President next month, certified graduate last month
BJP counts Kalam gain & loss
Political gag on War and Peace
Grenades and bullets fly near Farooq venue
PM plays by written rule
Gutka ban on the cards
Inmate death triggers jail revolt

 
 
PRESIDENT NEXT MONTH, CERTIFIED GRADUATE LAST MONTH 
 
 
FROM M.R. VENKATESH
 
Chennai, June 15: 
Signed on August 18, 1954. Delivered on May 30, 2002.

A.P.J. Abdul Kalam received his B.Sc. degree certificate only last month, almost 48 years after he had cleared the examination and barely 10 days before the NDA nominated him as its presidential candidate.

Kalam, who passed his B.Sc. in second class from St. Joseph’s College in Tiruchirapalli with physics, mathematics and chemistry, had not bothered to apply for the certificate — call it an early signal of an absent-minded professor or sheer irreverence for the “calligraphic paper certificate” by someone in search of knowledge.

When Kalam joined the Madras Institute of Technology to study aeronautical engineering, his marksheet had sufficed. But for a chance encounter with the registrar of Madras University, Kalam’s B.Sc. degree certificate, signed by then vice-chancellor A.L. Mudaliyar, might still not have seen the light of the day.

The topic came up when registrar N. Mani met Kalam at the Anna University guesthouse on May 22. He had come to hand over the honorary doctorate degree Madras University had conferred on one of its brilliant pupils in 1999. Kalam was unable to attend the special convocation three years ago.

With one certificate in hand, Kalam quietly mentioned the missing one. An astonished Mani had wondered how the eminent scientist managed in his interviews without the certificate. “I had attended only two interviews (since passing B.Sc. in 1954) showing only my marks list those days,” was Kalam’s quiet response.

Mani immediately set down to the task. He gleaned all the details about the professor’s graduation and set the well-oiled machinery at the varsity in motion. “We were able to trace his degree certificate; it was found in good shape, in very safe condition in the university which has a mechanism to keep the unclaimed certificates. I then handed over the degree certificate to Kalam on May 30, 2002,” said Mani.

Kalam was moved that his certificate had been kept safely for him for so long.

Mani, too, is all humility. “It is a great honour for Madras University that it was able to trace the degree certificate of such a distinguished scientist nearly 48 years after it was awarded. We were also very fortunate to meet him at what turned out to be an apt time and give it to him in person.”

Mani is not the only one feeling special at having met Kalam. Several friends and well-wishers today called on the man of the moment at his faculty room in Anna University.

The first to arrive were Muthukumaraswami Thambiran, the chief of the Thiruvaduthurai Adheenam, and Swami Atmananda of the Sri Ramakrishna Ashram in Karur, Tamil Nadu. “Your blessings are a great source of strength for me,” Kalam told the godmen as he saw them off till the portico of the faculty building.

Another man of god, Kanchi Sankaracharya Jayendra Saraswati, has hailed him as a man of “knowledge and virtue chosen for the high office” in his reaction to Kalam’s nomination.

Noted industrialist Pollachi N. Mahalingam discussed the need for more research into the Tamil script with the scientist who scripted India’s missile success story.

Alma mater and Tamil Maanila Congress leader S. Balakrishnan went down memory lane with the scientist on their school days at Schwartz High School in Ramanathapuram. Kalam completed his school-leaving certificate examination in 1950 while Balakrishnan passed out in 1954. “We are very happy that a Schwartz school boy will become the President,” Balakrishnan said.

   

 
 
BJP COUNTS KALAM GAIN & LOSS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 15: 
Realisation has dawned on the BJP that its choice of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam for President — and the hope it would “wash away” post-Godhra charges of being anti-minority — could prove counter-productive, especially in Gujarat.

The party is now trying to project him more as a “missile man” and play up his contributions to nuclear technology.

Vijay Goel, the minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office who called on the scientist in Chennai yesterday, told reporters today he regretted that Kalam’s candidacy was being viewed through the prism of religion. “It is most unfortunate. He is one of India’s greatest sons,” Goel said.

Yesterday, human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi said the BJP had selected Kalam because of his “scientific contributions”.

The feedback the party has been getting is that Muslims in the Hindi heartland are not exactly thrilled by Kalam’s candidacy — the Urdu press, sources said, reflected the mood. And in communally polarised Gujarat, questions were being asked why the BJP suddenly felt apologetic about its pro-Hindu agenda and was compelled to dilute it by “promoting” Kalam.

There was also considerable disquiet within the party at the doubts expressed about an apolitical person presiding over Rashtrapati Bhavan in an era of fractured polity. Goel, however, tried to counter such misgivings about Kalam.

“I found him to be totally calm and at peace, unmindful of the highest office he is going to occupy,” he said.

