Consolation for Subhas
State in loan talks for gas project
Tutor held for abusing sisters
CPM focus on minorities
Govt mulls disaster directory
‘Mediator’ Modi hits minority hurdle
Mobs stoop to stone-age barbarism
Advani follows his leader
Mulayam smiles as cracks show
May omen in tree crash

Calcutta, May 6: 
After keeping him out of the reconstituted state secretariat last month, the CPM leadership has given transport minister Subhas Chakraborty a consolation prize in the shape of a berth in the party’s North 24-Parganas district secretariat.

Party officials said seven leaders owing allegiance to Chakraborty have also been re-inducted into the apex district-level body.

The new 24-member secretariat was chosen at the district committee meeting in Barasat on Saturday and Sunday. Unlike in other district committee meetings, no leader from the party headquarters at Alimuddin Street was present to oversee the proceedings.

One reason for the absence of any office-bearer from Alimuddin Street that Amitava Bose and housing minister Gautam Deb, both newly inducted to the state secretariat, were present. Bose and Deb are also important leaders of the district.

The strength of the district secretariat was increased from 19 to 24, probably to make the committee more “balanced”.

Besides the transport minister, his associates who got berths included Gautam Deb, Mona Das, Ajit Chowdhury, Ranjit Kundu, CPM MP from Barrackpore Tarit Topdar and Niharendu Chatterjee.

Chakraborty, Topdar, Chatterjee and Gopal Bhattacharya were dropped from the district secretariat in 1998 following a tussle between the Subhas camp and the Amitava Bose-Amitava Nandi group.

The conflict continued despite repeated efforts to contain it by party secretary Sailen Dasgupta and former chief minister Jyoti Basu.

In protest against the decision, Deb, Kundu and Chowdhury boycotted the secretariat meeting. Chakraborty’s exclusion from the district secretariat created a flutter in party circles. Though the district leadership later included Chakraborty in the committee, he refused to serve on it saying all his key supporters would have to be taken in as well.

Chakraborty was not present at the district committee meeting on Saturday and Sunday. But all other members of his camp attended it. Gopal Bhattacharya has been denied a berth this time too.

The new faces in the district secretariat include party MLA from Kamarhati Manas Mukherjee, secretary of the Bangiya Saksharata Prasar Samity Arup Ratan Dasgupta, the party’s peasant front leader, Shyamal Banerjee and state secretary of the Mahila Samity Rekha Goswami. All of them belong to the Bose-Nandi camp.

Chakraborty did not get a berth in the state secretariat despite the efforts of his mentor, Jyoti Basu. According to party sources, the transport minister was not considered for membership of the party’s highest policy-making body because of strong opposition from a large section of the top leadership. Eventually, Gautam Deb was chosen to pacify the Chakraborty camp.

State secretary Anil Biswas and Jyoti Basu have been trying to unite the party’s faction-ridden North 24-Parganas unit. They held several meetings with the senior district leaders and instructed them to accommodate all camps in the formation of the secretariat.

Basu also held meetings with newly-inducted state secretariat members Amitava Bose and Gautam Deb for a consensus on the district secretariat.


Calcutta, May 6: 
The Asian Development Bank began talks with the state government on Friday on loans for several new projects.

The projects, including developing the inland waterways, will be implemented from next year.

“We are looking at areas like gas fuel supply to reduce vehicular pollution in the city,” said Sudipta Mundle, the bank’s chief economist, after a series of meetings, including one with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, at Writers’ Buildings.

The government and bank officials held talks on infrastructure required to transport gas from the Northeast through pipelines laid across Bangladesh.

Besides pipelines, specialised dispensing stations will be needed to offer gas as fuel for public and private transport.

The state government intends to convert diesel-run vehicles into gas along the lines of the Supreme Court order for Delhi. However, the chief minister has told the departments concerned that the switch should be as smooth as possible.

The bank’s team also held talks on ongoing projects that it has funded, like the north-south corridor and the Calcutta environment improvement scheme.

The funding organisation is also interested in developing navigation along the Hooghly. According to sources, the bank stressed on developing freight movement along the waterway.

