Vajpayee rises above statute
Talks reduced to a joke: Hizbul
Statehood fanatics gun down teachers
CPM quit call on consul couple
Hidden voice behind Veerappan words
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Aug. 7 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today went half way to meet the demands of the Hizbul Mujahideen by declaring in Parliament that the government would not allow the Constitution to become a stumbling block to talks with the militant group.

The other half he did not concede was to accept Pakistan as the third party to the talks.

Vajpayee made it clear that there would be no preconditions and, if certain issues outside the constitutional framework cropped up during the parley with the militant group, the government would go ahead with the exercise.

“We will talk within the constitutional framework. But in the course of the talks, if certain issues outside the Constitution arise as has been happening in the case of Nagaland, should we stall the parleys? No conditions have been laid down for the talks,” Vajpayee said.

The Prime Minister was replying to clarifications sought on the statement he had made last week on the killings in Pahalgam and other parts of Jammu and Kashmir within a few hours.

“Whether talks are held within the Constitution or outside is not so important. What is important is that underground terrorist groups should be brought overground. Because, if such groups continue to function and thrive underground, not only will Jammu and Kashmir’s problems remain unsolved but the country’s as well,” he said.

Vajpayee elaborated on the use of the word insaaniyat in his Srinagar news conference and expressed surprise at the kind of response the word had evoked. “It seems as though people do not like the sound of the word insaaniyat. But terrorism can be met head on only by insaaniyat. So no one should be shocked or surprised by the use of the word. Yesterday, I was asked by a news agency what I meant by insaaniyat. Have things reached such a pass that I have to explain the meaning of a word like insaaniyat?” he asked.

It was not just the Congress which demanded an explanation for Vajpayee’s choice of the word, but privately even the BJP’s own MPs were wondering if the Prime Minister was willing to concede more to the militants than what was “reasonable” from the Sangh’s viewpoint. Vajpayee had said in Srinagar that insaaniyat and not the Constitution should be the basis for talks.

In the Rajya Sabha today, Vajpayee was cautious not to toss aside the Constitution in the polemics over insaaniyat. He described the document as the “epitome of insaaniyat”, but put the urgency to stop the killings and restore peace in Kashmir above everything else. “Jammu and Kashmir’s hariyali (verdancy) should not be blotted with more blood. How much more blood can its soil absorb? A country of 100 crore should understand this.”

Without sounding unduly optimistic, the Prime Minister admitted he did not know how the talks would end. “But I am ready for peace. If the other side does not reciprocate, then we will think of what to do next,” he added.

Vajpayee also declared that the country’s security was paramount. “We are committed to protecting our national interests and preserving our national unity. None shall doubt we have the means and the will to do so.”

He turned down the Congress’ demand for a judicial probe into the Kashmir killings.

“A propaganda has been unleashed (by Pakistan) that the killings were done by the Indian security forces to denigrate the militant outfits and their andolan. There is also a demand for a judicial probe by the same quarters. No one believes such canards but at the same time we have to be alert to an organised conspiracy of this kind,” he said.

Despite Vajpayee’s impassioned plea for a show of unity, the Congress raised a furore immediately after his statement.    

Srinagar, Aug. 7 
The Hizbul Mujahideen put talks with the government on hold today in protest against alleged ceasefire violations by security forces and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s blanket refusal to involve Pakistan. Negotiations may not have broken down yet but they have run into a blind alley.

Breaking his silence of several days, Hizbul commander-in-chief Abdul Majeed Dar said in an angry, no-nonsense statement this evening that Vajpayee’s statement had “washed away our hopes and we shall have to seriously review our decision on talks because the government has gone back on its word within four days”.

Dar said the government had reduced the peace initiative to a “joke” and authorised the Pakistan-based command council of the Hizbul to take a final decision on whether to continue with the talks. “We have had no contact with the government since the first round of talks and there is no contact at the moment. If the government of India continues to hesitate on our terms, we shall be forced to withdraw the ceasefire and the responsibility of the consequences shall lie with the government,” Dar said.

Hizbul commanders who had participated in the inaugural round of talks with government officials here on August 3 continued to stay away from the negotiating table on the grounds that the government has violated the ceasefire and “gone back” on the terms for talks.

All eyes are now on the Hizbul bosses in Pakistan who have set tomorrow as the deadline for the expiry of the ceasefire if New Delhi does not agree to unconditional tripartite talks. The Hizbul command council is meeting in Pakistan over today and tomorrow.

In a statement from Muzaffarabad late last night, the Hizbul boss, Syed Salahuddin, made it clear that extending the deadline was not on his plans.

“The ceasefire will expire if the government of India does not agree to our terms by 5 pm on August 8. There is no misunderstanding on this because we know the obduracy and unreliability of the government of India,” Salahuddin said.

Hizbul commanders here would be looking out for signals from Pakistan eagerly even as they sort out their own differences. Divisions have emerged within the Hizbul at various levels; the hardline is believed to be putting pressure on the commanders to pull out of the talks in view of the government of India’s refusal to hold unconditional tripartite negotiations.

