Sunday, April 29, 2001,
Chandigarh, India


E D I T O R I A L   P A G E


India’s lurching democracy
Rakshat Puri
HE compromise that Atal Behari Vajpayee and Sonia Gandhi worked out for allowing Parliament to discuss the Budget does not absolve the Congress leadership of blame for disrupting Parliament’s functioning. Parliament’s working has been disturbed since about March 13.

Child abuse and the law
K.T.S. Tulsi
HILDREN are the poor man’s riches, says an English proverb. We find delight in the beauty and happiness of children. But a little girl without a doll is almost as unfortunate as a woman without children.

Equip NHRC with more teeth
H.L. Kapoor
T is futile to talk of Human Rights unless concrete steps are initiated to protect these. The NHRC, which was set up in 1993, has taken up several cases suo motu and recommended action to stress the need for the protection of the same by the departments concerned, including the police who are legally bound to ensure protection to the aggrieved persons.


Parroting master's voice
April 28
, 2001
An undebated budget
April 27
, 2001
Pre-election defeat
April 26
, 2001
Two losers in impasse war
April 25
, 2001
Wet wheat, dry FCI
April 24
, 2001
Rivals, not enemies
April 23
, 2001
Pakistan — a failed state?
April 22
, 2001
Akal Takht on girl-child
April 21
, 2001
Big leap in space
April 20
, 2001
Plane truths
April 19
, 2001
A hollow threat
April 18, 2001
A testing time ahead
April 17, 2001

On building new cities
Prem Kumar
T must be ages ago that jungle habitats began turning into villages and the villages, in turn, gave rise to towns and cities in the world, which includes India. It all came about with the evolution of society.


Harihar Swarup
Leader who does not get rattled easily
HATEVER may be in store for Ajit Panja in the aftermath of his standoff with Mamata Banerjee, the bitterness between the two founder-members of the Trinamool Congress is bound to reflect in next month's Assembly elections in West Bengal.


Tehelka comes to the aid of Congress
HE entire Budget session of Parliament was hit by ‘Tehelka’. And, Congressmen are not complaining. But for the nasty experience of disrupting House proceedings day after day, the party members say that it was worthwhile. A member explained that before the “Tehelka” expose on arms deals took place, the Congress had no major issue to embarrass the Government.

  • Foes turn friends

  • Downturn

  • Sporty Haryana

  • Helping with wheelchairs


Humra Quraishi
Khushwant at his candid best
NLY Khushwant Singh could do it. At the inaugural ceremony of the bicentennial celebrations of the coronation of Maharaja Ranjit Singh Khushwant Singh was at his candid best. 





India’s lurching democracy
Rakshat Puri

THE compromise that Atal Behari Vajpayee and Sonia Gandhi worked out for allowing Parliament to discuss the Budget does not absolve the Congress leadership of blame for disrupting Parliament’s functioning. Parliament’s working has been disturbed since about March 13. After the public showing of the Tehelka tapes, the Opposition, led primarily by the Congress, demanded the resignation of the Vajpayee government. On the afternoon of March 13, a discussion on farmers was interrupted by the Congress and a few other Opposition members who began to shout in the Lok Sabha, demanding that the government quit immediately. The government dared the Opposition to table a no-confidence motion. The Opposition ignored the challenge. The government was vaguely reported suggesting a Joint Parliamentary Committee, which did not find favour with the Congress. Then the government suggested a Commission of Inquiry to be headed by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court. It was informed on behalf of the Supreme Court that a sitting judge could not be spared. So a Commission of Inquiry was ordered under a retired judge. Last Monday the Vajpayee Government agreed on the feasibility of a Joint Parliamentary Committee after a discussion on the Tehelka issue. Vajpayee thought a discussion on the Budget was more important. The Opposition led by the Congress remained unmindful of damage to the institution of Parliament. On March 15 Defence Minister George Fernandes tendered his resignation, which was accepted.

Days and weeks went by with the working of Parliament stalled by the Congress and some others in the Opposition. Gradually, the Leftist parties seemed to begin distancing themselves from the stand of the Congress of “no Parliamentary work, the Government must quit”. The Leftist parties began to come round to the view that there was need to bring up the Tehelka exposure for debate in the Lok Sabha, so that the Government might be put in the dock and be forced to explain, or confess to, the existence of corruptibility in its higher echelons. But the Congress for some reason kept shying away from such a debate. The argument, that any kind of disciplinary action had to follow and could not precede a debate, fell on deaf ears.

