CPM heat on snipers
Sikdar threatens to step down
Jaya ban threat to Vajpayee ally
Expensive cure for ailing industry
Nene name for matchmaker
Imam pats forces for peaceful yatra
Steps for Kashmir elections
Khurana named BJP Delhi chief
Refusal of sex held as ground for divorce
Silent exit of Al-Jazeera reporter

 
 
CPM HEAT ON SNIPERS 
 
 
BY TAMAL SENGUPTA
 
Calcutta, July 12: 
A day after the state CPM reinforced the space created for Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government to wage a battle against the People’s War, the party leadership today slammed a section of the CPM’s Dum Dum unit for sniping at the government in defence of the arrested extremists.

In the leadership’s gunsight were two influential CPM members from North 24-Parganas, Paltu Dasgupta — also a district secretariat member — and Bitan Guha.

From the leadership’s standpoint, the duo by going against the CPM’s present hardline on the PW has acted like spindoctors, seeking to present the arrested activists of the Naxalite outfit and its politics in a positive light.

Going by the signs emerging from CPM headquarters on Alimuddin Street, the leadership is unhappy with Dasgupta’s stand as alleged PW activist Kaushik Biswas, who is absconding, is believed to be his close relative. His statements against the police and the government have reportedly been prompted by family compulsions.

As for Guha, his professed fondness for alleged PW mastermind Kaushik Ganguly, a teacher in Rajabazar Science College whose family he has known for a long time, has irked the leadership.

Much to the CPM’s embarrassment, Dasgupta and Guha have convened a citizens’ meeting tomorrow to express anger at the “police excesses” on the PW.

CPM officials said tonight that the leadership would shortly issue a whip to party members across the state, asking them to desist from criticising Bhattacharjee on his campaign against the outfit. “The directive will be issued after state CPM secretary Anil Biswas and Left Front chairman Biman Bose return around July 16 from their tour abroad,” the officials said.

“The behaviour of some our functionaries, especially the ones from the South Dum Dum Local Committee-1 has acutely embarrassed the leadership which has asked for an explanation,” they added.

Teacher falls ill in jail

Ganguly today fell ill and had to be admitted to hospital. The alleged PW mastermind was remanded in custody for two weeks on Thursday and was lodged in Midnapore Central Jail.

Police, however, suspect it is a ploy to avoid interrogation.

   

 
 
SIKDAR THREATENS TO STEP DOWN 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, July 12: 
Minister of state for fertilisers and chemicals Tapan Sikdar, who has been complaining about “little scope for work”, today threatened to quit the Cabinet after being dropped from the BJP’s national executive.

“I am ready to resign if not given sufficient powers to take decisions and work properly,” Sikdar, who was shifted to the fertilisers and chemicals department from the high-profile communication ministry in the recent Cabinet shuffle, said today.

“I have written to the Prime Minister urging him to either allow me to work or take back the ministerial berth,” the disgruntled minister said.

Sources said Sikdar was particularly upset about his exclusion from the party’s national executive following changes made by the new BJP chief, M. Venkaiah Naidu. He has been replaced by Tathagata Roy, brother of Trinamul Congress legislator Saugata Roy. State BJP president Ashim Ghosh, however, continues to be an ex-officio member of the party’s apex body.

Sikdar said he agrees that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has every right to reshuffle his Cabinet, but “I only want to point out that as a minister of state for fertilisers and chemicals, I have no jurisdiction to take any vital decision. I don’t want a berth in the ministry merely to enjoy some facilities. It is pointless to hold the present portfolio if I cannot take steps to revive the sick chemical and fertiliser units in Bengal”.

The minister claimed to have brought “a sea-change” in the telecom sector. “I worked hard in the department and achieved considerable success,” he said, adding that he feared that his efforts to spread telephone network in Bengal’s rural areas might now come to nought.

Sikdar’s loyalists, including state BJP chief Ashim Ghosh, vice-president Muzaffar Khan and general secretary Pratap Banerjee, recently met Naidu and other senior party leaders in Delhi, seeking a change in his portfolio. However, they returned without any concrete assurance from the high command.

Sources said Naidu’s decision to drop Sikdar from the national executive was an indirect attempt by the BJP’s top leaders to placate Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee, who has expressed her disappointment over railway minister Nitish Kumar’s move to bifurcate Eastern and South-Eastern Railway.

