Job row rocks Haldia Petrochem
Mother steels Sachin?s resolve
Last-gasp gamble on AICC-eve
Recluse wises up to idiot box
Calcutta weather

May 22 
Thousands of casual workers and locals backed by the Citu today laid siege to Haldia Petrochemicals, demanding permanent jobs, just as the finishing touches were being put on Jyoti Basu?s showpiece project.

The agitation, combined with a financial hiccup, could jeopardise the region?s single largest project, scheduled to go on stream in four months.

Most West Bengal officials and state appointees in the company?s board were taken unawares when 10,000 contractors? workers led by a Citu-backed union blocked the entrance of the joint venture.

A panic-stricken management contacted home secretary S.N. Roy. The number of agitators swelled as another union, this one of evictees who had surrendered their land for the project, lent its support to the casual workers.

The situation was brought under control after a large contingent of policemen and officials reached the spot at mid-day and persuaded the agitators to leave.

The immediate cause of today?s trouble was the attack on an electrician on Friday. S. Mohan, deputed to Haldia by another company, was forcibly taken in a car to the office of a union affiliated to the Citu and assaulted, his friends alleged. Mohan was released only after a gherao by his colleagues.

But the source of the strife lies deeper and the alleged assault on Mohan was a reflection of the anger of locals who fear ?outsiders? were being given jobs at their cost.

Tension has been rising in Haldia ever since the management issued an advertisement to recruit about 280 people for skilled and highly skilled jobs. The company shortlisted 11,000 applicants from whom it selected those whom it found fit.

This was not acceptable to the contractors? workers body, the Haldia Thikadar Sramik Union, and the association of evictees, the Udbastu Kshatigrasta Sangram Committee.

The contractors? union demanded that the recruitment for the new jobs be made from among the 15,000 people working at the site. The evictees demanded at least one job for each family.

The demonstration led by Citu was withdrawn in the afternoon after HPL executive vice-president Prabhakar Sethy and vice-president S.R. Bose said the demands would be considered.

But the protestors have vowed to intensify the agitation. The Thikadar Sramik Union announced that it will demonstrate again on June 7 and 8, while the Udbastu Committee said it will hold sit-ins on June 15 and 16.

The threat of a prolonged stir may well come true with local political outfits eager to make capital of the issue before the polls.

Lakshman Seth, the most influential Haldia-based CPM leader who also heads the Citu in Midnapore district, said: ?We won?t budge an inch from our demand. If Mitsubishi (also building a chemical plant at Haldia) and other foreign firms can appoint locals and give them in-service training, why can?t other firms??

A senior HPL official said there was very little progress of work during the day. ?We are extremely worried. This may scare away our main contractors and senior executives,? he said.

The HPL management is already worried about the availability of funds to complete the project in time. An Italian contractor at the project site ?demobilised? its workforce three days ago as it did not receive its payment in time from the HPL management.

Senior HPL officials including the vice-president (finance) and vice-president (projects) rushed to Mumbai to hold talks with the Italian firm to ensure that the work does not suffer.

Although the management had no forewarning about the nature of the agitation, the state administration was not in the dark.

West Bengal finance minister Asim Dasgupta, who has been regularly monitoring the project, told The Telegraph: ?I got the information yesterday and discussed the matter with the acting chief minister. Administrative steps are being taken to tackle the situation. We will have to discuss the matter with the HPL management as well.?

Acting chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya was not available for comment.    

Bristol, May 22 
It?s not just the commitment of an individual, it?s the commitment of a family. The Tendulkars.

Some 48 hours after reaching Mumbai on Wednesday night, in time for his father?s funeral, Sachin took a British Airways flight to Heathrow and, soon after landing this morning, drove here.

A pleasant surprise for the Indians, save coach Aunshuman Gaekwad who learnt of his arrival late last night.

