Once-bitten CPM shies off Gorkha clash
Rajnath’s Man Friday upsets Uttaranchal
Prasada readies for proxy war
Granite twist to actor release
Molester shield slur on mandarins
Advani salutes crash survivors
King Laloo revels in Bihar partition
Govt fears petro hike hitch in calm session

Siliguri, Nov. 18: 
The CPM has decided not to confront militants who are fighting for the creation of Gorkhaland.

In the mid-eighties, the party had lost hundreds of its cadre while opposing the statehood demand of the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF).

Not wanting a repeat and with a weakened organisation in the hills, the CPM has decided to avoid direct “physical confrontation” with the Gorkhaland Liberation Organisation (GLO), said state urban development and municipal minister Ashoke Bhattacharya today.

The GLO recently threatened a violent agitation for the creation of a separate Gorkhaland state, carved out of north Bengal districts.

“At no cost will we go in for any physical confrontation with the divisive forces or political parties in the hills of Darjeeling,” Bhattacharya, the local CPM legislator and in-charge of party affairs in north Bengal, said.

“We would rather let the police tackle the problems in the wake of the revival of the separate statehood demand by the Gorkha Liberation Organisation, for we do not believe that a separate state is (a solution to) the problems of the hill people,” Bhattacharya said.

“The GLO upsurge is the outcome of the Centre’s decision to carve out the three new states of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Uttaranchal,” he added.

“We believe that the hill people will not support another destructive and violent armed uprising. The bitter experience has shown that divisive agitations only set the economic clock back by several years,” Bhattacharya added.

Bhattacharya, however, admitted that CPM’s weak base in the hills has given the GLO the much-needed impetus.

“In some pockets in Bijanbari in Darjeeling and Kurseong the party is weak, especially in Kalimpong sub-division, where the GLO has a strong base,” he said.

On the alleged infiltration of insurgents from the Northeast into Bengal, Bhattacharya was quick to blame a “foreign hand” trying to destabilise the entire northeastern region and also accused it of the spill-over into the hills and plains of north Bengal.

The minister sought the media’s help to track down the elusive GLO chief Chattray Subba. “We want the journalists to help us nab Subba. Even the media has a responsibility to the nation and Subba has been charged with waging a war against the state,” Bhattacharya said. Subba is supposed to have gone underground after he was charged with sedition following a police encounter with suspected Nagas in Kalimpong.

“The GNLF being the major party in Darjeeling, it will have to play a vital role in combating the GLO threat. All hill political parties abhor violence and want peace to be maintained,” he said. The parties, including the CPRM and the Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League, have said that a democratic movement should counter the GLO threat of violence.

“The security forces have adequate arms to counter the rebels,” Bhattacharya said. He, however, refused to comment on the GLO’s main target being GNLF chief Subhas Ghising.    

New Delhi, Nov. 18: 
Anant Kumar Singh, the secretary of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Rajnath Singh, has emerged as a source of friction between the governments of Uttar Pradesh and newly-formed Uttaranchal.

Singh has been accused by the CBI of ordering police to open fire on protesters agitating for a separate Uttaranchal state in Muzaffarnagar on October 2, 1994. He was then the district magistrate of Muzaffarnagar.

At least half-a-dozen women were also allegedly raped by policemen in the melee that followed.

But earlier this week, Rajnath rejected the CBI’s request for permission to chargesheet his secretary in the six-year-old case. The BJP central leadership has also maintained a studied silence on the issue.

Asked if Rajnath’s refusal to let the CBI chargesheet his secretary could adversely affect the BJP’s interests in Uttaranchal, where it heads the government, sources said: “We are only concerned with the legal points in the issue. We have not applied our minds to the political message.”

The Muzaffarnagar violence, which took place when Mulayam Singh Yadav was the chief minister, not only proved to be his undoing but also gave a fillip to the demand for a separate hill state.

The BJP, then in the Opposition, held a series of agitations to demand Mulayam’s resignation.

In the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections that followed, a major plank of the BJP, while campaigning in the Kumaon and Garhwal districts, was to “punish the guilty” involved in the Muzaffarnagar episode. The party managed to sweep the hills in these polls.

Asked to explain the volte face, sources said: “It is a problem between the two governments. They have to sort it out.”

They were also sceptical about the extent of the violence that was reported. “Let us see what an objective probe will yield. Many of the charges may not be true,” they claimed.

Asked why the party had launched such a high-voltage offensive against Mulayam, they said: “All is fair in politics.”

