Bandit robs Krishna of Koirala
Centre rethink on talks pace
New friends flock to ‘golden’ Bangaru
Desam ditches Trinamul
Atal ignores ally protest on Jharkhand Bill
Dissidents line up Patel ploy
Cong sacks Paresh Pal
Ex-minister held with two women
Assam alert for NSCN raid
E-governance first in Burdwan

 
 
BANDIT ROBS KRISHNA OF KOIRALA 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Aug. 2: 
Bandit king Veerappan has forced Nepal Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala to omit the country’s homegrown Silicon Valley in Bangalore from his itinerary and instead head for Chandrababu Naidu’s Cyberabad.

The dignitary from Kathmandu was keen to visit the country’s premier infotech city. But the Karnataka government, under pressure following superstar Raj Kumar’s abduction, has made it clear it cannot handle a VIP visit to the state now.

The Centre was in two minds on the issue. The government initially felt Koirala should not cancel his trip to Bangalore as it would set a bad precedent and send the signal that Delhi was cowering before an ordinary criminal. Foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh had said as much to the Karnataka government.

But with Bangalore continuing to remain tense, South Block finally decided that Hyderabad was a safer choice.

Koirala is in India on a six-day “goodwill” visit aimed at drawing up confidence-building measures between the neighbours.

Bilateral relations had crashed following the hijack of the Indian Airlines Airbus on a flight from Kathmandu to Delhi last year.

At the end of two days of official talks, including a one-to-one between Koirala and Atal Behari Vajpayee, both nations claimed that the first steps towards removing the air of mistrust had been taken.

Referring to the contentious Kalapani issue, Delhi made it clear that while it was not interested in taking “even an inch” of Nepal’s territory, it will not take kindly to attempts at politicising the land dispute.

As a trade-off aimed at keeping Kathmandu happy, India has decided to waive a special additional customs duty of four per cent imposed by it on Nepalese goods. In response, the Nepalese leadership has agreed to allow import of Indian cars subject to self-certification by manufacturers and the vehicles being Euro-I compliant.

But the “good atmospherics” generated during the talks was not enough to enable the two sides to come out with a joint statement.

The proposed statement, with the approval of the two Prime Ministers, could not be released till late evening as diplomats from the two countries continued to ponder over wordings of every single paragraph to ensure there were no loose ends.

On the crucial security issue, Koirala assured his hosts that Nepal’s territory will not be used for anti-Indian activities.

Though this a known and stated position of Kathmandu, Delhi says this time the level of cooperation assured by Koirala is much more than what was given in the past. The reference is obviously to the growing activities of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence in Nepal.    


 
 
CENTRE RETHINK ON TALKS PACE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 2: 
For all its tough assertions that today’s violence will not derail the proposed talks with the Hizbul Mujahideen, the Vajpayee government seems to have been rattled by the series of massacres and is thinking of beefing up security in both Jammu and the Kashmir valley.

At the same time, it is planning to go slow on the negotiation process, wondering whether any hasty deal will be worthwhile when other mercenary groups are bent on a bloodbath.

For the government it was a difficult day in Parliament today. Under attack from virtually all parties, home minister L.K. Advani was seen frequently consulting Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

National security adviser Brajesh Mishra, who monitored the situation, also briefed Vajpayee by the hour. Home secretary Kamal Pande kept himself posted through his special secretary, Kashmir affairs, T.R. Kakkar. There was a meeting at Vajpayee’s residence this evening.

Advani, who repeated Vajpayee’s allegations of a possible Pakistani hand in the sudden burst of violence, said the government would not bow to forces trying to derail the talks.

He said it was a systematic effort to ensure Hizbul’s isolation from other mercenary outfits like the Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish Muhammed and the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen which operated largely from Pakistan.

The Centre’s strategy in this embattled state was to break the extremist ranks and segregate native Kashmiris from mercenary-oriented groups. This is precisely why, it believes, that Lashkar has hit back with such ferocity.

Home ministry officials feel security forces had been lax in their vigil in urban areas where the Hizbul holds sway. “Operations had been suspended against the Hizbul and the Lashkar took advantage of the situation,” an official said.