The manner in which the work of Parliament is frequently brought to a halt unless certain demands are met is in blatant violation of all norms of parliamentary democracy. This does not have to be emphasised, it is obvious. And this is not the first time that the Congress and certain other sections of the Opposition have violated parliamentary norms in this way. Is it any surprise that the system itself in this country is beginning to stumble and falter?

The irony is that when the Vajpayee government set up a commission to review the Constitution, the Congress, along with other Opposition groups and leaders, made a great deal of noise about protecting and saving the system. Is the system which the Congress and its allies seek to protect and perpetuate one that allows forcible interruptions in Parliament working, one that allows prevention of debate and discussion over issues about which people have the first right to be informed? People are the prime element among all those elements that constitute the parliamentary system of democracy. Much pride is expressed by almost everybody almost everywhere in the country at India’s tenacious abidance by democratic norms, regardless of difficulties and hurdles. But deliberate and raucous interruptions by members themselves of Parliament’s functioning hardly squares with such pride and democratic resolution. A prime essential in the democratic way is that questions, allegations, accusations, apprehensions and arguments are heard; then they are answered —publicly, for people to hear, consider and judge for themselves what their representatives say, on their behalf. That is what ought to be. The people’s right to hear, know and judge what transpires in Parliament is apparently the last thing on the minds of MPs and political parties here, if it really is on their minds!

Not only are people prevented from getting to know about issues when their representatives force Parliament to stop working, it is they also who pay for being kept in the dark. By one estimate, a single hour of parliamentary work costs around Rs.17 lakh—adding up during a parliamentary session to about Rs 1.5 crore a day. The cost is borne by the taxpayer of course. Perhaps the MPs think the taxpayer should be amused? Disruptions do not affect the MPs’ own perks and wages. MPs are, in addition, protected by parliamentary privileges, which debar people, courts and other agencies and institutions from interfering in what is said and done in Parliament. Three cheers for the system that the Congress and its allied leaders and parties want saved! Decorum in Parliament has been violated by MPs again and again. Sometimes, the violation might take place despite the restraint of party leaders—many years ago a BJP member called Kachhwai attempted angrily to protest by burning a paper in the Lok Sabha, which Vajpayee and other senior party MPs snatched from him; then they apologised to the Speaker for the violation. But such instances are rare. And that happened many years ago. It is a different kind of mood and manner that prevails now.

When the Bofors issue was up for debate and discussion, the Speaker had to adjourn the House week after week for about a month. There was uproar and adjournments during “discussion” on the Dunkel proposal in 1993; during the securities scam in 1994; the Jain Commission in 1997, etc. On the Sukh Ram affair the BJP, along with the rest of the Opposition, did not allow Parliament to function for over a fortnight—ironically, Sukh Ram is today BJP’s ally. Last December Atal Behari Vajpayee seemed to do a significant turn-around from his known sense of moderation when he approximated to the approach of the RSS on the Ayodhya temple-masjid incident of 1992.

There was a great deal of interest, curiosity, alarm and protest. The public waited eagerly to hear what he would have to say in Parliament. But the Opposition did not allow a debate. To this day, the public does not know what transpired to make Vajpayee apparently deviate from his moderate approach. It does not even know if he is sticking ruggedly by his apparent deviation from moderation.

Meanwhile, those who are so concerned about saving the system, which they work in order to forcibly interrupt for their own political ends and purposes, might consider that the system ought to serve a functioning democracy. The system as they seem to see it, and want to protect and perpetuate, does not appear to have any affinity with a functioning democracy. (Asia Features)


Child abuse and the law
K.T.S. Tulsi

CHILDREN are the poor man’s riches, says an English proverb. We find delight in the beauty and happiness of children. But a little girl without a doll is almost as unfortunate as a woman without children.

When I see scantily clad children carrying even smaller children in their arms, in the biting cold of Delhi winter on its intersections, my faith in the Constitution of India is shaken. What has Article 21 given to these unfortunate children? What is the meaning of human dignity for them? We may boast of brilliant judges, grand courts, high-flying civil servants and politicians swearing by the welfare of the poor. Yet, half a century of free and constitutional India has not been able to free more than 100 million of Indian children from the shackles of poverty.

Children need models, not critics and not sermons. At one time, Sivakasi was taken as the worst offender. Now, child labour is an all-India phenomenon. Inspite of the Child Labour Prohibition and Registration Act of 1986, the Factories Act of 1948, the Plantations Labour Act of 1951, the Motor Transport Workers Act of 1961, the Apprentices Act of 1961, the Merchant Shipping Act of 1958, the Mines Act of 1952, the Beedi and Cigar Workers (Conditions of Employment) Act 1961 and the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child of 1959, the ignominy of Indian children has become more and more widespread. Article 24 of the Constitution may be fundamental and Article 45 may be raised to a high pedestal, but child labour has continued.

