Culture cops stall beauty pageant
Minister frowns on Citu leader for �making faces
US dinner goes cold as guests keep away
Survivors turn samaritans after trial by tremor
Govt unveils industry rehab plan
Congress sleight comes full circle
Curtains up on master masquerade in Bihar jail
Subhas stalls for time on CPM ticket bait
BJP plays migrant card
Naxalite groups in war of words

Chinsurah, Feb. 25: 
The CPM�s student and youth wings stormed into Uttarpara Gana Bhavan today where a beauty contest for boys and girls was being held and forced the organisers and participants to leave.

Several cultural organisations held demonstrations in front of the auditorium against the decadent culture of beauty contests.

Hooghly superintendent of police N. Ramesh Babu said the organisers did not obtain police permission for the beauty contest. He asked the officer-in-charge of Uttarpara police station to submit an inquiry report.

According to police sources, a criminal case is pending against one of the organisers. �Two unknown organisations of ill-repute have organised this ugly Banga Sundar and Banga Sundari contest with the intention of making adolescent girls accustomed to strip-tease,� said a spokesman of the DYFI. An SFI spokesman in Uttarpara said the organisers also promised them roles in movies.

The organisers sold tickets at Rs 10 and charged the more than 100 participants an entry fee of Rs 50 each. One of the organisers, however, said they had obtained permission from the local municipality to hold the contest in the municipality�s auditorium.


Durgapur, Feb. 25: 
With Assembly elections knocking on the door, the CPM�s internal bickerings in the industrial belt came to the surface today as state power minister Mrinal Banerjee publicly reprimanded WBIDC director and Citu leader Benoy Krishna Chakraborty.

Banerjee was annoyed with Chakraborty for �making faces� at him, while he was addressing a gathering at the foundation stone-laying ceremony of a Rs 1.25-crore science and energy park at the city centre today.

When the minister was criticising the Centre�s policy on disinvestment that, he said, might lead to the closure of Mining Allied Machinery Corporation (MAMC) and Bharat Opthalmic Glass Limited (BOGL), he caught Chakraborty, who was seated in the front row, making faces at him.

Banerjee reacted immediately, saying: �Don�t behave that way. It won�t help.� The minister cut short his speech and asked MLA Debabrata Banerjee, who was seated next to Chakraborty: �Why are such characters allowed to sit in the front row? He has been expressing displeasure from the moment I began my speech.�

The drama did not end there. Mayor of Durgapur Municipal Corporation (DMC) Rathin Roy also took strong exception to Chakraborty�s behaviour. Roy said: �It is a pity that some people will never appreciate good work. Certain people will always create disturbances.�

DMC is a partner in the park joint venture. The Asansol Durgapur Development Authority and the state science and technology department are the other two partners.

Chakraborty later told reporters: �I do not understand what provoked the minister. I only expressed my disapproval when the minister was declaring that both BOGL and MAMC have been closed. This is not the truth.�

According to Chakraborty, Calcutta High Court in a verdict on February 13 had given the government three months to submit a revival package for MAMC. If a state minister publicly announces that the factory has been closed, it might create confusion among employees, he said.

Today�s incident once again established the factionalism that has emerged among the senior leaders of the CPM in Durgapur. Many consider it a bad omen for the party before the elections.

Sources said Chakraborty, who claims to be close to former chief minister Jyoti Basu, is a contender for the Durgapur II Assembly seat. Banerjee represents the Durgapur I Assembly constituency.


Washington, Feb. 25: 
India�s maiden effort to reach out to mainstream America after the change of guard at the White House received a severe rebuff yesterday with 34 of 52 US governors staying away from a dinner hosted by Naresh Chandra, the Indian ambassador in Washington.

Only 18 governors attended the dinner, which was to have been Chandra�s swansong in Washington and a highlight of his nearly five-year stay here. Chandra returns to India next week.

High expectations had been raised in recent weeks over the innovative idea of America�s powerful governors being hosted at the Indian embassy residence in a forceful demonstration that Indo-US bonhomie was not confined to Washington and that it had come to stay across America�s vast hinterland.

