Hurriyat at war on peace call
Rajnath dodges temple trouble
Rain water plan for every house
‘Freak’ family keeps chewing on teething-ring
Farmer row
Ulfa leaders’ relatives gunned down
Pondicherry minister pushed out
Bandh nerves for stretched police
Howrah arrests
Marine park for Sagar Island

Srinagar, Dec. 10: 
In an ominous signal for the peace initiative in Kashmir, moderates in the All Parties Hurriyat Conference were today beaten up by angry youth shouting separatist slogans.

The incident, at a Hurriyat-organised seminar coinciding with international human rights day, occurred after speeches by hardline leaders against talks with New Delhi.

Syed Ali Shah Geelani, leader of the Jamaat-i-Islami, and other speakers insisted that the “struggle will continue till the goal of freedom is achieved”.

‘We won’t allow a sellout,” said Ghulam Nabi Shaheen of the Muslim Conference, led by Abdul Gani Bhat, chairman of the Hurriyat.

The main hall at the Hurriyat headquarters at Raj Bagh was packed with people, mostly young men, who erupted in anger after Shaheen said Kashmiris had made too many sacrifices for anyone to be allowed to “sabotage the movement”.

They hurled chairs at two senior leaders of Abdul Gani Lone’s People’s Conference, forcing them to flee. They appeared to be incensed at Lone’s recent remark that “fundamentalists were the biggest threat to peace in Kashmir”.

In a clear hint of the turmoil the Hurriyat faces when its executive meets later this week, Geelani said: “We want a permanent settlement either according to UN resolutions or complete freedom”.

The executive is meeting to discuss whether or not to make the ongoing ceasefire the basis for a peace initiative.

Hurriyat leaders camping in Delhi expect to shortly ask the Union government for permission to travel to Pakistan for talks to take forward the peace process set in motion by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s Ramzan ceasefire announcement.

But, with today’s statements followed by the attack, Hurriyat constituents opposed to talking peace with the Indian government have set the stage for a confrontation with moderates like Lone and Bhat.

Lone’s visit to Pakistan and his statement lambasting those who fail to “grab the initiative” lit the fuse of controversy here after the unilateral ceasefire declaration brought the differences within the Hurriyat to the fore.

Lone, who favours immediate talks for a solution to the Kashmir problem, also asked foreign militants to leave the Valley. But Geelani today said: “We cannot ignore the militants.”

Bhat, speaking to PTI in Delhi, claimed that the “key” to stopping what India called cross-border terrorism lay in the hands of the Hurriyat.

The “key” may be held by Hurriyat but the executive meeting will give an indication whose hands will turn it — the moderates’ or the hardliners’.

In sharp contrast to the “exigency for settlement” exhibited by Lone and Bhat, the firebrand Geelani believes the “fight against Indian occupation must continue till its logical conclusion.”

In an interview yesterday, Geelani questioned “the presence of Hurriyat executive members in Delhi”. “They are begging to be allowed to visit Pakistan”, the Jamaat leader said, adding: “I don’t know why they want to go there, when Pakistan has been supporting our right to self-determination”.

Geelani said the ceasefire will make no difference if “it is not followed by concrete steps to resolve the long-pending dispute”.

Asiya Andrabi, the chief of Dukhtarani Milat, too, criticised Lone, saying: “Those who ignore the role of foreign militants are ungrateful.”

Perched precariously between the two irreconcilable viewpoints of Lone on the one hand and Geelani on the other is Bhat. He is politically committed to Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan, which is the agenda of his Muslim Conference, but as a known moderate he is a strong advocate of dialogue.

Bhat said: “We understand the times may be harder and going forward may be tougher but then, considering the situation, there is no alternative available to any of us other than a purposeful and substantive dialogue.”

Neither Bhat nor Lone was present at today’s seminar.


New Delhi, Dec. 10: 
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Rajnath Singh today refused to comment on Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s recent statement on the Ayodhya issue.

After meeting the Prime Minister for nearly an hour this morning, a non-committal Rajnath told The Telegraph: “There is no cause of worry on Ayodhya. Some people in the Opposition are feeling demoralised and want to create a law and order situation in order to defame my government.” Refusing to name the “Opposition” parties, he said: “At an appropriate time I will unmask their identities before the people of the country.”

Rajnath reiterated that the Prime Minister would “explain” his statements in the House shortly. He insisted it was not in Vajpayee’s “character” to create controversy. “It is simply not in the Prime Minister’s nature to generate controversies. The fault lies with the Opposition which has no people-oriented issues left to take up in Parliament. But on this issue it stalled the House for five days.”

