There are indications that the CPM is set to rein in Dipak Sarkar, its secretary in Paschim Midnapore, to signal that the party would not balk at the job when it came to tackling a hostile critic of government policies.
In an unpublicised meeting on June 2 at Alimuddin Street, CPM bosses tore Sarkar apart for trying to pit the district unit against the government as part of a move to block a decision to acquire a medical college in Paschim Midnapore.
Claiming to support private initiative in education, Sarkar and his supporters have been urging the government to allow the college — under construction for about five years on a large government plot next to the district cancer detection centre — to come up as a private venture.
Sarkar and his supporters made their intent clear by acquiring the land from one of the previous health ministers and promoting the college through a private body, while they remained in the background.
“We have decided to take over the college for which the notice will be issued shortly,” health minister Suryakanta Mishra told The Telegraph. “There is no difference between the government and the district party on this count.”
The health department has informed the board of governors formed to construct the medical college — of which Sarkar is a part — that it will not allow any private institution to be known as a teaching hospital, riding piggyback on an adjacent government hospital.
At first, the unfolding drama around a hospital in Midnapore may strike as an insular local affair, involving local players, all competing for a localised prize. In reality, it is a multi-layered, complex issue that has implications for state-level Left politics.
Seen closely, the CPM views the issue as an offensive from within against the reform policies of the New Left and its stars — the party’s own creations.
At the June 2 meeting, for which the 14-member Paschim Midnapore district secretariat came down to Calcutta, the CPM bosses virtually pummelled Sarkar and his supporters for advocating the privatisation of the upcoming medical college.
They perceived in it a camouflaged bid for personal aggrandisement and an attack on two mascots of the New Left — Bhattacharjee and Mishra. The self-effacing health minister is the party’s arrowhead in Midnapore.
Regarded as an undisputed king in the political firmament of Midnapore before its division, Sarkar was thrashed by the state committee after he began to criticise the government for what he termed as its persistent attempts to destabilise the district party’s initiatives in various fields like medical education.
“Back home, we cannot go ahead (with development schemes) despite our best intentions, because of the government’s non-cooperation,” Sarkar said.
At this point, Bhattacharjee snapped. “What gives you the impression that we are not cooperating? On the contrary, what you have been able to achieve so far is because of the support from the government. And make no mistake, my government is carrying out the policies framed and approved by the CPM-led Left Front.”
He left the meeting soon after to attend another engagement.
Sarkar’s chief supporters include Sushanta Ghosh — last year’s Garbeta hero, now adrift — Nirmal Ghosh and Sheikh Israel.
But at the June 2 meeting, they sat quietly as Anil Biswas, Biman Bose and others heaped scorn on them.
Jyoti Basu, once Sarkar’s backer like Bose in undivided Midnapore, was not present at the meeting. But Sarkar and his men had no doubt that the grand old man of the CPM had completely disowned them, as the attack would not have occurred in the first place.
For Sarkar and his supporters, the June 2 mauling was an extension of the tongue-lashing they got from Biswas — that he was capable of displaying so much anger had to be seen to be believed, witnesses said — during the constitution of the district secretariat a few months ago.
Remote-controlled by Sarkar, his supporters asked why the satrap had not been inducted into the state secretariat and made digs at Bose, their one-time mentor.
“Before you open your mouths next time, keep in mind you cannot discuss politburo members in a meeting of a lower body. It’s in bad taste,” Biswas thundered.
On June 2, the powerful state secretary read out the riot Act to Sarkar and company, reminding them that a truth committee, set up by the party to probe allegations of corruption involving top district leaders, is due to turn in its report shortly.
“We advise you not to go into any confrontation with the government on the hospital issue. Our decision is final. It will be taken over by the government in tune with policies framed by it. You have no role to play other than to follow the policies,” Biswas said.
Sarkar was not available for comment despite several attempts by The Telegraph to contact him.
