Naxalite pressure group
BJP divided on Delhi dash for Sikdar
Congress rules out joint rail drive
Traders threaten strike
Bhagirathi swallows 50 homes
Bajrang gun culture for Tiger ally
Valley deal gathers dust
Election law out of court reach: Jana
Sahgal blasts Sangh on Kashmir
Muslims split over talks with Kanchi seer

July 7: 
The recent police crackdown on activists of the People’s War Group and the Maoist Communist Centre, including lecturer Kaushik Ganguly, has prompted former Naxalite leaders to come under a common umbrella and pressure the government for their release.

The Bandimukti Prastuti Committee has prepared a list of 300 persons arrested mainly from Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia for their involvement with the PWG.

Committee leader Imanul Haque alleged that the police planned to book all the 300 under the Prevention of Organised Crime Act once it was enforced.

Haque pointed out that though the police arrested 75 persons from Midnapore district, not all of them could have links with the Naxalite group.

“We are sure that not all these 75 persons were connected with the PWG. The police have falsely implicated many people who belong to political parties opposed to the CPM. Subsequently, all of them will be booked under the anti-crime Act,” he added.

Former Naxalite leader Asim Chatterjee, who recently snapped ties with the ruling Left Front, condemned the arrest of the Rajabazar Science College teacher.

“We don’t support the political beliefs of the PWG, but the way in which Kaushik Ganguly and other university teachers were arrested reminded me of the frightful Seventies. I demand the immediate release of Ganguly and others,” the veteran leader said.

Arun Kumar Majhi, the lawyer appearing on behalf of Ganguly, claimed yesterday that the police had tortured the college lecturer.

However, the police today allowed Ganguly to talk to his relatives and offered him meals. The lecturer has been remanded in police custody till Wednesday.

Investigating officials said Ganguly used to offer assistance — in cash and kind — to the rebel organisation. The lecturer in chemical engineering was also a linkman between PWG workers in the state. As a member of the Naxalite thinktank, the college lecturer also used to conduct classes.

“Recently, however, PWG workers were divided over certain ideological issues and Ganguly had clarified his position in the party. But we are still unsure to which PWG group Ganguly belonged to,” a senior police official said on condition of anonymity.

Sources in police intelligence iterated that the PWG recently split over ideological issues. While one camp was led by Sudip Chongdar and another leader nicknamed Dipak, the other faction was represented by Partha Banerjee and Mithu Roy.

Ganguly, Tinku Ghosh and Parasar Bhattacharjee, who were arrested in a midnight swoop on Saturday, reportedly belonged to the Sudip Chongdar group, a police report said.

The intelligence report noted that the PWG had also split over its connivance with the Trinamul Congress in some pockets of Midnapore over the past one year.

The report claimed that Trinamul offered financial and arms support to the rebel organisation.

Ganguly and his supporters were apparently against the alliance as they felt that the Naxalite organisation was deviating from social reform and its tie-up with a “rightist” party was unacceptable.

The police have exploited the intra-party rivalry in the rebel group to arrest several PWG leaders in recent weeks. For instance, two weeks ago, Chongdar — an important leader from Kankrajhore in Midnapore — was arrested.


Calcutta, July 7: 
Intra-party squabbles are in spate in the state BJP with a section of the party criticising the leadership for going to Delhi to lobby for a change in junior chemicals and fertilisers minister Tapan Sikdar’s portfolio.

Hours after Sikdar was shunted to the present portfolio from the high-profile communications ministry, state party chief Asim Ghosh and his supporters trained their guns on the Central leadership, including the Prime Minister, and threatened to launch an agitation.

Ghosh, vice-president Muzaffar Khan and general secretary Pratap Banerjee yesterday met BJP president Venkaiah Naidu, party spokesman Arun Jaitley and minister in the PMO Vijay Goel to demand Sikdar’s “rehabilitation”.

However, sources in the BJP said minister of state for social justice and empowerment Satyabrata Mukherjee resented the state unit’s overtures to Delhi.

“Ghosh and his men are lobbying for Sikdar in Delhi, but none had pleaded with the Central leadership when Joluda (as Mukherjee is called in party circles) was offered the low-profile chemicals and fertilisers portfolio,” complained a BJP leader from central Calcutta.

