VHP alone had managed to stick to the principles and ideology for which the Sangh was founded,” they said.

It was pointed out that finally, it was ideology that “won”.

“Modi was the only one who had the guts to defend what happened in his state without batting an eyelid or being red-faced. He did not say one thing one day and another the next day,” BJP sources said.

While the Prime Minister had initial misgivings about resurrecting the temple card, the sources claimed that seeing the “Hindu upsurge” after the Godhra killings, he had no choice but accept it as the party’s “surest mascot”.

According to these sources, contrary to perceptions, Atal Bihari Vajpayee was “extremely happy” with Modi and balked at any suggestion to sack him. He told a delegation of citizens concerned over Gujarat that the media was largely to be blamed for the blood-letting when they called on him last week.

The BJP’s reading was that the immediate “positive” fallout of Gujarat was it re-established the link between the government and the cadre.

“Our rank and file was feeling restive about giving up the Hindutva issues. It also felt alienated from the leaders. This is one reason why we lost the elections. No party can afford to ignore its cadre and hope to retain its strength,” said sources.

According to the party’s assessment, the other factor leading to the poll debacle was the failure of the development plank. “We used this development card to create smaller states much against the wishes of our allies. The Shiv Sena and the Akali Dal did not want them. We gave attractive financial packages to Uttaranchal and what happened? The people voted against us,” said a Central minister.

Lastly, the party felt the return of the Ayodhya issue to the forefront had deflected people’s attention from the electoral rout as well as the budget.

2 slain in ‘normal’ state

The Gujarat government today claimed that the situation was “absolutely normal” but two women were beaten to death in a village 40 km from Godhra. One person died when police opened fire on a mob in the same area.

“The day passed off peacefully and the situation today was absolutely peaceful,” home secretary K. Nityanandam said. “It has recorded phenomenal improvement, with no incident, not even (of a) minor nature reported in the last 24 hours.”

Banks, shops and other business establishments were open while state transport buses were back on the roads, though in limited numbers. In Ahmedabad, the municipal bus service did not resume.

With the situation improving, the state government is considering whether the army could be withdrawn.

A decision is likely within two days, defence minister George Fernandes indicated here yesterday. Sarvodaya leaders organised a peace march in Ahmedabad.

   

 
 
LONELY SAMATA VOICE FOR MODI IN NDA 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 5: 
The Samata Party’s is the lone voice in the flock of NDA allies, stoutly defending Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi even after his government remained a spectator to the killing of hundreds of people in the state.

Not long ago, defence minister and Samata leader George Fernandes had criticised the Modi government for delaying the deployment of the army when Gujarat was bleeding. Today, Jaya Jaitly, the new chairperson of the party’s central parliamentary board, took a different line.

“It was not that Narendra Modi lacked the will to control the riots but he did not have the wherewithal to effectively deal with the situation,” she said at a news conference this afternoon.

Jaitly demanded an inquiry into the Godhra incident but not into the post-Godhra riots, piled blame on the Opposition in Delhi of “triggering” the killings, and said police did not have the “equipment” to bring the situation under control. “The entire political class in Delhi kept quiet on the Godhra incident and this added to the tension,” the Samata chief said.

However, her statement did not go down well with most other allies who had repeatedly urged the Prime Minister at the height of the frenzy to move the army in as fast as possible.

“There is no question of defending Narendra Modi, he carries the stigma of murder on him,” said Devendra Prasad Yadav, a Janata Dal (United) MP. None of the allies has tried to defend the indefensible, he added. None, except the Shiv Sena.

Three of the NDA allies, the Telugu Desam, the Trinamul Congress and the Dal (U) have made public their disaffection with the governments, both in Gujarat and at the Centre.

“We hold both responsible for the carnage,” they said. Desam chief and Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu had called the Prime Minister asking him to rein in the frenzy. The DMK, too, has expressed its displeasure.

At a meeting of the NDA, the allies were openly critical of the way Modi allowed the tension to spin out of control. But Jaitly held out a comforting hand for him and blamed it all on the political “expediency” of the Opposition.

“What is the point of raking up Godhra and saying it was the ISI. The government should have prevented counter retaliation,” said Yadav.

According to sources, the Samata is bogged down with its own factional politics — there is no one opinion in the party. “The MPs do not want to defend Modi though Jaya Jaitly is doing so,” said an NDA leader.

“There have been riots in the past and governments have not been able to do anything. Why are people not talking about those events?” Jaitly asked.

   

 
 
GENDER-TEST DEFAULT SUMMONS TO BENGAL 
 
 
FROM OUR LEGAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 5: 
The Supreme Court today ordered health secretaries of all states and Union Territories which have not implemented the pre-natal diagnostic test law to be present before it on April 9.

Justices M.B. Shah and Doraiswamy Raju took exception that despite repeated orders of the apex court over the last 10 months to monitor, check and arrest the practice of pre-natal sex determination, several states had not complied with the directive. West Bengal figures prominently on the defaulters list.

The order directed the states to prosecute clinics, medical centres and individuals illegally aiding and abetting identification of the sex of foetuses and assisting in abortions.

“We make it clear that there is total slackness on the part of the administration in implementing the law,” the judges had said during an earlier hearing.

The court had given all states six weeks to file status reports on the implementation of the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act along with an action taken report on the law banning female foeticide.

Bengal and several other states, including the National Capital Territory of Delhi, Bihar, Gujarat, Kerala, Jharkhand, Orissa, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh have not yet implemented the law.

In its status report filed earlier, Bengal had said there were 257 centres in the state with ultra sound machines which were registered. But the information supplied by companies manufacturing ultra sound machines to the Union government said there were 464 machines in operation in the state.

Health activist Sabu M. George, who had jointly petitioned the Supreme Court with the Centre for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes, a non-government organisation, said that in terms of compliance with the court’s order Bengal’s performance “consistently over the last 10 months” was only better than that of Orissa.

George said in the latest census, the child sex ratio had dropped from 955 to 948 girls per 1,000 boys in urban Bengal between 1991 and 2001. He said the practice of aborting female foetuses was increasing in urban areas of the state because of the proliferation of ultra sound centres.

The national figure also registered a drop in the child sex ratio in urban areas from 935 in 1991 to 903 in 2001. The corresponding figures for rural areas are 948 in 1991 and 934 in 2001. In Calcutta, the sex ratio has dropped from 954 in 1991 to 939 in 2001.

George said the recent statistics clearly showed that the practice of female foeticide was firmly entrenched in Bengal and other states as couples, keen on having sons, were going in for abortion.

   
 

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