Bonded by tuition and TV-hate at the top
UK sect unites Islam and RSS in ‘evil West’ fears
Study rips high fare hike logic
Sikdar’s sulk ignites loyalists
Left goes red over rail-split divide
Arun holds up Advani example
Tainted juniors topple Thakur
For Sonia, it’s all in the stars
Seizure power for banks
Sinha high and Shah low for Bollywood

Siliguri, July 2: 
They have too much in common, down to their weakness for private tuition and aversion to the television.

Pramita Mitra and Parama Dutta, who came in first and second in this year’s higher secondary examinations, have never met, though. Nor did the students from North Bengal hear about each other till this morning, when they saw each other’s names on the merit list.

Pramita, who scored a record-smashing 975 from Balurghat Girls High School, beat Parama of Siliguri Girls High School by a slender eight marks.

Both girls — Pramita is the daughter of a college teacher and Parama, the daughter of an engineer — have brought not just their little-known schools under the spotlight, but the backward region as well.

Pramita had first brought fame to her school two years ago when she was among the top 10 — she had come fourth — in the Madhyamik examinations. She knew she had only herself to beat when she took the higher secondary exams from her Balurghat school.

“Private tuition is necessary for the simple reason that teachers cannot give individual attention to the students in a class, no matter how hard they try,” Pramita, who was privately tutored by five teachers, said.

Parama, too, helped by a host of tutors, belongs to the same school of thinking. “I had private tutors for all seven subjects. Private tuition is important, but it is hard work and a bit of luck that count the most,” she said.

Starting with the first letter of their names and the medium of their teaching, they have a host of things in common, including their common dislike for television.

Except when watching football, a passion she does not share with Parama, Pramita, the topper, never has the TV switched on at home. “I would rather read Satyajit Ray or Bibhutibhusan Bandopadhyay in my free time.”

But football, or for that matter the World Cup, was another matter. “I hardly missed a match on television,” Pramita said, who rooted for Brazil all through. “I could not help shouting ‘Ronaldo, Ronaldo’ like other fans of the Brazilian star when he scored the winners in the World Cup final.”

Parama has no time for the television. “I am not a TV buff. I love music a lot more. I listen to soft music to break up hours of studies at times.”

When “in the rare TV mood”, Parama, who came second in the board exams, tunes in to Discovery channel or watches cricket, of course if India is playing, she said, her eyes twinkling.

Both girls had sweated to make it to the top, studying for hours on end in the run-up to the exams. But the toil paid off. Pramita scored 975 out of 1000 marks. Parama trailed close behind with 967.

Senior functionaries, including the local municipality chairperson, came racing to Parama’s house as the results came in. Minister Biswanath Chowdhury, who hails from the district, called up to congratulate her.

Pramita was not coy about her success. “I knew from the start I would be among the top five,” she said. “But the result was still a bit of a surprise.”

The topper was never “an early bird”, but “a night owl”. She used to study late into the night, averaging 10 hours a day.

“Father was always a big help, but my private tutors also played a crucial role,’’ Pramita said when asked about the reasons behind her success.

Parama attributes her success to her Siliguri school and its teachers. “It was my teachers who brought about the change that differentiates you from the herd when it comes to topping the merit lists.”

At the same time, she said she owed a great deal to her parents. “They have always been very very supportive. My world revolves around them,” she said.

“It was the fruit of her labour. She had been focussed from the start,” father Paritosh Dutta said. “I am very happy for her.”

As North Bengal basked in reflected glory, Pramita looked forward to her days ahead at Jadavpur, where she was slated to study engineering. “I would like to be a professor like my father after doing a Master’s in electronic or computer engineering,” the topper said, beaming.

Parama has not yet mulled over what course she wanted her life to take. “I am a bit undecided now. I need time to think about my future.”


Bharatpur (Murshidabad), July 2: 
For once, the imams here agree with their VHP-RSS counterparts. The threat, they say, is a common one to both religions – Hinduism and Islam – and comes from a common source, the “evil West”.

