Split sword hangs over Hizbul
States shoot down FBI clone
Veerappan wants Tamil & Rs 50 cr
Bookie on Cronje tape held
Hunt for rape-accused MP
Calcutta weather

Srinagar, Aug. 5 
As the army and Hizbul Mujahideen’s field commanders prepared to finalise the logistics of ceasefire, the first signs of a split in the militant organisation have begun to emerge.

The Hizbul’s pointman, Fazal Haq Qureshi, today appealed to the organisation’s Pakistan-based bosses not to be rigid either on the August 8 deadline for ending the ceasefire or the demand to bring Islamabad on board the talks at this stage.

“Pakistan can come at a later stage, what is the hurry?” Qureshi asked in an exclusive interview to The Telegraph at his Soura residence on the outskirts of Srinagar this morning.

Asked what would happen to the current process if Syed Salahuddin, the Muzaffarabad-based Hizbul supremo, stuck to his conditions and refused to extend the deadline, Qureshi said: “That will be unfortunate, we appeal to them to extend the deadline to three months, they should be flexible. I hope they will listen to us.”

It is significant that Qureshi no longer finds the need for Pakistan to be involved in the talks immediately; it not only runs counter to the position taken by the Pakistan-based Hizbul and the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC), it is also much closer to the government of India’s line.

The fact that Qureshi has chosen to appeal to the Pakistan-based Hizbul leaders through the media is also perhaps a comment on the state of communication between Qureshi and Hizbul commanders talking to the government and their leaders across the border.

There were reports in Srinagar today that a meeting had taken place between the army and Hizbul commanders to discuss the nitty gritty of the ceasefire, although there was no confirmation by either side. The meeting was most likely held at the high-security Badamibagh headquarters of the 16 Corps.

Differences on the issue of talks appeared at another level within the Jamaat-i-Islami, which provides the Hizbul its socio-political base.

While the Jamaat Emir, Prof. Ghulam Mohammed Bhat, adopted a positive tenor on the talks, senior Jamaat leader and the organisation’s representative on the APHC, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, said India could never be trusted. “These talks are being held in a vacuum, how can anything come out of them?” he asked.

Qureshi indicated that the Hizbul commanders here may defy any lifting of the ceasefire from Pakistan. Asked what his course of action would be if Hizbul leaders from Pakistan scrapped the ceasefire, Qureshi said: “That will be unfortunate, they should show some patience. But we will stick to talks and to our agenda despite the deadline.”

On the other hand, Qureshi and the Hizbul commanders are also under peer pressure to demonstrate their credibility as representatives of Kashmiri sentiments on the negotiating table.

Apprehensive that they might be dumped as “government agents”, Qureshi today made it clear that there was no question of Hizbul militants giving up arms immediately.

But in doing so, he unwittingly exposed his fears of threat from other militant groups and admitted that seeking government cover would be a logical consequence of Hizbul cadre giving up their weapons.

“How can the Hizbul give up arms unless their security is ensured by the government?” he asked. Several militant groups that have begun negotiations with the government in the past have ended up in government safe houses.

Qureshi is obviously feeling the counter-tug between persisting with the talks and maintaining his credibility in his peer group.

He disagreed, for instance, with union home secretary Kamal Pande’s statement that they had agreed to “identify and isolate” other militant groups still opposed to the peace process. Expressing surprise at the presence of such a reference in the home secretary’s statement after the first round of talks, Qureshi said, “How can we agree to such a thing? They (other militants) are also our brothers in this struggle, how can we betray them?”

But two days after the first official contact between the government and the Hizbul commanders, there are visible signs that the group led by Qureshi is getting isolated from the mainstream militant-separatist forces in the Valley.

The Hizbul’s lead in coming to the negotiating table has been followed by no other organisation; on the contrary, the APHC, the political face of many an anti-India underground outfit in Kashmir, has dismissed the talks and Hizbul’s efforts as meaningless.

Qureshi, whose party the Peoples’ Political Front (PPF) is a constituent of the APHC, is himself facing disciplinary action from the Hurriyat leadership.

Asked about the APHC’s strong disapproval of his moves, Qureshi said: “We will talk to them. I am also a part of the Hurriyat, this is our joint struggle.”

He played down suggestions that he was being isolated, saying, “The process of talks has just begun, let us have some patience.”    

