Rattled VHP banks on temple miracle
Sonia revives worker link
Nine killed in Valley blasts
Fresh polio scare rocks Bengal
Bihar bodyguards pay for masters� �sins�
IIT in swadeshi sermon to IBM
Showbiz search for corporate culture
Rights panel summons on trucker torture
Diggy harps on self-help
SUCI brothers killed

Allahabad, Jan. 21: 
Stung by reports that VHP activists were �demoralised� as a date to start building the Ram temple had not been fixed, working president Ashok Singhal today claimed his outfit had never worked to an agenda, but had just allowed �things to happen by chance, as in a miracle�.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Singhal said: �Did anyone have a clue that the disputed structure at Ayodhya would be demolished on December 6, 1992? But it happened and it took the whole world by surprise. The temple construction will also start in much the same way, suddenly as in a miracle, when it is least expected.�

VHP vice-president Acharya Giriraj Kishore insisted the leaders had never said a date to start the construction would be announced at the dharam sansad.

�It is all in the media�s imagination. None of us ever gave a commitment on announcing the date,� he said. He also denied the March 2002 deadline set by the sants and sadhus for �removal of all hurdles in the path of construction� was an ultimatum to the Vajpayee government.

�Why is the media bent on politicising everything? This is not meant as a warning to any government,� he said. Kishore�s spin on the time-frame, specified in the resolution passed at the dharam sansad yesterday, was that it was meant as a �warm-up� period to �prepare the country for the task of temple construction�.

Another VHP leader, Shirish Chand Dixit, a former director-general of the Uttar Pradesh police, amplified this: �All the previous events associated with the Ram temple, whether it was the shilanyas or the demolition, did not happen just like that. People were prepared for these events over a long period of time. Similarly, we will have an elaborate jan jagran campaign before construction begins. The whole idea is that when there is a groundswell of emotion and sentiment on this issue, the government will be forced to heed our demand.�

Dixit said the demand was that the disputed land in Ayodhya, at present in the Centre�s custody, should be handed over to the Ramjanmabhoomi trust to facilitate construction. Privately, VHP sources conceded that if the court gave a �suitable� verdict in favour of the temple in the intervening period or the government thrashed out a settlement with Muslim leaders, their task would be rendered �simpler�.

After the dharam sansad placed the temple resolution yesterday, there was total silence in the gathering. The trademark slogan �Jai Shri Ram� was not raised.

Ram Prakash Singh, a retired school teacher of Gorakhpur and a VHP activist, summed up the general mood when he said: �There was such a build-up to the dharam sansad that all of us came prepared to do another kar seva in Ayodhya. But our leaders let us down badly. They are bent on politicising the issue and not doing anything which poses a threat to the Uttar Pradesh government and the Centre.�

But VHP sources countered the criticism, saying: �Such feelings were constantly expressed in Ayodhya every time a kar seva was deferred after the Centre managed to work out some solution with us. We will allow such emotions to build up over time and make people restless. It suits our strategy.�

Opposition parties in Uttar Pradesh have begun accusing the VHP of cashing in on the temple card for the benefit of the BJP. The Samajwadi Party leader from Karchana, Reoti Raman Singh, said: �The Sangh parivar is not interested in building a temple. It realises that the BJP has failed on all fronts and is heading for a debacle in the Assembly polls. That is why the mandir bogey is being raised.�


New Delhi, Jan. 21: 
Sonia Gandhi is set to revive the post of political secretary in the AICC to be announced next week.

It is a toss up between former general secretary Ambika Soni and Rajiv Gandhi loyalist Mani Shankar Aiyar for the coveted post.

Sources close to Sonia said she has been looking for a �political aide� to act as a link between her and party workers. It has been almost three years that Sonia took over as party president but communication gap between her and the partymen seems to be widening.

There are six AICC general secretaries who confine themselves to the states allotted to them with nobody really looking after the office of the Congress president. Both Rajiv and P.V. Narasimha Rao had Jitendra Prasada as their political secretary.

There have been occasions when disgruntled partymen split or deserted the party having failed to get an audience with her. Goa, Manipur and Bengal are cases in the point.

The Congress chief believes that the appointment of a political secretary would lessen such incidents.

