RSS repeats safety sermon for minorities
Godhra out of terror law net
24 hours to shift shilas
Pandavas named for hockey team
CPM wake-up call to NDA partners
House panel bars entry of foreign newspapers
SC clears ‘untainted’ books
Sinha hints at postal hike rollback
Jessop fight to ILO
Hotel awaits court order

 
 
RSS REPEATS SAFETY SERMON FOR MINORITIES 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 22: 
The RSS today stuck to its resolution that minorities should earn the “goodwill” of the majority community for their own security.

Former sarsanghchalak K.S. Sudarshan defended the Sangh’s stand at its first meeting with representatives of one of the minority communities since the resolution was passed at its annual meeting in Bangalore last week. He said the resolution had only made a “statement of fact”.

John Joseph, a member of the National Commission for Minorities, arranged the meeting between Sangh patriarchs and Christian leaders in Bangalore to convey the Christian community’s “deep sense of anguish” at the RSS resolution, which, he said, was tantamount to a threat against the minorities.

“The meeting was brief and it was not a dialogue,” said Donald D’Souza, deputy general secretary of the Catholic Bishop Conference of India. D’Souza said Christians are upset at the way the RSS is trying to create divisions among people and whip up hatred. “We hope that the continued criticism of the resolution from all sections of the people will drive some good sense into the RSS,” he said.

But Sudarshan held firm. “We must have good relations with each other. Minorities must have good relations with the majority for their safety,” he said. The RSS leader dredged up names like Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi to buttress his argument and also left open the issue of carrying the ashes of the Godhra victims to different parts of the country.

Sudarshan claimed that during the Meenakshipuram conversions, Indira Gandhi had told a group of Muslim MPs they “must learn to live with the majority community”. Jawaharlal Nehru also told students at Aligarh Muslim University that “he was proud of our culture and they should feel the same pride about our ancestors”, he added.

The RSS, Sudarshan stressed, has not made any distinction between the majority and the minority communities. But “those who call themselves minorities should cultivate good relations”, he underlined.

Even the BJP, which has been teetering between its ideological commitment and compulsions of running a coalition government, has refused to criticise the resolution, he pointed out.

   

 
 
GODHRA OUT OF TERROR LAW NET 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, March 22: 
They were booked under the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance, but the Godhra accused will be prosecuted under general law, chief minister Narendra Modi today said.

The Ordinance does not hold after the anti-terror Bill was defeated in the Rajya Sabha yesterday. Around 60 people from the minority community were booked for the carnage under the anti-terror law that has now to be cleared by a joint session of Parliament.

The chief minister had come under attack for selectively booking minorities under the anti-terror Ordinance, while not applying the same law to arrest those accused for burning to death Congress MP Ehsaan Jafri.

Modi claimed that those raising a hue and cry against the government were doing it with a “specific objective to malign and defame the government”.

Violence continued to take a toll in the state, though Ahmedabad remained largely peaceful with curfew being in place in some sensitive pockets since last night. Two persons were stabbed to death in separate incidents in Baroda this afternoon. Curfew was reimposed in parts of the city after the renewed burst of violence.

Baroda was also tense last night when two rival groups clashed near the railway station. The groups started throwing stones at each other when a train was passing by. A few stones also hit the Mumbai-bound Baroda Express, giving anxious moments to passengers, some of whom feared a Godhra rerun.

Like Baroda, Godhra continued to simmer today with a mob setting fire to some shops and autorickshaws hours before a National Human Rights Commission team was to visit the place. “But the situation was immediately brought under control,” a top police official said.

Normality appeared a long way off in Godhra. Muslims have decided not to bring out a tazia procession during Moharram this time. Hindus have been urged to reciprocate by not observing Holi.

Modi has welcomed the decision of the Tazia Committee to not take out processions and has appealed to Hindus to tone down their celebrations. He has hailed the VHP’s decision not to go ahead with its proposed asthi yatra, but the VHP could barely conceal its embarrassment.

