Thorn for Modi in roll revision
Farewell prod to silent majority
Chain of demands gives Mamata momentum
M for Montessori, not Marx
Weekend moment of reckoning for Sinha
Delhi brushes off US pat on Pak
Modi election gameplan feels heat of drought
Pervez poll shift in Valley
Bangali babas in Mumbai mayhem
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, July 24: 
The Election Commission will soon begin an “intensive” revision of electoral rolls in Gujarat and seven other states, setting off speculation that polls might be delayed in the riot-scarred state.

Even as it appeared that the commission was not in favour of hurtling into elections in Gujarat, a BJP team led by party president Venkaiah Naidu called on its members to press for early polls.

In Parliament, deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani aggressively defended Narendra Modi once again, saying: “In the last 50 years, I have seen many riots. No chief minister has controlled the riots more ruthlessly and effectively than Modi.”

An intensive revision of electoral rolls means upgrading the voters’ list after a door-to-door survey — an exercise that takes longer than a “summary” revision of rolls, not based on a door-to-door identification of voters.

The decision to revise the rolls was taken at a full meeting of the commission, attended by chief election officers from Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Nagaland, Tripura, Meghalaya, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. All the states are scheduled to go to polls within the next year.

“Revision of rolls is a long-drawn process and will be complete by January 1,” an official said. The upgraded list will also include voters who become eligible to vote on January 1.

“It takes at least one to two months for the process of door-to-door survey to be complete,” the official said.

The commission has just completed a revision of the voters’ list in Jammu and Kashmir, where elections are due in September, after it found the old list to be shoddy and illegible.

In Gujarat, door-to-door verification of voters will take even more time in the aftermath of the riots that have displaced thousands of Muslims. Many of the 20,000-odd people living in relief camps do not have a scrap of document to prove their identity.

But the BJP is keeping up the pressure for early elections. After today’s meeting, Naidu said the commission has promised to take a decision on the issue soon. Apart from the party president, the team that called on the commission members included Arun Jaitley, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Anita Arya and Gujarat minister Ashok Bhatt.

In a memorandum submitted to the commission, the party said: “If certain extraordinary norms of normalcy are put, subjective opinions of democracy will derail the electoral process and that would be destructive for democracy.”

As proof of normality in Gujarat, the BJP pointed to the 75 per cent turnout in the panchayat elections, the 98 per cent attendance in examinations and the celebration of festivals like Ram Navami, Shivratri and Jagannath rath yatra. “Thousands of processions were taken out on the occasion of Muharram. These were all incident-free and nobody argued that the state was not normal,” the party said.

But even if the commission agrees to hold early elections, the late monsoon could prove a spoiler for the BJP.


New Delhi, July 24: 
Outgoing President K.R. Narayanan today lived up to his image of a liberal, anti-Hindutva campaigner, delivering a passionate parting appeal to the “Hindu majority” to speak out against the growing cult of violence within the traditionally tolerant religion.

Quoting Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, he said: “We need the Hindus, who form the majority, to speak out in the traditional spirit of the Hindu religion.”

In his farewell address to the nation, Narayanan urged the political class to nurture “essential goodness” in society. Without mentioning the Gujarat riots, he said in these times when the “poison” of communal violence was spreading, there was a fresh need to guard traditions of tolerance, particularly “religious tolerance”.

“My parting appeal to you, dear citizens of this proud and tolerant Republic of India, is to guard our tradition of tolerance, for that is the soul of our culture and civilisation, that is the spirit of our Constitution, and that is also the secret of the successful working of our democracy and the secret of the coherence of this vast country as a united nation,” he said.

Narayanan, who steps down from office tomorrow, focused on his favourite themes — the need to safeguard the country’s unity and the democratic order — and added that India’s strong democratic traditions had elicited admiration from all over the world.

He cited an example from his life to emphasise the point how “essential goodness” can overcome caste and religious considerations.

Narayanan said he had contested elections thrice from the Ottapalam Lok Sabha constituency in Kerala, which has a considerable number of Muslim, Christian and upper-caste voters. “But I experienced the essential goodness of the people, their capacity to forget all communal, religious and social divisions of the society, when an occasion was presented to them.”

