BJP mounts save-Modi mission
Assam stirs Bengal teapot
Dalit antidote to Gujarat formula
Atal pays wheat price to Ajit
Gandhian fence around Arafat
Haldia Petro touches magic mark
Fresh faces set for CPM secretariat
Terror message behind ban
SC lawyers in Cauvery storm
Calcutta Weather

 
 
BJP MOUNTS SAVE-MODI MISSION 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
April 2: 

Riots breach Kutch barrier

As the flames of Ahmedabad spread to Kutch, an unfazed BJP sprang to the defence of Narendra Modi and claimed that he had handled the situation as best as he could.

“I am sure no other government could have handled it better. If human failures are there, they shall be set right,” BJP president Jana Krishnamurthi said a day after the National Human Rights Commission castigated the Gujarat chief minister for failing to control communal violence.

Krishnamurthi dismissed the continuing arson and killings, saying: “Riots have stopped, only individual cases are there.”

Even as Krishnamurthi spoke, indefinite curfew was clamped in the quake-ravaged town of Anjar in Kutch, which had remained an island of peace last month when several parts of the state were burning.

More than 25 shops were set ablaze and two places of worship destroyed by a mob which had given the police a deadline to nab those behind desecrating a statue. The police later said a man, who had been sent from Delhi by the ISI to foment trouble in Kutch, has been arrested for vandalising the statue.

In Delhi, the BJP chief lashed out at the Opposition for demanding Modi’s scalp. “I have not joined the ranks of the Opposition which were so critical of Modi. Unless political bias is there, such comments on Modi would not have been made,” Krishnamurthi said.

To bolster his defence of Modi, Krishnamurthi said: “In any such riot, business is most affected. When I was in Gujarat, I met chamber of commerce representatives who did not make any caustic comment on the chief minister.”

He also noted that it was only the Congress high command which vociferously sought his resignation and not the Gujarat legislature party or the state unit.

In a statement, the BJP later slammed the press for “ignoring” the rights commission’s praise of the Modi government. It said the commission had taken “good note” of the relief, rescue and rehabilitation measures and commended the officials and NGOs involved with the efforts.

But BJP general secretary, Sunil Shastri was hard put to answer when it was pointed out that the good words were meant more for individual officials than the chief minister.

Both Krishnamurthi and Shastri ruled out the possibility of Gujarat being a fit case for Central rule.

Reminded that the NDA government had recommended the Bihar government’s dismissal after just one caste riot, Krishnamurthi said: “But we asked for Central rule after Patna High Court observed that there was jungle raj in the state... ”

Asked whether the BJP had a “Kamaraj” plan to revamp the organisation after the electoral defeats, Krishnamurthi turned defensive and referred to reports hinting that he may be asked to make way for L.K. Advani.

“The chair is always vacant and I will not stand in the way of anyone occupying it. But nobody has approached me so far,” Krishnamurthi said.

   

 
 
ASSAM STIRS BENGAL TEAPOT 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Guwahati, April 2: 
The battle for the tea treasure chest is back on the boil.

The Assam Assembly today adopted a resolution that sought the relocation of headquarters of tea companies from Calcutta to the state. It said the Centre should convince the industry to persuade firms with gardens in Assam to shift their head offices, too, to the state at the earliest.

Calcutta houses headquarters of several tea companies such as Tata Tea, Goodricke, Williamson Magor, Dhunseri Tea, Eveready, George Williamson, Rossell and Warren Tea.

At stake is Rs 3,000 crore — the value of the annual transactions that take place in the headquarters — a part of which, the Assam House felt, should be spent in the state.

An all-party delegation headed by Assam Speaker Prithibi Majhi will leave for New Delhi on April 27 to submit a memorandum to the Centre.

Similar campaigns had been launched twice before, but this time a new thrust has been added. The Opposition Asom Gana Parishad legislator, Jagadish Bhuyan, who moved the resolution, said one of the reasons for the secessionist tendencies of a section of youth was deprivation of the benefits of the tea business.

His party colleague Sarbananda Sonowal echoed him. “Transactions to the tune of Rs 3,000 crore take place in Calcutta every year. As much as Rs 600 crore is used to purchase 256 items.” Sonowal said local entrepreneurs could supply materials required by the industry if the head offices were shifted to the state.