On Tuesday, state VHP vice-president Haresh Bhatt had said his outfit could not be bothered about the what the NDA partners or any party thought about its actions. But today, Bhatt was hard-pressed to explain his party’s about-turn. He admitted that he had not expected “so much reaction, so much hostility” to the proposed yatra.

   

 
 
24 HOURS TO SHIFT SHILAS 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Ayodhya, March 22: 
The row over the shilas “donated” to the Union government for the Ayodhya temple threatened to snowball today after angry sadhus gave the district administration 24 hours to remove the marble slabs from the Dashrath Mahal temple here.

“Otherwise, we will be forced to take some extreme step,” Mahant Devendraprasad Acharya, head priest of the temple, said.

The sadhus — at loggerheads with both the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas chairman Ramchandra Das Paramhans — will meet Faizabad district magistrate B.P. Mishra tomorrow morning. “If the talks to remove the shilas fail, we will take direct action,” Satyendra Prasad Acharya, head priest of the Ram Janmabhoomi temple, said.

Paramhans had handed over the carved stones to the Prime Minister’s emissary, Shatrughan Singh, who was rushed to Ayodhya to defuse the crisis, on March 15.

Led by Devendraprasad, the sadhus had yesterday threatened to dump the shilas in a gutter if the administration refused to take any action on them. Today, 15 mahants of important temples and seven other leaders, including former MP Vishwanath Das Shastri, met to pass two resolutions.

They decided to “meet the DM and remove the shilas legally”, or work out a plan to take matters into their own hands. “That means we can storm the enclosure where the shilas are kept, break open the lock and throw the shilas in a nullah or go on an indefinite fast to pressure the administration to take our demand seriously,” Nawal Kishore Shastri, chief trustee of the Ramalaya Trust, said.

A growing number of sadhus say the two pillars were kept in the Dashrath Mahal temple “illegally” and without their knowledge. “I was in Chhattisgarh on March 15 when the two shilas were donated to the government by Paramhans in a sham of a ceremony,” Devendraprasad said. “When I came back the next day, I found that the stones were kept in my temple without my permission. I refuse to have them here. They have blood on them.”

The mahant also contended that because of the shilas no prayer was taking place at the temple. “Moreover,” he said, “the shilas have got unwanted attention and subversive elements can target us.”

However, the latest controversy points to a deeper schism within the sadhu community and the VHP. While Paramhans was practically left alone as he performed the shila daan before a motley crowd on March 15, there were sadhus in the gathering who were openly abusing VHP working president Ashok Singhal for “letting them down”.

Even the vice-president of the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, Nritya Gopal Das, thought it prudent to stay away from the ceremony.

   

 
 
PANDAVAS NAMED FOR HOCKEY TEAM 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, March 22: 
A senior Cabinet minister belonging to the BJP today gave vent to his anger against the allies, calling them “perennial cribbers”.

Hours after a ginger group met to work out a strategy to fight saffron harliners, the minister went hammer and tongs at the allies whom he had earlier dubbed the “Panch Pandavas”.

“Indian hockey would have benefited immensely if these leaders — Sudip Bandopadhyay (Trinamul Congress), Yerran Naidu (Telugu Desam), Devendra Prasad Yadav (Janata Dal-United), Prabhunath Singh (Samata Party) and Sushil Kumar Indora (Indian National Lok Dal) — played as forwards. Our hockey would have improved and we would have won medals, if they had not wasted their time here,” the Union minister said.

They are “secondary citizens” in their own parties, the minister claimed. The leaders of their organisations, such as Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu, defence minister George Fernandes and labour minister Sharad Yadav, did not have any problem with the NDA, he said.

The minister was galled that, despite Vajpayee’s advice, these leaders held a meeting that was also attended by Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee, Ali Mohammed Naik of the National Conference and Jainarain Prasad Nishad of the Lok Janashakti Party. Mamata was authorised to convey their feelings at the NDA meeting called by the Prime Minister this evening.

