CPM throws up hands on rail split
Pranab push for joint stir with Mamata
Sen education panacea
Cop’s wife promises ‘liaison’ proof
I will continue to live like a tiger: Mahajan
Doordarshan cottons on much too late
Advani gives clean chit, raises eyebrows
Axed MP cries witch-hunt
Options open in Nepal wooing game
Jaya shadow on DMK ‘utopia’

Calcutta, Aug. 16: 
The state CPM today virtually admitted that it would be difficult for the party to prevent the railway ministry from implementing the proposed bifurcation as the only option left was to remove the NDA government.

“If the Centre forcibly bifurcates the railway, we can’t prevent them by placing our heads on the rail tracks. But the people of Bengal will not accept the Centre’s move,” CPM state secretary Anil Biswas said.

Asked how his party would thwart the Centre’s decision, Biswas said the only remedy was to remove the government through a democratic process — by which he meant election — and to convince the new regime to set up a commission to reconsider the move.

Till date, the CPM has not launched any major programmes to protest against the Centre’s decision. It has also not convened a meeting of the Left Front to discuss the issue.

However, the Left Front had organised a large rally in the city on Sunday. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will hold an all-party meeting on Monday to discuss the bifurcation issue. It is also likely that Bhattacharjee will lead another all-party delegation to Delhi to meet Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani.

Apart from the chief minister’s scheduled meeting on Monday, the CPM has no immediate plans to launch an agitation against the bifurcation move.

Realising that it would be impossible for the party to prevent the Centre’s move, the CPM state leadership has engaged the government, more specifically Bhattacharjee, to handle the issue. The chief minister has invited the state BJP to the all-party meeting on Monday though it has no representative in the Assembly.

It is learnt that the Trinamul Congress will attend the meeting. However, it is not certain if Trinamul will agree to take part in the all-party delegation to Delhi. Earlier, Trinamul had attended the all-party meeting but had refused to go to Delhi under Bhattacharjee’s leadership.

The CPM has virtually given up its attempt to prevent the bifurcation. Instead, with the state government handling the issue, Trinamul is in a tight spot because of its reluctance to share the dais with Bhattacharjee or being part of a delegation led by the government.


Calcutta, Aug. 16: 
The state Congress today said the party was ready to launch a joint agitation with Mamata Banerjee against the proposed bifurcation of Eastern Railway provided she severed all ties with the ruling coalition at the Centre.

Speaking at a day-long dharna organised by the Congress in front of the Eastern Railway’s headquarters, Pranab Mukherjee said the party would not mind joining forces with Mamata if she left the NDA. “The proposed railway bifurcation will harm Bengal’s interest and a joint movement is necessary to put pressure on the BJP-led coalition at the Centre,” the state party president said.

However, former Congress chief Somen Mitra appeared critical about Mamata and said she should first make her stand clear on the railway bifurcation. “Before launching a joint stir, we have to see if the movement is aimed at paving the way for her return to the Union Cabinet.”

Mitra also flayed the Trinamul leader for her silence on the “burning issue” during her tenure as railway minister.

Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, chief whip of the Congress Legislature Party in the Lok Sabha, accused Mamata of being a part of the railway bifurcation. “Mamata did not lodge a protest when the issue came up for discussion in the meeting of the railway board,” he alleged.

Displaying papers carrying Mamata’s signature, Das Munshi also charged Mamata with giving away Danapur and Katihar to the Hajipur division during her tenure as minister. “We find Mamata equally responsible for the proposed bifurcation. So her current movement against the bifurcation is a calculated attempt to cover up her own lapses,” he said.

Political observers feel that Mukherjee’s softened stand towards Mamata is aimed at roping her into the party. They said the Trinamul leader is left with no option but to rejoin the parent party if she quits the NDA.

BJP on all-party meet

The BJP is unlikely to attend the all-party meeting convened by the chief minister on Monday to discuss the proposed bifurcation. The state BJP will take a final decision on Sunday in the presence of two Union ministers from Bengal, Tapan Sikdar and Satyabrata Mukherjee.

“Ours is the only party in Bengal which is supporting the bifurcation. But all the other parties will obviously oppose it. It is naturally difficult for us to take part in a meeting which will try to evolve a common strategy to protest against the Cabinet decision,” state BJP vice-president Muzaffar Khan said. The party had earlier agreed to attend the meet.


Calcutta, Aug. 16: 
Amartya Sen today released an education report on the primary education system that stressed on “radical reform”.

