Delhi sounds alarm after Bastar massacre
PM in pagdi switch to clear Panipat air
Upbeat Lal vs Lal of upsets
Sharad hurt in copter attack
Left dilemma on Clinton speech
Terrorists face Amnesty fire
Naidu’s Delhi fan club rattles BJP
CBI awaits draft directive on FBI clone
Digvijay springs to Sonia defence
Nepal seeks better security ties

New Delhi, Feb. 20 
Striking for a second straight day, the People’s War Group triggered a landmine blast, killing 23 policemen in Bastar district of Madhya Pradesh today. An additional superintendent of police was among the dead.

Soon after the news poured in from Khojvai, 10 km from Narayanpur, the Centre admitted that the threat posed by the Naxalite outfit was reaching “alarming proportions”.

Today’s blast is the worst-ever incident of Naxalite violence in the state. Chief minister Digvijay Singh rushed back from Delhi to Bhopal to ensure better security arrangements in Bastar.

Only 48 hours ago, another arm of the PWG in Andhra Pradesh had killed eight persons, including seven policemen, and injured nine when they fought with the police in the Chintapalli forest region of Visakhapatnam.

PWG-sponsored violence is spreading in Bihar, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, a government spokesman said in Delhi.

The affected states, which are supposed to send proposals to the Centre on containing the menace, should speed up the process, he urged. Only Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu has put forward a scheme to the Centre and has been able to extract funds to contain Naxalite violence, he said. Others like Madhya Pradesh are lagging behind.

Twenty-one of the 23 policemen killed today died on the spot.

According to agency reports, additional superintendent of police Bhaskar Diwan, acting on a tip-off, was leading a team of policemen, including one sub-inspector, an assistant sub-inspector and two head constables to hunt out some extremists.

The policemen, in a Tata 407 vehicle, were on their way to the “hide-out” when the landmine exploded, blowing the vehicle to pieces.

This is the second major strike by the PWG Naxalites in Madhya Pradesh since state transport minister Likhiram Kawre was shot dead in his native Sohanpuri village in Balaghat district in December last year.

Landmine explosions triggered by the PWG have become common in southern Madhya Pradesh. Between 1991 and 1999, 10 such landmine explosions claimed 93 lives.

It was baptism by fire for the new superintendent of police Adarsh Katiyar who took charge of the tribal-dominated Bastar district yesterday.

A home ministry official said the PWG network runs through the whole country and even beyond. Andhra Pradesh Naxalites have links with Orissa and Bihar outfits and are even in touch with rebels in North Bihar and Nepal.

In Nepal, the Maoist Communist Centre has been active over the past few years and has unleashed a wave of violence. They are reportedly in touch with PWG activists operating in south India.

Different state units help each other in procuring arms and in training militants. However, there has not been much cross-province movement.    

Panipat, Feb. 20 
The leaders had their task cut out this afternoon.

As the three choppers, one carrying Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and the other two accompanying him, swooped down on the helipad adjoining the Arya College Ground — where he was to address an election meeting — the crowds seemed least prepared for the duststorm the flying machines raised.

For at least five minutes the venue was shrouded in a haze of mud, fallen leaves and straw. As the master of ceremonies called on the crowd from the podium to take their places, they screamed back: “How on earth are we to sit on this dirt?”

But sit they did, as the leaders got down to their job of “clearing the air”.

It was tough task for Vajpayee and his ally, Haryana chief minister and Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) chief Om Prakash Chautala. As the dust settled down, they stressed it was a “perfect” alliance and warned voters not to succumb to the “Congress-inspired machinations” aimed at confusing them.

The message was significant amid reports that the BJP-INLD alliance, which swept the Lok Sabha polls, was far from perfect in the Assembly elections. The INLD has “yielded” 29 of the 90 seats to the BJP. But state BJP sources alleged that Chautala had put up his own nominees in the BJP seats to reduce its numbers, so that he could notch a majority on his own.

