Tigers spring truce trap
Family killed for Dalit’s affair with cop daughter
Snubbed Ghani off campaign tracks
Calcutta weather

May 8 
Tamil Tigers today proposed a temporary ceasefire to allow the evacuation of 40,000 Sri Lankan soldiers from Jaffna, but the Chandrika Kumaratunga government rejected the offer.

The safe-passage proposal amounted to a call for the surrender of the strategic city “to prevent the further escalation of violence and a bloodbath”. The message was faxed to news agencies in Colombo and in Delhi from the London office of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The offer coincided with India’s admission that it was in touch with Norway — which has considerable influence over an important section in the LTTE —on the crisis and the government in Colombo as well as the Tamil Tigers had established contact with the Scandinavian country.

“Both parties (Lanka and the LTTE) have agreed to Norwegian mediation,” Cabinet spokesman Pramod Mahajan said after an all-party meeting in Delhi on the situation in the island nation.

Mahajan also admitted that Delhi had spoken to Oslo on the Jaffna standoff. Though India, through back-channel talks, had been trying to convince the Lankans of the need to talk to Norway, officially it had to take a no-hands stand because of its touchiness over third-party mediation in Kashmir.

Dismissing the LTTE’s offer as “ludicrous”, the Lanka government said President Kumaratunga favours peace talks, but will not accept any conditions or compromise the country’s sovereignty.

Sources close to the island’s administration described the LT-TE ceasefire call as an attempt to deal another blow to the sagging morale of the troops believed to be trapped in Elephant Pass, the land bridge between the Jaffna peninsula and the mainland captured by the rebels last month.

The truce offer came as the Lankan air force bombed rebel artillery positions in Elephant Pass. Promising to fight back, Kumaratunga said in an address to the nation: “We will not allow half-a-million Tamil people in Jaffna to fall into the hands of the fascist rule of the LTTE.”

The government is said to be drawing up plans for a counter-offensive to hold on to Jaffna and the nearby Palali air base, the crucial supply link for troops defending the northern city. The sources added that Colombo is involving Delhi in the exercise and wondered whether the intensified air raids had anything to do with India’s air force chief A.Y. Tipnis’ visit to the island nation.

At the all-party meeting in Delhi, MDMK and ADMK leaders raised the same question and argued that the air marshal could use the trip to discuss the battle strategy with Lankan authorities.

The government, however, pointed out that Tipnis’ trip had been planned long before the fighting erupted and asserted there was “no motive or hidden agenda” behind the visit.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and his foreign affairs in-charge Jaswant Singh sought to dispel fears that the government would be coaxed into mediation. Singh said there was no question of India’s intervention unless asked to by both the Colombo government and the rebels. “At this point of time, there is no such request,” he added.

Vajpayee ticked off his southern allies MDMK and the PMK — both vocal supporters of the LTTE — for asking the government to recognise a separate “Tamil Eelam” in Lanka.    

Hardoi, May 8 
In a fresh eruption of police violence in Uttar Pradesh, four Dalits were gunned down in cold blood on Sunday by an upper caste police head constable.

This is the second Dalit killing by the police in less than a week. Last Tuesday, the Tundla police had shot four Dalit farmers to pass them off as dacoits.

Head constable Ram Nath Singh, a thakur, was enraged by the “audacity” of Brajraj, a chamar, who had eloped with his daughter Poonam. To teach the lower caste man a lesson, Singh, in uniform, descended upon Brajraj’s house in Majretha Gaon, a few kilometres from Hardoi, and fired 10 rounds of bullets from his licensed revolver, killing Brajraj’s father, two brothers and an uncle.

Brajraj’s sister and a brother were spared as they hid under the cots as the bullets rained. The walls of the house are riddled with bullet holes and splattered with blood.

Brajraj, who is in hiding in Lucknow with Poonam, does not know of the tragedy yet.

The incident forced chief minister Ram Prakash Gupta to take quick action. Singh was arrested this morning from Lucknow along with three accomplices and the four were charged with murder. Range inspector-general Karamveer Singh rushed to the site of the killings.

But though the police admit that the murders were committed by one of their own, they will not accept that the four died because they were Dalits.

Majretha Gaon, a small Dalit-dominated hamlet, has a different story to tell. As the heat becomes unbearable at a little distance from the kuccha huts where the four bodies are being burnt, Brajraj’s neighbours recount a tale of caste hatred.

