Atal targets five aces with temple card
Karunanidhi flashes quit alert
SOS to Delhi in Mujib killer hunt
PM in pollution firefight
Advani concern
CPM leader killed in rebel hub
Varsity row spills to pous mela
Bagdogra airport shut
Mysterious KLO keeps police on the edge

New Delhi, Dec. 15: 
He would not have jumped into temple politics had not the pros heavily outweighed the cons.

It has been a calculated gamble. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has overnight become a protagonist of the Hindutva cause because the compulsions are too overbearing, the temptations too irresistible.

First, at the top of the list is the fear of being humbled in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections anytime next year.

Rajnath Singh, the new chief minister, may be doing a far better job than his predecessor — the amnesiac Ram Prakash Gupta. But it is already too late and Rajnath is no Puttapurthi Sai Baba to combine miracle with magic and change the face of the Prime Minister’s home state within a year.

Vajpayee does not want to concede political territory in a state from where he is returned to Parliament. And he is only too aware that the turf in Lucknow is smeared red and green, colours that the Samajwadi Party swears by, and definitely not saffron.

The timing was of immense significance. Vajpayee did not need to suddenly go out of the way to take this plunge. The Congress had prepared the occasion for him with its annual December outburst on the Ayodhya issue. Vajpayee happily accepted it and turned the issue around in a way that would suit him. He was, in fact, waiting for reporters to ask him all the important questions. The response was immediate. Ayodhya was an expression of “nationalist feelings”.

Uttar Pradesh, the heartland’s biggest state, is not the Prime Minister’s only headache. He had to bring back the wayward and disillusioned BJP cadre to his fold. He did not want the average cadre, who share his allegiance to organisations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), to stagnate and curse him for his “flawed” leadership.

Third, politics being all about symbols and signals, it was also a good opportunity to come closer to the RSS. Vajpayee, as he had made it clear at Staaten Island in New York earlier this year, is no swayamsevak.

Fourth and not the least, Vajpayee is no strong believer in globalisation at heart. He realises that the effects of the economy opening up during his incumbency will be realised much later. Politics does not wait for anyone.

Vajpayee knows that at this moment reforms can only better the lifestyle of the rich and the ambitious urban middle class. Rural India lives in another world with dreams that belong to another sky.

There is one more aspect. By raising the temple issue, the Prime Minister travels a long way to defend his home minister, L.K. Advani. Yesterday evening, he was reiterating that no matter how many times Advani put in his papers, he would have rejected his resignation over and over again.

Two years ago, Vajpayee did not want a number two. It appears now that he is looking for one and is finally agreeable to bequeathing his legacy to the home minister.


Chennai, Dec. 15: 
After pulling his punches for close to a week, Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi today spoke out on the Ayodhya controversy, saying he was prepared to dump the BJP if it insisted on pursuing its own agenda.

“The DMK will walk out of the NDA if the Centre deviates from the common agenda,” he said at an iftar here today.

Though he did not explicitly refer to A.B. Vajpayee’s statement on Ram temple construction, Karunanidhi minced no words while asserting his “secular credentials”.

Though the DMK had fielded a second-line MP from Thanjavur during the debate in the Lok Sabha and the member’s remarks were relatively mild, Karunanidhi quoted him as having threatened to quit the coalition if the Centre digressed from the common agenda for governance.

“That’s our known and cherished position,” the chief minister said. “There’s no question of diluting our stand on secularism or our support for the minorities. We have always stood by them and we will continue to. I’m not one to attend iftars with an eye on your votes.”

The party of the day was hosted by a splinter group of the Muslim League.

Karunanidhi pointed out that the Prime Minister had agreed to honour the court verdict on the mandir issue. “That’s what we have been exhorting all along. I’ve also maintained that the minorities will only stand to benefit by our presence in the NDA. At no point of time will we sacrifice your interests,” he said.

Karunanidhi took a swipe at ADMK leader Jayalalitha who had openly supported kar seva while addressing a meeting of the National Integration Council in 1992. “Unlike those who had supported kar seva and who are now shedding crocodile tears, the DMK had protested strongly when we heard there was a move to demolish the Babri Masjid,” he said.