Panipat was supposed to be one such “dicey” seat. Chautala tried to dispel the BJP’s misgivings by canvassing support for the official candidate, Manohar Lal Suneja and cautioning his supporters not to be taken in by Independent candidate Om Prakash Jain who was accused of sabotage.

Vajpayee and Chautala resorted to symbolism to reinforce the “unity” message. The INLD chief was presented with a saffron pagdi while Vajpayee was given a green one. Both sported the turbans willingly.

Chautala sounded a clarion call against the Congress. “Three battles were fought in the historic Panipat town. And now Vajpayee has come to fight the fourth battle,” he said.

Winding up the campaign, Vajpayee reciprocated Chautala’s gesture. “I thank the Haryana voters for giving all the 10 seats to the NDA in the Lok Sabha election and helping us to fulfil our pledge to form a government in the Centre. The voters helped us discard an old kurta then. But now you have the task of getting rid of a tattered pyjama as well and wearing a new one,” the Prime Minister said.

Whatever be the topic — whether it was the Congress’ record of governance, development, the Constitution review or Kargil — the thrust of Vajpayee’s address was Haryana.

“It is 50 years since we became Independent, but we have not been able to fulfil our pledge to ensure a decent quality of life for each and every citizen,” he said.

“The Congress did something but a lot still needs to be done. The numbers living below the poverty line may not be too many in Haryana but my government has set itself a five-year deadline to supply clean drinking water to every village, primary health centres, schools and jobs for every unemployed youth,” Vajpayee said.

He said to create jobs in Haryana more small and medium industries would be set up. He also promised cold storage plants, ushering in the infotech sector, and “above all”, political stability. Charging the Opposition with spreading “disinformation” on the Constitution review panel, the Prime Minister said: “We respect Dr Ambedkar and want his principle of social justice to be transformed into a reality.” Saying Haryana was notorious for the “aaya Ram, gaya Ram” brand of politics, Vajpayee said the existing Anti-Defection law was inadequate to curb horse-trading.

“There are two ways of circumventing this ill. Either voters only elect persons of unquestionable integrity or we should have a law making defectors lose their Parliament membership and seeking fresh election from their new party. These are some of the changes we are looking it, but this does not mean we are going to turn the Constitution upside down,” said Vajpayee.

Lahore bus salvo

On the first anniversary of the Lahore bus diplomacy, Vajpayee attacked Pakistan for “derailing” the peace process and asserted that the only agenda for talks would be vacation of occupied Kashmir.    

Mandi Adampur, Feb. 20 
It is Lal against Lal in this constituency. While one is a familiar figure and a former chief minister, the other is an outsider known for upset victories. Welcome to Mandi Adampur in Hisar where veteran Congress leader Bhajan Lal is pitted against the BJP’s Ganeshi Lal.

There are 15 candidates in the fray. But the contest is likely to be between the Congress and Indian National Lok Dal-BJP nominees. The Bansi Lal-led Haryana Vikas Party has also fielded Kurda Ram in its bid to make it a three-cornered contest.

While Bhajan Lal is confident of returning to the Assembly from his family bastion, his rival Ganeshi Lal is hogging all the limelight in the constituency. A fiery orator, Ganeshi Lal had defeated the Congress’ Lachhman Dass Arora in Sirsa in 1996, a feat still considered remarkable in political circles in the state.

Asked whether the BJP had made a scapegoat of him by making him stand against Bhajan Lal, Ganeshi Lal said: “You have to be brave enough to challenge Bhajan Lal in his fief. When the party asked me to contest from Adampur, I did not think twice and accepted the challenge.” He said his rival was a strong contender “but not invincible”.

Despite Ganeshi Lal’s confidence, Bhajan Lal’s victory is a foregone conclusion. The only worry for the Congress is the infighting. Leaders concede the party has learnt little from its humiliating defeat in the Lok Sabha polls. It continues to be dogged by factionalism, with the party divided into two groups — one led by state Congress chief Bhupinder Singh Hooda and the other by Bhajan Lal.

