Buddha calls all-party meet on rail split
Congress awaits final parting
Police pins ‘district’ chief tag on college girl
Witch-hunt on SUCI activist
Roadblock over auto crackdown
Dud-cheque guarantor in prosecution sweep
Active space beckons Kalam
Victims gripe at ‘guided’ tour
Delhi drive to allay Arabs’ Israel fear
Split rerun in Janata clan

Calcutta, Aug. 13: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has called an all-party meeting on Monday to discuss the proposed bifurcation of Eastern Railway.

Bhattacharjee’s decision comes in the wake of demands for talks by the two main Opposition parties, the Trinamul Congress and the Congress.

While Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee had demanded an all-party meeting on July 30, a state Congress delegation met the chief minister at Writers’ Buildings last week to make a similar request. The delegation, led by former state party chief Somen Mitra, had also urged Bhattacharjee to call an all-party Bengal bandh to protest the proposed split of the railway zone.

“I am visiting Delhi to talk to the Prime Minister on the bifurcation issue. Before doing so I want to find out what other political parties are thinking about it,” said Bhattacharjee.

The all-party meeting will be held at the Rotunda in Writers’ Buildings. Chief secretary S.N. Roy, who has issued invitation letters to political parties, has requested each party not to send more than two representatives.

Though the Congress and the BJP readily agreed to attend the meeting, Trinamul’s response was not readily available as most leaders were away in Delhi.

Trinamul’s all-India general secretary Mukul Roy said from Delhi that the state unit of the party would take a decision on attending the meeting.

Political circles here are sceptical about Trinamul’s participation in the meeting as it had earlier not accompanied an all-party delegation of legislators to meet deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and railway minister Nitish Kumar in Delhi to protest against the bifurcation.

Somen Mitra welcomed Bhattacharjee’s decision to hold the meeting. “We are happy that the chief minister has accepted our proposal. We will definitely attend the meeting and submit our opinion.”

The state BJP, too, described Bhattacharjee’s decision as a “good move”. “Though our senior party colleagues in Delhi were a party to the NDA Cabinet’s decision to bifurcate the Eastern Railway, we think the chief minister’s move is good. We will definitely attend the meeting and explain our position to him,” said state BJP president Asim Ghosh.

He added that there could be some changes in the decision in Bengal’s interest.

Officials said the government would not encourage any militant agitation in the state at the moment as the move could take on a regional colour.

Mamata ‘ambiguous’

Describing Mamata’s position on quitting the NDA as “ambiguous”, the CPM today said she had “failed to take a clear-cut stand”.

“If I have correctly read the situation, she has not had the courage to snap her party’s ties with the ruling coalition. I have stated this earlier and I still feel that her decision has only been prompted by personal interest,” said CPM state secretary Anil Biswas. “She has not completely dissociated herself from the NDA.”

Biswas alleged that the Trinamul leader was deliberately keeping the issue “hanging”.

The CPM leader, who had earlier rejected Mamata’s plea for a joint movement on the bifurcation issue citing her party’s continuation in the NDA, today said it could be considered at the all-party meeting.

“Let Trinamul representatives express their views at the meeting. Our party can take a decision on the issue only after hearing their contention,” Biswas said.

However, sources said the CPM is unlikely to go for a joint movement with Trinamul. The party is also averse to joining rail roko organised by the main Opposition party.


Calcutta, Aug. 13: 
The state Congress today welcomed Mamata Banerjee’s decision “not to be part and parcel of the NDA” till the bifurcation issue was sorted out but said a joint movement was feasible “only if it permanently closes its door on the ruling coalition”.

State party vice-president Pradip Bhattacharya said the “time has come when Trinamul takes a principled stand to fight the Centre’s anti-people policies”.

However, he felt Mamata’s decision to keep options open for the party’s return to the NDA in the event of the railway ministry revoking the bifurcation was “somewhat ambiguous”. “We will urge the party to sever all ties with the NDA and start a movement in Bengal’s interest,” the Congress leader said.

