Crackdown on Naxalite home turf
Opp. takes Bihar battle to President
BJP rush to shield Pande
Congress drive to retain restive flock
Advani calms nerves on Desam
Mamata springs to RSS defence
Meet to combat terror
Krishna warning on Sangh links

 
 
CRACKDOWN ON NAXALITE HOME TURF 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, March 3 
The Bihar security forces today took on the People’s War Group on its Jehanabad home turf, killing 12 Naxalites. Two CRPF personnel were among the 15 killed in the operation, described by the police as one its major offensives in recent times.

Around the time when Nitish Kumar was taking the oath of office as Bihar’s 32nd chief minister in Patna, over 100 CRPF and Bihar Military Police personnel were engaged in a combing operation in search of Naxalites in a Jehanabad village.

The initiative, nicknamed Operation Flushout by the Magadh Range police, continued for eight hours and left 15 dead and 50 injured.

A senior police officer here said: “Given the chance, even the existing strength of the police can do a lot. It only requires to be told whether the force enjoys the freedom.”

Nitish Kumar, who met director- general of police K.A. Jacob in the evening, said his first priority would be to put an end to the reign of terror in the districts.

According to DIG Magadh Range, P.C. Verma, intelligence sources had tipped off the Jehanabad police that PWG activists were holed up in Kanchanmarhi village under Mukdumpur police station.

An armed battalion of the police was despatched around 10 am. The force was greeted by a volley of gunfire from the western part of the village.

The police gauged that the PWG was holding a meeting of its zonal committee and that Naxalites were camping there in large numbers.

Based on its assessment, the detachment then asked for a bigger deployment of paramilitary forces from Gaya.

The reinforcement of around 100 CRPF jawans surrounded the village and opened fire.

Taken aback by the large force, PWG activists began to retreat. But a contingent of 50 Naxalites opened fire from AK-47s and automatic rifles to hold the force at bay, killing two CRPF jawans.

Around 2 pm, the police was able to seal all escape routes and closed in. The militants, however, kept up the volley of fire till 4.30 pm.

“The police searched the village around 4.30 pm. The terrorised villagers had shut their doors. Bullet-riddled bodies of Naxalites were strewn on the village road,” said Jehanabad police superintendent Abdul Ghani Mir.

The encounter has spread panic among the villagers. Over 40 injured villagers and PWG supporters were admitted to the Magadh Medical College in Gaya.

The police said all the injured were out of danger.

According to a PWG release sent this evening, the police in Jehanabad had opened unprovoked fire on a village where a frontal organisation of the PWG was carrying out social reforms.

A source in the PWG swore that the killings in Mukdumpur will be revenged.

On its part, the police said the militants were fully armed. They have recovered one AK-47 rifle, a carbine, one self-loading rifle, a wireless set and police uniforms which the PWG used for community policing. Mukdumpur police station area, about 56 km from Patna, has long been identified as a Naxalite-infested area.    


 
 
OPP. TAKES BIHAR BATTLE TO PRESIDENT 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, March 3 
The entire Opposition, barring the Samajwadi Party, today sought President K.R. Narayanan’s intervention in Bihar and asked him to direct Governor Vinod Pande to “rescind” his order installing NDA leader Nitish Kumar as chief minister.

Alleging that Pande had acted in a partisan manner, the leaders told Narayanan that the Governor’s action was “unconstitutional” and against the spirit of democracy. “We told the President to save democracy and the Constitution in Bihar,” the leaders said.

A delegation of leaders — comprising Manmohan Singh, Pranab Mukherjee and Madhavrao Scindia (Congress), Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, CPM’s Nilotpal Basu, Bahujan Samaj Party chief Kanshi Ram and S. R. Bommai of the Janata Dal (Secular) — called on Narayanan. They submitted a memorandum “expressing their concern at the way the Governor invited Nitish Kumar to form the government”.

Pranab Mukherjee, who led the Congress, said, “The long span of 10 days for the floor test will facilitate horse-trading and aggravate the situation.” He added: “The President should restrain the Governor... And the governor should rescind his order.” While 161 MLAs were for the RJD, 173 were opposed to the NDA, he said.

