VHP in Bengal mega conversion
Coup crossfire in Delhi durbar
TN Speaker defies court on let-off for assailant
Mamata poll pact signal to Congress
Blair guru at India pulpit
Calcutta weather

Calcutta, March 23 
The biggest conversion programme in West Bengal, which proposes to initiate 500 tribal Christians and 50 Muslims into Hinduism, will take place in Malda on Ram Navami on Thursday.

The countdown to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad?s ?reconversion? campaign began today with the launch of a religious congregation ? dharma sabha in parishad parlance ? at Popra village in Old Malda block. The three-day session will culminate in a paravartan yagna (reconversion ceremony) on Thursday, VHP sources in Calcutta said.

Popra and its adjoining areas are tribal-dominated, where Christian missionaries have been working since the pre-Independence days. Several tribals have been converted into Christianity over the years.

?But the VHP is all set to put the clock back,? said a leader of the Sangh parivar arm. ?This is one of the biggest conversion programmes ever undertaken by us in this region,? he added.

The largest exercise earlier was undertaken in 1980, when 230 Muslims were converted into Hinduism in Boroah block of Murshidabad district, the VHP sources said.

The VHP had started the spadework for the Ram Navami campaign for quite some time in Popra through tribal recruits, backed by its committed cadre from Calcutta.

?The change of heart began to show about six months ago, when several tribal families in Popra donated over six bighas of land to set up an ashram where idols of tribal god Marang Buru and Lord Shiva were installed.

?It was then just a matter of time for the trickle of tribal Christians opting to reconvert into Hinduism to turn into a tide,? claimed R.S. Bhattacharya, a joint organising secretary of the VHP.

The modalities of the conversion programme was worked out soon after the VHP-sponsored dharma sansad ? religious parliament ? in Ahmedabad in February. Attended by over 6,300 sadhus and sants, including 80 from West Bengal, the sansad had resolved to launch a countrywide programme of ?reconverting? Christians.

As the conversion rath rolls unbridled in Red Bengal, the state and district administrations say they are helpless in stopping such programmes in the absence of formal complaints.

The district administration was alerted about the conversion campaign by the intelligence wing of the state police. Following this, an additional district magistrate and the Malda superintendent of police inspected the villages recently.

Malda district magistrate M.V. Rao said he had received reports that a conversion programme is on in Popra.

?But inquiries revealed that the VHP and the local tribals are holding a religious congregation. There was no complaint of any forcible conversion from the local people,? he said.

Rao explained that should there be a conversion programme in the garb of religious festivities, with tribals taking part of their own volition, the administration can do little to stop it.

Superintendent of police Ramphal Pawar spoke in the same vein, saying the tribals will pay homage to their ?gurus?. ?People are after all free to choose their religion,? he pointed out .

The VHP organisers have collected over 350 affidavits from tribals consenting to the conversion. ?Therefore, there is no question of either the VHP or the tribals going back on the programme,? said a parishad leader.

Father Verghese of the Catholic church at Rathbari in Malda said: ?The 11 tribal Christian families who stay close to Popra are steadfast in their belief and have refused to change to Hinduism when approached by VHP activists.?    

New Delhi, March 23 
Shovelling grist into the overworked rumour mill churning out speculation about a topple-game in Delhi, the BJP and the Congress today raised the pitch of their continuing war of words several notches.

The BJP accused the challenger to the throne of trying to bribe its way back to power. The Congress fired back, dismissing talk of a power-grab offensive and insisting that it was prepared to wait for a mandate from the people.

The denial did little to scotch speculation, which found fresh fuel in Mamata Banerjee?s tentative move to form some sort of a relationship with the Congress for the coming municipal polls in West Bengal.

The sharp exchanges between the ruling BJP and the main Opposition party may not lead anywhere in the near future, since Sonia Gandhi has not made any move to suggest she intends to stir up trouble any more than is necessary to keep the pot boiling for the Vajpayee government.

But the bitterness is escalating every day. BJP vice-president J.P. Mathur described the Congress? perceived toppling bid as a ?fishing expedition?, predicting failure.