The BJP leader added that party veterans like Sukumar Banerjee and Col. Sabyasachi Bagchi did not join forces with the state chief to lobby for Sikdar. “This indicates Ghosh’s desperation to keep Sikdar in good humour as he is at the helm of the organisation with the minister’s blessings.”

Speaking from his Nadia residence, Satyabrata Mukherjee said he was against lobbying for any change in portfolios. “It is the Prime Minister’s prerogative to appoint his council of ministers and we should not grumble over the allocation of portfolios,” he said, adding that he never protested against the leadership’s decision to appoint him as junior minister in chemicals and fertilisers.

Mukherjee declined to comment if he was aware about some partymen’s protests against Sikdar’s “humiliation”. “I don’t like to be dragged into any controversy. But I did not find anything wrong with the chemicals and fertilisers portfolio.”

Welcoming his induction as junior minister for social justice and empowerment, Mukherjee said there was a “wide scope” to work for the poor and the destitute in his new assignment. “I will shortly meet the NGOs working for the downtrodden and will allot funds to them on the basis of project reports,” he added.

Mukherjee’s supporters said the Central leadership had deliberately “shunted” Sikdar to “teach him a lesson”.

“Sikdar’s arrogance has antagonised some important Central leaders, including Central observer Devdas Apte who was assigned to oversee Bengal affairs in place of vice-president Kailashpati Mishra,” said a BJP office-bearer.


Burdwan, July 7: 
Former state Congress president Somen Mitra today ruled out a joint campaign with the Trinamul Congress to protest against the bifurcation of Eastern Railway.

Mitra was on a day’s visit here to attend a programme organised by the Burdwan municipality to name a road in ward 20 after deceased Congress councillor Sunil Das.

Minutes after sharing a platform with Burdwan municipality chairman Suren Mondal of the CPM, the former Congress chief said a joint campaign with Trinamul was not possible if it did not clear its stand on bifurcation.

Without naming Mamata Banerjee, Mitra said the Trinamul “netri” should first clarify if the agitation was a means to get a foothold in the Union Cabinet or to highlight the ordeal of the people in Bengal.

“Until and unless Trinamul makes its stand clear, we cannot launch any joint movement against the Centre,” he said.

State party vice-president Pradip Bhattacharya said Congress legislators would, however, join an all-party delegation to Delhi to protest against the proposed bifurcation.

Trinamul will launch its agitation from tomorrow with a rally at Barasat. “The rally will be followed by a sit-in demonstration in front of the Eastern Railway headquarters at Fairlie Place on Tuesday and a similar programme opposite Metro cinema hall the next day,” said Trinamul chief whip in the Assembly Shovandeb Chattopadhaya.

He warned that the party would go for an “intensive” movement to pressure the Centre on the bifurcation issue.

Reacting to Mitra’s statement, Chattopadhaya said Trinamul had already made it clear that the party was not hankering after a berth in the Union Cabinet. “We have decided to stay out of the Cabinet because the BJP did not agree to stall the proposed bifurcation,” the Trinamul chief whip said.


Calcutta, July 7: 
A traders’ body today demanded that the amendments to the West Bengal Premises Tenancy Act, 1997, be scrapped and threatened to go on an indefinite strike if the government refused to comply.

“The trading community’s interests have not been safeguarded in the Act,” said the Federation of West Bengal Trade Associations chairman, Mahesh Singhania. “Though the government said it would bring about certain changes in the Act to maintain a balance between the interests of house-owners and tenants, in reality, the trader-tenants’ interests have been overlooked.”

According to the federation, the amendments — passed by the Cabinet and awaiting the Assembly’s approval — are confusing in places. For instance, the tenant’s successor is defined as “a person authorised by the tenant who is in possession of such premises”.

This calls for clarification because it contradicts another provision. The other one stipulates that after the demise of a tenant, the spouse can live in the rented premises till his or her death but the children, after the death of the last surviving parent, cannot occupy the premises for more than five years.


Beldanga (Murshidabad), July 7: 
With houses being washed away as Bhagirathi erodes its banks at Banamalipur and Mirjapur villages, irrigation minister Amalendra Roy has instructed the immediate pitching of boulders and sandbags along the riverbanks.

In a meeting with department officials at Behrampore yesterday, Roy directed that the erosion be checked before further downpour worsened the situation. Bhagirathi is in spate following heavy rains in the past few days.

