China charms state-weary infotech school
Naxalite haven tag on Calcutta
Mamata for state, not berth
Rebels on the run, from malaria
RBI begins count of Rumtek riches
Left, Right unite against poll code
Electoral reforms that never were
Pistol haul on Gujarat yatra route
Sister-or-disciple dilemma in south
Parray disowns pro-govt rebels

 
 
CHINA CHARMS STATE-WEARY INFOTECH SCHOOL 
 
 
BY DEVADEEP PUROHIT
 
Calcutta, July 8: 
China, here we come; Bengal, here we go. That’s the entry-exit expansion route chalked out by NIIT. The software training major is “really bullish” about prospering in China, but is in pullout mode from government-backed computer training programmes in schools and colleges in the Left Front-ruled state.

“We have around 75 centres in China and are planning to raise the number to 110 by the year-end. The courses are offered in English and Chinese. Since there is a huge demand for English, we are also signing up with local partners to offer English education along with software training,” says P. Rajendran, NIIT chief operating officer.

In Bengal, the training major had bagged the contract for implementing the computer literacy programme in 100 schools. Though it was initially planning to “pitch hard” for the next phase, which involves setting up training facilities in 900 schools, NIIT has now decided to steer clear of the project. It has also put on hold its plan to enter colleges in the state with the NIIT brand.

“Given the model that is being followed in Bengal, we are not interested. There are multiple agencies involved in the project. Besides, the implementing agency has to bear the risk of collecting the fee of Rs 50 per month per student. Such a system is not conducive to smooth operation,” explains Rajendran.

The bottomline: while other states like Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are “underwriting the project” by paying the money to the implementing agencies, the fund-starved Bengal government can’t cough up the cash.

But the state government has a different tale to tell of the click conflict. According to a senior official involved in the computer literacy programme in schools, NIIT should shoulder the blame for “poor delivery”.

“The heads of Madhyamik, higher secondary and madarsa boards were not satisfied with the quality of education imparted by NIIT and brought the issue to the government’s notice. Following such complaints, we decided not to consider NIIT for the rest of the project,” said the official.

The Bengal fiasco, however, is not stopping NIIT from logging into other state government-backed programmes across the country to take computers to schools and colleges. At present, the company is implementing government-sponsored computer education programmes in 371 schools of Tamil Nadu, 82 schools in Punjab and 700 schools in Karnataka.

But for NIIT, the focus is clearly on China. Having a presence in 21 of the 30 Chinese provinces, it has also tied up with six leading universities in China to set up campus centres.

The first NIIT centre in Shanghai was set up as a co-operative joint venture with the education arm of the municipal government of Shanghai in 1998. The company is looking long-term as it has set a target of 500 centres in China in the next five years.

NIIT Technologies, the software development wing of the company, is also contemplating setting up “development facilities” in collaboration with Chinese partners.

   

 
 
NAXALITE HAVEN TAG ON CALCUTTA 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
July 8: 
With the arrest of several alleged activists of People’s War from Calcutta last week, police are a worried lot as they do not rule out the possibility of Naxalite activity in urban pockets of the state.

Intelligence sources said those belonging to the Naxalite group’s think-tank are mostly city-bred low-profile professionals and government officials.

“We have evidence suggesting that some of the well-placed people living and working in areas around Calcutta are PW ideologues,” said inspector general of police, western range, J.R. Bhagat.

Senior police officials of Paschim Midnapore said at least four hardcore PW activists, including two doctors and two more professors, have taken shelter in Calcutta and that they would soon be arrested.

Reacting to allegations that lecturer Kaushik Ganguly was arrested merely on suspicion, Bhagat said the police had “thoroughly investigated and found clinching evidence about his involvement with the PW before picking him up from his Dum Dum residence”.

“The PW has set up a revolution corridor from Andhra Pradesh to Nepal. Its city-based sympathisers co-ordinate with their colleagues in Nepal, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh. They exchange information, collect funds and arrange for arms and ammunition,’’ a senior intelligence branch officer said.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said at Writers’ Buildings that it was the policy of the government to allow political parties to carry out their activities.

“The government believes in democracy and does not obstruct parties like the Trinamul Congress, the Congress, the BJP and even various Naxalite factions to carry out their activities. But the declared policy of PW is annihilation and the government will not allow it,” he added.

