Howls of protest greet Mamata muscle-flexing
Ship to Andaman stranded
Civic poll test for Trinamul rail drive
Punjab village asks for a transfer out
Arun, Rajnath get lion’s share
Toughness trial for Lyngdoh
Massage plan pulls a muscle
Sonia office raid row in UP
Censored censor packs up
Cong piles poll heat on Modi

 
 
HOWLS OF PROTEST GREET MAMATA MUSCLE-FLEXING 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, July 21: 
Mamata Banerjee’s threat of a 72-hour Bangla bandh has drawn sharp criticism from the CPM and its Left Front partners, and Opposition parties.

Mamata — who sponsored a strike six weeks ago in protest against the distress sale of paddy and other issues — gave an ultimatum to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee: stall the move to bifurcate Eastern Railway and South-Eastern Railway or she would call the three-day bandh from Wednesday.

The Trinamul Congress chief said though her party was against strikes, she would resort to the last weapon of political settlement if the split was not stalled.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee urged Mamata not to take such a drastic step. “If a Bangla bandh is observed for 72 hours, the state will suffer heavy losses. She should desist from calling bandhs,” he said at Alimuddin Street.

CPM central committee member Benoy Konar said if Mamata really wanted to protest against the bifurcation, she should step out of the NDA. He also charged the Trinamul leader with fomenting regionalism.

Other Front partners like the RSP and the CPI also criticised Mamata for resorting to the politics of bandh. “It is typical of her. She blows hot when she is not a minister and blows cold when she is one. If she calls a 72-hour bandh, it is going to bring immense hardship to the working class and daily-wage labourers in Bengal,” said Debabrata Bandopadhyay, state RSP secretary.

Forward Bloc secretariat member Shankar Dutta wondered how a political leader working with the masses could announce a three-day bandh. “Doesn’t she know how the state will suffer if such a bandh really takes place?” he asked.

The SUCI, which had sponsored a successful strike to demand reintroduction of English in primary schools, also came down heavily on Mamata. “She has always indulged in the politics of stunt. Her threat to call the bandh is just a bargaining chip to force her way into the Cabinet,” said party state secretary Prabhash Ghosh.

State Congress chief Pranab Mukherjee, however, remained non-committal. “It will be hypothetical to react to Mamata’s proposal to call a 72-hour bandh. Only if the Prime Minister fails to stall the bifurcation, the bandh takes place,” he said.

   

 
 
SHIP TO ANDAMAN STRANDED 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Haldia, July 21: 
More than 700 people aboard MV Harshavardhan, one of the largest passenger liners to touch Calcutta, had a narrow escape today when the vessel ran aground near Geonkhali in the Calcutta-Haldia shipping channel around 7 am.

The ship, on its way to Port Blair from Calcutta with 602 passengers and 105 crew on board, ploughed into heavy silt about 100 metres from the Geonkhali embankment near the confluence of the Hooghly, the Damodar and the Rupnarayan rivers.

The ship’s hull hit the raised river bed and its nose got stuck as it was trying to negotiate a stretch where the depth had been reduced to only around seven metres due to accumulating silt, Haldia sub-divisional police officer B. Bej said.

The ship was not damaged and was journey-worthy, officials said. All passengers — there are 11 children among them — and members of the crew were safe and would continue the journey after the ship was freed.

The fact that the channel was not conducive to the movement of big liners and Calcutta Port Trust’s inability to handle a mishap became clear when the latter said they would have to wait for high tide to pull the ship out.

A single CPT tug had tried to pull the ship free, but failed. A second tug had to be requisitioned. A CPT spokesperson said both tugs would be pressed into service late tonight after the onset of high tide for another concerted effort to get the vessel going.

The ship’s nose hit the riverbed around 7 am when the passengers — mostly headed for the Andaman and Nicobar Islands for a vacation — were still sleeping. But a few already on the decks were thrown off balance and panicked when the ship rammed into the sand bars.

