Delhi leaves Mamata stranded
Save Bengal via Godhra
Govt to take on Sorabjee in court
Pervez gives word on camp closure
Brotherhood of Bollywood & the boss
Advani, Samata too much for Mamata
One Nitish stone for Paswan
Left goes one up with ouster cry
Jaya lifeline for weavers
Calcutta Weather

 
 
DELHI LEAVES MAMATA STRANDED 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 29: 
Mamata Banerjee today lost the bifurcation battle to rival Nitish Kumar after the Union Cabinet “unanimously” rejected her demand and flashed the green signal for the carve-up of Eastern Railway.

The decision, taken after a two-hour meeting chaired by the Prime Minister, comes as a big snub to Mamata and is likely to snowball into a major confrontation between the National Democratic Alliance and the Trinamul Congress. Mamata had been left hanging for a month since she demanded a stay on the bifurcation.

Today’s go-ahead will create the East-Central Railway zone, with its headquarters at Hajipur. It will comprise the lucrative Dhanbad, Mughalsarai and Danapur divisions — being carved out of Eastern Railway — and Sonepur and Samastipur divisions out of North-Eastern Railway. It is scheduled to begin operations on October 1.

The Calcutta-headquartered Eastern Railway is now left with only four — Howrah, Sealdah, Asansol and Malda — of its seven divisions .

In Calcutta, Mamata expressed outrage. “The Union Cabinet’s decision is shocking. It is a gross injustice to West Bengal. I had confidence in the Prime Minister, but we know some people have played a dirty game. It is a reward to Nitish Kumar,” she said, but declined comment on whether she would pull out of the NDA.

Mamata’s aide, Dinesh Trivedi, handed a letter from her to Atal Bihari Vajpayee arguing that the creation of new zones would be economically disastrous for both the railways and the country. It would pit state against state, she said. Mamata also demanded that Dhanbad be returned to Eastern Railway.

Vajpayee is believed to have read out the letter to the Cabinet, but Kumar “gave a good logical argument” against stalling the bifurcation. Finding almost every minister backing Kumar, Vajpayee said: “If that is what everybody wants, I can’t say much.”

Information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj said the decision to go ahead with the carve-up was “unanimous”. It was felt that there was no need to revise the decisions taken in 1996, 1998 and 1999, she said.

Though Vajpayee had made conciliatory noises earlier, today’s move has foreclosed Mamata’s options. She can no longer join the Cabinet as coal and mines or surface transport minister and her party has become vulnerable to a split. Some of her MPs had wanted her to join the Cabinet and then press for a review of the bifurcation.

On June 21, Mamata had threatened to call a 72-hour bandh in Bengal if the bifurcation decision was not revoked and Kumar replaced. The very next day, the Prime Minister had placated her, saying the Cabinet would take up the issue.

Vajpayee had even issued a statement that the proposed carve-up had evoked diverse reactions and all of these would be considered at the next Cabinet meeting and an appropriate decision taken.

Sources said the Prime Minister was forced to backtrack because the Samata Party leadership had hinted that it would pull out of the coalition if the decision was stalled.

Vajpayee also sought the opinion of the finance and law ministries on the carve-up, sources added. While the law ministry did not favour a review, the opinion of the finance ministry could not be ascertained.

Mamata’s pitch appears to have been queered by stiff resistance from the Bihar parties and the NDA’s compulsion to keep the 13-member Samata happy. The law ministry is also believed to have played a role. In its report, the ministry said no constitutional or legal issues were involved in the division and it was an administrative matter within the ambit of the railway.

   

 
 
SAVE BENGAL VIA GODHRA 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, July 29: 
Smarting under the summary rejection of her demand for a rollback of the Eastern Railway bifurcation, Mamata Banerjee tonight sought to reopen the wounds of Gujarat to get even with the BJP.

Trinamul Congress MPs and Mamata’s mediators with the Centre indicated that she might now play the minority card to corner the A.B. Vajpayee government, already under pressure from a united Opposition protesting against early elections in the riot-scarred state.