Rajnath denied that Vajpayee’s statements had fuelled communal tension, leading to the attack on a madarsa in Rae Bareli and clashes in Mau. “Law and order improved after I took over. Mafia dons who were roaming around freely have been put behind bars and the police is active all over.”

The chief minister seemed unperturbed by the VHP’s moves on the Ram temple front.

He pointed out that the VHP had already despatched pillars and engravings for the temple and said it would announce a calendar to begin construction at its Dharam Sansad in Allahabad in January 2001. “Status quo ante is being maintained on the Ayodhya site and as per my information, nobody is disturbing it,” Rajnath said.

Asked about the government’s line of action if the VHP went full steam with its agenda, he said: “Not everything will be done according to a strategy.”

The chief minister, however, welcomed Vajpayee’s suggestion to resolve the Ayodhya dispute through Hindu-Muslim negotiations. “Caste-based and religious parties should welcome this proposal,” he added.

Rajnath, an RSS hardliner who had brought about sweeping changes in the history curriculum under the Uttar Pradesh state secondary board when he was education minister during 1991-92, was keen on signalling that he was more concerned about vikas (development).

He said soon after taking over the reins from Ram Prakash Gupta he introduced two important measures for farmers. First, he purchased 1.5 lakh metric tonnes of paddy — he claimed it was the largest purchase by any government in Uttar Pradesh — to push up the support price from the current level of Rs 400-Rs 410 per quintal to Rs 510 per quintal.

Second, he stopped recovery of all dues owed to the state by sugarcane-growers, including irrigation and power tax, loans and land tax, until government-owned sugar mills redeemed their own debts to the farmers.


Jamshedpur, Dec. 10: 
Rain water harvesting may soon become a compulsory aspect of house plans in rural and urban areas, Union minister for rural development Venkaiah Naidu said today.

The minister was in the city for the inauguration of the three-day social summit of the CII.

Naidu also said that a scheme was being drawn up by the Centre in which all rural development programmes would be evaluated by a third party. Corporate bodies, NGOs and ex-servicemen would be invited to monitor these programmes, he added.

“The ground water level has gone down to an alarming level in many parts of the country, specially Gujarat, as resources to tap rain water in these parts are not up to the mark. The government is, therefore, contemplating a law soon, making it mandatory for every household in urban and rural areas to have provisions for harvesting rain water,” Naidu said.

The minister also disclosed that his ministry would set up a special cell soon to see that private sector initiatives are recognised. “We want the private sector to become partners with the government for the implementation of rural development schemes. This way the process becomes more effective and transparent,” he feels.

The rural development ministry would call a meeting of all panchayat raj and rural development ministers soon after the conclusion of the current session of Parliament, the minister said.

“The meeting would take stock of the progress made by various schemes in these areas. We also plan to set up big boards in all state, district, block and village headquarters with the details of the scheme so that people are aware. We would request the corporate houses and social bodies to sponsor these boards,” he said.

Also present on the occasion was Jharkhand chief minister Babulal Marandi and some of his Cabinet colleagues, including state finance minister M.P. Singh, minister for welfare Arjun Munda and health minister Dinesh Sarangi.


Vidhokhar, Dec. 10: 
For generations, they are searching for the tooth.

Full sets of teeth, rather. The Khushwahas of Vidhokar, a small village tucked away in a corner of Hamirpur, have never known what it is to grind their teeth, never having any.

Neither Har Prasad Khushwaha, his daughter Munni, his son Gaya Prasad, nor Gaya Prasad’s son Munna have teeth.

They are treated as freaks. Seven-year-old Mahavir Khushwaha doesn’t like going to school. “My friends tease me and call me ‘old man’ in school,’’ he says with a grimace, though he adds with a gummy smile: “But I always come first in class.”

Gaya Prasad, who at 20 looks double his age, says he is invariably addressed as “uncle” by strangers his age.

It’s the family curse. The Khushwahas hope with every marriage a “normal” child will be born, but in vain. “When Gaya married we hoped his children would grow up to have a full set of teeth. But it didn’t happen,” says Har Prasad sadly. “Even my daughter Munni, who is toothless, now has a child just like us,” he adds.

Toothless for five generations — spanning over 200 years — the Khushwahas are the butt of ridicule, or at the most, patronising sympathy, from the villagers, who call the family’s disability the curse of Vidhokar.

Gangaram, an 82-year-old village elder, remembers Har Prasad’s grandfather Barjor Khushwaha as also being without teeth. “I am the oldest man in this village and no one remembers anything before that,’’ Gangaram says, adding: “They have always been like that.’’