A Coast Guard hovercraft and police were immediately pressed into service after the liner’s captain sent a distress signal, explaining the ship’s position. “The ship has run into heavy silt and seems to have been stuck,” the radio message from the ship’s control room said. “The underwater compartments are holding up, but we need immediate help,” it added.

The hovercraft under Commandant R.K. Cherian was on routine patrol when it intercepted the message, and it reached the ship within minutes. He contacted the captain and sent an SOS for additional help.

Coast Guard commander R.K. Wadhwa and other officials went aboard the MV Harshavardhan to assess the situation and calm the nervous passengers.

On the banks, police had a much tougher time controlling the surging crowd. Tamluk CPM MP Lakshman Seth added fuel to the fire when he made an impromptu speech, attacking the Centre for not releasing adequate funds for desilting and dredging of the channel.

“The latest CAG report says there is still around 9 million cubic metres of silt in the channel,” he said, adding that he had written to the Andaman and Nicobar Shipping Corporation to restrict shipping via the channel.

   

 
 
CIVIC POLL TEST FOR TRINAMUL RAIL DRIVE 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, July 21: 
Elections on Monday to the Haldia municipality and Ward 36 of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation assume significance for the Trinamul Congress in light of Mamata Banerjee launching a sustained movement to stall the proposed bifurcation of Eastern Railway and South-Eastern Railway.

Observers said the twin elections would be a major test for Trinamul, which was mauled by the CPM and, to some extent, by the Congress, in almost all the municipal elections and the lone Assembly bypoll this year. The outcome of tomorrow’s showdown will provide an insight into how much popular support her present anti-Centre campaign on the bifurcation issue enjoyed in the state.

Trinamul has already lost face in Haldia thanks to the decision of 11 party candidates to withdraw from the fray, forfeiting the arena to the Left Front. Though the party expelled them, it could not put up fresh nominees as the last date for withdrawal had expired.

Against this backdrop, Trinamul is depending on five BJP nominees and four Independents. “We have nine more candidate in the fray and if they sail through, along with BJP candidates and Independents, then we are confident of wresting the board from the CPM,” said Trinamul chief Subrata Bakshi.

Bakshi warned that if the CPM tried to rig the elections by deploying its cadre, there would be a statewide protest.

The observers feel Trinamul will not be able to improve its electoral performance in Haldia, a traditional Left stronghold. Moreover, the state government’s recent move for industrialisation will come in good stead for the ruling communists.

In Calcutta, Trinamul is not in a comfortable position in the byelection to Ward 36. The seat fell vacant following the death of sitting CPI nominee Chanchal Ghosh. The Left Front has nominated Ghosh’s daughter, Mousami, and hopes to retain the seat by cashing in on the sympathy wave. The CPM has deployed massive manpower for her.

However, the leftists could find the going tough in this Muslim-dominated ward, where the Congress cannot be wished away. The ward, which falls within former Congress president Somen Mitra’s Sealdah Assembly constituency, may go to the Congress if its nominee, Subimal Mitra, can mop up the bulk of the Muslim voters who have been disillusioned by the Trinamul stand on the riots in Gujarat.

But Mamata’s aides believe Trinamul’s support to President-elect A.P.J. Abdul Kalam should come handy in influencing the Muslim voters.

Also working against Trinamul — it has fielded Sajal Ghosh, a youth functionary — is the fact that some of its minority leaders like former MLA Sultan Ahmed and a few minority councillors and mayor-in-council members of the civic board have stayed away from campaigning, giving rivals manoeuvring space. Sajal is the son of Pradip Ghosh, member, mayor-in-council, in charge of slum development.

Trinamul spokesman Mukul Roy said the party might sail through if the CPM did not resort to violence. “We are approaching the people with our record performance in the CMC for last two years,” said Roy.

   

 
 
PUNJAB VILLAGE ASKS FOR A TRANSFER OUT 
 
 
FROM GAJINDER SINGH
 
Masol (Rupnagar), July 21: 
Nestled in a trough surrounded by the Shivalik hills, this picturesque Punjab village with a 100 per cent Sikh population is bent on rewriting history.

