Sikhs build bulwark to stave off Sangh
Atal gift puts glare back on grain crisis
CPM rebels at Basu doorstep
Kathmandu cloister for ‘living’ Kali
KLO boss fiancee’s brother arrested
Soren to address Kamtapur rallies
Oil carriers go on strike
Ransack leads to auditors’ arrest
Dacoit gang suspect held
Jumbo project in black hole

Fatehgarh Sahib (Sirhind), Dec. 26: 
The supreme authority of Sikhism today proposed a series of measures to make the rules of the religion more rigorous as it was “facing a grave threat from the RSS”.

“There are people who simply pay gurdwaras for conducting akhand path (recitation of the Guru Granth Sahib). They are neither present when the recitation begins nor towards the end,” Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) president Jagdev Singh Talwandi said.

“This has to stop. Those wanting the recitation done in gurdwaras will have to be present at the beginning and at the end.”

He also hinted that Sehajdhari Sikhs (without long hair and turban) would not be allowed voting rights in gurd- wara elections.

“I am thinking of changing the definition of Sikhs and banning Sehajdharis and appeal to SGPC members to ensure that their family members are also baptised. We have to baptise our near ones to safeguard Sikhism which is facing a grave threat from the RSS,” he said.

However, the move to change the definition is not likely to go down well with the Sindhis, who also worship the Guru Granth Sahib.

Talwandi was speaking at the Jor Mela, an annual Sikh festival here which is held to commemorate the martyrdom of Guru Gobind Singh’s two sons — Fateh Singh (7) and Zorawar Singh (9).

The two were entombed alive at Fatehgarh Sahib on December 25, 1704 on the orders of the then governor of Sirhind, Nawab Wazir Khan, for refusing to embrace Islam.

Every year, hundreds of thousands converge at Sirhind for four days, beginning December 25, to remember the martyrdom.

Speaking from the stage erected by the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal, Talwandi said he would begin by ushering in reforms in akhand path.

Talwandi said the SGPC was working under orders from Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal.

“I can assure you that what we do in future will be under the guidance and orders of Badal saheb. He can rest assure that the SGPC will not trouble him as has been the case earlier. I am doing what Badal is telling me,” he said in a tacit acceptance of the fact that Badal was in control of the body, a factor crucial for the Assembly polls due next year.

The Congress also came in for flak with Badal accusing it of not doing anything for the state. “Can the Congress name one instance in which it has tried to usher peace and harmony in Punjab?”

Badal pointed out that a Congress government had signed the WTO treaty. “Competition can be only among equals. In the West, people own big farms. Here the average farmer owns only about four acres as compared to the 5,000 acres abroad. How can we compete?”

Ridiculing dissidents like Sarb Hind Shiromani Akali Dal chief Gurcharan Singh Tohra for calling him “an RSS agent”, Badal said the faction that controlled the SGPC was the true Shiromani Akali Dal. “I don’t need to say anything more except that my party controls the SGPC,” he said.

Over the years the nature of the Jor Mela has undergone a change. Instead of religious fervour, political conferences and mudslinging by rival factions mark what was once purely an occasion of mourning.

Parties in the state erect their own stage from where invectives are hurled against opponents. Earlier this year, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale’s birth anniversary was observed by militant factions of the Akali Dal at Fatehgarh Sahib.

“It has become too commercialised and politicised,” a senior professor at the Mata Gujri College here said. “Leaders, political as well as religious, must take the initiative to make it a purely religious affair so that the coming generations can take positive lessons from the supreme sacrifice.”


New Delhi, Dec. 26: 
Although the BJP has welcomed the Prime Minister’s Antyodaya food scheme for the poor — saying it has not come a day too late — the party is worried about the adverse impact of the agriculture crisis on its own prospects and the NDA government’s inability to come up with coherent solutions.

The two-day executive called by the party’s Kisan Morcha in Sona (Haryana) from today is expected to voice its anxieties on these scores as well as offer suggestions to the government.