The unfortunate family is desperate for an explanation and a remedy.

“Every now and then people come visiting us and say they belong to some government department and are here to help us. But no one has done anything,” says Gaya Prasad, who often erupts in anger when his family is treated as freaks.

Two years ago, Hamirpur superintendent of police Ashutosh Pandey had visited the family and gifted each member a set of false teeth. Asked what happened to the dentures, Gaya lisps: “Tut gaya (they broke).”

Help stopped at that. Curious doctors still come to see them periodically but go away baffled, never to come back again.

About the doctors who come and go away, Munni giggles: “Aate hain, X-ray karte hain aur chale jaate hain. Kisi ko kuch samajme nahi ata. (The doctors come, take some X-rays and go back, but no one has a clue.)”

Munni also remembers a team of foreign doctors who visited them, only to disappear.

“It’s been ages that we have been waiting to know why this is happening to us,’’ Gaya says. It would help them with the villagers if they could provide a scientific reason for their “misfortune”.

“The government should understand the extremely vulnerable position that we are in and help us,” says Har Prasad. “Otherwise the villagers will continue to call us unlucky and see us as a bad omen,” he adds, hoping things will change for the better some day.    

Hyderabad, Dec. 10: 
Fresh fissures have appeared between the Telugu Desam and the BJP as a fallout of the farmers issue.

BJP leaders felt the Desam had taken “undue advantage” of their support to the Vajpayee government, reports our special correspondent.


Guwahati, Dec. 10: 
Unidentified assailants shot dead two family members of Ulfa militants and set fire to another one’s house within hours of the Governor announcing steps to protect the kin of militant leaders.

A group of about seven masked assailants last night killed 30-year-old Lakhan Rabha, brother of Ulfa militant Shatrughan Rabha, at Belpara under Rangjuli police station in Lower Assam’s Goalpara district.

In another incident, assailants shot dead 55-year-old Numal Manta, father of Ulfa militant Birbal Manta, in Morigaon district. Police recovered the victim’s body from the 4th Mile area, bordering the hill district of Karbi Anglong, last night. Sources said Shatrughan Rabha’s sibling was called out of his residence at Dakuakata well past midnight, taken to Belpara and shot dead in front of the ancestral house of senior Ulfa leader Mohan Rabha, alias Drishti Rajkhowa. The latter is the commander of the Ulfa’s Lower Assam unit.

After killing Lakhan, the assailants set Rajkhowa’s house ablaze. However, there was no one in the Ulfa leader’s house when the incident took place.

Rajkhowa’s parents were killed during a similar campaign against family members of Ulfa militants in 1998.

In neighbouring Darrang district, militants of the National Democratic Front of Boroland last night shot dead one of their former comrades and his father and sister. Sources said the rebels killed Putu Boro, his father Nripen and sister Amiya because they suspected the former rebel of having turned into an Army informer. The killings took place at Boro’s residence at Dimakuchi under Paneri police station. The former militant’s wife was seriously injured in the attack.

Last week, unidentified assailants shot dead the brother of Ulfa “foreign secretary” Sasha Choudhury in Nalbari district. In another incident in the same district, a shop owned by a sibling of Tapan Baruah, “commander” of the Ulfa’s operations in Upper Assam, was set ablaze. Two days earlier, miscreants shelled the house of Ulfa “commander-in-chief” Paresh Baruah at Jeraigaon near Chabua in Dibrugarh district.

The incidents last night took place a few hours after the Governor, Lt. Gen. (retd) S.K. Sinha, announced that the police had been directed to protect the lives and property of all top Ulfa leaders.

However, he said it was impossible to make security arrangements for the families of all Ulfa militants. The Ulfa has warned of a campaign against the ruling Asom Gana Parishad if the attacks on family members of its activists do not stop by December 31.

Chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, who returned here from New Delhi today, will visit Sadiya along with the Governor tomorrow to take stock of the situation in the aftermath of the massacre of 28 non-Assamese people near the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border.

Additional director-general of police (operations) G.M. Srivastava said the police had established that an “Afghan” led the Sadiya attack. He said it was clinching proof of the ISI’s involvement in the recent massacres across the state. “The ISI is using mercenaries and Ulfa activists to carry out these killings,” he said.

Night curfew: The Jorhat administration has clamped night curfew in all “sensitive” areas along the five-km Assam-Nagaland border in the district, adds our Jorhat correspondent.


Chennai, Dec. 10: 
Pondicherry chief minister P. Shanmugham has decided to sack public works minister P. Kannan.

