Talks pause for agriculture policy
District in disaster combat mode
SFI flays parent for oath breach
Mindset makeover with luxury coach
New order pains, but reality rules for CPM
Terrorism pause for Nepal democracy
Sonia plans UP revival package
Publisher faces flak for bias in text
BJP takes on push-Pak role
One man in way of Atal overhaul

Calcutta, June 20: 
Accommodating the smaller allies, the chief minister today deferred the scheduled discussion — at the June 27 Cabinet meeting — on the new agriculture policy.

“There is no hurry and heavens will not fall if it is not passed in the next Cabinet meeting,” the chief minister said on the controversial farm policy.

The issue will be discussed at various levels, including at the meetings of the Left Front and the newly formed core committee of the government, before the policy is given final shape, Bhattacharjee said at Writers’ Buildings.

Left Front constituents, including the Forward Bloc, the RSP and the CPI, had expressed serious reservations against the proposed policy and urged the chief minister not to present the document before the Cabinet.

Agriculture minister and Forward Bloc leader Kamal Guha had even prepared an alternative farm policy.

“I have received written observations from at least eight Cabinet colleagues, including some CPM ministers, on the issue. I went through them minutely and referred them to industry minister Nirupam Sen. A committee will review and suggest necessary changes,” Bhattacharjee said.

“The misunderstanding at different levels can be sorted out through discussion. You should not confuse between the recommendations on agri-business and the agricultural policy. McKinsey, I repeat, has nothing to do with the agriculture policy,” the chief minister added.

The agriculture minister, who had spearheaded the move to reject the international consultant’s recommendations, expressed happiness at Bhattacharjee’s announcement.

Asked on his threat to declare an alternative agriculture policy, Guha said: “The question is irrelevant now that the chief minister has agreed to discuss it with an open mind.”

“I am really happy with the stand taken by the chief minister and CPM state committee chief Anil Biswas. This was very much needed to do away with any misunderstanding at various levels,” said Forward Bloc MP Jayanta Roy.

CPI state secretary Manju Mazumdar said ministers from his party would place some suggestions on the farm policy at the next Cabinet meeting and ruled out any confrontation with the government.

“All that we want them to do is to examine the proposals and initiate wider discussions involving peasants and others. However, under no circumstances are we going to accept the concept of contract farming as recommended by McKinsey,” Mazumdar said.

Former PWD minister and RSP leader Kshiti Goswami also expressed his party’s strong objection to “contract farming”.

“Contract farming will hamper the interest of marginal and poor farmers. But as long as it does not affect their interests and brings benefit to them, we shall fully cooperate with the government,” Goswami said.


Calcutta, June 20: 
A disaster management plan has been drawn up for Purba Midnapore district to tackle calamities like cyclones, floods, conflagrations, earthquakes and industrial leaks without delay.

The plan was finalised last week in a meeting of senior officials convened by district magistrate Anil Verma.

The plan envisages an immediate response to any disaster by specifying persons to lead the relief operation, locations where relief materials will be stocked and means to transport them.

A core committee comprising officials from all departments, including health, PWD, power, zilla parishad, fire services, civil defence, police, telephone and transport, has been formed to monitor rescue and relief operations. Besides, local clubs and NGOs have been inducted in the core group.

To alert people in case of a possible disaster, a separate wireless system will be kept ready with the police and the civil defence. The district magistrate said the plan would be distributed in a booklet form to government officials and local activists to empower them to launch a rescue campaign without awaiting orders from higher authorities.


Calcutta, June 20: 
The CPM-backed Students’ Federation of India today expressed concern over the government’s failure to offer free education to poor students after implementing its fee-hike decision.

According to the SFI state leadership, the government had promised to offer free education to students unable to pay the higher tuition fees. But the students’ wing alleged that the government had not kept its word.

The issue had come up for discussion at the just-concluded SFI state conference at Bankura, where local leaders claimed that poor students were not looked after by college authorities.

Demanding a “rational policy” for poor students, newly elected president Sudip Sengupta said: “The SFI had supported the government on the fee-hike issue and extended full co-operation on implementing the decision on the condition that free education would be provided to poor students. But we are surprised to find that that government has not taken steps to ensure free higher education for meritorious but poor students.”

What further worries the group is that underprivileged students are being turned away from admission to private engineering colleges because of their inability to pay the steep fees, said Sengupta.