However, in the sharply divided district unit, no one is ready to write his political obituary yet because of his deep roots in district politics and capacity to bounce back. And the forthcoming panchayat elections may prove to be a thorny event for the party with Sarkar nursing a grudge.
The 34-year-old was shot dead at Shandilya village near Barasat early this morning, hours after he returned home from a late-night meeting in which villagers discussed ways to best tackle the menace.
The incident comes barely two months after a local youth was shot dead by anti-socials when he protested against a girl being harassed inside a crowded bus near Sodepur and the recent attempt on local CPM leader Mahadeb Ghosh’s life.
According to officials, Alam, who used to run a small business besides doing social work, never feared to raise his voice against atrocities perpetrated by criminals in the locality.
On several occasions, Alam had also taken up the cudgels against the miscreants.
The murder, following that of Ghosh who was shot at from point blank range, has made the administration jittery over deteriorating law and order.
Protesting the delay in arresting the culprits, residents put up a blockade on Barasat main road, throwing traffic out of gear for more than two hours.
Senior police officials rushed to the spot and assured the protesters that the culprits would be rounded up in the next 48 hours.
District superintendent of police in North 24-Parganas M. Harisen Verma said the situation was tense but under control. “We have identified the gang that masterminded the murder and hope to arrest its members very soon. Raids are on to track down the culprits,” he added.
Verma said investigations were also on to ascertain the motive behind the murder. A large contingent of police personnel, including senior officials, has been deployed in the area.
Eyewitnesses said Alam was shot dead while on a stroll early this morning.
“As Alam lay unconscious in a pool of blood, the masked assailants fled before anybody could react,” recounted an eyewitness.
Alam was taken to the Barasat hospital where doctors declared him dead on arrival.
As soon as news of the murder spread, a large number of people from Shandilya and its adjoining areas gathered at the hospital. Villagers alleged that Alam was a victim of police apathy. The police had failed to apprehend criminals who had of late unleashed terror in Barasat and neighbouring areas.
“Alam’s death is a warning for all of us and if the police continue to remain inactive, we will soon go for a bigger movement,” said an elderly villager.
He alleged that some of the miscreants were involved in extortion and drug trafficking.
“We are running out of patience. Alam used to protest against these nefarious deeds and he had to pay a heavy price for it,” he said.
Rafique Mullah, another local resident, said Alam had recently led a demonstration to the police station to protest against the rampant rise in criminal activities in the area.
The leader of the CPM’s parliamentary party in the Lok Sabha will make a video presentation, prepared by the WBIDC and McKinsey, at the three-hour business session on the concluding day of the conference on July 6.
After last year’s conference, industrialists like Partho Ghosh, Rajat Gupta and Purnendu Chatterjee took up projects — better known as the Boston pledge — to turn the Kalighat temple into a world-class tourist centre, to make water arsenic-free in rural areas and to set up the Bank of Bengal.
“This year, we want to take the opportunity to project Bengal’s present position and what kind of investments are being made in the state. We want to highlight the positive aspects of Bengal when there is a general recession in the country,” Chatterjee told The Telegraph. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has already been informed about the presentation, he added.
Chatterjee has requested corporate figures like G.P. Goenka, Bhaskar Sen, Avijit Sen, Jayanta Roy, B.K. Agarwal, K.S. Bagchi and A.K. Chandra to attend the business session of the US conference beginning on July 4. Dozen other entrepreneurs are also likely to attend on behalf of the Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industries.
The WBIDC’s video presentation will project investment prospects in food processing, dairy farming, information technology, Kulti Port project and at the Bantala Leather Complex. Some of the projects in the offing like the Gems and Jewellery Park and the Toy Park in Salt Lake will also be emphasised.
“We have also mentioned in the presentation some of the existing entertainment and theme parks like Swabhumi that have been set up by private entrepreneurs,” said Chatterjee.
The WBIDC chairman said that presentation’s purpose was to invite investment in Bengal by non-resident Indians. Chatterjee hinted that if specific projects emerged, then the chief minister could visit the US in August to clinch the deals.