To shore up security, two senior officials have been sent to hold consultations with the Unified Headquarters, which has been asked to keep tight vigil in the hinterland areas from where foreign mercenaries operate.

Officials also said security forces would pursue those responsible for the massacres and “hunt them down”, even if it slowed the peace process.

“Security is uppermost in our minds at the moment. The Hizbul Mujahideen leadership must understand which outfits are trying to derail the peace process. Talks can start only if the situation is conducive,” a senior official said.

VHP raps peace drive

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad has opposed the Centre’s initiative to hold a dialogue with Kashmiri militant groups, saying that killings and talks cannot go hand in hand. It also demanded that Hizbul clarify its stand vis-ŕ-vis other militant outfits which are still carrying out killings in the state.    

 
 
NEW FRIENDS FLOCK TO ‘GOLDEN’ BANGARU 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 2: 
BJP office-bearers have begun cosying up to newly-anointed party chief Bangaru Laxman, even though he is expected to take over formally from Kushabhau Thakre only on August 27 and constitute his team of office-bearers shortly thereafter.

Pro-Laxman statements have been flowing thick and fast. General secretary M. Venkaiah Naidu today told the press that Bangaru meant “gold”, and implicitly likened his party chief-elect to the precious metal.

The rivalry between Naidu and Laxman — both hail from Andhra Pradesh — in state politics has been the subject of much speculation in the regional press.

It was alleged that Naidu had scuttled Laxman’s chances of contesting the Lok Sabha polls from Andhra Pradesh in 1998 and had sent him packing to Jalore in distant Rajasthan, where his defeat against the formidable Buta Singh was a foregone conclu- sion.

BJP sources admitted that the Naidu-Laxman relationship was “not exactly cordial”. “It has to do with both their caste and personality. Naidu belongs to the powerful land-owning Khamma caste, while Laxman is a Dalit. The former is pushy and dynamic while Laxman’s approach is low-key,” said a BJP office-bearer.

In the Thakre-led BJP dispensation, Naidu had emerged as the surrogate party chief. Not only did he have Thakre’s ear, he was the main conduit between party and government. Within BJP circles, speculation has begun whether Naidu will be retained as general secretary by Laxman or “kicked upstairs” as a vice-president, a more ornamental post in the saffron power structure.

Another general secretary, Narendra Modi, was equally lavish, if not more, in praising Laxman. He was quoted as saying that the new BJP president represented the new generation.

“He is good at forming a team and getting work done. His appointment does send a message to the SCs, STs, and OBCs because we are now in power. Any political party conveys its message through such moves,” Modi said.

Modi, who was confined to Gujarat politics, came on the national scene when he was made a BJP national secretary. In Thakre’s time he was elevated as a general secretary and given the charge of key states like Madhya Pradesh and Orissa. The fact that Laxman was elected to the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat is expected to boost Modi’s stock in the reconstituted BJP working committee.

Another senior office-bearer, true to his “low key” style of functioning, has got down to the job of shortlisting names for Laxman’s “consideration” instead of sing paeans, said party sources.

The sources said that with the government having weaned away much of the party’s “talent and resource”, Laxman had his task cut out in cobbling together a working committee.

They added that it was unclear whether two of the senior vice-presidents, Jana Krishnamurthy and J.P. Mathur, would continue in the next dispensation — Krishnamurthy was widely tipped to take over from Thakre.

Uma Bharti, who is no longer a minister and has been in the wilderness in Madhya Pradesh, may be brought to the central organisation, the sources said. As also Uttar Pradesh BJP chief Om Prakash Singh. Both are OBCs and their induction will be in keeping with the BJP’s “social engineering” strategy.    


 
 
DESAM DITCHES TRINAMUL 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 2: 
Choosing principle over ally, the Telugu Desam, Akali Dal and DMK — partners in the NDA government — today ditched Mamata Banerjee, refusing to be part of the Trinamul Congress delegation to the President to demand Central rule in West Bengal. The Shiv Sena, though not opposed to the use of Article 356, also let down its ally.