Simultaneously, Mamata would launch a “Save Bengal” campaign, the sources said. The idea was to keep the ruling Left Front under pressure so that it could not crowd her political space in the state, where she has just started experiencing renewed public interest after a string of electoral disasters in the past few months.

Caught in a cleft stick between Trinamul’s war cry against the Centre and the Union Cabinet’s purportedly anti-Bengal decision, the Left responded with alacrity.

In a snap meeting that ended around 10 pm, the Left decided to pre-empt Mamata by launching a state-wide agitation at all railway stations tomorrow besides preparing for a protest rally outside Fairlie Place on Friday.

The Trinamul line, as it unfolded tonight, would be to target Nitish Kumar who, as railway minister, “helped the BJP cover up the sin of Godhra”.

“The person who had a direct hand in the Godhra cover-up has been rewarded,” Mamata said, without mentioning Kumar.

The reference of a cover-up was to the forensic report on the carnage that said fuel had been stocked inside the compartment that was set on fire and not poured from outside.

“We are shocked and disappointed with the Cabinet decision and will chalk out our strategy to stall the proposed bifurcation,” Mamata said.

She added that the zone division was “a political decision aimed at weakening Bengal’s economy” and promised to give a “fitting reply to the NDA injustice”.

Suggesting that a rupture with the BJP was inevitable, Mamata told her supporters she was relieved that events had pushed her away from the “circus” at Delhi.

Bhalo hoyechhe, khub bhalo hoyechhe, thakurer kripaye khub beche giyechhi, jodi shob mene nito tahole circus-er modhye phenshe giye party-tao shesh hoye jeto (We have been saved by god’s grace. The party would have been finished in the the NDA circus had they accepted our demands),” she said.

Mamata has now convened a working committee meeting of her party at her residence on Wednesday to decide on strategy.

Trinamul leaders feel it would not be difficult to show the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government as sharing a “good understanding and stable relationship” with an “anti-Bengal” Centre.

This, Mamata believes, will be enough to hammer the CPM with.

   

 
 
GOVT TO TAKE ON SORABJEE IN COURT 
 
 
FROM BHARAT BHUSHAN
 
New Delhi, July 29: 
The confrontation between attorney-general Soli J. Sorabjee and the Union government, which appointed him, is set to escalate.

The government has instructed its other top legal officer, solicitor-general Harish Salve, to rebut the submissions of Sorabjee before the Supreme Court on the rights of minority educational institutions.

Sorbajee had indicated his inability to appear for the Union of India in the case as he had earlier represented the petitioners — the minority institutions. However, he went on to give his opinion as the attorney-general before the Supreme Court. Some of his submissions have been diametrically opposite to the view held by the government.

The Centre has now decided to take on the attorney-general and clarify its position. To this end, written instructions have been issued to the solicitor- general in a letter dated July 27 by human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi. Once this confrontation escalates in court, Sorabjee, as the top legal official of the government, may well find the government’s confidence in him getting eroded.

Joshi’s letter notes that Sorabjee had appeared before the 11-member bench of the apex court and made submissions contrary to the views of the Union government. It tells Salve “you had been entrusted the responsibility of placing the views of the Union before the court, and your submissions were approved by the group of ministers, and then by the Union Cabinet”.

The letter goes on to say: “We would request you to take appropriate steps to clarify to the court that the stand of the Union is as had been presented by you, and also to rebut the submissions of the attorney-general to the extent they are inconsistent with the stand of the Union.”

The crux of the issue is whether the management rights of minority institutions when it comes to admission of students, appointment of teachers and other staff and their salary structure are “absolute” or not. Sorabjee gave the impression that he believed that the rights of minority institutions should not be tinkered with by any outside agency, including the government.

Sorabjee made a distinction between the rights of government-aided minority institutions and those that did not receive any state funding. He suggested that the management rights of non-state funded minority institutions were absolute as long as their practices were fair and transparent.

The government’s argument is that secular laws are meant to achieve secular objectives — and they apply even to minority institutions.

