Delhi guns turn on Hizbul again
Basu snubs consul, CPM strikes patriot’s posture
Cornered Subhas in quit threat
Mamata battle in rural Bengal
Calcutta weather

Srinagar, Aug. 9: 
Security forces in the Valley resumed operations against the Hizbul Mujahideen today in the first indication that the government had given up on creating an effective split in the outfit.

Desperate efforts to establish touch with Hizbul commanders in the Valley continued all day but drew a blank. Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah, who is also the chief of the unified command, had indicated this morning that security forces would hold fire against the Hizbul in order to “keep a door open” for them to come overground. But the security forces appear to be shutting that door now.

Inspector-general of the state police Ashok Bhan said the security forces were moving against all militant outfits, including the Hizbul. “We had suspended operations against Hizbul following the ceasefire but we have now resumed them,” he said. The security forces claimed to have killed 11 militants in raids overnight.

Defections from among the Hizbul ranks to the government may yet take place but the security forces do not want further let-up in operations against them lest they regroup and entrench themselves. Top security officials have argued with the government that if the heat is kept off the Hizbul despite the end of ceasefire, it will not only affect the morale of the forces adversely but also strengthen underground militants.

Abdul Majid Dar, the Hizbul commander who called the ceasefire, is believed to have had a closed-door meeting with Fazal Haq Qureshi, the leader of the negotiating team in the first and only round of the talks with the government, in Sopore in North Kashmir today. That Dar and Qureshi have been drifting away from the mainstream militant outfits and the All-Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) is being seen here as a sign that they might form the core of the breakaway group and choose to continue talks. Qureshi has been showcaused by the APHC for establishing contact with the government without seeking its permission. Qureshi’s People’s Political Front is officially a constituent of the Hurriyat Conference.

But senior officials now believe that if at all, very few Hizbul commanders or cadre will come overground and agree to “continue negotiations” with the government. “Letting the entire Hizbul force move about freely in the hope that some of them will come over is a terribly lopsided bargain,” a senior official said, justifying the resumption of the offensive against them. Another reason why the forces are keen to keep the pressure on militant groups is that they expect major strikes in the run-up to August 15.

Raids on known Hizbul strongholds and hideouts were carried out throughout today. In an operation on one such stronghold at Tulmullah in Ganderbal, the security forces took in a Hizbul militant and recovered a huge cache of arms from him.

The APHC executive, the political face of militancy in the Valley, met today but decided, intriguingly, not to make any comment on the situation following the end of ceasefire and the resumption of hostilities between the security forces and militant outfits.

“We have nothing to say for the moment, nothing,” APHC chairman Abdul Ghani Bhat said at the end of the two-hour executive meeting. To suggestions that the APHC’s silence at this juncture might be misinterpreted, he said: “We do not care how to represent or misrepresent it. We have only to say that we have no comment.”    

Aug. 9: 
Chief minister Jyoti Basu today made it clear that he was in no mood to forgive and forget what he thinks is “trespassing” by the US consulate in Calcutta.

The CPM Politburo added a political dimension to the controversy kicked up by its Bengal brethren when it took shelter under “patriotism” while condemning the visit by two officials of the US consulate to Nanoor where 11 Trinamul Congress supporters were killed last month.

If consul-general Chris Sandrolini had gone to Writers’ Buildings looking for a way to settle the controversy amicably, he was greeted instead with an uninterrupted barrage of accusations by the chief minister who told him not to “meddle in our politics”.

The CPM has sought the removal of the consul-general. Basu has said he would write to the Prime Minister asking for action.

Officially, New Delhi is saying that it is examining if the US consul-general has indeed violated the diplomatic code of conduct, but the foreign ministry dropped broad hints of its inability to act on the CPM’s ouster demand.

Given the bonhomie between India and the US and the Prime Minister’s upcoming visit, it seems highly unlikely Delhi will pursue the matter with Washington. Foreign ministry officials pointed out that the appointment of a consul-general is the sole discretion of the country he belongs to.

Under the code of conduct, which flows from the Vienna Convention, diplomats posted here have the freedom to travel to any part of India. Trips to even Kashmir have almost become an annual ritual. They are barred from entering only the restricted areas of the Northeast, which are out of bounds for even Indian citizens living outside the region unless they acquire a special permit.

But the CPM does not appear to be ready to listen to such arguments. In Parliament today, it raised the demand for recall of the consul-general. The party’s Politburo zeroed in on the grey area of what constitutes misuse of diplomatic privileges. “The Politburo demands that the Central government make clear the norms guiding the diplomatic missions’ visits to sensitive political spots,” it said.

The party grabbed the opportunity to take a dig at the BJP-led government’s nationalist credentials. “For the Vajpayee government, which has allowed the FBI to open an office in Delhi, such gross interference by the US diplomatic establishment may seem normal. But for patriotic Indians, this is a matter of great affront.”

The “affront” was more than evident in the way Basu went on the offensive the moment Sandrolini stepped into his room. Sources close to Basu said the consul-general hardly got a chance to speak as Basu bombarded him with charges of trying to influence Bengal politics by “assisting” the Trinamul.

The diplomat protested that the US consulate would never indulge in such activities, but Basu did not pay much heed. “I accept your word, if you insist. But Americans are notorious for meddling in the affairs of our country,” he said.

