Red Fort raiders in Delhi backyard
BJP temple bible for cadre
Cigarette companies dragged to court
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, Dec. 26: 
In a strike as surprising as the “attack” on Red Fort last Friday, Delhi Police shot one Lashkar-e-Toiba militant and arrested another from a Jamia Nagar apartment early this morning.

In a simultaneous raid in Ghazipur, the police arrested Ashfaq Ahmed, another Lashkar militant who helped with the raid.

Delhi Police’s Special Cell, which carried out the operations, claimed the two militants in the Jamia Nagar apartment had raided Red Fort and killed three armymen inside.

The police said today’s incident does not mean the investigation is over. “Our probe into the attack on Red Fort is continuing. Today’s developments and interrogation will throw more light on how the militants entered Red Fort and managed to escape,” a senior police officer said.

Terming the killing and arrest as a major breakthrough, the police said an AK-56 assault rifle, ammunition, documents revealing the identity of the Lashkar activists and a police uniform were recovered.

The militant who was killed in the shootout was identified as Abu Shaker and the other raider as Asaf Ali, alias Abu Allah. According to the police, both are Pakistani nationals.

The police said they got a clue from the mobile phone number found in a diary left behind by the militants. Inquiries revealed that after fleeing from Red Fort, the two had taken shelter in an apartment in Batala Mansion in the Jamia Nagar area of south-east Delhi.

Ahmed, the accomplice from Ghazipur, disclosed the whereabouts of Abu Shaker and Asaf Ali. Special police commissioner R.K. Sharma said Ahmed, married to a woman named Rehmana, had crossed over from Pakistan into Kupwara and had been living in Delhi since May.

He was part of a six-member team of Lashkar militants, two of whom attacked the army’s 7 Rajputana Rifles battalion inside Red Fort. The police seized a pistol and a few cartridges from Ahmed. His wife has also been arrested.

A police team led by Special Cell deputy commissioner Ashok Chand and intelligence agency men encircled Batala Mansion. Eyewitnesses said they were woken up around 5.30 this morning when they heard gunshots.

“The police had encircled the building. A small team had gone up the stairs and positioned itself at the entrance of the flat. It seems the occupants had sensed the presence of the police and there was an exchange of fire,” a resident said.

“By this time, a huge crowd had gathered but the police had thrown a cordon around the area and nobody was being allowed to get anywhere near,” he said.

Blood was spattered on the walls and floor of the room in which the militants had hidden. A police official said one militant holed up inside fired about 30 rounds from his AK-56.

He added that Asaf Ali was being questioned. The police are also interrogating the owner of the house, who is learnt to have said that Abu Shaker and Asaf Ali were living in the flat as tenants for the past 25 days. They had been introduced to the houseowner by a property dealer identified as Rasheed Ahmed.

Investigators are expecting Asaf Ali to disclose how they entered Red Fort. They will also try to find out whether the militants had been helped from within the fortress or whether they had any accomplice in the army.

There are some unanswered questions. A police source wondered why the militants, after escaping from Red Fort, left behind one of the two weapons, an AK-47 rifle, at Vijay Ghat. “If they could enter the fortress with two guns and could even escape with both weapons, they should have had no problem concealing both weapons. So why did they leave behind one weapon? Of course, they did not deliberately place the gun at Vijay Ghat to give investigators clues,” he said.

The identity of the militants also do not match the ones reportedly put out by a Lashkar spokesman, raising doubts on whether the police targets were accurate.

Kashmir ambush

Four soldiers were killed and seven, including an officer, injured in an attack at Putshahi Lolab in north Kashmir this evening.

The soldiers were killed when militants opened fire on a patrol party of 32nd Rashtriya Rifles.


New Delhi, Dec. 26: 
Determined to stoke the embers of the Ayodhya debate, an aggressive BJP has decided to release a booklet on the Ram mandir debate in the just-concluded winter session of Parliament to give “talking points” to its cadre.

The booklet will contain speeches made by BJP leaders, including Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, and some pro-temple NDA alliance members during the debate that followed a Congress-sponsored censure motion in both Houses.

The objective of the exercise is to “expose the facts before the people and let them decide whether the Congress and Leftist attack on us is justified or not”, said BJP spokesman Jana Krishnamurthy.

The booklet is expected to be released during the BJP national executive on January 4 and 5. Krishnamurthy said the first edition will either reproduce entire speeches or selected excerpts in their original form without translation. The state units, he added, would be asked to translate them for the benefit of members not conversant with English or Hindi.