“Who is Yerran Naidu to authorise Mamata Banerjee, when Chandrababu Naidu had not authorised him to join the ginger group?” the Union minister asked.

Devendra Yadav , who had clashed with Bajrang Dal convener Vinay Katiyar in the Lok Sabha, bore the brunt of the criticism. “He sits for five minutes in the chair and for the next five minutes he is on TV channels.”

DMK warning

Even as the Prime Minister called NDA partners for a meeting to discuss the VHP’s renewed impetus to the “Hindutva agenda”, the DMK, a key ally, warned against religious revivalism.

DMK chief M. Karunanidhi slammed the RSS’ Bangalore resolution, which said the security of minorities hinged on the “goodwill of the majority”.

“This sounds like an echo of utterly outdated bourgeois arrogance and seems to preface a new edition of Manu’s Dharma Shastra,” Karunanidhi said.

   

 
 
CPM WAKE-UP CALL TO NDA PARTNERS 
 
 
FROM TAMAL SENGUPTA AND G.S. RADHAKRISHNA
 
Hyderabad, March 22: 
Realising that it would be impossible for the CPM to throw the BJP-led government at the Centre out of power, the party today urged NDA partners to walk out of the coalition as the saffron party was pursuing the VHP agenda.

CPM politburo member Prakash Karat said many NDA partners had disapproved of the VHP’s temple plans “but it is not sufficient. This is high time for them to take a clear-cut stand. Either they have to come out of the coalition or they have to surrender before the BJP (-led) government which is practically implementing the programmes of the VHP”.

However, Karat did not expect all such partners to join the third front, which was recently revived under the leadership of Jyoti Basu. “We don’t want these partners to come to our side overnight. But they should take a specific stand and would have to decide whether they will continue in the coalition government. The secular fabric of the country will be ruined if we allow the BJP-led government to function anymore,” he said.

“We are ready for any poll adjustment in future with regional parties after they withdraw support from the NDA government,” Karat added.

Another politburo member, Sitaram Yechuri, did not rule out the possibility of the imminent fall of the Central government. “The BJP (-led) government’s move to pass the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance Bill in the Rajya Sabha has failed. We consider it a major blow on the government. We do not rule out the possibility of a major split among the NDA partners,” Yechuri said.

The CPM’s appeal to the NDA partners evoked mixed reactions in political circles here. Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu accused the CPM of using double standards.

Speaking to partymen at the NTR Bhavan, Naidu said the CPM has made an adjustment with the Congress in Parliament but speaks of having no “truck” with them. “Such double standards will not gel in politics.”

The Desam chief ruled out any possibility of an immediate withdrawal of support from the Centre. However, he made it clear that the support was on the basis of the national agenda of governance and that the party would not tolerate any deviation. “We made it clear to the BJP. We will not compromise on this,” Naidu said.

The party provides outside support to the Centre and is not part of the government.

“We have condemned the communal turmoil in Gujarat in very harsh terms. Besides, law and order is a state subject for which the NDA government is not to be blamed as it had nothing to do with it, Naidu said.

The 17th congress of the CPM criticised the leadership for its failure to educate members and help them improve political consciousness. Party general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet and politburo member S. Ramchandran Pillai today placed the political-organisational report before the congress.

The number of party members has increased by 11 per cent from 78,428 since the 16th congress in Calcutta in 1998. “But we are not happy with the figures only. We have failed to educate our members. We are going to set up an academy in Kerala where we will train our members. Even politburo and central committee members would have to undergo training,” Karat said.

The leadership is also worried about the poor growth of the party outside Kerala, Tripura and Bengal. “It is a fact that we have failed to strengthen our organisation except in three states. We have to find out the reasons,” Karat said. Kerala has the maximum number of CPM members (3,01,562) followed by Bengal with 2,45,026.