Declaring that the DMK had completely identified itself with the minorities, the chief minister also promised to include the issue of reservation for Muslims in jobs and educational institutions in the next election manifesto.

In his statement issued when the row had erupted in Parliament, Karunanidhi had confined himself to declaring that any deviation from the NDA agenda was not acceptable to his party.

The DMK had opted for a low-key approach when the Trinamul Congress and Telugu Desam raised a ruckus and managed to extract some kind of an assurance from Vajpayee.

Moreover, Union industry minister Murasoli Maran is known to be against any aggressive posturing that could destabilise the Vajpayee government.

But Karunanidhi decided to flex his muscles because Jayalalitha is to take part in an iftar in the next few days and is expected to make strong comments against Vajpayee and the DMK.

With the Assembly elections a few months away, the chief minister felt that taking a soft stand could have an adverse impact.


New Delhi, Dec. 15: 
Bangladesh has sought India’s help in apprehending some of Mujibur Rahman’s assassins, particularly Risaldar Muslehuddin, a key member of the group reported to be hiding in India.

Muslehuddin was last seen in Assam, according to Bangladeshi intelligence. Dhaka is of the view that he is still in eastern India —either in Assam, West Bengal or in Bihar.

Keeping India’s concern in mind about some leaders of northeastern insurgent groups said to be operating from Bangladesh, Dhaka has suggested that a hotline between the two home ministries be set up for prompt action against key members of rebel groups.

The issue was raised at the foreign office consultations between India and Bangladesh, which concluded yesterday.

Rahman, the first President of Bangladesh, was gunned down along with most of his family members in his Dhanmandi residence on August 15, 1975.

Many of the army majors and other members of the killer group who had allegedly participated in the military coup have been apprehended and are facing trial in Dhaka.

The assassination of Rahman — who was fondly called Bangabandhu (friend of Bengal) for his role in the country’s independence struggle — is a sensitive issue in Bangladesh, particularly with the Awami League.

His daughter, Sheikh Hasina, who is now the Prime Minister of the country, is keen to bring the guilty to book not only to avenge her father’s killers but also to “correct the history” of one of the region’s newest republics.

Muslehuddin, popularly called “Muslim”, was an NCO of the Bengal Lancers — later disbanded — which had played a crucial role in the assassination of Rahman and his family members.

He was also alleged to be involved in the killing of the “Jail Four” when a few months after Rahman’s assassination four senior leaders of the Awami League — Tajuddin, Syed Nazrul Islam, Mansoor Ali and Kamruzzaman — were shot in cold blood in Dhaka jail.

Those who had participated in the killings of the founder-president were given parole under an indemnity Ordinance by a subsequent government headed by Khandaker Moshtaque. But soon after coming to power in 1996, Sheikh Hasina reversed the Ordinance and managed to bring many members of the alleged assassin’s group to trial.

A few years ago, the Bangladeshi government had informed the Indian government that Muslehuddin had been seen in Assam. Subsequently, he was also reported to be hiding in Bengal and Bihar.

But all these leads in the past have to come to naught as on investigation the Indian officials have found that the person they were looking for was not Muslehuddin.

However, Dhaka has not given up hope as it feels Muslehuddin is still hiding in India under a false identity and has sought Delhi’s help in apprehending him and returning him to Bangladesh to face trial.


New Delhi, Dec. 15: 
Agitated over the imminent closure of polluting industries in the capital, Delhi BJP MPs will meet Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, home minister L.K. Advani and urban development minister Jagmohan tomorrow to convey their assessment of the political fallout of the crisis.

Though Jagmohan is also a Lok Sabha member from New Delhi, the other MPs hold him responsible for creating the situation that has arisen after the Supreme Court ordered closure of the polluting units.

The other issue worrying the MPs is the increased jurisdiction of the CBI in cases related to the capital’s urban-villages like Shahpur Jat, Hauz Khas and Mehrauli.

Delhi BJP sources said nearly 10 lakh cases of land violations and building irregularities in these areas have come under CBI probe over the past three months, allegedly at Jagmohan’s behest.

“The CBI uses them as an instrument to harass owners and tenants who are poor and innocent,” they said.

The party has also taken note of the CBI intervention in cases of irregularities, like carrying out modifications and extensions without notifying the appropriate authorities, in government-housing colonies.

