Buddha calls Advani to silence Mamata
Mamata puts marathon bandh on hold
Swollen rivers force out 7,000
People’s War slaps arms slur on CPM
SC rehabilitation poser on railway track huts
Replica to ring back stolen heritage
Big Two star in Gujarat slanging match
Vaghela pulls out Amin ace
Cracks show as Najma stares at road’s end
Sinha Kathmandu date with Pak counterpart

Calcutta, July 22: 
The chief minister today called deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and urged him to take steps to review the move to bifurcate Eastern and South-Eastern Railways.

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said at Writers’ Buildings that Trinamul Congress chairperson Mamata Banerjee’s threat to call a 72-hour Bangla bandh on the bifurcation issue had given a complex twist to the matter.

“I spoke to the deputy Prime Minister over telephone and requested him to take necessary steps. He told me that he would speak to the Prime Minister on this and specifically told me that the bifurcation of railway zones would be reviewed at a Cabinet meeting,” the chief minister said.

It appears that Bhattacharjee has initiated a move to prevent the Trinamul Congress chief from walking off with the sole credit of persuading Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to convene a Cabinet meeting to re-examine the bifurcation of Eastern Railway.

Party sources said Bhattacharjee and the CPM were eager to project their pro-active role in having the bifurcation reviewed at a Cabinet meeting and, in the process, choke Mamata’s popularity graph which had taken a beating since last year’s Assembly polls.

“Bengal’s interests will be adversely affected if there is a bifurcation and the NDA government will have to be blamed for this. The deputy Prime Minister has assured me again and again that the matter will be reviewed in a Cabinet meeting,” the chief minister said.

Bhattacharjee felt that under the circumstances, the Trinamul leader’s threat to call a 72-hour bandh would only complicate matters.

“I request the Trinamul Congress leader not to call a bandh,” he said.

It appears that the CPM is apprehensive of a revival of Mamata’s appeal on an emotive issue like the bifurcation of railway zones.

Many CPM leaders felt that the speech delivered by Mamata at Esplanade lambasting railway minister Nitish Kumar bordered on regionalism and feared a backlash.

The chief minister also agreed that the situation arising out of the bifurcation issue could snowball into provincialism. “Yes, I, too, fear it (a turn to regionalism),” said Bhattacharjee.

Mamata had strongly reacted yesterday to the burning of her effigies in Bihar and repeatedly said at the rally that she would not allow the bifurcation issue to remain a “state-to-state” affair. “It is a national affair and I will not allow a second partition of Bengal,” she said.

“Repeated mentioning that it is not only an issue between Bengal and Bihar only help raise all types of questions in the minds of people,” said a party official.

During the Gorkhland agitation in the mid-eighties, the CPM had vowed to prevent the division of Bengal.

But the party now wants to restrain Mamata from taking up the anti-partition plank so that she does not take all the credit if the bifurcation move is turned down.


Calcutta, July 22: 
Mamata Banerjee today welcomed the Prime Minister’s decision to take up the railway bifurcation issue at the next Cabinet meeting, saying her party was ready to re-consider its move to call a three-day Bangla bandh if “justice is done to West Bengal”.

“We hope the Prime Minister and the deputy Prime Minister will take necessary steps to resolve the problem. Railway is the nation’s lifeline and national unity must be preserved at any cost,” she said when asked to comment on Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s statement.

Describing Vajpayee’s stand as “positive”, the Trinamul Congress chief said: “We have full faith in his leadership and expect him to take the right decision in the people’s interest. We will await the outcome of the Cabinet meeting on the bifurcation issue before deciding on the next course of action. We have decided to keep the bandh in abeyance pending a Cabinet decision over the bifurcation. There should not be any battle of ego over the issue. Let the Cabinet take an administrative decision in national interest.”

Asked if her party would revoke the bandh call in view of Vajpayee’s statement today, the Trinamul chairperson said: “We are not unreasonable people. We do not want to observe bandhs which definitely cause hardship to the people. But at the same time, we want justice for Bengal. Let there be development in Bihar and Jharkhand. But this should not be achieved at the cost of Bengal which is the gateway to northeastern states.”