With 29 Republican governors, 19 Democrats and a sprinkling of independents coming under the Indian roof here, it was also seen as an opportunity to garner support for India cutting across party lines in the US.

The governors meeting here for the first time after George W. Bush became president are seeking bi-partisan support on crucial issues facing the new administration, such as health care, education, tax cuts and welfare reform. Their meeting is the US equivalent of the conference of chief ministers periodically held in Delhi.

As such, high attendance at yesterday�s event would have provided a window of opportunity for India to get rare insights into Washington�s new thinking. However, it was an opportunity that was lost because of shoddy planning by the Indian embassy here in recent weeks.

The pioneering effort to bond America�s governors with India could have been salvaged, sources at the embassy said, if lieutenant-governors who are also here for the meeting had been invited for last night�s event.

But in the embassy�s wisdom, they were left out of the dinner.

Several of these lieutenant-governors are expected to succeed incumbent governors when elections are held in some key states shortly.

Besides, 15 former governors are now members of the Senate and one is a member of the House of Representatives and thereby part of an extended governor�s brotherhood spilling over to Capitol Hill.

They were also not invited for the event thus missing an opportunity to extend Indian lobbying further on Capitol Hill.

Sources here said former governors now serving on Capitol Hill had been invited to all events here connected with the governors conference barring the Indian dinner.

A prominent absentee at last night�s event was Jeb Bush, the governor of Florida and the Prince of Wales of the ruling Bush dynasty.

Another noted absentee was Maryland�s lieutenant governor, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, eldest child of Robert Kennedy and heir to the Kennedy clan�s political mantle. A press release by the National Governor�s Association (NGA) said 52 governors were attending the four-day meeting which was opened by the association�s chairman and Maryland governor, Parris N. Glendening. These include governors of 50 US states and the territories of American Samoa, Guam, the Virgin Islands, Northern Mariana Islands and Puerto Rico.

Even more galling for the Indian embassy than the poor attendance at Chandra�s dinner was that the NGA pointedly avoided any mention of last night�s event in their publicity effort for the conference.

There was no mention of it in NGA�s press releases; nor did it feature till the time of writing in the photo gallery for the conference at the association�s web site.

Even meetings between the governors and a Pulitzer-prize-winning Pennsylvania journalist was mentioned by NGA, though not the Indian dinner.

There was some saving grace, though, for the Indian officials. Angus S. King, the second term governor of Maine and his wife Mary, brought along for the dinner photographs of their daughter whom the couple had adopted from Gujarat.

Although the adoption had taken place quite some time ago, there was a lot of interest in the child, Molly, since Gujarat had been the focus of attention here because of the January quake.

Another saving grace was that two Bush cabinet members attended the dinner, Gale Norton, interior secretary and Tommy Thompson, health secretary. Thompson is himself a former governor of Wisconsin.


Ahmedabad, Feb. 25: 
Krishna, a waiter at Ahmedabad�s Hotel President, says it doesn�t matter when the �rich paupers� the quake has left don�t give any tip. The few occasions when a firangi guest is generous, Krishna makes it a point to share the spoils with his less well-off elder brother Shyam, who pulls a rickshaw in the crowded bylanes of old Ahmedabad. �Laalach se kuch nahi milta, sab kuch mil-baat ke khana chahiye,� Krishna says.

He also says he doesn�t remember being �this way� before.

A survey conducted by an NGO states that post earthquake, an amazing 91 per cent of the Ahmedabadis have gone through a behavioural change that they say �surprises themselves�.

The survey by Taleem Research Foundation says �a first hand and devastating experience of the quake� has made the survivors more compassionate, friendly and generous. It has also left people less cynical and xenophobic.

The random survey conducted on around 100 men and women reveals that 66 per cent of the people here have started feeling more for others. While 91 per cent said that their familial and social ties had become �much closer�, 65 per cent reported being offered help from �friends and others�. More than half of those surveyed said they had become more religious and were more prone to visiting temples and prayer sessions.

Yogendra Rathod, an employee at the Megabyte Commercial Centre, says he doesn�t understand much about surveys, but adds: �It is the natural reaction to an unnatural situation.� People have learnt, he says, to live for others.