At the political level, Sonia�s search for a full-time political secretary is seen as her attempt to dismantle a coterie around her. Though the Congress chief has been denying the coterie charge levelled by Jitendra Prasada, she is keen to �decentralise� the decision-making process in the party.

In the Eighties, Rajiv Gandhi had three parliamentary secretaries � Ahmad Patel, Oscar Feranandes and Arun Singh � who looked after political management. Indira Gandhi had two trusted lieutenants � R.K. Dhawan and M.L. Fotedar � in similar capacities.

Sonia has prepared a list of 20 leaders who will be drafted as Congress Working Committee members. The CWC is a 24-member body but she wants to keep four berths vacant.

A majority of the outgoing CWC members are set to retain their place in the apex decision-making body but Vijay Bhaskar Reddy, Sushil Kumar Shinde and R.K. Dhawan are likely to be dropped.


Srinagar, Jan. 21: 
Seven persons, including four civilians, were killed and more than 30 people wounded in a massive explosion at village Chattul near Kreeri in northern Barramullah district this morning.

Police said three soldiers of 29 Rashtriya Rifles were among those killed and seven wounded.

Dilbagh Singh, the deputy inspector-general of police, Barramullah, said a state road transport corporation bus hit an improvised explosive device near village Chattul on the Pattan Kreeri road, resulting in instant death of three passengers, including a girl.

The condition of two soldiers and three civilians was stated to be critical.

Troops later cordoned off the area and mounted searches. No one has yet admitted responsibility for the explosion.

At Pulwama town in south Kashmir, militants hurled a grenade on a police party, killing two civilians and causing injury to 20 others. Three policemen are among the wounded.

Militants this evening hurled a handgrenade at a BSF bunker at Rainawari in Srinagar, but no one was wounded, police said.

A report from Jammu said three militants were killed in a fierce gun battle which was continuing till late evening. Sources said a colonel and three soldiers were seriously wounded in the clash.

Jammu city was rocked by a powerful explosion this morning outside the Sheri Kashmir Bhavan, following which security around the city was tightened further. No one was wounded in the blast.

The alleged custodial killing of Mushtaq Ahmad Bhat, an activist of Muslim League, triggered massive protests at Khanyar in downtown Srinagar.

Shouting anti-Farooq Abdullah and pro-freedom slogans, thousands of residents joined the funeral of Bhat. Leaders of the separatist All-Party Hurriyat Conference also visited the area. The Hurriyat has called a strike to focus international attention on alleged human rights violations in Kashmir on Tuesday.


Calcutta, Jan. 21: 
The detection of a case of polio in Sarsuna on the southern fringes of Calcutta, along with three others in south Bengal, has set back the state, nation and global polio eradication drive.

The news comes at the close of a five-year pulse polio immunisation programme in which as many as 18 drives to immunise babies below five from Polio were taken countrywide.

�The detections, along with those in Bihar and UP, will necessitate a renewed drive,� said a senior official associated with the programme.

Though Sunday�s drive in the city was successful, there were pockets of resistance where families were against the administration of polio drops to their children.

One family in Metiabruz did not take their baby to the nearby booth, one of the 1,800 set up in the city, as the father did not believe in participating in government programmes.

Before Sunday�s drive, there were reports that some families in Rajabazar will not have their babies vaccinated as they feared it will result in sterility.

�There is no scientific basis to this belief,� said Dr D.K. Ghorai, head of the state�s family planning and welfare department which is in charge of the drive. �We have taken remedial measures and involved religious leaders so that all families are convinced of the necessity of taking the drops,� he added.

Thanks to some general practitioners and family physicians some families are also under the impression that the routine polio vaccination that their children receive from paediatric clinics is enough.

�It is enough for individual protection but not for eradication of the virus from the environment,� Ghorai said. �Routine vaccination does not prevent the child from harbouring the virus, which is transmitted through the faeco-oral route, two months after the child has received a dose.�

Ghorai pointed out that all the four new polio cases have occurred in families who had not participated in the drive.

The case in Sarsuna was detected in November when a two-year-old boy was found suffering from acute flacid paralysis, the main symptom of polio. Stool samples were then collected by the Institute of Serology and sent to the National Institute of Virology, Pune for typifying.