Chatterjee, however, clarified that those visiting the business session were doing so on their own expense.
Avijit Sen of Nicco Corporation, one of the speakers at the business session, said he would mainly dwell on the development of private hospitals, engineering colleges, the IT sector, the agro-industry and tourism.
“Seven thousand NRIs will attend the three-day conference, among whom many will be teachers and doctors. We want to project Bengal in a positive light because we would definitely like them to come and invest,” he said.
The latest — after Trinamul’s obdurate refusal to call off the bandh despite the Calcutta High Court’s unusually candid verdict — in the assembly line of political gaffes appears to be a letter to Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, a few hours after the chief minister wrote one on June 6 to ask the state’s main Opposition party to call off the strike and come to the negotiating table.
The letter has assumed embarrassing proportions because the hand that penned it belongs to none other than leader of the Opposition in the Assembly Pankaj Banerjee.
The two-page letter, castigating the Left Front for shutting its ears to the cries of the oppressed (specifically, farmers and generally, everyone), said a meeting with Bhattacharjee did not have any relevance.
Then came the bloomer: the letter went on to say that discussion on the issues the bandh was highlighting would have to wait till June 10, when the Assembly session was “beginning”.
The Assembly session actually began on June 7 but Banerjee, his colleagues said, did not count that as the start as it was a day Trinamul had called a bandh. June 8 and 9 were Saturday and Sunday, respectively, and, therefore, the Assembly began — for Trinamul — on June 10, they explained.
Others, however, both in Trinamul and the Left Front insist that Banerjee’s gaffe — inadvertent or otherwise — makes it possible for drawing up a case against him on charges of insulting the House.
There’s another one. Trinamul MLAs — and many others — met at Nizam Palace on June 9 to chalk out a strategy to put the Left Front on the mat. The agenda was setting MLAs behind specific ministers’ — just like the shadow Cabinet conceived before the party’s abortive attempt to capture Writers’ Buildings last year — and acting with the “swiftness of a tiger” to paralyse the Assembly.
Sane voices who referred to the Left’s substantial majority got drowned in the chorus that reminded everyone of the role played by Jyoti Basu and Ratanlal Brahman when the undivided Communist Party had fewer numbers in the Assembly than Trinamul has now.
And here’s what happened the next day: Congress’ Abdul Mannan was the first to raise a motion, bringing the Assembly’s notice to the paddy price issue, hijacking a Trinamul agenda over which it had called a bandh just three days ago.
There’s more: the entire food bill run up by Trinamul leaders’ (there were several non-MLAs who tucked into the spread) at Nizam Palace was sent to the Assembly.
Conventionally, such meetings are held in the Assembly and attended only by MLAs to justify the Assembly’s spending, raising ethical questions about Trinamul asking for money from the public exchequer to feed non-MLAs outside the Assembly.
The ball is in the Speaker’s court, say Left MLAs. But with the meeting between the chief minister and the leader of the Opposition slated for June 18 at Writers’ Buildings, less than half a kilometre from the Vidhan Sabha, Hashim Abdul Halim, they prophesy, may not do anything to rock the boat.
Like most initial anti-reformists, they are slow learners and late starters. And experiences with opposition to computerisation and private capital among Bengal’s Leftists would suggest that today’s critics would fall in line tomorrow.
The prime movers of modern-day economic reforms, whether it was Margaret Thatcher in England or Manmohan Singh in India, had faced similar opposition to their first moves.
Bengal’s Marxist chief minister may draw more comfortable parallels, however, to communist China or Vietnam, where, too, the reform proposals met some resistance before being accepted.
But Bhattacharjee’s critics in the Left camp are still not convinced even by the Chinese example of the need for and the gains from reforms.
“They (the Chinese) are heading towards disaster,” cries veteran leader of the Revolutionary Socialist Party, Sunil Sengupta, who thinks China’s acceptance of the World Trade Organisation membership has sealed its capitalist tilt.