Asked if the state Congress was completely ruling out joint stirs with Trinamul in the changed circumstances, Bhattacharya said the party’s executive committee would soon meet to decide on the issue.

Sources said Mamata’s stand has put the state Congress in a dilemma. A section of party leaders feel that Congress workers should not hesitate to join hands with Trinamul to fight “the anti-people policies of both the Centre and the Left Front government”. This, they believe, will create a “congenial atmosphere and better understanding between the two parties and eventually lead to an electoral understanding against the ruling Left Front in next year’s panchayat polls”.

The state BJP remained non-committal on Trinamul’s decision to dissociate itself from the Central coalition over the bifurcation issue. “Mamata’s stand is not very clear. It appears that Trinamul intends to give conditional support to the NDA. We shall welcome any move to strengthen Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s hands. However, if the party does not support the NDA, it is its internal matter,” said state BJP vice-president Muzaffar Khan.

BJP insiders said Mamata’s decision only reflected her party’s “internal pressure” not to completely snap ties with the NDA. “We have reports that a number of Trinamul MPs are still in favour of remaining in the NDA,” a BJP leader said.

Asked if Trinamul’s stand would affect the BJP’s alliance with the party in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, Khan remained evasive. “We have not yet applied our mind to the issue. We shall seek the advice of the Central leadership in this regard and act accordingly,” he said.


Berhampore, Aug. 13: 
Police today claimed that Shampa Dasgupta, student of Gurudas College, was “in charge of Nowda area of the district” for People’s War.

Shampa was arrested on Saturday night along with four others from Murshidabad and Nadia districts.

“The People’s War has created what they call a ‘district’ comprising parts of Malda, Murshidabad and Nadia. We have information that Shampa is one of the key operatives,” said district superintendent of police Virendra.

A third-year political science student at Gurudas College, Shampa had admitted that she was a member of the Revolutionary Students’ Front, a Naxalite students’ union.

Shampa is in the women’s lock-up of Berhampore police station, alone and with nothing to sleep on but the cold, dank floor of the cell.

A table-fan stands on the floor just outside the cell. A pail of water and a tumbler is within easy reach from behind the cold iron bars.

Wearing a light-green churidar, Shampa either lies on the bare floor or sits with her back to the wall, head resting on the knees.

The police, who had earlier allowed mediapersons to speak to her, did not give permission today.

No relative or friend has come to Murshidabad to visit Shampa. “If they do come, they will have to take permission from the court to be able to talk to her in our presence,” the district police chief said.

Virendra said the police had information that 20 youths from Murshidabad, including women, had been to West Midnapore to receive training in firearms.

“We suspect that one of the men we picked up along with Shampa, Wari Sheikh, is involved in an incident last November at Beldanga where two rifles were snatched from policemen in a picket.

“We have not arrested them for just being members of the People’s War, but for plotting against the government as well as for carrying lethal weapons,” Virendra said.

Inspector general of police (south Bengal) N.R. Das arrived here today from Calcutta. He is scheduled to interrogate Shampa, Wari Sheikh, Jalil Sheikh and 17-year-old Lytton Mollah — all in police custody. An 18-member team from the state intelligence branch is arriving here tomorrow to probe activities of the People’s War in the district.

The police said the People’s War was also using members of another Naxalite faction, the Majdoor Kisan Sangharsh Samity, to extend their base in Murshidabad.


Berhampore, Aug. 13: 
Two women were arrested for trying to brand a childless widow a witch.

“Barely a month ago I lost my husband. My in-laws are trying to get hold of the property I have by proving that I am a witch,” alleged Agnes Murmu (32), a SUCI activist and a former member of the gram panchayat of tribal-dominated Sanskar Chatradanga.

The village adjoins Dighidanga, where another woman, Batasi Murmu, was nearly beaten to death four years ago for a similar reason.

