3 die in stampede sparked by Bihar public rape tri
Thakre set to retain toehold at party HQ
Naidu stays on CM meet course
BJP shuts Soren out of CM race
Saffron sings Jharkhand tune
Chandigarh out of reach on phone for a week

Patna, Aug. 19: 
Three persons, including a 12-year-old, died when they jumped into a river to escape a stampede following police firing. The incident occurred last night in Immamgunge near the Arwal-Jehanabad border, 40 km from here.

About a hundred residents had put up a road block yesterday to protest against Naxalite violence in the area. When the police reached the area, the demonstrators burst into angry protests, blaming the force for the breakdown of law and order, and pelting stones at them. The police fired three rounds in the air.

Panicking, the protesters began to run and many, including the three who died, jumped into a tributary of the Punpun river. The bodies were retrieved today.

In a similar incident about a year ago in Darbhanga, police had fired on a crowd of applicants for army jobs, forcing them to run. In the stampede that followed, 35 of the job seekers had jumped into a river and died.

Yesterday, the residents were protesting the killing of a 25-year-old man. The Naxalites, who are being led by a teacher from the area, had accused him of being involved in the rape of a 19-year-old Dalit girl and tried him at a kangaroo court. “The Naxalites had issued a death warrant and two days ago, they killed him in an open court, branding him a criminal. But we have doubts,” said an RJD leader from Immamgunge. However, he added that Ranbir Sena activists had seized the opportunity and planned a violent demonstration against the killing.

Director-general of police K.A. Jacob said the crowd had turned violent and the police had to fire to disperse them. “Even the driver of the police van was bashed up,” he said, but added: “The firing caused the stampede.” Three persons had been reported missing and their bodies were found floating in a pond nearby, the director-general said. The bodies were sent for post mortem.

The news of the deaths fanned fresh violence in Immamgunge. Hundreds of protesters from at least 12 villages put up road blocks this morning. They shouted slogans against the police, saying they were “as ruthless as the Naxalites”. The demonstration continued for about an hour before police deployment was reinforced in the area.

“The police fired tear gas shells and dispersed the crowd and took custody of three, including a 12-year-old boy,” Jacob said.

There is a lull in the Naxalite-dominated area following the protests, but residents feel the violence could erupt again. They feel threatened by the repeated incidents of violence like the atrocities against women in Senari and the frequent brutalities on the locals, and the failure of the police to contain the menace.

The Naxalites, residents said, have been holding kangaroo courts very often to mete out justice to “class enemies”. They said nowadays Naxalites have stepped up the task of eliminating criminal elements from society.    

New Delhi, Aug. 19: 
It may not be curtains down for Kushabhau Thakre when he steps down as BJP president and makes way for Bangaru Laxman on August 27, according to a senior party office-bearer.

He said Thakre may continue to oversee the working of the organisation without holding a formal post. In specific terms, the outgoing president would do the job of an organisational secretary, a post normally given to a vice-president or a general secretary. The organisational secretary not only supervises the working of the BJP at the Centre but the state units as well.

BJP sources said the main reason for retaining Thakre as an organisation head, though by proxy, was his “thorough familiarity with the nuts and bolts of the party, the workers and office-bearers at all levels”. Laxman is perceived as a “greenhorn” who is likely to take time to find his way through the party.

Thakre has already made it known to the BJP leadership that he will vacate his official bungalow on Tilak Marg and shift to the party headquarters at 11 Ashoka Road after relinquishing the party president’s post.

BJP sources said he was offered an alternative accommodation but he insisted on a room at the headquarters on the plea that his “needs were frugal and a single room would do”.

Sources, however, construed Thakre’s wish as a tactic to keep in touch with what was happening in the BJP and interact with party workers not just from Delhi but also from the states.

The only permanent resident at the headquarters at present is BJP general secretary K.N. Govindacharya. The others, including the president, vice-presidents, general secretaries, treasurer and the heads of the various morchas have a room each but live in other places.

Sources said Thakre declined a place at 9 Ashoka Road — the bungalow next to the BJP headquarters, which is kind of a “bachelors’ den” and houses the unmarried RSS pracharaks now working full-time for the BJP. “He wanted to be in 11 Ashoka Road, nothing else would do,” a source said.

During Thakre’s tenure, he did not appoint an organisational secretary, but continued to do the job himself. Speculation was rife that Govindacharya would get the assignment and would be specifically designated as the organisational secretary. As a general secretary during L.K. Advani’s term as president, Thakre was given the charge of looking after the BJP.

Apart from Thakre’s “knowledge” of the organisation, another explanation doing the rounds in the BJP is that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was keen on ensuring his continuance in the party because of the “good” equation between the two. Although Laxman was believed to be the Prime Minister’s choice, he still remained an “untested” entity as the party chief.

Thakre was willing to toe the government’s line on all issues, even the contentious economic ones and went out of his way to ensure that the BJP-government equation was on an even keel.    

Hyderabad, Aug. 19: 
Chief minister Chandrababu Naidu has swung back into his earlier role of a national consensus-maker.