Government apathy and neglect have forced its inhabitants to write to Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala expressing their desire to sever ties with Punjab and join Haryana.

While Punjab basks in all-round development, thanks to the green revolution, it is hard to believe the almost medieval conditions that prevail in Masol in Rupnagar district’s Kharar subdivision.

The village is not far from the chief minister’s residence. Located 12 km from Punjab’s centre of power, Masol has for years survived without roads, medical amenities, proper power supply and drinking water.

To get to the village, this correspondent had to cross a seasonal rivulet, battling quicksand and rocks and even poisonous snakes when the vehicle got stuck in the mud. During monsoon, the village is completely cut off from the world.

For the state government, Masol simply does not exist, rue villagers.

“We have appealed to Chautalaji that we want to become part of Haryana. All our supplies come from Haryana’s Kiratpur, which is just 3 km away. Private doctors from Haryana visit us every alternate day, even during the rains. The Punjab government doctor comes once in 15-20 days. We don’t want to remain in Punjab. The state has done nothing for us,” sarpanch Jagar Singh said.

The letter to Chautala was delivered to his office on June 28. Written in Gurmukhi, it reads: “We beg to state that we, residents of Masol village in Kharar subdivision of Rupnagar, have for the last 100 years not been able to enjoy the benefits of basic needs like water, power, medical facilities and roads. We are living like slaves even after Independence. Our village has electricity poles, but no power, a water pipe but no water. Even today, we use camels to transport water from Haryana... We appeal to you with folded hands to pull the village out of Punjab and make it a part of Haryana. All our needs are in any case being catered to by your village, Kiratpur.”

For the residents of Masol, the struggle for survival begins at 4 am — with the women battling over the right to dig for water — and continues well past midnight.

There is a pipeline, but it is almost non-functional. And on those rare occasions that it does work, the water is not safe for drinking. Villagers are, therefore, forced to dig the ground for water, which is dirty.

Unable to cope with the hardships, many families have migrated to Haryana.

Masol does not have a dispensary and the nearest hospital is 12 km away at Pinjore in Haryana. Villagers have to cross the seasonal rivulet to get to Pinjore. When it swells, they have to wait for hours — and sometimes for days — for the water to recede. Many have died waiting.

To add to their woes, the nearest telephone connection is either in Charnia or in Nayagaon and the nearest motorable road is 10 km away. “Building a road is not difficult. The government can build a road to Charnia in Haryana, which falls on the Nalagarh-Pinjore Highway. The government can also build a road from Nayagaon. The Charnia one would be easy to build. We have estimated Rs 6 lakh for a non-metalled road. The district administration has put the figure at Rs 30 lakh. A metalled road, the government says, will cost Rs 1 crore. We have no idea how they have arrived at the figure. We are ready to even donate land for a road, but the Punjab government is not bothered,” said Mukhtiar Singh, while tending to his camel.

Punjab government officials visit the village twice or thrice a year. When elections come near, the visits double and promises are made. When the villagers boycotted the 1997 polls, the government announced that a water tank would be set up. The villagers were even willing to donate land for it. However, the tank is yet to see the light of day.

The residents of Masol have no source of income apart from small land holdings — a maximum of four bighas per family. “No one in the village is literate. Apart from a couple of people, no one else has been given a government job. We have been living in miserable conditions for the past several years,” the sarpanch said.

Most villagers make ropes from grass or work as daily wage earners in Haryana. But the rope-making profession is dying out fast. “We have no idea what our children will do when they grow up. That is why we want to join Haryana,” a villager said.

Children have to travel to Charnia to attend school. Though there is a primary school in the village, residents prefer to send their children to Haryana as after passing the primary level, they anyway have to go to Nayagaon for higher education, which is 10 km away.