The police records confirm the change. The city police control room says it has seen a �drastic� decrease in the cases of street brawls and drunken fights. There are also markedly fewer cases of family feuds these days.

�In the last one month or so, even in the slums, where free availability of country liquor results in many fights, there has been virtually no cases of wife beating,� says M. Jani, a police PRO.

Relieved traffic policemen maintain that they have booked very few people for rash driving in the last few weeks and add that drivers these days don�t seem to be in a tearing hurry. There�s less of screeching cars jumping traffic lights.

Abdul Bademian, who runs a chai ka galla at the busy C.G. Road, agrees with the traffic cops. �Aaj kaal shor sharaba bahut kaam ho gaya hai,� he says, adding that drivers avoid heated confrontations even when their cars or scooters are hit by others. �The earthquake has made people more peaceful and less violent,� Bademian says, adding slyly that he too has stopped screaming at his two young helpers.

The phenomena is more pronounced in areas that have borne the brunt of the tremors, says Wilfred D�Costa, an activist with Insaf, an NGO. �It is amazing how those who have lost everything are reacting in such a generous and kind manner,� D�Costa says. �Media reports of hoarding and looting by villagers were actually slightly exaggerated.�

The change has not escaped outsiders as well. The cruelty of the earthquake was in such a sharp contrast to the kindness of the people that it could not be missed, says Pranav Gupte, a Pune-based student who came to Bhachau to lend a hand in relief work. �One lingering image will always remain etched in my mind,� Gupte said. �I will never forget a man called Yusuf Patel who went out of his hurriedly-erected shed in Bhachau so that his neighbour�s wife could sleep with his family. Later I heard that Yusuf, a TB patient, had died of fever two days later because he slept in the open. The minimum temperature had touched six degrees.�

As Bademian says: �The earthquake might have made the place smaller, but every human being has grown much bigger.�


Ahmedabad, Feb. 25: 
The Gujarat government today announced a �comprehensive package� for the rehabilitation of industrial units damaged in quake.

Industry minister Suresh Mehta told a press conference that according to a survey, 3,276 small and medium units in Kutch and Saurashtra suffered damage worth Rs 310.44 crore. Production loss suffered by the units stood at Rs 2,100 crore.

Reiterating the state government�s commitment to revive the economy in the affected areas by setting up small, medium and cottage industries, Mehta said industrial units falling in quake zones 4 and 5 and those damaged will get assistance from the government.

For the repair of damaged buildings, plants and machinery, an assistance of Rs 60 lakh will be paid, out of which 60 per cent will be for new investment. Depending on the units� requirements, loan assistance of Rs 20 lakh will be offered for two years. Besides, for a year instead of a minimum electricity bill, charges will be recovered on the basis of actual power consumption.

The industry minister said artisans engaged in weaving and other handicrafts in Kutch district will get a tool kit and an assistance of up to Rs 10,000. To set up temporary workshops, 5000 artisans will get an assistance of up to Rs 5,000.

The state government has also approved the creation of a revolving fund of Rs 15 crore for the rehabilitation of the cottage industry.

Plans are afoot to establish handloom-handicraft parks and permanent workshops for artisans whose houses and workshops were destroyed.


New Delhi, Feb. 25: 
After dithering for a couple of days, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Rajnath Singh today declared in Lucknow that he will contest the Assembly elections from Haidergarh � the seat vacated for him by Congress MLA Surendranath �Puttu� Awasthi.

The decision, which has been okayed by the BJP top brass, including Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, is being seen in political circles as a comeuppance to the Congress for what it did in Chhattisgarh, where chief minister Ajit Jogi fought the Assembly polls from a seat given up by a BJP legislator.

Agencies, however, quoted Rajnath as denying the Opposition charge that he had a �secret deal� with Awasthi, who has quit from the primary membership of the Congress.

Rajnath claimed Awasthi had resigned on �his own� and had �not bargained for anything in return�.

However, in the state, Awasthi�s step is being seen as more than a tit-for-tat and as having wider political ramifications.

�It could be a prelude to another split in the Congress,� said BJP sources, adding that at least seven more MLAs were �in touch� with state leaders.