“It is up to our social and political leaders to present the people with such occasions, especially today when the poison of communalism has caused so much violence and hatred in some parts of the country,” he said in his advice to political leaders.

Narayanan, whose tenure at Raisina Hill saw tensions with the executive, said: “It is important for us today to introspect and realise what makes India’s unity and democracy credible and enduring is this precious tradition of tolerance.”


New Delhi, July 24: 
Much to the delight of Mamata Banerjee, railway minister Nitish Kumar’s decision to bifurcate Eastern Railway has triggered a string of demands from east to west to south for new zones.

The latest to join the chorus are the BJP-ruled Gujarat and Jharkhand and Karnataka where the Congress is in power.

Reacting to the new demands, Trinamul sources said their “warnings” are coming true. A source close to Mamata, looking pleased with the development, said railway, which unifies the country, is now sowing seeds of friction between states. Trinamul leaders believe that the chorus of demands will strengthen their case if and when the Cabinet discusses the issue.

A group of BJP MPs from Gujarat has demanded that a new zone be set up at Ahmedabad and submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Govardhan Zaviya, a signatory to the memo, said: “We are not satisfied with just a division at Ahmedabad. Our demand is a new zone and it is a long-standing one.” He regretted that Jaipur had got a new zone instead of Ahmedabad.

BJP sources said the MPs want an announcement made quickly because of the coming elections in Gujarat and are pressing the Prime Minister to intercede on their behalf.

While Kumar and his Samata Party colleagues are battling Mamata, who wants a review of the bifurcation of Eastern Railway, a group of Jharkhand MPs has opened a new front with their demand for a zone at Ranchi instead of Hajipur. The new entity created by splitting Eastern Railway is to be based at Hajipur in the railway minister’s plan of action.

In a memorandum to Vajpayee, the Jharkhand MPs have said the Dhanbad division, over which the Kumar-Mamata battle is being fought because of its money-spinning ability, should not be taken out of Eastern Railway, as planned currently. Instead, they said, it should be included in the Ranchi zone when it is created.

A copy of the memo was handed over to Kumar also. The MPs said a new zone at Hajipur would be an injustice to the young state of Jharkhand whose people had not benefited from the recruiting boards that are located in Calcutta and Bhubaneswar.

Karnataka has threatened agitation if the cash-rich Guntakal division is not included in the newly-created Hubli zone of South-Western Railway. Guntakal, in Andhra Pradesh, was originally proposed to be included in the Hubli zone.

Karnataka’s Congress leaders are miffed with Kumar for succumbing to pressure from Andhra chief minister Chandrababu Naidu and dropping that plan. Guntakal is now with South-Central Railway, headquartered at Secunderabad in Andhra.

Karnataka chief minister S.M. Krishna has asked his party colleagues to pursue the matter with the Centre. An agitation has already started in Bellary and Hubli and Karnataka Congress chief Veerabhadrappa has warned of an escalation if the demand is not met.

Congress sources said when the proposal for new zones was cleared by the Cabinet in 1996, the Guntakal division was to go to Hubli, but it did not happen because of the lobbying by Naidu.


Calcutta, July 24: 
Whatever else this school does, it’s not going to produce any potential communists from its air-conditioned comfort.

But then again, who knows, it just might.

Jyoti Basu went to study law in England and returned a communist.

The Basu school of learning is about to open — catch ‘em young: it’s going to be a Montessori. And open it will at the place where revolutions were dreamt of, from where Basu began his historic journey to becoming the longest-serving chief minister and a communist to boot.

Cut the politics out. This one’s going to be purely the business of education, as practised by Basu Junior, Chandan. The three-storey Hindustan Park house, owned by Jyoti Basu’s wife Kamal, will be the site of a school — at least it’s not a chow shop — being started by Chandan with wife Rakhi.

“I am happy that our Hindustan Park house, where I lived for over 40 years since 1924, is being used for a good cause. I am worried about its dilapidated condition, but now I feel good at the way its looks have been changed for the better. When I visited the place last week, I was pleasantly surprised,” Basu said.