Islam, too, they feel, is facing a conversion threat. The number of Muslims having a change of heart to swell the ranks of a little-known sect, Qadiyani, would corroborate their claims and “fears”, they say.

The Qadiyanis, headquartered in London, were working overtime to lure Muslims away from their faith, a senior leader of the Tableek-e-Jamaat (also a renowned surgeon in Behrampore) said. “They are funded by the West and we are helpless in front of the threat,” he added, explaining that there was nothing they could do except see Muslims, especially in areas close to the border with Birbhum, changing their religion.

A visit to Ibrahimpur, a village in the Bharatpur area, revealed why the Jamaat leader was worried. The 80-home village now has only five Muslim households; the rest have converted to the Qadiyani sect.

The Qadiyanis, working from their head office at 16 Gressenhall Road, SW185QL, London, however, believe they are Muslims, a claim rejected outright by the Muslims. “The Qadiyanis’ basic interpretation of the Quran is totally different from ours,” the Jamaat leader said, before going on to explain the differences and how the religion “actually” began as a British-engineered ploy to divide Muslims.

Qadiyanis accept that their interpretation of the Quran varies from the Muslim view. “We believe that the Quran tells us there is going to be another paigambar (prophet) after Hazrat Mohammad,” the Qadiyani imam of Ibrahimpur, Azad Hossain, explained. And that paigambar, according to the Qadiyanis, had already arrived in the form of Ghulam Ahmed, a religious leader born at Qadiyan village of Gurdaspur in Punjab in 1835.

The different ways of the Qadiyanis — they are not averse to having the moving image (the television) even inside their mosques and the fact that they operate from an office in London — are enough to convince Jamaat leaders of the presence of the “evil hand of the West”. That was why Pakistan, an Islamic country, made things difficult for followers of the “new religion”, the Jamaat leader explained.

But, contrary to the Jamaat spokesperson’s claims, local units of the organisation throughout Murshidabad are trying to make life difficult for the Qadiyanis wherever possible. Aamir Hamza of Margram village in Khargram and his family now face a social boycott by others in the Muslim-dominated area.

Ibrahimpur, too, still has the boycott in place, theoretically, at least. But, in practical terms, it is impossible. “They tried here as well but how can five families boycott 75?” Hossain asked, explaining that only numerical superiority came in the way of the boycott.

The great debate within the Muslim community now continues in Talagram, Shahpur and Dangrapara, besides — of course — Ibrahimpur, all areas where the Qadiyanis have now become a force to reckon with.

And, if the “true believers” of Islam charge the Qadiyanis with being funded by the West to divide Muslims, the Qadiyanis, for their part, see a parallel between them with the VHP-RSS combine in their efforts to reconvert Qadiyanis to Islam.


Calcutta, July 2: 
A three-way showdown involving the government, the private bus syndicate and the consumer guidance centres is on the cards over the proposed hike in private bus fares.

The Council of Consumer Guidance Centres has written to the transport ministry that raising the minimum fare from Rs 2.50 to Rs 4 as demanded by a section of private bus owners is unacceptable.

“The bus owners are trying to take advantage of the situation. We have carried out extensive surveys and collected data, which shows that the demand for a huge hike is unjust and arbitrary. We have asked the government not to accept their demands,” said council secretary A. Karmakar.

The surveys have shown that private buses cover a maximum distance of 170-200 km and their daily fuel requirement is estimated to be around 50 litres. The findings are based on a conservative estimate, keeping in mind that even the most run-down buses can travel 4 km per litre of diesel, a council spokesman said.

Statistics and calculations show that bus operators would have to spend Rs 80.50 more per day after the Rs 1.64 hike in diesel prices. “It is evident that a 10 paise rise in fare at each stage would be sufficient to negate the additional cost even if we take into account that every bus carries over 900 passengers,” Karmakar added.

Secretary of the Bengal Bus Syndicate Ajit Saha, however, said bus owners will have to shell out Rs 225 per day. He said buses would go off the roads from July 8 if the government decides to bring down the minimum fare from Rs 2.50 to Rs 2 for the first 2 km. “This is absurd and totally unacceptable,” he said.