Trinamul general secretary Mukul Roy said the proposed bandh was only part of the party’s long-term strategy to resist bifurcation. “We have to start our movement in Bengal as it is the worst affected by the railway minister’s move and intend to create mass opinion. But its form will depend on the Centre’s decision in response to our demand,” he added.

Mamata iterated that the bifurcation would not only increase operational costs of the railway but also cause delay. She pointed out that several experts’ committees, including the Rakesh Mohan committee formed by railway minister Nitish Kumar, were against the creation of new railway zones. “Besides, six ex-chairmen of the railway board have criticised the move. We feel an experts’ group should be formed to go into the safety and operational aspects of the issue,” she said.

In a clear dig at the railway minister, the Trinamul leader said: “One can remain a minister for some years, but no one has the right to destroy national unity and integration. Political vendetta must not be allowed to get the upper hand.”

Mamata today received a shot in the arm with former railway minister Ram Vilas Paswan charging Kumar in an Internet interview with deviating from a Cabinet decision on the creation of new rail zones taken during his tenure in 1996. “I don’t find Mamata guilty when she protests against my decision taken in 1996. Her protest is justified. When I left in 1998, I had fixed the jurisdiction of all railway zones. But to create controversy, Nitish Kumar changed my plan,” he said.

Paswan said the new East-Central railway zone was to consist of Sonpur, Samastipur, Danapur and Katihar divisions, but Kumar changed the jurisdiction of the proposed railway by adding Dhanbad to it.


July 22: 
Nearly 7,000 people have been shifted to relief camps after the swollen Raidhak and Kalchini rivers swamped Toofangunj I and II and Cooch Behar I and II blocks as rains lashed North Bengal continuously for the past 48 hours.

Three persons have been injured in landslides at Phoolbazar block in Darjeeling and five families had to be shifted, relief minister Hafiz Alam Sairani said in Calcutta.

Relief material has already been sent to the affected areas, he added.

In Alipurduar subdivision of Jalpaiguri district, at least 15 families were moved to safer areas. Severe erosion of the embankment has been reported from Jhaljholi.

With the water level of all major rivers rising above the danger-mark in Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar districts, the Central Water Commission (CWC) has sounded an alert to people living on their banks.

In Jalpaiguri, the Teesta is flowing 4 cm above the danger-level at Domohoni. At Mekhliganj and Toofanganj, the river has risen 15 cm above the warning level while at Raidak-1, it is only 2 cm below the mark, said a CWC official in Jalpaiguri.

In Cooch Behar, the water level of the Mansai has gone up by 39 cm. Residents of Mathabhanga have been given the alert notice.

Records available with the district control room show that till 8 am today, the total rainfall in Jalpaiguri was 123.80 mm, the highest this month.

The rainfall recorded this year till date is 1,448.70 mm against last year’s 1,425.20 mm. Though the rate of rainfall is comparatively higher, the situation in Malbazar subdivision has not deteriorated further. “The situation is okay. The rivers in this area have not crossed the danger-level. However, we are keeping a close watch over the situation,” said subdivisional officer of Malbazar Jiban Krishna Sandhukhan.

Authorities of Tody tea gardens have complained to the subdivisional officer that the Ghish was overflowing on its right bank and the water was spilling over to the plantation area.

Sandhukhan is likely to visit the garden today with officials of the irrigation department.

In Jalpaiguri town, Ashok Nagar, Pandapara, Indira Gandhi Colony, Fatakkhana and Dhopamari areas remain waterlogged owing to the continuous downpour and lack of a proper drainage system. The low-lying areas along the banks of Karala and Teesta face the same problem.


Calcutta, July 22: 
Charging the government with labelling it as a “terrorist” party, the People’s War today challenged the state to compare the arms held by the Naxalites with those in possession of the CPM cadre.

In a statement issued by the group’s state committee, the People’s War said police records vindicated that its firepower was far inferior to that of the CPM.