After heading the IT task force for two years, Naidu has decided to take up the cause of progressive states against the NDA government. These states, Naidu says, are the victims of the Eleventh Finance Commission.

Protesting against the commission recommendations which cut Andhra Pradesh’s share by Rs 736 crore, Naidu has lined up all “affected” chief ministers for a meeting in Delhi.

The Andhra Assembly today “unanimously” passed a resolution in favour of witholding the recommendations, without the main Opposition party, the 91-member Congress, and the Left parties participating. The ruling Desam had revoked the suspension of 75 Congress members to make them return to the House. However, the Congress MLAs remained outside and continued their hunger strike after being removed from the Assembly premises last night.

Naidu said there has been no request from either the Prime Minister’s Office or any other quarter to cancel the chief ministers’ meet. “I am in touch with the Prime Minister and he has not asked me to drop the meeting,” he told The Telegraph. “I told him this is not a political meeting. It is an economic session. And he agreed,” Naidu said.

Asked whether the BJP-led states would attend the meeting, Naidu said so far he had not been refused by any of the 17 states. He denied reports that the Prime Minister Vajpayee had urged BJP chief ministers not to attend the meeting. “I am in touch with the Prime Minister every day and I have not heard any such thing from him,” he said.

“We are concentrating on the major eight states — all the southern states, besides Maharashtra, Punjab, Haryana, and Gujarat, though we have sent invitations to nine other states which have been hit by the recommendations of the Eleventh Finance Commission,” he said. The Desam said the finance commission had favoured only such states which promoted populism. “We are paying a price for our progressive and reform experiments.”

The Assembly resolution said the Centre should withhold action on the recommendations and initiate discussion at a suitable forum. It charged the commission with penalising the states which took up economic reforms. The recommendations discouraged progressive states, rewarded non-performance and encouraged perpetuation of poverty and backwardness, it said. Andhra Pradesh has been adjudged “less impoverished” by the Lakdawala Commission which had assessed the below poverty level in the state at 28 per cent as against the 38 per cent according to the state government’s own assessment.

The chief minister said the state government wanted to pressure the commission to reconsider its recommendations. “We are going to Delhi to focus this issue by bringing all affected states together.”

The chief minister plans to spend two nights in Delhi. “All of us (the chief ministers) will call on the Prime Minister, the finance minister and A.M. Khushro, chairman of the finance commission.”

Naidu said the Desam will not compromise with the BJP at any cost where the state’s interest was considered. “Withdrawal of support to the government is not a solution. If it was so I would have done long ago.” In a less careful moment, Naidu said the NDA could not afford to ignore the sentiments of Andhra Pradesh which had given 36 MPs (eight BJP and 28 Desam) to the alliance.    

Ranchi, Aug. 19: 
The BJP high command today decided to back Union minister Babulal Marandi for chief minister of the new Jharkhand state, edging ally and JMM(S) chief Shibu Soren out of the race.

The decision not to back Soren was taken at the BJP Jharkhand Legislative Party (BJLP) meeting which deliberated for four hours. Later, a core group which met separately under national president Kushabhau Thakre, assessed the viability of individual contenders who could chair the post.

The core think-tank, which included national general secretary K.N. Govindacharya, finally settled on Marandi who is likely to be called back from the Union ministry, said sources.

BJP insiders said Marandi was chosen over Ramtahal Chowdhury, a powerful Kurmi leader, because the party’s Jharkhand Legislative unit had made it clear that only a tribal could be the chief minister.

Marandi, a Santhal from Dumka — the cradle of the Jharkhand movement — was chief of the BJP’s Vananchal unit before being appointed environment and forest minister. What also weighed heavily in his favour was his RSS background and stints with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

It wasn’t entirely smooth sailing for Marandi either. There was some resistance from supporters of another tribal leader, Karia Munda, who has a strong base in Ranchi. But though seen as an honest and outspoken leader, the MP from Khunti who is also a party vice-president lost out because of his lack of national image. Besides, insiders said, he also heads a rebel faction.

Both Thakre and Govindacharya refused to divulge details of today’s deliberations. But they made it clear that the BJP had a natural right to the Jharkhand throne.

“BJP being the largest political force with 32 MLAs is the natural claimant to the post of chief minister,” said Thakre, while Govindacharya said: “It will be an NDA government. But the BJP will have the right to chose the chief minister from its own candidates.”

When asked if the marginalisation of Soren — the “history man of the Jharkhand movement” — wouldn’t be politically improper from the ethnic viewpoint since he backed Nitish Kumar’s bid for chief ministership of Bihar, Govindacharya said: “Even a history man has to alter his role.”

The BJP is aware that short-shrifting Soren could result in a consolidation of non-NDA forces. But willing to risk it, party strategists said even if the JMM snapped ties with the NDA, the alliance’s vote banks wouldn’t be affected.

With the JMM, the Congress and the RJD enjoying the same support base, they said the moment Soren sides with the Congress, non-tribal, indigenous residents of the region would switch loyalties to the BJP as they were against the JMM leaders for exploiting them for so long.