However, the Trinamul managed to rope in Raghunath Jha of the Samata Party, the lone Manipur State Congress member, Chhoba Singh, and even two junior BJP MPs in the team to Rashtrapati Bhavan, though the BJP is officially opposed to imposition of Article 356 in West Bengal.

Surprisingly, Desam parliamentary party chief Yerran Naidu and Shiv Sena leader Anant Geete had accompanied a Trinamul delegation to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee on July 27, seeking Central intervention.

Defending its decision to cry off at the last moment, a Desam leader today said though it shared Trinamul’s concern about deteriorating law and order in West Bengal and was ready to be part of an NDA delegation to study the situation, the party could not back the demand for President’s rule as it is against the use of Article 356.

The delegation, comprising all the Trinamul Lok Sabha MPs barring Mamata, submitted a memorandum to K.R. Narayanan, alleging “total breakdown of the constitutional machinery” in the state.

The party alleged that over 220 members had been killed and thousands of houses of Trinamul workers burnt in the state since 1998. “The functioning of democracy is threatened in West Bengal. Development in the state has come to a grinding halt... The state is not being run by the government of West Bengal, but by the CPM party dictatorship,” the team said.

The members requested the President to consider whether a special team could be sent to the affected areas to assess the situation. The members urged Narayanan to issue directives under Article 355 to ensure the rule of law and make a proclamation under Article 356 to “protect the people, particularly the Scheduled Castes and Tribes, minorities, weaker and vulnerable sections”.

Trinamul had requested Vajpayee to send an NDA MPs’ team to the state to see for themselves the Marxist “atrocities”. BJP sources said a delegation is likely to be finalised in a couple of days.    


 
 
ATAL IGNORES ALLY PROTEST ON JHARKHAND BILL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 2: 
The Centre today moved a Bill to create a separate Jharkhand state, to be carved out of Bihar, despite protests from three of its key allies — the Samata party, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and the Janata Dal (United).

Naveen Patnaik’s BJD demanded that Seraikala and Kharsuan — two former princely states — be returned to Orissa, contending that aspirations of the Oriya-speaking people in these enclaves should not be ignored.

But even before home minister L.K. Advani had moved the Bihar reorganisation Bill, Janata Dal’s Devendra Yadav, through a point of order, spoke out against the Centre’s decision to create a new state without having taken care of its financial needs.

He said the Bill should be referred to a joint parliamentary panel or a select committee as it did not have an “adequate financial memorandum”.

Samata’s Prabhunath Singh, who demanded a special package for speedy and overall development of Bihar once a separate state was carved out, supported his stand.

But Advani rejected their argument. He pointed out that the Bill had a financial memorandum similar to that of other statehood Bills.

Advani said the Centre has set up a unit in the Planning Commission, headed by the deputy chairperson, to go into matters relating to the rest of Bihar after the creation of Jharkhand.

This, he said, had happened for the first time in the history of reorganisation of states.

The Congress, however, welcomed the move. Party member Thomas Hansda said it was a long-pending demand of the residents.

Referring to the under-developed Jharkhand areas, Hansda said the Centre should fast rectify the imbalance and warned that if the situation was not improved it could lead to crippling problems in the proposed state.

Subodh Rai of the CPM opposed the Bill. He said the proposed state would neither be in the interest of the people of Jharkhand nor of the country.    


 
 
DISSIDENTS LINE UP PATEL PLOY 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Aug. 2: 
Efforts are on to bring back Ahmad Patel who had quit in a huff as AICC treasurer last month.

Deposed party chief Sitaram Kesri and two Congress Working Committee (CWC) members have taken the “peace initiative” to accommodate Patel who reportedly fell out with 10 Janpath over money matters. Patel had cited infighting in the Gujarat Congress unit as the reason for his exit.

Support to Ahmad and the bid to pressurise the leadership to take him back in the “inner circle” is seen as part of the power-struggle party at a time when organisational polls are under way.