The two factions began hurling accusations at each other as soon as ticket distribution began. The situation emboldened dissidents, with the result that the party is now grappling with rebels in several seats.

While Ram Prakash is facing party rebel in Bal Kishan in Jagadhri, Subhash Batra seems determined to give a tough time to the official nominee Shadi Lal Batra in Rohtak. The story is the same in Karnal, Pehowa, Gohana, Ferozepur, Jhirsa, Mewla and several other constituencies. The list is endless. The supporters of Bhajan Lal and Hooda have also started accusing each other of conspiring with rival parties.

Dismissing the accusations, Bhajan Lal said: “Both Hooda and I are working together and there are going to be surprises when the results are declared. We will fare much better in the Assembly polls.”

“There is no Kargil wave. The Haryana Assembly polls are going to be a completely different affair,” he added.

There are 1.22 lakh registered voters in the constituency. Women voters (55,611) are expected to play a crucial role in determining the outcome.

Bhajan Lal is not taking things lightly in the constituency. Holding meetings and seeking the blessing of village elders, the veteran Congress leader is leaving nothing to chance.

During the Lok Sabha elections, Bhajan Lal had declared that he would make Om Prakash Chautala his guru if the INLD leader’s son Ajay polled more votes than the Congress nominee in Hisar. Ajay not only polled 20,000 more votes than his rival, but even in Mandi Adampur segment, he was ahead by over 50,000.

This time there are no grand statements, only issues concerning development.

Akali resentment

The Haryana Akali Dal has expressed resentment over Chautala’s ticket distribution. The chief minister had indicated that he would leave two seats for the community but has not done so. There are over 35 lakh Sikhs in Haryana.    

Patna, Feb. 20 
The bitter campaign for the Bihar Assembly ended on an even bitter note today with a stone-pelting mob damaging the helicopter of civil aviation minister Sharad Yadav in Madhepura this afternoon.

Sharad himself sustained minor injuries during the assault but his chopper was severely damaged. Three of its four fibreglass windshields were broken and its body dented.

Sharad, who returned to Patna by the same chopper in the evening, blamed supporters of rival and RJD chief Laloo Yadav for the attack. “Laloo Yadav was supposed to hold a rally in Madhepura this after noon. The crowd around the helipad had come for his rally. Do I have to spell out who is responsible?”

Sharad had no scheduled programme in Madhepura today but had gone there to get his chopper re-fuelled. “We were there for about half an hour. I could see people lined up on the walls of the stadium nearby. They were the ones that began throwing stones just as we took off. They were big stones. The helicopter has sustained huge damages.”

One of the stones hit Sharad in the arm and another in his right leg. “I was not sure whether a stone hit my leg or a fibreglass shard, it was bleeding profusely.”

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was quick to condemn the attack and hold it up as another example of the “jungle raj” under Laloo Yadav. Leader of the Opposition in the Bihar Assembly Sushil Modi said: “This kind of goondaism has been going on under Laloo Yadav. Several of our candidates have been attacked and intimidated during the campaign.”

Addressing reporters, Modi demanded the immediate removal of some senior Madhepura officials including the superintendent of police, who he alleged had been “openly campaigning” for Laloo Yadav’s candidates.

This is the second time Sharad’s helicopter has been attacked during the campaign.    

New Delhi, Feb. 20 
Even before the tour schedule for Clinton’s India visit has been formalised, the Forward Bloc has announced that it will boycott the US President’s address to a joint session of Parliament. The party has also written to the CPM, the CPI, the RSP and the Samajwadi Party to join its protest action.

However, it is still not clear if Clinton will at all address a joint session. According to the CPM, no such announcement has been made. “This is news to me. We have not been told anything,” said a CPM MP.

But the Forward Bloc is undeterred. Partymen said they had made the move anticipating that Clinton will address a joint session of Parliament.

Asserting that his party will inform the Speaker of its decision, Forward Bloc general secretary Debabrata Biswas said the Speaker will raise the matter at the all-party meeting on February 23, the day the budget session begins. “We have given our view anticipating the proposal of a joint session,” Biswas said.