“Farmers’ issue is the most important since they form the backbone of the economy,” stated Bihar MP Ram Tahal Choudhury and demanded the government as well as the BJP should articulate their agriculture policy “more clearly”.

Although the government was let off lightly in the winter session of Parliament since the agriculture issue got overshadowed by Ayodhya, BJP sources said MPs had raised the problems of farmers in most of the parliamentary party meetings held twice a week during the sitting.

Sources admitted neither Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee nor home minister L.K. Advani, who intervened in these meetings, could say anything “convincing” on the matter.

Uttar Pradesh MP Ram Nagina Mishra called for an immediate package to redress the lot of small farmers in his state, similar to the one the Centre gave to Punjab and Haryana after the BJP’s allies, the Akali Dal and Indian National Lok Dal, raised a furore.

“Why is Uttar Pradesh being discriminated against? The bigger farmers can afford to hold on to their stocks till the market prices look good, but it is the small farm- ers who suffer. They have no storage facilities and are forced to sell their crops at abysmally low prices. Despite the promises, the government is just not able to buy the quantities required for the farmers’ survival,” said Mishra.

Mishra sounded sceptical about a new scheme announced by the Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Rajnath Singh, waiving arrears owed by sugarcane farmers in the form of bank loans or various taxes unless and until they were paid their own dues from government owned sugar mills.

“It is a tedious process, as the scheme stipulates that the papers will have to be in order and only then can they avail of the facility. In the meantime, the interest on the debts the farmers owe will keep mounting, so they are net losers in the end,” argued the MP from Padrauna.

Another MP from Bihar pointed out that the BJP’s ambivalence on the farmers’ issue highlighted its traditional pro-traders’ bias.

“The traders are having a field day. They are benefiting from the subsidy slash because the inputs the farmers need for their survival like diesel, seeds, fertilisers and tractors cost much more now,” he said.

It is the cow belt MPs who are most apprehensive about the farmers’ build-up by the Opposition. The BJP’s main opponents in UP and Bihar — the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) — have been quick to seize the initiative.


Calcutta, Dec. 26: 
Rebel CPM leaders from the North 24-Parganas district committee will soon meet Jyoti Basu to demand disciplinary action against district secretary Amitava Bose and his associates led by Amitava Nandi.

The rebels accuse them of violating the instruction of the state committee to induct those leaders in the district committee whose names were deleted from the panel during the party conference.

The rebels, who belong to transport minister Subhas Chakraborty’s faction, have also threatened to boycott all district committee programmes and meetings.

In a bid to patch up between the two groups, Basu and secretary of the state unit, Anil Biswas, had prepared a formula for the district unit.

Basu’s formula was to absorb six former district committee members in the present committee, including Subhas Mukherjee, Tapan Talukdar, Ramprasad Kundu, Sakti Mukherjee, Haripada Das and Haripada Ghosh.

The state committee also asked the district unit to include Gopal Bhattacharjee, Niharendu Chatterjee and Subhas Chakraborty in the secretariat.

“The instruction of the state committee has been unheeded by the Bose-Nandi group. It means they do not want the party to be united. It is also a violation of the order of the leadership. Disciplinary action should be taken against them,’’ said a rebel leader.

At the district committee meeting held recently at Bara- sat in the presence of Left Front chairman Sailen Dasgupta, a number of leaders blamed the present leadership for factionalism in the party.

In the meeting, Gopal Bhattacharjee, a senior leader from the Barrackpore industrial belt who has been excluded from the secretariat, said the district leadership should not be so rigid and egotistical for the sake of party unity.

“Out of 74 members, where is the harm if five or six are included in the committee obeying the instruction of the state leadership? In this crucial political situation, and as the election is knocking at the door, we should wipe out differences and for this the leadership must be flexible,’’ Bhattacharjee said.