Several members of the Assembly said Assam has been deprived of its dues because all transactions in the tea business take place through the head offices in Calcutta. The state accounts for over half the country’s tea output. Of the 700 million kg of tea produced in the country, Assam’s contribution is 400 million kg.

AGP members urged the treasury benches to support the resolution and pressure captains of the industry to honour the “sentiments of the people of Assam”. They were eventually backed by the ruling Congress, the BJP and the Bodoland Demand Legislature Party.

In 1989, former chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta wrote to the then Union commerce minister, Dinesh Singh, about the need to shift head offices of tea companies to Assam.

The Union minister turned down the request, saying it was “unrealistic”. The Hiteswar Saikia-led Congress government made a similar request in 1994, but the then Union commerce minister, Pranab Mukherjee, did not oblige.

The All-Assam Students’ Union has been at the forefront of the campaign for relocation of the tea industry’s headquarters. The AGP, too, has lobbied for it, but without success.

Terming the resolution a “timely and important” one, Congress legislator Ripun Bora said his party had stated its commitment to the task in the manifesto for the May 10 Assembly elections and the last two Lok Sabha elections.

“If the Centre and the industry do not fulfil Assam’s demand, all political parties should launch a united democratic movement,” he said.

Minister of state for home and industry, Pradyut Bordoloi, said the Centre had repeatedly expressed its inability to “force” any tea company to shift its head office to Assam without the backing of a legislation.

   

 
 
DALIT ANTIDOTE TO GUJARAT FORMULA 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, April 2: 
The Sangh parivar’s newfound source of footsoldiers in Gujarat is coming under threat from an old challenger.

India’s biggest confederation of weaker sections will launch a movement in Gujarat tomorrow — a day before the Prime Minister’s tour of the riot-ravaged state — to “save the nation” and prevent Dalits from becoming the sword arm of the VHP.

Among the many new experiments tried out by the rioters in the Gujarat ‘lab’, one was the mobilisation of large number of Dalits in the rural areas against targeted victims.

“Dalits are being used for riots. I will tell them not to get involved in this Hindu-Muslim fight. The Dalits should not get carried away by the VHP and the Bajrang Dal. They should desist from being part of any violence,” Udit Raj, chief of the All-India Confederation of SC/ST Organisations, said here.

Raj, who ran afoul of the Sangh when he converted over 10,000 Dalits into Buddhism on November 4 last year, has called a meeting of all district presidents of the confederation in Ahmedabad tomorrow. The office-bearers are expected to fan out across the state with a message to the Dalits to stay away from the Sangh.

“If I can isolate the Dalits and tribals from the VHP, I will be doing a great service to the nation,” he said.

If Raj succeeds, he will also hit the BJP where it hurts most — at the hustings. The Dalits, who make up 10 per cent of the population in the state, could tilt the scales in several seats in next next year’s Assembly elections.

The confederation, which boasts a national membership of three million, will launch the Bharat Bachao Morcha in a fortnight to bring normality to Gujarat, provide relief and isolate fundamentalists of all hues.

Raj said a menacing fallout of the Gujarat carnage was social stratification. “Already, different communities have set up exclusive villages for themselves.”

He insisted that the front would be able to make a difference and cited the trend in other states. “Unlike in Gujarat and Rajasthan, Dalits in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and the southern states are not enamoured of the Sangh parivar,” he said.

“In Gujarat and Rajasthan, Dalit consciousness is low. Ambedkarism could not reach there because of the overwhelming presence of Gandhism,” Raj added.

   

 
 
ATAL PAYS WHEAT PRICE TO AJIT 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 2: 
The Union government today capitulated to agriculture minister Ajit Singh’s pressure tactics and raised the minimum support price for rabi wheat by Rs 10 per quintal to Rs 620 from Rs 610 for the marketing season 2002-03.

Singh, who has been championing the demands of the farm lobby as he tries to consolidate his solid farm support base in western Uttar Pradesh, had demanded a hike of Rs 15.

Both Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and finance minister Yashwant Sinha have been opposed to the proposal because the economics would not permit it. The country is saddled with a huge grain mountain of some 58 million tonnes, of which 30 million tonnes is wheat.

