50 hurt in Kashmir blast
Hopeful Pak agrees to twin talks term
Centre softens on Ayodhya debate
Atal backlash hits Shahnawaz
Kisan Sangh attack on WTO ties
Madarsa destroyed in clash of Brahmins
From Assam to Bhutan, via Kamtapur
Medha in gas-leak fight
Left dares KPP to resist Basu rally
JMM protest disrupts trains

 
 
50 HURT IN KASHMIR BLAST 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Srinagar, Dec. 8: 
At least 50 persons, including three policemen, were injured in a grenade explosion at Shopian in south Kashmir today.

Police sources said unidentified persons hurled a hand grenade on a police party in the main chowk at Shopian in southern Pulwama district, injuring three policemen and bystanders who were returning from Friday prayers. The condition of six civilians was stated to be critical. No one has owned responsibility for the attack.

Yesterday, three persons, including a special police officer, were killed and 30 others wounded in a grenade explosion at the main bus stand of Kupwara.

Police said a foreign militant, Abu Rashid of Lashkar-e-Toiba, was killed in a gunbattle at Hari Budha village in Poonch district. The body of Gulzar Ahmed Khan from Dardpora Lolab in north Kashmir, who was abducted two days ago, was recovered from Tandoosa. Militants also killed a surrendered militant, Abid Hussain, at Nathipora Sopore in north Kashmir last evening.

One person, Riyaz Ahmad Shah, was killed and his son wounded in a mine blast at Gohalan village in Uri this morning.

   

 
 
HOPEFUL PAK AGREES TO TWIN TALKS TERM 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Dec. 8: 
Keen to get back to the talks table, Pakistan today said it was okay with Delhi’s decision to negotiate separately with Islamabad and the Kashmiri leadership as long as “all concerned parties are involved” in resolving the Kashmir dispute.

“As long as you get a formulation that takes the talks forward, you can call it whatever you want to,” Pakistan high commissioner Ashraf Jehangir Qazi said. “If India is comfortable saying it wants to delink the talks, let it. If the All Party Hurriyat Conference wants to call it tripartite talks, let them. As long as all concerned parties are involved, we are happy.”

Pakistan hopes developments following Delhi’s Ramzan ceasefire call will lead to the resumption of talks between the nuclear neighbours. “After 18 months, we see a sliver of hope. We need to seize the moment and take bold decisions,” Qazi said.

Qazi today held talks with Hurriyat chairman Abdul Gani Bhat. “Even the Hurriyat leaders are hopeful that, perhaps, this time the talks will lead somewhere,” he said, adding that Hurriyat leaders should be allowed to travel to Islamabad to hold talks with the Musharraf regime. “We are hopeful after the Indian Prime Minister said their request to travel to Pakistan will be considered.”

Pakistan had responded to the truce call by promising to exercise “maximum restraint” along the Line of Control. But Delhi felt this was “too little” to resume talks and Islamabad should follow this up by stopping export of cross-border terror.

It also wanted Pakistan to send clear signals that it was committed to the Simla Agreement and the Lahore peace process.

Qazi today made several points to prove that Islamabad had done its bit to create “the right atmosphere”.

One, it did not oppose the unilateral ceasefire as a “mere exercise in public relations”. Two, its security forces were directed to show maximum restraint along the Line of Control to stabilise and strengthen the ceasefire. Three, Pakistan foreign minister Abdus Sattar had told an Indian newspaper that the Kashmir dispute would be resolved according to UN resolutions, the Simla Agreement, the Lahore peace process and other agreements between the countries. Four, India had admitted that cross-border terror and infiltration had gone down in the past few weeks.

“I think all this should satisfy the Indian leadership that the right atmosphere has been created for resumption of talks between the two sides,” Qazi said.

He emphasised that the main problem was not resuming talks but “sustaining” them. Qazi said this could only be done if India changed its mindset and approached the talks such that “all the concerned parties” were involved.

Asked if Pakistan was willing to change its mindset and look at the dispute afresh, Qazi said: “We don’t really have a position on Kashmir. We only insist that whatever decision is arrived at should be approved by the people of Kashmir. How this will be done is something which can be discussed and agreed on.”