Shanmugham told reporters this evening at Pondicherry that he had recommended to Lt. Governor Rajni Rai that Kannan be dropped from the Cabinet “in view of his persistent defiance of all norms of discipline and collective responsibility”.

A leader with a mass base, Kannan has been kicking up trouble for the Congress-Tamil Maanila Congress coalition since he left the TMC a couple of months ago. Last week, Kannan staged a dharna in the House, demanding the removal of co-operation minister Theni Jayakumar for his alleged links with the LTTE.

Kannan, elected as an Independent, joined the TMC later and rose to become the chief of its local unit. But upset over the increasing importance given to his rival, Jayakumar, he called it quits. He, however, remained in the coalition as neither party wanted any trouble with polls months away.

But Kannan intensified his attacks on Jayakumar. It is learnt, a peeved TMC chief, K. Moopanar, pressured the chief minister to drop Kannan.


Siliguri, Dec. 10: 
Darjeeling lazed through a sleepy Sunday as a 72-hour bandh for Gorkhaland stirred off the ground, but law enforcers kept their fingers crossed as tea garden trade unions have threatened to oppose the shutdown during the remaining two days.

Police said the bandh, called by the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) to protest the Centre’s “silence” over the demand for Gorkhaland, was total and peaceful on the first day.

Shops and business establishments remained closed and vehicles were off the roads. However, government establishments and plantations did not function because of the weekly holiday.

The neighbouring state of Sikkim was cut off from the rest of the country following the bandh. National Highway 31A, which connects the Himalayan state with the plains of North Bengal, passes through the Kalimpong sub-division of Darjeeling hills.

However, police officers said they were worried about the decision by four tea garden unions to oppose the bandh on Monday and Tuesday.

The police’s manpower is already spread thin in view of a CPM rally to be addressed by Jyoti Basu tomorrow at Attaragai near Shivmandir on the outskirts of Siliguri. “We are worried about the security arrangements in the hills tomorrow,” a senior officer said.

The GNLF has repeatedly called bandhs demanding the formation of Gorkhaland, but this is the first long-running strike since th e tripartite Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Accord was signed by the GNLF, the Centre and the West Bengal government in August 1988. The pact ended the 28-month-long bloody Gorkhaland agitation during the mid-eighties.

GNLF chief Subhash Ghising had sent a letter to home minister L.K. Advani in September seeking tripartite talks, following the decision to create the three new states.

Ghising has cited the Centre’s “silence” as the provocation for the bandh, but his opponents claimed that the prolonged protest betrayed his nervousness at the sudden sabre-rattling by a hardliner, Chattray Subba.

The bandh call comes on the heels of an ultimatum by Subba’s Gorkhaland Liberation Organisation to all GNLF councillors to step down and campaign for Gorkhaland.

But unlike the eighties when the GNLF reigned supreme, other organisations in the hills have ridiculed the bandh as a diversionary tactic. While the CPM has opposed the bandh, two key anti-GNLF and pro-Gorkhaland combines — the Gorkhaland United Front and the United Democratic Front — have termed the protest “meaningless”.


Calcutta, Dec. 10: 
Two alleged dacoits were arrested today by Howrah police after a night-long raid at Bhotbagan under Malipanchghara police station.

The two were identified as Muhammad Asraf Ali alias Chhoto Raju and Arindam Singh. The police said arms were seized from them. They were taken to Dankuni for an identification parade before a goldsmith who had filed a complaint of robbery.


Sagar Island, Dec. 10: 
The South 24-Parganas administration has decided to construct a marine park here to attract more tourists during the annual Sagar Mela in January.

Officials said the government has sanctioned Rs 1.93 crore for the Sagar Marine National Park. A team of officials is expected to visit the site early next week and work is scheduled to start by the month-end.

According to the blueprint, the park will be divided into three sections — buffer, estuary and wilderness zones.

The buffer zone will be about 3 km and fishermen will be able to go there with trawlers. In the estuary zone, only country boats will be allowed as mechanised vessels may unsettle the breeding process of fish.

The 16-km wilderness zone will be used for breeding a variety of fish. The park will offer a safe haven for rare fish, crocodiles and birds. The marine park, expected to be spread over 50 sq km, will cover four other islands — Chemaguri, Gangasagar, Dhablahat and Shibpur.

The park will have accommodation facilities for tourists. It will also have a research centre and aquariums. Luxury buses will be available from Diamond Harbour to take the tourists to Hardwood Point. From there, launch services will take them to the park. Ganesh Pal, karmadhakshya of South 24-Parganas Zilla Parishad, said: “The park will draw a huge number of tourists.”


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