So long as there is poverty, there will be child labour. So long as there is illiteracy, there will be child labour. The question of abolition of child labour and the attainment of the constitutional objectives will remain a dream. The grand schemes devised by the Supreme Court, in the case of M.C. Mehta (Child Labour Matter Vs. State of Tamil Nadu (1996) 6 SCC 756 of making the employer pay a compensation of Rs 20,000 will remain a dead letter just as the statutes of Parliament. The inspectors will enforce neither. I wonder if any district funds have been created, as was directed by the Supreme Court on 10.12.1996, or whether any survey has been done with regard to the abuse of children of tender age, by way of their employment in factories or mines or on other hazardous jobs. The survey was required to be completed within six months.

I tried to find the extent of child abuse, both physical and sexual, in the country. The National Crime Records Bureau does not even have a head for cases of child abuse nor does it contain figures of rape of minor girls. The plight of children subjected to physical and sexual abuse is worse than that of women. Who do they complain to? Where do they go after the complaint? Can the child be expected to make complaint against his or her own father or mother or uncle or aunt and yet be able to live in the same house? Where will he spend the next night after making the complaint — the police station or a railway platform? It is futile to believe that a child has a hope against physical and sexual abuse in his own home, against his own relations or elders.

It is not a question of degeneration of values alone. It is a question of erecting an effective mechanism for being able to deal with the menace of child abuse. The present children’s home are neither adequate nor suitable for this purpose.

With regard to the rights of maintenance of children, the plight of Muslim children is far worse than that of those belonging to other communities. Till recently, it was also in doubt whether a child of Muslim parents had the right to claim maintenance under Section 125 of the Cr.P.C. It had routinely been argued and accepted that a Muslim who had been divorced and had received a Mehr, of even Rs 500 was not entitled to any further maintenance. Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986, was cited as the reason why, having received Mehr, she was deemed to have forfeited her right to claim maintenance, under any other law. It was only in 1997 that Chief Justice Anand ruled in the case of Noor Saba Khatoon Vs. Mohd. Quasim (1997) 6 SCC 233, that a divorced Muslim woman is entitled to claim maintenance from her previous husband, not only for herself but also for Muslim children, and that minor children are also entitled to maintenance under Section 125 of Cr.P.C., till they attain majority or are able to maintain themselves. It is hoped that this will set at rest the controversy over the right of Muslim children to maintenance.

Another difficulty faced by children in claiming maintenance is the denial of paternity by their father. In a strongly worded judgement, in the case of Goutam Kundu Vs. State of West Bengal, (1993) 3 SCC 418, Justice Mohan held that the meaning of conclusive proof contained in Section 112 of the Evidence Act must be understood. A child born during a lawful wedlock is legitimate and the law presumes a marriage to be valid and a person to be legitimate.

Justice Faizannuddin held in the case of Kirtikant D. Vadodaria Vs. State of Gujarat (1996) 4 SCC 479, that the expression ‘mother’ does not include a ‘step-mother’ nor can a step-mother be equated to a natural mother. ‘Mother’, under Section 125 of Cr.P.C. must be the natural mother who has given birth to the child and it is that mother who is required to maintain her child.

Till the time we have a special machinery to deal with the problems of children, all the laws will be nothing but romantic tales or a childish fantasy.


Equip NHRC with more teeth
H.L. Kapoor

IT is futile to talk of Human Rights unless concrete steps are initiated to protect these. The NHRC, which was set up in 1993, has taken up several cases suo motu and recommended action to stress the need for the protection of the same by the departments concerned, including the police who are legally bound to ensure protection to the aggrieved persons. But at times, the recommendations of the NHRC are not taken seriously. It is, therefore, imperative that a wide range of mechanism and meaningful steps, as also the cooperation of various departments, have to be sought to ensure the protection of rights.

Over the years, people have developed confidence in the Commission set up in various states. The NHRC has been receiving a large number of complaints pertaining to human rights violation, including custodial deaths, cases of bride burning and cruelty to women. The NHRC and the state commissions have been taking pains for the redressal of grievances of the people but it will not be wrong to say that their recommendations have not been taken seriously because of the non-availability of effective mechanism and lack of will to redress people’s grievances pertaining to human rights violations. The lackadaisical approach would cut the roots of the mechanism resulting in the erosion of people’s faith.

It hardly, needs any elaboration that there have been extensive violation of Human Rights by the police when innocent persons were hauled up in criminal cases or eliminated in fake encounters. Custodial deaths, despite repeated directions of Supreme Court to prevent the same, have added a new dimension to the brutalisation of the police force. The Supreme Court guidelines framed in 1997 are being flouted with impunity. The senior echelons of the police and bureaucrats have not paid adequate attention to the important aspect of human rights violations. Torture of suspects in the police custody is not only barbaric but inhuman also.