Sengupta does not seem to know that China’s chief negotiator for the WTO accession talks, Long Yongtu, has predicted that within 10 years, nearly 500 million Chinese would move up to the middle classes because of the gains from farm sector reforms that opened the WTO membership for the country.
Manju Mazumdar of the CPI is more accommodative — “China can launch these reforms because the government and the party are firmly in control” — but adds that there is no way Bengal can implement the Chinese model “because we are running only a state government”.
The issues of reform — in agriculture, labour, power and industry — that have stirred bitter controversies within the Front are fundamental to Bhattacharjee’s new scheme of things. It was a matter of time before he had to unfold the scheme and face the predictable opposition.
He now has to convince sceptical Left leaders that his new economic regime is not only good but also necessary for Bengal’s economic revival. Although he seems to be carrying the majority of the CPM leaders with him, there still are a considerable number of doubting Thomases in the Marxist ranks.
It is not only the Forward Bloc or its leader, agriculture minister Kamal Guha, whom the government’s proposed agriculture policy has rattled.
Guha’s fulminations against the American firm McKinsey making recommendations about “contract farming” or changes in crop patterns have found echoes in leaders of other parties who are as suspicious of them.
The outcry is stronger now because McKinsey’s recommendations for new farm priorities and changes in labour laws are the first real reformist proposals before the Marxist government. The sceptics worry, however, that these could be the Left’s first “suicidal” steps toward a “rightist” economy.
Bhattacharjee’s — and the CPM leadership’s — argument for the changes in agriculture is simple. Though land reforms have established the farmers’ right to their land and also helped Bengal become the number one state in rice cultivation, land has a limited contribution to economic growth.
It is, therefore, important to move to agribusiness, which requires investment. Hence the scope for private firms, which obviously would like to hire their farm labour under new labour rules.
The investors would like to introduce new, high-profit crop varieties like the aromatic rice. All these will help farmers get higher prices for their produce.
To the CPM’s new economic thinking, this not only makes perfect sense but is the only way to build on the foundation laid by the land reforms.
“Japan’s industrial growth was built on the success of land reforms and with a massive infusion of capital into the farm sector,” says an important peasant leader of the party.
In fact, the smaller partners’ problems with the CPM and the government are not confined to the McKinsey proposals only. They are equally suspicious of the government’s move to close down sick state units or allow power sector reforms.
“Why should workers be penalised if the Centre’s policies and management failures lead to sickness of these units? If we just close them, then how can we oppose the BJP’s disinvestment policy,” asks the RSP’s Sunil Sengupta.
The chief minister, has, however, no option but to push his reforms, even if he has to tactically take two steps back before making one step forward.
An hour away by helicopter, Maj. Gen. Sudhir Sharma is the media-savvy commanding officer of the 10 Infantry Division with an ugly black 9mm Browning pistol in his holster.
He begins his briefing inside an underground command post operations room near Palanwala by first narrating the latest news: a blast outside the American consulate in Karachi, Captain Lakshmi Sehgal is the Left’s presidential candidate; South Korea makes it to the second round and, along with Japan, keeps the Asian flag fluttering at the World Cup.
Minutes later, he is sombre, as he recalls the attack on Kaluchak . “There has been so much firing since then,” someone asks him, “do you think, the soldiers were taking out their anger on the Pakistan army?”
“I don’t believe in knee-jerk action. I don’t think that even two Kaluchaks can make us desperate. I believe in cold fury,” the major general says. It is a quote that will be flashed in the world’s media, is meant to be flashed in the world’s media.
Back in Mendhar, inside a fortified observation post atop a hill, you take in the view as the handsome brigadier supervises and warms to his theme. Ahead of us, the ground rushes down to a valley of poplar and pine. Through it runs the Line of Control.
There has been so much written about this line in recent times that you have begun to think of it as a real stretch arbitrarily etched through the hills and valleys by someone with an extraordinarily large pencil. It is nothing of the sort but exists on maps.