Releasing the Pratichi Education Report, the Nobel Laureate also announced that he would set up Pratichi Bhavan in the city which would function as a centre of “research for action” to remove human deprivation.

The report’s suggestions included the need to set up parents-teachers committees in schools and endow them with legal power to bring about “radical reform” in the primary school system. It also proposed offering proper “representation” to parents from different backgrounds.

Quoting from the report, Sen said free primary education had ceased to exist in the face of private tuition, which is a violation of a “basic right” guaranteed by the Constitution. “Besides, it has resulted in an immensely discriminating system against the interests of children from poor and less-privileged families,” he added.

The education report — the first from the newly set up Pratichi (India) Trust — is based on an intensive investigation of education in 18 primary schools and 17 Sishu Siksha Kendras in Birbhum, Midnapore and Purulia.

The report highlights the “adversities” of the system such as private tuition, existence of class-based disadvantages, absenteeism by both teachers and students and failure of the midday meal programme.

“Prevalence of private tuition highlights the under-performance of primary schools,” Sen said.

However, the report also depicted the rise in enthusiasm among parents to send daughters to schools, the success of lady teachers in Sishu Siksha Kendras and the spurt in the number of registration in schools. The investigating team comprising Kumar Rana, Abdur Rafique and Amrita Sengupta have also found a large number of dedicated teachers.


Panchkula, Aug. 16: 
After her sensational allegations against Pramod Mahajan yesterday, the wife of one of the prime suspects behind journalist Shivani Bhatnagar’s murder today said her husband would surrender the moment investigations are handed over to the CBI.

Madhu Sharma, wife of absconding Haryana IPS officer Ravi Kant Sharma, had last night said the Union minister was involved in the murder of the Indian Express principal correspondent on January 23, 1999.

Madhu, who was expected to address the media this morning, however did not turn up. Her daughter Pragati said her mother was “not feeling well”.

Later, speaking to this correspondent, Madhu reiterated her allegations and demanded that the case be handed over to the CBI. “Only then would the truth come out,” she said, adding that her husband was “innocent” and was being “framed”.

Mahajan has termed the allegations baseless and said he is prepared to face any inquiry.

Madhu said she found it “strange” that Delhi police had kept quiet for so long before deciding to arrest two persons and “question” her husband. She also accused them of “protecting” Mahajan, who, she claimed, was a “friend” of Shivani.

“I say Pramod Mahajan is involved in the murder of Shivani… Why are the police not questioning him and looking at his phone records? He used to meet her regularly. Even on the day of the murder, he spoke to her for about 45 minutes,” she said. “My husband had told the police a few months after the murder that Mahajan was involved. But Delhi police chose to keep quiet and instead framed my husband,” she added, demanding that all calls made to Shivani the day she was murdered be made public.

Madhu alleged that her husband was being framed because of the fissures in the BJP and said she would provide proof of Mahajan’s involvement once the CBI takes over. Sources in her family said the delay in handing over the case to the CBI would lead to more disclosures that could embarrass the BJP-led NDA government.

Madhu also dragged in L.K. Advani’s name, saying the deputy Prime Minister wanted her husband to name Mahajan. Advani today termed the allegations against his colleague “malicious”, intended to “derail the probe, which is on the right path”.

Madhu said the Delhi police team camping in Chandigarh to arrest her husband have been harassing her daughters Komal and Pragati, sisters and relatives on her husband’s whereabouts. “Even my driver has not been spared,” she added.

Pragati stood by her mother’s statement, saying the only evidence collected by the police was her father’s telephone calls to Shivani. She and her sister expressed shock at Advani’s “clean chit” to Mahajan. “Nowhere in the world does a home minister give a clean chit to a fellow minister whose name has been cropping up for years in a murder case,” they said in a statement. “By refusing to acknowledge the role of Mr Pramod Mahajan and the excesses of Delhi police, the home minister has displayed a blatant disregard for human rights, civil liberties and the law of the land… ”

Haryana police have beefed up security around the Sharmas’ residence. “We have information that the family may be harmed physically and have strengthened security in the area,” a senior officer said. The state police apprehend that Madhu could be arrested late tonight by their Delhi counterparts for her allegations.

The state government is yet to take a decision on suspending Sharma, who has only been “removed” from his post of IG (Prisons). Chief minister Om Prakash Chautala has said Sharma would be suspended after he surrenders or is arrested.


