Rail unites Mamata, Left
Langurs lift orphan kin from police
Allies spit fire on lecturer ‘torture’
Trinamul poll wipeout
Advani goes all out in Modi defence
Sangh turns gun on English
Short-term lease plan for Great Eastern
Crafty executive who nudged govt
Judges flee in Manipur crisis
Push to unsheathe war history

 
 
RAIL UNITES MAMATA, LEFT 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, July 24: 
A consensus against the proposed bifurcation of Eastern Railway emerged today with the Trinamul Congress and the CPM calling for a status quo on existing railway zones and the formation of an experts’ committee on the issue.

While former chief minister Jyoti Basu described the bifurcation move as “a political decision of railway minister Nitish Kumar which will encourage provincialism”, Trinamul leader and Calcutta mayor Subrata Mukherjee felt it would only “allow divisive forces to raise their ugly heads”.

Both the parties want the Union Cabinet to put the proposed bifurcation on hold and constitute an experts’ panel to examine its financial, administrative and operational fallout.

Basu, who presided over the Left Front meeting on the bifurcation issue, said: “We want the status quo to be maintained and the railway board’s notification in this regard to be withdrawn. We also want the Cabinet to form an experts’ committee to review the matter. The railway ministry should wait for the recommendations of this committee before going ahead with the proposed bifurcation.”

The former chief minister pointed out that a number of panels like the Parliament’s standing committee and the Rakesh Mohan committee had opposed the creation of new railway zones for financial and operational reasons. Besides, six former chairmen of the railway board recently wrote a joint letter to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, criticising Kumar’s decision to create new zones.

State CPM secretary Anil Biswas said Front workers would protest at railway stations in North and South 24-Parganas against the bifurcation. The Front also plans to bring out a booklet on its objections to the railway minister’s move. Unlike Trinamul, however, the CPM will not organise rail roko or bandhs on the issue.

Sources said Mamata Banerjee wanted the Prime Minister not to take any “piecemeal decision” over the creation of new railway zones which is “posing a threat to national unity and integrity”.

The Trinamul leader expects Vajpayee to put on hold the railway minister’s bifurcation move as it has already prompted a number of states to demand separate zones.

Mamata expects the Union Cabinet to take up the issue at its meeting before the weekend as promised by the Prime Minister.

   

 
 
LANGURS LIFT ORPHAN KIN FROM POLICE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Murshidabad, July 24: 
A man was arrested for killing a langur when it was feeding its baby in a papaya grove here yesterday.

The baby had refused to let go of its mother even when the body was brought to the police station, said sub-inspector Prabir Dutta.

“It was a pathetic sight to see the baby trying to suckle its dead mother, so we decided to let it be with the body for the night,” the police officer added.

However, the baby was “rescued” by more than 20 langurs from the police station. “It was as if they had come with a single-minded purpose,” Dutta said.

The langurs had gathered around the building in silence. Moments later, a few of them entered the building and quietly took away the baby langur still clutching its mother’s body.

The police official said Syed Akhtar Reza was arrested for killing a protected species. He was released on bail after being produced in court. The airgun he used to shoot the simian has been seized.

The langur’s death and the baby’s plight drew a large crowd before the police station last evening. After the baby was taken away by the langurs, the body was sent to the local veterinary hospital for post-mortem.

Afterwards, local residents carried the body in a silent precession and buried it on a riverbank.

Reza said he did not mean to kill the langur. “I just wanted to scare it away as my papaya grove was being damaged by the animals. I fired one round and it hit the animal.”

He added that though the sight of an airgun usually scared away the langurs, the female had been unfazed.

   

 
 
ALLIES SPIT FIRE ON LECTURER ‘TORTURE’ 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, July 24: 
Left Front partners today criticised police “torture” on lecturer Kaushik Ganguly and others arrested for alleged links with the People’s War even as they were remanded in judicial custody for another 14 days.

Court proceedings at the Midnapore court were marred for an hour when assistant public prosecutor Rai Charan Rai and chief defence counsel Tapendra Narayan Chowdhury argued over Ganguly’s medical report.

Considerable excitement was generated with the arrival of the accused in the court while a large contingent of Eastern Frontier Rifles police was deployed to prevent any untoward incident.