New Delhi, Aug. 5 
Led by Jyoti Basu, state governments today forced the Vajpayee administration to give up the formation of the Central Law Enforcement Agency (Clea), which would have the power to investigate “federal crimes” without having to seek consent from the states.

But the Centre also made it clear that it was in no mood to reverse its stand on issuing national identity cards for all citizens and the draft anti-terrorism legislation which had been rejected outright a few weeks back by the National Human Right Commission (NHRC). As a sop to the states, the Vajpayee government announced it was hiking central assistance to the states for modernisation of police forces from Rs 200 crore to Rs 1,000 crore for the next 10 years.

Announcing the government’s decision tonight at the end of a hotly-debated meeting of chief ministers on internal security, home minister L.K. Advani said: “The government will not pursue the matter (on a federal law enforcement agency) any more. I have no objections to the views expressed by the states and the government should not even be seen to be encroaching into the exclusive domain of the states.”

The near-unanimous decision by the states today has jolted the home ministry which had done considerable groundwork on setting up Clea, which was to have been designed on the model of the American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and was to have been vested with the authority to investigate federal crimes like terrorism, trafficking in narcotics, arms and ammunition, humans and explosives, espionage, war against the state and sabotaging national infrastructure, without having to seek permission from the state governments.

A majority of chief ministers argued that there was no need for such an agency and the Centre’s move would have been tantamount to interference in the exclusive domain of the state governments because law and order and police matters belong to the state list. The fact that states would reject the Centre’s proposal was evident on June 28 itself in the meeting of state chief secretaries, home secretaries and directors-general of police who had voiced strong reservations against the Clea. Most chief ministers felt that the agency would misuse its powers and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was perfectly capable of taking up and investigating federal crimes.

While there was general agreement that police forces should be modernised, criminal justice systems strengthened and states should improve on public delivery and redress of grievances front, a number of states, particularly West Bengal and Rajasthan, felt that the proposed scheme to issue national identity cards to all citizens was not practical enough.

West Bengal’s stand against national identity cards is understandable. It has long been the Centre’s conviction that the CPM-led Left Front government has done precious little to check the influx of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants into the state.    

Bangalore, Aug. 5 
The ‘Veerappan tape’, detailing the bandit’s conditions for the release of actor Raj Kumar and three others, landed on Karnataka chief minister S.M. Krishna’s lap like burning cinder today as it contained many explosive demands with political overtones.

Though both Krishna in Bangalore and his counterpart M. Karunanidhi in Chennai declined to reveal the demands in the “larger public interest”, sources said the smuggler had raised sensitive language and Cauvery water issues, besides asking for a ransom of Rs 50 crore.

Krishna said he is rushing to Chennai tomorrow morning along with a team of officials to discuss Veerappan’s demands with Karunanidhi “in the larger interest of resolving this crisis”. Veerappan had not set any deadline for meeting his demands, the chief minister added.

After receiving the tape, Krishna called an emergency Cabinet meeting and a meeting of Opposition leaders, where he shared some of the information and sought their co-operation in getting the hostages safely released.

Sources said the demands included conferring “additional official language status to Tamil in Karnataka”, the release of Cauvery waters as per the tribunal’s order, monetary compensation to around 10,000 victims of Cauvery riots in Bangalore in 1992, withdrawal of Tada cases against his supporters locked up in Karnataka jails and unveiling of a statue of Tamil poet Thiruvallavur here, which has remained a contentious issue.

The smuggler has reportedly described the ransom of Rs 50 crore as “compensation” for the “killing” of his brother Arjunan and other associates by the police.

Sources said there was no mention of amnesty or any personal demand.

As the government tried to hush up the demands, rumours became rife and panic spread in Bangalore and some other parts of the state tonight. With sporadic incidents of stone-throwing, shops and other business establishments quickly closed.

Official sources said they were mystified by the two different voices on the tape. While the first part of political demands is suspected to have come from the head of a militant Tamil organisation named “Maran”, the compensation part is reportedly that of Veerappan.

It is believed that Maran, who headed a group called Tamil Nadu Liberation Army, may have joined the Veerappan gang.

Both Krishna and Karunanidhi confirmed that the designated emissary, Nakkeeran editor R. Gopal, had been given the cold shoulder. They said Gopal had not been able to meet Veerappan, though the two audio tapes containing his demands were delivered “through Gopal” by some intermediaries.

