Who’s the PM, asks Mamata
Fire probe finds 211 books missing
Shadow of unknown Godhra dead on Delhi
Bollywood quiet, BJP cackles
Mamata dilemma: to snap or to torment
Needle massacre of 1500 stray dogs
Trinamul back on Sonia radar
Paswan fires credit salvo from Hajipur
Modi gives poll panel full marks before test
Calcutta Weather

 
 
WHO’S THE PM, ASKS MAMATA 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, July 30: 
A seething Mamata Banerjee did today what neither she nor any ally had done so far: cast doubts on Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s power and authority.

“We don’t really know who the Prime Minister is,” the Trinamul Congress leader said, a day after she lost the battle to stop Eastern Railway’s bifurcation.

Mamata who could scarcely conceal her disappointment with Vajpayee, hinted at her party’s imminent break with the National Democratic Alliance. “The Prime Minister’s constituency is not Bihar. The entire country is his constituency. Why did he favour a particular state?” she fumed.

“Instead of reversing the railway minister’s unjust move to deny Bengal its due share of revenue, the Centre is helping him to go ahead with it. The Prime Minister’s inaction has emboldened him to hatch a conspiracy, which is worse than the Partition of India,” Mamata said at her residence this afternoon.

The Trinamul chairperson did not rule out quitting the NDA in protest against the Union Cabinet’s green signal to Nitish Kumar to implement his “personal political agenda”. “Our working committee will take a decision in due time,” Mamata said. “A government may come and go, but we can never ignore the people’s interest.”

Mamata accused the Centre of encouraging provincialism on the pretext of creating new railway zones. She said the government was trying to close down or cripple major public sector undertakings in the name of disinvestment. “A move is on to close down the MAMC (Mining and Allied Machinery Corporation Limited), Tyre Corporation of India, IISCO and other concerns, but we will not allow all this to go unchallenged.”

Mamata also revealed that NDA convener George Fernandes had called her last night after the Cabinet meeting to say that Vajpayee had “tried his best” to accommodate her demand.

“I was asked to visit Delhi and join the Cabinet. An economic package for Bengal was also offered, but I refused to accept either as a substitute for (stalling) Eastern Railway’s bifurcation. I don’t consider a Cabinet berth more valuable than my hawaii chappals,” Mamata said.

The Trinamul leader, who will unveil her strategy to oppose the move “to cripple Bengal’s economy” at a meeting of her party’s working committee tomorrow, also trained her guns on deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, who has been siding with Kumar since the bifurcation dispute snowballed. “The Prime Minister’s Office has been hijacked and he has been completely isolated. Ours is the only party which has the guts to call a spade a spade,” she observed.

On Advani’s role as deputy Prime Minister, Mamata said: “He has not been elected the deputy Prime Minister by the House. He has only been nominated by the Prime Minister. Besides, our party, which happens to be an NDA partner, was never consulted on the issue by the BJP leadership. We were only later informed of the appointment.”

Mamata also appealed to the CPM and other parties to rise above political considerations and protest against the bifurcation. “I will expect the chief minister to announce a programme of movement which we can follow. Let him call an all-party meeting, if necessary. We will wait for a day or two for the state government’s response to our appeal and then chalk out our own plan of action,” she said.

   

 
 
FIRE PROBE FINDS 211 BOOKS MISSING 
 
 
BY TAMAL SENGUPTA
 
Calcutta, July 30: 
A three-member committee set up to inquire into the burning of books on the National Library campus in April has found that 211 rare texts are missing since the bonfire.

The committee had asked the library’s stock verification division to find out the number of missing books. The division has come up with the information that of 1,800 volumes kept in the balcony of the main reading room, 211 cannot be found. It has listed the missing texts.

Some of the books that have been listed as missing are known to have been burnt, suggesting that many other rare volumes stored with them in the reading book might have been reduced to ash. For example, S. Radhakrishnan’s Hindu View of Life, charred remains of which were retrieved, has been listed as missing.