Left Front chairman Biman Bose said there have been complaints of police excesses on some of the persons arrested for suspected PW links and it was the duty of the government to carry out a thorough probe.

The police have confirmed that the professor of Rajabazar Science College, Ganguly, was a hardcore PW activist, having links with front-ranking guerrillas of the Naxalite outfit from Andhra Pradesh.

“We have enough evidence to believe that Ganguly has been working for PW guerrillas for quite a long time. Besides, we have received important information after interrogating him on PW activities in the state and their sources of funding. He has also confessed to his involvement with the militant group,’’ said Bhagat at a press conference in Paschim Midnapore.

The police official added that the lecturer belonged to the PW think-tank and used to prepare blueprint of operations and selected persons to carry them out.

This apart, the officer said Ganguly’s responsibilities included selecting places for shelter, organising arms training and maintaining contact with MCC and PW units in Andhra Pradesh.

Bhagat, however, refused to disclose the information obtained from Ganguly and three other arrested persons in the Saturday midnight swoop, saying the lecturer was given the charge of “waging war against the state’’.

The police have seized his cellphone and are verifying the calls he made and received in recent times.

Some teachers from Calcutta University today submitted a letter to the chief minister, demanding the immediate release of Ganguly.

Several college teachers, research scholars and Ganguly’s students are camping in Midnapore town where the lecturer has been kept in police lock-up. They protested against the alleged torture of Ganguly and said the police should not misbehave with a brilliant scholar and professor.

An NGO, Liberty for Citizen, has threatened to move the state human rights commission against the alleged torture of Ganguly in the name of interrogation. Ganguly also told the court that he was severely beaten by the police during interrogation, showing injury marks on his body. The court has asked the police to submit a medical report.

“Doctors have checked Ganguly and a medical report has been submitted to the court,’’ Bhagat said, adding that he would not comment on the matter as it is sub-judice.

However, the official said the police arrested Ganguly not for being a professor but as a hardcore PW radical involved in subversive activities. “The PW is not banned in Bengal but if any of its supporters is found involved in any subversive activities, he should be arrested,” Bhagat said.

   

 
 
MAMATA FOR STATE, NOT BERTH 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, July 8: 
Mamata Banerjee today said the Trinamul Congress would fight “tooth and nail” to stall the proposed bifurcation of Eastern Railway.

“I shall fight tooth and nail within the NDA and outside to scuttle the Centre’s move in the interest of Bengal,” the Trinamul chief said while launching the anti-bifurcation campaign at a rally in Barasat.

Unveiling her “sustained campaign” against the Centre’s “one-sided move”, the Trinamul leader announced that she would lead a daylong sit-in demonstration tomorrow, organised by the party’s youth wing, in front of the Eastern Railway’s headquarters at Fairlie Place. This will be followed by a protest rally at Esplanade on Wednesday.

Addressing the rally at Barasat, Mamata said the state’s interest was “uppermost” to her than accepting a berth in the Union Cabinet.

“I have already told NDA convener George Fernandes that the bifurcation move might add a new dimension to inter-state disputes,” she added. A new zone, headquartered in Bihar, will be created after the proposed bifurcation.

State transport minister Subhas Chakraborty tonight led a delegation of Left Front and Congress legislators to meet railway minister Nitish Kumar at Delhi. Earlier, it had been decided in the Assembly that an all-party delegation would meet the Prime Minister on the bifurcation issue. However, Trinamul MLAs later opted out, saying a meeting with Kumar would not yield any “positive results”.

“What’s the point of meeting the minister who is the brain behind the bifurcation?” asked Trinamul chief whip in the Assembly Shovandeb Chattopadhaya. Instead, he said, the party would intensify its statewide campaign.

“There will be bloodshed if Kumar tries to go ahead with the proposed bifurcation, ignoring the sentiments of people in Bengal,” warned Trinamul general secretary Madan Mitra.

Coming down heavily on the BJP-led coalition at the Centre, the transport minister said in the Assembly lobby that the proposed division of Eastern Railway would create more tension in the country.

Left Front chairman Biman Bose said the anti-bifurcation campaign would be stepped up across the state. He added that an expert committee to review the issue was yet to be formed.

CPM mouthpiece Ganashakti criticised the Prime Minister in its front-page report for not giving time to the delegation of legislators from the state.

The Congress has also lined up an anti-bifurcation campaign, asking its students’ wing to demonstrate in front of all railway stations across the state on Wednesday.

