Somen rules out change
Student pays with life for love
Private guide for hospital fees
Guard molests Sagar pilgrims
Minister blasts hole in Dutch attack claim
Congress slogan spree to end sanyas
BJP, Samajwadi size up future allies
VHP push for politician Dara
Groom tastes bride’s agony
Surjeet lobs retirement ball in God’s court

Calcutta, Jan. 15: 
After spending one-and-a-half months in Delhi’s Escort hospital, where he underwent a heart bypass surgery, former state Congress president Somen Mitra today returned to the city to a tumultuous reception as well as sniping from political adversaries.

The reception, comprising rallies, meetings and slogan-shouting, led to traffic snarls in the city through which Mitra was driven in an open car by his supporters. Nearly 100 cars wound their way from the airport to state Congress office in Entally and then to Mitra’s residence in Amherst Street.

On his return, party managers organised a news conference at the Pradesh Congress Committee office to send across a message to his opponents that he, too, meant business. The Congress stalwart ruled out any change of guard in the West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee before the panchayat elections slated for 2003 and wanted Pranab Mukherjee to continue as PCC chief.

“Let Pranabda be at the helm of affairs in the organisation and we will all work at his behest,” Mitra said. “a collective leadership is the need of the hour to oust the ruling CPM from Bengal,” he added.

Mitra’s motorcade virtually threw traffic out of gear for over seven hours as hordes of party workers accompanied him from the airport to the PCC office. Waving party flags and banners, Congress Seva Dal workers also lined up both sides of the 15-km stretch from the airport.

Pandemonium prevailed in front of the PCC office on Dr Lal Mohan Bhattacharya Road as slogan-shouting Congress workers took possession of the entire road, disrupting traffic. They danced for hours to the accompaniment of drums, ignoring the plight of commuters.

Deputy commissioner of police (traffic) M.K. Singh later said traffic was worst affected in north Calcutta, particularly Amherst Street where Mitra’s house is located. “This apart, the area comprising B.B. Ganguly Street, Sealdah and Moulali also experienced traffic snarls for several hours because of the prolonged jam at the Amherst crossing. The situation came to such a pass that we had to divert a number of vehicles,” he added.

Taking strong exception to the “virtual blockade” of city roads, Trinamul Congress leaders criticised Mitra and said this was unbecoming of a “responsible leader”.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee went a step further. He said he had never come across such “disorderly behaviour” by supporters of a political party for welcoming a leader who returns to city cured after a prolonged treatment in Delhi.

“Somen’s return to the city is welcome. But this is not a victory celebration and we must always consider the plight of commuters, particularly patients,” the mayor observed.


Malda, Jan. 15: 
In one of the most macabre incidents here in recent times, a Class XI student, Moloy Lala, was murdered and hanged late last night at Lalapara, allegedly by the family members of a girl he was having an affair with.

In retaliation, furious locals attacked the houses of the girl and her relatives this morning and set them on fire. The mob also set on fire a few shops in the locality, including those selling medicines, sweets and groceries, and set them ablaze.

The sequence of events at Baishnabnagar has sent shockwaves in the district and district superintendent of police Pankaj Dutta rushed to the spot. Several fire tenders also rushed to the site and brought the flames under control.

Tomy Lala, Moloy’s mother, alleged the her son and the girl were having an affair and exchanged letters and handed over to Dutta 15 letters the girl had written. “The girl’s parents started looking for a groom, but she said she would not marry anyone else,” the widow sobbed.

Around 9 pm yesterday, “Moloy left with the girl’s family members”, the victim’s mother said. “When he did not return till late in the night, I sent my late husband’s brother, Shibu, to look for him.”

Shibu and his son found the boy’s blood-splattered body hanging from the ceiling in the girl’s house with his knees touching the ground.


Calcutta, Jan. 15: 
In its effort to rationalise rates for healthcare facilities provided by the state, the health department is studying the rates charged by private hospitals.

“We will take a month to set the charges for various medical facilities available in government hospitals, including catering,” health minister Suryakanta Mishra said on Tuesday.

The minister said the government had not promised to reduce the charges that came into effect on December 1, 2001. The health department wants to ensure that there are no anomalies in the finalised rates, he said.

“We are looking at the market rates and might either lower or raise charges for specific services. We are looking at arriving at rates lower than half of that charged in private hospitals and nursing homes,” Mishra said.

The minister said a month would be needed to announce the new charges, as the market rates are uneven in different districts. From April 1, private parties would run hospital kitchens, he said. “We have floated tenders and will give preference to women’s groups and cooperatives,” Mishra said.