Freshly-painted, at the iron gate of the house hangs a signboard saying: admissions open for Montessori. The gate will formally open on August 16, letting in toddling two-year-olds to all-of-six little devils.

Would Basu like to head the institution as president or hold some other key position? No. “But I would love to see children playing in the courtyard where we had once played during our childhood,” he added with a smile.

Through the sepia-tinted glass of nostalgia, Basu, with all of his 80-odd years behind him, looks into the not-too-distant future. So does son Chandan, if into a little more distant future. “The Montesssori would one day grow into a sprawling institution, drawing a huge number of students from various parts of south Calcutta,” he said.

Rakhi, who gave up her fledging career as air-hostess to set up her “dream project”, recounted how her father-in-law, mother-in-law and husband encouraged her when she came up with the idea of setting up a Montessori at the Hindustan Park house.

“I got overwhelming support from all of them, particularly my husband, who not only provided me financial help but also moral support to see the project through,” she said.

Chandan, who is putting up the money behind the dream, felt this was the “ideal” way of using a property located in a prime south Calcutta area. “It would be unfair if I started a restaurant in our Hindustan Park residence after renovating it. There is nothing better than using it for the purpose of education,” he said.

Rakhi, who will head the school as director, said she would be assisted by an administrator and a co-ordinator. Admission, by the way, is not going to be cheap at Rs 13,350, which includes other charges, per student.


Washington, July 24: 
With the Bush administration acknowledging through this week’s travel advice that “tensions have subsided” between India and Pakistan, external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha will confront his moment of truth on US policies in South Asia when he meets US secretary of state Colin Powell on Saturday.

In the light of Powell’s talks in New Delhi, India will have to take a historic decision whether to abandon its long-standing policy of keeping the big powers out of regional conflicts and crises in what has hitherto been its sphere of influence.

Powell, whose recent discussions with Indian leaders have largely focused on problems between India and Pakistan, will this time devote more time on Washington’s quiet, but long-term diplomacy in the region and bilateral relations. The public focus will, however, remain on India and Pakistan.

Powell will arrive in Delhi fresh from meetings with Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe here, the first visit by a Lankan Prime Minister to the White House in 18 years.

Although the public projection of Wickremesinghe’s engagements here have concentrated on their economic content, a defence agreement which will provide US forces access to Sri Lankan ports, airfields and airspace is at the heart of the new warmth in ties between Colombo and Washington.

The Americans have tried to downplay the significance of the proposed Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) – a spokesman for the US embassy in Colombo described it as “routine” and “not a quantum leap”.

Wickremesinghe, who was elected on a peace platform, is in favour of the pact. He believes he can use the promise of US military support implied in ACSA to secure concessions from Tamil Tigers when peace negotiations start in Bangkok shortly.

The reception here for the Prime Minister in the context of the new US interest in Sri Lanka is in sharp contrast to the way that country was hitherto treated – President Chandrika Kumaratunga visited the US thrice before September 11, but was refused meetings in the White House despite her requests.

In anticipation of the pact being sewn up, US warships have already docked at Colombo port, mostly to disgorge American sailors on short leave from the war in Afghanistan.

The agreement was discussed and preliminary drafts were drawn up in March and April during visits to Sri Lanka by assistant secretary of state Christina Rocca and Brigadier-General Timothy Ghormely, commander of the US Marine Expeditionary Brigade.

The Americans appeared with Wickremesinghe in the war-torn north in a show of support and Ghormely subsequently visited the strategic eastern port of Trincomalee.

America’s effort to reach out to Sri Lanka comes close on the heels of a similar initiative by Washington towards Nepal.

In January, Powell became the first US secretary of state to ever visit Kathmandu. In May, Nepal’s Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba was received in the White House, the first Nepalese Prime Minister to have a formal meeting with a US President.

The Bush administration has decided to give $20 million in emergency assistance to Nepal for a start. It also took part in a key international conference in London last month as a prelude to greater global involvement in the kingdom.