“We have chalked out a string of programmes starting with Wednesday’s daylong stir. The state Congress will organise a rally sometime next week to condemn the railway minister’s unilateral decision,” said state party vice-president Pradip Bhattacharya.

   

 
 
REBELS ON THE RUN, FROM MALARIA 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, July 8: 
Mosquitoes have done what the army could not. Stung by an outbreak of malaria, United Liberation Front of Asom rebels who have taken shelter in the jungles of south Bhutan are fleeing their camps in the Himalayan kingdom.

Short on medicines and proper medical help, the malaria-stricken Ulfa cadre is clandestinely seeking help in hospitals and nursing homes in north Bengal.

Intelligence sources here said malaria has also sparked terror in the Ulfa area command camp located around the Kalikhola tri-junction on the Bengal-Assam-Bhutan border.

“Ulfa rebels and their camp-mates, including militants belonging to the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation, the National Democratic Front of Boroland and the Nepal Communist Party (Maoist), are suffering from malaria,” an intelligence official said

“Neche Khola, Nechtala, Tintala, Dhansergao and Diafam area camps located between Bhutan Ghat in the west and Gelekphu in the east of the Himalayan kingdom have been plagued by the killer disease,” he added.

“With Bhutan security forces and their Indian counterparts having successfully cut off the militants’ supply lines to the malaria-prone jungles of southern Bhutan, all medical supply has dried up. The militants are being forced to come out of their jungle hideouts. They are coming out in small batches of four to six members and are seeking admission in hospitals and nursing homes. For the past two weeks, these malaria-afflicted militants have been clandestinely seeking treatment in private nursing homes and government hospitals in Cooch Behar, Alipurduar, Jalpaiguri and Siliguri,” the official said.

Police in Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling districts are keeping a close watch on the situation.

“We are aware of Ulfa militants being driven out of camps in search of medical treatment. We are keeping tabs on all hospitals and nursing homes in the region.

“Suspicious patients admitted with malaria are being kept under vigil and Ulfa ‘spotters’ are being sent to check them out. Plain-clothes policemen have also been posted at hospitals and nursing homes to spot any sick rebel undergoing or seeking treatment,” a police official said.

Drugstores have also been alerted to report anyone making bulk purchase of antibiotics or anti-malarial drugs like chloroquinine.

   

 
 
RBI BEGINS COUNT OF RUMTEK RICHES 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Gangtok, July 8: 
A Reserve Bank of India team today began taking inventory of the wealth of Rumtek monastery in Sikkim, the global headquarters of the Karma Kagyu sect of Buddhism.

The six-member team, led by RBI’s Calcutta-based regional director Vinod K. Sharma, who was appointed by a lower court here as commissioner to carry out the count, reached Rumtek, 24 km from here, by road at 11.30 am, accompanied by two legal advisors and a photographer.

Sharma arrived at Gangtok last evening after the Sikkim High Court order to begin the actual inventory process of the monastery on or after July 1. The entire process has to be completed by July 15.

Tight security ensured that there was no untoward incident as the team reached the monastery to begin cataloguing the properties listed under Schedule A.

However, the team could only enter the monastery and the main prayer hall. The main door, where the properties listed under the schedule are kept, is yet to be opened. This, the legal adviser to the commissioner claims, is just preliminary investigation and would be undertaken “step by step”.

   

 
 
LEFT, RIGHT UNITE AGAINST POLL CODE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 8: 
The issue of barring “tainted” candidates from contesting in elections has touched a raw nerve in all political parties — be it the Left, Right or the Centre.

As of now, there are no provisions in the Election Commission rules that separately categorise political charges from criminal offences ranging from financial corruption to attempts to rape and murder.

“The Supreme Court has surpassed itself. There will be no democracy in this country if we accept its stricture,” said CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet after a meeting with the Election Commission. “What about political charges that are slapped on trade unionists and students? How should they be treated?” he asked.

For once, Surjeet had the support of all parties, including arch rival BJP. “How can the Election Commission legislate on a matter that is the prerogative of Parliament?” asked BJP spokesperson Arun Jaitley.

“The Congress has in place a system of checks and weeding out criminal elements,” said senior Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee.

Although advocating their unequivocal commitment to electoral reforms, all political parties balked when it came to abiding a Supreme Court or Election Commission fiat. They argue that there are various complexities involved in electoral reforms — intricacies that defy any simple solution foisted by the apex court.