Rajnath’s stand has made Uttaranchal BJP leaders nervous as they feel the issue could affect the BJP’s chances of retaining power when elections are held in the state along with Uttar Pradesh, either in October 2001 or March 2002.

“The Congress will go to town on our about turn as will regional parties like the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal. What face will we show to the people?” asked a Garhwal MP.

Both the Congress and the Kranti Dal had joined the BJP in demanding Mulayam’s resignation six years ago.

In fact, the Congress, which was supporting the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party coalition from outside, decided to distance itself from the combine after the incident.

BJP sources said Uttaranchal chief minister Nityanand Swami would take up the matter with the Prime Minister and the home minister once he settles down and possibly even force their hand in chargesheeting the official.    

New Delhi, Nov. 18: 
Congress dissidents are unwilling to give up their campaign for inner-party democracy. They plan to start a “jan morcha” type of movement within the party that saw Vishwanath Pratap Singh humble Rajiv Gandhi a decade ago.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who inflicted a humiliating defeat on challenger Jitendra Prasada, was hoping that dissidence would die out after her thumping victory.

But the rebel camp seems undeterred. Sonia has ruled out any disciplinary action against Prasada but has kept her “Prasada strategy” close to her chest.

The Prasada camp today threw another challenge at Sonia, seeking elections for the party chief in Uttar Pradesh. Prasada has declared the candidature of Sujan Singh Bundela, one of the three MPs who openly supported him in the election against Sonia.

Prasada’s move comes at a time when almost all the states, except Uttar Pradesh, have passed resolutions authorising Sonia to pick new PCC chiefs. Bundela and Prasada have written to the AICC’s central election authority chairman Ram Niwas Mirdha, requesting him to announce the election schedule for the state polls. Taking a dig at Sonia, Bundela said: “There will be no possibility of any bungling in the state-level elections as Sonia would not be in the fray and the counting of votes would be done in the state itself.”

Bundela, an MP from Jhansi, said since Sonia had declared her win as a “victory for inner-party democracy”, she should ensure that elections are held at the state level too.

But the Sonia camp is keen to avoid polls in Uttar Pradesh. The Congress president had sacked state unit chief Salman Khurshid on the eve of the party’s presidential elections. The high command has been put in a tight situation as Khurshid’s little-known successor, Sri Prakash Jaiswal, has failed to perform.

The dissidents are hoping to avenge Prasada’s defeat by putting up Bundela against Jaiswal. In such a scenario, Sonia may withdraw Jaiswal and field someone like Narain Dutt Tiwari. In the 1996 general elections, Tiwari had finished third behind Bundela when he contested on a Tiwari Congress ticket from Jhansi.    

Chennai, Nov.18 
Raj Kumar has been freed but the mystery surrounding his release continues. After the drama over the lady doctor, it’s the Karnataka granite lobby which now appears to be taking credit for the star’s safe return.

Some family members of Bhanu — the lady doctor at whose suggestion Raj Kumar feigned illness before Veerappan — have been quoted as saying that it was because her granite business in Krishnagiri, near the Karnataka border, had suffered that she readily agreed to visit the actor in the forests at a time when his health was causing concern.

Bhanu’s business partner R. Ramkumar, the son of retired Karnataka director-general of police Ramalingam, also accompanied the emissaries to the forest. According to the doctor, Tamil nationalist leader and chief negotiator P. Nedumaran was a family friend of Ramalingam and it was at his instance that she decided to join the team.

“He wanted a Bangalore-based doctor to check Raj Kumar’s health and convince Veerappan of the urgent need to release the actor,” Bhanu has said in an interview.

Most of the Karnataka-based Tamils who went with the negotiators have links with the granite trade, besides being sympathetic to the LTTE cause.

Sources said Kolathur Mani, a Tamil nationalist known to be close to the LTTE, had roped Bhanu into the team with the help of a transporter from whom she used to hire trucks regularly. The transporter has also a strong votary of the Sri Lankan Tigers.

That apart, quarry operators on the Tamil Nadu-Karnataka border have been paying protection money to Veerappan’s gang for years. Puneet Rajkumar, a son of the actor, is himself a quarry operator. Some unconfirmed reports suggested that Puneet had refused to pay Veerappan, which led the bandit to abduct his father.

Another source said the Bangalore-based team had been waiting in the forests for Nedumaran and Veerappan handed over his two captives as soon as the three emissaries reached his hide-out. “The deal had been clinched much earlier,” the source said.    