On April 21, some library employees had set ablaze a pile of books “by mistake”, taking them to be useless.

The inquiry committee, which includes assistant library and information officer Tanima Sarkar, deputy librarian H.P.Gedam and librarian R. Ramchandran, refused to comment on the number of books destroyed.

The stock verification division report points out that many of the 211 books had been allotted to readers and have not been returned. The library has taken no steps to get the books back or penalise the errant readers.

Library sources said security officer S.K. Singh had collected two half-burnt books, some soiled books and the remains of a burnt book from the bonfire site on April 24 — three days after the incident took place.

“It is strange that senior library officials and the security officer did not bother to inspect the site personally where books were burnt on April 21. It is ridiculous that Singh inspected the site three days after the incident, recovered some burnt or half-burnt books and submitted those to the authorities,” a senior library official said.

Neither the library authorities nor the inquiry committee has sought any explanation from the security officer on why he went for the inspection three days late.

A section of senior library staff alleged that the authorities were trying to suppress the incident because several important officials were involved. “The library authorities have not given any time-frame to the inquiry committee to complete its probe. This simply suggests that the authorities are not serious about fixing responsibility for the book-burning,” an official said.

   

 
 
SHADOW OF UNKNOWN GODHRA DEAD ON DELHI 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, July 30: 
Mamata Banerjee’s claim yesterday that railway minister Nitish Kumar was rewarded for helping “the BJP cover up the sin of Godhra” has deepened the mystery of the identity of the victims of the train carnage.

Trinamul Congress sources said that contrary to the Sangh parivar propaganda that the burnt bogie, S6, of Sabarmati Express was full of “kar sevaks” from Ayodhya, it had a few passengers from the minority community as well.

A party source said that was the primary reason behind the government’s reluctance to publish the list of passengers even five months after the incident.

“S6 was a reserved bogie and why has not the railway published the victims’ list? Is it to cover up the names of the Muslim victims?” asked a Trinamul leader.

The Trinamul sources said the Railway Police Force report does not back the theory that Muslims had attacked the kar sevaks. It said a clash followed after some kar sevaks misbehaved with the hawkers. “There is something mysterious about this whole affair,” said a Trinamul source.

Kumar said he had asked the director, public relations, to look into the matter. Hinting that the names were not released as “the matter may be under investigation,” he said there should not be any hitch in revealing them.

The railway minister dared Mamata to come out with details. “If you have certain information, why are you hiding it?” he asked. “I don’t understand her statement.”

Coming down heavily on Mamata, Kumar asked: “Does her statement carry conviction five months after the incident?” “Everything was all right till 26/27th,” he added with a tinge of sarcasm.

Kumar said he was planning to visit Calcutta after the monsoon session of Parliament session to explain to the people of Bengal that no injustice has been done to them.

The minister said a number of pending railway projects for the state would be cleared on a priority basis. They include the Metro rail extension from Tollygunge to Garia and the Ranaghat circular railway project.

A close aide of Kumar and Samata Party Rajya Sabha member Rajiv Ranjan went to the extent of saying that “either she is a professional liar or she has some links with those behind the Godhra carnage”.

In reply to a question, Kumar said he did not agree with the imputation that the burnt bogie was kept on the tracks for a long time as a showpiece to crystallise the communal polarisation in favour of the BJP.

“That bogie was under investigation. After any incident/accident, it comes under the jurisdiction of the investigating officer (of the state government). The railway can’t do anything till inquiry is completed,” he said.

The Cabinet’s decision to go ahead with the railway zone division rocked both Houses of Parliament.

Members from Bengal and Bihar clashed in the Rajya Sabha and those from Trinamul walked out of the Lok Sabha.

Raising the issue during zero hour in the Lok Sabha, Trinamul’s Sudip Bandopadhyay protested against the bifurcation of Eastern Railway and said it was totally against the interests of Bengal.