He said it was time India responded positively, else it would send a signal that it was not interested in solving the dispute. But Indian foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal made no commitment on resuming talks. “We will review the situation at the end of Ramzan and decide our future course of action,” he said.

   

 
 
CENTRE SOFTENS ON AYODHYA DEBATE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 8: 
The Ayodhya standoff, which has crippled Parliament for a week, could end on Monday with the Atal Behari Vajpayee government sending signals that it is ready for a discussion under rule 184 in the Lok Sabha as long as it does not touch matters that are “sub judice”.

The government has been under pressure from both the Opposition and a section of the allies, namely the Trinamul Congress, Telugu Desam and the Indian National Lok Dal, to agree to a discussion under rule 184 that provides for voting.

However, the Congress and other Opposition parties are wary of the government offer as parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan raised the technical issue on the wording of the resolution and the question of the Ayodhya dispute being sub judice. Mahajan made it clear that the resolution should deal with the “legality” of the issue instead of “propriety”.

The Opposition’s entire focus is on propriety and morality of the three ministers — L.K. Advani, Uma Bharti and Murli Manohar Joshi — continuing in office after the exit of Harin Pathak from Vajpayee’s council.

Congress MP Jaipal Reddy, who had given notice on Monday, said he would not change a “word” of his resolution. Since Reddy’s motion is strongly worded, the government is unlikely to accept it.

Moreover, the Opposition is determined to censure the Prime Minister over his remarks on temple construction. Since the discussion under rule 184 will skirt it, the Opposition wants to exert more pressure, hoping that NDA allies will succeed in forcing Vajpayee to retract the statement.

Congress deputy leader Madhavrao Scindia said his party would insist on two core issues. “The Prime Minister will have to make amendments in his remarks on Ayodhya and the issue of the resignation of the three Union ministers will have to be discussed under rule 184,” Scindia said.

Scindia said the Congress was keeping “all options open”. His views were endorsed by Sonia Gandhi, who said: “Various options are being explored.”

Congress floor managers said they will be forced to move a no-confidence motion if their demand for rule 184 is not accepted.

The all-party meeting convened by Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi today failed to break the deadlock. The Trinamul, Desam and the Lok Dal sought a statement from Vajpayee on “reducing communal tension caused” by his remarks.

For once, the Congress and Trinamul were on one side. AICC general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad shared Mamata Banerjee’s concern for communal harmony and accused the Prime Minister of “escalating communal tension”.

Azad cited the example of Rae Bareli where a madrasa was pulled down by some miscreants. As the all-party meeting remained inconclusive, they will meet again on Monday. Mamata said after the meeting that a message should go from Vajpayee to bring down communal tension.

Sushil Indora of the INLD echoed her sentiments and said: “We are with Mamata Banerjee. And if the BJP has any agenda of its own, we will not allow it to be imposed on the NDA.”

   

 
 
ATAL BACKLASH HITS SHAHNAWAZ 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Dec. 8: 
Union minister of state for human resources development Shahnawaz Hussain was heckled by his own community today while coming out of Jama Masjid after Juma prayers.

Shahnawaz had hosted an iftar yesterday where Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee suggested the construction of a Ram temple at the disputed Ayodhya site.

Muslim leaders and representatives of various organisations sought explanation from Shahnawaz on whether he endorsed Vajpayee’s remarks. Some maulvis even “advised” him to step down from the Cabinet.

Shahnawaz, the lone Muslim representative in the Vajpayee government, struggled to formulate a response.

“I never said I was against the mosque,” he said, walking briskly towards his car even as a crowd shouted, “Shahnawaz resign” and “Shahnawaz hai hai”.

Muslim organisations have reacted sharply to the two Vajpayee statements on Ayodhya and rejected his suggestion for an alternative site for Babri masjid.

K. Rahman Khan, the Congress’ deputy leader in the Rajya Sabha and member of All India Muslim Personal Law Board, said: “To the best of my knowledge, there has been no official or informal contact with the board over Babri masjid reconstruction.”