With Awasthi�s resignation, the strength of the Congress in the Assembly has gone down to 14 MLAs, which means the BJP needs just five legislators for a one-third split.

Akhilesh Singh, the Rae Bareli MLA and former Satish Sharma crony and Amaar Rizvi are �negotiating� with the BJP, though not necessarily for a state Cabinet berth.

Rizvi, for instance, has indicated that he is willing to settle for an envoy�s job in an Islamic country.

But BJP sources said immediate gains are not the only consideration at work for the Congress defectors.

Their cementing factor is that they are all prot�g�s of Jitendra Prasada, the only AICC functionary to have challenged the �family� by contesting Sonia Gandhi for the top party post.

�They have realised that they will not get a ticket in the Assembly elections because they are marked out as disloyal and even if they do, they will lose either because of inner-party sabotage or the Congress� dismal position,� said the sources.

With Assembly elections put off till March 2002, these MLAs preferred to be �gainfully employed� or hope to get a ticket from the BJP or its allies.

If Rajnath manages to effect another Congress split, BJP sources said he would confirm his skills as a strategist more than a leader with a mass base.

That his mass base was thin was proved by the outcome of the recent bypolls where the BJP just about managed to retain one seat among the three.

Within the state BJP unit, there are murmurs about why he had to opt for a Congress-vacated seat when there were 80 MLAs, who were willing to resign for him.


Patna, Feb. 25: 
His face is craggy; the skin broken. As he looks away, the wrinkles on his forehead change the contours of his face. But whatever Ravishankar Pandey does, he doesn�t look like his master.

Pandey is undergoing a term in Beur jail impersonating his employer, who is accused in a criminal case by the CBI.

�Even in the jail I am my master�s servant. What is the difference whether I am in jail or outside? My family is being taken care of,� says Pandey, found masquerading as Hariprasad Bewaria, a Calcutta-based pesticide dealer.

Bewaria was charged with forgery and criminal conspiracy by the CBI. Supposed to surrender before a court in Patna on September 22 last year, he sent his servant Pandey as his proxy to the court of special judicial magistrate Md Quayum Khan.

Since there is no procedure to verify an accused at the time of surrender, Pandey was taken into custody. Since then, he has been in jail.

The CBI has registered a fresh case now against both Bewaria and Pandey for impersonation, misleading the court and conspiracy.

Pandey at first does not understand what offence he or his master has committed. A resident of Chapra, the farmer who migrated to Calcutta, defends his master instead.

Kya galti ki mera malik ne? Hum ko paisa dete hai ki nahin? (What offence has my employer committed? Does he not pay me?)� he demands.

But he falls silent when told that he would now have to undergo another term and allows an expression of condescension to settle on his face over the complicated turn that the case was going to take.

�I think the only way left for my master is to swallow some of the pesticide he deals in and end his life. I know he would not be able to tolerate this. He is so nervous about jail that his legs start swelling at the mention of the word. He suffers from hypertension.�

The hiring of a poverty-stricken man to serve another person�s jail term has caused an uproar in the CBI.

In a replay of 1990 incident in Calcutta�s Alipore Central Jail, where at least five undertrials charged with petty offences were found to be standing in for rich people, Pandey�s case in Bihar has prompted the state jail authorities to sit up and order a probe into all the prisons.

Bewaria�s fraud came to light in Beur jail when Pandey unmindfully signed some papers as R.S. Pandey and not as his employer on a routine production in court. The CBI prosecutor drew the attention of the court to the incident and was asked by the court to carry out an investigation.

A report submitted to the court confirmed that the person who had surrendered in the court was not Bewaria but a proxy. The CBI has now launched a manhunt in Calcutta for the original accused.

During the CBI interrogation, Pandey said he was being paid Rs 8,000 per month in exchange for the service he was offering to his master.

�I used to get Rs 5,000 from my master. When he gave me the proposal for serving a jail term he said he would increase my salary from Rs 5,000 to Rs 8,000. To run a large family, Rs 3,000 more is a God-sent,� says Pandey.

�You know how difficult it is to get a job. I had lost my land in Chapra paying debts. I was ready to do anything for a decent salary,� he added.

