First madarsa scores unflattering ‘firsts’
Students pay for minister protest
Panel delays school reform
PM nudges party to hardsell ‘good work’
BJP’s Waterloo on Vaghela lips
Holes in Pak madarsa reform
Naxalites face chopper chase
Polls overtake Kashmir Track II initiative
Mahajan lauds House martyrs
Cong alleges politics of drought relief

Calcutta, Aug. 4: 
Eastern India’s oldest Islamic school has also become the madarsa with the lowest number of students with its roll-strength dipping below 100 and some classes having no students for the first time since its inception.

The Hooghly Madarsa in Chinsurah — founded in 1817, the same year as Presidency College — has also notched up another dubious “first”. It admitted less than 10 students for the academic year 2002-2003 — the most glaring example of administrative callousness “killing” a system of education that regularly hit the headlines this year, admit state primary and secondary education officials.

What hurts more, they add, is that this school is the only government-run madarsa in the state.

Officials concede that despite the government’s widely-publicised modernisation and computerisation drive in madarsas that followed the controversy over the government’s purported remarks, its benefits have not percolated down to the state’s first Islamic school.

The consequences are there for all to see: the madarsa has been able to enrol only seven students this year, the lowest since its inception.

The madarsa now has only 92 students and there are classes which do not have a single student. Only class X has more than 20 students and classes VI, VII, VIII and IX have around 15. Class V has five students and classes III and IV are empty.

“Prima facie, the authorities of the madarsa do not seem interested in righting the ills,” West Bengal Minorities’ Commission chairman Justice K.M. Yusuf said after visiting the madarsa recently.

“The commission has received numerous complaints from all quarters regarding the pathetic state of affairs there,” he said, adding that he was “concerned enough” to send a report to the government.

There has, however, been one “happy” consequence, though neither teachers of the institute nor West Bengal Board of Madarsa Education say they wanted it: the madarsa is now the only state-aided school to have an “incredible” teacher-student ratio of about 1:6.

With the government paying the salaries of some 40 staff members, including 16 teachers, it now spends more on this component than on education or development, say officials, holding up the madarsa as an example of skewed priorities.

Officials say the reason for all this was “entirely avoidable”. Timely repair of hostel rooms would not have led the public works department to limit the number of new hostel admissions to zero, turning away most aspirants who were denied accommodation.

“The madarsa caters mostly to students from outside who, despite wanting to study in this prestigious institute, have been forced to look elsewhere for admission,” a senior Hooghly Madarsa official said.

An inspecting team, comprising officials of the state minorities commission and the state madarsa board, could not help but remark on the “pathetic work-culture” and state of affairs at the madarsa, especially its kitchen and accommodation facilities.


Aug. 4: 
Authorities of Regional Engineering College at Durgapur have suspended 450 second-year students for preventing the higher education minister from inaugurating a new hostel and a lecture hall on the campus on Friday.

Satyasadhan Chakraborty was virtually gheraoed by the students, who were demanding that the college be declared a National Institute of Technology.

The suspended students will not be allowed to sit for the third-semester examination, principal S.P. Ghosh said today. The decision was taken at an emergency meeting of department heads last night.

However, college authorities will serve the suspension notice on Tuesday as a state bandh has been called tomorrow by the Trinamul Congress.

Agitating students had gheraoed the minister and displayed banners that said: “We want national status and not a regional one.” The protesters also prevented mediapersons from covering the inauguration.

The higher education minister today reacted sharply at the protest. “The students who had organised the agitation were trying to mislead other students. The Union government is trying to establish its absolute control over the college administration. We have already written to the Centre, requesting them to maintain the present administrative set-up of the college,” Chakraborty said.

He explained that the college was jointly run by the Centre and the state with the higher education minister being the ex-officio chairman of the board of governors.

“We give Rs 8 crore to the college every year. The Union government also provides funds for the college. But now the Centre is trying to take absolute control of the college administration, ignoring the state government. Is it possible for the government to accept the Centre’s move?” Chakraborty asked.

“We have written to the Union government explaining our stand on the issue. We want the Centre to maintain the existing administrative set-up of the college. We have given land to the college, we are spending Rs 8 crore every year on the college. How can the Centre ignore the state government in running the institute?” the minister further asked.