Jaitley was repeatedly asked whether the Supreme Court strictures would apply to those charged in the Babri Masjid demolition case. Three Union ministers, namely deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi and youth affairs and sports minister Uma Bharati, have been indicted in the case. The BJP has claimed immunity for its leaders on the grounds that the Ram Janmabhoomi issue is a political movement.

“What about political vendetta? Laloo Prasad Yadav has borne the brunt of it,” argues a Left leader. Laloo was forced to quit chief ministership and spent months in the jail for a charge that is yet to be vindicated.

CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan maintains: “Our stand has always been that a person is innocent unless proved guilty.” In fact, the Left parties have for long desisted from maligning ADMK chief J. Jayalalithaa because the cases of corruption filed against her are still to be decided by a higher court.

The other argument voiced by political parties is that they have set up various committees to screen candidates in order to weed out those with criminal records. The Congress has an ethics committee headed by Manmohan Singh. It requires those in positions of authority to declare their assets.

Similarly, the BJP has passed a number of resolutions asking its MPs and MLAs to declare their assets. But leaders in both the parties refuse to reveal how successful the exercise has been in identifying corrupt elements.

Others like the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal make no pretence of having screening commissions. Mohammad Shahabuddin from the RJD has more than a dozen cases against him. Pappu Yadav, a known party hopper and now an Independent MP supported by the NDA, has more than two dozen cases against him.

   

 
 
ELECTORAL REFORMS THAT NEVER WERE 
 
 
FROM OUR LEGAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 8: 
This is not the first time that electoral reforms have been rejected by almost all political parties.

Earlier, reports of the Dinesh Goswami Committee on electoral reforms and another one headed by the late home minister and veteran CPI MP, Indrajit Gupta, were also ignored.

The law commission and the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution, too, had suggested a number of recommendations on electoral reforms to the government, but neither the ruling party nor the Opposition had paid heed to any of them.

While the Goswami committee recommended government or official funding of elections, the Indrajit Gupta committee made elaborate suggestions on political funding and measures to discourage criminals from helping candidates during elections.

The law commission under its earlier chairman Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy had almost made “sweeping” electoral reforms by incorporating both the committees’ recommendations.

In its report submitted to the government, the commission mentioned all the suggestions after the Supreme Court set July 1 as the deadline for the implementation of electoral reforms.

The law commission’s recommendations also included changes in the defection law and proving the strength of a ruling party.

   

 
 
PISTOL HAUL ON GUJARAT YATRA ROUTE 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, July 8: 
With just four days to go for the Jagannath rathyatra, the arrest of the mahant of the Saryudasji mandir here has created panic among the minority community, which has been apprehensive about the yatra.

The mahant was arrested for possessing nine country-made pistols.

“The arrest of the mahant has only heightened our fears,” said Abdul Qadir, a former councillor.

Yesterday, Vishwa Hindu Parishad activists had gheraoed the police station after the mahant was arrested. This afternoon, they demonstrated at the old high court where the judge released him on bail. Later, VHP activists staged a “victory procession”, making no bones about their respect for the “victimised mahant”.

However the interest taken by home minister Gordhan Zadaphia to ensure that the mahant was released on bail and the way VHP activists had created a ruckus to put pressure on the police only shows that the mahant has the blessings of the VHP. Even under police custody, the mahant was allowed to perform an aarti.

What is not known is why the mahant was keeping those weapons. “Even the police are in the dark about this. He has revealed the name of the person he got those weapons from. But why he needed those weapons is still not clear,” additional city police commissioner Satish Verma said.

The police commissioner fears that the mahant might have procured those weapons to distribute them, but we do not have evidence to substantiate this, he added. “This is an area of darkness,” he said.

The arrest of the mahant with the arms is a matter of concern for the city police, especially as the Saryudasji mandir falls on the route of the rathyatra.

The police are, however, expecting an early breakthrough in the case. Though the mahant has already been released on bail under tremendous pressure from the VHP, Rajendrasinh Chauhan, the suspended assistant inspector of the state reserve police who had allegedly supplied the arms, will be produced in court only tomorrow.

“We expect him to throw some light on why he supplied the weapons to the mahant and what he (the mahant) was going to do with them,” Verma said.

However, what the police have refused to explain is why they sought just an eight-hour remand for a person possessing illegal weapons in a communal-charged city.