The transport department proposes to break down the existing minimum fare of Rs 2.50 for the first 6 km to Rs 2 for the first 2 km and then increase the fare by 50 paise for the next 6 to 10 km.

Saha has written to transport minister Subhas Chakraborty, giving a revised fare chart showing a minimum hike of Rs 3. “We are not going to settle for anything less or else we will take the buses off the road,” said Saha.

The transport department is scheduled to announce its revised fare chart on July 8, but is likely to discuss the revised fare chart with the respective bus syndicates before a formal announcement.


July 2: 
Bengal BJP leader Tapan Sikdar has gone into a sulk over the way he was shifted out of the communications ministry and handed the chemicals and fertilisers portfolio.

Sources close to Sikdar — a minister of state in the 78-member Vajpayee ministry — said he would meet the Prime Minister shortly to register his protest against his ouster from the high-profile ministry.

Apparently, Sikdar had assumed he was safe in the communications ministry and so he left Delhi on the eve of the Cabinet reshuffle for Calcutta, where he was scheduled to chair a meeting with officials of Calcutta Telephones today.

“The meeting was held but was chaired by the chief general manager, Calcutta Telephones. Sikdar did not attend after the portfolios were announced last night,” said the sources.

It was clear from the beginning that the communications and information technology ministry that Pramod Mahajan heads would need two ministers of state. Sanjay Paswan, a BJP member for Bihar, was clearly tipped to join the ministry.

At the very last minute, there was hectic lobbying to induct Sumitra Mahajan as the second minister of state. Vajpayee succumbed to the pressure, and that left Sikdar out in the cold.

Sikdar’s shunting has not gone down well with his loyalists in Calcutta. Nearly 250 BJP activists from north Calcutta and Dum Dum, Sikdar’s parliamentary constituency, gheraoed the party headquarters in central Calcutta this afternoon for nearly an hour, raising slogans against the central leadership. They later submitted a memorandum to state unit chief Asim Ghosh, urging him to apprise the high command of their “sentiments”.

Ghosh said party workers have “genuine grievances” against the leadership for the treatment meted out to Tapanda. A party delegation led by Devdas Apte, central observer for Bengal, will call on newly-appointed party president Venkaiah Naidu after he returns from Hyderabad on Friday and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, urging them to reconsider the decision, he added.

“Tapanda’s long stint in communications has helped him increase mass contact. But this overnight shunting to chemicals and fertilisers department is bound to take its toll on Bengal’s upcoming panchayat elections, slated for early next year. Lack of contact with the people will definitely weaken the organisation,” he observed.

Sumitra Mahajan and Paswan took over as junior ministers of state for communications and information technology in Delhi. While Sumitra Mahajan is likely to take over the place of Sikdar as minister of state for communications, Paswan is likely to be the minister of state for the department of posts.


Calcutta, July 2: 
Bengal’s communists seem to be facing embarrassing questions from their Left Front partners over the line the CPM and the CPI would take regarding the proposed bifurcation of railway zones, especially Eastern Railway and Southeastern Railway.

The Forward Bloc and a few other partners are learnt to have sought an explanation from the two parties about the support their Bihar units have pledged for railway minister Nitish Kumar’s bifurcation move.

The district Left Front committee has met a few times to chalk out an agitation programme to thwart the Centre’s move to bifurcate the railway zones. In the course of such meetings, the Front partners asked the CPM and CPI leaders to clarify the role played by their MLAs in the Bihar Assembly. The Front partners alleged that the MLAs of the two communist parties had spoken in favour of the proposed bifurcation.

Some CPM leaders in Calcutta are believed to have been aware of the Bihar MLAs’ move. But they remained silent when the Front partners raised the issue today.

The Front partners reportedly said that the CPM units of Bengal and Bihar were contradicting each other on the issue. While the Bengal CPM is opposing the bifurcation, the party MLAs in Bihar have supported the Centre’s plan on the floor of the Bihar Assembly. The contradictory roles have confused the Front partners, the parties told the CPM at the meeting.