Bandopadhyay, along with his party colleagues, left the House in a huff when there was no response from the government.

   

 
 
BOLLYWOOD QUIET, BJP CACKLES 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Mumbai, July 30: 
All the noise about actor Sunjay Dutt’s recorded conversation with mafia don Chhota Shakeel was today made by the BJP while real-life Bollywood transported itself to the world of silent movies.

When filmdom voices spoke, they said little and meant even less. When they didn’t, they pretended as if they were unaware anything had happened.

In the tapes played in court last week, Dutt talks at length with Shakeel on subjects ranging from T-shirts to actor Govinda’s “bad behaviour”.

Even the outspoken Mahesh Bhatt, who is usually liberal with views, groped for the right words. “It (the tapes) just shows that the underworld has the power to force you to befriend them,” Bhatt said.

“It also shows that the mafia can get you more easily than the police can protect you.”

Bhatt turned out to be the bravest of the lot. Others mostly said “no comment” or “I really don’t know what has appeared in the papers”.

But, sensing that it may have a political hit on its hands, the Yuva Morcha of the BJP swung into action.

Its activists tore down Dutt’s posters from theatres in Sion and gave the government a 15-day ultimatum to arrest Dutt and film director Mahesh Manjrekar whose voice also appears on the tape.

Warning that this was just the beginning of their agitation against “those working for the mafia”, Morcha president Ashis Shelat said: “There are a lot of people who are upset by what has happened. We have two basic demands, arrest Dutt and Manjrekar, as Bharat Shah had been arrested for his links with the underworld, and stop screening movies starring Sunjay Dutt and those made by Manjrekar.”

The BJP has also appealed to the film fraternity to boycott Dutt. The party said the government should apply the same standards and deal with Dutt as it did with Shah. It alleged that Dutt’s political connections were helping him circumvent the law.

Sunjay’s father Sunil Dutt is a Congress leader and is taking a sadbhavna yatra to Gujarat, which the BJP does not like.

The few Bollywood personalities, who conceded to comment, said there was nothing new in the revelation and that the “problem will solve itself”.

A leading music director remarked: “Arre yaar, tum media wale bhi na... usually when there is a problem the stars concerned solve it themselves in a manner that is beneficial to both parties. It is a mutual give-and-take kind of understanding.”

He might be right. In the tape, while Shakeel exhorts Dutt’s friends, directors Sanjay Gupta and Manjrekar and producer Harish Sughand to come to him for help, the film personalities supply information on movies and colleagues.

It is clear from the tapes that the two worlds are at ease with each other. At one point, Dutt tells Shakeel: “Bhai, please talk to your two fans who are here... Mahesh Manjrekar and Sanjay Gupta.”

In another sequence, Dutt says, “Bhai, I have bought a T-shirt for you... Appi says you look good in them. But where can I give them to you?” To this, Shakeel replies: “Okay, you give it to Appi, I will tell you where to give it to Appi.” Then again, while Manjrekar wants to make a “100 per cent realistic” movie on Shakeel’s life story, Gupta promises to get in touch with the don more often. But it’s “just that the police sometimes tap phones, you know, bhai”.

The smell of mafia intervention gets really strong when Dutt requests Shakeel to do something about Govinda’s “bad behaviour” on the sets. “Don’t worry,” assures the don, “that will be taken care of. I will give you some good news soon.”

But the police do not believe it is time to ring the alarm bells. The tapes have not sent stars rushing to them for protection.

   

 
 
MAMATA DILEMMA: TO SNAP OR TO TORMENT 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, July 30: 
After the National Democratic Alliance put Nitish Kumar before Mamata Banerjee, the Trinamul Congress leader today found herself pulled in two different directions within her party when she got down to work out the details of her campaign against the Centre on the impending bifurcation of railway zones.

