Church return-fire scalds Advani
Cautious BJP bides for time
Mouse fable
Saifuddin taps young CPM
Atal takes first few steps
Bihar’s Frankenstein threatens Laloo crown
Vice-President misses plane to Miami
AP tariff hike harsh: Court

New Delhi, Oct. 16: 
Church leaders have objected to home minister L.K. Advani attending the RSS mahashivir (grand camp) at Agra where Sangh leaders made anti-Christian and anti-Muslim statements.

“The Christians are surprised at the home minister, L.K. Advani, for attending the function where anti-Christian, anti-Muslim statements were made,” said Fr Dominic Emmanuel, spokesman of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India.

At the end of the three-day camp on national security yesterday, Sudarshan accused Christian missionaries of using the Northeast to establish “military bases” in “strategic areas” to work against India. Advani was present in the audience when the RSS leader launched his tirade.

Nervous about the increasingly strident attacks by RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan, Church leaders said they are planning to take up the matter with the National Minorities Commission. If the RSS persisted with its anti-Christian tirade, they would approach Vajpayee, Emmanuel added.

The Congress criticised Advani’s presence at the camp and said Sudarshan’s statements will heighten the sense of insecurity among religious minorities.

The home minister’s presence has sent a wrong signal and he must clarify whether he agrees with the views of the RSS chief, said Congress spokespersons Anand Sharma and Anil Shastri.

They alleged that the RSS chief’ statements were calculated to create disaffection and distrust between communities. “The RSS prescription will embolden the fanatics who have systematically targeted the Christian minority in recent months. The nation is well aware of the planned and sinister campaign carried out by the organisations of the Sangh parivar to terrorise minorities,” the Congress leaders said.

They said the “bigoted approach” of the RSS is unacceptable in a pluralistic society. “India is a multi-religious, multi-ethnic society, where all religions have co-existed in a spirit of harmony and mutual respect. The RSS doctrine goes against the very ethos of our liberal democracy.”

Debunking RSS criticism that Christianity is controlled by foreign countries, Emmanuel said: “We are following Indian tradition and not Western culture. Western culture has nothing to do with Christianity.” He added that this was an “RSS attempt to rake up their old ideology —— one people, one culture and one religion”.

Emmanuel recalled that M.S. Golwalkar, one of the founder-members of the RSS, had identified Muslims, Christians and communists as the Sangh’s enemies.

Christianity came to India as far back as AD 52, long before the RSS was formed, a Church leader pointed out. For almost 2,000 years, Christians did not pose any threat to national security. Now they are suddenly being branded anti-national, he said. “The RSS has become bold now because of its proximity to power,” the Church leader added.

He said several countries, especially the Buddhist nations, faced no problem if their citizens followed a foreign religion.

Some Church officials feel that by insisting that Indian Christians delink their association with Vatican, Sudarshan was trying to drive a wedge between different denominations.

The CPI(M-L) (Liberation) warned that the RSS design of a Hindu Rashtra was the biggest challenge to the vision of a modern, democratic India.

The RSS cry for “so-called Indianisation of Islam and Christianity strikes at the root of the principles of a secular state and seeks to overturn India’s tradition of a composite culture and multi-religious social fabric”, the party said..

Party general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya pointed out that while the RSS chief alleged deep-rooted US conspiracy in the Northeast, “he had not said a single word against the BJP’s official policy of making a strategic surrender to the US.”    

New Delhi, Oct. 16: 
The BJP shied away from reacting to the RSS sarsanghachalak’s anti-church tirade at the Sangh’s Agra Mahashivir yesterday and said a considered response can be expected tomorrow.

But BJP spokesman and vice-president Jana Krishnamurthy gave the impression that the party may not associate itself with Sudarshan’s views at a time when it is keen to broadbase its appeal among the minorities. “The RSS’ view is not the BJP’s, put your questions to him (Sudarshan),” he said when asked to comment on the sarsanghachalak’s demand for an “Indianised” church.

Attempting to reflect the “moderate” line on minorities, Krishnamurthy said: “As far as the BJP is concerned, every citizen in the country is part of our nation and has equal rights and obligations.”

Asked why the party had in the past repeatedly told the minorities to become a part of the “national mainstream”, he said: “The minorities should not develop an outlook of being a minority. They are part of this nation. They can have their own way of worship but in every other way they are governed by the Constitution.”