“CPM state secretary Anil Biswas’ comments on our party’s offer for talks indicated his party’s escapism,” the statement said. The People’s War had offered to talk with the government last Tuesday on certain conditions.

Since then, the CPM state leadership and chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee have been demanding that the Naxalite group shun its “politics of murder” before wanting to negotiate a truce.

The People’s War, in its statement, accused the CPM and the government of double standards. On the ruling Left Front’s stand not to ban the organisation, the People’s War said: “The CPM accepts our party as a political entity but it is reluctant to face us politically.

Legal representatives of the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights moved the Calcutta High Court today, pleading for a contempt order on the police involved in the “illegal” arrest of nine persons allegedly belonging to the People’s War.

The mode of arrest of lecturer Kaushik Ganguly, Tinku Ghosh, Parashar Bhattacharya and six others violated the 11-point guidelines of the Supreme Court issued in 1996, the general secretary of the rights group, Sujato Bhadra, claimed in the affidavit.

In raids since Saturday, the Birbhum police held 13 persons for alleged links with the Maoist Communist Centre, reports our correspondent from Suri.

However, three of them were released as they were found to be BJP members.

Ten of those arrested, all between 22 and 30 years of age,were remanded in police custody and have been charged with waging war against the state. The arrests were made in Murarai and Khairasole areas of Birbhum, the police said.

One of the arrested, Nikhil Das , is said to be a leading MCC activist. The police said a large number of leaflets were recovered from the arrested youths. One of them was found with a firearm and ammunition.

Congress calls bandh

The chief minister will leave for a weeklong trip to South Africa on Tuesday. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will visit Johannesburg to attend the congress of the Communist Party of South Africa. Labour minister Md. Amin will be the acting chief minister till Bhattacharjee’s return on July 30.    

New Delhi, July 22: 
The Supreme Court today asked the state government whether the 2,300 “encroachers” on the Rabindra Sarobar railway track could be rehabilitated.

The reply by the state government or the Union government through the railway could be filed within four weeks.

The government has gained a month as the case was adjourned for four weeks after the apex court found that the original petitioner in the case, Subhash Dutta of the Howrah Ganatantrik Nagrik Samiti, was not present. Dutta had sought leave of absence through a letter.

Dutta’s organisation had filed a public interest litigation in Calcutta High Court, seeking a directive to remove the 2,300 huts on the railway track. The railway considers the occupants of the huts as “encroachers”.

The high court had ordered their eviction but with a condition that a rehabilitation package should be implemented. The state government had then moved a special leave petition before the apex court.

A division bench of Justices V.N. Khare and Ashok Bhan today adjourned the case for four weeks but orally asked the government about the rehabilitation package.

The railway had contended before the high court that the “government and the police” were “not cooperating” in the matter. The railway also said that the state government “did not take any initiative in this regard”.

The high court had directed the state government to decide on the question of rehabilitating persons “residing unauthorisedly on railway land by the side of the railway track”.

However, a considerable number of the “encroachers” has already obtained ration cards, voter identity cards and power connections.

Appearing for CESC, counsel Chanchal Ganguly told the court that his client had given power connections to those who had proper documentary evidence, like ration card and voter identity card. He said the rehabilitation was better left to the state government or the Union government as it was railway land.

The railway, however, contended that it could not implement any rehabilitation package as government machinery is needed for such schemes.

Charges have also been levelled that garbage piles up near the huts, close to the railway lines near Lake Gardens. This renders the drainage system in the section non-functional, leading to water logging.

Congress bandh call

The Congress has called a 24-hour bandh tomorrow in Katoa sub-division in Burdwan following a clash between Intuc and Citu supporters.    

Santiniketan, July 22: 
Once it pealed five times for danger, four times to call an assembly and three times for prayers.

Twenty-two years after it was stolen from the Buddhist-style archway at Gour Prangan, the centre of the ashram here, the Visva-Bharati has decided to replace the ashram’s ghanta with a brass replica.

“We have decided to put up the new bell on August 8, Rabindranath Tagore’s death anniversary,” said Visva-Bharati vice-chancellor Sujit Basu. The move comes after university authorities reviewed security arrangement on the campus.