?My mother (Rajani), more than anybody else, felt I should rejoin the team. That I had a job to do in England. I suppose my father, too, would have wanted it this way,? Sachin told The Telegraph moments after checking into the Marriott at 11.00 am.

Later, talking to the Indian media contingent, Sachin said: ?Both occasions are equally important... I left Mumbai once the initial rituals were completed. The whole family has been very supportive, my wife (Anjali) specially.?

Looking slightly pale and with the stubble all too visible, Sachin added: ?I?ll miss my father... He won?t come back, yet I know he?ll always be with me... Now, I?ve just got to put everything behind and do my bit for the team... Things haven?t worked out in the first two matches, I?m sure everything will fall into place tomorrow....? Sachin, incidentally, had kept track of the India vs Zimbabwe game on that painful flight home. ?I would keep asking the flight purser...?

A minute?s silence was observed before that match in Leicester and, today, Sachin ?thanked? everybody for the unprecedented gesture. ?I?m thankful... What else can I say, except that it touched all of us...?

Sachin?s early return, too, has touched everybody. It?s a gesture that?s worth more than his 21 one-day centuries. Gaekwad echoed a common sentiment when he said: ?We were hoping he would come back soon, but to have made the trip here after just two days...?

There was talk Sachin would skip the afternoon nets but, no, he was present at the County Ground, which has seen the likes of W.G. Grace uncork magic.

Thankfully, the handful of fans had the good sense to offer condolences instead of rushing for autographs.

Of course, the Kenyans can?t be too delighted with Sachin?s arrival. Captain Asif Karim, though, put up a brave front: ?He?s part of the squad and, so, features in our planning for tomorrow?s game.?

For years, Sachin has borne the burden of carrying the hopes of an entire nation. He?s never complained, and it?s reached a stage where he can?t even grieve in private. Still, Sachin isn?t complaining.    

New Delhi, May 22 
In a desperate bid to persuade Sonia Gandhi to withdraw her resignation, the entire Congress Working Committee plans to step down on the eve of Tuesday?s AICC session to allow her to recast the apex body.

Congressmen kept their fingers crossed on a day when they felt 10 Janpath was also weighing ways to end the impasse.

Sonia Gandhi is conscious that her opponents should not get the chance to dub her resignation a gimmick. But partymen have made it clear they favour only her as Congress chief and prime ministerial candidate.

By resigning en masse, the CWC would be tendering an unqualified apology to Sonia Gandhi for its failure to defend her from the attack mounted by the Sharad Pawar-led trio last Saturday.

When a CWC member asked her to ??fight like Indira Gandhi??, she retorted: ??I am not the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru. It is a fact.??

Leaders want her to revamp the party. ??Let there be a new Congress. Sonia Gandhi had inherited a jaded CWC packed with insipid persons without mass base. This is the opportunity to conduct a large-scale purge,?? said a leader.

A jittery CWC will meet tomorrow night to consider several teething problems such as who should preside over the AICC in Sonia Gandhi?s absence. The session traditionally begins with the party president hoisting the Congress flag and taking a guard of honour from Seva Dal workers.

The AICC will pass a unanimous resolution asking Sonia Gandhi to rescind her resignation. It will remain adjourned till she attends the meet. If she does not show up at Talkatora, the entire AICC, comprising 1,200 members, will lay siege to 10 Janpath.

But as a contingency measure, CWC leaders were hunting for some elderly AICC member with a background in the freedom struggle to head the session. Congress circles feel AICC members will not accept Pranab Mukherjee or any other CWC leader in the chair.

Sonia Gandhi, who has given no indication of relenting, continued consultations with family members and friends.

Two days after his expulsion, Sharad Pawar today hit out at Sonia Gandhi?s advisers, blaming them for the crisis. He got a shot in the arm with two Congress MPs from Pune, Vithal Tupe and Ashok Mohol, giving him support.

The Congress won a minor victory with Pawar?s rival from Pune, Suresh Kalmadi, returning to the party.    