Using Patel as a pretext, the real objective is to curtail the powers of a coterie around Sonia Gandhi. Some party leaders are uncomfortable about the rise of Sonia’s private secretary Vincent George, Arjun Singh, Natwar Singh and M.L. Fotedar as key advisers of the Congress chief.

Regional satraps feeling marginalised want to team up with Patel to boost their chances of getting elected to the CWC as the former treasurer had polled the highest number of votes in the CWC polls held in Calcutta in September 1997. Leaders unsure about their position after the polls want to use the Patel issue to extract an assurance for CWC berths. also due next week where pro and anti-Sonia camps are contemplating a trial of strength. The Jitendra Prasada group has fielded Begum Noor as CPP secretary for the Lok Sabha. Begum Noor is a staunch critic of Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Salman Khurshid. The Prasada camp is confident that the “lone Muslim woman MP” status will help the Begum of Rampur to win the poll and deal a blow to the coterie. While dissidents are trying to persuade Patel to come out in open against the leadership, the former treasurer has ruled out challenging the high command. Since his exit, he has been issuing statements professing complete loyalty to Sonia. Party circles are intrigued why Kesri is trying to bring about rapprochement between Patel and 10, Janpath. Some said it was “chacha Kesri’s way” of getting even with those responsible for his humiliating exit as the party chief while others credit the septuagenarian leader of trying to work out unity in the party.    


 
 
CONG SACKS PARESH PAL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIALCORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 2: 
The Congress high command today sacked Paresh Pal as West Bengal Youth Congress chief for showing “defiance”, clearing the way for him to join Mamata Banerjee’s party.

Pal was shown the door after he went ahead with the bandh call on Monday, July 31, to protest against the massacre of 11 Trinamul workers in Nanoor, Birbhum, even after state unit chief A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury had told him to withdraw the strike.

The sack order came after a note was sent to the high command, which decided to remove him.

Pal was not available for comment, but his supporters seemed busy interacting with Trinamul leaders immediately after the AICC decision was made public. “This is a blessing in disguise as he had made up his mind to switch over to Trinamul ever since he joined its Martyrs’ Day rally on July 21,” said a loyalist.

Trinamul leader and Calcutta mayor Subrata Mukherjee said: “We are ready to accept him and his associates into the party fold.”

State Congress vice-president Sougata Roy welcomed the sack. “This is a step in the right direction,” he said. Party sources here said that Pal was also “over-age” to carry on as chief of the Congress’ youth wing. They said the action serves as a stern warning to dissidents.    


 
 
EX-MINISTER HELD WITH TWO WOMEN 
 
 
FROM ANUPAM BORDOLOI
 
Guwahati, Aug. 2: 
Former Assam minister Digen Bora today landed behind bars for doing a Hugh Grant.

Arrested while allegedly cavorting with two suspected call girls in a hotel room last night, Bora has been booked under the Prevention of Immoral Trafficking Act.

Chief judicial magistrate B.N. Neog today remanded the former minister in judicial custody for a day. The two girls arrested along with Bora were remanded in police custody for five days.

Bora’s bail application could not be moved today due to the public prosecutor’s absence. The case is likely to come up for hearing tomorrow.

The former minister, regarded as the enfant terrible of the ruling Asom Gana Parishad, was mobbed by newspersons as he was escorted out of the chief judicial magistrate’s residence this afternoon.

Pressed for comments, he shook his head and curtly said, “Eko nokou (I will not say anything).”

Police sources said Bora was “picked up” from a plush hotel in the Ganeshguri area of the city at 10.30 pm last night. He was inebriated at the time of the raid, they said.

After being taken into custody, the former minister and the two women keeping him company at the hotel were taken straight to the Gauhati Medical College for medical examination.

Bora, who has a history of indulging in drunken brawls in public, allegedly abused the hotel staff and destroyed property last night. He also badmouthed the doctors and nurses on duty at the Gauhati Medical College, police sources said.

The two suspected call girls who were arrested along with Bora have been identified as 30-year-old Reena Bora and 19-year-old Pinki Das.

Three other girls were in Bora’s hotel room preceding the raid, the police said.