Chandigarh, Nov. 18: 
A day after the Haryana police chief was charged with molesting a teenage tennis player and driving her to death, the complainants have alleged that the bureaucracy tried its best to shield the officer for 10 years.

The CBI charged director-general of police S.P.S. Rathore yesterday with sexually assaulting the 14-year-old Ruchika Gehrotra and abetting her suicide. The molestation reportedly took place in August 1990, when Rathore was Haryana Lawn Tennis Association president.

Rathore had reportedly called Ruchika and her friend Reemu into his association office, but sent Reemu out on some pretext. Then he allegedly molested Ruchika.

Ruchika and Reemu kept quiet initially. But Reemu later spoke to her parents, Madhu and Anand Prakash, who took up the case with the state government.

Ruchika committed suicide on December 29, 1993. “Powerful people forced Ruchika to commit suicide by not only getting her expelled from school but also ensuring that her family was harassed,” rued Madhu.

“I could not believe when I heard that the CBI had finally charged Rathore. It must be some consolation to Ruchika’s soul who had to leave this world even before she attained youth. I have been weeping from the time I heard the news,” she said.

After K.P.S. Gill, Rathore is the second police chief from the region to have been charged with sexual assault. His wife is an advocate at the Punjab and Haryana High Court and he has one son and one daughter.

Following Madhu and Anand’s complaint, the government had referred the matter to then director-general of police R.R. Singh, who indicted Rathore, but no action was taken.

In July 1997, the government made Singh’s report public. This enabled Madhu, a former advocate, to file a petition in the high court, seeking Rathore’s prosecution.

The high court ordered the CBI to investigate the charges against Rathore, who moved the Supreme Court. The apex court, however, ordered in December 1994 that the CBI should conclude the investigations soon.

Reemu, who has completed her MBA and is doing a computer course now, continues to have sleepless nights.

No member of Ruchika’s family could be traced in Chandigarh. Her father Subhash Chander Gehrotra, a manager with the UCO Bank, went underground after Ruchika committed suicide. Madhu said the CBI traced him to an ashram in Calcutta, but could not persuade him to return to Chandigarh.

Ruchika’s brother Ashu suffered at the hands of the police, Anand said. He said six false cases of theft were registered against him. “He was tortured and his ankles broken,” Anand said. Ashu too fled from Chandigarh and was reported to be living “somewhere in Punjab in safety”.

Madhu said her family received threatening calls. “They were even boycotted for a while,” a relative said.    

Bhuj, Nov. 18: 
Like the decomposing carcass of cattle in a poisoned lake, the grey camouflaged remains of the MI-8 helicopter lay still in the saline, swampy water flowing in from Sir and Kori creeks. All around the swamp lay the vast expanse of the arid Rann of Kutch shimmering in the intense November sun. There were no Pakistani fishermen or their boats, only the depressing sight of the still, murky water.

As the MI-8 chopper hovered 2,000 feet over the site where, on November 12, a similar Indian Air Force helicopter had crashed, killing seven security personnel, Union home minister L.K. Advani furrowed his brows to focus his eyes on the submerged hull.

But then a hint of a smile crossed his lips when he asked BSF director-general E.N. Rammohan what helicopter he was on. “It’s an MI-8, sir,” replied Rammohan, adding quickly: “But it is reliable.” Advani decided to make an aerial survey after reading Rammohan’s report on Thursday. Today’s 40-minute flight to the crash site and back left him amazed at the “resilience of those who guard and protect our frontiers”.

“I can imagine what the five survivors of the crash may have gone through while waiting for over 24 hours in the swampy water with no rescue aircraft in sight,” the home minister said.

He met the survivors, undergoing treatment at the army hospital here. BSF deputy commandant Swaran Singh’s right ankle snapped when the helicopter plunged into the water from a height of 90 feet. He also sprained his neck and several parts of his torso and limbs were burnt because of exposure to the sun and salinity.

Rajan row

Advani today joined issue with the Congress-led Maharashtra government over the deportation of wounded don Chhota Rajan, accusing the state ministers of spreading disinformation against the Centre. Denying the state’s charge that Delhi was dragging its feet over Rajan’s deportation from Bangkok because of his alleged links with Indian intelligence agencies, Advani said his government had acted quickly on the state’s request to bring Rajan back.    

Patna, Nov. 18: 
At a party recently, Laloo Yadav offered Bihar’s deputy chief ministership to BJP’s Sushil Modi. “Chalaba hamre partyma, tohara hum up-mukhyamantri baniye de, miljulke sarkar chalaiben (Join my party, I will make you the deputy chief minister and together we will run the government),” the irrepressible Laloo told the down-in-the-dumps Opposition leader, much to the amusement of even RSS hardliners present.

