Trinamul Congress sources said Sudhindra Kulkarni, a senior official in the Prime Minister’s Office, was carrying out negotiations with Mamata over telephone. They added that Mamata had insisted on a “substantial if not complete rollback of the hike (in oil prices) in the people’s interest”.
Kulkarni has flown to Calcutta with an offer of a partial rollback after the Trinamul said it had scaled down its demand for a total rollback but wanted some relief for the common people.
BJP sources said the decision was taken after a meeting between Vajpayee and his senior colleagues L.K. Advani and George Fernandes. The sources added that Kulkarni would discuss the offer in detail with Mamata.
The Trinamul leader refused to meet reporters and remained closeted in her home from where she negotiated with Vajpayee’s representative.
Kulkarni had accompanied Fernandes to Calcutta soon after Mamata had faxed her resignation to Vajpayee on Saturday. He returned to Delhi yesterday.
Mamata is expected to make an announcement tomorrow afternoon. While quitting on Saturday, she had vowed to pull out of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) if the Centre did not reduce the prices within three days.
Sources close to the Trinamul leader said she had also taken up with Delhi some other issues which stood in the way of her party’s coordination with the Centre. “Apart from the hike in petro products’ prices, there were other things she found disturbing. For instance, she is unhappy over the manner in which Panja was subjected to humiliation with the induction of a new minister of state in the external affairs ministry,” a Mamata aide said.
The Trinamul leader also resented the induction of Satyabrata Mukherjee, BJP MP from Krishnagar, into the ministry without any prior intimation to her from the PMO. Vajpayee had earlier taken her into confidence while giving a berth to Tapan Sikdar in his council.
Mamata feels Mukherjee was taken in to enhance the state BJP’s importance in West Bengal before the Assembly polls.
Some in the BJP believe this is exactly why the Cabinet should not yield to Mamata: a rollback would be too high a price to pay because there is no guarantee that such a move can ensure the Trinamul chief’s loyalty to the alliance.
“Mamata has taken the decision to quit the government because of the coming West Bengal elections, the petro price hike is just an excuse. How are we to be sure that if we roll back prices, she will not pick up some other issue in the coming months and resign again?” said a BJP leader.
However, BJP circles took heart from the statement by Trinamul MP Sudip Bandopadhyay that his party will not tie up with the Congress, which he described as the “B team of the CPM”.
“Under no circumstances are we going to forge an alliance with the Congress which we consider as the B team of the CPM,” Bandopadhayay told PTI. He alleged that the Congress in Bengal was being “remote-controlled” by CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet.
Bandopadhayay’s snub came a day after Congress leader Priya Ranjan Das Munshi’s open invitation to Mamata for a poll tie-up.
Bengal Congress president Pranab Mukherjee papered over Bandopadhyay’s remark and said he was willing to revive the talks for a mahajot (grand alliance) once she leaves the NDA.
“Her decision is 100 per cent right if she was not consulted on the petro hike. One must keep in mind that the railways is the main consumer of diesel and a steep rise would affect it most,” Mukherjee said in Delhi.
Claiming that the NDA was showing signs of splintering, he added: “The basic rule of any coalition is that all partners must be consulted. If she has not been consulted, it is wrong.”
Mukherjee showered praise on Mamata and said the Congress was willing to join hands with her in her battle against the Left Front. “We acknowledge her leadership. In Bengal she is a major force,” he said.
The Congress leadership is keeping a close tab on the developments in Bengal. Besides Mukherjee and Das Munshi, the party has asked Kamal Nath to open channels of communication with Mamata. Party leaders said Sonia Gandhi will formally approach Mamata if she leaves the NDA.
Trinamul leaders scoffed at Jyoti Basu’s assertion that Mamata was party to the decision to increase oil prices. “There is no question of her being part of the decision about which she had no inkling,” they said.
Basu, however, reiterated his charge and described Mamata’s resignation as a “futile attempt” to hide facts.
The dinner gave the leaders the opportunity to clear the air on Delhi’s growing closeness with Washington and Moscow’s recent engagement with Islamabad.
Vajpayee’s gesture was meant to silence critics at home who have been accusing him of cosying up to the US at the cost of “time-tested ally’’ Russia. It also offered Putin the opportunity to assure Delhi that Moscow was not trying to undermine India’s pre-eminence in South Asia but was engaging with Pakistan only over Chechnya.