The head constable had been seething with rage since Poonam eloped with Brajraj on Holi this year. This Sunday, Singh, who needed little provocation to pick up his gun, collected three other thakurs and barged into the house of Rustam Lal, Brajraj’s father.

He started firing at everyone who crossed his path. What also added to his wrath was the fact that Lal had organised a feast for some of his community members. It was a sight Singh “couldn’t tolerate”, Lal’s neighbours said.

One by one, the four men fell before the bullets. Rustam’s nephew Rakesh had his arm blown off when he tried to shield himself from a bullet.

Rakesh, an eye-witness of the gruesome murders, cries inconsolably by the four funeral pyres. “We didn’t do anything wrong,” he wails. “We were unarmed while all the four had guns with them. They were killed because they were Dalits.”

Sudha, daughter of Vijay Pal, who was killed along with Rustam, faints every five minutes. Asked to narrate the events she just says: “They are dead, they are dead.”

But Sarvati, Rustam’s wife, is stoic. “This has been happening to us through the ages. Just that this time it happened to me. Things will not change for us,” she says.

“I screamed and fell at their feet begging them to spare our men and take everything that was there in the house. I even promised to send Poonam back to them. But they said they want to wipe out the entire family and teach a lesson to the chamars not to meddle with thakurs,” she says.

The wail of the women gets louder as rumours of Brajraj being killed in Lucknow spreads like wildfire.

The administration has posted armed police personnel at the village so that “these people are not terrified”. The police promise action. Says Shyam Sunder Maheshwari, special superintendent of police, Hardoi: “The guilty will be punished and we will see to it that such things don’t happen again.”

But the fear runs deep. “The police said the same thing three years back when eight of us were killed,” says Shiv Prasad. “Do you feel these things will ever stop?” he asks.    

May 8 
Stung by Sonia Gandhi’s decision to field a candidate for the Panskura bypolls, Bengal Congress chief A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury has refused to campaign for the party, warning that the high command will be responsible for any “bloodshed” during elections.

Dripping sarcasm while sto-newalling all efforts for truce by AICC troubleshooter Ghulam Na-bi Azad, Chowdhury said: “I am waiting for Congress candidate (Subhankar Sarkar) to get elected from Panskura so that I can garland Priya Ranjan Das Munshi.”

Yesterday Sonia had ignored Chowdhury’s letter explaining why the Congress should back the Trinamul-BJP candidate in Panskura, and had gone by arch-rival Das Munshi’s argument that the party should not liaise directly or indirectly with the BJP.

Making it clear he was not annoyed with Soniaji as she had been “misled”, Chowdhury was-hed his hands of the bypoll. “Let Das Munshi campaign for him (Sarkar) and ensure his victory,” he told Azad last night.

Sonia had sent Azad to 12 Akbar Road after she realised Chowdhury had taken offence at her decision to overrule his “mini mahajot”. Azad not only shares a good rapport with the leader, he has also turned Chowdhury around to the official point of view on two earlier occasions.

The Sonia camp is worried that the Bengal boss may take some drastic step. But Azad, who prevailed on him to go to Delhi for mahajot talks, ruled out chances of Chowdhury quitting the party.

Sonia’s decision today came under fire from both Congress and Trinamul leaders in Calcutta. While Trinamul chairman Pankaj Banerjee criticised the AICC for “playing into the CPM’s hands”, former PCC chief Somen Mitra felt the Congress “will lose its political credibility if it decides to ignore mahajot which reflects the people’s aspirations.” But both parties appeared determined to work out a mahajot against the Marxists in the civic and Assembly elections.

Mitra told reporters at the PCC office that the high command’s decision had disappointed a large section of people keen to see the Marxists out of power.

Asked why he was still hopeful about mahajot, Mitra said: “The formation of mahajot will depend not on individual parties or their leaders, but on the political expectations of anti-CPM masses.” He added that neither he nor other pro-mahajot leaders would work whole-heartedly for Sarkar’s victory.

Plugging Chowdhury’s line, Mitra said: “Let the leader, who persuaded the AICC to put up a candidate, take responsibility for getting him elected. We hope the party nominee does not meet the fate of the Rajya Sabha candidate.”    

Temperature: Maximum: 34.2°C (-1) Minimum: 26.1°C (normal) RAINFALL: Nil Relative humidity: Maximum: 90%, Minimum: 57% Today: Possibility of development of thunderclouds towards afternoon or evening. Maximum temperature likely to be around 35C. Sunset: 6.03 pm Sunrise: 5.02 am    

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