Trinamul officials said Mamata came under intense pressure from the youth leaders advocating an immediate snapping of ties with the NDA. But senior leaders urged her to remain within the coalition and torment it by unveiling a high-voltage campaign against the Centre and accusing it of discriminating against Bengal.

A marathon meeting at Mamata’s Harish Chatterjee Street residence witnessed rising tempers. The meeting was called to fix the agenda for tomorrow’s working committee meeting, to be held at her residence.

Senior party functionaries like leader of Opposition in the Assembly Pankaj Banerjee, chief whip Shobhandeb Chattopadhyay and Subrata Bakshi asked Mamata to stay in the coalition and continue to fight for Bengal’s interests from within.

However, youth leaders like Sanjoy Bakshi and Madan Mitra vehemently opposed the idea and argued that she should immediate come out of the NDA. “We want her to fight against the Centre from within the NDA in order to highlight its apathy towards Bengal and thus cash in on the anti-BJP sentiments with panchayat elections round the corner,” said Chattopadhyay. “It will be blessing in disguise for Mamata if the NDA expels her from the coalition because this will help her to heighten her secular image,” he added.

However, Trinamul youth leaders felt a proper campaign could be launched against the NDA only after snapping ties with it.

Senior leaders requested Mamata to raise in the Lok Sabha issues such as the bifurcation of Eastern Railway, the slow progress of the Digha-Tamluk rail link and Metro Railway extension to Garia, the disinvestment of public sector enterprises and the Centre’s decision to close down 64 collieries in Bengal. “We have even requested Mamata not to join forces with the NDA MPs during Left Front’s onslaughts in the House,” said a party functionary. Trinamul MLA Partha Chatterjee has been asked to compile papers on these issues at the earliest.

In a related development, former PCC chief Somen Mitra said the doors were open for Mamata to rejoin the party. “Let her first quit the NDA,” he said.

However, Mitra criticised Mamata for supporting the NDA in Parliament on the Gujarat issue. “By doing this, she betrayed the nation and lost her credibility,” he said. He asked if Mamata had documents proving Nitish Kumar’s involvement in turning the Godhra issue in favour of the BJP, how could she cast her vote in favour of the Narendra Modi government in Parliament.

State Congress leader Pradip Bhattacharya said tonight that the party could press for a CBI probe if Mamata leaked the details of the forensic reports she claimed to have known.

   

 
 
NEEDLE MASSACRE OF 1500 STRAY DOGS 
 
 
FROM M.R. VENKATESH
 
Chennai, July 30: 
In an unparalleled “mass killing”, nearly 1,500 street dogs were injected poison in two panchayat areas close to Chennai to eliminate their growing menace in the localities.

Authorities of the Ennore and Othivakkam panchayats in Tiruvallur district reportedly hired some locals to catch the stray dogs. The captive animals were poisoned, sources in the Animal Welfare Board Of India said. The details of the “shocking” incident are still being ascertained, they added.

The animal welfare board today sent an official to meet the panchayat leaders and lodged an FIR with the local police against the “unlawful” killings.

“We really do not know the reasons yet,” said Chinni Krishna, the vice-chairman of the board. The killings had taken place over the past few days and the board learned about it only yesterday.

“The worst part is that the street dogs which get caught first are most often the nicest and kindest, while the really ferocious ones go into hiding,” said Krishna.

What has also caused concern is the way the bodies of the dogs, whom animal rights activist Maneka Gandhi had called “community pets”, were disposed of. According to reports, the dead animals, instead of being given a proper burial, had been interred near the Ennore seacoast, raising a serious environment concern.

According to Somesh Banik, secretary of the animal welfare board, the Union ministry of culture’s notification promulgating the Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001, has laid down that killing of stray dogs by local authorities “is strictly prohibited and that the offenders could be prosecuted and punished as per Rules”.

Banik today sent letters to the local municipal commissioners and chief minister Jayalalithaa about the incident. The commissioners of civic bodies in and around the city were informed of the provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty Act and Animal Birth Control (Dog) Rules, 2001, and were asked to enforce them with immediate effect.