It may be worth mentioning that though the NHRC and the state commissions have the power to enquire into complaints regarding violation of human rights yet are not vested with the powers to take punitive action. The Commission can only recommend action and it is for the state authorities to take action. Compensation recommended for custodial deaths is not taken seriously and in large number of such custodial crimes, the aggrieved persons have not been paid adequate compensation. The Supreme Court and high courts have the powers to order compensation under Article 32 and 226 of the Constitution and it is binding for the state to report compliance of the apex court’s orders. Further the Commission does not have adequate manpower and infrastructure. If the recommendations of the Commission are not to be taken seriously or no action is initiated on the same, the very purpose of setting up the Commission would be defeated. The recommendations made by the Commission should be taken in all seriousness by the state authorities concerned. A legislation to this effect can be enacted.

Certain human rights have been guaranteed under the Constitution. Every human being has a responsibility towards his fellow citizens. It is his bounden duty to ensure that his actions do not transgress the legal limits of decency. It, therefore, implies that whatever he does for the enjoyment of his own rights, he should in no way infringe the other man’s rights. But what happens in practical life is that in the fulfilment of one’s own rights, one disturbs the peace and mental equilibrium of others. While one cherishes to achieve the worldly desires, one has a moral duty to protect and honour the other man’s rights.

The Commission with its limited staff is unable to lay hands on the perpetrators of crime violating the human rights. It hardly needs any reiteration that human rights in many cases are denied to women. Since it is not binding on the police or other authorities supposed to protect the women’s human rights to immediately inform the Human Rights Commission about the torture including mental torture caused to the women by their husbands or in-laws culminating in suicide, the Commission remains ignorant about the atrocities committed on women in violation of the human rights. Again there is need to keep the Commission posted with important information about all deaths of women caused through burning or torture and murders. The police informs the SDMs about the suspicious deaths and are further legally bound to inform him about bride-burning cases. This is the most inhuman crime and the NHRC must be kept posted with such happenings. The law must be amended making it obligatory on the police and others to inform the Commission about all such deaths where human rights are trampled upon so that the Commission may enquire into the violation of human rights. Since it is not obligatory for the police to inform the Commission about such deaths, unscrupulous cops make money. Here it may be worth mentioning that women have not only been denied fundamental rights by men, their husbands and in-laws but are subjected to harassment, and rough treatment. Due to the lack of awareness, the human rights are denied to them. The husband and in-laws comprise the frontline to deny the basic human rights. The Supreme Court has held “that cruelty in legal sense need not be mere physical assault. The conduct adopted by the husband or any other relative which tends to undermine the health or reasonably effects her death is cruelty”. The court has further ruled that “even imputing unchastity to a woman is a serious charge and if established may result in serious consequences as such a woman would stand condemned in the society — this amounts to mental torture and agony”. (AIR 1979 MP — 45 AIR — 1966-364 refers). Unless the state commissions are given specific powers to investigate in depth all such human rights violations, the appointment of such commissions will be a useless exercise. The Commission should have the power to ask for records, statements recorded by the police and the magistrate and any violation of the directives issued by the NHRC from time to time must invite penal action for which necessary amendment should be made in the NHRC Act itself. The basic concept behind this suggestion is not to impose a super authority but to arm the Commission with more powers so that violation of human rights could be checked effectively and stopped.

Our Constitution has guaranteed fundamental rights under Art 14 (Equality before law), Art 15 (Protection against discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, a place of birth), Art 19 (Freedom of expression) Art 20 (Protection against self involvement in crime), Art 21 (Protection of life and personal liability) and Art 22 (Safeguards/protection against arrest and detention etc).

The people are not aware of such rights which are often violated. It is here where the Commission must intervene. The Commissions’ recommendation must be followed in toto and the cases referred by the Commission should be thoroughly probed to elicit truth so that the people who yearn for justice and human rights feel satisfied. Human rights can only be ensured through legal power and authority given to the commission that are presently lacking.

Last but not least, one of the mechanisms is the “Education programme”. The British who ruled India till 1947 had divided the society on the caste basis. In modern times, education is not only essential but also the key to success in all walks of life. All efforts should be focused at ameliorating lot of the people in educational field. The widespread knowledge would automatically bring awareness to the people about human rights and responsibility to the society.

The Central Government must amend the NHRC Act giving adequate powers to it and the state human rights panels so that human rights could be protected. The police, magistracy, the state government must honour the recommendations given by the commission and non-compliance of the same should cost them heavily.