“The talks on the new projects were very positive,” the chief minister said.

The visiting team also met industry minister Nirupam Sen and finance minister Asim Dasgupta.


Calcutta, May 6: 
The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) has arrested a private tutor from Raidighi in South 24-Parganas on charges “sexually abusing two minor sisters for more than two months”.

Special superintendent of police K. Harirajan said Sunil Dolui, 33, who lived with his wife and five-year-old son at Purba Gargaria village in South 24-Parganas, gave private tuition to students in a school in neighbouring Singher Chowk area.

Dolui was allowed by the school authorities to use a room to teach students after school hours because he had to cross the river to go to his village, the officer said. The two minor girls took tuition from him.

Dolui took the girls with him on December 12 after telling his wife he had go to a relative’s place at Bimeshawari in Murshidabad to attend a marriage. The girls told their parents they were going to their aunt’s home in Jainagar and would return after a couple of months.

When their father went to Jainagar in late January, he found the girls had not reached there. He rushed back to his village and launched a search for his daughters.

Failing to find the girls, he lodged a complaint with Kultuli police station. The case was handed over to the CID in end-February after the police drew a blank.

The girls came back home on their own in the first week of March. They broke down and told their family how they had been “sexually abused” by the tutor.

Dolui had convinced the girls to accompany him to Calcutta, where they stayed for a few days, said Harirajan.

They then proceeded to Digha and stayed in a hotel in New Digha. They travelled in the area for more than two months. “Dolui had taken Rs 50,000 with him,” Harirajan said.

The CID raided several places looking for Dolui, but there was no trace of him at his residence or at any of his relatives’ homes.

The police got a tip-off on Thursday evening that Dolui would return home as he had run out of money. CID officials laid a trap and arrested the tutor near his home on Friday morning.


Calcutta, May 6: 
The CPM state leadership has stressed the need to increase the party’s influence on the minority community, as well as raise collection of party levies.

CPM leaders expressed concern over the stagnating influence of the party among minority community members. “We must make efforts to increase the participation of the minority community in Left politics. We must get more party members from the minority community,” said a party document.

Minority fundamentalism often grows in response to the growth in majority fundamentalism, the document argued. Minority community members could get ensnared in communal politics while seeking to challenge majority communalism, the leadership felt.

About 15.36 per cent of the minority community are members of the CPM, the document said, adding that most of them come from the poorer sections of society. “We should take initiatives to increase representation from among the community population in our party leadership,” it said.

The leadership also expressed concern at the poor collection of party levies. “There has been a 40-50 per cent cut in the party’s income from levy. As a result, many district units of the party are facing a financial crisis,” the document pointed out.

The district leaderships of Jalpaiguri and Midnapore have no record about the levies collected by the zonal committees under the two district units, though it is mandatory under the party constitution for any zonal committee to keep its district committee informed about collection of levies.

The South 24-Parganas district committee has also failed to inform the state leadership about the levies collected, as former district secretary Samir Putatunda had taken with him many papers when he left the organisation, the CPM document said.

“The collection by party leaders has increased. But we have to take serious steps to increase the collection from party members, because that is our main source of income,” it said.

The leadership is also worried about the drop in women members in Bankura, Calcutta, Dinajpur, Midnapore, North 24-Parganas, and Purulia.

Darjeeling is the only district where the number of women members has increased significantly.


Calcutta, May 6: 
The Bengal government will come out with disaster management directories giving information on necessary contacts in case of calamities.

Each district will have its own directory with numbers that can be called up in case of flood, drought, earthquake, landslide or, say, a coal mine collapse.

The move is part of the government’s efforts to tone up disaster management in the state, said minister of state for civil defence Srikumar Mukherjee. “People feel at a loss whenever they face natural calamities and a full-fledged directory will definitely help them get over the crisis,” he said at Writers’ Buildings.

At least 10 youths from each district will be imparted specialised training and deployed in cases of disaster. They will get Rs 88 per day for participation.