Banik said the Chennai police commissioner was also asked to take firm action against those responsible for the killings.

Following the hue and cry after the event, the panchayat officials of Ennore and Othivakkam have assured to not only adhere to the “dog rules” but to avoid the recurrence of such events, Banik added.

   

 
 
TRINAMUL BACK ON SONIA RADAR 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, July 30: 
The Congress has approached Mamata Banerjee for her party’s support in the vice-presidential elections though it admitted that prospects of a “second homecoming” for the Trinamul Congress leader were still remote.

Sources said Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and other senior leaders are closely following Mamata’s disenchantment with the BJP over the Union Cabinet’s green signal for Eastern Railway’s bifurcation.

The first priority before the Congress, they said, is to somehow pit Mamata against the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government on issues like the Godhra train carnage, the subsequent violence in Gujarat, the Ayodhya dispute and power equations within the National Democratic Alliance.

Congress leader Kamal Nath plans to raise the Godhra controversy in the Lok Sabha tomorrow on the basis of Mamata’s remarks yesterday. The Trinamul leader had accused the BJP of “rewarding railway minister Nitish Kumar for suppressing the truth behind the Godhra train carnage”. The game plan is to create a rift within the NDA on Gujarat, the sources said, adding that Nath is set to raise the matter during zero hour.

Congress leaders said efforts were also on to arrange a telephone talk between Sonia and Mamata so that the two could revive their personal rapport. Sonia has already spoken to Mamata seeking formal support for Sushil Kumar Shinde, the Congress’ vice-presidential nominee.

Party leaders are, however, not sure if Mamata would return to her parent organisation. Mamata, they say, will have to snap all formal and informal ties with the BJP and the NDA before approaching the Congress. But as long as Vajpayee continues to lead the NDA, Trinamul, these leaders believe, would not be able to sever ties.

So, for the time being, the Congress hopes to cash in on Mamata’s anger by securing her support for Shinde against NDA nominee Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, who has a distinct edge. The party’s calculation is that if Mamata’s eight MPs switch sides, it could have a demoralising impact on the NDA. This might trigger a chain reaction.

The 120 SC/ST MPs are also said to be divided on caste lines as Shinde hails from the weaker sections.

An electoral college consisting of members of both Houses of Parliament elects the Vice-President. Of the 781 MPs who would be casting their vote on August 12, the NDA, including Trinamul, has an edge of more than 90 votes.

   

 
 
PASWAN FIRES CREDIT SALVO FROM HAJIPUR 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, July 30: 
Outpaced by the Union Cabinet and rival Nitish Kumar, Ram Vilas Paswan today hit the Hajipur ground running to claim credit for the railway triumph and convert a protest march into a celebratory rally.

Paswan was initially supposed to hold a protest demonstration in Hajipur against the BJP-led NDA government and also observe a 24-hour hunger-strike along with his supporters.

But with the Centre resolving to create a separate railway zone headquartered at Hajipur, Paswan had to change his plans.

Instead of staging a demonstration, Paswan celebrated Holi today at Hajipur and asked his supporters to burst crackers and sprinkle coloured water. At the end of the celebrations, he addressed a rally of over 5,000 people.

Hours before Paswan’s men reached the venue, about 200 Samata Party supporters arrived in Hajipur in a procession, dancing and garlanding themselves in celebration. They also kept shouting slogans praising Kumar.

Deshka rail mantri kaysa ho, Nitish Kumaer jaisa ho,” they kept repeating.

But Paswan’s rally outnumbered them. Paswan walked from the Hajipur crossing to the railway zonal headquarters, inspected the office, spoke to the officers and declared that the success of the zonal office would not have been possible without him. He also accused Nitish Kumar of manipulating the events to claim credit for the Hajipur zonal office.