Twelve teachers’ organisations have lined up a rally at Rajabazar Science College tomorrow to protest against police atrocities on the lecturer and the other accused.

At the Front meeting, tempers were frayed as leaders of the Forward Bloc, the RSP and the CPI complained of police “excess” on Ganguly. They called upon senior CPM politburo member Jyoti Basu to take up the matter with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee after his return from South Africa.

Basu presided over today’s session in absence of Left Front chairman Biman Bose, who is on a tour abroad.

Minutes after a tame discussion on the proposed bifurcation of Eastern Railway, the session turned stormy with CPI state secretary Manju Kumar Majumdar alleging that the police beat up Ganguly in custody.

The CPI leader also criticised a senior police officer who was quoted on a private television channel as saying that he had nothing to do if government official Abhijit Sinha, detained for interrogation on alleged Naxalite links, had committed suicide. “Such statements by senior police officials have damaged the Front’s image,” he is reported to have said at the meeting.

Forward Bloc secretariat member Jayanta Roy wanted to know why Sinha was released if he was taken into custody for interrogation. “We feel that Sinha would not have ended his life prematurely if he had been in custody for some more days.”

Madarsas upgraded

The West Bengal Council of Higher Secondary Education has upgraded five madarsas to the Higher Secondary level. They include Dariapur Baishi High Madarsa in Malda, Manikchak High Madarsa and Bhabta Azizia High Madarsa in Murshidabad, Kalachara High Madarsa in Hooghly and Mahishageria A.M.A. High Madarsa in Paschim Midnapore.

   

 
 
TRINAMUL POLL WIPEOUT 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
July 24: 
Cornered in the NDA over the railway bifurcation issue, Mamata Banerjee today suffered another setback after all her party nominees lost their deposits in elections to the Haldia municipality board and a Calcutta Municipal Corporation ward.

CPI nominee Mousumi Ghosh won the CMC ward No. 36 defeating her nearest Congress rival Sajal Ghosh by more than 4,000 votes. The seat fell vacant after the death of CPI councillor Chanchal Ghosh. In Haldia, the ruling Left Front won all the 25 seats with an overwhelming majority. While the CPM bagged 22, the CPI won the rest, leaving the civic body with no representatives from the Opposition. Counting took place today for the elections that were held on July 22.

In the 1997 Haldia municipality poll, the Congress won five seats. But this time round, even an alliance with the Congress and the BJP failed to help the Trinamul Congress.

The fate of the Haldia civic board was almost sealed before the elections took place. Three CPM candidates, including chairman Tamalika Panda Seth, won the election uncontested in wards 9, 21 and 24. Mamata also had a taste of the imminent setback when her party nominees in 11 wards withdrew their candidature as a result of an intra-party strife involving two MLAs Sisir Adhikari and Dipak Ghosh. The party supported Congress, BJP and Independent candidates in the 11 wards.

“People have rejected Trinamul and have supported the Left Front, realising that it is the only party which works for the people. On the other hand, they also realised that Trinamul and its chief Mamata Banerjee have low credibility,’’ said CPM MP Lakshman Seth, who is also chairman of the Haldia Development Authority.

However, Trinamul MLA Adhikari said the result did not reflect the people’s verdict because the elections were rigged.

For Mamata, who is savouring the success of the Sunday rally in the city, the setback could not have come at a more inopportune moment. With the NDA at the Centre and the Left Front gunning for her, the Trinamul chief needed an electoral victory to give a boost to the party.

Motorcycle thief shoots at victim

One person was shot at when he was chasing a thief who snatched his motorcycle on VIP Road today. However, the thief escaped with the bike.

   

 
 
ADVANI GOES ALL OUT IN MODI DEFENCE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 24: 
Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani today was out on a limb in the Upper House of Parliament while defending Narendra Modi’s handling of the riots in Gujarat.

“In the last 50 years, I have seen many riots. No chief minister has controlled the riots so ruthlessly and effectively than Modi,” Advani told an outraged Opposition.

He was replying to a brief discussion on Gujarat that was marked by repeated interruptions by the Opposition.

An annoyed Advani said at one point: “I feel the Opposition does not want to listen to me, they have already made up their minds.”