New Delhi, Aug. 16: 
Pramod Mahajan today put up a brave front, saying he would not resign even as the Congress demanded his dismissal from the government.

“The Prime Minister has made me a minister. While anyone can demand my resignation in a parliamentary democracy, I will take it seriously only if the Prime Minister asks for it,” the parliamentary affairs minister told reporters in an informal interaction at his residence this evening.

Mahajan fielded a range of queries relating to the charges levelled at him by Madhu Sharma, wife of Ravi Kant Sharma who was named as the prime accused in the murder of Delhi journalist Shivani Bhatnagar three years ago. Although the characteristic one-liners marked his answers today too, the underlay of wit was missing through much of the hour-long interaction. “My approach to life is I can do whatever best I can. But if the credibility of all leaders is so low and the charges stick, what can I do?” he asked.

Mahajan claimed he was not worried about the implications of the allegations on his political career. “I am not in career politics so it has not affected me too much. If I have done a crime I must be punished,” he said.

The BJP leader talked about his initial reaction on seeing Madhu on television. “I thought why should I fight? If the wife of (an) accused levels allegations, how seriously can one take it?” he said, but added: “After seeing the reactions today, I felt I have to also keep my mental balance.” He said he would go by his party’s advice and file a criminal defamation case against Madhu.

The minister dismissed rumours of a “political conspiracy” to fix him and Sharma. “Why should there be a conspiracy against Sharma? Why should there be a political conspiracy? Unfortunately, with your (media’s) cooperation my name has the value of a headline. Pramod Mahajan may have four political enemies but not Sharma,” he said, adding that he had never met him “to the best of my memory”.

Mahajan denied that the BJP was behind the campaign. “If there is a stray person here or there feeling upset with me, I don’t know. But as a party I don’t suspect.” If anything, he stressed, there was not “enough unity” in the BJP to pull off a conspiracy against him.

He also scoffed at the suggestion that he was being victimised by deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, as Madhu had alleged. “I know what my relationship with Advani is like,” he said. “I take all decisions after consulting him. In personal and family life, too. Why should Advani conspire against me? Am I a threat to him?” Asked if his rapid ascent in the party and the government had earned him enemies, Mahajan said: “This ascendancy charge was levelled against me earlier, too. Are Atalji and Advaniji not aware of it?”

Claiming that he would not be put down by the crisis, Mahajan declared: “Nobody can make a scapegoat of me. I have lived life like a tiger and will continue to do so. I don’t fight conspirators who attack me from behind. I will fight the battle upfront in the Kurukshetra battlefield.”

Asked about his relationship with Shivani, he said: “I never talked to her at any odd hour. I only spoke to her at normal hours. I never knew she had a mobile and to the best of my knowledge, I have never spoken to her on STD and certainly not on ISD.”

Controversies have dogged Mahajan throughout his rise in the BJP. He was entangled in them as much as his son, Rahul, but has always managed to come out relatively unscathed.

In 1995, when he was organising the BJP national council in Mumbai, party old-timers had accused him of introducing the “cellphone and five-star culture”. Mahajan’s riposte was if the party wanted him to collect funds, would it expect him to dip the notes in the Ganga and purify them before depositing them in its coffers?


New Delhi, Aug. 16: 
Doordarshan officials have gone into a tizzy with charges and counter-charges that the public broadcaster has muffed its coverage of the Shivani Bhatnagar murder case.

While Doordarshan’s coverage soft-pedalled the story — compared to the private channels that kept repeating footage after dramatic footage of Madhu Sharma’s charges — it is understood that the government itself took a dim view of what little the national broadcaster had done.

It is understood that a senior Doordarshan official was summoned to Shastri Bhavan, the hub of the information and broadcasting ministry, and asked to explain why DD was focusing on allegations that were far from substantiated.

In reality, Doordarshan cottoned on to the story quite late. Shortly after cable news channels broke into the airwaves last night with Madhu Sharma’s hysterical outburst on television in which she alleged the minister was connected to the case, a Doordarshan news crew reached Mahajan’s house for his official version.

Madhu Sharma, wife of the absconding IPS officer and suspect in the case, Ravi Kant Sharma, had alleged that Mahajan had talked to Shivani for 45 minutes on the day the journalist was murdered.

The Doordarshan crew was told by Harish Sharma, additional private secretary to Mahajan, that the minister had denied the charges and had already given an interview to Doordarshan.

It turned out that a private producer, often commissioned to do news and current affairs programmes for Doordarshan, had beaten the official crew to the story.

