Shinde mission to Meira
Atal shifts stand on Netaji ash return
Subhas scoffs at rallyists
CPM takes potshot at police
Burnt girls� kin spurn Jaya sop
Hill parties split on Darjeeling merger plea

New Delhi, Feb. 7 
Congress Working Committee (CWC) member Sushil Shinde today met Meira Kumar to persuade her to withdraw her resignation and accept the leadership of party president Sonia Gandhi.

Meira, also a CWC member, had quit the post as well as primary membership of the Congress last week to protest against the �politics of sycophancy and the darbari culture� under Sonia�s leadership.

Congress sources said Shinde had met Meira on his own initiative. He left for Pune immediately after calling on her.

During his hour-long meeting, Shinde is believed to have told Meira that she should return to the Congress and support it as it was going through a �crucial phase� with the �make-or-break� Assembly elections scheduled in four states this month. He also tried to impress upon her that this was not an �opportune� moment to part company.

Shinde also told his former colleague that Sonia was as interested as Meira in the uplift of the Dalits and tribals and asked her to come back to the Congress in the interest of these sections.

Meira�s resignation has not yet been accepted by Sonia. Congress sources said apart from Shinde, CWC member Bhajan Lal and senior partyman R.L. Bhatia were in touch with her.

Observers believe the fact that Meira�s resignation has been put on hold and senior partymen have kept open a channel of communication with her � with or without Sonia�s knowledge and consent � indicates that a certain degree of panic had gripped the leadership.

Shortly after she formally announced her plans, CWC member Ambika Soni had told reporters her resignation would certainly be accepted.

Although Meira has no base in her home state, Bihar, Congress sources conceded her departure would have �propaganda value�, which would be exploited by the BJP and Samata Party in the Assembly elections.

Sources feared that even if she did not join the BJP, her Dalit antecedents � she is a Jatav � would come in handy for the BJP to play up the Congress� alleged �anti-Dalit� bias.    

New Delhi, Feb. 6 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has stated that his government had no immediate plans to bring back the ashes of Subhas Chandra Bose lying in Japan�s Renkoji temple.

At a function on January 23, Vajpayee had announced that the government was ready to get the ashes back if there was a �consensus� on the matter. The ashes could be preserved at Red Fort, he had said.

In reply to a letter from Forward Bloc MP Debabrata Biswas, Vajpayee on February 2 had reiterated: �Any action in this regard will be initiated by the government only if there is a broad agreement.�

He also added that the findings of the commission, set up in 1998, to probe into Netaji�s mysterious �disappearance� would be a �fundamental consideration� in arriving at a decision.

In his letter, Vajpayee stressed that the government did not intend to politicise the issue or be �guided by partisan considerations�.

He assured Biswas that it would cooperate fully with the commission and see that it functioned �smoothly and effectively�. Biswas was also informed that the matter of shifting the commission�s headquarters from Calcutta to Delhi was being looked into.

Last month, Vajpayee sought to give Netaji a pride of place among national icons with an eulogistic statement he issued on his birth anniversary. He described Bose as an �Indian hero who symbolised fire and fervour, vigour and vision.�

Describing him as a great votary of nationalism � the BJP�s political plank � the PM said: �Netaji gave a distinct political idiom to the people�s nationalist urge by unifying them into a vibrant force of action.�

Vajpayee�s paean to Bose was seen by BJP watchers as signalling the party�s desire to co-opt him in its pantheon of nationalist heroes.

The party has already subsumed Sardar Patel, Dr Ambedkar and Gokhale in its line-up of legends. It had also tried to usurp Gandhi but failed as the RSS� alleged hand in his assassination haunts its plans.    

Calcutta, Feb. 6 
Hours after a rally organised by his detractors flopped here, transport minister Subhas Chakraborty took a swipe at their ability to draw the crowds.

Saturday�s much-publicised rally was held by the CPM�s North 24-Parganas district committee, with which the minister has a running feud. It proved to be a damp squib, prompting Chakraborty to say: �It has been proved once again that the leaders who organised the rally to flaunt their crowd-pulling ability have neither a mass base nor acceptability.�

He will soon meet chief minister Jyoti Basu to brief him on the �malfunctioning of the district committee�.

�The image of the district party has been ruined by the present leaders, who think they are godfathers. The North 24-Parganas district is known to be the biggest crowd-puller. But is it possible to mobilise a huge gathering only by issuing circulars?� Chakraborty asked.

He told his associates that if Amitava Bose and Amitava Nandi, his prime foes, had any common sense, they would give up their style of doing things unilaterally. The two were the main forces behind the rally at Esplanade.

Though the rally�s aim was ostensibly to place a charter of demands before the Centre, the main idea was to prove that Bose and Nandi could draw a huge audience without Chakraborty�s help.

CPM sources said the duo spent Rs 20 lakh, hired 400 buses, 50 private cars, issued threats and applied muscle-power. But even then, the number mustered was only around 20,000.

Bose claimed that the turnout was over a 100,000 but witnesses and the police confirmed that it never exceeded the 25,000 mark.

Some district leaders were learnt to have expressed dissatisfaction over the poor show.

At a post mortem, the leadership tried to ascertain why different party units could not attract enough people.