   

 
 
HOUSE PANEL BARS ENTRY OF FOREIGN NEWSPAPERS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 22: 
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology has said it is in favour of foreign direct investment for publication of scientific and technical journals but has rejected the proposal to allow FDI in print media companies dealing with news and current affairs.

The committee also does not want foreign publishing companies to be given permits to begin Indian editions of their newspapers and magazines.

Late last year, the Union Cabinet had given its nod to FDI for scientific and technical journals but had said the decision will be implemented only after the standing committee report was tabled. The Union information and broadcasting ministry was also toying with the idea of allowing FDI in print media — barred by a 1955 Cabinet resolution — but had kept its proposal in abeyance as the report was due.

In its 151-page report (including nine notes of dissent), the committee said it was “not in favour of allowing foreign newspapers and periodicals which deal mainly with news and current affairs to bring out Indian editions or to allow foreign shareholding in any form in the Indian print media sector”.

In his note of dissent, Narendra Mohan said the report “does not take into account the latest developments in the media sector and how the world over there has been convergence in print media and communication convergence has become the talk of the day”.

If shares of Indian print media companies are not bought by foreign investors, the share value of such companies will go down, he said. Mohan also wanted print media companies to be allowed to raise funds from the capital market at home and abroad. He said the committee’s discussion on the 1955 Cabinet resolution was “biased”.

The committee said foreign scientific and technical journals may be allowed in India in collaboration with “competent Indian publishers in the interest of students and the scientific community”.

The committee said the news industry should not be treated like other conventional businesses. Foreign equity in the print media would have the potential of “polluting” the cultural life and changing the “basic orientation” of the Indian mind.

“The argument advanced by those who supported the entry of foreign media or foreign investment in the print media is that since the foreign entry into electronic media has been permitted, there is little sense in insulating the print media against foreign entry. According to them, the hold of electronic media on the public mind is far greater than that of the print media.

“On the other hand, those who are opposed to the foreign investment argue that the influence of the print media on the public mind is far greater than that of the electronic media and the entry of foreign media companies in whatever form will ultimately succeed in manipulating the minds of the people and destroying our culture,” the report noted.

   

 
 
SC CLEARS ‘UNTAINTED’ BOOKS 
 
 
FROM OUR LEGAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 22: 
The Supreme Court today allowed printing and sale of “non-controversial” NCERT textbooks, temporarily ending the row over “saffronisation of education”.

A three-judge bench of Chief Justice S.P. Bharucha, Justice S.N. Phukan and Justice Shivraj V. Patil modified an earlier order of a total stay on all textbooks prescribed for the coming academic session. But the stay on social sciences, history and Hindi textbooks remains.

The modified order came on an application by the Central government and NCERT, contending that baseless allegations were being made in the public interest litigation on alleged “attempts to saffronise” the school syllabus. The applications, seeking direction to vacate the stay, argued that students should not suffer as their new session was fast approaching.

The PIL was filed by a group that included social activist and Magsaysay Award winner Aruna Roy, former editor of The Indian Express and Hindustan Times, B.G. Verghese, and activist Meena Radhakrishna Tyabji. Their contention was that the syllabus was changed without even consulting the Central Advisory Board on Education.

Senior counsel M.N. Krishnamani, appearing for NCERT, said the board was not re-constituted after 1994 and whatever was suggested as “addition of value education” was by a special committee which included former Chief Justice J.S. Varma and scholars like Congress MP Karan Singh.

Appearing for the Union government, solicitor-general Harish Salve denied the charges that there was a deliberate attempt to “Hindutvaise” textbooks.

However, the petitioners said “the respondents have deleted portions of existing textbooks without the permission of the authors concerned wherever the portion was found to be opposed to the so-called religious sentiments of a particular group”.

At this juncture, Salve appealed that the non-controversial books be permitted to be published. The court accepted this plea.

   

 
 
SINHA HINTS AT POSTAL HIKE ROLLBACK 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 22: 
Finance minister Yashwant Sinha today hinted at the possibility of a rollback in the hike in postal rates as announced in last month’s budget.

