‘Shame’ verdict on bandh state
Putin puts peace pieces in place
Vajpayee springs joint patrolling on Pak
Ricky’s here, not for Marias
Pak keeps PM plan on table
A city drunk on Devdas
VSNL spat spills over into print
Jaya Act forces Stalin’s hand
Hard line on Kashmir on Atal table
Calcutta Weather

 
 
‘SHAME’ VERDICT ON BANDH STATE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 5: 
Calcutta High Court today poured scorn on Bengal’s political parties for increasingly dragging the state into a regressive mode by promoting a culture of bandhs and protests but admitted it was “helpless and powerless” to check the trend.

Rejecting a public interest litigation challenging the June 7 bandh called by the Trinamul Congress, a division bench of Justices Ajoy Nath Ray and Arun Kumar Mitra said it did not have the “machinery at its disposal” to restrain a bandh.

“It appears that the political contribution of West Bengal in recent years (the past was as glorious as the present is dark) is the philosophy of no work and protest without purpose,” they said.

The high-point of the ruling — strong on evocation of public sentiments — was the advocacy of soul-searching, aimed at the political parties and their leaders. “As Bengalis, we hang our heads in shame that this should be so,” it said.

The PIL was moved by Mir Abdur Rahaman, general secretary of Indian Sufi Samaj, through his counsel Idris Ali who, till the other day, was a prominent leader of the Trinamul minority cell. Rahaman sought the court’s direction on restraining the bandh.

While rejecting the PIL, the judges referred to an earlier ruling of the Supreme Court which upheld a Kerala High Court judgment of 1998 and termed a bandh “illegal and unconstitutional” because it was used by one section of the public to interfere with the fundamental rights of another section.

The high court judges said the Supreme Court ruling required the states to ensure that the fundamental rights were not infringed upon. They noted that seriousness was at a premium in Bengal’s political culture which encourages “practically,… quarterly bandhs”.

In their observation, the judges hinted that the culture of bandhs appeared to have blurred political boundaries. “As far as we can remember, the last two bandhs occurred this year (January 10 and April 16), … The first was an SUCI-sponsored bandh, the next one was called by the CPM... The present one is a Trinamul bandh,” they noted.

Betraying disappointment at its “helplessness”, the court said it was pointless to pass an injunction, which it did not have a “reasonable chance of enforcing to the last and extreme point with the machinery at its disposal”.

Any injunction seeking to restrain the proponents of the bandh would send out a message — an “indirect declaration” — that the court had the power to enforce its order, the judges said, explaining their move to desist from such an act. An injunction it was “powerless and helpless” to enforce would be “empty”.

“The fact of life is that we do not have such machinery.”

The judges’ expression of “powerlessness” followed a similar admission by the government counsel. “The state does not have sufficient machinery to enforce an order,” the government counsel admitted.

   

 
 
PUTIN PUTS PEACE PIECES IN PLACE 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, June 5: 
Caught between General Pervez Musharraf’s excessive enthusiasm to overplay President Vladimir Putin’s peace-making efforts and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s compulsions to underplay any Russian role, crucial progress made in Almaty in defusing South Asia’s military crisis is being lost sight of.

The first indication that much more was happening in Almaty than what Indian officials wanted to concede came yesterday when those waiting outside the venue of the Vajpayee-Putin meeting realised that the talks were going well beyond their original brief.

Vajpayee and Putin were to conclude their meeting, which followed the Russian President’s parleys with Musharraf, in one hour, but it went on and on.

In the end, the two talked for two full hours. Sources privy to the talks said a whole range of “very constructive” proposals to end the crisis were discussed.

The upshot of the meeting was that when Vajpayee’s delegation was preparing to return to New Delhi, one of its most important members was conspicuously absent from the team.

Principal secretary Brajesh Mishra went to Moscow to follow up on the Vajpayee-Putin talks.

Shortly after Putin’s meetings with Musharraf and Vajpayee, there were indications from the White House that Washington was satisfied with Moscow’s peace efforts.

Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman, said: “President Putin discussed it with President Bush and President Bush told him he was grateful for Russia’s ongoing diplomacy in the area. It is another sign of a constructive relationship with Russia.”

Fleischer said America’s stake in working with Russia on South Asia was that it is “part of the rejection of the old zero-sum game, where if there was turmoil for one superpower, it was good for the other. Those days are over”.