Masol could even have been turned into a tourist spot, if the Punjab government had made some effort. The road from Nayagaon to Masol is breathtaking with rock cliffs on both sides of the rivulet as it meanders into the village and beyond.

   

 
 
ARUN, RAJNATH GET LION’S SHARE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 21: 
BJP general secretaries Rajnath Singh and Arun Jaitley bagged the lion’s share of political work in the organisation when party president M. Venkaiah Naidu announced the work allocation for his team of office bearers today.

Naidu put the former Uttar Pradesh chief minister in charge of the “political management and social expansion” of the Hindi heartland, which includes Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Uttaranchal, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.

Singh was also put in charge of Haryana, Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir. Three of the states under his charge will go to polls next year.

Jaitley was entrusted with the political management and social expansion of the western and southern regions, including Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Pondicherry and Andaman and Nicobar.

Jaitley will also look after Delhi, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh.

In redistributing the work, Naidu has followed the model crafted by his predecessor, K. Jana Krishnamurthi. The only difference is that while Krishnamurthi used the term “zonal management”, Naidu opted for a more specific term to denote that his general secretaries would have to be involved in realpolitik and grassroots management.

The BJP chief also requisitioned the services of party vice-president Pyarelal Khandelwal, an old organisation hand, to look after the eastern and north-eastern states.

While Khandelwal’s importance was recognised, former BJP president Kushabhau Thakre — who was given major responsibilities even after he stepped down — found no place in Naidu’s team. Interestingly, when Thakre was the party president, Naidu was his understudy and the key link between the party and the government.

Anita Arya, another general secretary, was given the responsibility of Scheduled Castes and Tribes, while general secretary Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi will be in charge of minority affairs. This effectively means that the two will oversee the functioning of the sectional cells.

Naqvi will also look after central headquarters.

The second tier of the organisational comprises the prabaris who will supervise the state units. Former Uttar Pradesh party president Kalraj Mishra was made the prabari of the state, while Bihar and Jharkhand remain with Kailashpati Mishra.

Former general secretary Sunil Shastri, a Krishnamurthi aide, was put in charge of Sikkim where the BJP has no presence. BJP secretary Karuna Shukla, a relative of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was allotted Orissa.

   

 
 
TOUGHNESS TRIAL FOR LYNGDOH 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 21: 
Chief election commissioner J.M Lyngdoh has the reputation of being a tough man. Exactly how tough, his colleagues say, will be tested by the judgement the poll panel delivers on the Gujarat elections.

“Lyngdoh has no political ambition. He is tough and not willing to bend to the government’s diktat. If you are not angling for some post or the other after retirement, you have nothing to fear,” says an insider.

So far, the chief election commissioner has not shown any inclination to give in easily to the recommendations of the Centre and that of the Gujarat government for polls in the state ravaged by communal violence.

Lyngdoh has not made any secret of his reluctance to plunge a state, which has barely recovered from unprecedented horrors, into the motions of an election campaign. In an interview to a news magazine, the commissioner had made wry comments on the sensibilities of politicians clamouring for an early election in Gujarat.

By now, it is a well established fact that Lyngdoh does not consider the situation in Gujarat conducive to holding a “free and fair” election.

However, the legal tangle might tie his hand. “This is what the BJP is hoping for,” said an insider. Senior BJP leaders have said on record that the commission is bound by the Constitution to declare polls in Gujarat after the six-month period expires.

The fact that Lyngdoh did not rush to announce the elections at the government’s bidding suggests that he is facing a dilemma. The day BJP spokesperson Arun Jaitley met Lyngdoh, the commissioner had another group of visitors, comprising activists and eminent citizens, who asked him to look at the dark side of Gujarat — the helplessness of thousands of Muslims teetering on the brink of survival.

“The chief election commissioner was very sympathetic and the vibes were very good,” said a member of the delegation. Those who work with Lyngdoh vouch for his personal integrity and assert that he always goes by the “rule book”.

