CM Rabri turns into undertrial
Mamata cry for mahajot of masses
Sierra terms for hostage release
Sindhu flows through Leh’s religious rift
Calcutta weather

Patna, June 9 
The special court hearing the fodder scam today framed charges against Laloo Yadav and his chief minister-wife Rabri Devi in a disproportionate assets case, spurring the Opposition to renew their agitation against the couple.

Dismissing the discharge petitions filed by Laloo and Rabri, trial judge S.K. Lal said: “There is prima facie existence of the case against the accused chief minister and her husband as made out by the CBI.”

He framed the charges against Laloo for criminal misconduct under the Prevention of Corruption Act. Rabri was charged with aiding and abetting her husband in acquiring assets disproportionate to his income when he was chief minister.

After reading out the charges, Lal asked Rabri for her reaction. The chief minister, after a few seconds of silence, said: “Meri koi galti nahi hai (I am not guilty).”

Laloo, who was standing next to her in the packed courtroom, also pleaded not guilty.

The counsel for the chief minister and her husband, P.N. Pandey and Chittaranjan Sinha, told the court that their clients would need four weeks to study the charges. Lal granted them the time and said he would begin examining the witnesses from July 4.

The CBI has charged Laloo with having accumulated assets worth Rs 46.6 lakh from 1990 to 1996 when he was chief minister.

Escorted out of the court by her husband and accompanied by hundreds of Rashtriya Janata Dal supporters, the chief minister kept her lips sealed.

Back home at 1 Anne Marg, the couple went into a huddle with legal advisers, including the advocate-general. The lawyers told Rabri that she would have to attend court every day once the hearing begins on July 4.

Elated by the court order, the National Democratic Alliance has decided to launch a fresh agitation demanding Rabri’s resignation. “It is unprecedented in the history of the country that a chief minister while in office was made an undertrial in a disproportionate income case now that the court has framed charges. We demand her resignation immediately,” said Nandkishore Yadav, president of the state BJP. Joining the chorus, Opposition leader Sushil Modi said: “Today is a black day in the history of democracy.”

The Congress, whose support is vital for the RJD government’s survival, refused to comment.

Sensing that the chargesheet was inevitable, Laloo and Rabri had met pradesh Congress chief Chandan Bagchi on Wednesday and blamed Governor Vinod Pande for instigating the CBI. Pande had given the bureau the go-ahead to prosecute Rabri and Laloo a few days before the RJD wrested back power from the NDA.

Laloo said he would fly to Delhi tonight to meet the President and demand Pande’s removal.    

Calcutta, June 9 
Buoyed by her party’s decisive victory against the Left Front in the Panskura Lok Sabha byelection, Trinamul Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee today called for a “people’s mahajot against the CPM” for next year’s Assembly polls.

“It will be a mahajot of all those who want to put an end to the CPM’s misrule in the state. The Left Front is cracking and a part of it may get associated with the mahajot,” she said.

Ruling out the possibility of parting company with the BJP simply to have an electoral adjustment with the Congress, Mamata said her party’s door would remain open for any anti-CPM force, “right or left”. “However, there is no question of ditching the BJP since it happens to be an anti-CPM party,” she said.

The Trinamul leader has thus presented the state Congress with a fait accompli. It will either have to come to an understanding with the Trinamul Congress by accepting its entente with the BJP or fend for itself in the next Assembly elections.

Elaborating on her proposed anti-CPM mahajot, Mamata said: “All the anti-CPM people voted for our candidate at Panskura with the Congress nominee receiving a little over two per cent of the total votes polled. Our party has emerged as the real alternative to the CPM. From now on we will try to have a people’s mahajot.”

“The Congress high command refused to accept our plea for a mahajot. But the people of West Bengal are politically conscious. We are ready to accept like-minded parties in our proposed mahajot. We hope a section of the Congress will also ultimately join us,” she said.

The Trinamul leader was confident about the formation of an anti-CPM government after the next Assembly polls. “Panskura has paved the way for a change. A new government will restore peace and order and work for the state’s development,” she said.

Mamata intends to undertake a full-fledged campaign for her party nominees in the civic polls despite her preoccupations in Delhi as railway minister. She may leave for the capital in a day or two, but will come back to launch the campaign.

The Trinamul leader also indicated that she would firmly deal with dissidents who have decided to contest the civic elections under the banner of “Trinamul Congress Bachao Committee.”

“We are supporting independent candidates only in ward nos. 91, 34 and 138. We do not recognise independent candidates in the other wards,” she said.

Trinamul chairman Pankaj Banerjee ruled out any adjustment with the Congress in the civic polls.    

New Delhi, June 9 
Early hopes for the release of 21 Indian peacekeepers in Sierra Leone were dashed today with the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) saying the soldiers had been taken hostage and would be released only if its demands were met.

The soldiers, who were held captive by the RUF in a detention camp near Pendembu, had so far been allowed to carry their arms and were provided food and other essentials.

Confirming that the soldiers had been disarmed and taken hostage, the government said in a statement: “Two officers, one JCO and 18 jawans of the Indian battalion, earlier confined to a RUF brigade headquarters in Pendembu pending their rejoining their unit, have, last evening, been made hostage and also disarmed. Simultaneously, the RUF leadership has now made a set of demands to the Unamsil (United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone).”

The statement added: “This is unacceptable. Soon after this development, the government conveyed its very serious concern to the UN secretary-general who has assured that immediate release of the Indian troops is the highest priority for the UN, as this is a challenge to the UN itself.”