Bose refused to comment on this issue. The transport minister said: “The present leadership is solely responsible for factionalism in the party and also will be responsible if the party splits.”

Chakraborty and one of his followers, Gautam Deb, have already stopped attending district committee meetings.


Kathmandu, Dec. 26: 
Behind the heavily made-up mask of the “living goddess” of Nepal, there is an 11-year-old girl.

In the 15th-century Kumari Devi temple of Kathmandu, young virgins are worshipped as an incarnation of Kali. The tradition is as old as the worn-out structure of the temple itself.

It is a story born every time the “deity” reaches puberty and leaves the temple. The girl-goddess spends her childhood within the confines of the temple. The greatest freedom she can enjoy is looking out onto the sun-dappled terrace from behind the curtained windows.

A “goddess” is barely five when leaving behind her parents, she crosses the threshold of the temple that becomes her home for the next 10 years or so. Her parents can visit her but Kumari Devi is barred from talking to anyone outside the family of priests with whom she lives.

She is not allowed to step out of her religious abode once she is “revered” with the title of Kumari Devi of Kathmandu and metamorphoses, in the eyes of devotees, from an ordinary young girl to goddess Kali. “I believe Kumari Devi can grant you what you want and that is why I go to have a darshan,” says a vendor outside the temple.

He points to a window overlooking the terrace. “That is where she stays,” he says. Only three times in a year is Kumari Devi allowed to leave the precincts of the temple when she travels through the streets of Kathmandu, heavily bejewelled and made up. “Every morning there is a queue of people outside the temple to have a darshan,” says Subir Thapa, a civil guard on 24-hour duty at the temple.

At the foot of the wooden staircase leading up to the corridor hangs a notice: “Foreigners not allowed.” A group of curious tourists is turned back. “Only Hindus and Buddhists are allowed to go upstairs,” says Subir.

Nepali tradition lays down strict religious guidelines for choosing a virgin. Various strands of myths have coalesced into the overpowering, mystic cult of Kumari Devi. “She has to have beautiful eyes, a wide forehead and a blemishless skin,” says Subir. A committee of religious heads picks her through a rigorous religious test.

She is worshipped by thousands, the old and the young alike, who gather every morning to pay their respects and make wishes.

Things are a little different from the old times, though. Inside the temple complex, on the first floor, are tiny rooms housing the family of the priest. In one of them sits the Kumari Devi poring over text books. “Times have changed. Now Kumari Devi can play with other kids in the family and can even watch television,” say neighbours.


Siliguri, Dec. 26: 
The arrest of a suspect in the murder of a CPM leader has revealed a chain of relationships which police believe have shed light on the elusive Kamtapuri war lord, Timir Das alias Jeevan Singh.

Ajit Das, suspected to be an activist of the militant Kamtapur Liberation Organisation, was arrested on Saturday in connection with the killing of the CPM’s Kisan Sabha leader and teacher, Sudhir Das, on the outskirts of Uttar Haldibari on December 14.

Uttar Haldibari, which falls under the Kumargram-duar bloc in Jalpaiguri, is considered a stronghold of the Kamtapuri hardliners. Sudhir Das, a Rajbonshi, was the Kumargram-duar bloc president of the Kisan Sabha.

The teacher was riddled with 18 bullets fired from 9-mm pistols by four suspected KLO activists in “army fatigues” close on the heels of another attempt on a CPM leader at the same spot on the night of December 11.

The arrested Ajit Das is the brother of the firebrand Bharati Das, president of the Kamtapur Women Rights Forum central committee. Bharati Das is reportedly is the fiancee of Timir Das, KLO “commander-in-chief”.

Both the women forum chief and the KLO strongman are residents of Uttar Haldibari, a stone’s throw away from the Indo-Bhutan-Assam tri-junction.

The United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) runs several armed training camps inside the Fifshu jungles in the Himalayan kingdom across the Kalikhola- Sankosh river demarcating the international border.