When Lyngdoh recently visited Jammu and Kashmir as part of the commission’s preparations for polls in the state, he was “shocked” by the shoddy state of voters’ lists. The commission set about to update and computerise the lists in Urdu. “There were some political parties in the Valley who did not like it. But Lyngdoh was firm in his decision,” an official said.

Unlike his predecessors, T.N. Seshan and M.S. Gill, Lyngdoh is shy of publicity. He avoids the media as much as possible and is a stickler for not speaking out of turn or at an inappropriate time.

   

 
 
MASSAGE PLAN PULLS A MUSCLE 
 
 
FROM VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN
 
Kottakkal, July 21: 
The Kerala government’s ambitious plan to boost tourism by introducing ayurvedic massages on select Air-India flights and in long-distance trains passing through the state seems to be fast turning into a non-starter.

Many physicians at the world-famous Kottakkal Aryavaidyashala, who, according to state tourism minister K.V. Thomas, were supposed to “conceive, execute and oversee” the “travelling massages”, are uncomfortable with the idea.

Many of them have said massages conducted under claustrophobic circumstances would have no medicinal value and are bound to end up as sheer gimmickry.

An Air-India team, which visited Kottakkal three days ago to follow up on the proposal, was told about problems in pursuing the project.

Sources at the institute said there are three fundamental difficulties in carrying out the project.

First, the limited space available on flights and in trains do not facilitate proper, traditional ayurvedic massage, which lays great emphasis on having the right ambience and atmosphere.

Second, the movement would deter accurate massaging, a crucial component of this traditional form of medicine.

The third problem is that of limitations in using herbal oils prepared according to ancient texts.

The sources also pointed out that the minister and Kerala Tourism Development Corporation chairperson Padmaja Venugopal announced the project without any consultation with the institute.

“We do not know whether they had talked to some other ayurvedic practitioners, but certainly we had no clue that this was coming,” said a senior official at the institute.

Thomas and Venugopal had earlier given the impression that the project was cleared by ayurvedic experts and that the Kottakkal institute was in the process of evolving a training programme to carry out “travelling massage”.

The minister also said at a news conference that travelling massage would be done using herbal powders instead of oils. Institute physicians, however, claimed that no powder could equal the medicinal qualities of oils.

Notwithstanding these reservations, the authorities are going ahead with the project.

Venugopal has already met top officials in the railway ministry at Delhi, including minister Nitish Kumar.

Thomas, on phone from Delhi, maintained that all the problems would be sorted out.

The government and ayurvedic experts together would find ways to implement the project, which is essentially aimed at “providing colour to travel and removing boredom while travelling”, the minister said.

The minister’s optimism notwithstanding, the signals from the experts at Kottakkal suggest that they may not be a party to “this tamasha”.

   

 
 
SONIA OFFICE RAID ROW IN UP 
 
 
FROM YOGESH VAJPEYI
 
Lucknow, July 21: 
Congress leaders in Uttar Pradesh have threatened a statewide agitation against police misrule in the wake of reported police raids on party chief Sonia Gandhi’s camp office in Gauriganj.

Terrified staff at Gauriganj, which falls in the Amethi Lok Sabha constituency represented by Sonia, have closed the camp office after informing the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee headquarters and 10 Janpath. They say the site was “raided twice” yesterday, purportedly in search of local Congress leaders who have been named in an FIR lodged about an attack on a police station.

The district police, however, denied any such incident. “There is no question of the police raiding the camp office of Sonia Gandhi. The police had lodged an FIR against individuals and not based on their political inclinations,” Sultanpur additional superintendent of police J.P. Shukla told The Telegraph. “Unnecessary political colour was being given to a non-existent incident,” claimed the police officer.

Uttar Pradesh Congress leaders have, however, lodged a strong protest against the raids with state home secretary Anil Gupta. State Congress president Arun Kumar Singh Munna has asked a party delegation to visit the spot and submit its report within a day.

Munna, who is on a tour of the eastern districts of the state, immediately got in touch with Congress leaders in Gauriganj and Amethi to learn about the latest developments.