Kalam himself attempted an image makeover in an interview he gave to a magazine. Agencies came out with excerpts quoting Kalam as saying that he was not chosen because of his religion but because he has always seen himself as an Indian.

“Really, to be honest, I never thought of it that way at all. I have always regarded myself an Indian,” Kalam said, when told that many felt he was nominated because of his religion.

In the interview, Kalam was quoted as saying that the main task before him was finding the best way of integrating the nation. He said that during a recent conversation with children in Porbandar, a young girl had asked what message he would give. “I told her that our minds should be embedded with thoughts of the nation. Nation is always bigger than the individual. I think that message is relevant here too,” he said.

The President-in-waiting also apparently tried to play down the militaristic message his nomination was conveying to certain quarters. Asked how he looked at the India-Pakistan tension, he said he had not studied the issue thoroughly.

   

 
 
POLITICAL GAG ON WAR AND PEACE 
 
 
FROM CHANDRIMA BHATTACHARYA
 
Mumbai, June 15: 
The censor board wants cuts in War and Peace, a hard-hitting documentary by Anand Patwardhan that points an accusing finger at the Sangh parivar for nuclearising India while not sparing the fundamentalist forces in Pakistan either.

The board wants six cuts in the film, despite the fact that it was adjudged the best film/video at the Mumbai International Film Festival held by the Films Division of India, which comes under the ministry of information and broadcasting.

The censor board’s reaction “makes remarkable reading”, but it shows that “we were up against a very interested party with a strong political agenda”, the director said in a statement. The cuts have been demanded keeping two things in mind — scenes where saffron leaders are shown “making fools of themselves” and where Dalit leaders are speaking out, he said.

One cut the board wants is a scene where a Dalit neo-Buddhist argues that it is a tremendous irony for nuclear tests to be carried out on Buddha’s birthday or for Buddha’s name to be used as a military code to mark the tests when Buddha was always unarmed. The board has asked Patwardhan to “delete the entire sequence with visuals and dialogues spoken by the Dalit leader”.

“Cut number three is a demand to cut a Dalit song which describes the killing of Mahatma Gandhi by a Brahmin,” Patwardhan said. The censor board also wants the statement by a leading scientist that “China is our next possible enemy” and all references to the Tehelka episode out.

“Cut number six is the clincher,” Patwardhan said. “Under the heading GENERAL is the amazing diktat: ‘Delete the entire visuals and dialogues spoken by political leaders, including a minister and Prime Minister’.” War and Peace shows leaders like Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pramod Mahajan extolling the virtues of the N-bomb. Mahajan is shown making a ridiculous speech, all rhetoric and no logic.

“There are so many leaders in my film. If these guidelines are to be followed, nobody can make any film,” accused Patwardhan. “The censor board has been taken over by certain political people.”

War and Peace had faced problems before also. It was pulled off unaccountably from the Calcutta Short Film Festival, where it was supposed to be the opening film. The censor board also stopped screening at a Mumbai auditorium. “The regional officer of the censor board in Mumbai boasted that he would stop the Calcutta screening,” added Patwardhan.

   

 
 
GRENADES AND BULLETS FLY NEAR FAROOQ VENUE 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD AND AGENCIES
 
Srinagar, June 15: 
Chief minister Farooq Abdullah escaped an attempt on his life this afternoon when militants fired two grenades at a government building he was inaugurating at Bemina on the outskirts of this summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir.

Farooq, who laid the foundation stone of three new blocks of the Board of School Education, was addressing a gathering which included three senior ministers when militants fired several shots before targeting the school board complex.

“One grenade exploded in air while the other did not explode and landed in a nearby marsh close to the venue,” a police officer said. “The unexploded grenade was later detected and defused by the bomb disposal squad,” the officer added.

A senior police officer, however, felt it was not an attempt. “The grenade exploded nearly four hundred metres away. It was not an attempt. The grenade exploded in air,” he said.

Education minister Mohammad Shafi, agriculture minister Chowdhary Ramzan, deputy education minister Aga Mehmood and National Conference MP Ali Naik were among those present at the time of the attack.

Immediately after the explosion, the special services group and the elite Black Cat commandos encircled the chief minister, while security forces cordoned off the entire complex. Senior police and paramilitary officers also rushed to Bemina after messages were flashed on wireless.

However, undeterred by the attack, the chief minister carried on with the function, expressing satisfaction over the progress from a “time when the entire education system in the Valley had gone haywire”. Farooq, his three ministers and other senior officials were later escorted out of the venue under tight security.

A previously unheard-of group — the Al-Madina Regiment — claimed responsibility for the attack, which came as Indian and Pakistani troops traded fire across the tense frontier dividing them. A person claiming to be the outfit’s spokesman phoned local news agencies to say that the group’s cadre carried out the attack.

After the explosion, security forces moved into the Bemina locality and mounted searches.