The board is the representative body of almost all the Muslim sects in India.

Khan said there was no shift in the board’s stand on the issue. “A mosque would remain a mosque even if it is demolished. There cannot be a change in its status till qayamat (doomsday),” he said, wondering how Vajpayee was talking of an alternative site.

“He should have said his government will abide by the court verdict, but unfortunately, he seems reluctant to accept the rule of law,” Khan said.

The All India Minorities’ Front and the Babri Masjid Reconstruction Front also flayed Vajpayee’s remarks. Minorities’ front chairman S.M. Asif said the Prime Minister should have consulted the Muslim community and intelligentsia before making a statement.

“Muslims of India will never accept Babri masjid elsewhere. What he is talking about is Vajpayee mosque and not Babri masjid,” Asif said.

Shakil Ahmad Sheri, the president of the masjid reconstruction front, urged the NDA allies to read the “writing on the wall” and pressure Vajpayee to retract his statement.

He said the Muslim community will accept the court verdict. “As the Prime Minister of the country he cannot and should not pre-judge disputes. His whole formulation is unacceptable to us.”

Meem Afzal, a close associate of Shahi Imam Syed Abdullah Bukhari, said the newly appointed Imam was not consulted about the issue.

“The government is in touch with the Shahi Imam on Kashmir and that is it. We are all united that the Babri masjid has to be reconstructed at the site where it fell on December 6, 1992,” Afzal said.

He expressed apprehension that the government was on the “look-out” for some little-known Islamic group to strike a “deal” on the issue. “But the government needs to remember one thing: those who lack credibility will not be tolerated by the Muslim community,” he said.

Afzal, a former Rajya Sabha MP, said Vajpayee stood “unmasked”.

“I always believed he was not a liberal person. After all, the Vajpayee government is the first in independent India without a Cabinet-rank minister from the largest minority community,” he said.

   

 
 
KISAN SANGH ATTACK ON WTO TIES 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, Dec. 8: 
The Gujarat unit of the Bhartiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), the farmers’ wing of the BJP, plans to launch a signature campaign to press the Centre to dissociate itself from the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The BKS feels the WTO agreement will push farmers to the brink. The proposed signature campaign, according to state BKS president Prafulla Sejalia, will help build public opinion.

The month-long campaign will start from January. The aim, said Sejalia, is to protect the farmers who are not being paid remunerative prices for their produce.

Describing the WTO agreement as anti-farmer, the BKS leader said: “We oppose the agreement because it is bound to adversely affect the farmers.”

BKS wants to involve the BJP in their campaign to highlight the disadvantages of the conditions laid down in the WTO agreement.

   

 
 
MADARSA DESTROYED IN CLASH OF BRAHMINS 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Rae Bareli, Dec. 8: 
A madarsa was destroyed yesterday as a political battle between two Brahmin pradhans dragged two villages here to the precipice of a major communal flare-up within days of the Babri anniversary.

Chilauli’s madarsa, which pradhan Ram Khilawan Pandey had promised to turn into a “full-time” mosque, was ransacked by supporters of his predecessor, Rajendra Pandey, leading to arson and clashes between the two communities.

Eyewitnesses at Chilauli said around 500 men barged into the madarsa early yesterday afternoon and brought down two minarets. Muslim villagers said some holy books were dumped into a nearby pond. As news of the desecration spread, Muslims from the neighbouring Inhauna village gathered in large numbers, looting and ransacking shops belonging to Hindus.

Eight persons, along with both pradhans, have been arrested. A posse of policemen and PAC personnel have been stationed in the villages, and the situation, though tense, was under control today.

Shaken villagers said they were helpless pawns in a battle for votes being fought between two politicians. Lal Mohammad, who is in charge of the madarsa’s maintenance, said: “It has been 20 years that we have been offering prayers here. The Hindus never had any problems. In fact, our village was known for its communal harmony, celebrating both Hindu and Muslim festivals together. Things just changed overnight.” Mohammad, who said the attackers were “outsiders”, feels that the “unfortunate incident will leave a permanent scar on Chilauli”.