Winding up the discussion on the budget in the upper House, Sinha told MPs who had demanded rollbacks in several tax and price hike measures: “I will take up postal and other tax issues when the finance bill is discussed in the House (after the recess).”

Postal rates were increased by 25-100 per cent in the budget for 2002-03. The government has already bowed down to pressure from allies and cut by half the increase it had announced earlier for cooking gas.

However, it stood firm on another unpopular price hike — that of kerosene.

On Wednesday, Sinha also announced the lifting of the Rs 2 lakh ceiling on investment in Government of India Relief Bonds for all retiring employees.

The Rajya Sabha today passed the vote on account for 2002-03, which allows the government to use money from the exchequer till the Union budget for the year is passed.

The vote on account for the first two months of the financial year 2002-2003 amounted to about Rs 1,34,848 crore. The Lok Sabha had cleared it earlier.

The Rajya Sabha also returned supplementary demands for grants for 2001-2002 and excess demands for grants for 1998-99 and relevant appropriation bills.

Sinha tried to defend the government’s rather tough budget, stating that the difficult fiscal situation had forced him to take “unpopular measures”.

   

 
 
JESSOP FIGHT TO ILO 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 22: 
The CPI’s labour arm, the Aituc, today wrote to the International Labour Organisation, drawing its attention to the Centre’s “unheard-of atrocities” on the trade union movement and said it would strive to prevent handover of public sector unit Jessop to a private firm.

“This has been deliberately done to terrorise the worker and employees, to break the movement and suppress legitimate trade union activity. We are also drawing the attention of the human rights commission as the right to take part in a trade union movement is a basic human right. We shall also approach the court for remedy,” said Aituc general secretary Gurudas Dasgupta.

He alleged that the Jessop management, under the instruction from the Centre, had decided to suspend Aloke Brahmachari, one of the leaders of the save-Jessop movement. Dasgupta added that his union would fight against the government’s “Draconian” move.

   

 
 
HOTEL AWAITS COURT ORDER 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 22: 
The management of the government-run Great Eastern Hotel is awaiting a copy of yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling, which has come down heavily on the state government for the manner in which tenants were evicted from the hotel’s premises in 1997.

“We are waiting for a copy of the judgment. If it directs us to take back the tenants, we will welcome them,” member-secretary of the Great Eastern Hotel Authority, K.P. Sinha, said today.

He clarified that the tenants in question were 27 shop-owners, running commercial establishments on the ground floor of the hotel and on two floors on 29, Waterloo Street, adjacent to the hotel. Reports today indicated that those thrown out during the eviction on June 29, 1997, were occupants or residents of the hotel.

The Great Eastern Hotel was established in 1840. It was called the Auckland Hotel then. The state took over management control in 1975. Five years later, the Great Eastern Hotel (acquisition of undertaking) Act was passed and it was this legislation which the government used while evicting the tenants. These tenants were served notices in 1994, when talks of privatisation were on in full strength.

Calcutta High Court had rejected a writ petition by the state government and held that respondents, Vishnunarayan and Associates (P) Ltd, were genuine legal tenants. The government then appealed against the ruling in the apex court, adds our legal correspondent from Delhi.

The Supreme Court upheld Calcutta High Court’s ruling that the eviction, using police force, could not be carried out on genuine legal tenants, who have been so for years. Criticising the state government for the action, the apex court said the manner in which the eviction was carried out was “destructive of the basic principles of law”.

A division bench of Justices Syed Shah Mohammad Quadri and S.N. Phukan said: “We hold that the action of the state government cannot be justified in law and accordingly we uphold the judgment of the high court.”

The apex court said the provisions of the West Bengal Premises Tenancy Act, 1997, could be invoked to evict any person “who is not a tenant or who remains in occupation of any government premises without written order of the prescribed authority”.

   
 

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