   

 
 
JAYA BAN THREAT TO VAJPAYEE ALLY 
 
 
FROM M.R.VENKATESH
 
Madurai, July 12: 
A day after landing MDMK leader Vaiko behind bars, Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa today kept up the heat on the party, threatening to ban it for its defiant and continued support to the Tamil Tigers.

Making an announcement that could prove embarrassing for the Vajpayee government, of which Vaiko is an ally, Jayalalithaa said the MDMK was a “fit case for proscription” as it was unrepentant about backing a banned extremist outfit. A special court would be set up to try its leader under the anti-terrorism law, she said.

“Mr Vaiko has been arrested for openly defying the law and there was no political motive whatsoever as we never even considered him or his party as a competitor to the ADMK,” she said, dismissing DMK rival M. Karunanidhi’s allegation of the arrest being “misuse of Pota for political means”.

Jayalalithaa warned that other Opposition leaders, including PMK chief S. Ramadoss, could face legal action if they “blatantly supported the Tamil terrorist outfit and issued statements”. She said the MDMK had invited a ban upon itself and her government had “no need to contemplate a ban on it”.

The Centre is, however, likely to proceed cautiously on Jayalalithaa’s demand. Government sources in Delhi said that if the ADMK chief approached the Centre, it would adopt a “delay and more delay” tactic.

But the government might consider opening up an informal communication channel with the chief minister, possibly through human resource development minister Murli Manohar Joshi, reportedly one of the few BJP ministers she still trusts.

The MDMK refused to be rattled by Jayalalithaa’s threat with party leader and Union minister M. Kanappan challenging her to ban it.

Claiming in Coimbatore that the MDMK had done nothing wrong to attract such an action, Kanappan told reporters: “Let Jayalalithaa ban our party. We are ready to face it.”

Vaiko, who was picked up from Chennai airport yesterday for his Thirumangalam speech backing the Tamil Tigers, was today shifted from Madurai Central prison to Vellore jail on security grounds. Police feared that crowds turning up at the Madurai jail would get out of hand as the MDMK had a solid support base in the southern districts.

A special police party led by Madurai (rural) SP Ayush Mani Tiwari brought Vaiko to Madurai today. Official sources said he was initially remanded in the residence of judicial magistrate Vanitha up to August 7 and then moved to the Madurai jail.

Vaiko’s counsel Asaithambi said his client would challenge his arrest in Madras High Court as the new anti-terrorism law specifically provided for issuance of arrest warrant and remand process by a “special court” set up under it.

Hundreds of MDMK officials and volunteers picketed taluk headquarters and district collectorates across the state and courted arrest. In several places, the picketers blocked roads.

A group forced themselves into the collectorate complex here, shouting slogans denouncing the Jayalalithaa regime.

In Sivakasi, from where Vaiko was elected to the Lok Sabha, nearly 120 MDMK men courted arrest.

Police sources said the picketers taken into custody would be let off later in the evening but it may take another couple of days to release other functionaries and senior leaders taken into preventive custody before Vaiko’s arrest.

As an MP and a “special accused” under the anti-terror law, Vaiko will get “A class” facilities in the Vellore jail. Sources said there “should be no difficulty” in him voting in the July 15 presidential elections at the Tamil Nadu Assembly premises. Senior counsel Masilamani has already pleaded in Madras High Court that Vaiko be allowed to vote.

Public reaction to Vaiko’s arrest has been muted compared to the widespread anger and condemnation sparked by Karunanidhi’s arrest last year.

   

 
 
EXPENSIVE CURE FOR AILING INDUSTRY 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Mumbai, July 12: 
At Rs 46,000 a second, Devdas is expensive. Really expensive.

But the new millennium’s most-waited-for film from Bollywood could be just what the doctor ordered for an industry that has been hit hard by piracy, threats from the underworld and a string of flops.

“It (Devdas) heralds hope,” says trade analyst Komal Nahata. “The film has had a phenomenal opening though we are yet to come up with the exact collections.”

The manna from financier Bharat Shah, director Sanjay Leela Bhansali and superstar Shah Rukh Khan cost a whopping Rs 50 crore to make.

The music rights to Devdas have been sold for Rs 12 crore, the territory rights for Rs 18 crore and the cable and overseas rights for Rs 10 crore. But that still leaves the producer with a “table deficit” of Rs 10 crore.

Whether or not the film is a success at the scale it is intended to be in the long run — it will take some time for the film to break even and then go on to make profits — all the big names involved still stand to gain.

Shah Rukh is perched at the threshold of international stardom. At the Cannes film festival a month ago, Devdas received a 10-minute standing ovation from a mostly White audience.