Tarak Nath Tiwari, whose Hotel International on the Lucknow-Sultanpur highway was ransacked by a mob, said the assailants were unknown to him. The mob looted Rs 70,000 and took away two motorcycles before smashing his car. Maintaining that he barely managed to escape with his wife and two children, Tiwari said the attack was part of a “bigger gameplan”. He alleged that the police were mere spectators as the Muslims first looted his hotel and then turned towards the next shop owned by a Hindu.

Rae Bareli police superintendent P.K. Srivastava, however, said the clashes were not communal. “The whole thing was done keeping in mind the votes for the next elections,” he said. He said it was a fallout between two Hindu rivals — one who wanted to appease Muslims, the other acting as a guardian for Hindus. Hardliners have quickly joined the controversy. “We will not let the madarsa turn into a mosque,” said Bhagwati Prajapati, who added that it was an “unwarranted action” that begot reaction.

   

 
 
FROM ASSAM TO BHUTAN, VIA KAMTAPUR 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Barobisha (Jalpaiguri), Dec. 8: 
The Sankosh river meanders its way through the rocky maze that separates Assam and Jalpaiguri district of West Bengal, trickling past lush green forests and finally criss-crossing over the gushing rivers cascading down from the mountains of Bhutan. It’s the ideal route for the adventure-lover, except that the majority of “trekkers” happen to be Assam militants and their new-found Kamtapur friends.

This is the corridor being used by the insurgents to cross over to camps tucked away deep inside the jungles of Fifshu in the Bhutan hills.

The corridor, which begins from the Assam side of the Sankosh river, was first used by the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa)’s Upendra Bora in the early Nineties to get his men into Bhutan.

The corridor cuts through the dense forests of Jalpaiguri, providing adequate cover over a distance of nearly 350 km till Siliguri to the separatists.

Bodo militants, too, use this route. Though the Central Reserve Police Force has a camp inside the Sankosh Tea garden on the Bhutan-Bengal-Assam tri-junction, the rebels successfully cross over to safe-houses in the Bodo-dominated villages between Barobisha in the south to Balapara-Hemaguri-Kumargramduar in the north on the Bhutan border.

Jalpaiguri superintendent of police Ranvir Kumar, while acknowledging the existence of the corridor, denied that the route is still being used by the insurgents. “The route is history. It was in use years ago when militants, mostly Bodos, had set up camp in the jungles on the Indo-Bhutan border adjoining the Buxa Tiger Reserves.”

Top intelligence sources in Alipurduar differed. “The route is still used by Ulfa as well as Bodo outfits. Ulfa operatives prefer the upper corridor along the Sankosh river via the Kalikhola entry point. The route meanders through the dense forests of Fifshu to Jayanti hills on the way to Dalsingpara. The corridor continues through the forest to Jaldapara sanctuary to Gorumara,” an official said.

Police agreed that some militant groups could still be using the corridor, but added that they will would need help from local people to guide them through the difficult and labyrinthine terrain.

“The Kamtapur Liberation Organisation activists mainly act as guides. But there has been no detection in recent times of militants using this route,” Kumar said. He, however, added that the district police did not have sufficient manpower to guard the porous border with Bhutan.

   

 
 
MEDHA IN GAS-LEAK FIGHT 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Dec. 8: 
The residents of Mourigram could soon have Medha Patkar joining them in their fight to close down a meat processing factory in the area.

The terrified residents had stormed the plant belonging to Frigerio Conserva Allana Ltd following leakage of ammonia gas a few days ago. Yesterday, the government had instructed the authorities to close down the factory until it took steps to prevent future toxic emission.

The Mourigram Paribesh Suraksha Committee, a body of local residents agitating against the “red category” plant, has already contacted Patkar.

“We have invited Medhaji to come and visit Mourigram. She told us she will come at the first opportunity,” said Debashis Bakshi, executive committee member. “Her presence will help boost the movement,” he added.

Patkar, who is in Mumbai, was not available for comment, but her colleague Amrita Patwardhan said: “Since Medhaji has agreed to visit Mourigram, she will definitely go.”