So this is what the Americans have called “the most dangerous frontier in the world”!
The brigadier summons the major of the Jat battalion that has been here for two years and asks him to point out posts — positions said to be held by the 815 Mujahid battalion of the Pakistan army’s 3 PoK Brigade: Cheel Tekri and FDL, 85A and Rear Lanjot — names that carry little meaning to the world outside but mean the world for the soldiers here.
The brigadier is telling the story of Operation Kamyab — “success”. In October, the army’s spokesman in Jammu issued a statement that described military moves taken in the Mendhar sub-sector as “ruthless punitive action”. (Official statements rarely use such language; 90 times out of 100 they write “retaliatory fire assault”.)
We are at the scene where Indian artillery and infantry let loose volley after volley, smashing more Pakistani posts in 48 hours than had been done in several years. Since then, the Pakistanis have been wary of firing at Indian positions in Mendhar. The terrain favours the Indian Army, which holds the heights. At the garrison headquarters down in Mendhar “bowl”, photographs of the “punitive action” showing the accuracy of the gunners are exhibited.
The event is a has-been but is narrated to deny the hectic diplomacy of the past fortnight and claims that the military standoff is a dying story. The army keeps the story alive — for the first time since the standoff began, it has flown in a media contingent from Delhi to visit forward posts on “the most dangerous frontier” where a false step can lead to a minefield and a whistle signals the start of shelling.
The Pakistan army is doing this almost every week — taking journalists on trips to their side of the LoC so that the world gets to know of the damage inflicted by the Indian Army.
This is a trip that was planned only for correspondents of foreign media. Later, it was expanded to include the Indians, as well.
“Let me assure you, that we welcome the media to our area,” Lt Gen. J.B.S. Yadava told the team at his XVI Corps headquarters in Nagrota where the trip began. “We hope you will return with a sense of what we go through.”
You sense the tension first from the air. Flying into Mendhar, the hills with their terraced farms were below us, the mostly-dry rivers, their sandy beds weaving through the valleys as if plaited by nature. But suddenly the Russian-made Mi-17 helicopter loses height and flies so close to a ridge to the left that even the naked eye discerns old, now-abandoned defences built by the army.
The LoC is immediately to the west, probably just beyond the ridge that vanishes over a cliff. The chopper is flying not over but among the hills to keep out of sight of Pakistani eyes.
“You never know when the firing will start,” says Maj. Gen. Randhir Singh who commands the 25th Infantry Division. “Even as we speak, there is firing going on at our flanks. In the north, towards Poonch and to the south, near Bhimbhar Gully.”
Even the shelling on the LoC, surely, is a non-story by now but nonetheless real for that. Last week, a barrage of mortar was aimed at a bunker complex just below the fortified observation post. One shell landed next to the quarters of the commanding officer. He wasn’t there.
The damage to the bunkers around is still visible. So, too, is the damage to the villages and the villagers, some of whom have been escorted to the army camp so that they can speak of their troubles to the press. Drona village’s Ashwar Bee had a non-story too: her arm is plastered and she hasx lost a sister.
“Till then, there is no point resuming talks with Pakistan,” the home minister said.
Though there has been a perceptible change in Islamabad’s attitude, “still we cannot afford to relax our guard”, he said.
In Almaty, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf had described the Kaluchak killings as an “act of terrorism” — a clear change in stance from Islamabad’s earlier refusal to acknowledge cross-border terrorism as the main problem between the two countries.
Pakistan even considered militants to be freedom fighters. The Agra talks had failed because of this, Advani said.
The home minister pointed out that Pakistan Radio had recently reported that the attack on Kaluchak had been engineered by the Indian government and its army. Despite several announcements by the Pakistan President to end terrorism, no measures are being taken on the ground, he said.
Advani, who is in Gujarat on a two-day visit, said India would never allow a referendum on Kashmir.