The CPM, on its part, is hoping that the joint session does not materialise. Protests outside Parliament is one thing, said party sources. But to boycott the presidential address when he is a state guest is another. “It will appear rather odd to boycott such a session,” said a CPM MP.

CPM Rajya Sabha MP Nilotpal Basu said: “In case there is such a proposal, we will take a decision on February 22 before the budget session begins.”

But if the “big brother” does not want a joint session, if only to be spared the embarrassment of attending it, the juniors are equally keen on it to put the CPM and the CPI in a spot. “If they attend such a session when we are boycotting, it will put a question mark on the CPM’s anti-imperialist credentials,” said a Left leader.

Relations between the CPM and its Left Front partners have nose-dived. The Forward Bloc and the RSP refused to toe the CPM line and support a Congress-led alternative government at the Centre after the fall of the earlier Vajpayee regime.

Since then, the Left parties have been taking a different course, rejecting the CPM’s and the CPI’s political line that the BJP is enemy No. 1. Of late, the CPM has also run into trouble with the CPI in Bihar. The latter has refused to ally with Laloo Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal and is allying with Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party and the CPI(ML).

The Forward Bloc and the RSP have accused their senior partners of political compromise and electoral opportunism. According to them, Clinton’s address to a joint session — if it takes place — will further expose the CPM’s and the CPI’s “lack of revolutionary zeal”.    

New Delhi, Feb. 20 
For the first time, Amnesty International has recognised “grave human rights abuses, including torture, hostage-taking and killings of civilians” by armed groups in Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast.

Terrorism perpetrated by militants has also been noted by Human Rights Watch, another international human rights group, in its 1999 report.

These are significant departures from the strident criticism of state-sponsored terrorism in Kashmir and the Northeast in the past reports of both organisations.

Amnesty International is strong in its condemnation. “In January (1999) unidentified gunmen shot dead 23 civilians, including four children, in the village of Wandhama, near the town of Ganderbal, before setting fire to a Hindu temple. Similar incidents continued to occur throughout the year in the state,” its statement says.

“Throughout the year, Amnesty International called on armed groups in Jammu and Kashmir and North-eastern states to abide by the principles of international humanitarian law,” it adds.

Not that the government has been spared. The reports from the two organisations, which primary deal with events of 1998, highlight the increasing attacks on Christians and Muslims, most notably in Gujarat, and say they were reportedly carried out by members of militant Hindu groups. The murder of Australian missionary Graham S. Staines and his two minor sons in Orissa early last year has not been taken into account because it happened in early 1999.

Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have come down heavily on the Centre for its failure to safeguard the rights of religious minorities. “There were increasing reports of attacks on religious minorities, including Christians and Muslims, mostly in Gujarat. Many of the attacks were reportedly carried out by members of militant Hindu groups. The National Commission for Minorities investigated reported incidents in Gujarat in August (1998) and expressed serious concern about the situation, pointing to violations of fundamental rights. Its recommendations included increased training of police in order to ensure respect for the rights of minorities,” the Amnesty International report said.

Human Rights Watch says something similar on communal violence: “In Gujarat, where the state government was also BJP, Hindu activists targeted Christian churches as part of a campaign to drive (out) missionaries from India. In Maharashtra, the state government led by the BJP and Shiv Sena, another Hindu nationalist group, launched a campaign to deport Bengali-speaking Muslims, claiming that they were illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.”

Quoting the B.N. Srikrishna commission inquiry report on the 1992-93 Mumbai riots, the organisations held the Shiv Sena responsible for engineering the violence against Muslims which, in the words of Human Rights Watch, were the “result of a deliberate and systematic effort to incite violence against Muslims”.

The two agencies have covered the entire gamut of human rights abuses — from illegal detention of thousands of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, to widespread torture and ill-treatment, custody deaths, “cruel” and “inhuman” conditions in Indian prisons, caste-related violence, “disappearances” and “extrajudicial executions”.    