“Again this has become a handle to intimidate persons, especially those in the lower income colonies. They are our vote banks and we may end up losing their support,” the sources said.

Jagmohan modified his earlier directive putting the onus of implementing the apex court order on the Delhi chief secretary and the municipal commissioner, but the party sources said it was of “little solace”.

“Yesterday we learnt that when chief secretary P.S. Bhatnagar asked the chief minister (Sheila Dixit) how many units should be closed, she blithely rattled off a figure of 70,000 even though only 53,000 had been identified. Politically, it does not matter to Sheila Dixit whether it is 53,000 or 70,000 because her stand is that she is duty-bound to execute Jagmohan’s order and her government has nothing to do with it,” said the sources.

“In the end, it is we who will lose the votes of all sections,” they added.

The MPs are particularly peeved at Jagmohan’s refusal to follow a flexible definition of polluting industries, which the Delhi Lt Governor had proposed.


New Delhi, Dec. 15: 
Union home minister L.K. Advani today voiced concern on the Kamtapur movement and assured CPM MP Somnath Chatterjee that the Centre was taking all steps to continue with the deployment of forces in districts where the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation is active.    

Siliguri, Dec. 15: 
In a daring day-light strike, suspected Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) militants gunned down yet another senior CPM leader in the separatists’ stronghold of Uttar Haldibari village in Alipurduar.

Sudhir Das, the CPM’s kisan sabha president of Kumargramduar block, was shot dead on his way home from the market around 9.30 am.

The killing comes a few days after the attempt on the life of another CPM leader and school teacher in the same village.

Das, 52, was reportedly on the KLO’s hit list and an attempt was made on his life in May. He was mercilessly beaten up and thrown into the Sankosh river. He survived.

Eyewitnesses said a group of four unidentified assailants waylaid Das and pumped bullets from sophisticated weapons. The CPM leader died on the spot.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee accused the Kamtapur separatists of having a hand in the killing. “The administration is taking all steps to tackle the Kamtapuris who are engaged in creating violence and killing people,” Bhattacharjee said in Calcutta. He added that senior police officials had rushed to the spot and started combing operations to nab the culprits.

Police in Kumargramduar also pointed an accusing finger at the KLO. “KLO activists are suspected to behind the killing of Das. The assassins fired 18 rounds from 9 mm pistols. They then fled into the Bhutan jungles,” a police official said.

The CPM has called a “protest day” in Jalpaiguri district tomorrow. “We strongly condemn this senseless killing of CPM leaders by the Kamtapuris. The Kamtapur militants are trying to spread terror in the district by selectively targeting vulnerable CPM leaders. They have started liquidating CPM leaders in and around Kumargramduar block of Alipurduar sub-division,” Jalpaiguri district CPM secretary Manik Sanyal said.

Suspected KLO guerrillas first struck on May 4 this year when they gunned down a CPM leader and teacher while he was taking a class. In an identical operation, motorcycle-borne militants shot dead Pranesh Pal, headmaster of Ghakshapara Primary school in Kumargramduar.

Suspected KLO militants, aided by their Ulfa friends, struck again on August 17. In separate but simultaneous operations, they murdered two CPM leaders and primary school teachers at Dakshin Maulani in Mayanaguri and Dupguri. Again, the militants chose classrooms as the murder site.

The administration has sounded an alert in neighbouring Cooch Behar. Superintendent of police, Cooch Behar, Kailash Chandra Meena said: “We are carrying out checks. Vehicles being frisked at all entry routes between Cooch Behar and Alipurduar.”


Santiniketan, Dec. 15: 
A cloud of uncertainty hangs over this year’s pous mela, scheduled to begin next week, with four unions representing the casual workers of Visva-Bharati University asking authorities not to organise the fair without first fulfilling their demands.

The casual staff want the creation of and appointment to nearly three dozen posts in the university’s security department.

Supporters of the four unions went on the rampage in the fair ground, demolishing a few stalls and manhandling a few traders. Among the injured was one Samir Dalui.

An alarmed Visva-Bharati vice-chancellor D.K. Sinha faxed a message to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and chief secretary Manish Gupta, demanding adequate security arrangements during Pous Mela which draws visitors from different parts of India and abroad.

