Statute panel in Sonia storm
Not in the jungles of Bihar, but in the heart of C
Hacker hits force cybercop overdrive
Mulayam Jr on Dumpy ground
Hijack alert for spy cell
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Feb. 14 
The Constitution review panel announced by the government yesterday has ignited a row between the BJP and the Congress, which alleged that the sole purpose of the exercise was to “target” its president Sonia Gandhi.

“Most members of the panel are known to be anti-Congress, they have no locus standi apart from the fact that they are eminently anti-Nehru-Gandhi family people,” Congress leader P. Shiv Shankar said. Sonia, on the campaign trail in Bihar, also denounced the review proposal.

But BJP spokesman Venkaiah Naidu defended the composition of the panel, saying its members were “known for their balance, competence, erudition and integrity”. He flayed the Congress’ objections, saying: “There is no need to oppose the panel just for the sake of opposition. We need a review committee and we have the best people for it.”

The Congress’ main objection stems from the fact that people known to be opposed to Sonia Gandhi and those that want a clause against people of foreign origin inserted in the Constitution — P. A. Sangma for instance — have been included in the panel. They perceive it as a committee created essentially to hit out at Sonia.

Besides Sangma, two members on the panel are known for their strong stand on the foreign origin issue. They had opposed the entry of Sonia into public life, her takeover of the party, her decision to contest elections and the move to position herself for the Prime Minister’s post.

Though Naidu claimed that the review exercise was transparent and there was no “directive” to the committee, Sangma had declared within hours of his appointment that he would take up the “foreigner” issue. “My views on this issue are well known. I am committed to it and I will take it up at the commission,” he said. He recalled that he had quit the Congress last year on this question.

Another member, former MP Sumitra Kulkarni, had also left the Congress last year to protest against a “foreigner” heading the party and joined the BJP. She was welcomed with open arms for being Mahatma Gandhi’s grand-daughter, an attribute the party calculated would offset the charge of the RSS’ hand in the assassination of Gandhi.

Subhash Kashyap, a former Lok Sabha secretary-general, has expressed views on constitutional matters consistent with that of the BJP.

Attorney-general Soli Sorabjee opposed the dismissal of the Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh governments after the Babri demolition.

Observers believe that while it is difficult for the BJP to translate the panel’s recommendations into law, it would make the report the basis for a nation-wide debate on the need for revising the statute.

BJP sources claimed the report would have the stamp of “objectivity” since its composition was “wide-ranging” and included people of “unimpeachable integrity”.

Naidu said there were two areas which would merit close examination: strengthening the panchayati system and ensuring stability through a fixed five-year term at the Centre and in states.

Ironically, the BJP itself had resisted the Panchayati Raj Act introduced by Rajiv Gandhi on grounds that it would curtail the powers of the states and had also advocated the “right to recall” “errant” state governments. The alliance led by the party had also sacked the Rabri Devi government in Bihar.

n More reports on Page 6    

Calcutta, Feb 14 
Right under the nose of police, from a dingy room in a Calcutta slum, a gang led by a man going by the name Akhtar is operating a gun-running chain. When The Telegraph caught up with this middle-aged man, he claimed to be the “biggest gun-runner” in the city.

He said crimelords like Sheikh Vinod — who the police are looking for after a string of murders at Sonarpur near Calcutta — and Gabbar, in jail but running his gang through a cellphone, are some of his “major customers”.

Lower-level functionaries of the CPM, Congress, BJP and Trinamul, too, figure on his list of clients.

Every month, Akhtar does business worth at least Rs 1 lakh. He charges between Rs 1,500 and Rs 5,000 for country-made assembled revolvers and pistols. “We get spare parts from iron-scrap traders to assemble arms. Five young men (mostly from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar) work for an hour to put together a revolver or a pistol. Pipe-guns take some more time,’’ said Akhtar.

Sophisticated firearms — rates starting from Rs 10,000 — are smuggled into Calcutta from Bihar and Nepal, but only after a “party places an order and pays an advance”.

Bullets — going for Rs 100 each — are mostly smuggled out of the police armoury. Some are, apparently, supplied by traders in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

Akhtar has his own way of verifying the bona fide of people he decides to do business with. “We cross-check a customer’s antecedents before doing a deal,” he said.

His gang is forever on the move, shifting base and shuffling workers frequently to hide their trail from the police. “The men working here are outsiders who will stay for six months. After that, they return home and a fresh set replaces them,” said Akhtar.

At a recent crime conference, Calcutta police commissioner D.C. Vajpai expressed concern over the flow of arms into the city.

“Gun-runners are importing spare parts from neighbouring states and assembling them here,’’ a senior police officer said.

But deputy commissioner (detective department) Narayan Ghosh claimed that the police were not aware of any such operation. “We will take action if we can track down any trader,” he said.    

New Delhi, Feb. 14 
Within a week of the hacker siege on the world’s biggest electronic commerce websites, India’s computer confederation has decided to put in place a national cybercop council to keep vandals at bay.