“Why, you had given assistance to the late Indira Gandhi to destabilise us in Kerala and Bengal. For confirmation of such improper acts, one need not go far, it is available in (Daniel Patrick) Moynihan’s memoirs. Who knows one may have to learn about what the US is doing here some years down the road from another such book,” he added. After the 20-minute one-sided exchange with Basu, the consul-general met the chief secretary and is scheduled to hold talks with deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya tomorrow. Sandrolini tried to explain that the consulate officials had gone to Nanoor to assess the situation as part of their duty. “You don’t send your officials to all the troubled areas, do you?” Basu shot back.    

Calcutta, Aug. 9: 
Finding himself cornered, transport minister Subhas Chakraborty, the perceived arrowhead of party dissidents, has offered to quit the CPM.

On the third and last day of the state committee meeting, Chakraborty said: “I will not hesitate to quit the party if a section of the hostile leadership does not stop maligning me.”

Sources close to Chakraborty said tonight that the minister had attacked a section of state party leaders because he felt “offence is the best defence”.

Many party heavyweights have taken swipes at Chakraborty for his open fondness for Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee and his “severe criticism of the Left Front government”.

At the meeting, dissidents failed to carry through their argument that the central leadership should be more open to joining a government at the Centre. The majority of state party leaders stood by the draft prepared by the central committee, which is learnt to be still somewhat vague on the question that created such upheaval after Jyoti Basu was prevented by the CPM from heading a government in Delhi.

Chakraborty’s close associate and minister for housing Goutam Deb also criticised the leadership for its failure to stop squabbles in the North 24-Parganas unit and urged more active intervention from the top.

Another Chakraborty loyalist, environment minister Manab Mukherjee, alleged that several sub-committees in the party’s student and youth wings were formed in an undemocratic manner and urged the leadership to tackle the problem.

Jyoti Basu and party general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet called on all state committee members to work unitedly. They said this was not the right time to engage in skirmishes with elections scheduled in a few months.

Chakraborty and his associates were anticipating severe punishment to be announced against the minister as he had made several statements praising Mamata and publicly accused the government of failing to deliver. But when they found the party was holding fire, the Chakraborty-led group went on the attack against a section of the leadership.

Rather than emerge entirely unhappy from the session, Chakraborty and his supporters drew pleasure from the warning issued by the leadership to Amitava Nandy, their powerful rival in the North 24-Parganas unit, for his alleged involvement in a bribery scandal. Laxmi Chatterjee, the main accused, was expelled from the party. Senior party leaders rapped Nandy on the knuckles as he had apparently tried to suppress the case and shield Chatterjee.    

Chamkaitala (Midnapore), Aug. 9: 
A drenched Mamata Banerjee rode pillion at the head of a caravan of 2,000 vehicles and broke into rural Bengal today, taking the war for Writers’ beyond her pocketboroughs in Calcutta.

“Give me your votes to take possession of the red building. Oust the bankrupt communists this time,” Mamata told the 50,000-strong crowd at her show of strength, mounted in defiance of an undeclared CPM curfew. Firing back at black flags and ‘go-back’ posters put up by the CPM along the route to the rally site, she said amid blinding rain: “There is no going back in my dictionary. I never retreat. I always move forward.”

But the pitfalls that lurk on the slushy road from Chamkaitala confronted the Trinamul ranks no sooner than Mamata’s roar died down. Snaking their way back to Calcutta, a Trinamul convoy came under attack from an armed group hiding behind bushes along the road. Two Trinamul supporters were shot at while returning from the rally. Police said the condition of one is critical.

In the ambush on the road, at least eight were injured. Alleged CPM supporters also exploded bombs and pelted stones at some places on the convoy’s route.

When news of the attack spread, Mamata, who was on her way to Calcutta, turned back and rushed to the spot. She cut her way through a three-km traffic snarl and remained there till the last of the vehicles left the place safe.

However, angry Trinamul workers gheraoed their party leader and Union minister Ajit Panja for refusing to do a Mamata. When the cadre demanded that he, too, take a U-turn for the attack site, Panja was initially reluctant since he was scheduled to catch a flight.

But the infuriated Trinamul workers blocked the convoy and heckled Panja, forcing him to turn back.

At the rally, Mamata told hysterical supporters that the “next elections will be held under President’s rule. Remember, Jyoti Basu came to power 23 years ago following President’s rule. He will have to leave under another President’s rule”.

She announced that a team of MPs from the ruling coalition at the Centre would visit the state to study the situation. “I believe they will recommend President’s rule here,” she said.

Referring to the CPM youth wing’s proposed meeting in the same place on August 11, Mamata said she would reach there the next day to teach them “a good lesson”, if attempts were made to disrupt normal life.

As the roads were blocked by vehicles ferrying the crowd, Mamata had to reach the rally venue on the pillion of a two-wheeler.

There was a near-total bandh in Chamkaitala. Not a single shop was open. Four nearby villages were deserted following an exodus prompted by a CPM ultimatum to villagers against attending the rally.

Bijoli Mahato of Kharir Bati village said: “CPM leaders came to our village last night and asked us to choose between bullets and tomorrow’s meeting. We had no other way but to stay away.”

But as the meeting ended, thousands of villagers, many of them women, waited along the road to have a glimpse of Mamata.    



Maximum: 32.4°C (normal)
Minimum: 27.5°C (+1)


11.3 mm

Relative humidity

Minimum: 73%


A few spells of light rain in some parts of the city and its suburbs.
Sunset: 6.10 pm
Sunrise: 5.13 am

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