Chakraborty compared the Centre’s move on the Regional Engineering College with the rail minister’s decision to bifurcate Eastern Railway.

“The Centre is planning to deprive the government in every respect and its move to take absolute control of the college administration points to this,” he said.

The minister said 50 per cent of the college students hailed from other states and were admitted through the joint entrance examination. But he claimed that the Centre’s take-over move would jeopardise the existing admission system.


Calcutta, Aug. 4: 
The government’s plan to restructure all the three levels of school education by the end of this year appears uncertain as the 13-member study committee is yet to complete its surveys.

Government sources said chances of the education committee submitting its report by the September 30 deadline is bleak. Two major exercises — one involving a comparative study of school education systems in various states and the other, a review of the existing computer education facilities in state-aided schools in rural Bengal — are yet to begin.

Even after 10 months since the government set up the committee, the members have not travelled to any state so far.

Education department officials are concerned with the delay as chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was keen to get the survey done by June this year, that is three months before the deadline.

Ranju Gopal Mukherjee, committee chairman and former vice-chancellor of North Bengal University, said the committee members were unable to visit other states as they were busy doing surveys in Bengal. According to him, it took the members a long time to complete “each bit of the work” as they are conducting the studies “in detail as well as with perfection”.

Mukherjee said eight states, namely Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, have been chosen for the survey.

Sources said the comparative study of education systems is important as the government wants to establish parity between the syllabi followed in Bengal and in other states so that students passing the Madhyamik and the Higher Secondary examinations can easily avail education opportunities outside Bengal. The government also wants to ensure a better record at national-level competitive examinations by Bengal students.


New Delhi, Aug. 4: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today stressed the need for greater coordination between the BJP organisation and the government and put the onus on the party to convey the Centre’s “achievements” to the people.

Vajpayee’s assertion came a day after the BJP’s national council adopted the “Delhi Pledge”, which said the party organisation would have to be the main link between the government and the governed.

At a lunch meeting with the BJP office-bearers, the Prime Minister endorsed their suggestion that ministers would have to respond to people’s grievances and, if needed, spend time at the party office, interacting with the cadre. In other words, a greater quid pro quo in the government-party relationship.

Later, at another meeting with some Cabinet members, the BJP office-bearers asked them to “immediately and appropriately respond to representations made by the public and party workers”.

Briefing reporters, BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu quoted Vajpayee as saying that it was the party’s responsibility to take the message of the government’s “good work” to the grassroots and ensure that the benefits of development schemes reached the intended targets.

In the Delhi Pledge adopted yesterday, the BJP resolved to “communicate the achievements” of the National Democratic Alliance government among the people with “pride, conviction and enthusiasm”.

“The best publicist for our government’s policies, programmes and performance can be our own party workers,” the statement said. “Similarly, the best carrier of feedback from the people to the government can also be our own party workers. Therefore, our party organisation has to master this two-way communication by becoming a living and ever-vigilant link between the government and the people.”

To gear up for the coming Assembly elections as well as implement the pledge, BJP office-bearers also decided that for four days starting tomorrow, deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani would hold state-wise meetings with BJP MPs. Party general secretaries would also be present at these sessions.

Naidu, who recently took over from K. Jana Krishnamurthi, outlined how he intended to take the Delhi Pledge to the grassroots. He said the first step would be to hold meetings of party functionaries in the four zones. Besides the national office-bearers, their regional counterparts would be present at these sessions, he added.

The first such meeting, Naidu said, would be on August 27 and 28 in Bangalore for the four southern states. The meeting for the eastern zone, which includes the Northeast, would be in Calcutta on September 7 and 8. The BJP president said he hoped to cover the entire country by next March.

The BJP’s multi-pronged strategy to gear up the party also involves:

Emphasis on discipline. Naidu, however, admitted that the clean-up cannot take place in a day.

“(The) Government can do it in a day. It can issue a show-cause notice to an employee, suspend him, and eventually sack him. This is a party and human beings are involved,” he said.

Changing the mindset of workers from being Opposition-centric to that of being part of a ruling party.