Bharat Shah could get back his respectability within the industry, which had largely shunned him as he fought — and is still fighting — allegations of being hand in glove with the Mumbai underworld.

Bhansali could find a permanent place in the big league after proving that he can handle scale, and that the bigger it gets, the better he does.

Artist M.F. Husain timed his exhibition of paintings based on the character of Chandramukhi, titled The Eternal Enchantress of Devdas, to coincide with the release of Devdas. Chandramukhi is played by Madhuri Dixit, Husain’s muse.

Such is the excitement over the film that Bhansali’s phones at home and office are constantly jammed. After a two-and-a-half-year directorial battle with Sarat Chandra Chatterjee’s epic about doomed love and human fallibilities, Bhansali is tired but triumphant.

The director believes the audience will “grasp” the power of the narrative and come for more. He has the support of a cast that is being widely regarded as a stroke of genius.

After “looking into” Hrithik Roshan and Abhishek Bachchan, Bhansali settled on Shah Rukh to play Devdas. If getting his favourite actress Aishwarya to play Paro was natural, choosing Madhuri for Chandramukhi was the masterstroke.

Bhansali has taken liberties with Chatterjee’s novel, bringing Chandramukhi and Parvati together for a dance sequence and showing Devdas as an England-returned advocate. But the audience doesn’t seem to mind.

The crowds waiting to see Devdas have gone berserk. Advance bookings started weeks ago and now upper class tickets are selling for as much as Rs 400.

This is something Bollywood has not seen in a long time, perhaps justifying Shah’s optimism.

   

 
 
NENE NAME FOR MATCHMAKER 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
New Delhi, July 12: 
She’s played her role in Bollywood’s celebration of unrequited love in Devdas — premiering today — and as if to atone for that, Madhuri Dixit Nene is now set to play matchmaker.

That is why she is deliberately, purposefully, suffixing the second surname.

La Dixit will play cupid in Kahin Naa Kahin Koi Hai (KNKKH). She was in town today, hubby in tow, to announce the launch of her first television programme. (Hubby was claiming that he was not who he was just to get the paparazzi off his tail). KNKKH will beam on Sony Television, prime time (8.30 pm), Monday to Thursday, from July 29.

Sony would like nothing more than for Dixit-Nene’s KNKKH to do to it what KBC did for STAR PLUS. But Sony CEO Kunal Dasgupta ain’t so sanguine. “It’s unfair to compare Madhuri with Amitabh,” he says.

Parading her prettiest self to the media, Dixit-Nene gushes: “I have been in the hearts of people; now I will be in their homes.” That may still not take her where many would like.

However, Sony’s pulling no punches, and asked UTV’s Zareena Mehta to produce the show with no cash worries. (The budget’s a secret).

“This is reality television, not necessarily glamourous,” says Mehta. “Our objective is to take the viewer on journey during which a girl makes the most important decision of her life.”

Kunal Dasgupta managed to put together KNKKH after at least two years of sweat and a last-minute deal. The deal was clinched with Taal Productions last week. Taal’s Anil Gupta had earlier signed Vinod Khanna to play a Dixit-Nene-like role in its own matchmaking show, Swayamvar. That was offered to Sony but did not take off.

After first claiming that Sony had plagiarised its idea, Taal’s Gupta has now been signed as adviser to KNKKH in an out-of-court deal. (The Court had indeed given Taal four months to respond but it failed). “Swayamvar will not go on-air,” Dasgupta claimed.

Not for Dixit-Nene, however, the intricacies of swinging channel deals or those of marital politics. “I believe in the institution of marriage,” she says. “This is not a game show. We are not trivialising the institution.”

Producer Zareena Mehta also works hard to stave off possible controversies. “Only those girls, boys and their families who wanted to be on television were invited to participate. It is only now that we are getting applications of people wanting to participate.”

Traditionally, negotiations in the institution of arranged marriage have been intensely personal affairs for families. It has so been to guard against the repercussions of rejection, to strike business deals and also to simply fall in line with convention.

But Indian marriages have also been consistent fodder for the entertainment industry — witness recent successes such as Hum Aapke Hain Kaun and Monsoon Wedding.

KNKKH’s producers promise not to go into the politics of marriage, in fact, not even up to the wedding. Its objective is to make lonely hearts meet — with parental approval — and it ends when the families agree to begin negotiating.

