Cong cracks, but survives exodus
Relative & right-hand walk out on Laloo
Atal opens floodgates of outrage against Taliban
Subhas stands by seat of power
Cleanup Bill for
Calcutta Weather

Calcutta, March 4: 
The expected split in the Bengal Congress took place today, but not on the scale the rebels had threatened.

A group of eight legislators and three AICC members led by Sougata Roy, deputy leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, broke away to join the Trinamul Congress with Mamata Banerjee making a dramatic appearance to welcome the newly-converted to her party.

All 22 MLAs who had signed a a letter to Congress president Sonia Gandhi seeking a mahajot were expected to cross over to Mamata�s side, but 14 of them appeared to have had second thoughts.

That is the only consolation for the Bengal Congress, which, after suffering a slow attrition from its ranks since Mamata left the party in 1997, was dealt the blow of an organised split with about eight weeks left for the elections.

With today�s break, the strength of the Congress in the Assembly stands at 44.

In Delhi, AICC secretary Anil Shastri described the development as �unfortunate�, but not unexpected.

Mamata arrived at the University Institute auditorium, the venue of the convention organised by Roy and his associates, around 1.30 pm and welcomed the leaders to her party, saying all the sitting legislators would be given Trinamul tickets. Only one, Debishankar Panda, will not contest since he is unwell.

The other MLAs who joined Trinamul are former Chhatra Parishad chief Tapas Roy, former Youth Congress president Paresh Pal, Anupam Sen, Tarak Banerjee, Sital Sardar and Shibdas Mukherjee. The three AICC members are Sukhendu Shekhar Roy, Samir Roy and Pranab Basu.

For Sougata Roy, the reunion was laced with heavy irony. When both of them were in the Congress, Roy was one of Mamata�s close advisers. But he did not leave the party with Mamata. Worse, he contested against Mamata in the 1998 Lok Sabha polls only to face bitter humiliation.

At an emotionally-charged function, bordering on pandemonium, Mamata attacked the Congress leadership for failing to forge a mahajot or grand alliance and accused it of acting in tandem with the CPM.

�While negotiating with me for a mahajot, the Congress leaders kept trying to persuade me to sever ties with a particular party (BJP). I now want to tell them to snap ties with the CPM and then everything will work out fine,� she said amid a roar of approval from the over-crowded auditorium.

Anil Shastri described the charge of having an understanding with the CPM as baseless. �We are committed to oust the CPM from power. We are ready to support Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee in this endeavour if she breaks her ties with BJP,� he said.

Talks between Bengal Congress president Pranab Mukherjee and Mamata ended in a deadlock on Friday night over her association with the BJP.

Sougata Roy, however, accused Mukherjee of never being sincere about working out an alliance. �He has always tried to prevent an alliance. It is clear to us that it is not possible to fight the CPM by remaining in the Congress,� said Sougata Roy.

With eight MLAs in her bag, Mamata would consider herself not entirely successful. Congress sources said MLAs like Ruby Noor and Abu Hasnat Chowdhury, sister and brother of Malda MP A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury, and Gautam Chakraborty from North Bengal decided to stay with the Congress as an alliance with the Trinamul would not help in that region.

�In north Bengal, Trinamul is weak and with Barkatda deciding not to join Mamata, it makes more sense for these Congress MLAs to fight on their own party ticket,� a Congress leader said.

Sources in Trinamul said south Bengal Congress MLAs beat a retreat after disagreement over seats. For instance, Daulat Ali asked for Diamond Harbour, but Mamata had some other candidate in mind.


Patna, March 4: 
Laloo Prasad Yadav, the master survivor of Indian politics, was last night marshalling his famed skills to survive a mutiny on his own ship.

Raising the spectre of a split, Rashtriya Janata Dal dissidents, led by Laloo�s erstwhile Man Friday Ranjan Yadav, today boycotted a �gram bachao, desh bachao� rally at the Gandhi Maidan here. In a menacing footnote, Sadhu Yadav, brother of Laloo�s wife and chief minister Rabri Devi, too, chose to cry off the rally.

Ranjan�s trouble-shooter and MP, Nagmoni, said the ministers and MLAs stayed away to extend indirect support to Ranjan, working president of the party. �We are soon going to launch an outfit,� he added.

Ranjan refrained from making any public statement. But sources said if Laloo failed to crush the rebellion fast, a breakaway outfit could be floated soon.

Ranjan is believed to have the backing of at least 45 MLAs, four Lok Sabha and 10 Rajya Sabha members. Laloo�s main worry is the BJP-led coalition which has offered support to any group that splinters from the RJD.

With 83 members in the 243-strong Assembly, the BJP alliance can prop up an alternative government if the dissidents manage to retain the 45 MLAs. The BJP had been waiting for an opportunity to mount an offensive ever since Laloo confounded pundits to stage a stunning comeback and snatch power from the jaws of defeat during the last election.

However, simmering discontent within Laloo�s camp burst out in the open three months ago when Ranjan was assaulted at a rally in Madhubani by alleged supporters of Bihar�s first family.

Ranjan is now said to be keen on splitting Laloo�s parliamentary party first and then enlist the support of the MLAs. Mohammad Shahabuddin, high-profile MP from Siwan, is among those on Ranjan�s side.

For Laloo, the only solace today came from the large turnout. �When people, who are my masters are with me, I am not bothered about anyone else. The uninterrupted reign of Laloo-Rabri is to continue despite the plots against us,� he said to thunderous applause.

Both Laloo and Rabri kept harping on people power. Rabri deviated from her prepared text to say: �Aap log sab ek ho jaiye (you people please be united).�

Laloo said it was his nightmare that Gandhi maidan would remain empty on a day he was to speak. �I salute you for the response.� Warning the BJP alliance, he added: �The Opposition should take lessons from the large number of people who attended the rally.�

Sources said Laloo might strike first and remove Ranjan from the post of working president.