Agnes’ mother-in-law defended her family. “It is because of her that I lost my son when he was just 40,” the mother-in-law said without stating that she suspected Agnes of practising witchcraft.

Agnes alleged that villagers led by headman Ghade Murmu had barged into her house to hold a “trial”. “My brother-in-law Govinda wanted to throw me out of the house.”

Biren Tudu, one of the village elders, denied that they tried to prove Agnes a witch. He charged that Agnes was having an affair with a SUCI leader and had disappeared for days with the man.

According to Agnes, however, she ran away from her village as she was threatened for being a SUCI activist and a witch. “I was driven to take shelter in a party comrade’s house at Lokepur.”

“The local CPM leaders are trying to intimidate our women cadre” to destroy the party’s base in the district, said Apurba Banerjee, SUCI’s Berhampore local committee secretary.

A CPM gram panchayat pradhan, Manik Das, held a village meet this morning. “We are meeting to arrive at a solution over allegations of Agnes’ immorality. Where have you found the witch?” Das asked.


Calcutta, Aug. 13: 
Traffic was disrupted on NSC Bose Road, in Garia, after the police impounded a number of auto-rickshaws, plying between Garia and the Tollygunge Metro Railway station on fake permits.

To protest the seizure, the auto drivers blocked the road for about an hour, causing a major traffic snarl. Police had to resort to a mild lathicharge to disperse the mob. Trouble started on Tuesday when deputy superintendent of police (traffic) Shakil Ahmed went to the spot and rounded up about half-a-dozen autos running on fake licences.

Some of the auto drivers gheraoed the DSP and demanded an explanation. Ahmed contacted DSP (town) Subhankar Chatterjee, who arrived with a force from Regent Park and Sonarpur police stations, and drove the mob away.

Chatterjee said: “Nearly 1,000 autos ply from Garia to the Metro station daily but only 325 of them have proper permits. Moreover, the unlicensed ones add to the chaos during peak hours and cause disruption in traffic movement in the area.”

He added that in order to sort out the problem, a meeting was held in June, attended by the sub-divisional officer of Alipore and Regional Transport Authority representatives. Leaders of different trade unions, too, were present at the meeting.

“It was decided that auto-rickshaws running on fake permits will be taken off and all trade unions will extend their co-operation. Accordingly, Ahmed went to Garia on Tuesday to carry out the drive but some unruly auto drivers, with criminal backgrounds, tried to overpower him and his team. However, the problem was sorted out. We are trying to locate the errant drivers,” said Chatterjee.

Ahmed said not only will the illegal autos be stopped from plying on the route, but more action will be taken in the near future. “From now on, the autos will not be allowed to carry more than three passengers. They will not be allowed to park wherever they wish. Moreover, we will keep tabs on the drivers so that they do not detour from the prescribed route. If they do so, they will be penalised,” he added.


New Delhi, Aug. 13: 
A guarantor is liable to be prosecuted in a cheque-bouncing case.

A Supreme Court division bench of Justices U.C. Banerjee and Y.K. Sabharwal today said Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, under which the person who issued the bounced cheque is prosecuted, included in its ambit the guarantor also.

The instant case relates to the purchase of a Maruti car by a couple in which the husband, Shabeer, had given a cheque for Rs 80,490 to ICDS Ltd, a car finance company, and his wife, Beena Shabeer, stood guarantee. The cheque was dishonoured.

Kerala High Court held that the guarantor could not be held legally bound for the bounced cheque. The apex court on appeal reversed the ruling.

“The language of the statute depicts the intent of the law makers to the effect that wherever there is a default on the part of one in favour of another and in the event a cheque is issued in discharge of any debt or other liability, there cannot be any restriction or embargo in the matter of application of the provisions of Section 138 of the (Negotiable Instruments) Act,” the apex court said.

The judges pointed out that the two “crucial” expressions in the explanation to Section 138 were “any cheque” and “other liability”.