Under normal circumstances, the attorney-general’s views might not have invited comment. However, his submission taking on the Centre came amid reports that he was being considered for a new assignment.

   

 
 
PERVEZ GIVES WORD ON CAMP CLOSURE 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, July 29: 
US secretary of state Colin Powell has secured a promise from General Pervez Musharraf that camps in Pakistan-controlled areas, now used for training militants to operate in Jammu and Kashmir, will be closed down.

“He (Musharraf) is going to end the cross-border infiltration, it is going to be permanent, and in due course, the camp issue will resolve itself,” Powell told reporters accompanying him on board his special aircraft while flying from Islamabad to Bangkok yesterday.

“It is not as if you are looking at 30 military camps sitting there. You are looking at villages, you are looking at camps. If you move them from one place to another, you haven’t gotten rid of those people, you’ve moved them from one place to another. They still have the same motivation. Do they have access to the Line of Control to pursue that motivation?”

Powell said the head of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Lt. Gen. Ehsanul Haq, was present at the meeting and that he had an assurance from Haq as well that cross-border infiltration would stop.

The secretary of state candidly admitted to the media accompanying him that “we talked about the camps and the best way to put the response is that they will be dealt with in due course. That will be reflected as the cross-border infiltration ends, the camps take on a different purpose. Essentially we will start to (see that) their form and substance and activities change, but you have people that have to be dealt with, who have to be moved”.

The text of Powell’s briefing on board the flight to Bangkok was made available by the state department here to South Asian journalists based in the US capital.

It provides an unusual insight into the intense dialogue which Powell had with Musharraf and others during the four hours the American official spent in Islamabad after listening to discouraging accounts from Indian leaders about the standoff with Pakistan.

Powell stopped short of saying that Musharraf became agitated when he was called to account about the promises made to Americans about ending all infiltration across the border permanently.

“It became a forceful discussion back and forth as I pointed out that we can’t verify that yet and the Indians certainly don’t accept it yet, and we have to do everything we can to make sure that what he (Musharraf) is saying is the case in order for that argument to have credibility.”

Powell said “not only did he give the assurance publicly...but in private, he was even more positive with respect to his commitment to ending all infiltration”.

The secretary of state said he was satisfied with the visit to the subcontinent and painted a somewhat optimistic picture of the state of affairs between India and Pakistan when he said: “There was no crisis to be resolved at the moment. In fact, the tension level had gone down over the last six weeks as a result of a lot of effective diplomacy on the part of the US”.

Powell summed up the road map for continuing US engagement on the India-Pakistan stand-off in the following words: “We have now an interesting period ahead of us where we one, measure as best we can how the infiltration has gone down, and if it continues to drop, and it has dropped in recent weeks, although there are occasional spikes up and down according to the Indians, then we have a basis for going back to the Indians and saying you can now take further de-escalatory steps with respect to moving away from the international border.

“As the evidence becomes clearer, if it does, that it has stopped, then I think that we’re in a better position to encourage both sides to get into the dialogue. The key pacing item here I think will be whether or not it happens before or after the election in Kashmir.”

   

 
 
BROTHERHOOD OF BOLLYWOOD & THE BOSS 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Mumbai, July 29: 
That Bollywood is neck deep in the underworld isn’t news. But what has surprised many after a taped conversation between Sunjay Dutt and don Chhota Shakeel was played in court recently is the unusual and behind-the-veil camaraderie between the two worlds.

Many are now saying that there is a third, very potent world, that reaches out to both Bollywood and the underworld.

In the tapes, which were presented in court on July 25 in connection with a case on producer Bharat Shah’s alleged links with the underworld, Dutt asks Chhota Shakeel if he wants some “first-class T-shirts”.

There are three others who, with Dutt, pip in and out of the long conversation with Shakeel, pouring out their grievances or passing inside information to the don. It is a brotherhood defined as much by fear as by trust and guile. At one point in the conversation, intercepted by police on November 14, 2002, when Dutt was in Nashik and Shakeel in Karachi, the actor asks the don if he knows that actress Preity Zinta is being harassed for money. “Nahin, nahin,” Shakeel says vehemently. “Why should I do that, someone else is using my name to get money from Preity. In fact, I have paid her some money to do a role in my film, why should I pay her only to take it back?”