?The BJP and its allies stand firmly together, notwithstanding minor perceptional differences,? he said. Referring to speculation about the Congress? efforts, Mathur said: ?Given the pathetic desperation of the Congress president and her associates, it is unlikely that they will cease their subversive game, ill-fated though it may be.?

But, contradicting his own statement, Mathur described reports in the media about a possible overthrow as ?planted? with ?no basis, no truth?.

Mathur?s statement suggests the BJP expects its opponent to keep it perilously poised on the edge of uncertainty, forcing it to spend all its energy on survival alone.

?Bribing and manipulating its way to power is not new to the Congress ? it is a past master at the game of subverting parliamentary democracy,? he said.

In a stinging reaction, the Congress stuck to its position that it would move in only if the Vajpayee government collapsed under the weight of its own contradictions.

Party spokesperson Girija Vyas said instead of hurling baseless allegations, the BJP-led government should concentrate on providing good governance.

In response to the BJP?s attack on Sonia Gandhi for not reacting to the recent Bihar massacre, the Congress said it had sent a two-member team to Senari village, where 34 people were killed by a Naxalite group.    

Chennai, March 23 
The Tamil Nadu Speaker tonight refused to take cognizance of a high court order suspending the detention warrant against ADMK legislator R. Thamaraikkani and insisted that the Assembly?s 15-day prison sentence on the MLA be carried out.

In a day of dramatic developments, a division bench of Madras High Court, on a habeas corpus petition filed by ADMK Rajya Sabha member O.S. Manian, ordered the immediate release of Thamaraikkani, even as the Assembly passed a unanimous resolution sentencing him to 15 days? simple imprisonment.

As the court order came in the afternoon, the Speaker consulted chief minister M. Karunanidhi, senior officials and legal experts on the possible fallout of the court order and the next course of action to be taken by the legislature.

After marathon consultations, Speaker P.T.R. Palanivel declared tonight that the Assembly resolution sentencing the member stood and that he would not take cognizance of any court order for his release.

The jail superintendent, who was presented with the court order and the House resolution, declined to release Thamaraikkani though the court order said he should be released right away. Former ADMK minister T.M. Selvaganapathy, who served the court order to the superintendent, quoted him as having said he was not in a position to release Thamaraikkani.

Earlier in the day, the Speaker said all leaders agreed that the MLA, who had a history of such incidents, should be dealt with severely, both for the ?criminal action? and for breach of privilege of the House.

Asked why the MLA had been sentenced without a hearing, the Speaker said it was not necessary, since the contempt had been committed inside the House and in front of members.

ADMK chief Jayalalitha deplored the alleged attempt by the government to intimidate doctors against providing medical treatment to Thamaraikkani and his colleague S. Karuppasamy, who had been injured during the bedlam in the House yesterday.

In Virudhnagar, Thamaraikkani?s home town, his supporters stoned vehicles, damaging two buses, while Salem, a ruling party stronghold, responded to a DMK bandh call to protest the assault on the minister.    

Calcutta, March 23 
Just ahead of Congress president Sonia Gandhi?s weekend visit to West Bengal, Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee today signalled she was keen on building a relationship of convenience with the Congress.

Provoking speculation about the rupturing of her uneasy alliance with the BJP, Mamata said she would welcome a coming together of the Congress and the Trinamul on the basis of seat adjustments in a string of municipal elections in May.

?We favour seat adjustments with that section of the Congress which intends to really fight the ruling communists,? Mamata said, reflecting a significant change of attitude towards the party she used to call ?the communists? B team? in Bengal.

?I don?t want to lose a single anti-CPM vote because my only aim is to ensure the communists? defeat. For that, I don?t mind an adjustment of seats with the Congress,? she said.

The BJP watched Mamata?s latest move with some amount of trepidation, as it followed her recent efforts to set up a pressure grid, networking with ADMK chief Jayalalitha ?- an acknowledged bugbear for the Vajpayee government ?- and the Loktantrik Congress in Uttar Pradesh.

