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After repeated denials, Aggarwal revealed he had a two-hour meeting with Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Yadav in New Delhi where he discussed the possibility of an alliance for the coming Assembly elections.
In an interview to two TV channels in Delhi, Mulayam, too, held that he met Aggarwal and discussed �possibilities�, though nothing was certain as of now. �Every time Naresh Aggarwal comes to Delhi, he meets me. It is nothing new,� Mulayam said, adding that their association goes back 20 years.
Though chief minister Rajnath Singh has steadied his rocking chair, what has sent the BJP into a tizzy is Mulayam�s statement that 27 ministers from the party are in constant touch with him and have offered to fight the polls on the Samajwadi Party symbol.
Mulayam, who refused to categorically state if Aggarwal or the 27 BJP ministers would enter into a deal, said: �Let them first resign from their posts and come with a letter pledging support to us. Then we will see.�
But with most of the Loktantra Congress Party�s 19 ministers abandoning Aggarwal � 16 of them today replaced him as leader of the legislature group � it remains to be seen if his �alliance� with Mulayam will eventually materialise. After minor differences over the choice of a successor, the 16 LCP legislators named Shyam Sunder Sharma the next party president. A decision on expelling Aggarwal will be taken shortly, the MLAs added.
Not to be outdone, Aggarwal promptly announced he would tie up with the Samajwadi Party to �wipe out the BJP�. He also dangled the bait of Samajwadi tickets before his ministers, saying the poll prospects of the party are far better than that of the BJP. The axed minister made an abortive attempt at reinforcing his position as head of the LCP by bulldozing his way into the party office in the morning. His plan, however, failed as the rest of the ministers simply shifted the venue of the emergency meeting.
In a clear sign that his days of glory are over, only one of his ministers came to receive him at the airport here when Aggarwal returned from Delhi. Though his three lieutenants � Bacchu Pathak, Vinay Pandey and Vikramajit Maurya � have not categorically said they are not with their leader, they have indicated they would �fulfil their ministerial responsibilities� and not relinquish their chairs.
Rajnath himself has taken charge of the power ministry. Staff at the ministry headquarters were seen distributing sweets to celebrate their �moment of triumph�.
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So did six others. When most people in Bhubaneswar were busy taking their lunch yesterday, these retrenched teachers were setting in motion their plan to set themselves afire. Badly charred, they are now battling for life.
The manner in which the seven people poured petrol on the floor and on one another before lighting the matchstick inside the Orissa Speaker�s residence has underlined the desperation that engulfs these teachers and 40,000 others who were laid off in March 31 after the Central scheme of providing non-formal education was withdrawn.
While self-immolation seemed to be the last-gasp attempt to draw attention, Roul and the others had an example before them. In 1999, an unemployed B.Ed-trained youth had set himself on fire in front of the residence of the then school minister. The incident had created ripples for a few days. But the government had maintained its finances were in the doldrums and it couldn�t employ any more teachers.
Observers punched a hole in the state�s claim by pointing out that the state has doled out Rs 1.5 crore for buying laptops for legislators.
The non-formal teachers were spreading universal primary education among the deprived and school dropouts and had taken their campaign to the remotest areas. �Would any government school teacher like to teach in the far-flung villages of Malknagiri and Mayurbhanj?� asked a non-formal teacher.
From April, it has been a battle against heavy odds for these teachers. While they were just about managing their lives with the monthly salary of about Rs 200, the decision to close the scheme was a bolt from the blue.
Hundreds of laid-off teachers from across the state gathered in Bhubaneswar in April to make the government see reason. They met several politicians, including the education minister, MLAs and the Speaker. After continuous protests, these teachers were assured by the education minister that though he was �helpless�, he would give them priority while filling up vacancies in the Education Guarantee and Alternative Innovative Education schemes, introduced in July in place of the non-formal education project.
The teachers distributed laddoos to celebrate the announcement. But when the actual announcement came, there was no priority for these hapless teachers. �We had no choice. We thought death was better. At least our families would get some compensation after our deaths,� reasoned Niranjan Bhoi, one of the teachers who attempted self-immolation. He is now recuperating in hospital.