The old gunmetal bell, made at Cossipore Gun and Shell factory and sponsored by Lady Ranu Mukherjee, was stolen in 1978. It was not replaced because of poor security on the campus.

The bell was placed under the Sarnath stupa archway prototype — designed by Surendranath Kar of Kala Bhavan — 83 years ago.

“The idea of the number of peals that the bell would ring to signify a particular event was devised by Jnanchandra Chattopadhyay, the son of the first ashram-in-charge, Aghornath Chattopadhyay,” said Gautam Bhattacharya, a teacher of Patha Bhavan.

Though the vice-chancellor said the bell would start ringing from August 8, he conceded that in times of emergency “the telephone would serve as a more effective mode of communication”.

Since the old bell was stolen, students of Santiniketan were alerted on assemblies and prayers by another one located at Singha Sadan.

The replica, which is going to be hung at a special ceremony on Tagore’s death anniversary, has been lying in the university storeroom for several years.

All that the officials could say was that the bell is forged from brass. No details about its craftsman or its place of manufacture were available.

Information on the stolen bell that was installed in 1919 is available in the monthly Santiniketan Patrika of that year.

Along with the new bell, a new tree house will also be opened in Sriniketan replicating the one built there by a Japanese artist in 1924.

“These replicas will bring back some of the heritage of Santiniketan,” the vice-chancellor said.

From next month, travellers on the super-fast Santiniketan Express between Howrah and Bolpur will get to hear piped Rabindrasangeet on board.


New Delhi, July 22: 

BJP counters Central rule call

The BJP has rejected the Congress demand to place Gujarat under Central rule while the Congress has contested the ruling party’s insistence on holding Assembly elections in October.

In the slanging match that erupted between the two main players on Gujarat, the BJP argued that the state had returned to normal, the prerogative of chief ministers to dissolve their Assemblies whenever they wished was recognised by the Constitution and there were more controversial precedents to holding elections in states deemed as “disturbed”.

“President’s rule under (Article) 356 is imposed only when there is a breakdown of the constitutional machinery and when governance cannot be carried out in accordance with its provisions,” said BJP spokesman Arun Jaitley.

Arguing that the Gujarat situation was “completely normal”, Jaitley said the Congress demand for Central rule was “against the letter and spirit of the Constitution”.

“Having recommended Assembly dissolution, elections are now not a matter of expediency but a part of the democratic process. Democracy is not a system where political parties must shy away from (the) people. On the contrary, it says when in doubt go back to the people,” he maintained.

Jaitley recalled it was for this reason that when the Opposition cried for Narendra Modi’s resignation, the BJP executive had turned it down at the Goa executive.

He debunked the Congress claim that the party was ready to face elections any time as “affecting a brave facade”. “Each one of its statements and activities is intended towards avoiding elections,” Jaitley alleged.

Countering the charge that the time was not ripe to hold an election in Gujarat because a large number of people continued to live in relief camps, Jaitley recalled that in 1983, in spite of a massive poll boycott call in Assam and a low turnout, the state went through with the exercise.

“In Punjab, at the height of militancy, there were repeated elections and in 1984, when 3,000 persons were massacred in Delhi, polls were held within 45 days,” he said.

Jaitley iterated the legal argument that a state could not function indefinitely without an elected legislature and criticised the Congress for stalling Parliament over its demand.

“I repeat elections to Gujarat Assembly should be held expeditiously,” Jaitley stressed and maintained that Article 174 made it clear that there should not be a gap of more than six months between two Assembly sittings.

The Gujarat legislature last met on April 6 and if elections were not conducted before October, it would amount to contravening this constitutional provision.

A Congress delegation led by the leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Manmohan Singh, which called on chief election commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh today, argued that Article 174 applied to a living and not a dead Assembly. The Gujarat Assembly was dissolved on July 18 and the invocation of Article 174 was a “grey area”, even according to constitutional pundits.

The Congress’ other point was that Article 324 gave the Election Commission all-encompassing powers to conduct and monitor elections, implying thereby that only the poll panel was in a position to take a holistic view of the Gujarat scenario, instead of just a legal one.