Each episode will have four sections — from Monday to Thursday — beginning with a girl agreeing to see three boys.

   

 
 
IMAM PATS FORCES FOR PEACEFUL YATRA 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, July 12: 
The Jagannath rath yatra passed off peacefully as the minority community went under a self-imposed curfew in the walled city.

Police heaved a sigh of relief as the much-hyped annual rath yatra sparked no incident, setting at rest fears and rumours of a fresh outbreak of violence in a city ravaged by riots not very long ago.

Earlier, they had seized arms and ammunition from shahpur and Kalupur localities, foiling a suicide attack on the yatra. Forty-five-year-old Shabirmian Sheikh, who wanted to avenge the death of his son in police firing during the recent riots, was among 14 people arrested.

In Anand, there was an incident of stone pelting when the yatra was coming to a close. The police opened fire on the mob that tried to disrupt the procession, leaving one person injured.

The Shahi Imam of Ahmedabad Jumma Masjid, Shabbir Ahmed, who had appealed to Muslims to observe “Janata Curfew’’ — to keep away from the yatra route or stay indoors – looked relaxed at the end of the day.

“If the men in uniform are impartial and strict, irrespective of the government in power, no one can disrupt peace and communal harmony, as we have seen today,” he said.

While claiming that his appeal had made a “tremendous impact”, the imam gave credit to city police chief K.R. Kaushik and the chief minister’s security adviser, K.P.S. Gill, for ensuring peace. Muslims also offered Friday prayers.

The rath yatra began this morning from the Jagannath temple in the Jamalpur Gate area amid unprecedented security. About a dozen elephants led the yatra, seen off by chief minister Narendra Modi.

Chanting bhajans, devotees pulled the chariots of Lord Jagannath, Balbhadra and Subhadra. Thirty-three trucks carrying devotees, 10 bhajan mandalis, 15 akharas and three bands followed them.

On police advice, the strength of the rath yatra was reduced to minimum and the length was cut down. The number of participants was less than the number of onlookers this year, a resident of Shahpur said.

A policeman on duty added that compared to last year, there was no sign of tension anywhere on the route.

During the last leg of the yatra, home secretary K. Nityanandam said: “We are relaxed. You can see no pressure on the police.”

For the city police who have been accused of inaction during the riots, today’s yatra was an acid test to prove their effectiveness and regain credibility.

Former chief minister Keshubhai Patel, minister of state for home Gordhan Zadafia, health minister Ashok Bhatt, minister of state for Revenue Haren Pandya, chief secretary G. Subharao, additional chief secretary for home Ashok Narain and director-general of police K. Chakravarty were present when the yatra began.

Commandos were deployed to protect the three chariots and bomb disposal squads had sanitised the area. Men and women in khaki covered the entire route, taking position on roads, at bus stops and even on rooftops. Policemen stood guard on almost every rooftop along length of the yatra to prevent any incidents of stone throwing.    


 
 
STEPS FOR KASHMIR ELECTIONS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 12: 
The Election Commission today announced a fresh set of measures, including electronic voting facility for migrants from the Valley, to ensure smooth conduct of Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir.

“These measures will go a long way in ensuring smooth polls in the state,” said deputy election commissioner Sayan Chatterjee at a press conference.

He announced the establishment of 900 additional polling booths after political parties complained that lumping of booths caused complications. Chatterjee said electronic voting facility would be extended to migrant voters inhabiting camps in Jammu and Delhi. Voters, he said, should not have to travel more than 2 km to reach their polling booths.

After political parties in the state complained that only the ruling National Conference had security cover for its poll campaigns, the commission took up the issue with the home ministry which has now decided to extend the same facility to all parties.

The electoral rolls in all the 87 Assembly constituencies have been computerised in Urdu — copies of which have been distributed to political parties. Chatterjee said in an unprecedented move the commission has also decided to distribute copies of electoral rolls to the registered but unrecognised political parties like the Panther’s Party and the Awami League.

   

 
 
KHURANA NAMED BJP DELHI CHIEF 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 12: 
Madan Lal Khurana was today formally appointed the Delhi BJP president. It also seems certain the former chief minister will lead his party in the Assembly elections due next year.

BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu, who announced Khurana’s appointment, suggested that the heads of the BJP units of Madhya Pradesh a

d Rajasthan — among the other states going to polls with Delhi — would be decided shortly.

It is widely expected that Central ministers Uma Bharti and Vasundhara Raje will go to Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

Naidu said: “No decision has been taken about any of the states (other than Delhi). At the same time, we are studying and consulting the state units to prepare them for elections.”