There are also indications that Hizbul cadre on the ground are resisting any bid to get them to surrender their weapons. Militant groups like the Al-Badar have, in fact, claimed that Hizbul cadre opposed to talks have begun shifting loyalties to groups that are still in the fight. Resistance to talks from the Hizbul cadre is being actively encouraged by the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) and other militant groups.

APHC chairman Abdul Gani Butt said the organisation would initiate action against Fazal Haq Qureshi for initiating talks with the government without consulting the Hurriyat.

“We have conveyed to him that we strongly disapprove of his actions, we have to see what form of disciplinary action we take,” Butt said.

The Hurriyat leader also alleged that the government-Hizbul negotiations had been reduced to a “police operation rather than a political initiative” to solve the Kashmir tangle.

“You do not send policemen and intelligence officials to solve a political problem and you do not talk to a group of underground field commanders alone if you are sincere about solving issues. Unless Pakistan and the APHC are involved, there will be no solution and this war will continue,” the Hurriyat chairman said.

Rattled by the prospect of dwindling credibility on homeground, the Hizbul commanders have not even shown up after they dispersed from the first round of meeting with the government on August 3. There are unconfirmed reports that at least two of the four Hizbul commanders who came for the first round of talks have gone back underground and watching developments from their hideouts before making their next move.

The man they nominated as their leader for the talks, Khalid Saifullah, has reportedly refused to come on board apparently because he does not want to associate himself with an exercise that will affect his credibility.

Hizbul’s hard-hitting statement alleging violations of the ceasefire by the army and warning the government of a breakdown may be a bid to regain some credibility and retain the cadre by impressing upon them that they hadn’t turned into government partisans.

Hizbul commanders in the Valley were reported to be meeting at an undisclosed location to consider their next move. Foremost, they are waiting for a signal from their Pakistani bosses before they make up their minds on further participation in talks. Alongside, they are also sizing up the response of other political and militant groups and public opinion in the Valley. The general sense seems to be that Hizbul commanders who met the government are getting isolated from the mainstream and being reduced to government puppets.    

Calcutta, Aug. 7 
Kamtapuri extremists of North Bengal gunned down two headmasters, both important local CPM leaders, in separate schools in Jalpaiguri district this afternoon, according to reports reaching the state police headquarters.

Netai Das, headmaster of Moulali High School in Jalpaiguri town and a district committee member of the CPM, was mowed down in a packed classroom by a hail of bullets fired by two assassins who came riding a motorcycle around noon.

A schoolgirl suffered bullet injuries in the attack and has been admitted to hospital in a critical condition.

In the other incident within an hour, Subhas Sarkar, headmaster of Dhupguri High School and a CPM zonal committee member, was shot dead in his office in a pre-planned attack.

Police said the gunmen in both places belonged to the Kamtapuri Liberation Organisation (KLO). The KLO has been demanding a separate state of Kamtapur consisting of the Rajbanshi-inhabited areas of Jalpaiguri district for the past few years.

Shortly after the incidents, thousands of angry people turned their wrath on the police, brickbatting them and setting their vehicles on fire. Several policemen were injured and special contingents of securitymen had to be rushed to the trouble spots to bring the situation under control.

Cutting across party lines, residents of the area descended on National Highway 31 and blocked the entire stretch from Moynaguri to Dhupguri.

The CPM has called a 24- hour bandh in Jalpaiguri and Coochbehar districts from early tomorrow.

“The situation is extremely tense and could go out of control at any moment,” the director-general of state police, Dipak Sanyal, said. “We are on full alert and combing operations have started on a war footing to trace the criminals,” he added.

District officials apprehend a retaliatory attack as the Kamtapuri militants have already killed six CPM leaders in the past three years. “Today’s killing was a typical hit operation carried out by the KLO,” an official said.

Preliminary investigation has revealed that the extremists were carrying Sten guns and made their getaway through the forests to Coochbehar.

Till late tonight no arrests had been made even though several places known to be hideouts of the Kamtapuri extremists in Jalpaiguri, North Dinajpur and Coochbehar districts were raided by the police.

Sanyal said this was not a “simple law and order problem which could be sorted out by the police”. “What is required is a political solution,” he said.    

Calcutta, Aug. 7 
In a throwback to its ideological war against the “imperialist” US in the sixties, the CPM today demanded the immediate removal of the American consul general here and his wife.

The party bosses here charged Christopher Sandrolini and his wife with snooping around in the state, transgressing diplomatic norms.

The consul-general, who was in Patna, has joined the ranks of Americans — Robert McNamara, former World Bank president, and George Bush among them — the CPM loves to hate.

State CPM secretary Anil Biswas alleged that the Sandrolinis had sent two officials from the consulate’s political analysis wing to Nanoor, where 11 people were killed in a political clash last month, to gather information.

“We have reasons to believe the officials had gone there to investigate at the behest of the consul general and his wife,” Biswas said a day after accusing the consulate of interfering in the internal matters of the state. “We are demanding their immediate removal,” he added.