According to Krishnamurthy, though the BJP is bound by the National Agenda of Governance of the NDA coalition, and the party had to put Ayodhya, abrogation of Article 370 and common civil code on the backburner, these issues have not been buried.

forever. “Even today the Palampur resolution binds the BJP,” he said, referring to the document which enshrines the call to build a Ram temple in Ayodhya. “As far as governance is concerned, we are bound by the NDA document,” he added.

Asked on Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s outburst against Bangaru Laxman’s Nagpur presidential address, Krishnamurthy replied: “Laxman had said let him read the full text. He hasn’t read it.”

The BJP took a lenient view of Mamata Banerjee attending the installation of Naib Imam as the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid on Sunday. “We have no objection but the government did not authorise her to attend the function. She went in her capacity as Trinamul Congress leader,” senior leader J.P. Mathur said. He added that the visit did not amount to minority “appeasement”.    

New Delhi, Oct. 16: 
Who is the rishi and who is the mouse in the Panchatantra fable? Take your guess, RSS veteran H.V. Seshadri seemed to suggest in his address at the Sangh Mahashivir in Agra.

Seshadri recounted the tale of the mouse who went to a rishi when attacked by a cat. On pleading with the rishi to save him from the predator the mouse was promptly transformed into a cat. When the cat was attacked by a jackal, the rishi transformed him into a jackal. And when it was a tiger’s turn to prey on the jackal the rishi transformed the cat into a tiger. But the mouse who was turned into a tiger devoured the sage. His enraged benefactor reduced the tiger to a mouse.

Seshadri reportedly ended his speech here, leaving participants wondering who was who.

While senior RSS leaders claimed the rishi referred to the Sangh and the betrayer mouse to “political forces”, the younger activists apparently grasped the intended message. While they were clear about the rishi being the RSS, their doubt was whether the mouse referred to the BJP or specifically to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.    

Calcutta, Oct. 16: 
Showcasing two CPM youth leaders, Saifuddin Chowdhury today announced that he would launch a political party before next year’s Assembly polls.

A former SFI leader and a member of the CPM’s Calcutta district committee, Tapas Bose, today resigned to join the political outfit which will be floated by Chowdhury. Another district committee member and SFI leader, Subir Chowdhury, has said he would resign tomorrow to close ranks with Chowdhury.

Both the leaders were present at the crowded press conference where Chowdhury announced the plans for the new party.

“I have submitted my resignation to party secretary Anil Biswas this morning and decided to join the platform which Chowdhury will launch soon,” Bose said.

Sources in the district committee said Bose will be expelled from the party. “There is no provision in our party to accept resignation letter from any member. We usually expel any member who tenders resignation,” a senior district committee leader said. But the district committee has not yet taken any decision to expel Bose.

Expelled CPM leader from the party’s Calcutta district committee, Ashis Dey, will also join Chowdhury’s new party. He was expelled from the CPM for his alleged links with satta don Rashid Khan who is in jail for his involvement in the Bowbazar blast case.

It is learnt that many former leaders of SFI and DYFI from Nadia, Hooghly and even Burdwan, a CPM stronghold, are likely to join Chowdhury. “You will see many SFI and DYFI leaders from different districts at our first conference on Sunday,” said one of Chowdhury’s close associates.

Chowdhury is banking on his former colleagues in SFI and DYFI — whose members he had once been — to join him.

The CPM state leadership is apparently paying no importance to Chowdhury’s move. But party sources made it clear that they were keeping a close watch on those leaders who were once closely associated with Chowdhury.

CPM state secretary Anil Biswas said Chowdhury’s move will not bring about any split in the organisation.

“Hardly four or five party members have quit the CPM, but more than 200 have applied for party membership,” he added.

Asked whether Bose will be expelled from the party for his association with Chowdhury, Biswas said: “He has given me a letter this morning and I have referred it to the CDC since he is a member of the district committee. It is up to the CDC to decide over it.”

Chowdhury today released a two-page write-up explaining the reasons which prompted him to seek an “honourable separation” from the CPM.    

Mumbai, Oct. 16: 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today stepped out of his hospital room for the first time since his knee operation and paced the corridor outside, an aide said.

Vajpayee walked “up and down” the seventh-floor corridor at Breach Candy hospital for 15 minutes with the aid of a walker, Ashok Tandon, Vajpayee’s media adviser, said.

This was the first time the Prime Minister had walked for such a “long” duration since he had his left knee joint replaced in an operation on Tuesday. Vajpayee was not assisted by his doctors in the walk.