The explanation to the proviso says: “For the purpose of this section, ‘debt or other liability’ means a legally enforceable debt or other liability.”

The bench interpreted this as evident that the section included in its sweep, especially with the expression “other liability”, the guarantor too.

“The high court, it seems, got carried away by the issue of guarantee and guarantor’s liability and thus has overlooked the true intent and purport of Section 138 of the Act,” the bench said.

“In our view, the high court fell into a manifest error and as such the impugned judgment (of the high court) cannot obtain our concurrence,” the bench added.

“Section 138 leaves no manner of doubt that for whatever reason it may be, the liability under this provision cannot be avoided in the event the cheque stands returned by the banker unpaid,” the judges said.

They also clarified that “when a cheque was issued as security, no complaint will lie under Section 138 of the Act since the cheque issued cannot be said to be for the purposes of discharging any debt or liability”.


Aug. 13: 
President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam has left no one in doubt that his would be an activist presidency. In doing so, he steps out onto a narrow ledge.

The President in India has no executive powers, and is often seen as performing a mostly symbolic role. Yet, symbols are not bereft of substance. The other role of the head of state, to “listen, counsel and warn” has assumed a new significance over the last decade.

The First Citizen did not mince words on the first leg of his tour of Gujarat. His very choice of the state sent a clear message. Calling for “immediate action” to help those affected by the violence in Gujarat, he asked the administration to act “with alacrity”.

The message was clear to all those cared to heed.

His first tour took him amidst the riot-hit people of Ahmedabad and then onto the epicentre of the earthquake that hit Kutch in January 2001.

In Naroda-Patia, his presence virtually forced chief minister Narendra Modi and other senior government functionaries to visit the riot-hit areas.

Kalam assumed office at a significant juncture in the history of the presidency. His predecessor K.R. Narayanan was not alone in playing on the public reach of the office to try and influence the tone and tenor of debate on matters of state.

He single-handedly emerged as sceptic on an issue that was dear to the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government — the revision of the Constitution. Quoting chapter and verse from B.R. Ambedkar and other luminaries, he stressed the fault was not in the Constitution but in the lawmakers themselves. It was their conduct that required revision, not the Constitution.

Even prior to this, he made two governments reconsider their decision to invoke Article 356. The United Front government had to step back in Uttar Pradesh in October 1997. It was the NDA’s turn in the case of Bihar. The President was drawing on his power to urge the Cabinet to reconsider its decision. He could not order revocation. But that crucial word, “reconsider”, was enough. Public opinion did the rest.

Things were not always like this. The first President locked horns with Jawaharlal Nehru on more than one occasion. When he wanted to send Parliament a message about the Hindu Code Bill, the Prime Minister put his foot down. Then Attorney-General H.C. Setalvad, an eminent jurist, clarified the issue in a note in September 1951.

The President’s position was like that of the British monarch who “reigns but does not rule”. He could not evince views on matters of policy or interfere in the process of drafting legislation. President Rajendra Prasad bowed to the dictum: he could counsel the government in private but not speak out in public on the Bill.

In the Indira Gandhi period, the role of the President was reduced to that of a virtual rubber stamp. The institution touched its nadir under Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed. When presented with the Proclamation of Emergency in June 1975, he was told “it was not necessary (for the Cabinet) to endorse the decision in advance. He asked no questions and signed the Proclamation”.

A Prime Minister with a clear majority and a ruling party in control of most states could resist presidential pressure. Despite his vast experience in politics, a newcomer to the political arena outwitted one President. In 1987, Giani Zail Singh had to step back from a conflict with Rajiv Gandhi.

The office was redefined once hung verdicts and coalition governments became the order of the day. The personal beliefs and the philosophy of a President became more crucial than in the past. In Kalam’s case, his autobiography, Wings of Fire, reveals an absence of any narrow sectarian feeling.