It was in a way a pointless debate with the government and the Opposition unwilling to yield even an inch. Advani’s reply to the debate was — not surprisingly — devoted to defending the Gujarat government. And despite repeated attempts, the Opposition failed to get answers to most of their questions.

The Congress, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Left parties had insisted that the elections in Gujarat could only be held under President’s rule as no one could trust Modi after the post Godhra carnage.

RJD chief Laloo Prasad Yadav wanted to know if free and fair polls could be conducted under a chief minister who “engineered the riots in Gujarat”.

However, Advani made it clear that the Centre was in no mood to either remove the chief minister or impose President’s rule. Ironically, the same NDA government is keen to hold the elections in Jammu and Kashmir under Central rule.

“Yes, the elections will be held under Modi. My friends in the Opposition must also know that during this period, the state government held panchayat elections where the turn out was as high as 78 per cent,” Advani said.

The deputy Prime Minister began his reply saying the Centre had acted in the spirit of the resolution passed by the Rajya Sabha on May 6. The Union government had intervened in Gujarat under Article 355, sending out the army, setting up relief camps and gearing the administration to cope with the violence.

Advani went into the details of Centre-state relations and quoted liberally from the Sarkaria Commission report to make the point under what circumstances federal forces can intervene.

He also quoted selectively from the report to drive home that “while intervention is legally permissible”, it may not be “politically proper”.

Kapil Sibal of the Congress, however, interrupted Advani to say that the report also stated that the Union had the right to deploy its forces suo motu. “The Centre did not think it essential to intervene in Gujarat immediately when the situation was going out of hand. Why did the government wait?” he asked. “Especially when Modi himself was encouraging the atrocities.”

The deputy Prime Minister argued that the Opposition had always tried to make out that the situation in Gujarat was much worse than what it actually was. Immediately after the Godhra massacre, he said, 103 of the 182 Assembly segments were not affected by violence. But it was made out as if the entire state was in flames.

After April, only 22 or 23 Assembly constituencies continued to be prone to the violence.

The Opposition reacted to Advani’s statements with loud protests. “If you don’t want to listen, I won’t speak,” Advani said.

The leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Manmohan Singh, said: “We want specific answers. Our charge is that you have a government in Gujarat which is trying to manage the politics of this country by unleashing terror. It is a government which is capitalising on violence. This is our view and you may not agree with us, but are conditions in Gujarat secure enough for the minorities to come and vote?”

Advani, certainly, thought so.

   

 
 
SANGH TURNS GUN ON ENGLISH 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 24: 
After minorityism and globalisation, it was the English language and the “western education system” that came in the RSS sarsanghachalak K.S. Sudarshan’s line of fire.

Speaking at a ceremony to observe the golden jubilee of the RSS’ education wing, Vidya Bharati, Sudarshan labelled the votaries of India’s “English-centric” education system as “Euro-Indians” and claimed saffronisation alone would restore the country’s “spiritual and cultural heritage”.

The RSS chief shared the dais with human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi, his minister of state, Bachi Singh Rawat, and NCERT director J.S. Rajput.

Sudarshan regretted that despite the presence of pro-Hindi proponents such as Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Joshi, the government had yet to evolve a “language policy”.

“While two of the speeches given by the Prime Minister in Hindi during one of his visits abroad were great, his other two speeches in English were not,” he said.

Sudarshan alleged that those “holding the reins of power” were alienated from their roots. “They are Euro-Indians. They see everything Indian through European glasses. Except for aping the West, they are incompetent at doing anything,” he said.

The bureaucracy was singled out for special mention. “The bureaucrats who shape the country’s future are not aware of the richness of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. If they don’t know that, they do not know where the spirit of the country resides,” Sudarshan added.

   

 
 
SHORT-TERM LEASE PLAN FOR GREAT EASTERN 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, July 24: 
The Bengal government today said it would lease out Great Eastern Hotel’s five restaurants and a health club to private entrepreneurs for a short term.

Tourism minister Dinesh Dakua said at Writers’ Buildings that this was besides the state government’s decision to offer the hotel on a long-term lease to corporate houses on an “as-is-where-is” basis.