Doctors expressed satisfaction with the Prime Minister’s progress. “His recovery is quite satisfactory, considering his age,” a doctor said.

Dr Chittaranjan Ranawat, the New York surgeon, who operated on the Prime Minister, returned to the US on Saturday, but is still monitoring Vajpayee’s condition from there.

Doctors said the Prime Minister had a healthy appetite and was eating normally.

Vajpayee is reading a lot of newspapers and magazines, besides watching television. He was also reading official notes and issuing directions.

He was meeting very few people other than his family members and close aides on medical advice.

BJP president Bangaru Laxman and Union petroleum minister Ram Naik visited him yesterday. Uddhav Thackeray and Raj Thackeray, son and nephew of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, met the Prime Minister.    

Patna, Oct. 16: 
It’s unlikely that Laloo Yadav has read about the exploits of Viktor Frankenstein, but if he has, he would have found a striking similarity between the monster created by the scientist and Mohammed Shahabuddin, the MP from Siwan whose name spells terror.

Shahabuddin, the 38-year-old leader who was once Laloo’s “most favourite” minority MP, is now threatening to knife the Muslim-Yadav block that had so far helped Bihar’s uncrowned king to retain his grip on the throne.

The massacre of 11 members of a Yadav family in Mujahidpur village, allegedly by Shahabuddin’s supporters, has set off the alarm in Laloo’s camp as it exemplified the widening rift between Muslims and Yadavs.

The dashing post-graduate in political science started his political career by winning the Assembly polls in 1990 as an Independent candidate from Giridih. His youthfulness, accessibility and excellent equations with the voters soon brought him into Laloo’s focus.

In 1995, Laloo, who was trying to consolidate the RJD’s social base, adopted Shahabuddin and gave him a Lok Sabha ticket from Siwan the following year. The young leader won and hasn’t looked backed since.

But the political success story is smudged with blood. During elections, no other party has the guts to hoist its flag anywhere near Siwan. Campaigning is out of the question.

Until three years ago, Shahabuddin’s exploits were relatively run of the mill in a state where politics and crime are natural bedfellows.

He blazed into the front pages after the murder of Chandrasekhar, a CPI(M-L) Liberation member and a former JNU students’ union leader. Chandrasekhar, who was the about the same age as the MP, was drawing huge crowds in Siwan with his fiery speeches against Shahabuddin. During one such rally, 10 assailants on motorcycles pumped bullets into the young leader. The killers were suspected supporters of Shahabuddin, who was aware of the potential threat from Chandrasekhar as he knew the JNU leader during his student days in Delhi.

“Shahabuddin’s men have bumped off at least 100 of our leaders,” said K.D. Yadav of the CPI(M-L) Liberation.

The MP has denied all charges against him though he has about 20 cases against him for murder, arson, rioting and illegal possession of arms. “It’s the media which tarnishes my reputation. I don’t care what is written about me,” he says.

Shahabuddin, who is out on bail, pleads his innocence by pointing out that he was never present in Siwan during any of the incidents linked to him. Rival politicians admit as much, but ask: “Is it just a coincidence that the killings occur when he is not there?”

In Siwan, though, people are terrified of even uttering a word against him. A resident recounts how four college teachers, irritated by the frequent harassment by some men who identified themselves as “MP sahab’s aadmi”, had approached a local advocate Raghuvir Sharma for redressal earlier this year. The lawyer left his chamber and went to a tea stall to discuss with his clients their complaints against Shahabuddin. Suddenly, the shop’s owner came up to them and told them to leave. “Yeh sab baaten yahan nahin chalenge (You cannot discuss these things here),” the man said.

Four months later, on April 26, the advocate was gunned down by five young men on motorbikes while he was returning home on his scooter. Though the FIR did not name Shahabuddin, police testified that the assailants were his supporters.

Rarely do the police lodge a case in any incident involving his thugs. In 1996, a senior superintendent of police had raided Shahabuddin’s house to be greeted by a volley of bullets allegedly fired by the MP himself. “If he could fire at an SP, what chance does an ordinary inspector have?” asked an officer at the Siwan police station.

Even the Supreme Court was surprised when a sugar mill owner, who had filed a petition against the MP, had pleaded that he did not approach the high court because “he will kill me on the way”.

For the first time, though, Shahabuddin is in a spot as gangsters from the upper castes and backward classes have closed ranks. “I suppose Shahabuddin needed a massacre to terrify the rivals,” a BJP leader said.    

Washington, Oct. 16: 
The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has stopped vice-president Krishan Kant from undertaking a nearly fortnight-long, three-nation tour of Latin America.