New Delhi, Feb. 20 
Cyber-smart Chandrababu Naidu has hacked into, reclaiming the position of power he enjoyed in Delhi during the United Front’s reign.

Winning friends and influencing allies, Naidu has outshone all leading lights of the coalition, barring Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

Warning bells have started going off in the BJP as Naidu’s “networking” skills have made him the only leader after Vajpayee who can command universal acceptability in the coalition. A section of the BJP feels that Naidu’s growing clout will make him a natural contender to the top job in future.

The BJP is worried also because Naidu’s circle of contacts is gradually widening to include the party’s foes and potential friends, such as Harkishen Singh Surjeet and Sharad Pawar.

Unlike many of his southern predecessors, Naidu has managed to breach the upcountry political barrier through a blend of pragmatic politics and slick image manoeuvring. One of the key factors that have helped Naidu transcend the divide is his carefully-crafted image of a “doer” — a feat few leaders of the coalition can boast of.

Though the tangible achievements of Naidu’s cyber-raj are yet to be recorded in black and white, the chief minister’s spin doctors have built a formidable portfolio of personal “milestones”. An all-season favourite is his rapport with the Big Bills (Bill Clinton and Bill Gates).

The latest addition to the resume is the tongue-tied chief minister’s willingness to learn Hindi, a smattering of which was test-fired at an election rally audience in Haryana last week. It also helps that he has 29 MPs — Naidu’s Telugu Desam is the most influential ally of the BJP and the fourth largest group in the Lok Sabha.

The Naidu magic worked in the Jat capital — as it did in the national capital — earning him the honorific of ‘Vishwa Vikas Purush’ from Indian National Lok Dal chief Om Prakash Chautala at the rally. Naidu’s admirers in Delhi do not end with Chautala. Barring perhaps George Fernandes, Naidu has befriended almost all leaders of the allies.

DMK chief M. Karunanidhi and Lok Shakti (now merged into the Janata Dal United) leader Ramakrishna Hegde are counted among his time-tested friends. His newly-acquired friends include Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee and Biju Janata Dal boss Naveen Patnaik.

The dynamics of power politics in the BJP and the Janata Parivar have also helped Naidu consolidate his position. Fernandes’ dream of bringing together scattered socialists under one umbrella and emerging as the second largest bloc in the coalition soured after the Dal (United) and the Samata Party parted ways.

Though the BJP’s second line of command has considerable clout in the party, none of the allies, barring the Shiv Sena, is likely to line up behind either L. K. Advani or Murli Manohar Joshi.

Another advantage of Naidu is his ability to keep open lines of communication with erstwhile comrades. Sources close to Surjeet said Naidu recently talked with the CPM leader on the phone.

Through what he terms “constructive opposition”, Naidu has distanced himself from the controversial agenda of the Sangh parivar. This has kept alive Naidu’s chances of reclaiming his space in the third front in the event of a future political churning.    

New Delhi, Feb. 20 
The CBI is likely to be told to draft a plan for the proposed Federal Law Enforcement Agency (FLEA) which is being set up on the lines of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.

CBI director R.K. Raghavan has already discussed the matter with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani. Sources say the government may make a formal announcement, asking the agency to prepare the draft during its two-day crime conference beginning Tuesday.

With terrorist strikes increasing across the country, the agency’s main task will be to counter terrorism. FLEA will also handle terrorism-related intelligence.

With ISI-sponsored terrorism dogging several states, FLEA’s initial focus will be on ISI activities. State police forces have proved inept at handling ISI-related cases.

According to sources, the state police will either hand over these cases to the new agency or work under the guidance of its experts. The Intelligence Bureau (IB) will also pass on vital clues or information to FLEA.

Drug-trafficking, narco-terrorism and arm-smuggling will also come under the purview of the new agency. The Narcotics Control Bureau oversees drug-trafficking, but it concentrates on movement of narcotic substances only within the country.

FLEA, on the other hand, will investigate the international ramifications of such crimes and research transit routes to bust drug chains.