Tenders inviting proposals for short-term lease of two of the restaurants — Shahenshah and Jade Garden — had recently been floated, Dakua said. Tenders for the remaining restaurants — Maxim, Sip-n-Bite and Sweety — and the health club will be floated soon. The hotel, which has been running at a loss for several years, has 450 employees.

“Those who will run the restaurants will not be able to make any new constructions but can bring in their own employees. The employees working in the restaurants will be shifted to other departments of the hotel. The shifting of employees will not be difficult as all of them are employees of Great Eastern Hotel,” said the tourism minister.

Dakua said it would take the state government some time to float a global tender seeking proposals for a long-term lease of the hotel. The global tender will be floated only after the short-term leases of the restaurants expire, he added. “We will not give out the restaurants on lease for more than a year and we will not be ready to float the global tender immediately. It will take more than a year,” he said.

Dakua said the hotel had been running at a loss and needed at least Rs 12 crore to give it the necessary facelift. It was not possible for the government to spend Rs 12 crore on a loss-making organisation like Great Eastern Hotel, he added.

A section of tourism department officials, however, felt that it would be difficult to find a taker for Great Eastern. “The trade unions will try to fight tooth and nail for the employees’ rights and controversy will be created. Also, the hotel owes nearly Rs 1.5 crore to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation in taxes. It will not be easy to find a taker with such liabilities in store,” an official said.

   

 
 
CRAFTY EXECUTIVE WHO NUDGED GOVT 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, July 24: 
President K.R. Narayanan today left Rashtrapati Bhavan with a burning desire to see many more Dalits like him donning the judges’ gown, representing India abroad and becoming captains of industry.

In 1955, Jawaharlal Nehru had dubbed Narayanan the best and brightest officer in the Indian Foreign Service, who came from the weaker sections yet was the most meritorious.

At a chief ministers’ conference, Nehru was asked to include backward classes in all-India services to which he replied: “I cannot send a man abroad who is useless. (But) I am happy to tell you that the brightest person in foreign service is one who is from weaker sections,” pointing to Narayanan.

Like Nehru, Narayanan was all for merit. Throughout his tenure, he kept harping on the need for greater representation of the weaker sections in the judiciary. According to Narayanan, political empowerment of Dalits was incomplete without their getting a share in sectors such as the judiciary, the economy and the media.

Sources close to him said his desire to see a Dalit entrepreneur billionaire is still a dream unfulfilled.

Narayanan’s five-year stint in Rashtrapati Bhavan was most challenging. While the political class may continue to debate on how his tenure was laced with political uncertainty and paradigm shifts, there was a general consensus among the intelligentsia that Narayanan conducted himself as a “textbook” President, lending dignity to the office. He avoided kicking off controversies, yet seldom shied away from nudging the executive — be it on brigand Veerappan, the killing of missionary Graham Staines, the criminalisation of politics, Constitution review, political horse-trading, hate campaigns, intolerance or the Gujarat carnage.

Trained as a diplomat, Narayanan missed no opportunity in acting as the nation’s conscience-keeper but without pitting Raisina Hill against the executive.

His crafty dealing with the government did not go down well with the ruling coalition. Though Sonia Gandhi and Harkishen Singh Surjeet were toying with the idea of giving Narayanan a second term, the Vajpayee regime decided to go public with an unprecedented step — telling the incumbent President that his services were no longer required.

Narayanan swallowed the humiliation but his masterly inactivity in opting out of the race as an Opposition nominee worked.

Sources close to the President said Narayanan took pride in ensuring that a distinguished person such as A.P.J. Abdul Kalam succeeded him instead of some Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh activist.

Perhaps, in keeping with his passion for Dalit empowerment in all spheres, the National Geographic magazine has decided to put him on the cover of its December issue that chronicles social transformation in India. According to the magazine’s editors, Narayanan is the most powerful symbol of social change in India in the last 50 years.

   

 
 
JUDGES FLEE IN MANIPUR CRISIS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Imphal, July 24: 
The confrontation between the judiciary and the executive in Manipur entered uncharted territory today with two judges fleeing the state after the state government withdrew their security.

The crisis was triggered when one of the judges summoned chief minister Ibobi Singh in a contempt case.