A spokesman for the Indian defence ministry said that the government viewed the RUF action as “amounting to an act of terrorism”.

The development is a cause of concern for the BJP-led government, which is already under domestic pressure to take action in Fiji. The news from Sierra Leone has only aggravated the situation.

India committed additional troops in Sierra Leone though the United States and other western nations had been reluctant to do so. The foreign ministry maintained that Delhi will not go back on its commitment.

The decision to send in more soldiers could be part of Delhi’s efforts to build up a strong case for its candidature in the UN Security Council when it comes up for expansion. But any harm to the soldiers will raise questions on the decision to put them in danger in a conflict which does not affect India directly.

The set of demands put forward by the rebel group include the immediate and unconditional release of their leader Foday Sankoh and other RUF personnel.

A concerned India made it clear that it was the UN’s responsibility to ensure the release and safety of the soldiers.

“The UN will have to take cognisance of this act and its consequences in future,” foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal said.

But he added that UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, who has been contacted by India’s permanent representative in New York Kamlesh Sharma, has assured that the release of the soldiers will be given “highest priority”.

Apart from the 21 hostages, the 213 Indian soldiers who are in a “stand-off” position after they were surrounded by the RUF at Kailahun continued to be in the area.    

Leh, June 9 
They have begun to shun the middle path and are slowly drifting to the right.

In a new twist to the politico-religious tangle in north Kashmir, Buddhists are turning more and more hostile towards their traditional neighbours — Muslims — who constitute a minority in this town nestling in the lower reaches of the Karakoram range, but are in a majority in adjoining Kargil.

The Sangh parivar is encashing on this religious divide and making a steady penetration into Ladakh. The Hindu Mahasabha has built a temple in the heart of Leh. Jumborees like the Sindhu Darshan festival of Wednesday, officially sponsored by the Centre and Jammu and Kashmir government but spearheaded by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, are coming in handy for weaning away chunks of the Buddhist population.

Home minister L.K. Advani admitted yesterday that when he first organised — and solemnised — the Sindhu Darshan festival in 1997, the “locals (Buddhists) were apprehensive”, but “as word spread, people with emotional links to the Indus and those involved in the country’s cultural resurgence began to flock here”.

Elaborating on the theme of national integration, Advani said: “We have the ability to bring together all those who constitute India’s cultural fabric. And it is precisely with that objective in mind that the Sindhu Darshan is being organised.”

But there is no doubt that the BJP-led government is wooing Buddhists. Yesterday, tourism and culture minister Ananth Kumar announced the government’s plans to accord deemed-university status to the Central Institute of Buddhist Studies, a step that will bring it on a par with Buddhist centres of learning at Sarnath and Nalanda.

Helping the process along, the RSS has already made known that “trifurcation” of the state into Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh on religious lines is an alternative solution to the Kashmir problem and could answer demands for autonomy in the three regions.

Buddhists have suddenly discovered that it is the BJP which could fulfil its “aspirations” in Ladakh and are even prepared to “come under the larger umbrella of Hindiusm”.

Buddhist leaders have turned vocal against Muslims, with whom they have lived cheek-by-jowl for centuries, as the gangrene of religious intolerance spreads to all regions of this wounded state in a fallout of militant conflict.

Ladakh Buddhist Association president Tsering Samphel said: “We are open to the Hindus to the extent that we would be able to counter the Muslims.”

Samphel is convinced that Muslims are becoming more and more fundamentalist in Leh and Kargil which, he says, is part of the “larger conspiracy” to Islamise Ladakh. “Earlier, they would sound the bell in the mosques before reading out their prayers. Now they have switched to loud-speakers. Muslims are converting Buddhists to Islam. As many as 72 boys and girls have been converted. Five new mos-ques have been constructed at Leh during 1989-99 around Buddhist habitations,” alleged Samphel.

“The percentage of Muslims in Leh district increased from 15.32 per cent in 1981 to 18.37 per cent in the projected figures for 1991 wh-en no census was held,” he said.

Sheikh Mirza Hussein, till recently president of the Anjuman Imamia, a Shia organisation, admitted that there was a deep divide between Muslims and Buddhists. However, he attributed this more to the “baseless apprehensions” of Buddhists who are being “used as convenient tools” to widen the hiatus. He is yet to forget the en masse boycott of Muslims by the majority community a few years ago.

Hussein suspected that “some hidden hand” was engineering the divide. He did not say as much, but asked what impact Sindhu Darshan would have on Buddhists and Muslims, Hussein was apprehensive: “If it is misused, it might give rise to mazhabi (religious) differences. Muslims will then have to protect their interests. Believe me, Buddhists are more apprehensive of a likely penetration by Hindutva forces.”

The association blamed the Farooq Abdullah government for the “continuing victimisation of and discrimination” against the Buddhist community. One of the reasons for the Buddhist “xenophobia” is that, for the first time, a candidate from Farooq’s National Conference was elected MP from Ladakh. Samphel claimed that the nomination of two Buddhist monks in Farooq’s Cabinet was another ploy to divide Buddhists.

It is apparent that Buddhists are a divided house, a situation which, observers here feel, might be capitalised on for political purposes.    

Temperature: Max: 34.9°C (normal), Min: 27.6°C (+1) Relative Humidity: Maximum: 94% Minimum: 61% Rainfall: 8.6 mm Today: Possibility of one or two thundershowers in some parts. Sunset: 6.17 pm, Sunrise: 4.54 am    

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