It is learnt that the state unit of the CPM will take up the issue with its central leadership and urge it to guide the Bihar unit on the bifurcation. The Bengal CPM is also trying to describe the Bihar MLAs act as their “personal opinion and not the view of the party on the bifurcation issue”.


New Delhi, July 2: 
The new BJP spokesman, Arun Jaitley, today said the regular presence of deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani in the party headquarters was a signal that other ministers, too, must get involved in its activities.

Advani is likely to spend at least two days a week at 11 Ashoka Road, mainly to gear up the BJP organisation for the next round of Assembly elections. A large room, occupied by the office in-charge till now, is being done up hurriedly for him.

The headquarters sprung to life yesterday when practically all BJP ministers at the Centre turned up for M. Venkaiah Naidu’s coronation as party president. Naidu is expected to put his new team in place within a fortnight.

But Jaitley outlined a road map to prepare the BJP for the electoral battles ahead.

The proposed features are:

The party will facilitate government-people contact by asking ministers to spend regular hours in the office.

Such a proposal was mooted earlier when ministers were told to spend a day every week to interact with the workers, hear out their problems and follow them up. It never took off and the lack of a party-worker link was cited as a major reason for the recent electoral reverses;

The BJP should aggressively purvey the government’s achievements to its cadre and supporters.

Jaitley said even such “achievements” like the government’s “successful” handling of the border tension by using coercive diplomacy against Pakistan and “winning a war without firing a bullet” were not properly communicated.

The other achievement he cited was how the government managed to buck global recession and economic slowdown by recording the second highest growth rate in recent years.

“But the perception is of a slowdown. For the first time in politics, even the common man is concerned with economic policies,” Jaitley said. But he acknowledged that it was as not enough to put a spin on policies and package them as successful.

“Spin is not enough. People have become too clever. Spin has to be matched with performance,” he said.

The course of action to strengthen the BJP organisation that Jaitley hinted at also includes:

Making the BJP more aggressive in states where it is in the Opposition and where elections are due next year —Rajasthan, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh for instance;

Greater organisational discipline. “Today, dharnas and demonstrations are not reported. But breach of discipline is promptly reported. We will have to enforce discipline norms,” Jaitley said;

Finally, restructuring the organisation by handing out assignments and chalking out programmes.


New Delhi, July 2: 
Questionable practices by members of his personal staff is believed to have cost C.P. Thakur his job. Thakur, who was the health and family welfare minister in the Vajpayee Cabinet, was dropped by the Prime Minister in Monday’s shuffle.

A serious charge against his ministry was that changes were made in “Formulary”, which could have helped pharmaceutical firms run by people close to him.

The “Formulary” contains a list of medicines and drug formulations that government hospitals and dispensaries buy under the Central Government Health Scheme. The list was last revised by former health minister Dalit Ezhilmalai of the Pattali Makkal Katchi in the short-lived Vajpayee government in 1998.

After Thakur took charge of the health portfolio, ministry officials changed the list allegedly to favour certain firms owned by persons close to the minister’s family. The list usually remains unchanged for five years, according to sources.

However, Thakur, a doctor by profession, denied the allegations and wrote to the Director General of Health Services and the health secretary, saying he had written to Vajpayee seeking a CBI inquiry into the matter.

Thakur said all sorts of corruption charges had been levelled against him. “I have written to all government medical stores not to buy medicines supplied by my son’s firms as long as I am health minister. But people stooped lower than that,” he said in an interview.

However, the Prime Minister was not convinced by his explanations.

Sources said changes in the list of private hospitals where the beneficiaries of CGHS can be sent for certain medical procedures and tests also led to questions.

At present, 19 cities are covered under the scheme. The beneficiaries are reimbursed through the medical charges at these hospitals while the hospitals end up getting almost assured business from the government.

Corruption charges apart, Thakur could have saved his chair had it not been for the attack by his supporters on the BJP headquarters in Patna following media reports that he was being dropped from the Cabinet. Sources said a senior BJP leader from Bihar, who is very close to Thakur, interceded on his behalf with a request that he should not be dropped.