The state government withdrew security to the two Imphal-based judges of Gauhati High Court after one of them, Justice B.B. Deb, stayed the Assembly privilege committee’s contempt notice on his colleague, Justice Surjamani Singh, who had summoned the chief minister.

Justice Deb had simultaneously stayed the court summons on the chief minister, but it did little to ease the crisis.

Once the security cover was withdrawn, the two judges fled. While Justice Singh left for Guwahati by road under BSF security, his colleague took a flight to the Assam capital.

The Imphal bench of the Gauhati Bar Association has announced an “indefinite strike” from tomorrow to protest the withdrawal of security to the judges and the court in Imphal.

District magistrate Yambem Thamkishore clamped a curfew in the area where the Judges’ Colony and the Imphal bench of Gauhati High Court are located. However, district and sessions judge M. Binoykumar Singh stayed the curfew order at the request of the All-Manipur Bar Association.

Governor Ved Marwah, too, left for New Delhi to submit a report to the President on the developments since yesterday. The state government had requested him in writing to “pardon” four IAS officers against whom arrest warrants were issued for contempt of court. The spurt in contempt notices is at the root of the confrontation between the judiciary and the executive. Congress activists had yesterday gheraoed the Judges’ Colony, infuriating the bar association.

In his stay order, Justice Deb observed that Justice Singh had discharged his judicial duties without committing breach of privilege and there was no ground for the Assembly’s privilege committee to summon him. The order was in response to Justice Singh’s petition seeking immunity to the warrant of arrest likely to be issued by the Speaker.

The judge clarified that he had summoned the chief minister in connection with executive duties and it had no bearing on the legislative function.

The Assembly, however, observed that the judge’s action amounted to breach of privilege and contempt as no member of the House can be summoned during a session without prior approval of the Speaker.

   

 
 
PUSH TO UNSHEATHE WAR HISTORY 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
New Delhi, July 24: 
A committee set up by the government to decide whether the official histories of wars waged by India should be made public today recommended publication of the accounts.

The government is yet to decide whether it would accept the recommendation.

Official histories of armed conflicts are prepared by the history division of the ministry of defence. The only official history that has been published till date is on the 1947-48 war with Pakistan.

The review committee on war history was set up last year after a group of ministers referred the matter to it. The three-member committee was chaired by former defence secretary N.N. Vohra and included former deputy chief of army staff Lt Gen. (retd) Satish Nambiar and former joint secretary (history) of the defence ministry, S.N. Prasad.

The committee submitted its report to defence minister George Fernandes today. There was no official word from the ministry on the contents of the report but it is understood that it is largely in favour of publication.

The committee was set up to decide the fate of the official histories of four wars — 1962 (China), 1965 (Pakistan), 1971 (war with Pakistan that led to the creation of Bangladesh) and Operation Pawan, under which the Indian Peacekeeping Force was sent to Sri Lanka in the 1980s.

Official histories are accounts compiled by the defence ministry’s history division and sourced from situation reports and documents relevant to wars. Their publication has been a demand not only from scholars and academics but also from military strategists.

It is understood that the committee was, however, not in favour of publishing an account of the 1962 war with China — said to have been a debacle for the Indian army — that includes portions of the Henderson Brookes’ report. Lt General Brookes was a senior army officer commissioned to conduct an inquiry into what led to the army’s failures. The committee felt that since the Henderson Brookes report was an internal army inquiry, it need not be treated as an officially prepared history.

The committee also did not give any opinion on the IPKF operations in Sri Lanka, apparently because it did not have access to all relevant documents.

It is understood, however, that the IPKF operations, too, are a sore point with the army. The top brass may not want to show some of its own in poor light.

There has been a great deal of debate, too, on the publication of the official account of the 1971 war. This is because it touches on external relations and was thought to have run the risk of annoying a non-antagonistic neighbour.

The Indian army feels that it was the primary force that created Bangladesh. But Bangladesh — like any other independent, sovereign nation — cannot be expected to agree with a view that denies that its creation is due to the efforts of its own people.

The publication of the official account of the 1965 war with Pakistan, too, is expected to arouse a great deal of interest. Official claims that India was a clear victor in that conflict may not match the public and expert perception of the conflict.

   
 

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