Washington had proposed a military agreement similar to the one it is now negotiating with Sri Lanka to Bangladesh, when Sheikh Hasina was Prime Minister. But in the factional politics that drives every decision in Dhaka, the proposal became enmeshed in domestic controversy.

With the US already deeply engaged in Pakistan, this leaves only Maldives and Bhutan is South Asia outside the horizon of the American military.

New Delhi has welcomed its own defence cooperation with America and the Pentagon has acknowledged a thrust in such cooperation.

But in the over-arching American military plans for South Asia, New Delhi will have to soon take some hard decisions which may signify a break with the past.


New Delhi, July 24: 
India today chose to ignore US’ description of Pakistan as a “stalwart ally”, making it clear such remarks would have little effect on Delhi’s fight against cross-border terrorism as Islamabad has done precious little to stop infiltration.

“Such statements made from time to time would not in any way lower Indian morale when it comes to our determination to fight terrorism,” foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said.

“I think notwithstanding what the international community may say or not say about Pakistan, we are very clear about Pakistan’s role.”

Rao’s comments came after the US state department spokesperson termed Pakistan a “stalwart ally” while arguing that President Pervez Musharraf was doing his best to fight terrorism. The official also claimed the level of infiltration across the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir had come down substantially.

Rao’s remarks gather significance as they come a few days before US secretary of state Colin Powell is due to arrive in South Asia for yet another attempt to break the military standoff between the nuclear-armed neighbours. Powell, who arrives on Saturday, will hold talks with the Indian leadership before leaving for Islamabad the next day.

Rao said “Islamabad has not kept its promises, which, we believe, is a very serious matter”. She argued that while Pakistan supports the US-led campaign against international terrorism in Afghanistan, there was “direct complicity (and) direct involvement” on its part in encouraging cross-border terrorism in Kashmir.

“We will put across our concerns to the US secretary of state when he is here,” she said.


Gandhinagar, July 24: 
Narendra Modi has managed to convince the BJP high command of the necessity of early elections in Gujarat, the Election Commission may agree, too, but nature is proving his greatest hurdle.

The truant monsoon may throw Modi’s poll ploy out of gear. The worried chief minister today convened a Cabinet meeting to take stock of the situation.

But eager to show that everything is normal and to ensure that elections are not delayed, the caretaker government decided to wait another week before declaring drought in the parched districts. If there is no rain by then, the government will declare drought in most parts of the state — something the state government wants to avoid.

After the meeting, Cabinet spokesman I.K. Jadeja said the government has decided to release water from dams to cope with the emergency. Sixty-five per cent of the 183 dams in the state still have water, said an irrigation department official.

It is unusual to release water for irrigation during the monsoon, he added. Water is being released from nine dams in Saurashtra, north and central Gujarat.

The priority now is to save the kharif crop and the government had to take this step, the Cabinet spokesman said. He added that the dams in Saurashtra were full after the first spell of monsoon.

Asked why he did not attend the meeting convened by Union agriculture minister Ajit Singh to discuss the drought situation in 11 states, state agriculture minister Purshottam Rupala said: “Gujarat was not invited because we had the first spell of monsoon rain.” The states that were invited to today’s meeting in Delhi are the ones that received no rain at all, he said.

Farmers, however, are preparing for the worst. Even if it rains now, farmers say, they will not get a good crop.

But the government has promised it will take care of them. “We will see that the farmers get water for irrigation and that they get a good yield,’’ said irrigation minister Babubhai Bokhari. Almost all the dams in Saurashtra have surplus water for irrigation, he claimed.

Even if the dams become empty, the minister said: “There will be no water scarcity. The government will get water from the Narmada dam.”

The irrigation minister seemed to have a solution for every problem. “We will pump out water to see that parched lands get enough for irrigation and drinking,’’ Rupala said.

The government has set up a two-member committee comprising the No. 2 in the state Cabinet, Suresh Mehta, and energy minister Kaushik Patel to monitor the situation.

The drought-like situation — the agriculture minister confirmed that 19 talukas of north Gujarat and Kutch have not experienced a drop of rain yet — has created panic in BJP circles.


New Delhi, July 24: 
Pervez Musharraf’s pointman on Kashmir, Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan, has called on the Hurriyat Conference to participate in the September elections.