“If the party concludes there is need for change, we will consult the state unit. Otherwise we will gear up the existing organisation,” he added.

Madhya Pradesh seemed poised for a change as the existing president, Vikram Verma, declared in Bhopal that he was ready to put in his papers whenever the bosses wanted. It was rumoured that the Rajasthan chief, Bhanwar Lal Sharma, too, had resigned. Naidu refused to say if they were going.

   

 
 
REFUSAL OF SEX HELD AS GROUND FOR DIVORCE 
 
 
FROM R.VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, July 12: 
Refusing to cooperate in sex and denial of it to a man by his woman amounts to “cruelty”, a ground for divorce.

Holding so, the Supreme Court today upheld the decision of a high court, which had granted divorce to a man. He pleaded that his wife never cooperated with him to have sex and she also refused medical treatment. The man contended that his marriage was never “consummated”. He said the “medical problem” of his estranged wife was never revealed to him at the time of marriage and when he found it out and wanted her to be medically treated, she refused it.

Under Section 13(1)(a) of the Hindu Marriage Act, “cruelty” has to be proved by either of the parties to divorce, known as “dissolution of marriage” in legal language.

The high court had accepted the argument of the man that denial of sex amounted to cruelty. On an appeal by the wife against the high court verdict, the apex court said under the statutory provision, “cruelty includes both physical and mental cruelty”.

“The legal conception of cruelty and the kind of degree of cruelty necessary to amount to a matrimonial offence has not been defined under the Act. Probably, the legislature has advisedly refrained from making any attempt at giving a comprehensive definition of the expression that may cover all cases, realising the danger in making such an attempt,” the Supreme Court said in its judgment.

“The accepted legal meaning in England as also in India of this expression (cruelty), which is rather difficult to define, had been conduct of such character as to have caused danger to life, limb or health (bodily or mental) or as to give rise to a reasonable apprehension of such danger,” the apex court added.

“In the case in hand, the foundation of the case of ‘cruelty’ as a matrimonial offence is based on the allegations made by the husband that right from day one after marriage, the wife was not prepared to cooperate with him in having sexual intercourse on account of which the marriage could not be consummated,” the judges said.

They added that “when the husband offered to have the wife treated medically she refused”.

“In such circumstances, the respondent (husband), who was enjoying normal health, was likely to feel a sense of anguish and frustration in being deprived of normal cohabitation that every married person expects to enjoy and also social embarrassment due to the behaviour of the appellant (estranged wife),” they said.

The apex court pointed out that the man had already remarried after the high court’s judgment and “in the meantime so many years have elapsed since the spouses parted company”. “In these circumstances it can be reasonably inferred that the marriage between the parties has broken down irretrievably without any fault on the part of the respondent,” it said.

   

 
 
SILENT EXIT OF AL-JAZEERA REPORTER 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 12: 
A few weeks ago, the “harassment” of Time magazine correspondent Alex Perry made headlines in newspapers and TV channels. But the recent dismissal of Al-Jazeera’s correspondent, Nasir Shadid, following “subtle pressures” from the ministry of external affairs, has almost gone unnoticed.

A few days ago, the ministry allegedly asked Shadid to leave the country without citing any apparent instances of his “misdeeds”. In Perry’s case, one can assume that it was the uncomplimentary piece on Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee that brought on the harassment. For Shadid, no such reason was forthcoming. The foreign ministry even showed alacrity in processing his successor Rafat Yahya’s accreditation in an apparent bid to hasten the former Al-Jazeera correspondent’s departure from Delhi.

Officially, the foreign ministry has refused to comment on the episode and denied that it had given Shadid the marching order. “It was a decision taken by the Al-Jazeera management,” a senior official in the ministry said.

But, according to sources, the Arab TV channel’s coverage of the Gujarat riots — particularly scenes of a mosque being torched and interviews with women of the minority community who were tortured and raped during the ethnic violence — may have irked the Indian government. Also Shadid’s coverage of Kashmir, with a pronounced tilt towards the harassed minority community in the state, had not gone down well with Indian officials.

Al-Jazeera, which is keen to expand its bureau in Delhi and get uplinking facilities for its TV channel, may have opted for the easiest way out of a tight situation by dismissing Shadid and bringing in Yahya. Shadid, said sources, was not even given a chance to rectify his mistakes as the foreign ministry refused to spell out the reasons for its displeasure.

   
 

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