Mahajan refused to give another interview to the same medium.

However, Doordarshan managed to track down the private producer — who had left his cellphone number with Sharma — and went on air with Mahajan’s denial at 4 this morning.

Mahajan’s version was played out again in the hourly headlines and in the 7 and 7.30 am news bulletins.

But Madhu Sharma’s dramatics were ignored. In the 7.30 am bulletin, which led with the story, a clip of her was shown but her charges were paraphrased in a voiceover.

But from 9 am, Doordarshan all but blanked out the story till the BJP’s spin doctors sprung into action.

In the 2 pm bulletin, Doordarshan again led with the story, this time with Advani’s defence of Mahajan and clips of Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Uma Bharti, speaking for their colleague.

“We did not focus on Madhu Sharma more than was necessary. We used the operative bit of what she was alleging,” a Doordarshan news executive said.

Towards the evening, Doordarshan again had the story but this time also telecast an appeal from the police that asked for information on the case from anyone who was willing to volunteer.


New Delhi, Aug. 16: 
Ruling out handing over the Shivani Bhatnagar murder case to the CBI, the A.B. Vajpayee government today gave a clean chit to parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan.

Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani led the defence, describing the murder allegations against his Cabinet colleague as “malicious and baseless”.

Late last night, Madhu Sharma, wife of IPS officer Ravi Kant Sharma who is the prime accused in the murder of the Indian Express reporter, had said Mahajan had a role in the murder and that the government was trying to cover up.

Madhu claimed that Mahajan had spoken to Shivani on the phone for nearly 45 minutes the day she was murdered and hinted that the two had an intimate relationship.

“It was all baseless allegations against a valued colleague, coming as it does from a suspect who is absconding,” Advani said this morning.

The decision not to bring in the CBI was justified by the government on the grounds that Delhi police had done a “wonderful job” and there was no reason why the case should be now taken out of their hands.

Advani’s defence of Mahajan surprised many because the two are not known to be on the best of terms. Also, Advani holds the home portfolio and his remarks could pre-judge the case in favour of his BJP colleague.

Mahajan said yesterday that he was open to investigation by any agency. “But whether he is investigated by Delhi police or the CBI, once the deputy Prime Minister himself has called the allegations against him baseless, no agency would want to dispute this contention,” an official pointed out wrly.

As if to prove this point, Delhi police today came to the support of the politicians. “Investigations so far have not pointed to the role of any politician,” joint commissioner of police (crime) U. Katna said. He said the investigations by Delhi police were being conducted in a “professional manner” and there was “no interference from anyone in the government, including the home ministry”.

The murder took place in January 1999, but progress in the case was made just a fortnight ago. It was only early this month that the involvement of Ravi Kant Sharma was made public by the investigating team.

Sharma’s two daughters kept up the tirade against the government today. “Advani’s statements prove that there is much more at stake than meets the eye. He talks of vested interests trying to derail investigations when the entire investigation of Delhi police is itself being dictated by vested interests against our father,” Komal and Pragati said in a statement.


Patna, Aug. 16: 
A former BJP MP who asked in the House whether a Union minister was involved in the death of journalist Shivani Bhatnagar has alleged that he was humiliated and hounded out of the party after the uncomfortable question.

Former BJP leader and Rajya Sabha member Janardan Yadav said his telephone was disconnected and water and electricity supply snapped to his residence in Delhi. He was later expelled from the party and now lives in Banka district of Bihar.

Yadav said Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and then home minister L.K. Advani summoned him after he raised the question in the Rajya Sabha in 1999.

“Advani asked me where I got the information of a minister’s involvement, while the Prime Minister asked who had instigated me to raise the question about the minister. My reply to both was that the issue was serious and as an MP I felt it necessary to raise it. Moreover, I said I did not know who the minister was,” Yadav said.

In 1999, Yadav had asked a written question in the Rajya Sabha regarding the alleged involvement of one officer and a Union minister in the Shivani Bhatnagar murder case.

“The first part of my question was if Shivani Bhatnagar was murdered. In the second part of the question, I had asked if one officer and a minister’s name figured in connection with the murder. In the third part, I had asked what action the government was taking if they were involved,” clarified Yadav.

In response to the question, the government admitted that Shivani Bhatnagar was murdered, the MP said. However, the ministry’s reply regarding the other parts of the question was that “investigations are underway”, he said.

“I had asked an innocuous question and I never anticipated this kind of reaction,” he added.