�The only good news for this locality was that the results showed the toddler had been infected with the P3 virus, which was less virulent than the P1 that has been detected in a village near Haldia and Bhagabanpur in Tamluk,� Ghorai said.

However, emergency measures were taken the moment the case was confirmed. Children in the surrounding localities were vaccinated, intensified awareness drives were taken up and check-up camps were held.

Sunday�s intensified pulse polio drive involved a huge work force in the city, including personnel from all 38 city police stations.

Doctors and medical students were despatched to areas where the threat of the wild polio virus was more.

�Each new case has to be reported to the National Polio Surveillance headquarters in New Delhi and WHO head offices in Geneva,� Ghorai said.


Patna, Jan. 21: 
In Bodyguard, Kevin Costner earns Whitney Houston�s everlasting love for protecting her million-dollar body. In Bihar, a bodyguard earns little and has to stand in for his �master� when the law catches up.

After Sadhu Yadav�s fracas with state transport secretary N.K. Sinha, the Bihar home department today suspended two of his bodyguards. Chief minister Rabri Devi, however, has not initiated any action against her brother. Sadhu allegedly stormed the government department with 14 of his associates.

There seems to be more action in the offing for politicians� securitymen. State secretary U.N. Panjiyar today said there was a strong need to review the behaviour of bodyguards in the wake of a series of complaints against them.

Many bodyguards � some of them also appointed from the Bihar Military Police � feel they have been hurled into a vortex of unlawful activity because of their masters� whims.

�Given a choice, we would not abide by our masters and prefer government orders. But we are told to treat our masters as government,� said Ramesh Gurung, a jawan of the military police crackforce and attached to a minister.

Acting, though, at the behest of the masters, the bodyguards are no angels. Two �black commandos� of Sadhu�s army had shoved senior IAS officers out of the secretary�s room while two others stood guard near the door, forcefully preventing officers from coming in and hurling choice abuses.

Horror stories about atrocities committed by politicians� strongmen are legion. In July last year, Dinanath Baitha, a driver, was illegally confined and assaulted in the house of Lalit Yadav, a minister.

The minister�s bodyguards subjected to third degree torture for more than a month, cutting out his nails. The minister and his men are absconding since the incident came to light.

In December, when RJD MP Anaural Haque had problems with policemen at Sitamarhi over the release of an undertrial, Haque�s bodyguards bashed up the cops allegedly at the behest of the MP. A warrant of arrest forced the MP to go underground, accompanied by his bodyguards.

The misdemeanour of the bodyguards have raised another question: whether allowing politicians with questionable reputations a posse of securitymen is not permitting further abuse of power.

In 1997, a CAG report on Bihar�s appointment of security guards indicted the state police for sanctioning guards to �unauthorised� persons. The CAG had shortlisted 46 self-styled VIPs, who, the report said, were not entitled to security.

The role of bodyguards in intimidating government officials figured in a heated discussion in the meeting of the IAS Association yesterday.

Personal bodyguards are a well-established security system now. The Special Branch Police in Bihar is entitled to provide security to top VIPs from the Bihar Military Police, while �ordinary� MLAs are allowed only two security guards. That�s where the personal bodyguards step in.

�Often state ministers or ruling party MLAs get their own henchmen �appointed� by the Special Branch and then get them requisitioned for their personal security,� a police official said. That way, the payment is made from the state exchequer.

�In most cases, the politicians don�t pay 50 per cent of the government salary to their bodyguards,� a police officer said.


New Delhi, Jan. 21: 
Multinationals are no longer going to have a free run on IIT campuses. IBM, the billion-dollar US powerhouse, has fallen in line after it was reprimanded by a section of the IIT Delhi faculty for short-changing the institute and its staff.

The IIT-IBM stand-off has taken the shine off the synergy project, first launched in IIT Delhi, between the corporate sector and the academia.

Another US-based company, United Technological Resource Centre, a branch of Pratt and Whitney, was planning to set up its own exclusive research and development centre on the campus. But the IIT authorities have turned down the proposal.

The tempo against exclusivity of multinational companies on the IIT campus is likely to gain momentum with the recent appointment of its new director R.S. Sirohi. In contrast with his predecessor V.S. Raju, the new director is not in favour of rolling out the red carpet to high-ranking multinational companies.