“Nobody should forget that I had first conceived the idea and set the ball rolling. Now people are giving full credit to Nitish Kumar. What was Nitish Kumar doing all the six years since 1996 when it was first planned by me? He himself had deliberately kept it under wraps after becoming the railway minister, lest the credit could go to me,” Paswan said.

He also came down heavily against Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, saying she lacked a distinct political character. “Sometimes she is out to please George Fernandes, at other times she is busy licking the boots of the BJP higher-ups,” Paswan said.

“But I must give full credit to Mamata Banerjee for one reason. Before Mamata’s opposition to the zonal office, no one in Bihar understood the implications of the same. So, Mamata inadvertently gave herself some negative publicity,” he added.

Paswan said with the Cabinet confirmation, a major stride had been taken towards making the railway zonal office a success but still a lot remained to be done till it had become fully operational. “I can tell you, in any event of any deviation, I would be ready to stage a dharna here,” he said.

He also announced of having received Cabinet approval of setting up a super speciality railway hospital at Hajipur, which, like the railway zonal office, had been kept under wraps. “I have to fight a tough battle for the same in the future,” Paswan declared.

The Samata Party is also planning a massive rally in Hajipur in a day or two when Nitish Kumar arrives here from the capital.

The BJP is observing “Diwali in Patna” by decorating its state headquarters here with coloured lights. But the party said it would not join Nitish’s rally.

RJD chief Laloo Prasad Yadav appeared to join in with the chorus of appreciation for Nitish Kumar, albeit cautiously. “After all he is a political adversary. But I will praise him for whatever he has done for Bihar”, Laloo said.

   

 
 
MODI GIVES POLL PANEL FULL MARKS BEFORE TEST 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 30: 
Narendra Modi today said he had “full faith” in the Election Commission, a day before a poll panel team begins assessing the ground situation in Gujarat.

“I am confident that the Central and state Election Commissions will do their job properly. They are perfect,” the caretaker chief minister told reporters in the capital today. The Election Commission is expected to take a decision on when to hold the polls after the nine-member delegation returns.

Modi said it was “perfectly normal” for the commission to send a team. “It is a time-honoured tradition for the EC to send a team before a general election or a mid-term election or a byelection is held to see the state of the arrangements and make a detailed first-hand assessment,” he said. “It is a good tradition.”

Modi called on Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani. He also met finance minister Jaswant Singh and BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu.

The sources said Modi suggested he should be given a free hand in the distribution of tickets and that former chief minister Keshubhai Patel — considered his main political rival — should be persuaded to campaign. Patel was summoned by Naidu for a discussion this evening in which Arun Jaitley – the BJP general secretary in charge of Gujarat — was also involved.

At a meeting with Advani last week, Patel had reportedly expressed inability to take an active part in the campaign because of “indifferent” health. Gujarat BJP sources, however, say he could be bargaining for a large share of tickets for his nominees.

Unsure of the Election Commission’s “mood”, BJP central leaders are thinking of formulating two sets of strategies. Sources said if polls are held in September-October, a campaign committee and a resource mobilisation panel would have to be in place very soon. But if elections are delayed, then a strategy has to be devised to sustain the perceived Hindu-Muslim polarisation and not allow issues like water, power and drought to divert attention.

Modi claimed he was ready to face elections any time. He criticised the Congress for questioning the law and order situation and said a newspaper had quoted the party’s central observer for Gujarat as demanding an early election as far back as on May 18. “They were the people who shouted that my government should go. Let people decide who they want. Why are they now afraid of going to the people? It is ironical that a 100-year-old party is shying away from voters,” he said.

Modi suggested that Gujarat be declared drought-hit as 51 per cent of the state had received less than 25 per cent of the normal rainfall.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 33.6°C (+2)
Minimum: 27.2°C (+1)

Rainfall:

0.2 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 95%,
Minimum: 68%

Today

Sunrise: 5.09 am
Sunset: 6.17 pm

One or two spells of rain or thundershowers

   
 

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