On building new cities
Prem Kumar

IT must be ages ago that jungle habitats began turning into villages and the villages, in turn, gave rise to towns and cities in the world, which includes India.

It all came about with the evolution of society. Rulers no longer wanted to be jungle chiefs and the elite wanted something better than a rural setting, something more elegant and imposing, to be more than equals.

The economic, social and political considerations would have played a role and we had cities surrounded by villages and palaces with official quarters of the ruling class within cities. Some of them wanted to make them what they thought would be impregnable and called them forts and fortresses.

The population overflowed and sprawling cities came up in the vicinity of forts. Often they were on the banks of or near rivers or sources of water not because they wanted beautiful waterfronts as backdrop but because they needed clean and fresh water for survival.

And why should we be talking about developments of centuries ago? Some of you may even guess that we want to talk about a recent development, that is Anandgarh.

No, we are not going to discuss or comment on the Punjab and Haryana High Court judgement on the proposed Anandgarh project, even though it is very relevant to the times and also a beautiful piece of writing. I particularly like the observation, “Man cannot continue to pick nature’s pocket.”

Mr Justice Jawahar Lal Gupta, speaking on behalf of the Division Bench, said, “He (man) cannot raise multi-storeyed monsters of steel and cement at every place. All places cannot be suitable for a new city.”

It is perhaps a milestone judgement that quashed the notification of the Anandgarh project. But the objective of this writeup is not to talk about the judgement; it is to talk about the rising of new cities in general and in historical context.

The kings and queens, sometimes even princes and princesses, loved to build or develop new cities for they thought that they would make them immortal.

It is another thing that some of them were known more for their memorial to a spouse rather than the city they built. Take Shahjehan, for instance, who was a great Mughal builder-emperor. How any people remember Shahjehanabad? And how many remember and talk about Taj Mahal built outside a city?

Incidentally, Mughals were great when it came to developing new cities, forts, gardens and memorials, which are remembered in the reverse order. It does not mean that the great Hindu rulers before them did not build these things or the great secular chiefs did not do so after them.

Traditions and practices of rulers, whether feudal or democratic, are difficult to give up. We can see the row of “ghats” flanking Rajghat in Delhi to remind us of the leaders of modern times. We have the Capitol Complex at Chandigarh, another modern-day fort, as government headquarters.

We have similar complexes built in modern times in almost all state capitals and also the imposing Raj Bhavans with strings of imposing residential buildings—less limposing than Raj Bhavans, of course—for the modern-day courtiers, ministers and officials. It is only natural that habitats of lesser mortals should come up in their vicinity and slums should appear afterwards for the people who mean little to the rulers.

While one is swept away by such sentimental stuff, one forgets that the subject under discussion is the raising of new cities. One recent example is Chandigarh itself. It was a dreamchild of then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and a favourite project of then Chief Minister Partap Singh Kairon, both among the most powerful rulers in the democratic era.

It has turned out to be a big success and subsequent administrators felt so excited over the success that they held seminars and even built a museum to describe the city. However, they forget that the success of the city was none of their doing. It came up mainly because the core settlers, the displaced persons from Lahore, wanted an equally good place to live on this side of the border after the partition of the country. They were prepared to come and live in the wilderness that was Chandigarh in initial days. More people came when they were displaced from Africa as they had their origin in this region. Still more came from villages as they did well during the Green Revolution and wanted a posh habitat.

If the rulers of today could raise cities, Gandhinagar in Gujarat and Bhubneswar in Orissa would not have developed into mere government colonies and would have been cities like Chandigarh where public debates centre over the question of the soul of the city. That Panchkula in Haryana and SAS Nagar in Punjab too came up well is because they are an extension of Chandigarh.

It is difficult to understand why ruling parties and leaders continue to nurse ambitions of raising new cities. Punjab had Chief Ministers from the Congress like late Darbara Singh and Beant Singh who wanted to develop Ranjitgarh and New Chandigarh, respectively, and present Akali Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal wants to raise Anandgarh, another name for New Chandigarh. And they like to make it a matter of personal prestige.

People recall Chief Minister Badal proclaiming publicly that he would give to them a city of international standards in Anandgarh. The same Mr Badal and his Akali party had opposed the New Chandigarh project of Chief Minister Beant Singh on the plea that it would uproot a large number of villagers and that Chandigarh—we dare not call it old Chandigarh for it is still very new—in any case belonged to Punjab.

And now the Congress opposes Anandgarh of Badal because it will uproot villagers. Thank God both the parties care for the villagers though in different contexts!