The residents claim that the meat processing plant is a potential health hazard. In October, four factory workers had suffered third degree burns after being exposed to ammonia gas leaking from the refrigeration unit.

The workers were admitted in critical condition to a nearby hospital, where one of them, Ijra Sheikh, died on Wednesday.

The residents stormed the factory three days ago when there was again an ammonia leak.

The residents’ committee met tonight to decide their future course of action. “We will not allow this slaughter house to carry on business in a thickly-populated residential area like Mourigram. This is a question of life and death,” Bakshi said.

The committee has decided to organise a rally in Calcutta shortly. A memorandum will be submitted to state environment minister Manab Mukherjee.

General manager of the meat processing factory, S.J. Pardikar, said all types of production at the factory had stopped after last Tuesday’s gas leak.

The factory now has 300 tonnes of processed buffalo meat in its cold storage. “Till any corporate decision is made to this effect at our head office in Mumbai, we are not going to send the meat out. We are not going to process any meat either,” Pardikar said.

He added that the three workers who are being treated for ammonia burns will be adequately compensated. “We will also take care of the family of Sheikh who died of ammonia burns,” he added.

The residents will file a public interest litigation in Calcutta High Court shortly, demanding closure of the factory.

   

 
 
LEFT DARES KPP TO RESIST BASU RALLY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 8: 
The state government today made it clear that all steps would be taken to ensure that restive north Bengal does not go the Assam way.

Urban development minister Ashoke Bhattacharya said the Kamtapur movement would be countered both politically and administratively.

With Assembly elections round the corner, the CPM-led Left Front government is serious about the threat from the Kamtapuris. The CPM prefers tackling the situation politically to ensure that the Opposition does not make it an election issue.

The government is also pointing an accusing finger towards the Trinamul Congress, blaming it for the rise of the Kamtapur People’s Party (KPP).

As part of this effort, the CPM will hold three rallies at Siliguri, Cooch Behar and Jalpaiguri on December 11, 12 and 13 respectively. Jyoti Basu will address all three rallies.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who has already toured the region, had also said that the issue should be tackled politically. The CPM top brass have instructed the north Bengal unit to organise rallies and street meetings.

A large contingent of police, including Central Reserve Police Force, has been deployed in Jalpaiguri to trace and track suspected separatists. Bhattacharjee has asked the police to be strict with the rebels.

The government does not want to give much importance to the rally organised by the KPP on Wednesday. Bhattacharya said everyone was entitled to hold rallies in a democracy.

“They brought at best 15,000 to 20,000 people from six districts. Even a large number of Rajbongshis had boycotted the rally. We shall organise lakhs of people at Basu’s rally and prove that people are with us and do not support the Kamtapuri movement,” the urban development minister said.

Reacting on the KPP threat that it will resist the CPM from holding rallies, Bhattacharya, who is also in charge of north Bengal affairs, said the KPP will face the consequences if they dare to do so. “There is a conspiracy behind the disturbances in north Bengal. The KPP with the help of some militant groups is creating trouble and the Trinamul is backing them,” Bhattacharya said.

   

 
 
JMM PROTEST DISRUPTS TRAINS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 8: 
Train services in various sections of Eastern and South Eastern Railway were disrupted today after JMM activists squatted on the tracks.

The agitators were demanding that Alchiki, the mother tongue of Santhals, be included as a Scheduled language in the Constitution.

Eastern Railway had to cancel the Santiniketan Express and detained the Poorva and the Toofan Express. The blockade also left 19 long-distance trains, including the Rajdhani Express, Amritsar Mail and Kamrup Express, stranded at different stations.

The 3317 Up Black Diamond Express on Saturday has been cancelled. Four trains — Coalfield Express, Amritsar Mail, Kamrup Express and Kathgodam Express — have been rescheduled.

In the South Eastern section, 15 long-distance trains, including Geetanjali Express, East Coast Express and Coromandel Express, were held up. Eight pairs of express trains, including Tata Steel and Shatabdi, had to be cancelled as the agitators refused to lift the blockade till afternoon.

   
 

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