Tension gripped the Batmallo locality this afternoon after militants shot a Border Security Force jawan. Police said militants fired at the soldier from close range. He died on the way to hospital.

For the second consecutive day, Pakistani troops shelled Drass, Mushko valley and Kharbu in the Kargil sector.

Pilgrims killed

Militants attacked a procession of pilgrims in the Khora-Kanthwara area of Kishtwar tehsil in Doda district this afternoon, killing two and injuring two others, official sources said. They said the militants fired indiscriminately and lobbed grenades from a hilltop.

   

 
 
PM PLAYS BY WRITTEN RULE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 15: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has asked former Punjab chief minister and Akali Dal leader Parkash Singh Badal to submit his complaints against the Congress government in the state in writing before the Centre could consider them.

Badal led a delegation of Akali and BJP leaders to Vajpayee today and demanded that an NDA team should be sent to see for itself the “reign of terror unleashed by the state government”. After a 90-minute meeting with the Prime Minister, Badal told reporters that the law and order situation under Amarinder Singh was “very bad”.

The Centre should immediately intervene as the “constitutional machinery has broken down completely”, he added.

BJP sources said the immediate provocation for Badal’s visit was the arrest of a former minister of his Cabinet, Tota Singh, by the Punjab vigilance bureau on corruption charges. Singh was arrested following the registration of a criminal case against him for alleged forgery and acquiring assets disproportionate to his income. He has been remanded in police custody till June 20.

Badal alleged that false cases were being slapped on Akali and BJP leaders. “(The) Congress government has unleashed political vendetta against the BJP-Akali combine,” he said. He also accused the Congress of rigging the recent civic elections.

Though Badal claimed that the Prime Minister as well as the home minister, who was also present at the meeting, had assured him that his demand for an NDA team would be considered, sources close to Vajpayee said the complaints would have to be given in writing first.

There is a perception in the BJP that if Vajpayee takes the Akalis’ side, he would be seen as opposing the chief minister’s ongoing “campaign against corruption”, which largely consists of probing acts of omission and commission during the Badal regime.

Singh, however, said the real reason behind Vajpayee’s apparent indifference was the Akali’s downslide in Punjab which has diminished its worth to the BJP. The Akali Dal has just two Lok Sabha MPs and its support at the Centre does not count for much, the sources added.

   

 
 
GUTKA BAN ON THE CARDS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, June 15: 
The Union ministry of health and family welfare has decided to implement in full the recommendations of a standing committee and ban the manufacture and sale of gutka and Pan Parag. The ministry will soon table a Bill in Parliament to make the ban effective.

Union health minister C.P. Thakur today told reporters he was in favour of total prohibition of tobacco products. “The Pan Parag industry has been causing major health hazard for its consumers,” he said.

The minister, who was here to inaugurate a “health mela”, added that the new legislation the Central government would soon table in Parliament has been named the Prohibition of Tobacco and Other Products Bill.

Outlining the damage “other tobacco products” was causing, Thakur said research and surveys on several age groups have come up with cases of cancer among children who tasted gutka from used packets thrown away by their parents.

The proposal for banning manufacture and sale of gutka was first raised in the Rajya Sabha. After a detailed discussion, members of the Upper House were unanimous that it was a health hazard.

The matter was then referred to a standing committee, headed by S.B. Chauhan.

The standing committee, in its report submitted this April, said that tobacco products have proved to be silent killers and their sale should immediately be prohibited to save consumers from the threat of cancer.

“The matter has now been referred to the legal section to prepare a legal framework for the ban,” Thakur said.

The minister said the Central government was under pressure from gutka manufacturers, who have been pleading that if the ban is imposed, a large number of employees would lose their jobs.

“I have also been approached by some manufacturers. But we are firm on our decision,” Thakur said.

The government is considering a rehabilitation package for those who might be affected by the ban. The health ministry has also come up with a proposal to encourage cultivation of medicinal plants on the barren land along express highways being built.

“We have sent a proposal to the Prime Minister to allow farming of medicinal plants,” Thakur said. This could fetch “good revenue”, the minister added.

   

 
 
INMATE DEATH TRIGGERS JAIL REVOLT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, June 15: 
The rebellion at Chhapra Jail in March this year is being replayed in Gopalgunge today.

Angered by the death of an inmate and an order to transfer 19 others to Gaya and Buxar jails, about 600 prisoners went berserk and took control of the jail after forcing out 50 officials, including the jailer, this afternoon.

The district administration has deployed armed police personnel around the compound to stop any inmate from escaping. Inside, the prisoners held sway as jail guards refused to launch any operation after sundown to wrest control of the prison.

Official sources here said the inmates became agitated when Jiten Ram died around 12 noon following an illness. Soon they went on a rampage. The situation aggravated when the guards began to segregate 19 undertrials for transfer to Gaya and Buxar jails.

   
 

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