Gandhinagar, July 22: 
Gujarat Congress president Shankersinh Vaghela today tried to keep the momentum going in his rejuvenated party by setting up a campaign committee under Narhari Amin, a strong Patel leader, and announcing a series of programmes to highlight the BJP’s failure.

The Congress’ steering committee decided at a meeting that the rallies and conventions would begin from August 4 at Deesa, where the party will demand that some parts of the state be declared drought-affected.

Vaghela, who had electrified the party by kicking off the polls campaign on July 17, a day before chief minister Narendra Modi recommended dissolution of the Assembly, is going all out to turn the party into a fighting unit.

Talking to reporters after the meeting, he said: “The rally is being organised in Deesa, a town in north Gujarat, to highlight the very serious problem of water and power which has affected farmers across the state.” These are some of the burning issues that the Congress intends to focus on to puncture the BJP’s claims of good performance in the last four years.

The Congress plans to observe August 9 — when Mahatma Gandhi had given the quit-India call to the British — as a “BJP hatao, Gujarat bachao” day. A huge rally will be held in Surat, Gujarat’s diamond and textile hub, followed by a meeting with the business community.

On August 14, a youth convention will be held on the campus of Gujarat University. Every rally and convention will be addressed by senior Congress leader Kamal Nath, who is in charge of the state, and Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel.

But Vaghela’s masterstroke of the day was Amin’s appointment. By bringing the strong Patel leader in the limelight, he has set the BJP thinking. The only man laughing in the saffron party seems to be Keshubhai Patel, who will become indispensable. The BJP will now have to seek the help of the former chief minister, who is still sulking because of the humiliating manner in which he was pushed out for his alleged non-performance. Clearly, without his involvement, the BJP cannot win the strong Patel lobby, which can tilt the balance to either side.

There lies a catch. If Patel’s help is required to win elections, the BJP will have to face embarrassing questions about why he was removed. Moreover, if he has to be involved, he has to be given an important post like president of the state BJP. The move could upset the Kshatriya community as Rajendrasinh Rana will have to be replaced. If Rana is removed and Patel refuses to work wholeheartedly, the BJP might get shocking results, admitted a senior BJP leader.

On the other hand, the promotion of Vaghela, a charismatic Kshatriya leader who is equally popular among Dalits, OBCs and tribals, has boosted the Congress’ chances. “They (the workers) are fully charged and enthusiastic. This makes us believe that the Congress is going to come to power with a historic majority whenever the elections are held,” said Kamal Nath, adding that the people of Gujarat would not be misled by Modi’s diversionary tactics. The last six months have proved that his slogan of a “prosperous and safe Gujarat” rings hollow.

While reiterating that the Congress is prepared to face elections, the Congress leader maintained that the Election Commission must satisfy itself before notifying the poll. Considering that thousands of refugees would be not be able to vote, “we hope the EC will take a decision after taking into account all factors, the ground reality”, he added.


New Delhi, July 22: 
Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson Najma Heptullah seems to be heading towards a political dead-end.

Her stint as chairperson of the Inter-Parliamentary Union comes to an end in September, while her Rajya Sabha tenure will be over in April 2004. There is no precedent in the Congress of giving someone a fifth term in the Upper House.

Senior party leaders say Najma, who has already had a 22-year stint, has never shown any inclination to face a direct election.

Congress sources say Najma’s continuing search for a new role is straining her relations with party chief Sonia Gandhi. This is, perhaps, why there have been media reports of how Sonia peremptorily dismissed her candidature for Vice-President.

It was a day of charges and counter-charges, though both sides decided not to go public. While Najma was upset over the Congress leadership’s failure to push through her candidature, sources close to Sonia wondered why the Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson was complaining after having “received so many perks of offices” from the party.

Congress spokesman S. Jaipal Reddy admitted that Najma missed the bus as joint Opposition candidate for Vice-President when A.P.J. Abdul Kalam emerged as the last-minute consensus choice for the post of President.