The government has decided to ask paying patients to state whether or not they would have hospital food, adding that they would be charged accordingly.


Calcutta, Jan. 15: 
A security guard protecting senior state government officials allegedly molested pilgrims from Gujarat early this morning, after a heavy bout of drinking.

The guard, Biplab Sarkar, left his tent around 2.30 am today thoroughly drunk and met a group of women walking towards the waterline for a dip at the confluence. There — in front of hundreds of other pilgrims — the guard allegedly molested the women, a senior South 24-Parganas police official said.

Pilgrims caught hold of the guard and handed him over to the administration.


Srinagar/New Delhi, Jan. 15: 
The Dutch “fidayeen” controversy threatened to blow up in the face of Delhi with a Jammu and Kashmir minister today publicly casting doubts on the official version of the killings.

“How can fidayeen move around with knives?” minister of state for home Khalid Najeeb Suhrawardy asked, referring to the BSF claim that the two slain Dutch youths had attacked a patrol party.

The “state administration is planning to bring the culprits to book” in what appears to be a “killing of innocent Dutch youths”, Suhrawardy said. “Police are investigating the matter and the inquiry will be complete soon. We will punish those involved, if found guilty.”

Chief minister Farooq Abdullah announced the investigations in Jammu. “(An) inquiry is on to know the circumstances that led the killing of (the) two foreigners,” he said. “We will know about the facts only when the report comes.”

The Khanyar police station today filed an FIR. An officer of the superintendent rank is in charge of the probe, police sources said.

The Union home ministry has officially sealed its lips over the suspected mix-up but privately officials acknowledged the state minister’s version.

Preliminary reports from Srinagar suggested a nervous BSF patrol team lost its cool and fired at the tourists, mistaking them for terrorists. Realising the consequences, they are trying to hide themselves behind the fidayeen story.

The Dutch embassy in New Delhi was tight lipped. “We are waiting to collect their bodies and fly them home to their families for a decent burial,” a spokesman said. Bakiowli Ahmad and El-Hasanowi Khalid are from immigrant homes and are probably from Surinam. So far, the Dutch authorities have not officially asked for an inquiry from the Indian government.

The Dutch first secretary will arrive here tomorrow and meet senior police officers. The embassy has contacted the parents of the two slain tourists. Their embalmed bodies have been kept in the police hospital in Srinagar.

The incident could not have occurred at a worst time for the Centre, especially as President Pervez Musharraf last week spoke about human rights violations by Indian security forces.

Indian rights activists are also aghast. “This is terrible, it is unpardonable. The government should take immediate action against those involved. The men should be suspended and removed from the Valley immediately,” said Rajinder Sachar, former chief justice of Delhi High Court and a human rights campaigner. “It is the duty of the government and its responsibility to make certain that forces do not overreact.”

BSF sources, however, stuck to their version. “Our two men are still in hospital with serious injuries. They retaliated after being attacked,” said a BSF official.

Observers feel the government should ensure that the security forces, in their nervousness, did not play into Pakistan’s hands. Half the battle in Kashmir is the battle for the hearts and minds of an alienated population. In the days to come, if Musharraf has his way, the focus in the Valley will shift from military strikes to a broad political movement, which could be much more effective.

Musharraf has been forced to realise that terror no longer pays as a political weapon. It would be much more effective to get a political movement going, which focuses on the right to self-determination.

At the same time, he will try to draw the attention of the US and European countries. Human rights violations by Indian forces has been a recurring theme in Islamabad’s propaganda war. What happened in Srinagar can only strengthen Musharraf’s hands.


New Delhi, Jan. 15: 
Reservation for most-backward Muslims, good governance and a crusade against corruption form the theme-song of the Congress for the Uttar Pradesh polls.

Pitted against the formidable Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and the BJP, the Congress is relying on a series of slogans to woo the electorate.

Projecting itself as a national alternative to the BJP, a Congress slogan says “Dilli chalo, Lucknow ke raaste (the route to Delhi is via Lucknow)”.

According to the Congress spin-doctors, the voters should be made to believe that the BJP’s defeat in the state would trigger a chain reaction leading to the downfall of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime at the Centre.

In such a scenario, the Congress should become the voters’ first choice as the Samajwadi and the BSP are regional forces.

The issue of the collapse of the Vajpayee government is brought up in “Lucknow ke tote ko ura do, Dilli mein tote ur jayenge. Vajpayee ki jaan Rajnath mein (Force the parrot in Lucknow to flee, the parrots in Delhi would also fly away. Vajpayee’s strength lies in the Rajnath Singh government. If the BJP is defeated in the state, it will lead to the Centre’s collapse)”.