The SFI president claimed that last year, several impoverished students who had figured on the merit list of the joint entrance examination were denied admission by private as well as government institutions.

Sengupta said a SFI camp would be set up at the counselling centre from where authorities of the state joint entrance board offer seats in engineering and medical colleges to qualified students. The SFI president explained that the students’ wing aimed to keep track of candidates who were denied admission because of their inability to cough up the high fees.

A delegation from the SFI state committee will soon meet higher education minister Satyasadhan Chakraborty to request that steps are taken to ensure higher education for poor students.


Siliguri, June 20: 
Come September and tourists visiting Dooars can feast their eyes on natural beauty — with a difference.

Beginning with this year’s tourist season, the government plans to introduce a luxury coach service from Siliguri to Alipurduar via Cooch Behar. The bus service will takes tourists to lesser-known spots in the Dooars jungle.

While the government has invited private parties to build hotels in the area, it is also focussing on extending a tourist’s stay to three to four days from the average one day now. At present, more than 75 per cent of hotel rooms are occupied by persons who come here on tea-related business.

“Once inside the jungle, an average visitor wants a whirlwind tour of the area. But this attitude needs to be changed. To enjoy and savour the beauty of the jungle, one needs to spend at least three days in the wild,” an official of the West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation (WBTDC) said.

“We want to attract tourists to spots hitherto not covered by a package tour. The intention is to offer the tourists the real and raw feel of the jungle. We wish to change the mindset of tourists and the special bus service is a step in that direction,” said state tourism minister Dinesh Dakua.

The tourism plan is geared towards acclimatising visitors to the “feel” of the jungle and it “will be an integrated package in which the tourists will not only come and watch the animals roam, but will also spend some nights”, said Subrata Sengupta, operational manager, north, WBTDC.

The chartered bus service will travel to Dooars areas like Bindu, Jayanti, Rajabhatkhawa, Chilapata forest and Rasikbil. “This package tour is a departure from the existing ones in that it is designed towards marketing eco-tourism in the area,” Sengupta added.

The plan is seen as yet another drive by the government to attract more tourists to the Dooars. Though rich in flora and fauna, the region fails to attract tourists because of poor transport and accommodation facilities. “We are trying to get rid of infrastructure bottlenecks so that more tourists can come here,” the minister said.


Calcutta, June 20: 
On the eve of the silver-jubilee celebrations of the Left Front government, one of the men on whose shoulders rests the responsibility of running the CPM for the next three years was worried.

Anil Biswas, state CPM secretary, grappled with the question that many braver comrades would shy away from: where does the Left Front go from here?

Like the rest of the world, the CPM — a party quick to grasp changing political equations and sniff issues that would appeal to the lower-middle and middle-class voters — is dazzled by changing technology, rapid globalisation and liberalisation of the economy, breakdown of old orders and, above all, the disappearing frontiers that used to make India — and the Left in India — a little assured of the world and its contours.

The CPM, now at the crossroads, is trying to make sense of the new order. As Biswas himself explained, the CPM had changed. The outcome of the last few party congresses — and the documents — would make it clear that the party was now more flexible, more amenable to pluralism and deeply entrenched in electoral politics.

It also chases private capital and, most important, woos McKinsey instead of booing Macnamara and has learnt to accept that an urban vote-bank was out there along with the agrarian and rural class.

But the CPM does have worries: the search for a strong ideological magnet — no one can beat the BJP at playing the nationalism — and the search for brilliant, young faces that seemed to dot the party when it had not yet attained power.

The modernisation of the party — and the government — is also a long way off, despite the shrill and, now monotonous, cries for a “New Left”, admit sources close to Biswas.

There has been some pain, they admit, and a continuing battle against heavy odds. “We have not succeeded in making everyone smile,” Biswas admitted. But there has been much more relief. “We have restored the self-respect and dignity of people, missing during the erstwhile Congress regimes,” he said.

But one worry — large enough to appear almost insurmountable in the form of the global economic scenario and the policy of economic liberalisation being followed by the Union government — remains. “It is very difficult for us to ignore the international situation and the open-economy policy being followed by the Centre,” Biswas said. He added that the Centre’s policy, in particular, was responsible for “gobbling up our industries”.