He argued that the BJP could lose its upper caste vote bank in Bihar by dropping Thakur, who belonged to the Bhumihar caste.. But the BJP managers seem to have offset the fallout by inducting Nikhil Kumar Choudhary, another Bhumihar, as minister of state in Monday’s reshuffle.

The ransacking of the state BJP office in Patna by Thakur’s supporters so infuriated Vajpayee and Advani that they decided to drop him even though he condemned the hooliganism.

Thakur’s charge that gutka manufacturers and other lobbies were behind his ouster was also not well received in government and BJP circles. A TV channel quoted Thakur as saying that the gutka lobby’s campaign against him had cost him his job.


New Delhi, July 2: 
When it comes to astrology, the Congress is a step ahead of and more careful than the BJP and other NDA constituents.

The Congress high command has put on hold the entire decision-making process in view of the adverse placement of stars — “panchak” — that would end at midnight tonight. Senior Congress leaders with a flair for astrology and occult sciences wondered how the BJP could go about making sweeping changes in the government and party at such an “inauspicious” time.

“Perhaps nobody wanted to miss the bus when it came to a Cabinet berth,” said a AICC functionary, pointing out that a majority of the new ministers stayed away from assuming office today even though it was a working day. “We understand that many new ministers have organised puja and havan to tide over the adverse impact,” he said.

Among the major decisions hanging fire in the Congress is the appointment of new party presidents for Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. Congress president Sonia Gandhi has also prepared a blueprint for “Sadhbawna ke Sipahi (Soldiers of Harmony)”, a voluntary anti-riot force to be deployed in “sensitive districts” across the country.

Sriprakash Jaiswal stepped down as the Uttar Pradesh Congress chief on June 4, but his successor has not been named till date. Punjab Congress president Amarinder Singh became chief minister in February but continues to hold dual charge.

Almost all factions have revolted against Haryana Congress chief Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who has been the Pradesh Congress Committee president for more than five years at a stretch. In Maharashtra, chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and state Congress president Govind Rao Adik are not on talking terms.

Senior Congress leaders said Sonia has held wide-ranging consultations in the past few days to pick out the new state unit chiefs. She has short-listed Arun Kumar Singh “Munna” and Pramod Tiwari for Uttar Pradesh. Indications are that Munna will be the new chief.

Birender Singh is tipped to replace Hooda in Haryana. The powerful Bhajan Lal camp is not averse to Birender on a promise that Lal should be projected as the next chief minister.

Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh is going to the US on July 15. The leadership has zeroed in on R.L. Bhatia but the former Union minister is reluctant to head the party. Other names doing the rounds include H.S. Hanspal and Sant Ram Singhla.


New Delhi, July 2: 
The presidential Ordinance on debt recovery enables government financial institutions and banks to take possession of the defaulter’s assets.

Section 13 of the Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest Ordinance, 2002, states that a financial institution can “take possession of the secured assets (properties) of the borrower including the right to transfer by way of lease, assignment or sale and realise the secured asset”.

The stringent provision has been incorporated in the Ordinance as corporate sharks do not pay debts and go to the Debts Recovery Tribunal, where cases of such civil nature drag on for years.

Officially, it is estimated that debts worth Rs 1,20,000 crore are pending due to the non-payment of business houses. The Union budget, however, puts it at Rs 4.5 lakh crore — a quarter of the total budget.

The Centre had no way other than promulgating the presidential Ordinance for the speedy recovery of the debts, sources said.

Under Section 13(4)(b) of the Ordinance, management of the secured assets of the borrower could be taken over and under part (c) “any person” could be appointed to manage the assets, “the possession of which has been taken over by the secured creditor” (the financial institution or bank which had given the loan but was unable to recover it).

Section 13(1) says the creditor can take recourse to all steps, including acquisition of the assets of the borrower, taking over management and appointing “any person” to run the management, “without the intervention of court or tribunal”.