“We are exploring all possibilities to give relief to people across the state in the event of natural calamities,” Mukherjee said. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, also chairman of the recently-formed Disaster Management Committee, has taken special interest on this score, he added.


Ahmedabad, May 6: 
The National Commission for Minorities’ initiative to start a dialogue between Hindu and Muslim leaders seems to have hit a wall.

The commission had asked Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi to mediate the dialogue. However, Muslim leaders are apprehensive about the chief minister who they consider the biggest hurdle in bridging the “distance” and restoring communal harmony between the two communities.

The VHP, too, is not very keen on a dialogue till some “basic issues are addressed”.

After dilly dallying for two months, Modi on Thursday accepted the minorities’ commission’s offer and agreed to mediate a dialogue between Hindu and Muslim leaders. But the misgivings continue to persist with the chief minister showing no flexibility in his stand and the VHP, RSS leaders making no “reconciliatory move”.

Muslim leaders who attended the meeting convened by the commission, say they are disappointed at the chief minister’s insincerity. “He is under pressure to be seen making peace efforts but he does not want to make sincere efforts. Had he been sincere enough, he would have sympathetically considered the measures suggested by us for the restoration of peace and harmony,” alleged Shakeel Ahmed.

He is part of the 16-member committee, appointed to initiate dialogue with the leaders of the VHP and the RSS.

The VHP claims to have its “own compulsions” not to talk directly to Muslim leaders. VHP leaders feel that a dialogue at this juncture might antagonise the Hindu community. For the record, though, VHP international general secretary Pravin Togadia said: “We are ready to cooperate and coordinate with anybody to help restore peace in the state.”

Togadia, however, hastened to add: “Right now, the situation is not favourable to hold such talks with Muslim leaders because in some places (Veraval and Dwarka), temples are still being desecrated.”

Last Thursday, after holding separate meetings with Muslim leaders and a Sangh parivar representative, the commission claimed to have achieved “a major success in breaking ice” and found the chief minister very “positive” and willing to start a dialogue with Muslim leaders.

However, the Muslim leaders do not share the commission’s optimism. The Muslim committee that has been formed to hold the dialogue is not representative, Ahmed alleged. “Many prominent Muslim leaders, NGOs and those running relief camps have been left out.”

When the commission invited Muslims leaders for a meeting on Thursday, they were told that “today’s agenda is to meet the chief minister to tell him your problems”.

“But we told the commission that we had not come to meet the chief minister. We have already submitted a list of grievances to him. If he is willing to concede, we can meet him. Otherwise, there is no point talking,” Ahmed said, adding Modi has not bothered to inform them about his decision on the issue that “we consider necessary for the restoration of peace”.

The minority community wants Modi to ensure that riot victims get adequate compensation to rebuild houses before the onset of monsoon.

Besides the restoration of all damaged mosques, the community also wants missing persons to be declared dead and those named in FIRs to be punished.

The VHP, on the other hand, is not too enthusiastic about the dialogue. “Until basic issues are addressed”, Togadia says, such peace efforts will not bear fruits. And the basic problem, according to him, is the “Talibanisation of the Muslim society with (the help of) external and internal forces, the growth of madarsas and the teaching of jihad.”


Ahmedabad, May 6: 
As Parliament split hairs on Article 355 and 356, Gujarat continued to bleed.

The state’s riot-ravaged financial capital today staggered into the second day of the fresh flare-up with three more deaths, while two persons succumbed to injuries sustained yesterday, taking the toll to 13 in the last 24 hours.

Around 10 this morning, two youths on a cycle were surrounded by a mob and stoned to death. The incident occurred at Bhulabhai Char Rasta on Shah Alam Road, close to where two persons were burnt alive on Sunday. Another person was stabbed to death in Kankaria.

In Panchmahal district, at least 15 passengers were injured when a crude bomb was hurled at a state transport bus. Although no one was killed, the impact of the explosion shattered all the windowpanes.

In another incident aimed at triggering violence, a crude bomb was thrown at a mosque in curfew-bound Mirzapur locality this afternoon. The explosion did not damage the mosque, where a prayer session was on, but was enough to make panic-stricken people run out into the streets. Police burst tear gas shells to disperse them and later described the attack as the work of miscreants out to spark communal tension.