Biswas indicated that the CPM saw the consulate officials’ visit to Nanoor as part of a bigger picture of the changing political scene in Bengal —- the weakening clout of the Left Front and the rise of Mamata Banerjee.

Deputy chief minister, Buddhadev Bhattacharya today said the matter was being looked into.

It is clear that the visit to Nanoor will be used by the CPM in its campaign for the Assembly elections next year, with the party claiming that forces opposed to the it here are joining forces with the Americans to drive it out from office.

Chief minister Jyoti Basu is known to play the “conspiring Americans” card with elan. At election meetings, he draws cheers by recalling former US ambassador P. Moynihan’s admission in his memoirs that the CIA had masterminded the ouster of India’s first communist government, headed by EMS Namboodiripad in Kerala.

Biswas alleged that the information gathered by the consulate officials has found its way into a human rights organisation in the US for inclusion in its annual report.

“At the moment, we don’t have an official comment,” said Patricia Sharpe, director of the American Center and acting consul-general in Sandrolini’s absence.

The CPM’s Rajya Sabha MP, Biplab Dasgupta, has been asked to write to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and external affairs minister Jaswant Singh on the issue. Biswas warned that the party would launch an agitation if no action was taken.

Minister of state for external affairs Ajit Panja said he had already sought a report from his department in this regard. “From what I learn, both the staff members of the US consulate are Indian citizens. So we will have to find out why they had gone to Nanoor in the first place. No consulate can, however, send over a team because the sovereignty and integrity of the country is involved,” he said.

Panja criticised the CPM for demanding the removal of the consul-general and his wife.    

Chennai, Aug. 7 
“Go ahead and read,” the voice, purportedly that of Veerappan, barks out and then trails off, leaving behind a host of unanswered questions.

In the five-minute micro-cassette sent to the government yesterday and made available exclusively to The Telegraph, Veerappan has demanded the release of five prisoners from Tamil nationalist outfits, sparking questions about why the bandit has taken up the cause of men who have no links with him or his gang.

The demand is part of the price quoted by the smuggler for freeing hostage star Raj Kumar. However, the voice in the tape claiming to be Veerappan’s is different from the one heard on the videos filmed by Nakkeeran editor R. Gopal. The heavy, metallic tenor is missing in the cassette sent yesterday.

As government sources had admitted yesterday, the voices of two men can be heard on the tape. Someone who identifies himself as Veerappan speaks first. Addressing the two chief ministers, the man says that one of his men would read out his demands.

The other man takes over and reads out the list in the order in which they were specified yesterday.

The government, however, had been silent on the names of prisoners that the bandit king wants released. It had also kept mum on the warning issued by the man reading out the demands. “The government will have to take the sole responsibility for any consequence that might arise if our demands are not conceded…” the man says before winding up. Neither chief minister had spoken about the threat.

In the cassette, the man making the demands has listed the names of five prisoners Veerappan wants released: Venkatesan and Ponnivalavan of the Tamil Nadu Liberation Army and Muthukumar, Manikantan and Sathyamurthy of the Tamil Nadu Retrieval Force.

What is baffling is why the outlaw should seek their release and not that of his brother Madhaiyan or any of his associates.

That Veerappan has taken up the cudgels on behalf of the nationalists buttresses the argument that he has become a convert to the Tamil cause.

While the Tamil Nadu Liberation Army is known to operate in a couple of northern and central districts, the Tamil Nadu Retrieval Force is based down south but may since have moved into the central region.

The Liberation Army was a rump of the People’s War Group which was active in the Seventies and Eighties but was decimated during the crackdown launched by Jayalalitha’s police chief Waltar Dawaram.

Thamizharasan of the PWG had floated the Liberation Army and he was the one who married Marxist ideology with that of Tamil nationalism in an attempt to widen the base of his movement. The outfit carried out several strikes, including the blast on a passenger train in 1986.

Subsequently, during a failed bank robbery, Thamizharasan and his associates were stoned to death by the people.

After his death, the group broke up and many of the self-styled leaders became mafia-type gangsters. One of them, Maran, is said to have won the confidence of Veerappan. Some observers claimed that the second voice heard in the micro-cassette is that of Maran.

The Liberation Army draws heavily from the unemployed Vanniar youth, a caste that Veerappan claims to represent.

The Retrieval Force, on the other hand, was discovered during the investigations into Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. Some of its members were trained by the LTTE “for mobilising an army and liberating Tamil Nadu from the clutches of the North Indian banias and Brahmins”. The outfits is not all that active now.

Karnataka chief minister S.M. Krishna said today that Raj Kumar was reportedly being held captive within the 15-km radius of Gajanur and “we hope the release will take place in the next 48 hours”.    

Temperature: Maximum: 33.5°C (+1) Minimum: 26.3°C (normal) RAINFALL: Nil Relative humidity: Maximum: 98%, Minimum: 66% Today: Possibility of a shower or thundershowers in some parts of the city and its suburbs. Sunset: 6.12 pm Sunrise: 5.13 am    

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