For previous rallies, CPM leaders like Gautam Deb and Tarit Topdar used their mass contact and popularity to mobilise large crowds.

�But this time they have been cornered,� said a member of the North 24-Parganas committee.    

Calcutta, Feb. 6 
In a veiled criticism of the state government, the CPM�s Calcutta district committee today attacked the police for �indiscriminately harassing and humiliating our comrades� over the murder of party leader Gurupada Bagchi.

Bagchi, who headed the Kasba (south) local committee, was shot dead at the crowded Kasba market on January 23 by an unknown assailant.

Rabin Deb, CPM legislator from Ballygunge, which covers Kasba and its neighbourhood, said the police, unable to trace the culprit, were arresting party members and implicating them in false cases.

He was speaking at a meeting organised by the CPM�s local unit to mourn Bagchi.

�Look at the audacity of the police here. They do not even spare innocent family members of the party comrades,� Deb complained. He said the police were coercing the cadre to become witnesses.

However, he did not reiterate his charge that a local criminal, Tarak Halder, had masterminded the killing.    

Chennai, Feb. 6 
The families of the three girls killed in the Dharmapuri bus burning incident have rejected the offer of Rs 1 lakh from Jayalalitha.

The ADMK leader, who has denied that her party workers had set fire to the bus on December 6, yesterday announced the amount as a way of offering solace.

Party members fanned out last night and this morning to contact the bereaved families and hand them the cheques. But every attempt was spurned, said reports reaching here.

One of the victims, Hemlata, was from a village near Chennai. Another, Gayathri, was from Virudhachalam in the north. The third, Kokkavani, was from Namakkal in the northwest region.

Everywhere, the ADMK members got a hostile reception from the local residents and were turned away by the girls� relatives. �How could you do this to our daughter and what cheek do you have to come and offer this money now?� the families were quoted as saying by the local media.

A party leader admitted: �We have not exactly been successful in persuading the families to accept the money offered by our leader. But it is a canard to say that we met with hostile reception.�

All three families have, however, accepted the Rs 2 lakh offered by the state government.

While talking to the media, they have refrained from directly blaming the ADMK and only appealed to parties to ensure that such horrific hooliganism was put to an end and that such a tragedy did not occur again.

Amid all this, Jayalalitha has called for the release of the ADMK men arrested during the statewide violence that followed her conviction in the Pleasant Stay case earlier this month. Another person was arrested today, taking the total number up to seven.

Proof claim against ADMK

There was substantial evidence to establish the involvement of ADMK men in the burning of the bus, said the police official heading the investigation.

The special investigation team had collected substantial evidence during preliminary inquiry against some of the arrested ADMK men, inspector general of police (crime branch CID), Paramvir Singh told reporters outside the room where the probe was being conducted at the university campus in Coimbatore. �We will prove the charges,� he said.

He informed that eight separate teams had been formed for the inquiry.    

Darjeeling, Feb. 6 
Opinion is divided over the demand for Darjeeling�s merger with Sikkim, raised by some pro-Gorkhaland outfits.

Those opposed to this move see it as a ploy to detract attention from the Gorkhaland agitation as well as tilt the demographic balance.

The Sikkim Rashtriya Mukti Morcha has been campaigning for the merger on grounds that Darjeeling was a part of Sikkim before the British took over and has ethnic affinity with it.

The morcha is a part of the Darjeeling-based six-party United Democratic Front, which wants a separate state for Nepali-speaking people in north Bengal.

The other members of the front are the CPI, Congress, Trinamul Congress, Bharatiya Gorkha Jana Shakti and the Bharatiya Nepali Vir Gorkha.

Morcha leader Ram Moktan was close to former Sikkim chief minister Nar Bahadur Bhandari and then, briefly, to Gorkha strongman Subhas Ghising.

The morcha demand has so far been openly supported only by the Bharatiya Nepali Vir Gorkha. The other partners have either been cautious or silent.

Bharatiya Gorkha Jana Shakti leader C.R. Rai said: �As far as our front is concerned, Gorkhaland remains our one and only demand. Some of our friends from Sikkim have raised the merger demand, but we have told them we can support it only if the majority of the Sikkimese people approve.�

The front will make its stand public next week.

The merger demand, however, has not gone down well with the Gorkhaland United Front, a parallel organisation seeking statehood for the Nepali-speaking people.

The spokesman for the Communist Party of Marxist Revolutionaries, a partner in this front, said: �The merger demand has been raised to damage the Gorkhaland campaign. How can the people of Sikkim accept such an idea when they know very well that the population of Darjeeling is more than double that of Sikkim.��

He suspected that the merger call might have been �inspired by some individuals or groups who want to divert people�s attention from the Gorkhaland issue�.

He said this could create confusion over the century-old statehood demand at a time when the Centre was about to carve out Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh.

CPM veteran Ananda Pathak, who had earlier led the charge against the Gorkhaland agitation, also described the merger demand as �impractical and impossible�.

He said besides creating problems for Bengal and Sikkim, the merger could make the people of Sikkim politically irrelevant.

He cited the communists� failed attempt to create a Gorkhasthan comprising Nepal, Sikkim and Darjeeling in the forties.    


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