Yadav said the matter did not end with the questioning by Vajpayee and Advani. “In Delhi’s Ashoka Road house where I used to stay, my telephone lines were disconnected and power supply cut off. Soon, even water supply was stopped,” he alleged.


New Delhi, Aug. 16: 
India has invited Madhav Nepal, the leader of the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist), for high-level discussions in what appears to be New Delhi’s attempts to position itself with emerging forces in the Himalayan kingdom. Madhav is widely believed to be the next Prime Minister if his party emerges as the single largest entity in Parliament after the November general elections.

But India is simultaneously not foreclosing its options with other political figures in Nepal. Foreign minister Yashwant Sinha will be leaving for Kathmandu next week to hold high-level discussions with the Nepalese leadership, during which he will meet with King Gyanendra, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, Nepali Congress leader Girija Prasad Koirala and senior leaders of other major political parties.

Sinha will be leaving for Kathmandu to participate in the two-day Saarc foreign minister’s meeting beginning on August 21. He will stay on till August 23 for a series of bilateral meetings with the Nepalese leadership before leaving for Dhaka the next day for a similar bilateral exercise with the Bangladesh National Party of Begum Khaleda Zia.

Over the past two days, Madhav has met deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, foreign minister Yashwant Sinha, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and other senior leaders. There is a strong possibility that Madhav’s party might emerge as the single largest party in the Nepalese parliament with serious differences surfacing in the ruling Nepali Congress between Deuba and Koirala. Madhav would then be the most obvious choice for Prime Minister.

During his talks with the Indian leadership, Madhav was assured that India did not have any favourites in Kathmandu and would accord the same cordiality to whichever party came to power. This would be Sinha’s underlying message when he meets senior Nepalese leaders in Kathmandu.

The foreign minister’s visit is part of his exercise to build strong relations with India’s immediate neighbours. Sinha will clearly signal that New Delhi wants continuity in its relationship with Kathmandu, with special emphasis on helping Nepal combat the Maoist rebellion.

India is concerned about the Maoist violence in Nepal and the consequent political instability. Over the past two years, both sides have shown greater sensitivity to each other’s concerns and have tried to help solve bilateral problems.

There has been no major violence in Nepal since May and its army seems to have finally made a dent in Maoist strongholds. The Nepalese intelligentsia’s disenchantment with the Maoists has also contributed to isolating the rebels.

At the political level, the cracks in the ruling Nepali Congress is cause for concern for India that has always believed Nepal’s stability depended on the two pillars of constitutional monarchy and multiparty democracy. The Nepalese economy, which had been growing at a steady five per cent rate till a few years, has slumped to nearly one per cent in the past few months. The reasons are a considerable drop in tourist traffic and the adverse impact of the US economic slowdown on Nepal’s exports.

However, tourist traffic from India has shown a 30 per cent increase in the same period.


Madurai, Aug. 16: 
The DMK’s dream projects to bridge the caste divide are gathering dust and chief minister Jayalalithaa seems in no hurry to do anything about it.

The DMK had set up “Utopian” villages known as Samathuvapurams and Uzhavar Sandhais to promote an egalitarian society and enable farmers to directly sell their produce without going through middlemen.

The rumours doing the rounds is that both the “pet projects” are the “brainchild of M. Karunanidhi”, and that is the reason why they have “drastically” lost importance in the Jayalalithaa regime.

Thiruvathavur, about 25 km from here, is home to the “100th Samathuvapuram”. Karunanidhi had inaugurated it on February 13, 2001.

The Samathuvapurams or equality villages were conceived to bring an end to the caste menace, plaguing the entire state, particularly the southern districts. Each Samathuvapuram has 100 houses, of which 40 per cent were given to the Dalits and tribals under a “lots system”. The remaining houses were allotted to members of other castes/religions, including poor Brahmins and Muslims.

Allottees had to make an initial payment of Rs 6, 200 for a small house with one electric bulb connection and a built-in toilet. The Samathuvapurams are like any other housing complex with well-laid roads, water supply, a ration shop, a primary school, a primary health centre, a nutrition centre for women and children, a community TV set, parks and playgrounds for the children.

This “attitudinal indifference” threatens to undermine the potential utility of the second project, too. In Uzhavar Sandhais, farmers are able to access the consumers directly at reasonable cost without ‘paying commission’ to the middlemen.

While the ADMK regime has decided to shut down the non-functional Uzhavar Sandhais, only a few of them in urban areas are doing reasonably brisk business everyday.


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