Some 50 houses — 42 of which were in Banamalipur and the rest in Mirjapur — on the riverbanks have already been swallowed by Bhagirathi in the past two weeks.

The executive engineer of the irrigation department’s Behrampore division, Tapan Kumar Roy, said while primary attention was always reserved for the chronic erosion along Ganga and Padma, the erosion on the Bhagirathi banks had taken the district authorities by surprise.

“Bhagirathi is not known for eroding and as a result, we don’t want to go in for any permanent work right now. But we have taken up a Rs 7-lakh emergency project to protect the affected banks of Bhagirathi. We have also assured the irrigation minister that we will fix the affected banks with boulders and sandbags,” said Roy.

With 42 houses being washed away by the river at Banamalipur, some 300 people have been rendered homeless. The villagers alleged that the irrigation department had turned a blind eye to their plight when they requested preventive measures a fortnight ago.

Jadunath Dey, one of the homeless who is now camping with his family in a roadside tarpaulin tent, claimed that the block development officer and the panchayat pradhan did not respond despite informing them when the first signs of erosion appeared.

“We repeatedly urged them to inform the district irrigation authorities and take appropriate steps. But they did nothing except to bring along an engineer of the irrigation department. Now that 42 houses have been washed away, the engineers are running around,” Dey said.

Enaur Rahman, the Beldanga block development officer, said he had sent a report to the zilla parishad and the irrigation department when the erosion began. “What else can I do?” he asked.

In Mirjapur, eight houses have already been swallowed by Bhagirathi and 20 more are in danger of being washed away.


Chennai, July 7: 
Controversy seems to be courting Tamil Nadu politics. Close on the heels of the furore over an FIR lodged under the anti-terror law against MDMK leader Vaiko for supporting the LTTE, another party sympathetic to the Tigers’ cause has decided to impart arms training and sword-fighting skills to its cadre.

The Dravidar Kazhagam, led by lawyer K. Veeramani, has decided to train its youth cadre in self-defence. The youth wing of the party, founded by late rationalist activist Periyar, adopted a resolution at a conference in Salem yesterday that it would train its youth activists in the use of firearms with permission from the state government. Veeramani emphasised that violence was not his party’s objective.

But the MDMK and the state government seemed to be on a collision course after the party toughened its stand on the possible arrest of Vaiko.

“If Vaiko is arrested, the very next day party members throughout the state will picket taluka offices and district collectorates against such a blatantly undemocratic act,” MDMK’s presidium chairman L. Ganesan said after the meeting. He added that Vaiko is scheduled to arrive in Chennai from the US on July 11.

He refuted the charge that Vaiko had committed an offence under the Prevention of Terrorism Act by organising a rally at Thirumangalam near Madurai on June 29 in support of the banned LTTE.

Ganesan said it was “highly unreasonable and irrelevant” to book Vaiko under the Act as LTTE leader V. Prabhakaran’s struggle was not aimed at “exporting cross-border terrorism into India”. Therefore, it would not be correct to equate the situation with Pakistan-sponsored cross-border terrorism in Kashmir, he claimed.

The Dravidar Kazhagam has also defended its training programme, citing the Bajrang Dal’s decision to impart military training to 5,000 women cadre who will form the Durga Vahini in Uttar Pradesh. The training will include lessons in the use of guns and tridents.

Pointing out that both the Uttar Pradesh government and the Centre had turned a blind eye to the Sangh parivar outfit’s move, Veeramani said his party was more constitutional and would kick off its training programme only with the state government’s consent.

The resolution is reminiscent of late ADMK leader M.G. Ramachandran’s dramatic utterance in Madurai in the early 1980s urging his party cadre to carry a knife for self-defence. MGR, however, never pursued his idea seriously.

In another resolution, the party lauded chief minister Jayalalithaa for lowering the qualifying marks for various categories of students applying to the state’s engineering colleges.

But the MDMK passed a resolution targeting Jayalalithaa. The party said M. Karunanidhi’s midnight arrest was a “black chapter in the recent political history of Tamil Nadu” and it underscored her “autocratic ways”. It rejected suggestions that it was seeking the DMK’s support for its planned agitation.