He alleged that it was a “premeditated” action as the Governor had been informed last night about the Congress’ decision to support the RJD.

Accusing Pande of abetting horse-trading, RJD leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh alleged that NDA leaders had sent Rs 15 crore to buy MLAs. “Woh (Governor Pandey) Sunder Singh Bhandari ka baap niklah. (The Governor has turned out to be worse than Bhandari.),” Singh fumed before reporters outside Rashtrapati Bhavan.

BSP leader Kanshi Ram said blatant attempts were being made to “purchase” MLAs. He denied that there was a split in the five-member BSP in the House. The CPM demanded the recall of the Governor.

The Bihar development rocked both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. As soon as news of Pande inviting “a minority” alliance to form the government trickled in, the non-BJP Opposition gave vent to their anger and stalled proceedings in both the Houses.

Shouting slogans like “murder of democracy” and “thanasahi nahi chalega”, CPM, RJD and Samajwadi Party members rushed to the well of the House. Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Singh said “Raj Bhavan has been converted into an RSS den.” Other Opposition members demanded a discussion on the Governor’s conduct.

When BJP members objected saying that the Governor’s conduct could not be discussed by the House, it provoked another round of slogan-shouting from the RJD-SP-CPM combine, forcing Margaret Alva, who was in the Chair, to wrap up proceedings.

Sources said the Centre has advised Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi to convene an all-party meeting to discuss Bihar and the RSS issue.

Though CPI and CPI(ML) (Liberation) leaders expressed concern at the “murder of democracy” in Bihar, they opted out of joining the delegation to the President, saying they would meet him separately as they were opposed to both the RJD and the NDA.

Before the delegation met Narayanan, RJD parliamentary party members sat on a dharna outside Rashtrapati Bhavan protesting the governor’s action.    


 
 
BJP RUSH TO SHIELD PANDE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 3 
The BJP is trying hard to justify the Bihar Governor’s decision to swear in a National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, overlooking Laloo Prasad Yadav.

The NDA coalition with Nitish Kumar as chief minister is still 16 short of majority.

BJP spokesman M. Venkaiah Naidu tried to defend Governor V.C. Pande’s decision as a political necessity. He claimed that while the Bihar electorate had not given any party or formation a clear majority, the verdict was a “clear rejection of the incumbent RJD government”.

A senior BJP leader carried Naidu’s contention to its “logical” conclusion. “Since the Bihar mandate was against Laloo, the first chance to form a government must be given to the anti-Laloo forces,” he said. Therefore, since the NDA is the largest anti-Laloo front, inviting Nitish over Rabri Devi was perfectly in order.

Determined to pull out all stops to ensure that Nitish proves his majority a week later, the BJP high command has reportedly “advised” him to form a jumbo Cabinet, as in Uttar Pradesh.

The BJP leadership also allegedly directed its own leaders to “sacrifice” ministerial berths to induct Independents and members of other parties. Sources said A.B. Vajpayee himself had advised Nitish to consider swearing in a minister each from the coalition partners to send the “right” signal to potential defectors.

“Look at the manifestos of the NDA, Congress, CPI and CPI (ML). Except for the CPM, the main issue was ending jungle raj. Congress had gone to the extent of saying it would set up an enquiry commission to look into the misdeeds of the Laloo and Rabri Devi regimes,” a source said.

Naidu also tried to justify the Bihar decision from a legislative angle, saying the Governor had two options: examine all the possibilities and resort to placing the legislature in suspended animation if nothing could be worked out, or invite the group which had the greater support. “The NDA submitted a list of 151 MLAs along with the letters of support. The RJD-CPM could not muster the required strength,” he said.    


 
 
CONGRESS DRIVE TO RETAIN RESTIVE FLOCK 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, March 3 
Political developments in Bihar have put the Congress on the defensive, making it work overtime to prevent a split in the 23-member Congress Legislative Party.

Congress sources said the delay in extending support to the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and criticism of Sonia’s absence on the crucial day from Delhi is worrying the leadership.