�He is completely indifferent to the presence of IBM on the campus,� says a senior faculty member of IIT Delhi. If he is to be believed, then IBM�s contract, which has a little over a year to go, will not be renewed.

Those who did not like Raju�s penchant for �doling out largesse� to multinationals see a saviour in Sirohi, who was handpicked from among a clutch of candidates primarily because of his commitment to �Indianise� the IIT and extricate it from the stranglehold of �western, commercial� values.

It was Raju who had launched the process of synergy between IIT and multinationals and had opened the door to the corporate sector to set up exclusive centres on IIT campuses.

The disaffection with the �arrogant� functioning of the IBM led to the setting up of a synergy committee which is reworking the terms of contract for multinational companies which want to collaborate with the IIT.

�IBM is already showing signs of reforming itself and working on more projects with faculties,� explains a faculty member. One of the main criticisms against the company was that it was extracting the best out of the IIT and not giving back enough.


New Delhi, Jan. 21: 
An effort to lay the foundation for transforming the entertainment business into an industry will get under way at an international conference in Mumbai.

The conference is being organised by the entertainment committee of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry on March 23-24. Amit Khanna, chairman of Reliance Entertainment and co-chairman of the entertainment committee, said: �The aim of the conference is to corporatise the entertainment industry even further and set international benchmarks.�

Consultant Arthur Andersen will present its updated report on the entertainment industry at the convention.

Ficci�s entertainment committee claims that its earnest lobbying with the government led to the entertainment business being given industry status under the IDBI Act. Without this legitimisation, paving the way for bank and financial institution loans, mere government declaration of industry status did not mean anything. The recent controversy over questionable film finances gives the convention�s focus on corporatising the industry extra sharpness.

Bobby Bedi, moviemaker and producer of films like Bandit Queen and convener of the forthcoming conference, said: �We are inviting investment bankers and insurance sector to interact with the industry.�

The committee is also planning to bring over international bigwigs in the movie and television business, especially those with some connection with the Indian industry.

Bedi said entertainment is a growth industry. Already, it turns over business worth Rs 6,000-7,000 crore with exports of Rs 500-600 crore. The entire exhibition industry is undergoing a dramatic change. Multiplex theatres are mushrooming. Bedi anticipates more than 100 new screens coming up across the country within this year.

He also expects a boom in small-budget films. The reason: The various TV channels have used up 50 years of stock and the demand for new content will shoot up.

The market has also expanded hugely because of the NRI audience. The tastes and demands of this burgeoning audience are also changing the nature of films and filmmaking. With the industry at a crucial stage, such a conference is expected lay out the roadmap for orderly growth.

The Ficci entertainment committee plans to make the conference an annual affair. It will formalise the platform with the title FRAMES, the acronym representing films, radio, audiovisual, music and events and shows.

At FRAMES 2001, to be held at Hotel Regent, there will be a session or two where VIPs will address a combined audience. But, for the most part, the conference will be broken up into small groups of 75 upwards for intense interaction.

Special meetings will be held to discuss DTH, FM radio broadcasts and other emerging issues. Market research will receive particular attention and well-known agencies will be invited to brief the audience on work being done abroad on content and viewership.


New Delhi, Jan. 21: 
The National Human Rights Commission today summoned the Bihar chief secretary and the director-general of police for the government�s failure to arrest a former minister who allegedly kidnapped a truck driver and tortured him.

In July 2000, a minister in the Rabri Devi government, Lalit Yadav � since dismissed and now absconding � and his accomplice Vijay Rai had confined a Dalit truck driver and subjected him to third-degree torture. His nails were pulled out and he was forced to drink urine.

The state government announced a compensation of Rs 50,000 to the driver, but has paid only Rs 12,500 so far. The government has promised to pay the remaining amount after the conviction order is passed by the lower court.


Bhopal, Jan. 21: 
Digvijay Singh is no longer willing to �spoonfeed� his people.

Yeh jo spoonfeeding ki aadat hum logon ne dal di hai logon mein, that needs to be thoroughly rectified. People blame the government for everything but will not improve matters themselves. Wherever I go, I see people living amid stench and overflowing garbage vats and reeking drains. They will abuse the government and the municipal corporation 30 times a day but will not clean up the place themselves,� the chief minister said.