According to reports from Islamabad, Qayyum called Abdul Gani Bhat yesterday and advised him to ask Hurriyat leaders to contest the polls. Bhat is believed to have refused to do so.

Mohammed Faiz Naqshbandi, a member of the Hurriyat’s Pakistani chapter, was critical of Qayyum’s initiative and said he was paving the way for India to hold “sham elections”. “The rationale behind Qayyum’s changed stance is that if India removes the condition of taking oath under the Indian Constitution, participation does not matter,” he said.

The US, Britain and the European Union had advised the Hurriyat leaders to prove their popularity by contesting the elections. Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, too, had said that he wanted various shades of political opinion on the field to give people a wide choice.

But the assassination of moderate Hurriyat leader Abdul Gani Lone has been a big setback to Delhi, which was hoping to rope him and fellow moderate Mirwaiz Omar Farooq into the polls.

However, Farooq today said he was ready for talks, if they are “unconditional”. More important, Mirwaiz has also hinted that he is not opposed to the polls. “We have maintained that we will not shy away from any such exercise aimed at resolving the Kashmir dispute but we reject outright an election process which envisages forming a government in the state and later governing it.”

Weeks before the assassination, Lone and Mirwaiz had met Qayyum and renounced violence as a means to solve the Kashmir problem.


Mumbai, July 24: 
On the advice of a Bangali baba, a Thane resident beheaded his nine-year-old neighbour to solve marital problems.

Soon after, another Bangali baba tried to kill a 17-year-old to help his client find a hidden treasure.

A third Bangali baba suggested to a businessman that he sacrifice his son if he wanted to get rich. When Premchand Jain refused, the baba demanded Rs 1.77 lakh to sacrifice “giraffes and buffaloes” instead.

With the three cases coming in a row, Mumbai has woken up to the menace of Bangali babas “tantriks” having no connection with Bengal — who advertise their services on local trains and have an alarming following that includes bureaucrats and ministers.

Deputy commissioner of police Kiran Shelar said over a thousand baba s operate in and around Mumbai. Many of the “established ones” are patronised by politicians who feel the babas have helped them win elections and get plum posts in government, a source said.

A top police official added that there are some “really big names” who routinely take the help of the tantriks. “There are MLAs, ministers, businessmen, underworld dons, even a few bureaucrats in the list of clients who throng the dens of these so-called Bangali babas,” he said.

The babas offer a cure for every problem, from failed marriages and impotency to declining fortunes and unrequited love affairs.

Baba Akram Abdul Bangali had advised Anil Singh of Thane to kill nine-year-old Rahul Soni. At the police station, he turned the murder into a joke. “Anil Singh got it wrong,” he said. “I had asked for the head of a hen.”

Hazrat Ali Bangali had tried to behead 17-year-old Mehmood Bijle in Mumbra so that one Shabir Ahmed Khan “could get the treasure buried beneath a nearby house”.

Social activist Ramesh Mehta said the name “Bangali baba s” stuck after some wandering quacks from Bengal made their way to Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh many years ago.

But as even residents of remote villages began to turn to allopathic medicine, the demand for babas to cure illnesses declined and their craft degenerated into hocus pocus.

Since the early Bangali babas had earned some respectability, those who came later added the Bangali suffix to their names even when they had no connection with Bengal. Most of the babas in Mumbai now are from Uttar Pradesh.

At 6442456, you can contact Baba Raza Bangali. His cures are pasted in yellowing paper in most local trains doing the western route in Mumbai. A voice gruff with ganja answers the phone: “What is your problem and when do you want the appointment?” You then tell the baba that your wife has deserted you and you want to vent your anger. After a moment of eerie silence, a voice dripping with confidence says: “Kaam ho jayega. Bibi se badla lena hai ya uske yaar se (The work will be done. Do you want to take revenge on your wife or her lover)?”




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Minimum: 27.5°C (+1)



Relative humidity

Maximum: 89%,
Minimum: 60%


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Sunset: 6.20 pm<
Generally cloudy sky, with possibility of rain or thundershowers in some areas

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