Biswas referred to the pangs felt by the party — and the front — while trying to adapt to the vastly-changed national and international scenarios. “Many in our party and the government find it painful to adapt to the new reality,” he said. But they also realised that it would be impossible for the party or the government to keep aloof from that reality, he added.

There were also situations which forced the Left Front government to turn away from many of its policies introduced earlier, Biswas said.

He cited the example of the failed attempt to introduce “barefoot doctors” for the rural and neglected areas. “That policy has now given way to primary health centres,” he said. “But you must admit that both were designed to benefit the maximum number of people,” he added.

But the biggest of the forced changes, perhaps, had been the decision to encourage industrialists and others from the private sector and invite them to undertake projects jointly with the public sector, Biswas said.

Commenting on the success of the front in staying together for so many years — an achievement in itself given the political climate of new-found alliances and broken fronts in the country — Biswas said it was possible only because the Left Front was formed on the basis of a mass movement and not for the purposes of political expediency.

There was another achievement – not being the victim of President’s rule in 25 years — and another objective, that of bringing about social changes “peacefully” in and outside Bengal, he said.

“But we operate in a constitutional setup which leaves us very little space to manoeuvre but, still, we are trying our best to palliate people’s suffering,” he added. “We have never hidden our failures from our voters and have, instead, tried to explain to them the reasons for those failures,” the CPM leader said.

And the move has paid dividends. “People realise that no other government could have done better for them,” he claimed.


Kathmandu, June 20: 
Nepal had to first deal with “terrorism” and only then with political instability, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba said about the political turmoil resulting from his decision to dissolve Parliament.

Even in Nepal, after September 11, “terrorism” appears to have become a convenient mantra to sanctify the controversial acts of the government. It is being used to justify the dissolution of Parliament, though it still had two more years to run of its normal term.

This has resulted in a vertical split in Nepal’s oldest democratic party, the 56-year old Nepali Congress. Bypassing Parliament, an Ordinance extending the six-month-old state of emergency has been issued by the King — ensuring the continuation of suspension of civil liberties, restraining the press, banning political activity and allowing a free hand to the army against the Maoists.

The Emergency Ordinance would have to be ratified by Parliament after three months. However, that option does not exist as there is no Parliament. It was dissolved by the Prime Minister as he was not sure whether it would have ratified even the last extension of the emergency.

Deuba has promised a general election in November, hoping that the Maoist insurgency would be over by then. However, no one is too sure of events unfolding in this way.

At a time when political activity is not permitted, there is no legal recourse to the excesses of the state, the press is restricted and a state of emergency has been declared, how would elections be held? “During the elections, there would be no emergency,” Deuba said.

He insisted that he would hold elections on time. What if the insurgency does not end by then? “I don’t know. We have a tradition of elections in phases — but that is up to the election commission,” Deuba said. He claimed that the election would be “a referendum on the desire for peace and non-violence”.

But if the general election resulted in a hung Parliament, would not the discretion then fall on the King?

Deuba said that though he was confident of his faction of the Nepali Congress getting a majority, the constitution provides for the single largest party to be invited to form the government and not the King.

Accused of trying to form a “King’s party”, Deuba denied the charge as baseless, saying: “My party, the Nepali Congress, since its inception has been for constitutional monarchy. I have fought monarchy. I have been in jail for nine years. How can I compromise against democracy? The King himself has repeatedly said that he is with democracy.”

Asked whether the Maoist insurgency was not only a law and order problem but a political one also, demanding a political solution, Deuba recalled that he had tried to negotiate with the Maoists unsuccessfully. After three rounds of talks, the Maoists had walked out.

“Who is to say that if we enter into a dialogue (again), they might not again (use the opportunity to) re-strengthen their position, regroup their cadres, re-establish their chain of command and attack again? Can we afford to be attacked again?” Deuba asked.

The Prime Minister said India was helping Nepal tackle the Maoist insurgency by providing vehicles, arms and training to its security forces. India, he said, had also arrested some Nepali Maoists and handed them over.

He denied the suggestion that the Maoists were getting sanctuary in India, saying, “they may be hiding in India and illegally smuggling arms and ammunition”.

Deuba agreed that while the entire international community was behind Nepal in dealing with the Maoist issue, that was not the case within the country. “Even my own party is not supporting me. What can I do?” he asked. So, what indeed was he going to do? “That is why I had to dissolve Parliament. I had to go for polls as a referendum,” he said.