Thimphu (Bhutan), May 22 
In this devoutly Buddhist kingdom tucked under the eaves of the mighty Himalayas, four men stood on the roof of their apartment building and committed a crime: They erected a television satellite dish.

They fiddled with wrenches and screwdrivers until a soccer game from a distant foreign field came into focus on a television set they had lugged up to the roof. They cheered and stared at the TV, something many people here have never seen, and they brought this isolated land a little closer to a world that is banging hard on its door.

For centuries, Bhutan has resisted the outside world. Every other Himalayan Buddhist kingdom ? Tibet, Sikkim, Ladakh ? has been absorbed into neighbouring China or India, but Bhutan has refused to let the world in as a means of national survival.

Both world wars passed unnoticed by most of the farmers, monks and yak herders. And these days, many have never heard of Monica Lewinsky ? mostly because of the government?s ban on television.

But as the new millennium approaches, one of the last places on earth virtually untouched by the Information Age is wiring up. Next month the government will allow TV for the first time and will launch its own Internet server, connecting the Land of the Thunder Dragon to the land of Baywatch.

?The whole world is getting smaller, and we need to be part of the global village,? said foreign minister Jigmi Thinley. ?But how to do it while maintaining our traditions is a challenge.?

Thinley, who has a master?s degree from Penn State and an ornate Bhutanese sword hanging from his hip, said his country is bracing for the inevitable. ?We are quite happy to be on our own,? he said. ?But it is very important that the Bhutanese people not remain oblivious to the rest of the world.?

The changes resisted for decades are suddenly coming fast. In the past two months, hundreds of satellite dishes have sprouted. Living rooms across the nation are being rearranged to face the new family TV set.

Fifty years after Milton Berle and Arthur Godfrey ? who was said to have visited more homes every day than the milkman ? transformed American culture, fashion, humour and dinner conversation, Bhutan is preparing for the same kind of revolution.

?If we were to record the language pattern, interests, sense of humour, values, fashions and behaviour of our children now and repeat it six months later, we will see a dramatic difference,? noted a recent editorial in Kuensel, Bhutan?s only newspaper, which urged strict government regulation of television.

Change has always been greeted sceptically here, and television was outlawed as a means of warding off foreign influences and insulating Bhutan?s ancient customs and deeply religious way of life.

Officials note that only one of Bhutan?s 600,000 people has died from AIDS, and there is almost no crime here. The military is made up of 5,000 lightly armed soldiers with almost nothing to do.

But many here worry that all this will change when the TV sets get plugged in. ?Our culture, our religion, our distinctiveness, they all may suffer,? said Dodo Tshering, 48, who runs a guest house in Punakha in central Bhutan. ?Having all these televisions will change people,? he said.

Bhutan?s zealous pursuit of isolation has occasionally been controversial. In the early 1990s, the government purged ethnic Nepalese in the southern part of the nation, calling them illegal immigrants. Critics called it ?ethnic cleansing? by a xenophobic government.

To this day, 94,000 of the Nepalese live in refugee camps, and Bhutan and Nepal are discussing what to do.

Few outsiders ever see Bhutan. Foreign tourists were banned until 1974, and they still are allowed in sparingly, 6,000 last year was a record.

The introduction of television and the Internet are the latest steps in a long-term programme to modernise Bhutan that began in the early 1960s with the current king?s father. At that time, Bhutan had no hospitals, electricity, running water, roads, schools, telephones, national currency or postal system. Today, Bhutan is still poor, but developing steadily: Per capita gross domestic product is $520 ? twice what it was a decade ago ? the literacy rate has risen, most children are in school. Meanwhile, foreign aid has helped build hospitals, roads and a $48 million digital phone system.

Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service    

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

Temperature:Maximum 36?C (Normal)
Minimum 26.7?C (Normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 95%
Minimum 57%

Rainfall: Trace

Sunset: 6.11 pm

Sunrise: 4.56 am

Maintained by Web Development Company