The mahant was arrested on Sunday morning following a tip-off received by Verma. He was arrested from the Gokuldham Gaushala in Kunjhad village in Ahmedabad and nine pistols were seized from him.

The arrest of the mahant has cast its shadow on the Jagannath rathyatra, though both the temples are run by separate trusts. The Saryudasji mandir is closely associated with the Jagannath temple, which organises the yatra each year. The yatra turns 125 this year.

The VHP has accused the police of maligning the innocent mahant who, it claims, has been wrongly implicated by certain police officers who want the rathyatra to be cancelled and the peace process disrupted.

   

 
 
SISTER-OR-DISCIPLE DILEMMA IN SOUTH 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Thiruvananthapuram, July 8: 
For the people of Thiruvananthapuram it was an unique experience when the two presidential candidates, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and Lakshmi Sahgal, descended on the city today to attend separate functions, each clearly highlighting their individual styles and political thrusts.

While NDA candidate Kalam more or less circumvented politics and direct political action, the Left’s nominee underlined political astuteness in all her functions.

Arrival of the two aspirants to the Rashtrapati Bhavan on the same day was a particularly piquant experience for famous danseuse and Sahgal’s sister Mrinalini Sarabhai. The latter accompanied Kalam to a function at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre. Not surprising, considering that he was one of her late husband Vikram Sarabhai’s favourite disciples.

Deftly parrying media queries on where her loyalties stood, Sarabhai, accompanied by her children Mallika and Karthikeya, maintained that both her sister and “husband’s disciple turned friend” were dear to her.

“One is my sister and the other my husband’s disciple. How can I choose one from among the two?’’ she asked, pointing out that her sister’s candidature was a symbolic act, which sought to emphasise the issues of women empowerment and the relevance of Left politics in the country. Kalam, she said, had chosen to go beyond the realms of science and technology, an area in which he had unquestioned expertise.

The renowned dancer, who was at the forefront of the peace campaign in Gujarat, said the chances of a fresh communal violence erupting in the state could not be ruled out. ‘’One cannot say that the situation is back to normal,” she said.

Former chief election commissioner T.N. Seshan and Professor Yashpal were among others who attended the function at the Sarabhai space centre to mark the unravelling of its founder’s statue.

Other programmes in Kalam’s itinerary also had an academic touch. He addressed students of the centre’s school on the campus, followed by a visit to the Developmental Centre for the Mentally Retarded.

He later spoke with chief minister A.K. Antony on the phone, to express his appreciation for the latter’s support to his candidature within and outside the Congress.

While for Kalam this was the only obvious politic gesture, Sahgal set a blazing trail. Justifiably so, considering that she had come on a campaign tour to one of the few states where she could match or even edge out her opponent’s support base.

   

 
 
PARRAY DISOWNS PRO-GOVT REBELS 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, July 8: 
Pro-India warlord Kukka Parray has dissociated himself from Ikhwan-ul Muslemoon, the much feared counter-insurgency group that he once headed.

“The Ikhwanis are using guns to commit excesses on innocent people. Their activities are being linked with me and my party, Awami League. This is being done to malign me,” Parray said in a statement.

He said he would have no further truck with the pro-government militants, or ikhwanis as they are called in local parlance. The ikhwanis were believed to be carrying out his orders till recently.

Parray became a legislator from Sonawari in the 1996 elections. It is believed his poll campaign was backed by the security forces and the state administration.

Parray said his group had handed over all counter-insurgents and their weapons to the army. “Whatever atrocities these counter-insurgents perpetrated on innocent people cannot be attributed to me or my party,” he said in his statement.

Before the outbreak of militancy in the Valley, Parray made a humble living singing Kashmiri folk songs at wedding receptions. He joined the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front in early 1990 but later surrendered and formed the Ikhwan-ul Muslemoon, a dreaded counterinsurgency outfit that was responsible for the elimination of several top pro-Pakistan militants.

Parray’s political ambitions suffered a setback recently when activists of the ruling National Conference virtually humiliated him in his own lair. National Conference workers — whom Parray later referred to as “ruling party hooligans” — not only broke up his public meeting at his home village of Hajin, but also beat him up.

As if that was not enough, the Election Commission decided that candidates must attach their criminal antecedents (if any) along with their nomination papers. This has come as a bolt from the blue for not only Parray but also many reformed militants nursing ambitions of becoming politicians.

   
 

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