A chief metropolitan magistrate or district magistrate, under whose jurisdiction the property comes, may order for its acquisition on an application by the bank or the financial institution. The order of acquisition by the magistrate, too, “shall not be called into question by any court of law”.

This means, there can be no appeal from the borrower.

However, appeal is allowed under Section 17. But for the right to appeal, the borrower has to pay 75 per cent of the money he or she owes to the bank or the financial institution.

“In this manner, at least three-fourths of the debt can be recovered”, said a law ministry official.

The Ordinance also empowers the Reserve Bank of India to cancel the certificate of registration of the erring company.

However, the Ordinance could be re-promulgated on its expiry and Parliament has to bring in a law. According to sources, the government may introduce the Ordinance as a Bill in the monsoon session to make it a law on debt recovery.


Mumbai, July 2: 
There is pain and pleasure in Bollywood today as another triumph has been tempered by turmoil.

The industry is celebrating the “success” of Vinod Khanna and Shatrughan Sinha, both of whom have now become ministers — the first pair of Bollywood stars to have scaled such heights in the political sphere.

But Bollywood will not talk about either film financier Bharat Shah or Sunjay Dutt. Both are facing serious charges and are deposing before Mumbai courts to wriggle out of situations right out of shady Hindi movies.

“You can ask him about Sinha and Khanna saab, but leave Bharat Shah and Sunjay Dutt out,” says an irritated voice in the public relations firm that handles Subhas Ghai’s media matters. Two others, a singer and a scriptwriter, also close the door on the Shah and Dutt issues.

The silence is understandable.

Today Dutt, accused in the Mumbai blasts of 1993, urged a special court to acquit him in the cases. The actor said the first information report at the time of his arrest had “certain discrepancies in the time and date of his arrest”.

His lawyers argued that the actor was arrested in the early hours of April 19 that year but, in the FIR, the time of arrest was shown as 11 pm. Therefore, “the discrepancies in the FIR doubt the veracity of the document”.

The defence further argued that unlike what was reported earlier, the star had not made a confession that he owned an assault rifle — an AK 56 to be precise — but had merely expressed his desire to “make a statement”.

The lawyers contended that there was no evidence to suggest that the actor had conspired with 172 others to commit terrorist acts in Mumbai after the Babri masjid was demolished in December 1992.

Dutt has said there was absolutely no evidence to suggest his involvement in the conspiracy and that the maximum he could be tried under was the Arms Act and not Tada as he was not a terrorist.

Shah, too, is battling the demons of crime and criminality, involved in a trial that attempts to chart the nexus between Bollywood and the underworld.

Deputy commissioner of police R.D. Shinde, who had earlier recorded the alleged confession of film producer Nasim Rizvi, deposed before the court in the Shah case today. Shah, along with co-accused, Abdul Rahim Baksh — Rizvi’s assistant — and Dubai-based diamond trader Mohammed Shamshuddin, alias Bhatija, were present at the hearing.

Absconding in the case are Pakistan-based Chhota Shakeel and Tarun Shah, Shah’s secretary.

The prosecution has drawn up a list of 109 witnesses including stars like Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan and director Rakesh Roshan. Priety Zinta, Rani Mukherjee and Akshay Kumar also figure on the list.

But if the Shah-Dutt duo is battling to stay on this side of the law, Bollywood still has something to crow about — its latest “achievers”.

Pahlaj Nihalani, chairman, Association of Motion Pictures and Television, says the industry is happy that the NDA government has appreciated Khanna and Sinha’s contribution.

“Sinha helped Bollywood get industry status even when he didn’t have a government portfolio. Now that he is in, I am sure he will continue to do so with more fervour.”

Shekhar Suman is as thrilled as Anupam Kher. Kher says it is a great achievement. “The decision shows the respect the government has for the industry,” is how Kher sees the duo’s entry into Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s ministry.

Even Opposition MP and former actor Sunil Dutt is full of praise for Khanna and Sinha. “We are proud that they have become ministers,” he says.

“Shatru and Vinod are capable individuals. They will surely do well,” Sunil Dutt said.


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