A security crackdown in the Kumargram-duar belt has forced Bharati Das to go underground. The district police had launched a drive to break the suspected KLO-Ulfa combine, alleged to be behind the recent spurt of militant strikes in the area. The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and commandos have been deployed in the region.

Kailash Chandra Meena, Coochbehar superintendent of police who is also in charge of Jalpaiguri, said: “During interrogation, Ajit Das has revelled the names of several active members of the All-Kamtapur Students’ Union (Aksu). These members have reportedly received armed training at the Ulfa hideouts in the Fifshu jungles. This is definitely a breakthrough in tracking down the KLO militants operative in the region.”

Meena said though Ajit Das has denied any links with the Kamtapur militant organisation, he has given crucial leads on the KLO’s organisation structure. “Ajit Das’ arrest has shed light on the KLO and its chief Timir Das. We have concrete information that the KLO chief is recruiting fresh blood,” he added.

Referring to the recent spurt Bodo attack on Bhutanese nationals in neighbouring Assam, Meena said: “We are providing armed escorts to Bhutan’s buses plying to Pakuribari on the Assam-west Bengal border. Similar escorts are being provided on buses coming in from Assam.”

He said the move followed a recent meeting with his Bhutan counterpart from Phonsholling district and a request from the Bhutan government.

Vehicles plying between Bhutan’s capital Thimphu and the south-eastern town of Gelekphu has to traverse through Assam’s Kokrajhar district and Jalpaiguri in West Bengal before entering the Himalayan kingdom at Jaigaon.


Malda, Dec. 26: 
JMM chief Shibu Soren will address a meeting here on January 8 in support of the demand of the Kamtapuri Peoples’ Party (KPP) for a separate state.

Soren will address similar rallies at Siliguri and Jalpaiguri on January 10 and 11, KPP sources said. They added that Soren would also support the constitutional recognition of Kamtapuri language and would condemn police atrocities against “innocent KPP supporters”.

KPP leaders alleged that the CPM and the police were trying to obstruct the rally “directly or indirectly.” They said a movement would be launched from January 15 against the party and the police.

KPP leader Subhas Burman informed that a quarterly journal would be published by the party giving details of the “CPM attacks and police torture” on the people of north Bengal. Copies of the journal would be sent to the National Human Rights Commission, the Governor and the media.

Burman said KPP leader Atul Roy will also be present at the January 8 meeting.

Tension gripped the Bamongola area after the KPP announced that it would hold a rally at Pakua on January 3 before the Soren meeting.

KPP sources alleged that the police at Bamongola had declined to give permission to both the meetings.

Malda police superintendent Debasish Roy said policemen are on the lookout for Subhas Burman. He is wanted in connection with an incident on November 29 in which four persons were injured when KPP supporters hurled bombs.

The SP said he had not received any letter from the KPP asking for permission to hold the rallies. “We will consider the issue if the requests are made properly,” the SP said.


Durgapur, Dec. 26: 
Oil tanker and truck owners have gone an indefinite strike at Indian Oil’s Rajbandh terminal since this morning.

The strike follows an assault on the driver of a oil tanker at Birudha More in Kanksa police station on Sunday. An irate mob had also set some tankers on fire, after a tanker had run over a college student on Grand Trunk Road.

Petrol pump owners fear that the pumps will go dry in south Bengal by tomorrow if the agitation continues. District authorities are also concerned over the frequent accidents on this newly constructed four-lane Grand Trunk Road. During the last 48 hours, five persons died and 16 others sustained serious injuries in Panagarh area alone.

With umpteen inter-state buses and trucks whizzing along this four-lane road at an average speeds of 120-125 km per hour, road accidents have become common along the Panagarh More — Bengal-Bihar border stretch during the past two months. Last month, police even organised Sani puja to reduce the number of accidents.

The automobile association will hold a seminar on road safety at Durgapur on Friday. “There should be an awareness campaign now that the four-lane road has been opened for public,” said Samir Basu of the Automobile Association of Eastern India, Durgapur chapter.