“We believe a referendum on Kashmir will be a wrong move. India had approached the United Nations not because the people of Kashmir did not want to stay in India but because Pakistan was an aggressor. Since then the situation has changed so much that the resolution has become irrelevant. Even the UN secretary general has said so,” the home minister said.
“Our desire to convince Pakistan failed in Agra. But since then, there has been a big change in world opinion. Now even Pakistan has to agree that killing innocent people is an act of terrorism, and a terrorist is a terrorist.
“India had been telling America all these years about Pakistan’s role in abetting terrorism but it realised that only after September 11. Ironically, the US had to form a partnership with Pakistan to fight terrorism because Pakistan knows more about the Taliban — a force that it created — than anyone else,” Advani said.
Replying to a question about joint monitoring of the Line of Control, the home minister dismissed the idea, saying Pakistan has rejected the proposal, so the matter ends there.
Advani, who represents the Gandhinagar Lok Sabha constituency, apologised for not coming to the state earlier — he had visited Gujarat on March 3. The home minister said in the last four weeks, the situation has been by and large peaceful, what is now needed is social harmony and trust and both the government and social leaders have to work together to achieve that.
Normality, he said, does not mean peace and absence of violence — it is easy to talk of social harmony but is very difficult to achieve it. While Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee recently wrote a letter to Narendra Modi, asking him to speed up rehabilitation, the home minister gave a clean chit to the chief minister.
Advani said he was happy to see that the victims were returning home. Of the 1.2 lakh people who were living in the 121-odd relief camps, only 18,500 people are left in about 19 relief camps.
Twelve of the camps are in Ahmedabad, providing shelter to 15,300 people.
Minority leaders and relief camp organisers finalised their agitation programme almost simultaneously with the home minister addressing a press conference at the Circuit House here.
The agitation was being organised to highlight the plight of those riot victims who did not want to return home. “We are asking the government to rehabilitate these people somewhere else and not force them to return to their homes — Naroda-Patia and Gulburg Society — where they saw their near and dear ones being burnt, killed and raped,” said Shaukhatkhan Pathan, secretary of the Kaumi Relief Committee, which is spearheading the agitation.
In a memorandum to Governor Sunder Singh Bhandari, chairman of the all-party relief and rehabilitation committee, the relief committee had given a 15-day deadline. The minority leaders have received no response from the government even though the deadline expired today.
“We have no option but to launch an agitation to force this insensitive government to understand that the victims of Naroda-Patia and Gulburg Society should be rehabilitated in some other place, as they do not want to return to their original place of living,” the minority leaders said.
The relief committee has threatened to stage a dharna in front of the Prime Minister’s Office if its demand is not conceded.
Asked why they did not meet Advani, who represents the Gandhinagar parliamentary constituency, Pathan said: “There was no need to meet him. As a representative from Gujarat, he should have called us. We have already conveyed everything to the chief minister and the government.”
Some relief camp organisers felt Advani did not know the ground realities in his own constituency.
“Advani claims that the chief minister had made satisfactory progress in rehabilitating riot victims, but the reality is that compensation is yet to be disbursed and people are yet to be rehabilitated.
Many people have left the camp under pressure from the government after the supply of their share of ration was stopped,” said Mohsin Quadri, in-charge of Shah-e-Alam camp.
Quadri felt the home minister should personally visit relief camps and meet the victims of worst carnages in order to see the real picture and form his own independent opinion.
“They were not even keen to listen to our protestations that there was no conducive atmosphere in which the extremist leaders, who were in the jungles, could come out confidently and hold discussions with the government,” the poet and PWG emissary, P. Varavara Rao, said about the reaction from government representatives.
Both government emissaries, state ministers K. Vijayrama Rao and T. Seetharam, had expressed their embarrassment over the encounter deaths of extremists at the first preliminary discussion on June 5.
However, at the second preliminary on June 9, they defended the police action.