Congress campaigners said the Uttar Pradesh electorate would easily understand the reference to parrots.

According to mythology, demon’s soul lived in parrots. If a parrot was killed, the demon would also die. “Bara varsh ka sanyas, bhajapa gathbandan ko bhejo banvas (12 years in hibernation, send the BJP-led coalition to exile),” says a slogan pointing that voters should give the Congress a chance to come back to power after 12 years.

The Congress slogan promising development and a progressive agenda says “Bahut sun chuke kore bhashan, ab lana hai Congress shasan (There have been too many empty promises. Now we need to bring back the Congress)”.

The Congress has promised reservations for backward Muslims in line with Rajnath’s job quota for the most-backward classes. In an Urdu poster, the Congress says: “Pasmanda Musalmanon ke reservation ke liye, iqtedar mein shirkat ke liye, barabri, izzat, waqar ke liye, firqaparasti mitane ke liye, sab ka Bharat banane ke liye, vote for Congress (for reservation of jobs for most backward Muslims, share in power, self-respect, honour and participation, and to eliminate communalism, vote for the Congress).”

Another slogan says “Ganit nahin, sapne racho, jat-pat ke rog se bacho (do not calculate the number game, fulfil your dreams. Stay away from the disease called casteism)”.


New Delhi, Jan. 15: 
The fight for Uttar Pradesh will no longer revolve around which party or combination gets a majority but on who emerges as the single largest entity and would be able to, constitutionally and legally, stake claim first for government formation.

Uttar Pradesh BJP sources admitted that in the “best case scenario”, they do not hope to cross 140 seats in the 403-member Assembly. The BJP’s main adversary, the Samajwadi Party, was a little more optimistic and pegged its expectations at around 170.

Sources in both parties also conceded that they were looking “closely” at the prospects of their potential allies. For the BJP, its Uttar Pradesh members said, the “most promising” teammate was the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) even if a re-alliance meant once again anointing Mayawati as chief minister.

Samajwadi sources did not rule out the chances of cosying up to the Congress for the third time after two abortive experiments in 1991 and 1993.

“It is clear that the Samajwadi has shed its earlier antipathy for the Congress and vice versa. There was no mutual acrimony in the recent speeches of the leaders,” said a Samajwadi official.

The reason for not having a pre-poll alliance despite pressure from Muslim organisations was that party chief, Mulayam Singh Yadav, wanted to project himself as invincible. “A pre-poll partnership will be seen as a sign of weakness,” Samajwadi sources said.

The Congress does not want to antagonise the upper castes that voted the BJP lock, stock and barrel. Sources said the Congress was hopeful of getting the support of those sections of the upper castes, particularly the Brahmins, who were disillusioned with the BJP’s style of governance and the “pro-Rajput” sentiments of chief minister Rajnath Singh.

Acknowledging that Rajnath had alienated a section of the Brahmins, BJP sources said the party was banking on Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to “soothe hurt pride”.

At the same time, BJP sources said the verbal slugfest between Rajnath and state BJP chief Kalraj Mishra was a manifestation of the Brahmin-Rajput tensions on the ground. “It’s almost as if they are determined to contradict one another. If one says temple and terrorism won’t be on the poll agenda, the other says they will,” sources said.

If the BJP has problems on this score, Mulayam has to cope with the simmering resentment within the Samajwadi against his aide, Amar Singh.

Four MPs recently left the party citing Singh’s alleged highhandedness as the cause. While party sources sounded sceptical about Singh’s usefulness — saying his promise of delivering Rajput votes would not work because of Rajnath’s presence — they said his ability to rope in star campaigners such as Amitabh Bachchan was an “asset”.


New Delhi, Jan. 15: 
If bandit queen Phoolan Devi could, why not yet-to-be-convicted Dara Singh?

The man charged with the gruesome murder of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons in 1999 wants to serve the cause of Hindutva better by contesting in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections.

Reason: he can escape the “fate of Nathuram Godse”.

Dara, an undertrial in an Orissa jail, has decided to contest from Ghaziabad and Muzaffarnagar under the banner of the Kranti Kari Manuwadi Morcha. This was announced by the outfit’s president, Ram Kumar Bhardwaj, and Mukesh Jain, of Dharmarakshak Shree Dara Sena, here today.

The two hailed the murder accused as a “great revolutionary… left in the cold by fake Hindutva forces”. The idea, they said, was to make sure that Dara “does not meet the same fate of Godse, who was also not a criminal but a great patriot like Chandra Shekhar Azad, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Bhagat Singh”.