A “gaon chalo” campaign to reach the rural areas and preach the party’s philosophy and communicate the government’s “achievements”.

Holding of state-level political conferences.

No pressure from RSS

Naidu today said the BJP was not under any pressure from the RSS but asserted that “our fraternal relations with the RSS would continue”.

“There is no pressure on us from the RSS. They are an independent organisation, so are we. There are differences of perception on some issues and we will work as per our ideology and agenda,” PTI quoted the BJP chief as saying.


Deesa (North Gujarat), Aug. 4: 
Gujarat Congress president Shankersinh Vaghela launched a blistering attack on the Narendra Modi government by asking the farmers of north Gujarat, facing acute water and power crises, to get rid of the “BJP misrule” in “Radhanpur style”.

Vaghela reminded the farmers about Radhanpur because it is there that the BJP workers were thrashed by his supporters during the byelections after he split the BJP to form his own government in 1997 with the outside support of the Congress.

Addressing a huge kisan rally here today, Vaghela criticised the BJP government for making false promises to farmers but ended up making a host of similar promises himself — to provide adequate power and water — that the Congress would find difficult to fulfil if it came to power.

Vaghela slipped into populist mode, formally launching his election campaign from this town by dwelling on these two burning issues, with which the Congress was going to counter Modi’s communal card. His oratorial skills instantly struck a chord with the farmers who remembered his brief tenure as chief minister, when farmers were getting 14 hours of power supply a day.

While the farmers are not getting regular power supply, the state government, under pressure from the Asian Development Bank, has installed meters that the farmers are vehemently opposing. Vaghela asked the farmers to get rid of the “anti-farmers BJP government” if they wanted to get rid of the meter system.

“I promise you that the Congress government will restore 14 hours electricity supply once it comes to power. But for that you will have to defeat the BJP the way you defeated it in Radhanpur,” he promised, eliciting an instant applause from the farmers from drought-hit Banaskantha district on the Rajasthan border.

Explaining how prices — especially of those commodities that affected the lives of farmers — had gone up in the last five year ever since the BJP came to power, Vaghela attacked Modi for not declaring drought in the state for the fear that the Assembly elections would be delayed.

Ahmed Patel, senior Congress leader and political secretary to Sonia Gandhi, lambasted the BJP government for reducing Gujarat to a financially bankrupt state. He criticised Modi for destroying Gujarat’s progressive image. “If you want to save Gujarat, defeat the BJP,” he said.

Addressing the rally, Congress leader and Gujarat in-charge Kamal Nath said the days of Narendra Modi’s caretaker government were numbered. “I know you are facing acute water and power problem. But let me assure you that your problems will be attended to once the Congress comes to power. We have two powerhouses — Shankersinh Vaghela and Amarsinh Chaudhary — who will solve your problems,” Nath said.

“These elections are going to be very decisive — they will decide the direction the country is heading for and the future of the new generation,” the Congress leader said, underlining the importance of the forthcoming Assembly polls.

Former chief minister Amarsinh Chaudhary challenged Modi to hold panchayat elections in Banaskantha and Kheda districts and 83 municipalities. Modi had postponed these elections, saying the atmosphere was not conducive.


New Delhi, Aug. 4: 
Pakistan’s military rulers are not serious about reforming the madarsa system of education, considered the fount of Islamic radicalism the world over. All commitments to reform are only a short-term response to international pressure, according to the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG).

“International acceptance of the military’s domestic manoeuvres in exchange of support in the war against terrorism risks more extremism in the not distant future…. Wavering by important international actors, especially the US, will not only increase extremist threats to Pakistan but eventually also undermine global security and stability,” the ICG warns.

Pakistan has already begun diluting its madarsa reform programme by putting the seminaries under the supervision of the religious forces. However, the ICG has recommended that all international aid for the madarsa reforms in Pakistan must be closely tied to proof that it represents a genuine commitment to promote moderate and modern education.

In its latest report on the religious schools of Pakistan, the ICG has noted that madarsas have produced “radicalised” students which have participated in state-sponsored jihad, first in Afghanistan and, later, in Kashmir. However, it warns that the madarsa problem in Pakistan goes beyond militancy.