By putting its foot down on Kant’s junket, the PMO has saved an incredible six to seven crore rupees. According to elaborate plans worked out over several months, the vice-president was to have arrived in Miami yesterday with a huge delegation to hop on to a chartered aircraft to go to Brazil, Chile and Uruguay for nearly a fortnight.

However, no one in any of these Latin American states is shedding any tears over the cancellation: the visit had been virtually forced on Kant’s reluctant hosts in Brasilia, Santiago and Montevideo by the vice-president’s office.

Plans for Kant’s Latin American junket began several months ago when his office communicated to South Block the vice-president’s desire to tour the region. Since President K. R. Narayanan had already been on a political visit to Latin America, including some of the states proposed by the vice-president, it was suggested that Kant’s would be a cultural odyssey to the area.

Efforts were then made to put together a 100-strong cultural troupe to accompany the vice-president. Alongwith these efforts came the usual request from Kant’s office whenever he is cleared to go abroad: that the vice-president should be given an Air India jumbo as in the case of the President and the Prime Minister.

These efforts, however, floundered for two reasons. The Brazilians flatly told New Delhi that they would not shell out a cent by way of hosting the cultural troupe and that the entire cost of bringing the group, including their hotel and other expenses in Brazil, would be the responsibility of the Indian government.

South Block calculated that the cost of the tour would then work out to anything between six to seven crore rupees. Secondly, the PMO was reluctant to sanction a 747 plane for the vice-president.

Air India too informed the PMO that giving Kant a jumbo and keeping another jumbo as stand-by for a whole fortnight — as required by procedure for chartering planes for VVIP flights — would play havoc with the airline’s already thin schedule.

All the same, the PMO did not want to rub the vice-president the wrong way, ostensibly because he was, after all, the candidate of political parties which are now in the opposition.

At the same time, in dealing with Kant, the PMO was unwilling to make the compromises which it made with Rashtrapati Bhavan a few months ago to avoid controversies involving the Prime Minister and the President.

As the PMO sat on extravagant requests from Kant, the vice-president’s office asked the Indian embassy in Washington to charter a plane for his travel in Latin America. Although the cultural troupe was no more travelling with Kant, he still wanted to take a delegation of 40 to 60 persons. The mission here was told that the vice-president and his delegation would arrive in Miami by a commercial flight and then take the charter aircraft to South America for 12 days.

Meanwhile, changes were proposed in the number of countries that the vice-president was to visit. The embassy, however, told New Delhi that the charter from Miami would cost about $ 800,000.

By this time, rising oil prices and the revolt by the Trinamul Congress within the NDA had already become an issue in New Delhi.

The government issued directives stressing economy and the need to curb unnecessary foreign travel. Now that the PMO was on a moral high ground, it was decided that the vice-president should, after all, call off his sojourn to exotic Latin America.    

Hyderabad, Oct. 16: 
Andhra Pradesh High Court today termed the increase in power tariff as “very steep and harsh” for middle-income and poor consumers, but left it to the state government to take necessary steps.

Three persons had died in police firing on August 28, during an agitation against the hike.

Dismissing a bunch of writ petitions, including one by local advocate Bharat Kumar, a division bench comprising Justice S.R. Naik and Justice Venkatrama Reddy upheld the authority of the government to hike tariffs of public utilities, including power.

It, however, said the hike in the first two categories of domestic users was steep and the government should review the burden imposed on the users.

Justifying the hike, the state power minister said the arrears from the agriculture and domestic sectors was Rs 623 crore. “The Cabinet has decided to waive the surcharge of Rs 131 crore” if the debtors cleared arrears before December 31, he added.

Revenue minister P. Ashok Gajapathi Raju said the court had upheld the government’s contention. He said: “We are also aware that the burden is heavy on the consumers in the first two slabs. We aim to rectify it during the next review of tariff.”

The Left parties and the Congress have, however, urged the government to abide by the verdict. “The legal opinion has proved that the hike is not only steep, but also harsh,” state CPM secretary B.V. Raghavulu said.

Assistant secretary of state CPI council Dr K. Narayana welcomed the verdict on the “World Bank sponsored steep increase in electricity charges” and said it should open the eyes of the Chandrababu Naidu government.

Congress leader K. Rosaiahs said the state government should hang its head in shame and reduce the hike at least for the first two slabs immediately.

The CPI, the CPM and the Congress have decided to continue their agitation against the hike.    


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