Dutt then goes to Shakeel with a litany of complaints against co-star Govinda. “He (Govinda) is a big ****,” Dutt says “Nau baje ke set par do baje ata hai. (He comes at 2 pm for a 9 am shoot) ”. A reassuring Shakeel replies: “You don’t worry about that. I will give you some good news soon.”

What is bizarre, though, is the “comfort level” between the mafia and film industry. The conversations imply that the two sets are not only absolutely at home with each other, exchanging favours and family talk, they even pass on requests to “guard” their territory.

There is a fawning sycophancy exhibited by Dutt’s friends — directors Mahesh Manjrekar, Sanjay Gupta and filmmaker Harish Sugandh.

Manjrekar, the director of films like Vaastav and Astitva, says he wants to “100 per cent” make one on Shakeel’s life. “I really want to, bhai,” he pleads. “It is going to be at a very realistic level and it will be totally your story. I have to do it, have to. You tell me and I will send you the script and the dialogues for approval,” he adds.

Gupta and Sugandh chip in, supplying the don with tit bits on the latest movies and Bollywood personalities.

“It is old hat,” says a senior journalist familiar with the industry. “Neither the relation between Bollywood and the underworld, nor knowledge of the recorded conversation between Sunjay Dutt and Chhota Shakeel is new. What is startling is the amazing, pre-teen kind of fraternity.”

“Nothing is possible without the involvement of the mafia,” says the proprietor of a music house. “They (the mafia bosses) leave only those people alone who are inconsequential. Everybody else is involved in some way or the other. Why, just try buying a flat in Juhu. Even if you are not a film star, you will get a call from the mafia the next day, asking for money.”

Though the police heat on mafia groups was renewed with the shootout with four hardcore members of the Abu Salem gang recently, most showbiz personalities are cynical about an end to their “nightmare”.

However, film producer Nasim Rizvi, who has been charged with Shah for alleged links with the underworld, reacted sharply to the tapes going public. Rizvi today filed a petition in a special court asking for a restraint order on the media.

Rizvi and Shah were booked for producing films at the behest of the underworld and, at times, helping them collect extortion money from the stars.

   

 
 
ADVANI, SAMATA TOO MUCH FOR MAMATA 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, July 29: 
The government’s refusal to reverse the decision to bifurcate Eastern Railway is a clear signal that the Samata Party and the BJP’s Bihar MPs matter more politically than Mamata Banerjee.

At another level, the Cabinet’s rejection of the Trinamul Congress leader’s demand is a victory of sorts for L.K. Advani. The deputy Prime Minister has been siding with railway minister and Samata leader Nitish Kumar from day one.

Though the Centre and the BJP were clear there was no space for manoeuvre, the Prime Minister’s assurance to Mamata that his Cabinet would reconsider the decision was seen as a face-saver to facilitate a “graceful” entry for her into the government.

Advani and a large section of the BJP were, however, against it. At a parliamentary party meeting, the BJP MPs made it clear that the government must not “succumb to her blackmail”. The die was cast as far as Mamata was concerned.

BJP sources said Atal Bihari Vajpayee was interested in retaining Mamata in the National Democratic Alliance.

But the others argued it was not “worth the price” because, with the support of newer parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party and a group of Independent MPs, the coalition was numerically safe.

Trinamul, it was reckoned, was not relevant because elections were far away in Bengal. The BJP’s only calculation — if any — in keeping Mamata was with an eye on the next Lok Sabha polls. But this consideration was outweighed by the compulsion of keeping the Bihar “pressure” groups happy.

As the Eastern Railway chapter played itself out, Advani was directly in touch with Nitish. Unlike in the past, NDA convener George Fernandes was never directly in the picture except at the beginning when he talked to Mamata, ostensibly on the Prime Minister’s behalf.