Rao said the first two rounds of talks with the government had accomplished little and the two sides merely ended up debating over two contentious issues — continued encounter killings by the police and the government’s refusal to temporarily lift the ban on the PWG.
“We took up both the issues during these meetings as they had become topical and committed by the police even as we were to hold the preliminaries for talks. What we really wanted to discuss was the modalities for the talks, which took a back seat. This was not intentional but accidental,” Rao said.
The poet said the ban on the PWG had helped the police to ruthlessly crush any kind of public discontent against the government in Telengana, be it public grievance for more water, or jobs, or student’s agitation or protests by women and peasants. All agitations are suppressed cruelly by the government and their leaders are charged under the Public Securities Act under which the police have been given extraordinary powers.
He said both the PWG and the police observed a ceasefire for 24 days since May 10. But there were five to six encounters from June 5 in which several innocent persons have been killed.
“All that we wanted the government to do was implement the verdict of the Supreme Court and the NHRC to file a criminal case under IPC 302 against the police officials involved in fake encounters, but the government emissaries said the police had protection under Article 268. There ended the talks,” Rao said.
On the government stand that the PWG had exploited the ceasefire to expand its activities, Varavara Rao said the ceasefire only meant “no use of firearms and no possession of firearms”. He defended the extremists holding public meetings in the villages with armed guards.
“Will the government guarantee that the police will not fire on the extremists holding peaceful meetings in the villages?” he asked.
The PWG emissary said the Naidu government had toughened its stand ever since its relations with the NDA improved and particularly after Naidu’s recent visit to Delhi. Naidu was keen to square up with the PWG after the last panchayat polls in which the Telugu Desam Party fared poorly because of opposition from the extremists.
Moreover, the BJP did not appreciate Naidu resolving his problems with the PWG as it would hurt the former’s votebanks in Telengana. The BJP votebank in Telengana comprised four Lok Sabha and nine Assembly constituencies.
Rao wondered how the government expected the PWG leaders to come for talks when a ban existed on their organisation and there were cash rewards on their heads.
“The safe passage for the Naxalite leaders proposed by the government is impractical and not legally possible,” Rao said.
After the talks, the Naxals want to address a public meeting to inform the people of what prompted them to give up the revolution,” he said.
Asked whether the PWG expected too much from the government, Varavara Rao said it was nothing different from what the Government of India had done before entering into a dialogue with the Nagas or the Mizos.
“Much depends on the government creating a conducive atmosphere for talks. What is existing on the ground today is only onesided. The encounters (five in all since June 5) and the rejection of demand for partial withdrawal of ban on PWG to allow the leaders to have discussions among themselves and seek public opinion,” he said.
Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa appealed to the Left parties to withdraw their candidate, Lakshmi Sehgal, from the presidential race to avert a contest following her meeting with Kalam this evening.
“It is still not too late and even now I would appeal to the Left leaders to reconsider their decision and withdraw their candidate so that Dr Abdul Kalam can get elected President unopposed,” she said after her meeting with Kalam at the Anna University vice-chancellor’s office.
Jayalalithaa, who is likely to file one of Kalam’s nominations, greeted the NDA nominee with a huge bouquet. Kalam came down to the vice-chancellor’s office to meet the chief minister as his suite in the university guesthouse is rather small.
Jayalalithaa said as Kalam was leaving for New Delhi tomorrow to file his nomination papers, “I thought it will be appropriate to meet him and convey the greetings and best wishes of the people of Tamil Nadu.”
Displaying a copy of the book India: Vision 2020 in Tamil, which Kalam had presented her during their meeting, the chief minister said the people of Tamil Nadu felt “proud and honoured” that another person from this state would occupy the high office. Students in particular were “absolutely delighted”, she added.
Asked about the Left criticism on a non-political person becoming the President, Jayalalithaa said: “It is not necessary to be a politician for occupying the office of the President.”
Parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan arrived here tonight by a special flight to confer with Kalam. He will accompany Kalam to New Delhi tomorrow.