Sinha, however, asserted that the show will go on. “Pous Mela will take place as scheduled. We will seek help from the state government and the Centre, if necessary,” he said.

According to the unions, the workers have no other option but to intensify their agitation after realising that Visva-Bharati authorities are going back on their assurance — given by Sinha a couple of weeks ago — of ad-hoc appointment of guards.

At a meeting on December 10 between the unions and Visva-Bharati’s administrative officers, it was decided that the modalities of such appointment would be finalised by December 17, the unions claimed.

Subodh Mitra, a union leader, said: “Let me warn that the agitation will turn violent if Sinha does not take a final decision by December 17.”

Sinha denied that he had given any assurance to the unions and said he would not yield to the demands.


Siliguri, Dec. 15: 
The Airports Authority of India has closed Bagdogra airport, the only air link to north Bengal, for an indefinite period because the runway is non-functionable and lacks adequate navigational facilities.

Senior airport manager R.N. Thakur said: “Flights in and out of Bagdogra airport will remain suspended until further notice due to lack of proper navigational equipment on the runway.”

Indian Airlines and Jet Airway, which operate flights from Delhi and Calcutta on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays, said they would suspend Bagdogra flights from tomorrow.

Indian Airlines’ Bagdogra station manager T.K. Mitra said: “Indian Airlines will not operate its flights to and from Bagdogra from December 16 until further notice due to non-availability of navigational aids at the airport.”

Jet Airways sources said:“All Jet Airways flights will be suspended until December 31 from tomorrow.”


Cooch Behar, Dec. 15: 
Does the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) exist? This is the one question that has been haunting the police in north Bengal ever since the name first popped up in a leaflet circulated on the eve of Republic Day this year.

Though the security and intelligence agencies are yet to get any documentary proof, police got the first concrete evidence last week when two arrested separatists confessed that they belonged to the KLO and had been trained at the Ulfa camp deep inside the Fifshu jungles in Bhutan.

The Kamtapur militant group’s name figured along with seven northeastern groups in the “revolutionary leaflets” circulated in Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar districts, calling for the boycott of this year’s Republic Day celebrations.

Ever since, the police have been busy trying to establish its existence.

The first breakthrough came in May when the police nabbed Tushar Roy alias Jeevan Singh, the self-styled commander-in-chief of the KLO, in connection with the New Jalpaiguri station blast at the height of the Kargil war last year.

Jeevan Singh, along with other suspected Kamtapur hardliners, hail from the separatist hotbed of Kumargramduar in Jalpaiguri’s Alipurduar sub-division. The area borders Assam on the east and Bhutan in the north.Besides the New Jalpaiguri blast, Singh was charged for his alleged involvement in the loot of railway money at Rangapani in November 1999. The suspected KLO chief, sent to Assam in connection with cases pending against him there, was, however, released by the police in that state for lack of “evidence”. Since then, scores of arrested activists of the Kamtapur People’s Party (KPP) and the All-Kamtapur Students’ Union (AKSU) have been charged with aiding and abetting the KLO.

Prominent among them are AKSU president Srinivas Das and vice-president Kedar Nath Singha.

Observers, however, said that despite the crackdown, the police have not been able to get sufficient evidence to prove the KLO’s existence. “All that the police say is that some people have been trained at Ulfa camps in Bhutan,” said a Kamtapur watcher in Alipurduar.

He argued that unlike other militant outfits, the KLO has never claimed responsibility for any strike nor has it ever issued any statement to the media. “The only instance when the KLO’s name surfaced was in the leaflet distributed by seven Northeast insurgent outfits on the eve of Republic Day. Though the KLO’s name figured on the leaflet, neither did it bear any signature nor was any copy released to the media. There are intelligence reports that some Rajbanshi youths from Kumargram may be helping the Ulfa guerrillas in the Bhutan jungles by acting as guides. These youths have been given arms training. But the KPP’s links have not been established,” the observer said.

Intelligence officers differed. “Interrogation of several suspected KLO activists have revealed that over 200 Rajbanshi young men have received arms training in the Nichula camps deep inside the Fifshu jungles of Bhutan. The easy accessibility and knowledge of the jungle terrain makes the camps ideal for Kamtapuri men to attend.”


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