Reddy said once it became clear Kalam would move to Rashtrapati Bhavan, the Congress felt someone from the weaker sections should be backed for Vice-President. He denied any prejudice against Najma on grounds of her religion and reminded her that she was given a fourth term in the Rajya Sabha. The spokesman added that his party saw Sushil Kumar Shinde, a senior Dalit leader, as a more suitable vice-presidential candidate in the changed situation.

In private, senior Congress leaders suspect that Najma leaked Sonia’s remark that she could not back her for the vice-presidentship after the NDA nominated Kalam as its presidential candidate.

Till late tonight, Sonia’s advisers were deliberating on whether to seek an explanation from Najma on her “lack of discretion”. Some AICC functionaries said Vayalar Ravi, the general secretary in charge of Maharashtra, should seek an explanation from Najma on how a private conversation between her and Sonia found its way to a newspaper.

Najma’s detractors feel Sonia has plenty of reasons to be upset with her. “The other day she went to a private function where the NDA leadership belittled Indira Gandhi over imposition of Emergency,” said an AICC functionary, who also pointed out that some time ago Najma had received an award from RSS chief K. Sudarshan.

Others felt Sonia should exercise more caution as polls in Gujarat could be called soon.

They pointed out that A.R. Antulay had recently resigned as chief of the Congress’ minority department alleging neglect. Then, some time ago, Ghulam Nabi Azad was sent to Jammu and Kashmir as state unit chief which was more in the nature of a punishment posting. “In this scenario, if Najma decides to go public against the Congress leadership, it could adversely affect the party in the Gujarat polls,” a functionary said.


New Delhi, July 22: 
Foreign minister Yashwant Sinha will get his first opportunity to meet his Pakistani counterpart, Inamul Haq, during his visit to Kathmandu next month for the Saarc foreign ministers’ meet.

The Saarc foreign ministers’ meet is scheduled to begin in the Nepalese capital from August 21. Indications are Sinha might leave for Kathmandu a day or two in advance to accommodate a bilateral trip to Nepal.

It is not yet clear whether Sinha and Haq would have an exclusive meeting on the sidelines of the Saarc meet. But a lot would depend on the Pervez Musharraf regime’s seriousness in dealing with the issues of infiltration across the Line of Control and dismantling the terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and elsewhere in the country.

Musharraf, in an interview today with a Saudi Arabian newspaper, has once again expressed his desire for a “meaningful dialogue” with India. But South Block is not impressed with his words because it did not see any perceptible shift in Islamabad’s position on the issue of infiltration and dealing with terrorists.

India said it had clearly conveyed to Britain that any further de-escalation would depend on whether there was any dilution of or backtracking on commitments made by Musharraf on ending infiltration. “There cannot be any equivocation, dilution or backtracking on these commitments. That is the message we have conveyed,” said foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao.

New Delhi’s remarks come after Pakistan told British foreign secretary Jack Straw that it has already initiated the measures it could take to ease tension and that it was not prepared to do more.

Straw shared his perception of talks held in Islamabad during a two-hour dinner meeting with Sinha and national security adviser Brajesh Mishra. Rao said India’s assessment was shared with the British side.

“Our assessment is that while infiltration has reduced, it is still continuing. There has not been any significant change in the situation,” Rao said. effective steps have been taken by Pakistan to deal with this issue and also to dismantle the infrastructure that supports terrorism. This includes launching pads, communication centres, training camps, funding etc.”

Sinha was earlier planning to visit Kathmandu this weekend but had to delay his schedule in view of the arrival of US secretary of state Colin Powell on July 27. Powell will hold talks with Sinha and other senior Indian leaders to assess the situation in South Asia.

Nepal is an important ally of India’s and Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and King Gyanendra have already visited New Delhi in the recent past. India would like to maintain its strong ties with Kathmandu and also share its views with the Himalayan kingdom on important regional and bilateral developments.

The Nepalese King had recently visited China. Sinha will get an opportunity of sharing during his visit Kathmandu’s perception of the region, the King’s talks with the Chinese leadership and the Maoist problem in Nepal.


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