New Delhi, June 20: 
Sonia Gandhi today set out on a task to revive and revitalise the party in the heartland.

In a prelude to the selection of a new president for the headless Uttar Pradesh unit, the Congress high command initiated a day-long discussion on an action plan to unite the faction-ridden party.

The meeting was attended by 160 delegates, including AICC general secretaries Moti Lal Vora and Mohsina Kidwai, Ghulam Nabi Azad, political secretaries to Sonia Gandhi, Ambika Soni and Ahmed Patel, MPs and MLAs, former state unit presidents and legislature party leaders.

The party appears to be fumbling over a politically correct strategy for the heartland, without which it cannot hope to wrest New Delhi. An overwhelming view, it is learnt, is that the party while spiritedly fighting communal forces, should have no truck with casteist outfits like the Samajwadi Party or the Bahujan Samaj Party.

But given the complex caste and communal character of the polity, the Congress is yet come out with an alternative strategy. After experimenting with Salman Khurshid, a minority community member who was Uttar Pradesh Congress chief till last year and Sriprakash Jaiswal, a Bania by caste, a section of the leaders are now arguing that the party should have a Brahmin to puncture the BJP’s uppercaste base.

Some of the delegates today were critical of the role of certain central leaders for not properly advising Sonia over the situation in Uttar Pradesh.

Sources said some members felt that Priyanka Gandhi should be entrusted with the task of reviving the party in the state. There was also muted criticism of the Congress’ support to the NDA’s presidential nominee, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. However, Vora, who is in charge of Uttar Pradesh, denied it.

A general view is that rabid communal and caste politics and the hatred spread by these forces were the main reasons for the party’s dismal performance in the recent elections.


New Delhi, June 20: 
It’s now the turn of the National Council of Educational Research and Training to pull up a private publisher of school textbooks for hurting the sentiments of a minority community.

A sixth standard social science textbook, published by Goyal Brothers Prakashan, has become the target of criticism by minority organisations for exclusively carrying a chapter on Hindu religion and leaving out the rest. The publisher claims that the textbook’s contents are in accordance with the latest NCERT guidelines.

With the Supreme Court stay on new NCERT textbooks in social science, history and Hindi, private publishers are flooding the market with their books, all claiming to be in line with the new syllabus.

“There are few people discerning enough to be able to differentiate between an original NCERT textbook and others that are just claiming to follow its syllabus,” said an official.

Goyal Prakashan’s textbook came to the notice of the Sunni Students’ Federation, Kerala, which petitioned human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi to intervene.

“It was with shock and dismay that we noted that the newly introduced social science textbook for the sixth standard authored by D.N. Kundra (strictly in accordance with the 2002 NCERT guidelines) has dropped the part about Islam from its Major Religions chapter,” the federation said in its letter.

“We strongly condemn this act of spoiling the secular status of our nation and request the concerned authorities to withdraw this book with immediate effect,” it added.

Rajendra Dixit, convenor of the Curriculum Group, replied: “The NCERT syllabus of 2002 has not left out Islam. The social science syllabus of the sixth standard is limited to ‘People and Society in the Ancient Period’.”

Dixit explained that Islam had been included in the seventh standard social science syllabus.

Private publishers have given NCERT some ammunition against the Supreme Court. Their main argument is that the court does not clamp down on private publishers and cut off the supply of new textbooks – it is only the NCERT that is stopped from going ahead with the printing. The next court hearing is scheduled for July 16.

If the court order goes in favour of NCERT, students of Class XI may be spared the trouble of running from pillar to post for new textbooks.


New Delhi, June 20: 
The BJP is persisting in its efforts to ensure that Pakistan acts on its promise to end cross-border terrorism for India to withdraw its troops from the LoC.

While the government works towards a gradual de-escalation on the border by hinting at a “considerable drop” in infiltration along the Line of Control, the BJP has stepped up its anti-Pakistan rhetoric.

The party insists that the question of troop withdrawal does not arise unless cross-border terrorism stops completely and Pakistan eliminates the 70-odd terrorist training camps it “sponsored and funded” in PoK.

Addressing the press today, BJP general secretary and spokesperson Sunil Shastri said the international community must pressure Pakistan more “firmly and strongly” to exterminate all training camps.