Senior leaders also fear that if a vulnerable CLP splits in favour of Nitish Kumar, dissidents and fence-sitters within the party could use it as a weapon against Sonia.

The Congress Working Committee, sharply divided between supporters of Laloo Prasad Yadav and those opposed to him, is likely to question how the whole issue was mishandled.

According to sources, the dissidents are now sharpening their knives and planning to quiz Sonia on the decision to join hands with Laloo, ignoring the Panchmarhi declaration which had opposed the idea of joining coalition governments, especially as a junior partner.

The AICC chief, who returned from Khojharo after attending a dance festival, chaired a meeting at her residence to take stock of the situation. Emphasising the need to keep the party united in Bihar, she persuaded the MLAs to vote against the Nitish Kumar regime during the confidence motion.

However, Pranab Mukherjee and Mohsina Kidwai, who is in charge of the party’s affairs in the state, ruled out the possibility of a split in the CLP, saying, “No party MLA will defect.”

A section of the BPCC, including CLP leader Ram Asray Prasad Singh (who lost the elections), wants the party to abstain during the trust motion. “We should keep equi-distance from both the BJP-NDA and the RJD,” he told The Telegraph.    


 
 
ADVANI CALMS NERVES ON DESAM 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 3 
In a bid to allay anxieties within the BJP on the RSS issue, home minister L.K. Advani assured party leaders that the opposition of its biggest ally, the Telugu Desam Party, was “not ideological but practical”.

Several National Democratic Alliance partners, most notably the Desam, are said to be critical of the Gujarat government circular allowing government employees to join RSS activities.

Addressing a meeting of the BJP’s central office-bearers at the Ashoka Road headquarters, Advani — who defended the Gujarat government in the Rajya Sabha yesterday — said the Desam was keen to put off a debate on the controversy in the Lok Sabha under Rule 184, which entailed a division of votes, because of the Andhra Pradesh civic polls on March 9.

“The Desam has practical problems because its MPs are too busy with the municipal polls and may not be present in the House during voting. The hitch is not ideological but practical,” Advani was quoted as saying in the meeting.

The home minister also reportedly criticised the Opposition for stalling House proceedings on of the RSS issue. Advani told office-bearers that the Opposition wanted to rake up “some issue or the other” to “embarrass” the Vajpayee government and the Gujarat circular came in handy, BJP spokesman M. Venkaiah Naidu said.

“But with the government’s clarification yesterday (in the Upper House), the matter is clear before the people and the Congress’ strategy will boomerang,” Advani reportedly said.

BJP sources said the office-bearers on their part felt that no “compromise” ought to be made on the matter and that the allies would not go the same extent as in 1979 of giving up a government for the sake of the issue.

“We had demonstrated in 1979 that we were ready to sacrifice the government at the cost of the RSS, so our allies will not go to that extent this time. If they have to protect their constituents we also have to protect our constituency of Hindus and the RSS cadre,” stressed a party vice-president.

The meeting, was presided by BJP President Kushabhau Thakre, was called to take stock of the ongoing organisational polls, among other things. Although a detailed review of the party’s dismal performance in the recent Assembly polls was slated to take place earlier, the swearing-in of an NDA government in Bihar more than recompensed the loss.

Naidu said in the four states which went to polls, there was either a government with the BJP’s participation or with its outside support.

The meeting decided to support the new Manipur government from outside, while on Haryana, the party’s parliamentary board is expected to take a decision on March 9.

The board is also expected to finalise names of the candidates for the Rajya Sabha vacancies. It is learnt that while central ministers, Arun Jaitley (who is not a member of either House) and Rajnath Singh (whose Rajya Sabha term ends in April) will be nominated from Uttar Pradesh, the former minister, Sushma Swaraj’s political rehabilitation is on the cards with a berth from Gujarat.    


 
 
MAMATA SPRINGS TO RSS DEFENCE 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, March 3 
Railway minister and Trinamul Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee today firmly backed the Centre on the controversial RSS issue, saying: “there is no dispute among the allies on the matter.”