March 4: 
Atal Bihari Vajpayee today lent his voice to the chorus of global condemnation against the Taliban, saying its edict to smash the soaring Buddha statues piece by piece was �uncouth� and deserving of contempt.

�This is not civilised culture. It is uncouth. The Taliban order deserves to be treated with contempt,� the Prime Minister said.

Vajpayee chose for his outburst a ceremony to dedicate the Ranjit Sagar dam to the nation. �It is named after Maharaja Ranjit Singh who had conquered both Tibet and Afghanistan. He had got Indians settled in both countries. I hope the time comes when those who have been displaced from the two countries are rehabilitated again,� he said.

Dubbing the destruction plan �senseless� and �an insult to all religions�, he continued: �Even Muslim nations have voiced their apprehension against it. From their act, the Taliban do not seem to be Muslims. We can only generate opinion against them.�

In line with Vajpayee�s appeal, leading industrial nations expressed dismay at the plan. �We strongly urge the Taliban leadership not to implement this deeply tragic decision,� the Group of Eight said after a meeting of its environment ministers.

But the fate of the statues remained unclear as conflicting reports streamed in from Kabul on whether their destruction had started or if the Taliban would reverse their decree.

�We have not begun destroying them yet, but we have prepared for it and that can take place any time,� a Taliban source said. But other officials said the demolition was under way.

There was no immediate way of confirming the fate of the statues because Bamiyan is about two days drive from Kabul and the Taliban were not allowing observers to go there.

However, a Pakistan-based news agency quoted Taliban foreign minister W.A. Muttawakil as telling a Unesco envoy that the decision was unlikely to be reversed.

Muttawakil made the statement after a meeting in Kandahar with Pierre Lafrance, who had come to make a last-minute appeal. �This is an issue of Shariah and a religious decree. To change that is beyond anyone�s power,� Muttawakil said.

The Taliban have ignored all calls to stop the destruction, saying it was part of their effort to create the purest Muslim state.

Iran, which has tense relations with Kabul, has asked the Taliban to spare the statues, saying they �belong to the history of the region�s civilisation�.


Calcutta, March 4: 
After raising speculation over his imminent departure from the CPM to fever-pitch, state transport minister Subhas Chakraborty today swore allegiance to the party.

He blamed the media for �continuously making up stories about his quitting the CPM�.

Chakraborty turned up at a party meeting at Barasat near Calcutta, surprising organisers who were not sure of his presence after he skipped a rally on Friday which Jyoti Basu attended.

Basu was present at today�s meeting, too, where Chakraborty grandly declared: �No power in the state would be able to dethrone the Left Front�.

His presence at the meeting stunned close associates who had been expecting announcement of his decision to leave the CPM.

Instead, Chakraborty proclaimed: �Once A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury (Congress leader) had threatened to throw the Left Front into the Bay of Bengal. Now, the Trinamul-BJP combine is trying its best to oust the Left Front. But I can tell you there is no power which can remove us.�

Chakraborty appeared at the meeting after reaching Calcutta this morning from Delhi.

Sources in the newly-formed Party for Democratic Socialism said they were not waiting for Chakraborty to join any more.

Saifuddin Chowdhury was in Delhi on Friday when Chakraborty was also there. But there was no meeting. �This indicates that Saifuddin has lost interest in Chakraborty,� said a party leader .


New Delhi, March 4: 
Pornography purveyors beware. For those peddling pornography either on television or on the Net, tough preventive laws are in the offing.

After Sushma Swaraj, her colleague, Sumitra Mahajan, is now bent on cleaning up the media. The government is planning to extend the ban on �indecent representation� of women in print to the electronic media and the Internet. It is also going to amend the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, passed more than a decade ago, to give it more teeth.

�The main aim is to widen the scope of the Act and its applicability so that it covers depiction of women as sexual objects or in humiliating servility to men in any kind of written, verbal or visual form,� recommends the note prepared by the Department of Women and Child Development.

The Act, once amended, will include �derogatory� in addition to �indecent� in its title. �The Act will be known as Derogatory and Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act. And this will expand its area of jurisdiction,� said a government official. There is already a code for commercial advertisements that covers both indecent and derogatory depiction of women.

The Act bans indecent representation of women in any form of advertisement that appears in �any notice, circular, label, wrapper or other document�.

It also includes �any visible representation made by means of light, sound, smoke or gas�. The amendment will expand the scope of the Act by adding to the clause �laser light, fibre optic, electronic or other media�.

Officials in the department, however, are quick to make a distinction between their policy and that of information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj, who has been issuing one cultural fiat after another to �cleanse� the electronic media of �pernicious� Western influence.

�We do not think coercion is a solution and would like to build public opinion in the matter,� stressed an official.

The children and women�s department proposes to empower through the amendment certain non-governmental organisations working on women to file complaints on cases of �indecent� and �derogatory� representation of women. This will create a kind of public jury of non-governmental organisations which can bring to the notice of the government acts of violation. Now, only a gazetted officer can act against the guilty.

The punishment will change significantly in the amended Act. The fine in the case of first-time violation will shoot up from Rs 2,000 to 10,000 and for the second time from Rs 10,000 to 50,000. The maximum penalty will go up from Rs 1 lakh to 5 lakh.

The amendments were suggested by the National Law School, University of Bangalore, and the National Commission for Women. According to department officials, the matter will soon be discussed by the Cabinet. The amendments were finalised at a meeting attended by officials of the department, ministries of information and broadcasting and law.

In its note on the need for amending the Act, the department has underlined a jump in incidents of crime against women, put out by the National Crime Records Bureau.




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Partly cloudy sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 20�C.
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Sunset: 5.37 pm

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