Yesterday, after a few days’ deceptive lull, fresh violence had broken out when mobs attacked minority community members to stop them going back to their homes from relief camps.

State Congress chief Amarsinh Chaudhary blamed the state government for engineering Sunday’s violence to divert people’s attention from “real problems” — like water crisis and irregular power supply — which have caused widespread resentment among farmers.

The former chief minister called it a “desperate attempt” by the Narendra Modi government to cover up its failure to tackle problems facing the people. Asked to substantiate his charges, Chaudhary said: “It is a well-known fact that there are ministers in this government who are facing murder charges.”

Chaudhary said his party would press for supercop K.P.S. Gill’s inclusion in the all-party relief and rehabilitation committee. Gill, a former director general of Punjab police and credited with breaking the back of Khalistani militancy, was recently appointed security adviser to the chief minister.

“We want him in the committee because his presence will ensure that those who want to return home or rehabilitated somewhere else get adequate security,” Chaudhary said.

The state government is yet to reconcile to the appointment of Gill, who was sent by the Centre. The government’s irritation was evident when some reporters met home minister Gordhan Zadhaphia, who stonewalled questions on what role Gill is expected to play. “I do not know,” he said to persistent queries. “I have no idea.”

Cong ‘cousin’ salvo

The Congress today described Atal Bihari Vajpayee as a “cousin” of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Spokesman Jaipal Reddy lamented the Prime Minister’s refusal to refer to VHP leader Ashok Singhal’s “inflammatory statements” on the Gujarat carnage during his intervention in the Rajya Sabha today.

The party has demanded Singhal’s arrest.


New Delhi, May 6: 
L.K. Advani followed in the footsteps of his Prime Minister in the Rajya Sabha today, assuring that his government will “deal” with Article 355 in a fitting manner but disagreeing with the Opposition that the clause naturally led to Article 356.

“Article 355 enjoins on us a duty to discharge our duty to the best of our ability. But Article 356 naturally does not follow from 355,” the home minister said, replying to the debate on Gujarat in the upper House.

Advani spoke after Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s intervention, echoing his “agony” on what is happening in Gujarat and denouncing the communal carnage in the strongest terms. If there had been some revenge action against the perpetrators of the Godhra train massacre in Godhra itself, it could have been considered a violation of the law, he pointed out. “But what happened in Ahmedabad, Vadodara and elsewhere later is barbaric and against civilisation.”

But like Vajpayee again, he refused to touch Narendra Modi’s chief ministership, making it clear that sacking him and invoking Article 356 for imposing President’s rule was no solution.

The home minister disagreed with senior Congress MP Manmohan Singh, who urged the government to take steps to stem the rot of communalisation in the state’s police force. “I cannot make such sweeping statements about the police,” he said. “There are drawbacks, I admit, but an inquiry commission has been set up by the Modi government…”

Advani indirectly suggested that the Centre has already implemented Article 355 by deploying the army. “Even if a chief minister does not think it fit to ask for the army, Article 355 empowers the Centre to deploy it,” he said, taking the same line as BJP spokesman V.K. Malhotra had done earlier. “In such a situation it is my duty to deal with Article 355 even if the Rajya Sabha had not asked for it.”

The home minister alleged a “foreign hand” behind the continuing tension in Gujarat, saying there are “forces across the border” which are interested in keeping alive the violence. “The government has seen several intercepts from across the border asking militant groups in Kashmir to provide financial help (to rioters) in Gujarat, encourage them, so that the strife continues,” he said. Pakistan has dismissed the allegations.

Advani underlined that his government would come down heavily on anyone preaching hatred. When Opposition members drew his attention to Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Ashok Singhal’s reported statement justifying the violence, he said: “Whosoever says anything of this kind, the government condemns it and disassociates from it.”


Lucknow, May 6: 
Political developments in Uttar Pradesh after the installation of the Mayavati-led BSP-BJP government have brought cheer to Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party.