According to sources, the party will soon begin an anti-Soren campaign for his alleged involvement in pay-off scandals and a murder case in which he has been chargesheeted. The BJP also wants to forget the JMM’s “friendship with the NDA in March” on the eve of Nitish Kumar’s bid for Patna. Thakre, in fact, went as far as saying that the JMM was not a part of NDA, but “our ally”.

But though the party is not averse to seeking help from the JMM, the district administration is bracing for a backlash from JMM supporters in case it is left out of the government.    

Ranchi, Aug. 19: 
Making the most of a rare redrawing of the Indian map, Jharkhand politicians are adopting a new political identity, ruthlessly snapping their ties with mother-state Bihar. Big, bad Bihar is suddenly taboo; the Jharkhand culture and ethos rules.

The BJP jumped in with gusto to embrace Jharkhandism, the mantra for an image makeover of its MLAs. Ever the savvy, with-it party, the BJP recently convened a session here to enable party president Kushabhau Thakre, Govindacharya and other senior leaders to interact with the region’s 32 MLAs. Party workers stood waiting for their leaders at the airport with huge banners, saying: “Jai Jharkhand”. Whatever happened to Vananchal? “We have found Jharkhand to be synonymous with Vananchal. It is our tribute to local culture, that our party has adopted the Jharkhand name,” said ideologue Govindacharya, clearing the contradiction.

The politicians have jumped on to the Jharkhand bandwagon wholeheartedly, highlighting its resources and rich cultural legacy. “Oh Bihar! Forget it now. I never shared the values that a decadent Bihari society stood for. Talk of Jharkhand. Its streets are paved with gold,” gushed BJP MLA Chandra Sekhar Singh.

After fighting ferociously against the break-up of Bihar with Laloo Prasad Yadav declaring that the new state could be carved out only over his dead body, the Rashtriya Janata Dal has not only reconciled to Jharkhand, but also succumbed to the legacy factor. “Whoever forms the government, Jharkhand legacy will be supreme,” said RJD legislator Lalchand Mahato.

With the people’s representatives rushing to glorify Jharkhand, could the people be far behind? In a sign of times, the signposts in the heart of Ranchi, the designated capital of Jharkhand, have been altered. ‘Chhotanagpur Dairy’, ‘Santhalparganas Woodcraft’ have given way to ‘Jharkhand Dairy’, ‘Jharkhand Woodcraft’. The Bahubazaar chowk has been renamed “Jai Pal Singh Chowk” after the politician who first raised the statehood issue in the fifties.

A new state also means new business. Traders here have requisitioned artists and cartographers to draw up the map of Jharkhand to cash in on the demand. Not far from the BJP meeting at the international library compound, a tribal artist, Awni Bhusan, has put up a painting exhibition on the traditional life, rituals and ethos of Jharkhand.

The paintings depict slices of tribal life in the region — a Paharia tribal weaving baskets, the Lohar sub-caste among the tribals making musical instruments like the mandar, tribals offering prayers to trees through pahans (priests). The passing of the state reorganisation Bill has kindled a new interest in the culture of Jharkhand, drawing big crowds.

Jharkhand also bears the cross of astronomical expectations. A pointer is the glee of the student community in finally breaking away from the Bihar taboo. “We were even denied interviews with blue chip companies just because we came from colleges in Bihar. Thank God the trauma will now be over,” said Anutosh Bhagat, a tribal student of Gostner College in Ranchi.

But any government that comes to power won’t find the going easy. Even as the BJP, which is expected to land the job, comes to terms with the Jharkhand ethos (read tribal ethos), it has decided to put the Adivasi Mahasabha’s tenets of tribal welfare on the backburner. Aware of three cultural groups in the region — the tribals, the non-tribal indigenous groups called sadans and the settlers — the party has adopted an open mind about the promotion of local culture. BJP feels that total development of the region would be the primary goal of the new government.    

Chandigarh, Aug. 19: 
Chandigarh, SAS Nagar (Mohali) and Panchkula continued to remain cut off from the rest of the country for the eighth successive day today following a snag in the digital trunk exchange (D-TAX) which routes all incoming and outgoing calls.

The fault has occurred at a time when the Union Territory administration is striving hard to make Chandigarh northern India’s IT destination. There are grandoise plans to make Chandigarh the IT destination in the region and better if not similar than Bangalore.

Not only trunk services, even Internet service providers have also been hit by the snag. Calls coming to and from Chandigarh are either failing to generate or are severing within moments of getting through with the recorded message “all lines in this route are busy, please dial after some time”.

While telephone officials continue to say that the fault is intermittent —- it works for a while and then switches off automitically —- those wanting to make urgent phone calls are either travelling to Ambala, a distance of 50 km, or even as far as Jalandhar for the purpose of making phone calls to the rest of the country. Among the worst hit are banks, insurance companies and the media where a lot of outstation communication is required and generated. Many journalists working for outstation newspapers in Chandigarh are planning to shift to nearby towns in Haryana or Punjab.

The telephone authorities throughout the day made frantic e-mails to Alcatel in France, the firm that has provided the D-TAX equipment for a solution to the problem. Senior engineers of the telephone department said they have not been provided with expertise to rectify the fault being experienced now by the equipment provider.    


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