New Delhi, July 7: 
The Planning Commission is ready with a blueprint to revive Jammu and Kashmir’s economy with the help of the Indian industry, but the continuing violence in the Valley has made it impossible for it to be implemented.

K.C. Pant, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, had approached industry leaders last year to come forward and help the government revive the state’s economy that has been plundered by decades of terrorist violence.

Pant appealed to the industry to do their bit for Kashmir by investing in the state and generating employment. As the Centre’s emissary on Kashmir, Pant is aware that unemployment leads young men to drift into militancy and vice versa. However, breaking this vicious cycle has become near impossible.

Terrorist attacks have scared away potential investors. Tourist inflow has also dwindled. The state government is no longer in a position to absorb the unemployed as some hill states in the Northeast have done. The industry’s response to Pant’s appeal was enthusiastic with a series of meetings held between officials of the Planning Commission and representatives of Assocham, CII and Ficci.

The emphasis of the blueprint was on the Valley’s strong points — fruit production and food processing. The first step was to improve the quality of apples and apricots grown in the state.

Improvement of quality and marketing of Kashmir’s handicrafts and carpets came next. Detailed plans for the revival of tourism were also made. The industry identified hydel power generation as an area that has not been looked into.

The industry felt that a step-by-step approach was the need of the hour. In June last year, a technical team on convergence from Assocham visited the state. The team suggested that between 30 to 40 PCOs be converted to cyber cafes, each of which could provide employment to about four or five youngsters.

However, before any of the plans could take off, the attack on the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly and the terrorist strike in Parliament dramatically changed the situation on the ground.

The Centre ordered all STD and ISD facilities to be suspended. Though after much lobbying by chief minister Farooq Abdullah, the facilities were restored, no one was willing to take the risk of investing in cyber cafes, knowing they could again be discontinued.

Many in government circles are angry with the industrialists for backing out. “Indian industry has been given the kid glove treatment for too long and must also take on some responsibility,” an official said.


New Delhi, July 7: 
Union law minister Jana Krishnamurthi today said Parliament alone could bring in a law or amend the existing election rules to incorporate facts like educational qualification and assets and liabilities of candidates and their criminal records in the nomination forms.

In an interview, Jana said “the Supreme Court cannot order that a particular law should be enacted or amended” and cited an earlier verdict of the apex court in this regard.

Saying there should be a political consensus on the matter, the law minister said an all-party meeting he has convened on July 8 would decide about the nature of law — either an amendment to the existing one or a new one through amending the Constitution.

“The Supreme Court has ordered that during elections, candidates should declare in the nomination papers all their antecedents. But the court cannot order for amending or enacting a law. This is the settled position of law by the very court. Parliament alone can enact or amend a law. But the Election Commission has effected certain changes that were also informed to the government. Now the government has to take a decision. That’s the reason why we have called an all-party meeting,” Jana said.

Establishment of a National Judicial Commission will also be discussed in the meet. To be made responsible for appointing, promoting and removing judges, Jana said the commission was very much in the NDA agenda and it was also in the election manifesto. However, a consensus on this matter was also needed, he added.

“Earlier, judges were appointed by the government of the day. But after a 1993 judgement of the Supreme Court, the Chief Justice of India, in consultation with at least two senior-most judges of the Supreme Court, appoints judges. In the case of appointment to high court, the chief justice of the high court concerned is also consulted. Now that the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution, too, has recommended for a judicial commission, the matter needs the attention of the government, which is trying to evolve a consensus among political parties,” the minister said.

Dismissing alleged “differences” with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Jana said he did not want to take up ministerial assignment as he was not willing to occupy a Governor’s post when offered a few years back. “But there was no bad blood and that I got upset and went away to Chennai was a colourable interpretation by the press. In fact, before going to Chennai, I told the Prime Minister that I would take up any assignment after coming back (from Chennai) as I had a personal engagement there. It was interpreted as if I were hurt,” he clarified.

The minister refused to answer anything on common civil code, one of the core issues of the BJP from its Jan Sangh days, on grounds that “it is not on the NDA agenda”.

He also parried queries on the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the proposed arrest of Vaiko by the Tamil Nadu government, insisting that “after the minister concerned, who is the home minister and deputy Prime Minister, has expressed the views of the government, I cannot say anything”.

As for the steps initiated by former law minister Ram Jethmalani in issues like personal law reforms, Muslim law, maintenance and so on, Jana said: “I have just taken over charge (as law minister), I have to study and understand.”