Mishra is expected to spend a day in Moscow and return to New Delhi in time for US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage’s visit. Indian officials, reluctant to admit outside role in making peace between New Delhi and Islamabad, have found a bizarre excuse for Mishra’s trip to Moscow: that he is visiting Russia for the anniversary of the Kremlin’s national security council.

Vajpayee’s idea of joint patrolling stemmed from proposals Putin assembled on the table at his meetings with the two leaders. The expectation here is that Armitage will pursue that plan on his sub-continental visit.

   

 
 
VAJPAYEE SPRINGS JOINT PATROLLING ON PAK 
 
 
FROM BHARAT BHUSHAN
 
Almaty, June 5: 
Pointing Pakistan in the direction of a new roadmap to reduce tensions, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee today offered to revive the proposal of joint patrolling of the Line of Control by the two countries to detect and stop infiltration. India and Pakistan had agreed to such a proposal first in 1989.

Vajpayee rejected the verification of infiltration by any third party, saying: “For verification, India and Pakistan can come to an agreement. The proposal for joint patrolling was accepted earlier. Both countries can accept it again.” He said if Pakistan desired to stop infiltration, the two countries could work out a joint patrolling plan.

Pakistan did not reject the idea, but said it was unlikely to work given the state of relations.

On return to Delhi, Vajpayee was quoted by agencies as saying: “There are many proposals for verification, of which joint patrolling is one”.

The Prime Minister ruled out any pullback of the army from the border as a first step towards de-escalation. “The question of de-escalation on the border would be the last step... Once infiltration stops, the (militant) camps across the border are disbanded and this situation is verified properly, we can think of taking other steps which would take us towards de-escalation,” he said.

Vajpayee added that if diplomatic steps could achieve India’s objectives, he would be very happy.

Refuting the charge that talking of joint patrolling and de-escalation would be seen as signs of weakness by the people of India, Vajpayee said: “There is no question of weakness. The Indian public wants that terrorism and infiltration should stop. And if these steps can be achieved through peaceful means, then the people would be happy.”

Agreeing that the international community’s opinion was important, Vajpayee denied that India was proposing joint patrolling and steps towards de-escalation under pressure. India, he said, had received unprecedented support on the issue of ending cross-border terrorism.

“International pressure is also working on Pakistan. That is why it is saying that there is no longer any infiltration and trying to bring in third countries (for verification).”

Such was the international pressure on Pakistan that there was talk among the countries giving it economic assistance to consider stopping it if it persisted in its support of cross-border terrorism, Vajpayee claimed. He argued that the Agra process had failed because at that time Pakistan was not ready to end cross-border terrorism.

“Now it is ready — at least it is saying that it is ready. Now we have to test their claim,” he said.

If Pakistan did not want to end cross-border terrorism, Vajpayee said, it would have to be put under even more international pressure. He explained that India and Pakistan had talked in the past and “we are not against a dialogue”.

Vajpayee said India wanted the situation on the border to improve. “We want that the possibility of war should be avoided and the path of economic co-operation to be explored.”

   

 
 
RICKY’S HERE, NOT FOR MARIAS 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, June 5: 
Ricky Martin, all in white, thin shirt hanging loose. Not on the Buckingham Palace lawns, but on the streets of Calcutta. That is the fleeting glimpse that a few Ricky fans had on Wednesday evening. They are unlikely to have another.

Returning from a day-out to a Park Street hotel in a humble white Sumo was the Maria Man. The Latin heart-throb, who has the world gasping, had Calcutta guessing. Is he — or is he not — in town?

He is.

The dancing king who sang The Cup of Life or Le Copa Da La Vida, the World Cup 1998 anthem, will also be around when Calcutta cries itself hoarse over the Batistuta vs Beckham thriller on bandh-day afternoon. For the Puerto Rican pop star, they say, is here to stay — for four nights, no less.

Having slipped into the city after Monday’s Golden Jubilee celebrations at Buckingham Palace on a chartered flight yesterday evening, he is said to have spent at least some of Wednesday at unknown destinations outdoors, “keeping pre-arranged” appointments. That’s also what he’s doing in his five-star suite, where he’s supposed to spend most of the Calcutta leg of a global charity tour no one is willing to talk about just yet.

In December 1998, he graced the Capital with a concert. But Calcutta is in for a no-show. Again. For he was here, “incognito”, for a night at The Park on his way to Puri in the winter of ‘99. That was when the 31-year-old visited India and Nepal “for a bit of meditation” after a 29-concert tour.