Putin arrived in a special Russian IL-86 aircraft at Palam airport with wife Ludmina and senior Cabinet ministers and officials. Landing at 8 pm, he was half-an-hour behind schedule for the four-day state visit.
Foreign minister Jaswant Singh and minister-in-waiting Arun Shourie were there at the airport to receive him. Singh had also received President Bill Clinton when he visited the country in March. This was another gesture from the government to show it was not discriminating between Washington and Moscow.
The Russian President did not make any opening remarks. He shook hands with the Indian leaders and officials and waved at others before climbing into his limousine and leaving for Maurya Sheraton, where he will put up with his delegation.
The official visit will start tomorrow after Putin is given a ceremonial welcome at the Rashtrapati Bhavan forecourt. The delegation-level talks will be held at Hyderabad House, followed by a lunch to be hosted by the Prime Minister. In the evening, President K.R. Narayanan will host a banquet at Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Putin will also be given an honorary doctorate degree by the Jawaharlal Nehru University at the Vigyan Bhawan.
The high point of the visit will be the signing of the “Declaration on Strategic Partnership between India and Russia’’ by Putin and Vajpayee. The declaration will define the broad contours of relations between the two countries in the 21st century and is expected to elevate bilateral ties to a “qualitatively new level”.
Though details are not known, an attempt will be made in the document to reaffirm the strong bilateral ties that India and Russia have enjoyed in the past and chalk out the course they will take in the new millennium. The two sides are likely to stress on the importance of a multipolar world.
Fourteen agreements are to be signed tomorrow. The most significant will be the declaration on cooperation in peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
Russia had recently supplied two 1000 MW nuclear reactors to India for the Kudamkulam nuclear power project.
The proposed declaration indicates that Moscow, unlike other Permanent Five members, is not waiting till Delhi is officially recognised as a nuclear power to cooperate with it in the field. Putin will also visit the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre during the Mumbai leg of his visit on October 5.
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Defence minister George Fernandes and Russian deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov are scheduled to sign a pact on setting up an inter-governmental commission on military-technical cooperation. Klebanov will ink another agreement with human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi on integrated long-term programme of cooperation in science and technology up to the year 2010.
A pact will be signed on product sharing contract between Gas Authority of India Limited (Gail) and Gazprom of Russia for joint exploration and development on the east coast of India.
Jaswant Singh and his Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov will also sign an agreement on the principles of cooperation between state governments and union territories of India and the executive bodies of the subjects of the Russian Federation. This will allow direct interaction on trade and commerce without having to go through the Central governments.
The Alipore Met Office said the low pressure trough had moved to Bangladesh and sub-Himalayan Bengal, Sikkim and Tripura and this could lead to incessant rainfall in all districts of the northern part of the state.
Deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya and finance minister Asim Dasgupta, who met to discuss the fresh threat, said district magistrates of Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling, Malda, Murshidabad and the two Dinajpurs, have been told to gear up for fresh floods.
Most rivers in North Bengal are in spate and a heavy downpour could wreak havoc.
North 24-Parganas remained inundated a day before the Pujas as water engulfed new areas in Basirhat, Maslandpur, Swarupnagar, Gaighata and Baduria.
Habra and Basirhat towns were cut off from the city as Jessore Road remained under five feet water.
Hasnabad and Taki, too, are under threat as the receding flood water from upper regions in Bagda, Gopalnagar and Bongaon could enter these towns.
The official toll mounted to 897 today. At least 73 people are still reported missing. Unofficial figures put the toll at over 1,500.
Bhattacharya said the number of dead increased over the past 24 hours following the recovery of 142 bodies in Kandi subdivision in Murshidabad. The toll will rise further in Murshidabad and Nadia where 63 people were swept away by the swirling water.
Only four deaths have been reported from North 24-Parganas. Bhattacharya admitted the figure will go up when reports from inaccessible rural areas will be available. The deputy chief minister claimed that the situation had improved in Burdwan, Hooghly, Midnapore and Howrah as the outflow from reservoirs had decreased.
While Damodar Valley Corporation is still releasing around 20,000 cusecs from its reservoirs, Masanjore and Tilpara barrages had stopped water discharge during the past few days.