Though a decision on which addresses would be carried is yet to be taken, BJP sources said the Prime Minister’s speech was expected to be reproduced in toto as well as those given by law minister Arun Jaitley and information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj.

Among the allies, the BJP has made up its mind to knock out speeches by Trinamul leaders Mamata Banerjee and Sudip Bandhopadhyay as well as those by the Telugu Desam MPs. These speakers had condemned the Babri masjid demolition unequivocally and urged Vajpayee to remain committed to the national agenda for governance, which does not include the Ram temple construction.

BJP sources indicated that submissions by Samata Party leader George Fernandes and MDMK chief Vaiko would find pride of place in the booklet. Fernandes had almost echoed the RSS’ view of how Muslims in Indonesia were proud of their ancestry being traced to Rama and Sita and spoke of how his mentor, Ram Manohar Lohia, had organised Ram melas.

Along with a “certificate of endorsement” from Fernandes, a Christian, the other “minority viewpoint” of the BJP’s lone Muslim minister, Syed Shahnawaz Hussain, is also expected to be played up. Hussain had sought to lay the blame for the demolition squarely at the Congress’ doorstep. He raised many uncomfortable questions like who was in power in the Centre and in Uttar Pradesh when the mosque doors were unlocked in 1986 and when the shilanyas was performed in 1989.

Asked why the BJP was keen to keep the mandir-masjid debate alive after accusing the Congress of raking it up in the winter session, sources claimed the booklet was a “response” to the demands of several activists to “enlighten” them on the House debate. “They said that as the debate was not televised, they did not know what happened and who said what. The regional papers had condensed the speeches,” sources said.

Krishnamurthy, however, clarified that the booklet would not replicate Vajpayee’s controversial statements outside Parliament.


New Delhi, Dec. 26: 
In the first legal fallout of startling revelations about multinational cigarette companies allegedly running organised smuggling operations, the Supreme Court has acted on a public interest litigation.

On the basis of the petition seeking damages and a halt to the flow of contraband cigarettes into India, the court has issued notices to the Union government.

India is one of the biggest markets for contraband cigarettes, standing next to only China.

The petition has been filed by the Women’s Action Research and Legal Action for Women (Warlaw), led by lawyer Rani Jethmalani. The Delhi-based non-government organisation has not put a figure on the damages it is seeking, but what it has in its sights is the Florida jury award of the biggest-ever punitive damage in US history of $144.8 billion against six cigarette companies. That award, however, was made against claims that cigarette companies had deliberately suppressed the ill-effects of smoking.

The Indian petition is also not a class action legal suit as in Florida.

“You go to any petty shop you get a foreign brand. And the pack would contain European Union warning or no warning at all and certainly not the Indian statutory warning ‘Smoking is injurious to health’,” says Jethmalani.

Exposure of the modus operandi of contraband trafficking, reported in an article in the British newspaper The Guardian, led the Department of Trade and Industry in the UK to raid the offices of British American Tobacco (BAT) last October. The company is the single largest stakeholder in the Indian cigarette market leader ITC.

The British government announced that it was conducting an investigation into BAT’s possible role in a huge international smuggling trade. Philip Morris, which, with BAT, controls large parts of the world market, also stands accused of the same activity and at times in collusion with its Britain-based competitor.

Both BAT and Philip Morris have been named as offenders in the Indian suit.

On current reckoning, about 350 billion cigarettes or a third of all international trade in the product are smuggled.

Extensive research done by an anti-smoking group, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) — partly funded by the British government — has shown that cigarette companies have been diverting large consignments with duty not paid from the legal to the black market.

A note written by BAT executive Andrew O’Regan after a visit to India in 1993 suggests that the company had sent three shipments to the Gulf marked for the Indian market where imports were banned.

The note also emphasises the need to develop covers in order to be able to continue the illegitimate operations without incurring official suspicion.

The gain from such an opera-tion is a high profit margin since duty is not paid on the cigarettes. In the UK alone, the revenue loss to the government from smuggling has been estimated at Ł3 billion.

The Warlaw writ is under Article 32 of the Constitution seeking “in the urgent public interest to take measures to combat and regulate the widespread smuggling of cigarettes and tobacco products by tobacco companies and their subsidiary agents in India”.

The petition also includes Indian cigarette companies as respondents.




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