But don’t even try to get near him this time. There is a tight ring of super-security men — whom Ricky towers gracefully over — guarding, watching, pre-empting.

The strictly hush-hush visit to the city has supposedly been undertaken by a Spanish agency “specialising in celebrity visits” – that is also lining up a string of Latin actors, singers and supermodels in town.

A tease, you may call him, for withholding music from the waiting masses, but don’t read too much into this brush-off. Ricky has a penchant for India, where his album Vuelve sold 200,000 copies before 1998. This is where he learned yoga. The man even likes bhangra and Zakir Hussain.

“You don’t have to go anywhere to find spirituality and/or silence,” he said, “but India helps. It’s good to go there. It’s good to go to little towns and practise your yoga and anything to find silence. It’s very important. You can go crazy with all this adrenaline and euphoria.”

The Cup of Life and Livin’ La Vida Loca for the Queen of England on Monday. Silence for the ‘city of joy’ on Tuesday, Wednesday… For fans here, it’s more a foul than fair play.

   

 
 
PAK KEEPS PM PLAN ON TABLE 
 
 
FROM IDREES BAKHTIAR
 
Islamabad, June 5: 
In a cautious response to the Indian idea of joint monitoring of the Line of Control, Pakistan said it was willing to discuss all such proposals as part of a comprehensive dialogue.

A foreign office spokesman said if Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had made the proposal in earnest, it should be formally conveyed to Pakistan. “If India is serious in making such proposals, it should convey these formally to Pakistan,” he said.

But the spokesman did not believe that in the context of the low level of confidence between the two countries, a proposal like this was unlikely to work.

Joint patrolling is not a new idea. “Similar proposals had previously been tabled with regard to the international boundary by India,” he said.

Indian and Pakistani forces are already monitoring and patrolling their respective sides of the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir, he added.

A United Nations group, Unmogip, has a mandate to monitor the LoC and “may be expanded to perform this role more effectively”.

Although the Almaty conference is being painted as a flop, largely because there was no interaction between Pervez Musharraf and Vajpayee, the Pakistan President did not appear to think so.

Asked on his return to Islamabad whether the Almaty failure would lead to further tensions with India, Musharraf said: “I don’t think so”.

He said the world is interested in de-escalation and pressure is mounting on India to sort out differences through dialogue.

   

 
 
A CITY DRUNK ON DEVDAS 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Bhagalpur, June 5: 
This silk city wants a slice of the glory, too. Devdas the film may have made waves in faraway Cannes, but the novel’s plot is supposed to have been set here.

Residents of this place want the area where the late Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay spent his childhood named Devdasnagar. It is here in this Bihar city that the writer might have fallen in love with the girl he called Paro in the novel or met Chandramukhi, the courtesan.

A building near Buranath Chowk, where Chandramukhi is believed to have lived, is drawing hundreds of visitors every day. The area where this two-storeyed building with arches and old gothic pillars is located used to be known as the “red-light zone”. There was a time when evening fell with sounds of music flowing out through the huge windows as big landlords stepped off their horse-drawn carriages.

For old-timers, it’s a banquet of memories. Nearly 90 years after the novel was published in 1917, they are dredging up whatever they can — like titbits about the author’s childhood which he spent with his maternal uncle Kedar Ganguly or his friends in the Collegiate school of Bhagalpur where he was admitted in the primary section.

Though Ganguly’s house is in ruins, his name is a household word. “The city and specially the residents of Bangalitola here are overpowered by sentiment and nostalgia,” says Asim Ganguly, a relative of the writer’s uncle.

According to Bengali writer Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay, it is impossible for anyone to say for sure that the novel was conceived here. But Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay “indeed spent his childhood in Bhagalpur and his novel Devdas is apparently set in the city’s background. If the people of Bhagalpur imagine a school where he got educated or a building in which a Chandramukhi-type woman lived, they are entitled to their fancies. All that I can say is this would not be distortion of history,” he says, adding that it was a different matter that he left Bhagalpur in his youth.

Devdas, scheduled for commercial release in India in July, was internationally premiered at the Cannes film festival on May 24.

In the film, Aishwarya Rai plays Paro and Madhuri Dixit Chandramukhi while Shah Rukh Khan features as Devdas. There were at least two other versions — one Bengali and the other in Hindi — in the sixties, but none matched the hype of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film.

Tapan Kumar Ghose, a professor of Bhagalpur University, says there could still be some second-generation relatives of the writer who could relate real-life characters to their fictional counterparts in the novel.