What an average Punjabi would like to know is if these leaders and their parties, ruling or otherwise, really like to have beautiful cities, of international standards or otherwise, in their beloved land.

Punjab already has quite a few cities that are fairly prosperous. Most parts of those cities stink, they have water supply of poor quality, other civic amenities of still poorer quality. A lot could have been done to improve them.

A lot was promised too. For instance, it was promised in case of Amritsar when they celebrated its 400-year existence with much fanfare. Nothing much happened. Forget about international standards; leave aside the beauty part of it.

It will be more than enough if they were to ensure the basic civic amenities and sanitation in the existing cities. And then, they would not need to raise new cities. The old ones can still accommodate more people if they are properly maintained.

Or do we really have to bring more people from villages to cities? Could it be that the life in villages too can be improved to keep them there? These may be mere questions but would have to be answered by someone some day or the other.


Leader who does not get rattled easily
Harihar Swarup

WHATEVER may be in store for Ajit Panja in the aftermath of his standoff with Mamata Banerjee, the bitterness between the two founder-members of the Trinamool Congress is bound to reflect in next month's Assembly elections in West Bengal.

Panja is the second most important leader in the four-year-old party's power structure and slighting him at this crucial juncture, apparently, is not a good omen.

While Mamata has come to acquire a public image in the Marxist-ruled state, Panja raised the new party's cadre, consolidated its base and made it strong enough to challenge the might of the ruling Left Front.

While Mamata is known for her impulsiveness, short-temper and the habit of picking up a quarrel at drop of a hat, Panja is calm, cool and does not get rattled easily. Able organiser as he is, he has acted almost like a fire brigade many times when it became too hot for his new party.

Panja himself now is at the receiving end; he has become the target of his supreme leader's wrath. Mamata suspects he is still hobnobbing with the BJP's leadership and hankers more after a ministerial berth.

She lambasted him at a recent meeting in the presence of party MPs and her remark ‘‘those who disobey my order will be thrown out of the party’’ irked Panja. He quietly left the meeting. When Mamata snapped ties with the NDA and forged an alliance with the Congress, she did not take Panja into confidence.

Panja chose his time and place to attack her. The venue was Kolkata's Press Club where he said without mincing words that the alliance with the Congress had dampened the chances of the Trinamool Congress of coming to power and that Mamata's popularity had taken a beating.

Though Panja has been a product of the Congress party, he is very bitter with the leaders of his parent organisation, particularly with the present chief of the West Bengal unit of the Congress, Pranab Mukherjee. ‘‘How could Mamata join hands with Pranab? Has she forgotten that he had kicked her out of the Congress four years ago?’’

Panja has made it known that he would support the NDA from outside even at the risk of defying his supreme leader. Latest reports from Kolkata say Panja's name has been withdrawn from the list of party campaigners and he may not be seen in the canvassing which is reaching a hectic pitch.

Panja is, perhaps, among a handful of leaders from West Bengal who has never lost an election. Making his debut in the Lok Sabha in 1984, he won five successive elections in 1989, 1991, 1996, 1998 and 1999 with handsome margins from Calcutta North East despite a sustained onslaught by the Marxists.

Those who know him say that others should emulate the way he nurses his constituency. He meticulously attends to all the problems of his voters, maintains a register and knows most of them personally. He is in Kolkata every week end and the only work he does is to keep in touch with the people.

Panja became a Minister in his first term in the Lok Sabha and remained in office in the Government of P.V. Narasimha Rao. He represented the Trinamool Congress in the ministry of Atal Behari Vajpayee and, evidently, was not happy to leave the government. Also very few at the junior level had the experience of holding charge of so many ministries from time to time as Panja and they include Planning, Information and Broadcasting (twice), Food and Civil Supplies, Finance and Coal. He was rated as a competent Minister.

Though a Bar-at-Law and a lawyer by profession, Panja is an accomplished stage artist. He sprang a surprise in diplomatic circles when, while holding the post of Minister of State for External Affairs in the NDA Government, he played the role of Ramakrishna Paramahansa in a play. He performed in London, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Washington.

The Bengali audience in these cities gave him and his 34-member troupe a standing ovation. Many were so moved that they burst into tears. Panja received kudos from both Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Mr Jyoti Basu. The play depicts the plight of women 130 years ago and the powerful role of the sage Paramahansa in the women's lib movement in Bengal. As far back as 1987 he played the role of ‘‘Shuja’’ in the play ‘‘Shahjehan’’.

When an enterprising reporter asked Panja which aspects of Ramakrishna Paramahansa's philosophy he would like to incorporate in politics, his reply was: ‘‘I have leant that consensus and not confrontation is the best way to deal with problems’’.