Chennai, July 7: 
Defending her decision to contest in the presidential election, Left nominee Captain Lakshmi Sahgal has said the Sangh parivar by intensifying its communal agenda, including the proposal to trifurcate Jammu and Kashmir, had validated and rejuvenated her campaign against the communal forces, though hers was a “symbolic political fight”.

“The unity that we have built in this campaign in such a short duration so far will continue even after the presidential elections,” Sahgal said.

Sahgal was in Chennai yesterday on the first leg of her campaign in the south for the July 15 presidential election. She is campaigning in Bangalore today.

Sahgal warned that there could be “nothing more disastrous” to the country than the Sangh parivar’s idea of dividing Jammu and Kashmir into not three but four parts with Jammu being made a separate state, Ladakh a Union Territory, the Kashmir Valley made into separate territory and another state for the Kashmiri Pundits.

Punctuating her address in halting Tamil, since she originally hails from Tamil Nadu and had graduated from Madras Medical College, Sahgal said the people in Kashmir, where the majority are Muslims, had rejected the “Two Nation Theory” and joined India in 1947 and “that has been the plank on which our democracy and secularism has been based.”

Nothing worse can happen to India than this plank being undermined by the Sangh parivar’s proposal, she said, adding, “a move which we have resisted all these years losing so many people and spending so much money.”

Expressing shock and pain that the Sangh could even think of such a proposal, Sahgal said her campaign for the presidency was not a “question of winning or losing”. “We want our voices to be heard by the people of India,” she said.

Asserting that all problems could ultimately be solved only through dialogue and not by “armed confrontation”, Sahgal opposed the idea of a burgeoning defence budget when there was still so much poverty and unemployment in India. “People still do not know the consequences of having atomic weapons,” she said and disagreed with the concept of “nuclear deterrence”.


New Delhi, July 7: 
The Muslim community is sharply divided over continuing talks on the Ayodhya tangle with the Sankaracharya of Kanchi, saying Swami Jayendra Saraswathi should first come forward with a concrete formula to resolve the issue.

The Kanchi seer’s offer to Muslim leaders to visit his mutt has evoked mixed response. The All-India Muslim Personal Law Board, headed by Maulana Rabey Nadvi, said its members have not been invited.

Members of several other organisations also denied having any knowledge of talks between Muslim leaders and the Sankaracharya.

A section of Muslim leaders like Maulana Asad Madni of the Jamiat-e-Ulema and Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid Syed Ahmed Bukhari are opposed to an out-of-court settlement. These groups have the support of several political parties like the Congress, the Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Indian Union Muslim League.

Muslim organisations point to the ongoing tussle between hawks and doves in the BJP, expressing doubts on the talks helping the Kanchi seer achieve his mission. The promotion of L.K. Advani to deputy Prime Minister, the appointment of Vinay Katiyar as the BJP chief in Uttar Pradesh and the likely appointment of Uma Bharti as the president of the BJP’s Madhya Pradesh unit have convinced them that the BJP is reverting to its “original Hindutva agenda”.

In their view, if Muslims start talking about a “negotiated settlement”, Hindutva hardliners may view it as a sign of weakness.

However, another section of Muslim leaders is in favour of talks with the Sankaracharya. The seer, according to them, is the best bet for an out-of-court settlement.

Some Muslim law board members feel that even if the court verdict goes in favour of Muslims — which is a possibility given the backdrop of the Gujarat carnage — it would be difficult to implement. In such a scenario, they say, an out-of-court settlement in the “spirit of give-and-take” would go a long way in restoring peace and communal harmony.

The leaders accused the VHP of being a hurdle in the path of a negotiated settlement.

The pro-settlement lobby said if the VHP stopped making provocative statements and the Sankaracharya came up with a formula, the Muslim community might accept an out-of-court settlement.

Their demands include construction of a mosque in the disputed area and enactment of a new law by Parliament disallowing the construction of any other place of worship on the site.

Muslim leaders are tight-lipped about the identity of those holding talks with the Sankaracharya. However, sources said a former Union minister, heads of some lesser-known Muslim organisations, a diwan of a prominent dargah and some members of the Muslim law board are in touch with the Sankaracharya and the Prime Minister’s Office.


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