NDA sources said that when Fernandes started sounding the allies on the proposal to re-designate Advani, the only leader who objected, though mildly, was Mamata. “She was the only one who sounded a little pro-Atal. To our surprise, even (Telugu Desam Party chief) Chandrababu Naidu was quick to accept Advani,” the sources said.

After becoming deputy Prime Minister, Advani has been actively in touch with the NDA constituents.

BJP sources said a congratulatory message from Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa was seen as an encouraging gesture. Advani reciprocated by first ensuring that the Centre did not go over the top in backing Vaiko, when the MDMK leader was arrested under the anti-terror Act, as it did in 2001 when DMK chief M. Karunanidhi was at the receiving end.

Second, he apologised to Jayalalithaa for not inviting her to the swearing-in of President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

   

 
 
ONE NITISH STONE FOR PASWAN 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, July 29: 
With the Cabinet sticking to its decision on the East-Central Railway zone to be headquartered at Hajipur, railway minister Nitish Kumar has not only outmanoeuvred Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, his NDA colleague, but also his rivals in Bihar such as Lok Janshakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan.

While Bihar was effusive in its praise for Kumar, no one remembered that it was Paswan who had originally mooted the idea. Kumar outsmarted Paswan and virtually won over Hajipur. The Samata Party is reportedly planning a victory rally in Hajipur tomorrow.

“We are happy to see the Union Cabinet honouring the wishes of the people of Bihar. This is a great moment for us all,” said Samata spokesman P.K. Sinha.

Paswan was earlier scheduled to stage a demonstration tomorrow in support of the demand for a new zone. Now that the Cabinet has decided not to alter its earlier decision, Paswan will have no other option but to call off his agitation.

When Kumar resurrected the Hajipur zone issue earlier this year, Paswan had initially expostulated on his rival’s attempt to hijack an idea he had mooted.

But he kept quiet when Kumar drew up his battlelines with Mamata, giving a Bengal-Bihar twist to the bifurcation. Paswan painfully watched the issue slipping out of his hands.

Paswan had conceived setting up the East-Central zone with Hajipur as its headquarters as a part of his attempt to shower largesse on his parliamentary constituency. But the issue did not make much headway after the finance committee of the railway board objected to its financial implications.

Kumar began where Paswan left off. He visited Hajipur a couple of times and announced the formation of the new zone soon. Three months later, events took a dramatic turn as Mamata and Bengal’s Left Front government objected to the bifurcation.

Having won the battle, Kumar has not only gained credibility for his pro-Bihar stand but also opened a new front for political battles. Hajipur would be a strong battleground for the Samata in the next elections, sources said.

To make the Cabinet stick to its decision, Kumar dangled Hajipur zone as a symbol of Bihar’s development. He also impressed upon the BJP leadership that the deprivation of Hajipur would result in a revolt and his probable resignation. Kumar’s party initiated a move to go in for a United Front with the help of JD (U) MLAs, edging out the BJP from the state NDA unit.

Moreover, in carrying on with the battle, Kumar has won over all the major railway unions such as the Eastern Railwaymen’s Union and the ER Men’s Congress, which have been campaigning in Hajipur.

Kumar also used the opportunity to narrow down his political differences with Laloo Prasad Yadav, who not only supported the railway minister but also announced that he would himself organise protest rallies.

   

 
 
LEFT GOES ONE UP WITH OUSTER CRY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 29: 
In an attempt to rob Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee of her cause, the ruling Left Front tonight called for the removal of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government.

The CPM also unveiled plans for statewide agitations against the Centre for its endorsement of the decision to bifurcate the railways.

“They (the Centre) promised to review their decision on the railway bifurcation at the meeting of the Union Cabinet today. But, in reality, they have stuck to the original decision. In the present situation, we have no option but to launch a campaign for the removal of this anti-people government at the Centre,” CPM state secretary Anil Biswas said tonight after a meeting at the party headquarters on Alimuddin Street.

Holding Mamata equally responsible, the CPM alleged that the Trinamul chief, as a former railway minister, did not make any attempt to alter or bury the plans for bifurcation.