Though no one can relate Paro, who had driven the hero to despair, to any real-life contemporary of the author, stories about a woman who used to live in a “kothi” at Buranath Chowk still do the rounds. “The woman’s real-life name was Mrinmoyee and she used to live in this kothi,” said Sravan Mishra.

Satya Banerjee, who claims his grandfather was a friend of the novelist, says since his childhood he has been hearing stories about the author’s life and that the novel was based on personal experiences. “It is very difficult to verify the truth,” he said.

“I would love to have a park named after the writer,” says Utsav Mazumder of the Bhagalpur Bengali Association.

   

 
 
VSNL SPAT SPILLS OVER INTO PRINT 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, June 5: 
The BJP-Arun Shourie face-off on the VSNL-Tata disinvestment deal is still continuing.

A day after the disinvestment minister gave his version to the media, BJP MP from Mumbai Kirit Somaiya sought to counter Shourie’s defence through an advertisement that appeared in a section of the press.

Somaiya is close to communications and infotech minister Pramod Mahajan, who was the first to go public with his criticism of the VSNL deal.

However, the advertisement in question was released on behalf of a private forum called Investor’s Grievances Forum, which is headed by Somaiya.

Its heading, in bold print, asked “VSNL robbed by Tatas?”, and demanded “Small investors want protection.”

Among Somaiya’s allegations were the Tatas had siphoned off Rs 1,200 crore and that VSNL paid Rs 36 for Tata Teleservices shares although their face value was only Rs 6.

The advertisement also said the Investor’s Grievances Forum had filed a legal complaint with the company affairs department and was contemplating a public interest litigation.

It is believed that home minister L.K. Advani has taken a serious view of the Shourie-Mahajan spat and met both the ministers separately in his office today.

Yesterday, BJP sources had said the disinvestment minister, who is close to Advani, conveyed to him his unhappiness with Mahajan. According to the sources, Advani asked Shourie to go ahead and hold a news conference to explain his viewpoint.

Although BJP spokesman Sunil Shastri maintained that the “the matter stands closed”, he parried questions on whether the party was satisfied with Shourie’s clarification.

BJP economic cell convener Jagdish Shettigar — who spoke out against the deal on Monday — asserted that the party stood by its press statement.

The BJP had said the deal “defeated the very spirit of disinvestment of PSUs”.

“What Shourie explained in his press conference had nothing to do with the queries raised by the party,” he said. “The BJP and Mahajan raised post-disinvestment issues, Shourie said he had nothing to do with the post-disinvestment activities. There is no contradiction. Mahajan questioned the VSNL board’s decision to invest in Tata Tele-Services in just two months after the disinvestment and the party shared his concern as that would set a bad precedent.”

Shettigar said that keeping this in mind, the BJP has suggested to the government that future disinvestments should have a provision barring the management of disinvested PSUs from transferring funds for a specific period.

He also disputed Shourie’s statement that the VSNL deal was “stricter” than the previous ones and argued that the clauses it contained were not “strong” enough to prevent such a transfer to a subsidiary concern.

Insiders claimed that the BJP was unhappy with Shourie for taking the controversy to the media and appearing as though he wanted to get even with his critics in the party.

Their contention was that while the BJP’s criticism centred around “broad policy matters” impinging on the ethics of business takeovers, Shourie sounded as though he was “holding a brief for a particular corporate house” while explaining the details of the VSNL deal.

Sources said the disinvestment minister had initially wanted Shettigar and Shastri to be present at his news conference. However, the two, they said, were advised by BJP president K. Jana Krishnamurthi to keep away.

“The feeling was the tensions could have spilled out in the open had he attacked or criticised the party and they were forced to reply,” the sources said.

   

 
 
JAYA ACT FORCES STALIN’S HAND 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai, June 5: 
Chief minister Jayalalithaa today scored a point over political rival Karunanidhi by giving an ultimatum to his son Stalin to choose between his Chennai mayoral seat and the MLA’s chair.

The DMK youth wing leader has 15 days to make up his mind after Governor P.S. Ramamohan Rao giving his assent to the Tamil Nadu Municipal Laws (Amendment) Act, 2002.

According to the Act, if a member of the Assembly or either House of Parliament holds the office of mayor or deputy mayor of a municipal corporation or chairman or vice-chairman of a municipality or of a town panchayat or any top post in rural local bodies, the individual gets to keep either one of the two positions.