   

 
 
CENSORED CENSOR PACKS UP 
 
 
BY SAMARJIT GUHA
 
Calcutta, July 21: 
It is all about freedom of expression — or the lack of it. Fed up by yet another move to censor the censor board, its chairman Vijay Anand quit in a huff yesterday evening. The point of contention this time was pornography.

Communication gap, pre-conceived notions, partisan attitude and a host of other allegations are being traded between the film body and the government following the shock resignation of Anand, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) chief.

The former actor and filmmaker took offence to a last-minute communiqué by the information and broadcasting ministry asking him to stop discussing the legalisation of pornography in films.

A three-day meeting in Bangalore was just warming up when the government’s instructions came booming in: “The six-member committee of the CBFC need not examine the stray suggestions of film certification. Soft-porn films with XA certification were neither desirable, nor in order.”

“This is humiliating and definitely a curb on my freedom. I had worked out a nice way out for porn filmmakers that would have served all purposes. Instead of just banning them, I had suggested that they be taxed heavily and be allowed to screen their films in halls outside the city,” Anand said today over telephone.

“Besides, I was going to employ nine agencies across the country to check porn films. My committee and almost all the 300 board members lauded the idea but, unfortunately, the government does not have the right attitude. If I had been allowed to continue, I would have eradicated piracy within six months,” asserted the censor board chief

The maker of Guide, Jewel Thief and Prem Pujari added that he was always open to the idea of holding a debate and then leaving the decision to Parliament. “I wanted Parliament to resolve it, but the government seems in a hurry to make its own decision. Let me tell you that porn films continue to run in city halls and the police are pocketing the money from owners of such halls. If this continues, I see no future for the government.”

Gujarati actor Arvind Trivedi (Ravan of Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan) is currently holding Anand’s post. Trivedi was not available for comment, but Anand said “he is a capable man”.

Anand said he was “appalled at the sudden change in attitude” of information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj. During his 10-month tenure, Anand had often been “appreciated” by Swaraj. So, last week’s notice came as a rude shock. “She is otherwise a judicious lady, but I guess she has to please her constituency and her party,” he said.

“The political influence on the CBFC is something that I wanted to eradicate. Over the years, the Youth Congress, the Janata Dal and now the BJP have all been fielding their candidates and imposing their views on the censor board. Unfortunately, that’s not how an industry progresses. I had wanted to bring autonomy to the board,” said Anand.

Several women’s organisations had protested when Anand decided on “XA” categorisation for soft-porn films. Anand felt this was responsible for the government’s sudden shift of stance.

“The government is more keen to please women’s organisations than the CBFC. Moreover, there are people like T. Subirammi Reddy, who want to bring in a Bill saying that the CBFC chairman should always be a woman, adding fuel to the fire. In that case, they should have been satisfied with Asha Parekh but everybody knows what happened when she was the chairman,” said Anand.

Among Anand’s other plans to upgrade work culture was introducing a website and implementing television censorship.

Bollywood has, by and large, backed Anand’s reformist role. A meet was reportedly organised yesterday to discuss the issue, but Anand did not attend it. He said colleagues-turned-politicians Shatrughan Sinha and Vinod Khanna had called him up for reconsideration.

   

 
 
CONG PILES POLL HEAT ON MODI 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 21: 
Congress leader Devendra Nath Dwivedi today called Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s decision to dissolve the Assembly and seek an early poll as yet another attempt to deepen the communal divide in Gujarat.

He also challenged Modi’s use of Article 174 of the Constitution to support his claim for an early election.

The Congress has made it clear that though it is not shying away from polls, it would want the election in Gujarat to be held under President’s rule and not with Modi working as the “caretaker” chief minister.

But Dwivedi, a former additional solicitor-general, has focused mainly on two points —Modi’s “malafide intentions” in bringing the election forward and “misuse” of the constitutional provision under which the poll is being sought. He accused Modi of “cynical and unabashed misuse of constitutional processes and state power”.

   
 

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