Though the BJP is squirming in embarrassment, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad can scarcely hide its glee. Senior VHP leader Acharya Giriraj Kishore said there was nothing wrong in Dara contesting the elections. The logic: he has not been convicted yet and if Phoolan could, why not him?

In a ghastly act that shocked the country, Staines and his two sons were burnt alive in a jeep allegedly by Dara and his supporters for converting tribals. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had sent defence minister George Fernandes on a fact-finding mission. After two hours of inquiry in the village, where the crime was committed, Fernandes had said it was part of an international conspiracy.

Bhardwaj told reporters his organisation would also field Sher Singh Rana, now in jail in the Phoolan murder case, from Roorkee in Uttaranchal. Bharadwaj himself will contest from Dadri near Noida.


Talaja (Bhavnagar), Jan. 15: 
Mavjibhai Nandva is bitter and frustrated. At 32, he is not sure he will ever have enough money to get married.

Two years back, Mavjibhai almost got married. But the girl’s parents broke off the engagement a week before the ceremony. The reason: another suitor had offered them Rs 3.5 lakh, more than Mavjibhai could afford.

While dowry remains a problem for women elsewhere in the country, in the 52-odd villages in this district where Paliwal Brahmins reside, having migrated here many generations ago from Pali district in Rajasthan, the problem exists in the reverse.

A marriage is solemnised only after the boy pays the amount demanded by the girl’s parents.

This tradition has created a bizarre social problem — there are too many bachelors in this small community.

Men like Mavjibhai remain unmarried because they do not have enough money to pay the girl’s parents, who have no qualms about breaking off an engagement if another suitor is willing to pay more.

According to tradition, half the amount is paid at the time of engagement and the rest at the time of marriage.

Mavjibhai’s parents had paid an advance of Rs 1.5 lakh and made all the arrangements for his marriage. Relatives were informed, invitations sent out.

Suddenly, just a week before the wedding, the girl’s father turned up to break the engagement and return the advance.

After this “bitter experience”, Mavjibhai wanted to marry outside his caste and was even willing to marry a divorcee. But that did not materialise as marriages here take place strictly within the caste.

Mavjibhai, who works at Dr Bhupendra Gajjar’s clinic here, says his parents have found a girl for him and the marriage is likely to be held next month. But he remains sceptical.

“You cannot say anything about the people of my community,” he says.

Dr Gajjar says several Paliwal Brahmin youths have committed suicide after having their engagement broken off more than once.

In the last 10 years, Dr Gajjar has conducted as many post-mortems in such suicide cases.

With illiteracy in the community at 50 per cent, money continues to play a decisive role in marriages, which are held with great fanfare. Often this money is taken on loan at a high interest rate.

Bhurva Nandva, 45, of Dhandhalia village is going to marry a 20-year-old girl from Devli village because he offered Rs 7 lakh to her parents.

“No eyebrows are raised here;” says Dr Gajjar. “It is accepted.”

The community prefers boys in government jobs and they have to pay less to get married. But they, too, have to pay in lakhs. Not all government jobholders get married at the right age.

According to sociologist Gaurang Jani of the Gujarat University, this custom exists because of the institution of inter-caste marriage, usually confined to a particular geographical area, and the non-acceptance of widow remarriage.


New Delhi, Jan. 15: 
CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet today said leaders in the communist party “do not retire” unless “God intervenes” — scotching reports that he might step down at the party congress in Hyderabad this March.

Asked at a news conference if the CPM would go in for a change in leadership, the octogenarian leader retorted: “Communists do not retire unless God intervenes.”

Surjeet’s younger colleague Prakash Karat, tipped to be the next general secretary, said: “The issue has not come up and it can only be discussed, if at all, after a new central committee is elected at the party congress.”

One of the key proponents of a closer alliance with the Congress — as the BJP is a “greater enemy” — Surjeet has been a master at backroom politics, bringing disparate forces together and advocating closer, tactical networking with the main Opposition party. A section in the CPM believes that Surjeet is the more effective as general secretary in today’s era of coalition politics than Karat who is of a different mould.

Though age is against him, Surjeet’s experience in coalition politics gives him extra points. The veteran leader also seems reluctant to let go of a third term as general secretary as his health has not failed him, though a discussion on change in leadership at the congress cannot be ruled out.

Releasing the political draft his party has drawn up for discussion at the party congress, CPM politburo member Karat said: “There will be no alliance or united front with the Congress even though we will consider every tactical move to isolate the BJP.” The draft does not say anything new. The BJP continues to be the main enemy, the Congress the lesser evil.


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