While the government strives to give credence to its latest legislation, the Opposition is seething over what it perceives is an “act of political vendetta”.

They point out that, if Stalin steps down as mayor, deputy mayor Karate Thyagarajan of the ADMK would discharge the responsibilities, giving the ruling party a complete control of the city’s administration.

The DMK’s councillors in the Chennai corporation last month appealed in vain to the governor to defy the Bill.

However now, neither the party nor Stalin is keen on a knee-jerk reaction to the governor’s compliance with the government’s move. Insiders say this is because the party is confident that the Act will be struck down when subjected to a judicial scrutiny.

Doubts have already been aired in the political circles whether the governor’s assent to these Bills would suffice. Some political observers maintain that the president’s nod is not required in this case.

The “disqualification proviso”, they point out by way of justification, has been inserted into the municipal laws of the state — including the Chennai City Municipal Corporation Act, 1919 and the District Municipalities Act, 1920 — and the local government falls within the State List of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution.

However, there is another legal opinion that the new Act is in direct conflict with Central government enacted Representation of the People’s Act, which makes no mention of any disqualification clause for MPs holding posts in state administrative bodies.

Moreover, they argue that since the Panchayati Raj and Nagarpalika Acts are the outcome of the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments, it is not a subject that is totally under the control of the states now.

Further, both the amendments clearly direct local bodies to give due representation to MPs and MLAs. Hence, they argue, the proposed amendments of the Tamil Nadu government are bound to be annulled if legally challenged.

Jaya charge

Chief minister Jayalalithaa alleged today that the Election Commission had ordered a re-poll in 58 booths in the Saidapet Assembly segment tomorrow only to “satisfy” DMK leader M. Karunanidhi.

This, the ADMK leader claimed, was more so because the DMK was part of the BJP-led NDA at the Centre.

The ADMK did not see any need for re-polling, the chief minister said, adding that nevertheless “we will face it”.

Speaking to reporters, Jayalalithaa pointed out that during the DMK regime, when the ADMK had complained to the commission, demanding a re-poll in Tiruchi-II Assembly constituency following similar irregularities in a by-poll, the commission had merely deferred the counting of votes for two days.

After that, counting was taken up and the “DMK candidate was declared elected”.

   

 
 
HARD LINE ON KASHMIR ON ATAL TABLE 
 
 
FROM SEEMA GUHA
 
New Delhi, June 5: 
A section of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s advisers believes that the time has come for India to show an iron fist in Kashmir.

The assassination of Abdul Gani Lone has thrown cold water on the government’s plans to woo moderate elements and hold credible elections in the state. The murder has spread terror and policy planners feel that the fear of the gun will keep people away from polling booths. Nor would moderates willing to tango with New Delhi be willing to do so.

According to these advisers, the government should crack the whip because people need to know that India calls the shots in Kashmir, not the militants. Militants, they say, have won the psychological battle in the Valley, and the Centre needs to act fast to reverse the trend.

The answer, they feel, is simple: hunt out the militants, go into overdrive if necessary and sanitise the state. If this means search operations which could even be counter-productive, so be it, the officials say. The advisers say Delhi must send out the right signals to those who want to break the cycle of violence in the state.

“Once the people know who calls the shots, the mood in the Valley is likely to change again,” said one official, explaining that the only way to gain the trust of the civilian population is by ensuring that they are no longer threatened by the militants.

The official assessment is that round one has gone to the militants. People of Kashmir have drawn their own lessons from Lone’s assassination, officials say, and the general feeling is that Delhi cannot protect its own. This means that moderate elements willing to engage with the Centre could face the risk of elimination.

Faced with a common threat from militants, the squabbling leaders of the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference have already closed ranks. Lone’s eldest son has been inducted into the echelons and will take his father’s place in the organisation. Chances of any Hurriyat leader stepping out of line now are now faint. Pro-Pakistan hard-liners like Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Abdul Gani Bhat will be able to keep the flock together.

The situation can change dramatically if Delhi can show some spectacular success on the ground and eliminate a large number of militants. For starters, Lone’s killers need to be tracked down and punished.

Officials say that unless the Centre gets its act together quickly, chances of holding elections with wide political representation as well as a good turnout could well remain a pipe dream.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum:35.0°C (0)
Minimum: 25.9°C (-1)

Rainfall

2.5 mm

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 90%,
Minimum: 68%

Sunrise: 4.55 am

Sunset: 6.15 pm

Today

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

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