But his dream of putting the smiles back on the faces of his children, wife and old parents might fade soon.

He would face the charge of impersonation and wilful misleading of the court. If he confesses, he may be convicted immediately and sent to jail, this time for a term between six months to one year.

And he doesn�t know whether he will still be paid.


Calcutta, Feb. 25: 
The CPM has nominated transport minister Subhas Chakraborty from Belgachia East and accommodated six of his nominees in the list of candidates announced by the party today.

The leadership is, however, not sure of retaining him.

That the Subhas camp is not comfortable is evident from the manner in which Chakraborty reacted immediately after the candidates� list was announced.

�I believe as a party soldier I have to go by the candidates� list, regardless of whether I like it or not. But I must hasten to say that I will take my decision on entering the fray in a day or two,� he told newspersons.

The party has also nominated two state secretariat members � Nirupam Sen and Shyamal Chakraborty � who are expected to be inducted in the Cabinet if the Left Front returns to power.

The party has only three secretariat members in the Cabinet � Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Surya Kanta Mishra and Mohammed Amin. As such, the leadership intends to induct more key functionaries into the Cabinet.

�With both Jyoti Basu and Shanti Ghatak opting out of the fray this time, we intend to bring in more key party functionaries into the Cabinet. This will help in effective governance as well as better co-ordination with the party,� observed CPM politburo member Sailen Dasgupta.

In South 24 Parganas, where district secretary Samir Putatunda quit the party to join Saifuddin Chowdhury�s new outfit, the CPM has nominated seven Putatunda-loyalists, including Rishi Halder and Rathin Sarkar in an obvious move to rope them in.

In Nadia, the CPM has nominated noted athlete Jyotirmoyee Sikdar for the Ranaghat West Assembly seat in a bid to wrest it from the Congress.

Former Lok Sabha member Asim Bala, who lost to BJP nominee Satyabrata Mukherjee in the last polls, has been given a ticket for the Ranaghat East constituency.

In Calcutta, the CPM-led Left Front has re-nominated some old guards. These include a Rajya Sabha member and two sitting councillors.

Two Front councillors �Sudhanshu Sil and Chanchal Ghosh � have been nominated for Jorabagan and Sealdah Assembly segments respectively.

The Front has also re-nominated city-based businessman Satyanarayan Bajaj for the Josanko Assembly seat. Bajaj lost the seat last time as a Forward Bloc candidate.


Guwahati, Feb. 25: 
The BJP today appealed to the people of Assam to exercise their franchise against parties �dependent on votes of illegal migrants�.

The party claimed that illegal migrants from Bangladesh had attained the status of voters in many constituencies thereby affecting the socio-political scenario.

�The BJP is committed not to let Assam become another Kashmir,� party spokesman Narendra Modi told reporters while briefing on the resolutions adopted at the two-day meeting of BJP Central office-bearers which concluded here today.

The leaders, however, stressed on distinguishing between illegal infiltrators and refugees ostensibly to play the �Hindu card� while reiterating the demand for repeal of the Illegal Migrants� (Determination by Tribunals) Act.

Modi said a final poll strategy for the Assembly elections in five states, including Assam, would be decided at a high-level meeting in New Delhi on March 6 to 7.

Terming the AGP-led alliance government in the state as �inefficient�, the meeting concluded that much more needed to be done to tackle the law and order problems in the state seriously.

The BJP spokesman said the party would urge the Election Commission to take special security measures in Assam and West Bengal to ensure free and fair polls in view of the prevailing law and order situation in the two states.

A resolution adopted by the meeting alleged that the state government did not properly utilise, and on occasions, failed to make use of Central funds leading to lack of development.

The party also kicked off its election campaign in Assam by holding a public rally today at Nalbari, considered an AGP stronghold.

Addressing the meeting, BJP national president Bangaru Laxman appealed to the people to give their mandate for �an efficient and effective� government while keeping in mind the peculiar problems of the state.

The BJP leaders also directed all state units in Assam, West Ben gal, Kerala, Pondicherry and Tamil Nadu, which are going to polls in April-May, to prepare their manifestos to be approved by the central committee by second week of March.