While Panja believes in consensus, his leader, Mamata Banerjee, always itches for a confrontation. Will Panja be able to prevail on her to give up the politics of combativeness? Or, is he preparing to bid goodbye to the Trinamool Congress? 


Tehelka comes to the aid of Congress

THE entire Budget session of Parliament was hit by ‘Tehelka’. And, Congressmen are not complaining. But for the nasty experience of disrupting House proceedings day after day, the party members say that it was worthwhile. A member explained that before the “Tehelka” expose on arms deals took place, the Congress had no major issue to embarrass the Government.

The website did a great service to the party by giving them an issue. Tehelka not only kept the Government pinned down, but also boosted the morale of the Opposition party. At a time when people had begun writing off the principal political party of the country, the “Tehelka” expose has helped it to bounce back to centrestage.

While the party has been celebrating over its strategy to highlight the “Tehelka” issue, the subsequent turn of events has left several partymen befuddled. First it was the mammoth climbdown from the demand for the Prime Minister’s resignation over “Tehelka” to the demand for constituting a JPC. The government has not agreed to the party’s demand so far. Though the Budget session of Parliament was adjourned for almost 15 days over the “Tehelka” issue mainly due to vehement protests by the Congress, the matter now stands deferred to the monsoon session much to the liking of the Government.

A lot of water is expected to flow down the Yamuna by then. The Congress was vehemently opposed to the curtailment of the Budget session of Parliament but finally succumbed to the pressure from other quarters. The climbdown from its high pedestal has been so severe and sudden that observers say that the Congress has now been left with nothing to look down upon the government. The confrontation now is eye-to-eye, they say.

Foes turn friends

Apart from the happenings inside Parliament, the just concluded Budget session would also be known for the happenings after business hours. While the Opposition furore over the “Tehelka” expose saw the Congress forcing adjournments in the Lok Sabha, the members took their acrimony even outside the House. It was common scene to see MPs raise slogans against each other outside the main gate and at times even coming to near blows. Parliament security had a tough time keeping the agitated MPs apart.

However, amidst all the acrimony, there were instances when the members of the ruling side and the Congress were at the best of terms. For instance, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pramod Mahajan had no qualms in seeking the help of the Congress spokesman and veteran parliamentarian Jaipal Reddy in drafting the resolution on the formation of a Joint Parliamentary Committee on the recent stock scam. Reddy was more than forthcoming and drafted the entire resolution, including the terms of reference of the JPC. With an eye for detail, Reddy ensured that no point is missed and the terms of reference are comprehensive.


The premier business association of the country, Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) appears to have taken a nosedive vis-a-vis its rival, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (FICCI). In recent years, the CII’s image as an association enjoying considerable clout with the Government of the day seems to have taken a battering and this was palpably reflected during the recently concluded annual general meeting in New Delhi. In a major departure from previous years, the Prime Minister was not present to address the delegates and even the Finance Minister could not find time to grace the annual celebrations.

In contrast, FICCI which is represented by traders and leaders of conventional businesses, enjoys the present Government’s patronage. The Prime Minister, the Finance Minister and the Commerce and Industry Minister have been regulars at their meeting. It was perhaps in retaliation for this discrimination that CII at its annual meeting invited leading scribes to chair their sessions. In the backdrop of the “Tehelka” expose, is the chamber trying to give a message to the Government?

Sporty Haryana

It seems to be the year of the Haryanvis in the sports stage of the country. First it was the turn of Ajay Chautala to win the elections for the presidentship of the Table Tennis Federation of India and this was followed by a similar feat by his brother Abhay in the Boxing Federation of India. The third feather in Haryana’s cap came in the election of M.S.Malik as President of the Wrestling Federation of India. Having wrested the prestigious positions in India, the Haryana team is now eyeing similar posts in international organisations. Ajay has made a beginning by winning the presidentship of the Commonwealth TT Federation.

Helping with wheelchairs

International airliner, British Airways, had a special cargo in its flight last week. There were 100 wheelchairs meant for children in South India. Working with a UK-based charity — Inside Out — and the British Deputy High Commission the wheelchairs bring hope to the lives of many needy children. The wheelchairs were no ordinary chairs. They were refurbished by volunteer prisoners at the Garth Prison in Lancashire.

The free service provided by the airline has enabled the charity organisation to reach out assistance to children in several parts of the country. The effort has been worthwhile. To quote an official of the British High Commission “It is hard to describe the joy on the face of a parent who has, up until now, been carrying a child, sometimes three miles each way, to a centre each day for treatment.”

(Contributed by T. V. Lakshminarayan, Prashant Sood, Gaurav Chowdhury and P. N. Andley).