Asked about her views on the contentious issue which sparked off a heated debate in the Parliament for successive days, Mamata said the Centre has adopted a correct stand and partners in the National Democratic Alliance are unitedly behind it.

“However, we feel that the Gujarat government should revoke its directive withdrawing the ban on its employees for joining RSS activities. This can resolve the issue at the earliest,” she said.

The railway minister felt dharnas and demonstrations by the Opposition parties would not change things.

“There is no alternative to the NDA government now,” the Trinamul chief asserted.

In an obvious dig at the Left Front government, which has been crying itself hoarse over the RSS issue, Mamata said: “There are some state governments which have politicised the entire system—from the police to the panchayat—to carry out their agenda.”

The railway minister arrived here from Delhi last night to condole the sudden demise of Prabir Mukherjee, a state Trinamul secretary and one of her close associates.

She will meet officers of the eastern and south-eastern railways tomorrow to review the progress of work on various projects and inaugurate a computerised reservation counter at the Calcutta Press Club in the afternoon.

Mamata said a number of state governments like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka have offered land to the railways for various projects free of cost. “Some state governments are even financing a few railway projects,” she added.

Mamata, however, reiterated that the railways are yet to get the entire land for the Digha-Tamluk project from the Left Front government even after paying the entire amount of Rs 28.99 crores for land acquisition.

The Trinamul leader said her party will put up a candidate in the coming Rajya Sabha elections from West Bengal. The party is expected to announce its nominee’s name after a meeting of the state executive committee here tomorrow.

Sources said Mamata intends to mar the prospects of the former PCC chief Somen Mitra who has been named as the sole Congress candidate for the Rajya Sabha polls scheduled for March 29.

Trinamul Congress has now three elected legislators and commands the support of at least 15 Congress legislators who are unlikely to vote for Mitra.    


 
 
MEET TO COMBAT TERROR 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 3 
Unhappy with the police role in tackling Left-wing extremism, Union home secretary Kamal Pande has convened an urgent meeting of police chiefs of Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa and Bihar in New Delhi on March 6.

Home ministry officials said the immediate cause behind the meeting of the Coordination Centre, headed by Pande, is the death of 23 policemen in a landmine explosion in Madhya Pradesh last month.

People’s War Group (PWG) naxalites were believed to have been behind the attack.

According to a ministry official, barring Andhra Pradesh, nothing much has been done by the police forces of the other four states to contain Left-wing extremism.

Some Naxalite outfits like the PWG and Maoist Communist Centre (MCC), which is active in central and south Bihar, have even forged close operational links with Left extremists in Nepal, he said.

Ministry sources said in the last meeting of the Coordination Centre in Hyderabad in January this year, Pande had specifically asked the police chiefs of the five states to “snap” the “vertical compact revolutionary zone” which stretched all the way from Nepal to Andhra Pradesh.

According to the sources, Pande’s assessment was that once the compact revolutionary zone was broken, it would be easier to deal with the menace of Left extremism.

Home ministry officials pointed out that the Madhya Pradesh incident not only exposed the chinks in police vigilance, but also the general laxity on the part of the five states to respond to emergency situations.

Madhya Pradesh has of late faced the brunt of Naxalite fury. On December 15, state transport minister Likhiram Kanware was hacked to death by activists of the People’s War Group. The outfit said they killed Kanware in retaliation against the encounter deaths of their colleagues in Andhra Pradesh.

On the same day, Naxalites had blown up railway tracks in Bihar near Jehanabad. The blast went off seconds after the Damodar Express crossed the site.    


 
 
KRISHNA WARNING ON SANGH LINKS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Bangalore, March 3 
Joining the battle against “saffronisation” of bureaucracy, Karnataka chief minister S.M. Krishna today threatened disciplinary action against state government employees having links with the RSS and its sister organisations.

Krishna, who presided over a meeting of the Pradesh Congress Committee to chalk out plans to participate in the anti-RSS rally being organised by the party in New Delhi on March 6, said he was opposed to the staff having connections with any organisation with political leanings.

Sources said it was decided to send at least 5,000 party workers to the rally by a special train.    

 

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