Modi said the BJP would be fighting the Assembly polls in West Bengal under the leadership of Mamata Banerjee.

�Our priority is to dethrone the Communist government which has let loose a reign of terror,� Modi said.

He alleged that the Tripura government was yet to initiate any action into the incident of killing of four Rastriya Swayamsewak Sangha activists.

The senior BJP leader claimed that his party would not only be able to open its account in Kerala this time but would also play a decisive factor.

�In Pondicherry, which has been ruled by the Congress all along, our party would be able to become a partner in power,� Modi added.


Berhampur, Feb. 25: 
The neo-Naxalites of the People�s War Group (PWG) in south Orissa and Andhra Pradesh are out to tarnish the image of former Naxalite leader Nagbhusan Patnaik, a founding member of the Naxalite movement in India.

The barrage of allegations against the Naxalite legend has been started by a breakaway PWG group led by Sabyasachi Panda. He and his dalam have launched the slander campaign by issuing pamphlets and statements by Naxalite leaders.

According to CPI-ML (Liberation) leader Dandapani Mohanty, who was close to Patnaik, the neo-Naxalites� campaign is aimed at the CPI-ML (Liberation)�s activities in south Orissa. The outfit has been trying to expand its base among the tribals in the area by establishing its links with Patnaik.

Patnaik had preferred to work for the CPI-ML (Liberation) after getting pardon from his death sentence. He used to stay at his home town Gunupur in Rayagada district.

As a member of the CPI-ML (Liberation), Sabyasachi had also been Patnaik�s associate once, but had later parted ways. The Sabyasachi group has alleged that Patnaik, in his later days, left the path of revolution and opposed the doctrines of Charu Majumdar.

They said he had tried to win political gains from the dispute between members of the Reli caste and the Saura tribals, as a result of which the Sauras had attacked his home.

They also alleged that Patnaik, after being pardoned from a death sentence, had used the gullible tribals for his practice as a lawyer in the name of false agitation.

The group also alleged that the CPI-ML (Liberation) was trying to encash on Patnaik�s image to gain ground among the tribals in south Orissa even though he had left the Naxalite movement.

Countering the allegations, the CPI-ML (Liberation) claimed that Sabyasachi had been expelled from the outfit in 1994, while Patnaik was alive, because of his violent, anti-party and anti-people activities.

Dandapani, who had brought Sabyasachi close to Nagbhusan in the past, alleged that Sabyasachi and his followers were now promoting terrorism in south Orissa and had no ideological background.

Sabyasachi and his groups� activity is on the rise in south Orissa. They have claimed responsibility for the recent murders of SUCI leader Biswanath Madhi in Malkangiri district, BJP leader Madhav Sabar in Rayagada district and the murder of BJD activists in Rayagada district. Sabyasachi has shoot-at-sight order against him, police sources said.

The CPI-ML (Liberation) alleged that the attack on Patnaik�s house at Gunupur had been motivated by the PWG and that it was Sabyasachi who was trying to gain cheap publicity by using the tribals against the Scheduled Caste Pana community in south Orissa.

The situation has become so tense that CPI-ML (Liberation) state secretary Khitish Biswal had to print a booklet, answering the allegations raised by Sabyasachi and his Dalam.

In his booklet, Biswal said Patnaik, after being released from jail, had preferred to work with the CPI-ML (Liberation) to motivate the masses for a future revolution when he found the Naxalite movement in the doldrums divided in many factions.

Intelligence sources said the entire tussle was related to expansion of support base among the tribals in south Orissa.

The Sabyasachi group is trying to expand its support base in the remote areas of south Orissa where the CPI-ML (Liberation) has a considerable following.

Moreover, some of Sabyasachi�s past associates had parted ways with him to form a new tribal organisation, the Lok Sangram Manch.

The manch allied with the CPI-ML (Liberation) in organising the tribals in south Orissa. One of their major weapons in organising the tribals is Patnaik�s legacy.

Sabyasachi is trying to counter this through allegations against Patnaik and the CPI-ML (Liberation) leaders.

Some of the leaders of the CPI-ML (Liberation) and the manch have also received death threats from the Sabyasachi group.


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