Gopal, who had gone into the jungles with two of his colleagues and a videographer, has apparently fallen foul of Veerappan.

The tape meant for Krishna was brought to Bangalore this morning by Karnataka’s designated officer in Chennai, additional director general of police K.R. Srinivasan.

Observers believe that Veerappan’s demands are made with an eye on the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections due next year, as the smuggler has never hidden his political ambitions.

With neither of the chief ministers in a position to concede many of the demands, the imbroglio over Raj Kumar’s kidnapping is likely to continue.


New Delhi, Aug. 5 
Sunil Dara alias Bittu, one of the big Delhi bookies involved in the match-fixing deal struck by Rajesh Kalra, Sanjeev Chawla and Kishen Kumar with Hansie Cronje, was arrested last evening at the Inter-State Bus Terminus off Ring Road in Delhi.

Surendra Sharma, inspector of the anti-extortion wing and now principal investigator in the case, reached the ISBT with his team and caught Bittu in the nick of time. He was boarding a bus to leave the capital. He must have returned to Delhi in the past few days.

Bittu is one of the three bookies whose name and voice figures in the Cronje tapes. Along with Mohan Khattar, supposed to be his mentor in Delhi’s betting circles, he had been running a small syndicate from Lajpat Nagar.

Hans Raj of Model Town is supposed to be the third major bookie involved in the South Africa-India series earlier this year. Both Khattar and Raj are absconding. Bittu’s name has also been mentioned by Kalra, the first to be picked up by Delhi police, and Kishen Kumar during interrogation.

They said he was the same Bittu who ran a dhaba in Lajpat Nagar and was supposed to have become a bookie as Khattar’s protege. It has taken the police a long time to track down any of the bookies involved in the deals with Cronje. The enforcement directorate earlier said someone must have tipped them off that their arrest was imminent.

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That is why they got enough time to disappear once the Cronje tapes hit the headlines in early April this year.

The Delhi Police hope that with Bittu’s arrest, they will be able to bust the bookie network.

They expect to get their hands on valuable information regarding the hawala route used by the bookies to transfer money to Cronje’s accounts.

Bittu is also expected to lead them to the elusive Khattar. Though the latter is said to have escaped to the United States, the police belive he might be hiding in this country.


Lucknow, Aug. 5 
The Samajwadi Party today staggered under the impact of a telling blow as arrest warrants were issued against its leader Sachchidanand Sakshi Maharaj, charged with raping a college principal in Etah, even as the accused claimed that he was being framed for switching political loyalties.

Though the administration has not yet declared him absconding, it has sounded an alert in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar and also in the eight districts of Uttar Pradesh where he is “most likely to hide”.

Additional director-general of police (law and order) V. Kurien confirmed that police teams have fanned out in search of the MP. He said it was only a matter of time before Sakshi was arrested.

The controversy erupted on August 1 when Durga Bharti, the principal of Veerangana Avantibai College, filed an FIR with the Etah police, accusing Sakshi and seven accomplices of gangraping her.

She said the MP had waylaid her when she was on way to Agra. According to the FIR, she was then bundled into a jeep and dragged at gunpoint to his ashram in Etah.

Bharti alleged that Sakshi was aided by two of his nephews and his armed escorts. She claimed that the Rajya Sabha MP also took away her licensed revolver.

The principal is determined to bring the powerful leader to book. She said she was even willing to move the National Commission for Women if the district administration and the BJP-led coalition government “fail to take cognisance of her harassment, mental and physical torture”.

She added: “Though I am aware that this can put me in immense danger, I am ready to go to any length for justice.”

Sakshi, however, maintained that the rape charges were “framed” by the BJP government to malign his reputation for quitting the party after a 15-year association. He alleged that it was a conspiracy hatched by “vested interests” and, on August 2, even threatened to initiate legal action against Bharti, the district magistrate of Etah and the special superintendent of police.    

Temperature: Max: 35.7°C (+3), Min: 24.8°C (-1) Relative humidity: Maximum: 97% Minimum: 55% Rainfall: Trace Today: Possibility of thundershowers in some areas of Calcutta and its suburbs. Sunset: 6.12 pm, Sunrise: 5.12 am    

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