His message to the political class leaves little room for ambiguity. In Ahmedabad, he said: “The nation urgently needs an intensified movement to eliminate totally communal and other forms of strife.” A gesture can serve as reminder to elected representatives.

Kalam will now have to carefully pick his way. But how long before he is caught in partisan controversy? It is still early in his innings.

But there is clearly space for an active, if not an intrusive, President. He has to reach out to common citizens and remind the elected leaders of where the ultimate source of legitimacy resides.

The missile man took office among much hope. It is not clear how he plans to reshape the institution. But the visit to Gujarat shows he is on the move.


Ahmedabad, Aug. 13: 
A.P.J. Abdul Kalam said what they wanted to hear. But the riot victims complained they did not see enough of the President and blamed chief minister Narendra Modi for it.

Though Kalam promised to “devote all” his energy to see that the victims are rehabilitated in the “shortest possible time”, his visit to Gujarat yesterday turned out to be a “guided tour” that disappointed those waiting to pour their hearts out.

Safibhai Memon, one of the organisers of the Shah-e-Alam relief camp, said real victims were not allowed to interact with Kalam. One of them, Madinabano Mansuri, an inmate, could not help expressing her anger. A resident of Naroda-Patia, she wanted to tell the President how her house was looted and burnt. “But instead of meeting us, the President chose to see the damaged houses in Naroda-Patia. Why did he not meet us whose hearts have been broken?” she cried.

Memon echoed her, saying Modi had arranged the visit in such a way that Kalam could not meet the victims and get a feel of the situation. Everything was managed, he claimed. The victims, Memon says, no longer live in Naroda-Patia. Some of them, mostly widows, are in the Vatva area, where houses were constructed for the widows of Naroda-Patia. But the President did not go there.

Kalam, he feels, should have visited his relief camp or the Vatva area where some of those who have been resettled could have told the President how they were hounded out and their loved ones burnt alive. “I don’t think the President has come to know the real situation because he did not meet the real victims,” he said.

A pall of gloom also descended on the Gujarat Haj house, which Kalam visited for 20 minutes. Summing up the mood here, Ismailbhai said that during Kalam’s visit, the seven-storeyed building was virtually turned into a jail for the inmates. Movement was restricted and no one, he said, could get even a glimpse of the President. “We don’t know how he looked like. About five persons were to meet the President but eventually only two could speak to him. We were virtually locked upstairs.”

Ismailbhai said representatives of NGOs were not given enough time to interact with Kalam. Moreover, all the time, Modi was standing beside the President, said Afzal Memon, a representative of an NGO which is reconstructing houses for the victims of Naroda-Patia. The visit served no purpose, said Afzal. “We don’t expect Modi to become sincere and speed up the rehabilitation of riot victims. I don’t think Modi wants rehabilitation. Because, in that case, they would not have broken our economic backbone.”

Shafibhai Memon shares his view. Though Kalam has asked Modi to speed up rehabilitation, “we do not think Modi will take the advice seriously”, he said. He pointed out that the Prime Minister, during his visit in April, had asked Modi to practice rajdharam. “It has been more than three months now and we know how he is practising his rajdharam,” he said. “Instead of rehabilitating the victims, he is pushing for early elections.”

Bhuj visit

Kalam today visited the earthquake-hit villages of Dhagara, Sukhpar and Deen Dayal Nagar in Bhuj. At Deen Dayal Nagar, he handed over keys of hundred newly built houses to the victims. In Dhagara village, he interacted with 25 children of an orphanage.


New Delhi, Aug. 13: 
Foreign minister Yashwant Sinha has called a meeting of Arab ambassadors tomorrow to assure them that India will not support armed action against Iraq and convince them that Delhi’s growing ties with Israel are not at the cost of its traditional friends, the Palestinians.

This will be Sinha’s first serious interaction with representatives of the Islamic and Arab world.