Seven leaders of the All-Orissa Non-formal Teachers� Federation have been arrested on charges of abetting suicide attempt.
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Manmohan Sharma, executive director of the Voluntary Health Association of Punjab � co-organisers of the gathering � said the need for the convention arose after the Akal Takht on April 18 reaffirmed the Sikh code of conduct to excommunicate those who aborted female foetuses.
�This is just the beginning. We chose this district because the female count here is the lowest in the country. We intend to hold such conventions all across the state and in the country in the future,� Sharma said.
According to the latest census, the female ratio in the district is 754 to 1,000 and, district officials say, the figure is plummeting further because of mushrooming ultrasonography clinics in the region. In some pockets, it is as low as 500.
Anandpur Sahib jathedar Manjit Singh, who spoke at the gathering, said it was a shame that in the land which gave birth to Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh, people were getting away with the crime. �All Sikh gurus preached against the killing of females. In fact, the Sikh code of conduct categorically states that people should sever all relationship with those who practised female foeticide...� Singh said.
Fatehgarh Sahib is also famous for the martyrdom of Guru Gobind Singh�s two sons, Zorawar Singh (9) and Fateh Singh (7). The two were suffocated to death on December 28, 1704, on the orders of Nawab Wazir Khan.
The convention decided that the granthis should educate the masses about the social effects of female foeticide. Meera Shiva, one of the speakers who came from New Delhi, said if the menace was not checked in time it would lead to social upheavals.
�We are seeking the help of everyone to control the evil. Preachings by religious leaders alone will not help. We need the help of doctors, lawyers, social workers and anyone who believes that female foeticide is an evil. The alarming statistics from this holy city have proved that the practice is not relegated to urban areas. It is practised as vehemently in the rural hinterland as well,� Shiva said.
Manjit Singh, who has been involved in the battle since the last census exposed the fast declining number of girls in the zero-to-six age group, said the next conventions in Amritsar or Anandpur Sahib would try to rope in doctors, lawyers, women�s bodies and even ordinary citizens.
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But this is 2001. Manmohan is on the other side of the fence. And he is ready to mobilise support within and outside Parliament against the Coal Mines Amendment Bill the Vajpayee government is planning to bring.
A delegation of Intuc, which claims the support of 400,000 coal workers, met virtually the entire top leadership of the Congress to protest against the Bill which will allow investment by private coal companies in barren areas.
The delegation met Congress president Sonia Gandhi, deputy leader of the Lok Sabha Madhavrao Scindia, chief whip Priya Ranjan Das Munshi and Manmohan, the man who had initiated the culture of privatisation.
The strategy is clear: stall the Bill in both Houses of Parliament and activate the entire Congress leadership on the issue. �Manmohan Singh was totally convinced of what we are saying and he has assured us that he will oppose the Bill when it comes before Parliament,� said Intuc secretary Chandidas Sinha.
Sonia Gandhi, too, was convinced like Manmohan. After taking charge of the party, she has been critical of the liberalisation policies set in motion by the Narasimha Rao government � policies that cost the Congress its government at the Centre and a series of electoral debacles in the states.
Intuc has the support of all other trade unions against the Bill. �Nationalised coal companies are already under threat with the rising volume of coal imports. And if this Bill comes into effect it will only put at risk the livelihood of 6.2 lakh workers,� Sinha said.
He pointed out that the Bill was biased against public sector coal companies which are into the funds-guzzling �deep mining�.
The delegation reminded the Congress leadership that it was Indira Gandhi who had nationalised the coal industry in the early seventies.
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The first casualty was executive director Tapas Datta whose service the CSE board terminated today. �The decision was taken at the board meeting today after considering Sebi�s inspection report and Datta�s explanations. The board and Sebi are of the view that there was lack of action on his part,� Dipankar Basu, who is the chairman of the CSE management panel, said. He indicated that action may be taken against other exchange officials as well.
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