The state Congress had indicated a few days ago that it will not object to seat adjustments with the Trinamul in the municipal polls in order to defeat CPM nominees.

Setting aside their dislike for Mamata, Congress leaders had also made it clear that they would overlook her BJP connection while entering into an adjustment.

?But we will have nothing to do with the BJP, her principal ally, because that party believes in communal politics,? a Congress leader said.

?We have decided to leave the matter to our local party observers. They will take decisions about candidates after consulting the local people,? Mamata said, adding that her sole intention was to broaden the anti-CPM front.

?We also don?t mind seeking cooperation from those Left outfits which have raised their voice against the CPM?s reign of terror,? she said.

The Trinamul leader accused the CPM and the state police of hatching a conspiracy to eliminate her party supporters at Keshpur, Garbeta, Pingla, some other areas of Midnapore and Khanakul, in Hooghly district.

Mamata also charged the state government with deliberately closing down some tea estates in north Bengal and selling the land to unscrupulous businessmen.

The Trinamul chief will go to Delhi on Monday to speak to Jayalalitha in the wake of reports about a possible Congress move to wean away the Tamil Nadu leader from the BJP-led coalition.    

London, March 23 
Tony Blair?s ?favourite guru?, Professor Anthony Giddens, director of the London School of Economics, left London for Delhi today to preach the joys of globalisation.

Giddens, who is being accompanied by another LSE man, Lord Meghnad Desai, is expected to meet the Indian Prime Minister and President and deliver the keynote Reith lecture.

The Reith lectures were inaugurated in 1948 by the BBC to mark the historic contribution made to public service broadcasting by Sir John (later Lord) Reith, the corporation?s first director-general.

The subject of the lecture by Giddens on March 25 will be ?Tradition?. ?It?s about the fate of tradition in the era of global cosmopolitanism,? explained Giddens.

Considered one of Britain?s best known social scientists, Giddens is said to have been influential in persuading Blair to evolve a new ?Third Way? in politics.

The Delhi lecture at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library will be chaired by the ubiquitous Mark Tully, the BBC?s former India correspondent.

Giddens will analyse the problems being experienced by traditional Indian society as the country attempts to become a global player. He will also examine how political instability has been caused by the rise of fundamentalism.

The lecture will later be relayed to a massive audience when it is broadcast on the domestic service of the BBC in Britain as well as on the World Service. Dotted in the audience and primed to ask leading questions will be distinguished Indians, including Kiran Bedi, super cop-turned-jail reformer; journalist Inder Malhotra; Sumit Sarkar, professor of history at Delhi University, and Professor Prashant Patnaik.

This year the Reith lecture is going worldwide and addressing the theme of ?Globalisation, Runaway World?.

The inaugural lecture in 1948 was delivered by the philosopher Bertrand Russell. The aim of the lectures, which have often provoked heated debate, has been to advance public understanding of the significant issues of the day. Speakers have included Arnold Toynbee and J. K. Galbraith.

From Delhi, his first stop, Giddens will move on to two other world intellectual centres ? Hong Kong and Washington. His first lecture in the series was delivered last night in London at the Royal Institution before an audience which included politicians, academics and broadcasters.

A bearded gentleman introduced himself by saying: ?I?m a writer.? The audience listened respectfully to Salman Rushdie. Another questioner called live from 10 Downing Street. The British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was allowed a friendly question.

In Delhi, Giddens will feel at home among many former LSE men and women, including I.G. Patel, a former director.

Giddens is carrying a gift for Vajpayee ? an antique book of poems by Keats from the private library of Princess Alice, granddaughter of Queen Victoria.

For President Narayanan, there is a little light reading ? a 1932 pamphlet containing a lecture by Harold Laski on nationalism and the future of civilisation.    

Today?s forecast: Partly cloudy sky. Possibility of development of thunderclouds towards afternoon or evening. Not much change in day and night temperature.

Temperature: Maximum 35.4? (Normal)
Minimum 24.8?C (3?C above normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 96%
Minimum 36%

Rainfall: 0.5mm

Sunset:5.44 pm
Sunrise: 5.42 am

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