“Over a million-and-a-half students at more than 10,000 seminaries are being trained, in theory for the service in the religious sector. But their constrained world view, lack of modern civic education and poverty make them a de-stabilising factor in Pakistani society. For all these reasons, they are also susceptible to romantic notions of sectarian and international jihads, which promise instant salvation,” the ICG notes.

The report questions the commitment of the Musharraf regime to changing the status of madarsas and integrate them with the formal education sector. “It is doubtful whether the military government has the intent or will to set Pakistani society on a sustainable course that would lead to political pluralism and religious tolerance,” it says.

This, the ICG notes, was evident from the fact that the Bill proposed to reform madarsas “does not envisage real intervention in the madarsa system because the clergy is opposed (to it).”

The reasons for the Musharraf regime not wanting to reform madarsas, according to the ICG, are there for anyone to see.

“A madarsa sector, the autonomy of which remains untouched and is not forced to reform, is unlikely to confront the military. On the contrary, the clergy remains a vocal supporter of a politically dominant military and its India policy. This explains why the government’s madarsa reforms are cosmetic and lack substance, legal muscle or an intent to institutionalise long-term change.”

To the government of Pakistan, the ICG has recommended the following :

Set up a madarsa regulatory authority headed by its interior minister;

Institute curriculum reforms to include vocational training and modern subjects;

Close down all madarsas affiliated with banned organisations and prosecute their leaders;

Make it mandatory for the madarsas to publish their audited accounts annually;

Create a nation-wide financial intelligence unit under the banking regulatory authority to prevent money laundering;

Keep tabs on foreign students seeking admission to Pakistani madarsas;

Extend the madarsa reforms to the rural areas, too.

To the international community, the ICG has recommended putting pressure on Pakistan to reform its madarsas and providing financial assistance for secularising education.

The ICG also wants the UK, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states to publicly identify charities and NGOs suspected to be maintaining links with militants.


Hyderabad, Aug. 4: 
Andhra Pradesh police plan to use helicopters in their operations against the People’s War Group in the forested and hilly areas of the state.

Director-general of police P. Ramulu took the lead in chartering a helicopter and rushing to a spot in the Nallamala forest on the border of Prakasham district on Thursday where Greyhound commandos and the People’s Guerrilla Army of the PWG were engaged in a gunbattle.

The Greyhounds were clearly at a disadvantage fighting against the guerrillas holed up in the hillocks, and it was the courage of some of the men in uniform that prevented them from being massacred.

The police were able to pull off a victory from the jaws of defeat thanks to the speedy delivery of arms, ammunition and food supplies to the commandos fighting the Naxalites.

The police chief along with two other officers rushed to the spot in a helicopter, bringing with him additional supplies of ammunition and AK-47 rifles. The guerrillas fled the scene minutes after sighting the helicopter, but not before sacrificing four of their comrades.

Ramulu chased the fleeing militants for a while but eventually lost sight of them in the thick jungle foliage.

Four policemen died because of lack of proper medical assistance after the encounter in Guntur district, police sources said. “We could have saved them if we had a helicopter to rush them to hospital. Although they were flown to Hyderabad, three were declared dead on arrival,” explained Ramulu.

The administration has strengthened the police stations in the state and also increased combing operations in the Nallamala forests following the breakdown of peace talks between the government and the PWG.

Security arrangements have been beefed up to stem the attacks by the Naxalites on elected representatives and private industry. Legislators have been asked to report their movements to the local police stations and the VIP security wing for escort. Most sensitive government establishments have been provided with metal and explosive detectors and closed circuit televisions.


New Delhi, Aug. 4: 
The Election Commission’s announcement of polls in Jammu and Kashmir has caught former law minister Ram Jethmalani as well as one-time separatist leader Shabir Shah on the backfoot.

Jethmalani, who has been in touch with Shah and other leaders, has gathered together an influential group of private citizens to put in place another Track II initiative for peace in the militancy-riven state. But his effort to rope in moderate elements for the polls has begun too late and is unlikely to pay dividends.