Bora, a constant source of embarrassment for chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta due to his misbehaviour and addiction to alcohol, was stripped off the food and civil supplies portfolio last year.

His tenure as a minister was an eventful one, with the PDS wheat scam topping the list of controversies he was embroiled in. The scam is being investigated by the CBI.

During the onion crisis, Bora led a surprise raid on Fancy Bazar — the hub of commercial activity — and shut down several shops on charges of hoarding.

The former minister also elicited laughter by breaking into a song at a function in the city sometime back.

N-E blockade

The Absu-BPAC combine called the blockade in protest against the Centre’s lackadaisical attitude in resolving the vexed statehood issue.

Over 5,000 Absu-BPAC supporters were rounded up in different parts of Lower Assam for trying to obstruct movement of vehicles and trains.    


 
 
ASSAM ALERT FOR NSCN RAID 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Silchar, Aug. 2: 
The Army and police deployed along Cachar district’s borders with Manipur have been placed on red alert today following apprehensions of a strike by the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) to avenge the killing of 12 of their cadre at Bholapunji on July 10.

Quoting intelligence sources, police said the NSCN(I-M) had despatched a column of its trained commandos to take up position between Chhotebekra and Jirifai on the district’s eastern borders with Manipur for undertaking retaliatory attacks on police outposts and convoys of security forces.

The source said the movement of this expatriate gang of Naga guerrillas was sighted at the remote border enclaves by the spotters on July 26.

The Army has already fanned out into the interiors to flush out the Naga insurgents, who had reportedly sneaked into the area from their strongholds in Manipur’s Tamenglong district.

Sources said the new batch of NSCN(I-M) intruders, numbering 40, may also try to recover the corpses of the slain Naga militants, which have been interred in a grave at Bholapunji. Surveillance at the site has been stepped up.

Manipur and the south Assam districts, where NSCN (I-M) rebels are active, do not come under the purview of the ceasefire arrangement between the Centre and the outfit, which was extended by one more year on Monday.

The second phase of “Operation Khoj,” undertaken by the Army and the other security forces to drive out the assorted gangs of insurgents in Cachar, yielded another success when the 57 Mountain Division shot dead two NSCN (I-M) rebels during an encounter on Monday night.

The Cachar district administration has clamped prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the CrPC in the reserved forests along the banks of the rivers of Barak, Sonai and Kabuganj banning the movement of any person in the jungles between the sunset and the sunrise.    


 
 
E-GOVERNANCE FIRST IN BURDWAN 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Burdwan, Aug. 2: 
The district will soon zoom into the cyberworld of e-governance.

Within a fortnight, all 31 blocks of Burdwan district will be gifted with a CORBA-based software, tailor-made for day-to-day governance. This is the first such venture in eastern India.

The software will help officials to work faster. For instance, they will no longer have to spend anxious moments during the monsoon and depend solely on police wireless messages to know if there have been any breaches on the embankments.

Or, for that matter, they need not rummage through dusty files to find out how many people affected in previous year’s floods are yet to be rehabilitated under the Indira Avasan Yojna scheme.

Burdwan has equipped its infrastructure with its own internet-intranet communication through independent dial-up networking. Funded mostly by the 10th Finance Commission infrastructure development programme, this system includes an exchange of information of various layers of data base.

District magistrate Swami Singh told The Telegraph: “The network will help the crisis management process move faster and work progress will have a dynamic effect when man and machine are tuned in the cyber mode.” This will generate queries and prepare reports based on day-to-day functioning of different government departments. Rural development tops the priority list of this package.

Official sources said health and education for all, a declared programme of the district authorities, will get maximum importance in this venture.

Already, all 31 blocks and six sub-divisional headquarters have been provided with PCs. The first round of training for the officials was completed by the second week of July. Three persons from each block and five from each sub-division have been trained with the latest computer knowledge. The second round is likely to be completed by this week.

Senior officials of the district collectorate and zilla parishad have received training during the past four months. Sources added that offices of the treasury, motor vehicles and land reform departments have been fully computerised.    

 

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