The BJP government is naturally loath to buy more wheat to add to a stock that embarrassingly refuses to disappear even as it costs some Rs 9,000 crore a year to store. In contrast, the government needs at this moment to keep a strategic food reserve of just 16 million tonnes. It would, in fact, have preferred to discourage more Central purchase of wheat stocks this year.

Singh, however, went ahead with this populist policy even though Vajpayee and Sinha had opposed the move.

On Tuesday, Singh’s Cabinet colleagues led by Sinha persuaded him to agree to a Rs 10 hike. Sinha pointed out that the Commission on Agricultural Costs and Prices had recommended no hike as they had calculated that the input costs had not gone up significantly for farmers.

The farmers, however, look for incremental hikes in the support price every year as it provides them with a level of comfort. The support price sets a benchmark for wheat prices at the wholesale markets and assures the farmers that they will not have to sell their produce at distress rates.

Singh who leads a small partner in the NDA — the Rashtriya Lok Dal — wanted to pander to his farm constituency. He also wanted to steal the thunder from two other farm leaders in the country — arch rival Om Prakash Chautala, who leads the Indian National Lok Dal, and Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh.

Soon after it became public that Singh had decided to take on Vajpayee and Sinha on the minimum support price issue, both came out with competing demands for even higher prices. While Chautala sought a price of Rs 680 a quintal, Amarinder demanded an even higher amount of Rs 720.

The new price means the government will be spending a staggering Rs 12,400 crore in buying wheat this year. Experts estimate that at this price, farmers would offer upto 2,000 lakh quintals or 20 million tonnes of wheat. At the lower price, experts feel about 16 million tonnes of wheat would have been offered carrying a lower bill of Rs 10,000 crore.

The Cabinet also raised the minimum support prices for gram, rapeseed or mustard, sunflower and masur.

   

 
 
GANDHIAN FENCE AROUND ARAFAT 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, April 2: 
If there was no bloodbath last weekend in the two rooms in Ramallah in which Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is holed up, it may have been, in part, because of Mahatma Gandhi.

On Friday night, as Arafat was besieged by the Israeli military in his compound, a 30-year-old American from New York, motivated by the teachings of the Mahatma, entered the compound after persuading the Israelis to let ambulances in to treat injured Palestinians.

Once inside, he remained there until he was joined on Sunday by about 40 activists of the International Solidarity Movement, a group he co-founded for promoting non-violence in conformity with the teachings of Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

For Arafat, who has been in virtual captivity under Israeli occupation of his offices, the initiative by these peace activists could not have come at a better time.

The Israeli army had just delivered an ultimatum to Arafat that they wanted to search his two rooms and probably arrest his aides and bodyguards.

The ultimatum could not have been carried out without force and the resistance by Arafat’s bodyguards could have cost the Palestinian leader’s life.

But with the peace activists from several Western countries inside, Israel backed down and even denied that it had issued any ultimatum.

Once Adam Shapiro was inside the water-less, electricity-less two-room refuge of the Palestinian leader, the New Yorker started giving interviews to the international media on his cellphone. These interviews, coming from an American, were shorn of Palestinian propaganda and was, therefore, carried prominently in the usually pro-Israeli US media.

Adam Shapiro spoke of the carnage in Arafat’s compound, of blood-splattered walls and rows of dead Palestinian guards in the hallways.

He said the only source of light for Arafat during the nights was cigarette lighters. He worried after a sparse breakfast of bread and cheese with Arafat the next day that the 100 or so men left in the two rooms were running short of food and water.

He told the world that as one ambulance tried to leave the compound with the injured and an international doctor, the driver and several injured passengers were arrested by the Israelis.

Meanwhile Adam Shapiro, a trained relief worker, helped build a makeshift clinic in one of Arafat’s offices.

Journalists had their first glimpse of Arafat under siege when the peace volunteers surprised the Israeli army by walking into the compound, their hands raised and waving white flags. Mediapersons who had been prevented from entering by the Israelis till then, followed these activists. The men in uniform inside the Israeli tanks threw up their hands.

While this was going on, in New York, the media descended on Adam Shapiro’s family. Stuart Shapiro, the head of the family, is a school teacher and one son is a lawyer in Manhattan.

The family is Jewish, but Adam does not follow any religion. He became interested in West Asia after he participated in “Seeds of Peace”, an American programme which brings together Arab and Jewish youth, and from last year, young people from India and Pakistan as well.