Digvijay is brimming with ideas on showing the people how to �help themselves� instead of depending on the government. �By this we do not mean to shirk responsibility. It is an attempt to make people more responsible about themselves and their own lives. We have all along made the state very powerful when the power actually belongs to the people,� the chief minister said.

On Republic Day, Digvijay�s government will launch a fourth tier in the Panchayati Raj. Called the Gram Sabha, the panchayati unit will be set up in every village in Madhya Pradesh with its own governing body comprising each citizen-member of the hamlet. Madhya Pradesh calls the new scheme the Gram Swarajya where a hamlet will be empowered as a �politically, socially and economically more important entity than the panchayat�.

The system will be spread over the 70,000-odd villages of Madhya Pradesh. The Gram Sabha will be invested with a number of powers, including the removal of the government-employed village school teacher and anganwadi worker.

The Assembly unanimously passed the Gram Sabha Bill and Digvijay says he is certain the Governor will not refuse assent. The chief minister has designated all ministers and MLAs to go to every district and village individually to launch the Gram Sabha. �All last-minute formalities should be complete within the next three-four days,� he added.

Digvijay says the Gram Sabha is just the beginning of his plans of making Madhya Pradesh a state of �Lokniti� (people�s rule), pointing out at several other schemes.

In the pipeline is the Gram Nyayalay, a village court. Though the top brass still not clear about what exactly the court is all about, Digvijay is confident and says the Gram Nyayalay will be �lower than the magistrate�s court�.

From February 3, the chief minister will also embark on a �Pani Roko Abhiyan�. For four days, Digvijay and his officials will hop from village to village of the 155 drought-affected tehsils in Madhya Pradesh to combat the water crisis. The chief minister says that his government will attempt to make every village in his state able to tackle the water crisis.


Kultali (South 24-Parganas), Jan. 21: 
Two SUCI activists were hacked to death at Bererhat village by alleged CPM workers last night. The bodies, which also bore bullet marks, were recovered from an abandoned dispensary early this morning.

The SUCI has called a dawn-to-dusk bandh in the Kultali Assembly segment tomorrow in protest against the murder of Prafulla Baidya and his brother Provas. The party will observe a �protest day� on Wednesday.

Local SUCI workers put up road blocks in the morning demanding immediate arrest of the killers. The additional superintendent of police (rural), Sanjib Bose, rushed to the village with a large contingent of policemen to defuse the tension.

Bererhat village, about 70 km from Calcutta and 25 km from the local Kultali police station, is inhabited by farmers who cultivate on the banks of the river Moni.

A police official said Prafulla, 32, and Provas, five years younger, were resting after returning home from the fields when, around 5 pm, two local youths � Sunil Mondal and Swapan Naskar, both CPM activists � called them out of their house.

When the brothers did not show up till late night, their worried family members started searching for them. They contacted the local SUCI office for help. �We also joined them in the night-long search and ultimately found their bodies in an old and abandoned dispensary with multiple injuries,� said Ashoke Giri, SUCI leader of the Joynagar-Kultali belt.

Police said that both brothers may have been murdered by CPM activists to avenge the killing of nine of their cadre in November 1999, at Chowbhangi, allegedly by SUCI supporters.

�The names of the two Baidya brothers figured in the FIR lodged after the Chowbhangi massacre. Their father, Gopal, was also one of the accused persons who is now in jail,� said an official at Kultali police station.

The local SUCI MLA, Probodh Purakait, said: �Prafulla and Provas were killed because they were organising the local people against the CPM�s atrocities. There was no record against them. Now to give the murders a political colour and guard the CPM murderers, the police are cooking up a story. CPM cadre have unleashed a reign of terror here and the-ir main target is our party cadre.�

Samir Putatunda, district CPM secretary, denied that the party was involved in the killings. �Our party is not involved in this murder. The double murder is a sequel to an intra-party rivalry of the SUCI,� Putatunda said.

Residents blocked Priyar More on the main road off the village by placing a cycle-van in the centre with the bodies on it. They lifted the road block after the police assured them the culprits would be arrested at the earliest.

SUCI leader Swapan Bose said an FIR has been filed and the names of the suspects have been given to the police. �But we know that the murderers will not be arrested easily as they are being protected by the CPM,� he added.


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