He alleged that Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf had failed to respond to the call from the US and other countries to crackdown on terrorists, adding: “The government should use all its diplomatic strength to pressure the international community to issue clear directions to Pakistan to stop cross-border terrorism.”

Asked to respond to suggestions from the government that military-level talks to de-escalate the border tension could be resumed in the near future, Shastri said: “We feel the present situation does not warrant any kind of army withdrawal.”

He later said the party’s rhetoric was in response to the cadre’s “urge” to take a strong line against Pakistan.

A section of the Sangh, particularly the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, is unhappy with the government for not going in for a military strike against Pakistan and “capitulating” to US pressure.

On the Hurriyat’s proposal for triangular talks involving itself, India and Pakistan, Shastri said the BJP rejected it “in totality”. “The Hurriyat Conference is most welcome to talk to the government within the framework of the Constitution,” he said and added that he was confident the Centre would also turn down the Hurriyat’s proposal.

But the BJP spokesman was guarded while responding to a query on what he thought of President-in-waiting A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s observation that it was nuclear deterrence that prevented an Indo-Pak war from breaking out. In saying so, Kalam virtually repeated what Musharraf had said a couple of days ago.

“Our nuclear policy was for peaceful purposes,” said Shastri, “We made it clear we would never use our nuclear power against non-nuclear countries and there would be no first use either. But Pakistan failed to declare its policy. It is using its nuclear strength for blackmailing. Kalam has stated it according to his perception.” Asked if Kalam’s statement was an embarrassment to the BJP, he declined to reply.


New Delhi, June 20: 
The much-awaited “raddobadal” (overhaul) Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has planned for his Cabinet hinges on one person — BJP president K. Jana Krishnamurthi.

Although the reading in government and BJP circles is that the Cabinet shuffle/expansion may take place by end-June or early July, its scale would depend on Krishnamurthi.

BJP sources said if the party chief could be “persuaded” to join the government — he recently became a Rajya Sabha member — it could pave the way for a migration of leaders from the party to the Cabinet and vice-versa.

Sources close to Krishnamurthi, however, said he is not inclined to give up his post. “He said there was no proposal to move to the government. He has already prepared a calendar of programmes to revitalise the party in the coming months and will himself tour extensively,” they said.

Shifting him to the government when he has more than a year left at the helm of the party will be seen as a “punishment” for no “sound” reason, they added. “As it is, (Krishnamurthi’s predecessor) Bangaru Laxman barely lasted a year. Changing another president mid-stream will confuse our cadre even more,” said a Krishnamurthi aide.

BJP sources said if Krishnamurthi continues as president, ministers who are tipped to return to the party— the names of Venkaiah Naidu, Shanta Kumar and Ananth Kumar were mentioned — will not be as keen.

Naidu has reportedly conveyed to Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani that he would return to the party fold only as president and would not settle for anything “less”. A post like the general secretary’s would have seen Naidu “working under” Krishnamurthi.

On his part, the BJP chief is equally clear. He does not want Naidu back.

If both sides stick to their postures, sources virtually ruled out chances of a large-scale Cabinet reshuffle. “At the most, some ministers of state would be dropped and new ones inducted and the vacancies created by the exit of Manohar Joshi and Ram Vilas Paswan would be filled,” the sources said. No drastic change at the top is likely, they added.

Sources close to Krishnamurthi said the “maximum” he is willing to yield is to continue as president till April 2003, not September when his term officially ends. He plans to finish the organisational elections by early April so that a new president could be elected by the end of the month.

Krishnamurthi, who left for Gujarat today, will return on June 24. Advani, who is in Spain, is also slated to come back around the same time. BJP sources said decisive talks on the shuffle will begin then.

A section of the party believes that in the run-up to next year’s Assembly polls and the general election in 2004, the BJP needs a “relatively young and dynamic” leader. This section also feels that the BJP has lost most of the elections under Krishnamurthi.

However, another group said it is “unfair” to blame Krishnamurthi for the party’s electoral reverses, which had as much to do with the Centre’s policies as anti-incumbency factors and factionalism.

The BJP organisation has veterans like Pyarelal Khandelwal, Kailashpati Mishra and Madan Lal Khurana who have been assigned important tasks by Krishnamurthi. Whether they will take orders from a much younger Naidu is being debated.


Maintained by Web Development Company