Though it is part of his policy to build strong relations with countries in India’s neighbourhood, he is expected to pay special attention to the Gulf region and the Arab world as it is of vital strategic importance to the nation. It is not only one of the main areas which meets India’s energy requirements, it also houses a large number of Indian workers, who send more than $10 billion back home every year.

This apart, most countries in the region are important members of the Organisation of Islamic Conference, with which Delhi is keen to have good ties.

The issue of Iraq, specially at a time when there are widespread reports that the US is planning to re-launch strikes against Baghdad, and the stalemate in the West Asia peace process are uppermost in the mind of the Arab world. At tomorrow’s meeting, Sinha will get the opportunity of clarifying India’s stand on both issues. With the BJP in power, there are apprehensions in certain quarters in the Arab world that Delhi might not take as tough a position as it did in 1991 during the Gulf War if the Americans strike Iraq again.

“While the United Nations Security Council resolutions on Iraq should be implemented, their implementation through military methods was not advocated,” Sinha told his Syrian counterpart, Farok al-Shara, this afternoon. During an hour-long one-on-one between the two leaders — followed by delegation levels talks — India made it clear that it supported neither the proposed US action against Iraq nor Washington’s initiative to replace President Saddam Hussein.

India added that Baghdad was not averse to discussing with UN secretary general Kofi Annan the issue of sending arms inspectors to Iraq. “Scope for further discussion on this issue exists and military option is not a solution to the problem,” foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said while briefing reporters about today’s meeting.

Delhi did not favour outside intervention in bringing about a change in the Iraqi leadership, she added. “It is an issue which has to be decided by the people of Iraq.”

The West Asia imbroglio also came up during the talks between Sinha and al-Shara on upgrading and strengthening bilateral ties. They agreed that resumption of dialogue between the Israelis and Palestinians only could lead to a solution to the problem.


New Delhi, Aug. 13: 
The amoebic Janata parivar split yet again, with two of the four Lok Janshakti Party MPs seeking separate recognition in the Lok Sabha.

Jai Narain Nishad and Ramesh Jigajigane met Lok Sabha Speaker Manohar Joshi today and requested him to recognise the splinter group as a separate block in the Lower House. The group was christened the Janata Dal (JP) after Jaiprakash Narayan. The two MPs have decided to support the NDA at the Centre.

The move towards a split started yesterday during the election of the Vice-President when Nishad and Jigajigane voted for NDA nominee Bhairon Singh Shekhawat instead of Sushil Shinde, who was supported by Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti.

“We want a stable government at the Centre which must run for five years and that’s why we have decided to become part of the NDA again,” maintained the duo.

Though Nishad said the new party had no immediate plan of merging with any of the Janata progenies, NDA sources said both the Janata Dal (United) and the Samata Party were in touch with him.

Early indications are that Nishad may opt for the JD (U). However, the merger — if it happens — would take place just before the winter session of Parliament.

Nishad is from Bihar and Jigajigane from Karnataka and more than the Samata, the JD (U) has a presence in both states. In Karnataka, it is the major Opposition party.

The decision to split from Paswan was taken on August 6. Nishad blamed the split on Paswan’s “style of functioning”.

“Ever since we went on our own in November 2000 — after Paswan broke away from the JD (U) — the parliamentary board met only twice: once when we quit the NDA and then when Paswan resigned as minister. We did not even met before an election,” Nishad said.

The MP recalled that he was left out at two recent rallies Paswan had organised in Patna. “Even the leader of an alliance partner, Jagannath Mishra was invited while I was left out,” he alleged.

Nishad added that he was not invited to a function organised by Paswan in Hajipur to celebrate the creation of a separate railway zone though he was Hajipur’s town planning board chairman for 13 years.

The MPs’ move has come as a major setback for Paswan who was out on a limb after he left the NDA. Paswan teamed up with the Nationalist Congress Party and Arif Khan after the latter left the BSP but in terms of a base in Bihar neither counts for much.


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