Adam Shapiro, who is now out of Arafat’s compound along with the other peace activists, plans to help safeguard injured Palestinians in hospitals from arrests by the Israeli police. He has lived in Ramallah for the last three years.

His story is not without romance. Adam Shapiro intends to stay on in Israel and West Bank and marry Huwaeida Arraf, an American-born Palestinian, in May.

   

 
 
HALDIA PETRO TOUCHES MAGIC MARK 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, April 2: 
Haldia Petrochemicals has achieved a breakthrough with sales this March crossing the Rs 300-crore mark.

“This is a breakthrough for us and it is a big step towards avoiding being termed a bad asset in the books of the financial institutions,” said commerce and industries secretary Jawhar Sircar.

According to HPL sources, the magic figure of Rs 300 crore was faxed to Writers’ Buildings in the afternoon. The mood was upbeat in the industries department even though minister Nirupam Sen was away in Birbhum.

Sources said the naphtha cracker plant last month worked at 93 per cent capacity. Earlier, it reached almost the same output last September when sales were at Rs 231 crore.

The company had projected sales of Rs 275 crore for March 2002 with a projected annual turnover of Rs 2,500 during 2001-2002. “We have been more than able to stave off the looming possibility of our loans taken from financial institutions being turned into non-performing assets (NPA) as per RBI guidelines,” sources said.

HPL, due to this enhanced sales performance, will pay its lenders Rs 108 crore as interest for the quarter ended March 31. The company paid Rs 80 crore as interest before December 31, 2001. HPL, which declared commercial production last August, has been running in fits and starts following unavailability of naphtha due to its ongoing cash crunch.

“Now, HPL is second in the petrochem market just after Reliance with a total market share of eastern India,” a senior HPL official said.

Back in Writers’ Buildings, officials pondered over the gloomy days when the state government had to bale out HPL for the last six quarters. The government, which holds 43 per cent in the company with Purnendu Chatterjee, has spent about Rs 700 crore to prevent it from going the NPA way.

   

 
 
FRESH FACES SET FOR CPM SECRETARIAT 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
April 2: 
The CPM leadership today focussed on several new faces for induction into the apex state-level policy making body on the eve of the crucial election to the party’s state secretariat.

Officials said, till late this evening, the leadership was favourably disposed towards three important functionaries — two from the organisation and the third from the government. All three are members of the newly constituted state committee.

Gautam Deb, minister for housing and public health engineering, Amitabha Bose, secretary of the party’s North 24-Parganas unit and Deepak Dasgupta, secretary of the Howrah unit, are believed to be under “serious consideration” for induction into the secretariat.

However, it appears the leadership will discuss the issue till tomorrow morning before reaching a final decision.

“We have almost finalised the names, but the discussion will continue till tomorrow, and depending upon the situation at that point, there may be certain modifications in our choices,” a senior official said.

If and when Bose and Deb make it to the apex body, the development will make things worse for transport minister Subhas Chakraborty, said observers.

Chakraborty, a party veteran, had been hoping to make it to the secretariat on mentor Jyoti Basu’s support regardless of his controversial style of functioning.

The election will be held in the presence of general secretary H.K.S. Surjeet, who reached the city this evening.

The CPM state committee will meet tomorrow at the party’s Alimuddin Street headquarters to elect the new secretariat. Surjeet’s presence will help avoid any unpleasant situation that might arise during the election process.

The outgoing secretariat has 14 members. Three positions have fallen vacant following the deaths of Sailen Dasgupta, Benoy Chowdhury and Niren Ghosh. These vacancies will be filled by inducting members from the state committee. Besides, there will be a few replacements with the induction of new faces.

Another plausible choice is Shyamoli Gupta, who, according to the buzz, might make it to the apex body thanks to the leadership’s current emphasis on stepping up women’s representation at various levels of decision making.

If it actually happens, Gupta will be first woman to find a berth in the state secretariat since the party’s inception. However, it remains to be seen whether the leadership will agree on putting Gupta on the fast track after having inducted her into the party central committee at the Hyderabad party congress last month.

An influential section of the leadership favours the induction of Rekha Goswami, the state secretary of the Ganatantrik Mahila Samity, into the secretariat. Their argument is that as Gupta has just got a berth in the central committee, a higher body than the state secretariat, it will be in the fitness of things to promote Goswami.