The newly-formed Kashmir Committee, headed by Jethmalani, met for the first time today at the former Union minister’s home in the capital, barely six weeks before the state goes to polls on September 16 — the first day of the four-phase schedule.

Shah, who has been playing hide and seek with Delhi for nearly a year, was in town last week. He said he would take part in the polls only if Delhi is willing to begin negotiations with moderate Kashmiris, including members of the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference.

The former separatist leader wants the elections postponed to allow the discussions to make some headway.

Although Hurriyat leaders have little regard for Shah, they have not contradicted his position. Soon after US secretary of state Colin Powell said that Washington wanted to see all moderate elements participate, Hurriyat chairman Abdul Gani Bhat had signalled that his outfit was not averse to polls so long as it was the beginning and not the end of a process.

A Hurriyat representative in Delhi attended the Kashmir Committee meeting as an observer.

The government, too, has been left with little time to respond to the Kashmir Committee’s initiative, although Jethmalani has made it clear his move is not official.

However, during the Rajya Sabha debate on Kashmir, deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani had welcomed the former minister’s initiative.

Jethmalani said elections in Kashmir without a cross-section of moderates would be a repeat of the 1987 and 1996 polls, which created more problems than solutions and led to complete cynicism about the conduct of the elections.

“If the announcement of elections was intended to start a dialogue with those who boycotted the polls in the past and have protested the present announcement, it is well and good,” he said.

“However, if it is intended to bypass the dialogue process, we do not believe the Kashmir problem would have any meaningful solution.”

Senior government officials dealing with Kashmir are not amused by the group’s insistence on dialogue before elections. “It is like putting the cart before the horse. The elections will throw up the real representatives of the people. The government can start serious negotiations only after a new leadership emerges,” one official explained. “Let them stand up and prove their popularity among the people first.”

But opinion is divided on the subject. There are many within the government who believe that every effort must be made to give the electorate a chance to choose from a wide range of political parties, so long as these groups are willing to work out an arrangement under the Constitution.

These officials tend to agree with Jethmalani’s view that “only elections with a wider participation” will instil international confidence. “We also want that and, for that purpose, we are discussing what steps have to be taken,” they said.

Jethmalani was also critical of the talks between the National Conference and the Centre’s interlocutor on Kashmir, Arun Jaitley. The former law minister wanted to know what the devolution talks were all about and what had been achieved so far. However, it is well known that the discussions have just started and chief minister Farooq Abdullah himself admitted that it would take a long time.

“Matters like autonomy which have been on hold for decades cannot be thrashed out in a few months. I expect the talks to be a long process,’’ Abdullah told reporters on the first day of the talks.


New Delhi, Aug. 4: 
Parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan today said that the martyrs of the December 13, 2001, attack on Parliament had a special place in the country’s history because the cause for which they sacrificed their lives was “extraordinary”.

At a function organised by the BJP’s youth wing to honour the relatives of the nine security personnel, including a woman constable, who were slain in the attack by Pakistani terrorists, Mahajan said: “Countless people have sacrificed their lives in the past. But those who lost their lives during the attack on Parliament were special martyrs because they were not dealing with a usual terrorist strike. They had to save the Parliament of India and as the parliamentary affairs minister, I am eternally indebted to their relatives.”

Explaining why December 13 was different from other attacks, he said the terrorists did not come to sacrifice their lives.

“After they were killed and their clothes examined, it was discovered that they did not have bullets in their pockets but dry fruits. At that moment we did not understand why this was so. But later we realised that they did not come with the intention to kill. Their real intent was to hold Parliament to ransom and that is why they came unarmed. Nobody would have caught them out and they could have entered the building easily.”

Recalling how the Kandahar hijack had extracted a heavy price from India in that hardcore terrorists had to be released, Mahajan asked: “If the lives of the Prime Minister, the leader of the Opposition and 650 MPs were at stake, what price would they have demanded? Trouble could have erupted on the border as Parliament was being held to ransom. I shudder to think of what would have happened to India.”

He said the securitymen who fought the terrorist were neither trained in combat operations nor possessed heavy-duty weapons.