Dasgupta said the government had requested all nationalised and state-run banks to turn short-term agriculture loans into three to four-year loans in the flood-hit districts. “This will help the poor farmers as they have lost their crops raised through bank loans. The banks have agreed to provide further loans to them for cultivation in the kharif season this year,” Dasgupta said.
He added that the state had spent Rs 129 crore on flood relief and rehabilitation.
Central Jail, Jagdalpur, Sept. 2000: Two years is an eternity in guerrilla warfare, especially if you are in love. After 15 years of hide-and-seek with the police, Badaranna realised it was time to move on. He dreamt of children, of a life to live for.
Now 31, the surrendered People’s War commander is preparing for a future as a constable who will double as an informer.
The police, who made the offer, are confident they made the right decision: it takes a Naxalite to catch a Naxalite.
“We need people like Badaranna. The Naxalites have their informers about the police. Only Badaranna can take us to their hideouts. He’s spent 15 years with them. He thinks like them, he knows everyone of them. He will be an asset,” said an officer.
But is he repentant? Badaranna doesn’t bat an eyelid as he talks of his strikes, of the innumerable policemen he blew up, of the families he orphaned. “Yes, I did it,” he says, sitting in the jail superintendent’s office.
Badaranna, alias Puriyami Rama, a tribal who led the Basaguda dalam on the Madhya Pradesh-Andhra border, remembers every minute detail that went into the plot to blow up the policemen two years ago.
“One of my men, Sannu Mukhbiri, was assigned to win over the confidence of the police as an informer,” says Badaranna.
On the night before the fateful day, Sannu went to the police again, this time with a specific plan. “He said the Basaguda group was resting in the forests near Tarram village off Bijapur,” Badaranna recalls. “The police believed him and 18 of them followed him in jeeps and a van.”
The rebels had dug up a crucial point on the Basavgad-Tarram road, filled buckets with dynamite, placed them in the trenches and covered them up. They also planted evidence at several places up and down the hills to convince the police they were on the right track.
“We waited through the night. They combed the place on foot, went from one hill to another. Everytime they found some evidence we had planted,” Badaranna says.
By next morning, the exhausted police called off the search. Sannu told them he would prefer returning to his village. “From our hideout, we saw Sannu wave to the police as the tired men packed themselves in. The vans started to roll out.”
Seconds later, all that was left was a mangled and twisted debris of metal and charred flesh.
Badaranna also masterminded the 1995 attack on a battalion of 19 policemen from Golappali thana who were on their way to collect their salary.
“Only one survived. We took all their guns. We needed arms all the time,” he says.
Badaranna was 16 when he was initiated into the war against the state. His father Gujja died long before he could recognise him. His mother died when he was 10.
“I was an orphan at the mercy of villagers. I was miserable and hapless when I met Gopanna, a Naxalite commander from Andhra. He was on the run from the police and took shelter in the forests of Bastar,” says Badaranna.
Gopanna asked Badaranna to join him. Without food for days, the hungry teenager readily agreed. The group gave him food, a uniform and taught him Telugu, English and Hindi. Soon his training as a guerrilla began.
Four years later, he was one the best on the Konta Dalam.
As a cadre, one of Badaranna’s first “successes” was the killing of seven policemen. “We found a police informer, Bharat. I broke into his house in Bejji and bludgeoned him to death. We knew a junior police officer would come to the village on foot. The policeman came, he inspected the place, standing at the very spot where we had placed the landmine, and over wireless told his colleagues that it was safe for inspection. I felt sad for the poor chap. He was standing right there and didn’t see it. Six others came in a jeep, we blew them off.”
His life, however, changed after Badaranna started to dream of children. He met Latakka (25), a fellow Naxalite, five years ago.
They married in 1996, but just before the wedding Badaranna was forced to undergo ligation.
After 15 years in the jungles, Badaranna was losing his reflexes. Often, he would travel 10 km a day on foot to find a safe place to sleep.
In March this year, the couple decided to surrender. But their group got wind of their plan and whipped them for 12 hours after tying them to a tree. But that night, they escaped.
Badaranna says his dream for a family keeps him going. “The police superintendent has given me an offer to join the forces as a constable. He has also promised me that my ligation will be opened up and I can have children,” he says with a twinkle in his eyes.