The committee, to be set up by the National Association of Software and Service Companies (Nasscom), will have 11 members. It will be a permanent body with experts drawn from the government, the industry, the police and the software industry.

“This body has to be permanent. Since the hackers will keep evolving new methods, we need these experts to keep updating the methods adopted by them and the precautions needed for that,” said Nasscom president Devang Mehta.

Last week’s hacker ambush on popular sites like Yahoo! did not set off chain-reaction attacks in India, but over 120 websites in the country were hacked during the Kargil war. Most of the sites were infiltrated by Pakistani hackers to propagate the cause of “independent” Kashmir.

Dewang said no foolproof system or anti-hacking software is available in the world. However, a few Indian companies have developed software which can check virus sent through the Internet. “We can set a benchmark in developing anti-hacking software. We have shown our expertise in developing the software to solve the Y2K problem. This is a new challenge with opportunity for the Indian software industry,” Mehta said.

“It is important since we expect the electronic commerce transaction in India to be one o the largest in the world,” he added.

Nasscom has also warned consumers against accepting free software with computers. “Free software allows hackers to reach your computer without much effort. It could contain small software, which responds to the commands sent by the hacker,” he said. This is known as “Trojal attack”.

The Yahoo! hackers had used “Smurf attack” in which a mountain of junk mail will smother the server.

“The creation of a cybercop committee is a very important step and should not be delayed,” a government official said.    

Kannauj, Feb. 14 
The tables have turned against Mulayam Singh Yadav. The Yadavs, who cut their political teeth on socialist fare, find it hard to swallow the fact that the Samajwadi Party chief has fielded his son from Kannauj, propagating just what his guru had denounced.

Veteran socialist and Mulayam’s mentor Ram Manohar Lohia had, throughout his political career, railed against the “parivarvad” (dynastic culture) symbolised by the Nehru-Gandhi family. And now his disciple has gone and done just that — fielded Akhilesh Yadav, a greenhorn in politics, in the seat he won six months ago.

To the Yadavs, this move to bring a son into the akhada of politics is nothing short of an affront to Lohia’s politics.

“He has turned the Samajwadi Party into a Mulayam and son private limited company,” remarked Gangaram Yadav, a former Samajwadi sympathiser from Miaganj village.

“What does the boy know about realpolitik? He got married just two months ago, and hardly opens his mouth while campaigning. His father does all the talking. Akhilesh couldn’t even answer the press the day he filed his nomination,” added Ram Niwas Pal, a cement dealer in Kannauj.

The resentment among their own kinsmen could prove costly for Mulayam and Akhilesh, because with nearly two lakh Yadav and 90,000 Muslim votes, Kannauj was a sure-fire seat for the party.

“What’s in it for us, the Yadavs are asking. Mulayam has ignored the claims of two former MPs, so his local workers are not that enthusiastic about working for Akhilesh,” said Om Prakash Tiwari, a local trader and former party supporter.

In 1999, Mulayam had cruised to victory with a margin of 80,000 because other factors also worked in his favour apart from the “M-Y” axis. First, former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh refused to campaign for the BJP among the backward castes.    

New Delhi, Feb. 14 
The Union home ministry has been alerted to a possible hijack bid by the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) cadre at Guwahati airport to force the release of general secretary T. Muivah, now in jail in Thailand.

This is one of the first pieces of sensitive information that a fledgling cell in the home ministry, the Core Intelligence Processing Unit, is working on.

The unit, set up to assess intelligence inputs on national security and make “actionable” suggestions, was formed three months ago as a fallout of the Kargil infiltration.

The intelligence on the possible hijack attempt was provided a few days ago by the Assam director-general of police.

Home ministry sources said as the “basic” intelligence in this case was sketchy, there was scope to analyse the “raw” fact. Security agencies could be asked to provide “meat” before it became “actionable” intelligence, they added.

The sources said the processing unit, headed by an officer at the level of joint secretary, was created with such tasks in mind. The unit will sieve unused “raw” data supplied by various agencies to the home ministry.

The sources of information include the Intelligence Bureau, the Research and Analysis Wing, paramilitary units, state police forces and intelligence arms of the defence services.

The importance of pursuing “sketchy intelligence” was hammered home after the Kargil incursion, when it emerged that the security services had ignored early smoke signals.

However, “whenever it receives sketchy intelligence reports, the unit will refer back to the state police or intelligence agency concerned to develop the input so that guidelines for specific action are evolved,” an official said.

It will liaise with state governments, intelligence agencies and the Joint Intelligence Committee, the secretariat of the National Security Council, to generate cohesive assessment reports on larger security threats.    

Temperature: Maximum: 26.5°C (-2) Minimum: 20°C (+4) RAINFALL: Trace Relative humidity: Maximum: 85%, Minimum: 47% Today: The met office predicts a mainly cloudy night and slight fall in minimum temperature. Sunset: 5.28 pm Sunrise: 6.15 am    

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