Laloo was joking, but behind the jest lurked a note of sarcasm born out of supreme power. Jharkhand may have left Bihar a much smaller and poorer elder brother, but it has been a blessing in disguise for Laloo’s Rashtriya Janata Dal.

The party, which in undivided Bihar had to be propped up by the Congress, has now entrenched itself in government. Besides, the strength of the Opposition parties has been greatly truncated.

Of the 65 BJP members in the Bihar Assembly, only 33 remain with the rest going to Jharkhand.

Five of the 34 Samata Party members will be in the government of the new state while the 19-MLA Janata Dal (United) is now a house divided, especially after Ram Vilas Paswan’s threat to launch a new party.

In the 243-member House, the RJD is now just five short of majority which it can get with the help of the Independents. If Laloo wants, he can even do without the Congress which is now left with 11 legislators.

Reduced to a much junior partner, the Congress will be under the RJD’s thumb.

While the RJD is ecstatic, the people are not. Arindam Datta, a social researcher, pointed out that over 70 per cent of future planned investment will be gobbled up by Jharkhand. The mineral-rich areas have all gone to the new state.

“No politician is sincere in making plans for Bihar’s investment even as law and order in the state is worsening everyday,” said Narendra Shah, a former Dal leader from Samastipur.

Worried about Bihar’s economic future, Bhojpuri folk singers have composed elegies on partition. One of them, translated into English, goes: “We were prosperous as we used to thrive on malai and sweets before partition; now that Jharkhand has gone, we have to live on wild fruits that grow on sandy mud.

The Centre promised all help to Bihar. “We are doing our bit. We understand the mood of despondency among the public,” Union health minister C.P. Thakur said.    

New Delhi, Nov. 18: 
The BJP hopes that a divided Opposition and the third front’s failure to take off will ensure smooth sailing for the NDA during the month-long winter session beginning on Monday.

Even the Congress’ threat to take up the issue of disinvestment of profitable public sector units hasn’t fazed the party. Congress chief Sonia Gandhi has demanded a white paper on disinvestment. “We know that beyond a point, the Congress cannot afford to sustain its criticism against privatisation. In essence, it is still pro-reforms, despite leaders like Manmohan Singh being marginalised,” said BJP sources.

They also used this argument to rule out chances of the Opposition mounting an offensive in Parliament against the government’s decision to dilute its holding in nationalised banks to 33 percent. “The Congress may be synonymous with banks’ nationalisation in the minds of some, but much water has flowed since 1969 and there’s an entire generation for whom the nationalisation mantra means nothing. We are sure the Congress would also take the sentiments of this generation into account,” argued sources.

BJP leaders said only the Left parties could launch a serious campaign on the twin issues, but added that in the “absence of support from other non-Congress parties”, the campaign might “fizzle out”. Moreover, the Left was also preoccupied with the coming elections in West Bengal and Kerala.

They are also confident that with both the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party focused on Uttar Pradesh — where polls are due in late 2001 or early 2002 — neither would have the “time or energy” to hold up proceedings.

But despite the optimism, the party is worried that its own MPs and those of its allies might find it “untenable” to defend the escalating price index triggered mainly by the hike in the price of petro products.

Sources hoped that the Centre would try and pre-empt an Opposition-instigated furore by announcing a partial rollback before Parliament convenes on Monday.

“We must remember that despite a 300-per-cent increase in petroleum price, the government has raised the domestic price marginally and has itself chosen to absorb much of the burden. The Opposition must appreciate this fact,” said BJP parliamentary office secretary Ashwini Kumar.

Party sources said the decision to increase the support price of paddy and other crops for farmers in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh also blunted a possible attack from allies and the Opposition. The only “rough” patch the government could hit, they said, was around December 6 — the day the Babri Masjid was demolished.

“It has become a routine affair,” sources said. “The Opposition demands the resignations of L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti and the Prime Minister reiterates the government’s stand that they will not quitf.”

But there’s a twist this time. Insiders said the recent resignations of the two ministers from Gujarat, Harin Pathak and Ashok Bhatt, could bolster the Opposition’s case.

The two had to step down after being chargesheeted by an Ahmedabad court in a riot case involving murder. The BJP had all these years maintained that leaders should quit only on corruption charges and not on those originating from political agitation.    


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