“There is no question of our supporting her either on organising a statewide bandh or mounting a joint campaign against the Centre. We think she cannot shirk her responsibility as a former railway minister. Besides, in our view, a bandh or strike is not the answer to the situation. What is needed is a sustained campaign for the removal of the NDA government.”

Biswas said Trinamul would be seen as pandering to provincialism if it called a bandh on the bifurcation issue and, at the same time, would demonstrate opportunism if it did not pull out of the NDA.

“Mamata Banerjee should come out of the NDA first and only then she can think about organising any agitation against the Centre. Otherwise, the people of Bengal will not trust her. As it is, her acceptability is low because of her double standards on various issues. Let her first take a principled stand on her association with the NDA.”

Left supporters will organise protest demonstrations at all railway stations in the state tomorrow. However, party workers will desist from blocking rail traffic as it would hit train passengers and movement of goods, Biswas said.

The CPM leader said the Centre’s decision to bifurcate Eastern and South-Eastern Railway was the first step towards privatising the railways in the near future.

“The people of backward states like Bihar will be the worst-hit as the Centre’s bifurcation plan will further deteriorate the already pathetic economic situation in these states. But the BJP government is going ahead with its plan because it wants to divide and rule the country,” Biswas added.

   

 
 
JAYA LIFELINE FOR WEAVERS 
 
 
FROM M.R. VENKATESH
 
Chennai, July 29: 
Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa today announced a relief package for handloom weavers who have been hit by over-accumulation of stocks by cooperatives with the state government virtually winding up the “free sarees/dhotis scheme” for the poor.

As immediate relief to the 25,000 weavers’ families directly affected, the chief minister sanctioned a sum of Rs 25 crore from the state’s contingency fund to enable the government to procure the accumulated stocks.

Jayalalithaa also directed that each affected family be immediately given 20 kg of rice. This would cost the exchequer Rs 60 lakh.

The chief minister’s announcements came as Opposition parties, including the BJP and the Left parties, raised the issue of the plight of handloom weavers “on the verge of starvation”. DMK president M. Karunanidhi went a step further, asking partymen to open “gruel centres” in villages to feed the starving weavers.

Jayalalithaa criticised Karunanidhi’s call, saying it was aimed at creating a “ wrong impression” that the ADMK government took no action to mitigate the sufferings of the handloom weavers and other poor sections in the agriculture sector. The DMK leader’s call to open “gruel centres” for handloom weavers was ludicrous, as “palming off such a liability to his partymen individually without the party machinery doing it only shows his sense of generosity”, she observed.

Disclosing decisions taken at a Cabinet meeting on the crisis, Jayalalithaa said the 18 lakh sarees and nine lakh dhotis lying unutilised will now be “immediately purchased” by the handlooms department and sold through ration shops, from where family card-holders could buy them at subsidised rates. Each saree will be offered at a special price of Rs 40 and a dhoti for Rs 30.

Regarding old stocks that have piled up with the apex handloom cooperative society, Cooptex, Jayalalithaa said this amounted to another 45 lakh sarees and 45 lakh dhotis with the government.

Of this, 20 lakh sarees and four lakh dhotis will be distributed free to old-age pensioners, while the remaining will be sold at subsidised rates through ration shops, she said.

The chief minister added that at least 10,000 of the affected weavers’ families would be able to continue their activities since the government has decided to distribute sarees and dhotis free to old-age pensioners twice a year.

Other government departments like the social welfare department will also be asked to procure their cloth requirements from these handloom cooperatives, Jayalalithaa added.

The other weavers under the now-defunct scheme would be encouraged to upgrade their looms or convert to powerlooms, by availing credit facilities from banks or under the Swarna Jayanthi Gram Swarojgar Yojana, she said.

The chief minister added that product diversification, including production of furnishings, will also help the weavers sustain their activities.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 34.1°C (+2)
Minimum: 27.4°C (+1)

Rainfall:

37.3 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 94%,
Minimum: 75%

Today

Sunrise: 5.08 am
Sunset: 6.17 pm

A few spells of light to moderate rain, with one or two heavy showers or thundershowers

   
 

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