Trouble is brewing in the coalition with Mayavati’s selection of ministers leaving several BJP leaders disgruntled.

The BJP rebels are being led by six-time Bhinga MLA Chandramani Kant Singh who says he will vote against the Mayavati government in the Assembly on May 17 “along with others who feel betrayed”. Singh says he is ready to quit as member of the Assembly and claims to have the support of half-a-dozen BJP MLAs.

BJP leaders, including former ministers Harish Chandra Shrivastava and Ganga Bhakta Singh, have written to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, protesting against the selection of ministers.

Although Mayavati’s promise to expand the Cabinet after securing the May 17 confidence vote is keeping angry legislators quiet for the time being, differences are springing up in the 14-member Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) too. Eight RLD legislators met in Lucknow last evening to vent their anger against Ajit Singh, accusing him of running the party like a dictator and promoting his “favourites” for ministerial berths in the Uttar Pradesh government, “ignoring seniority merit”.

The Samajwadi camp, which had felt cheated when it was kept out of power despite emerging as the single largest party after the Assembly elections, is finally smiling. Samajwadi leader Ashok Bajpai said: “We are counting days before that government collapses like a house of cards.”

The BJP thinktank has decided to wield the whip of discipline to rein in its rebels. Making the first move today, the party disbanded 18 district units on the ground of “inactivity”. State BJP general secretary Ramapati Tripathi said party units in Ferozabad, Etah, Aligarh, Pilibhit, Seetapur, Lakhimpur, Kanpur Dehat, Hardoi, Auraiyya, Banda, Fatehgarh and eight other Uttar Pradesh districts would be reconstituted soon. State BJP leaders are worried that despite the resentment, Mayavati has shown no signs of softening her aggressive “Ambedkarite politics” which led to the break up of the earlier BJP-BSP coalitions in 1995 and 1997.


New Delhi, May 6: 
In 1984, Rajiv Gandhi had told Congress workers after Indira Gandhi’s assassination that when a big tree falls, the earth is bound to shake.

Today, a big tree literally fell at the Congress headquarters on 24 Akbar Road, killing an eight-year-old son of a blind man on the spot. A dust storm that lasted barely 10 minutes from 5:45 pm uprooted the tree and smashed a makeshift temple inside the party office.

The tree and the temple had special bond with the thousands who thronged Akbar Road periodically seeking election tickets. It was a place where the faithful made offerings while the sceptic dozed off under the shade.

The fall of the over-a-century-old tree rattled partymen —everyone, from Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi to the faceless worker on the premises.

Four AICC general secretaries — Ambika Soni, Mohsina Kidwai, Oscar Fernandes and Motilal Vora — rushed out of their offices wondering how the tree could fall so easily. A closer examination, however, showed it had decayed from the roots.

An AICC karamchari was heard saying: “It is a bad omen. When things are looking up, the uprooting of a temple is not a good sign.” He also pointed at a newspaper survey that said in the event of snap polls, the Congress would form the government on its own.

Others shared his fears. “It is May, a month that swallowed Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. It was during this month that Sharad Pawar, P.A. Sangma and Tariq Anwar raised Sonia’s foreign origins issue. It was in this month in 1999 that Sonia failed to form an alternate government after the fall of the (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee regime,” they said.

Some disgruntled partymen went a step further drawing a parallel between the fallen tree and the Congress.

“They are of same age. The tree appeared grand till it collapsed. The Congress is also looking good but its roots are decaying. Where are we in big states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu?” they asked. These four states send 202 members to the Lok Sabha, they pointed out.

Old timers recalled a brief history of the temple and the tree. “The tree was there when we moved in here in 1978 after the split in the party. There used to be a babaji from Karnataka who, after getting a party ticket constructed the make-shift temple. Many ticket aspirants passed on a word that the temple deities and the tree had powers to fulfil their political aspirations.”

Late in the night, the news reached Sonia Gandhi. The visibly upset AICC chief enquired how such a strong tree could collapse all of a sudden. She was told it had to do with the tree’s “weak foundation”.


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