Khushwant at his candid best
Humra Quraishi

ONLY Khushwant Singh could do it. At the inaugural ceremony of the bicentennial celebrations of the coronation of Maharaja Ranjit Singh Khushwant Singh was at his candid best. His keynote address made most in the audience sit up and needless to add, left those on the dais very red-faced indeed! In fact, I have never seen a more embarrassed looking set of politicians and these included the PM, Punjab CM, Union Ministers Jagmohan, Ananth Kumar, S.S. Dhindsa and several others. Khushwant began by saying that Ranjit Singh was successful in building a powerful army and could stop all invasions from the North-West Frontiers because he had inculcated a strong sense of Punjabiat and made simply no demarcations between people of different communities. Over with that, Khushwant more than hinted at the blatant ongoings of this Right-wing government at the Centre and very categorically pointed out to the Prime Minister the divisive forces at work. Then addressing Mr Parkash Singh Badal, Khushwant said “Ranjit Singh had little respect for Akalis of his time, he described them thus: kuj faham wa kotch andesh (of crooked minds and shortsighted).”

Whilst the audience applauded and laughed the so-called VVIPs could do little to counter the damage, except come up with the predictably-worded speeches, in the backdrop of this irony of sorts: Though Ranjit Singh never sat on a throne (always on the floor along with his ministers/aides) these VVIP politicians not only sat on elaborate chairs but Minister Culture Ananth Kumar kept pointing at the replica of the throne of Ranjit Singh saying “it has cost us Rs 6 lakh!”

I am sure a better tribute to Ranjit Singh would have been using this amount on a national integration project — of course, not one of those HRD-manned projects but along more apolitical lines. Anyway, among the more positive outcomes of this function is certainly the fact that there might be some efforts to get the Kohinoor back. In fact, it was Khushwant who pointed out that it is time the Kohinoor was given back to India “Ranjit Singh had initially planned to donate it to the shrine of Jagannath Puri .....”

And also the speech rendered by Faqir Aijazuddin who had especially come down from Lahore for the function and whose forefathers had worked with Ranjit Singh. What I particularly liked was the logic behind this title ‘faqir’. “When Ranjit Singh asked my forefather what title would he like to be bestowed with, he promptly said ‘faqir’, ‘for in case I’m well off this would help in maintaining a humility of sorts and in case I’m poor it will anyway not be amiss’!’” Our VVIPs on the dais didn’t seem very happy by this faqir title anecdote! For obvious reasons. Imagine if our politicians started calling themselves faqirs the entire concept of the very word would undergo a change!


This week I received two invites, from two opposite camps, as it were. One is from the Iraqi School and the Indo-Iraq Friendship Society for the celebrations lined up at the India Habitat Centre for President Saddam Hussein’s birthday (April 29). And the other invite was from the Kuwaiti Embassy. The Kuwaiti ambassador to India, Abdullah A Almurad, hosted an informal Press Meet on April 25 to talk about the latest on the Iraq-Kuwait front.

It seems to be a depressing scenario for he said there ‘s tension mounting especially “ in view of the fact there have been threats against the Kuwaits and also that Saddam Hussein’s eldest son Udai, who is a member of what is called the Iraqi National Assembly, has come up with a new map of Iraq in which he has included the State of Kuwait ...and when Udai speaks in this way everybody knows that he speaks with consent of his father and of the Iraqi regime...”

At this same meet some other journalists pointed at some recent reports in a particular Kuwaiti newspaper which state that the real Saddam Hussein was killed in 1991 itself. Seems a very unlikely fact for if this were true, then the Americans would have been a lot more relaxed which would have led to a relaxation of sanctions against the Iraqi people. For over and above the current political tension, the fact remains that the people of Iraq have been hit by these sanctions in the worst possible manner. I think in the confines of this very column I had mentioned about a film I saw at the IIC which outlines the different kinds of cancers erupting amongst the Iraqi people because of the nuclear weaponry used by the Allied forces in the war against Iraq. A huge pity that the devastation or call it long term devastating effects of war are still continuing.


Earlier this month some of our well known authors — Mahasweta Devi, CS Lakshmi. Mukul Kesawan, Raj Kamal Jha, Nirmal Verma and UR Anantamurthy — had been invited to France (occasion —Villeneuve sur Lot Book Fair ) and now this week Arundhati Roy received the special award — ‘Chevalier des arts et des lettres ‘ at the French Embassy here.


Don’t know about other programmes lined up for the World Press Freedom Day (May 3) but UNESCO has arranged for a discussion: Media Today — Who Will Watch The Watchdog ?” Will get back with details next week.

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