Another serious contender is the low-key Narayan Dutta, newly appointed editor of the party mouthpiece, Ganashakti. Taking advantage of Surjeet’s presence, the leadership may drop former Ganashakti editor Dipen Ghosh from the secretariat.

Ghosh was removed from the editor’s post during the CPM state conference in February.

   

 
 
TERROR MESSAGE BEHIND BAN 
 
 
FROM SEEMA GUHA
 
New Delhi, April 2: 
The ban on the al Badr and Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen followed intelligence intercepts from their handlers in Pakistan asking the two outfits to step up attacks in Kashmir and elsewhere in the country, government sources said today.

There are also indications that Dawood Ibrahim, with his connections in the Mumbai underworld, could be used by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence to retaliate and avenge the communal massacre in Gujarat.

Dawood is one of the main accused in the Mumbai blasts case and intelligence agencies fear that a similar backlash is being planned. All state governments have been asked to stay on alert.

Officials acknowledge that the two groups banned by the government yesterday have lost much of their former potency. Many of their cadre are either in prison or leading normal civilian lives.

However, there has been an attempt in recent months by the ISI to revive the two groups,mainly because most of their members are local Kashmiris.

The intercepts asked the local commanders to gather their men and get into action. They were told to carry out attacks against both soft targets and security forces. They were, however, asked not to claim responsibility, officials said.

If the ISI’s aim was to disclaim India’s charge that local Kashmiris have no say in terrorist operations and that attacks are carried out by Pakistan-backed foreigners, then the instruction not to show their hand appear illogical.

India has all along maintained that militants operating in Kashmir are mostly foreigners — Pakistani jihadis, Afghans or Islamic radicals from various countries who fought the Soviets and the Najibullah regime. Many of these foreigners, including Nigerians, Sudanese and Egyptians, were later indoctrinated by Osama bin Laden and the Taliban and fired up to fight the enemies of Islam. .

But ever since Pervez Musharraf joined America in the war against terror, Pakistan has been at pains to stress that the movement in Kashmir is entirely indigenous to make the point that it is a freedom struggle.

Realising that both al Badr and Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen are now being seen in Islamabad as important tools, the government banned the outfits.

   

 
 
SC LAWYERS IN CAUVERY STORM 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai, April 2: 
Two senior Supreme Court lawyers today became the centre of a storm in the Tamil Nadu Assembly as the Opposition members locked horns with the treasury benches over the change of the government counsel in the Cauvery water dispute cases involving Karnataka.

DMK deputy leader Durai Murugan sparked the debate by questioning the government’s wisdom in replacing senior advocate K. Parasaran with A.C. Ganguly. He pleaded Parasaran’s case, pointing to his vast knowledge and familiarity with the Cauvery dispute and his experience.

Wondering whether Parasaran had withdrawn himself as counsel or the government “did not want him”, Murugan warned that given the dimensions and sensitivity of the Cauvery issue, the government would be held responsible for any “adverse development” in the cases.

Responding to the debate in zero hour, Jayalalithaa said the government’s hand was forced. Last year, when the crops on the Thanjavur delta had begun to wither and an urgent petition, seeking a directive to Karnataka to release Cauvery waters as per the water tribunal’s interim order, had to be filed, Parasaran had declined to assist the government in drafting the affidavit. At that time, Ganguly had stepped in, she said.

“Last year, when the government needed Parasaran’s services urgently, he had backed out. How is it fair for him to try and worm his way back to handle these cases now?” the chief minister asked and asserted that her government will never handle the Cauvery issue in a flippant manner. “If at any stage the services of a more competent lawyer was required, we will not hesitate to appoint another counsel,” she assured.

PWD minister O. Panneerselvam, too, assured the House that there was no political motive behind the change. Finance minister C. Ponnaiyan added that it cannot be said that that a “junior lawyer” was now handling the government’s brief. Ganguly was also a senior counsel in the Supreme Court, he said.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 34.9°C (-1)
Minimum: 22.4°C (-2)

Rainfall

2.9 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 93%,
Minimum: 47%

Sunrise: 5.31 am

Sunset: 5.48 pm

Today

Partly cloudy sky, with possibility of light rain, accompanied by thunder, in some parts
   
 

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