FLEA investigators will also travel abroad to probe crimes. Sources say the new agency will relieve an over-burdened CBI, taxed with a plethora of cases requiring additional expertise and a high degree of specialisation.

With inter-state crimes occurring frequently, the CBI is also planning to arm the new agency with jurisdiction to probe these cases. It may be recalled that during the days of Punjab militancy, police teams from Chandigarh used to conduct raids in other states, even going as far as West Bengal to apprehend suspected terrorists.

FLEA will have to concentrate on cybercrimes as a growing number of hackers are invading computer systems. So far, no Indian agency has been found capable of dealing with cyber criminals. Since cyber crime is expected to multiply over the next few years, FLEA will have to train state police set-ups to combat cyber transgressors.    

New Delhi, Feb 20 
The beleaguered Sonia Gandhi today found an ally in Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh.

Singh, in the capital on a short trip, said he has full faith in her leadership. Those “dissatisfied” with the Congress chief could leave the party as they were posing more problems for her by staying on, he asserted.

Coming from Singh, the words are significant. Singh is heading the group of eight Congress chief ministers and his growing clout within the party is undisputed.

It was obvious that the Madhya Pradesh chief minister was sending a signal to the five or six dissidents within the Congress Working Committee (CWC) that they stop their machinations against Sonia.

Singh’s spirited defence of Sonia was unexpected. He had not met Sonia during the day and, therefore, could not have been premeditated.

Singh stressed he was perfectly happy with Sonia’s leadership. Making an indirect dig at Arjun Singh, who had once left the party, he said: “Leaders who leave the Congress tend to go out like roaring lions but soon after realising how difficult it is to keep their political careers alive outside the party, return like docile lambs.’’

On the “one person one post” slogan now being raised by the dissidents against Sonia, Singh said he felt that as Congress president and Opposition leader, Sonia had been doing justice to both jobs.

Singh’s backing will come in handy for Sonia on the eve of the budget session during which the dissidents and fence-sitters are waiting for her to goof up.

If Sonia slips, there will be a growing demand for her replacement, at least as a leader of the Opposition.    

Calcutta, Feb. 20 
Nepal has sought greater cooperation between the Calcutta and West Bengal police and their Nepalese counterparts. The Nepalese government’s request comes in the wake of reports that anti-national forces were travelling to Kathmandu via Calcutta and districts of West Bengal to spread terrorism and violence.

“Police officers of Nepal and India, especially from Calcutta and West Bengal, should meet more often to exchange information and co-ordinate raids against anti-national elements and criminals who are taking advantage of the open border and crossing over after committing crimes,’’ Nepalese foreign secretary Murariraj Sharma said.

On a one-day visit to the city, Sharma admitted that his government has failed to find out how the Pakistani nationals, who hijacked Indian Airlines airbus to Kandahar, arrived at Kathmandu airport. “They could have travelled through Calcutta and West Bengal before entering Nepal through the open border. Or else, they could have flown in from any other place. Frankly speaking, we have no idea,’’ Sharma conceded.

Recently, the Calcutta Police had arrested three Nepalese counterfeiters selling fake Indian notes. According to deputy commissioner of police (central) Raj Kanojia, the notes were printed at a press close to the Bihar-Nepal border.

Sources in the Central and state security agencies said several reports have been sent to the ministry of home affairs with details of how subversive elements were using Calcutta and the border districts to reach Kathmandu.

“Kathmandu is the hotbed of anti-national forces spreading terrorism in the east and north-eastern part of India. We have information that arms and ammunition are being transported from there,” a senior intelligence official said.

Earlier, just after the hijack, railway minister and Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee had alleged that the air pirates crossed over to Nepal via Calcutta. “They stayed here for a day before proceeding to cross the open border to Nepal,’’ she had said.

Sharma, however, denied that terrorists and ISI agents from Pakistan were operating from Nepal. “Let Calcutta Police and the Indian government pass specific information and we will definitely take action,’’ he said, emphasising that his government has stepped up airport security to thwart a repeat of the hijack.    


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