“I am reminded of a saying: ‘Not that the gun fights but the hand behind it. Not that the hand fights but the mind behind it.’ The terrorists failed to carry out their plans because here was a situation in which ordinary Hindustanis rose to defend their motherland,” the minister said.

Painting a “realistic” picture of cross-border terrorism, Mahajan said that it was not possible for the army to guard every inch of the border with Pakistan.

“There are rivers breaching the border, there are jungle tracts. Baba Amte once went to Punjab on a Bharat jodo mission. In one of his public meetings in a village, he found one woman was standing away from the crowd. He asked her to join and listen to his message. She replied she was from Pakistan and had come in search of a buffalo gone astray. This is to say when infiltrators cross over, they don’t look different from us. After all, we once belonged to the same country.”

While describing the battle against terrorism as “difficult”, Mahajan said it was not insurmountable. “If like the martyrs of December 13 everyone of us is ready to make sacrifices, we will win the battle,” he said.


New Delhi, Aug. 4: 
The Centre today announced additional funds to combat drought, but the Congress said the government was discriminating against states ruled by it.

Tomorrow, Congress president Sonia Gandhi will lead a team of party chief ministers to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who declared a relief package of Rs 714 crore for 12 states.

The amount is on top of the Rs 483.56 crore already released, and has been announced after a meeting of the task force headed by deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani on August 1.

Five Congress chief ministers, who met Sonia Gandhi today, described the package as inadequate.

Rajasthan alone has asked for Rs 6,115 crore for famine relief in its 41,000 villages.

“Certainly, this is not enough,” Karnataka chief minister S.M. Krishna said after the meeting.

The Congress chief ministers demanded nearly Rs 12,000 crore as immediate relief.

With the issue laden with political implications, particularly as several states are scheduled to go to polls in the near future, the two big parties are raising the stakes.

As Congress-ruled states accuse the Centre of “step-motherly” treatment, wherever it is in the Opposition the BJP will be looking to show local governments in a poor light.

The party today formed a committee headed by general secretary Rajnath Singh to study the effects of drought and floods and suggest counter-measures. It has been asked to submit its report in a fortnight.

The Congress is setting up a roving team of experts, some of whom were closely involved with the successful management of the 1987-88 drought, that will visit party-ruled states and offer its skills to the local administration.

The Congress’ charge against the Centre was led by Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh. “Four Central teams have visited Maharashtra in the last one year, but we have not received any assistance,” he said.

Ambika Soni, political secretary to Sonia Gandhi, did not hurl a direct accusation, but said Andhra Pradesh and Haryana — ruled by BJP allies — were being looked after better.

The NDA’s biggest partner and a prospective ally — Chandrababu Naidu and Jayalalithaa — too have joined the chorus for liberal aid.

A delegation led by Andhra Pradesh agriculture minister V.S. Rao will call on Vajpayee tomorrow and Union agricultural minister Ajit Singh to persuade them to loosen the purse strings. Andhra Pradesh has demanded Rs 801 crore as relief.

Jayalalithaa has stepped up her demand to Rs 720 crore from the National Calamity Contingency Fund. This is in addition to the funds she has already sought from the Calamity Relief Fund for 2002-03.

Rajasthan’s Ashok Gehlot said this was not the time to play politics. The chief ministers dismissed the Centre’s allegation that their states were not lifting the foodgrain allotted to them from the central pool.

Of the Congress states, Chhattisgarh has demanded Rs 2,180 crore, Maharashtra Rs 2,100 crore, Madhya Pradesh Rs 698 crore and Delhi Rs 30 crore.

Fearing a substantial impact on economic growth, industry is advising the government to immediately release surplus foodgrain stocks with the Food Corporation through the nationwide food-for-work programme.

The Confederation of Indian Industry, quoting from a snap poll of chief executives, said: “Around 71 per cent of CEOs have felt that GDP growth would fall below 5.4 per cent.”

“Industry was looking forward to a double-digit growth in terms of sales and profits in the current fiscal year. However, with the delayed monsoon and drought situation, growth of the overall economy was likely to come down,” it said.

Over 54 per cent of the CEOs felt sales would grow between 10 and 20 per cent in the current fiscal year and 48 per cent predicted that profits, too, would be in this range.


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