National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) deputy general manager Pranbanth blames the motor garages on both sides of the road for the growing number of accidents. “Half of the carriage-way remains occupied by vehicles kept outside the motor garages, forcing pedestrians and other slow-moving vehicles to use the main road leading to accidents,” he said.

He also blames inadequate patrolling by the police for the increasing number of road mishaps. “Only two months back the average speed of vehicles along this road was 40-45 km per hour. But all of a sudden, with a good surface the speed has jumped to above 120 km per hour, especially between Kajora and Darjeeling More, where there is no diversion,” Pranbanth added.

The road, built with a 4.5 meter median is meant for high-speed traffic, he said. Pranbanth stressed the need for an awareness campaign among the public. “The people should get rid of the habit of crossing the road in a casual manner. The signalling system has also to be given a thorough review,” he added.


Malda, Dec. 26: 
Police arrested three auditors of the Accountant General of Bengal’s office on charges of ransacking a block development office in an inebriated state.

The three persons, who were part of an audit team, visited the block development office at Harishchandrapur on December 22.

The auditors were later released on personal recognition bonds, according to a delayed report reaching here.

District authorities said it would lodge a formal complaint with the Accountant General of Bengal, Calcutta. Acting district magistrate Nikhilendu Hazra said a report had also been sought from block development officer (BDO) Swarup Mali whose office was ransacked.

Hazra said the audit team arrived from Calcutta on December 13 and went to Harishchandrapur Block II. The BDO arranged their accommodation in the Panchayat Samiti guest house.

“As soon as they (auditors) settled in the guest house they demanded from the BDO that bottles of good foreign liquor and preparations of chicken be supplied to them. They even threatened the BDO with an adverse audit report if their demands were not met,” Hazra said.

On December 22 afternoon, three of the team members suddenly barged into the BDO’s office in a drunken condition and started abusing Mali, Hazra said. They overturned Mali’s table when he refused their demand for a car, he added.

The three auditors were arrested following a complaint lodged with the police by the BDO.


Midnapore, Dec. 26: 
Police have arrested a person from Bhimpur village under Garbeta police station in connection with the dacoity in buses and trucks near Arabari.

A senior district police official said Chandan Das, who was arrested, has given them information regarding the incident. “We will be able to arrest the entire gang soon on the basis of his information,” he said.

“Though no recovery was made from the youth, he has given us some important tip-offs and the police have launched a sea- rch for the gang,” the official said.

In December 1998, a gang of dacoits had looted three trucks in Arabari, which is considered to be the largest protected forest in the country.

“After the dacoity, police vigil in the area was intensified as many tourists would visit Arabari,” the official said.

“However, not a single case of dacoity or loot was reported here after the 1998 dacoity. As a result, security arrangements in the area were relaxed. Taking advantage of the situation, the dacoits raided Arabari and looted trucks and buses,” he added.


Jhargram, Dec. 26: 
The elephant project at Mayurjharna near Kankrajhore, at the foothills of Dalma Hills, lies forgotten.

The project was planned 12 years ago to contain the wild elephants that come down the Dalma Hills from Bihar in search of food, resulting in large-scale destruction in Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia districts.

The project — covering 500 acres — envisages construction of a habitat for the elephants at Mayurjharna. The elephants from Dalma Hills generally enter from this point and then move to the plains of these three districts, devouring crop, destroying houses and killing people.

The habitat was proposed to contain plantations that would serve as fodder. Water would be stored in reservoirs from streams running across the village. If done properly, these arrangements are sufficient to contain these animals, said Bilas Chandra Sahoo, additional forest officer from Jhargram. A salt lick was also included within the plan to provide the animals a change in taste.

After remaining in cold storage for 12 years, the plan was revived in October when Bilasi Bala Sahis, state minister for forests, took up the matter with Manoj Nandi, chief conservator of forests at Bishnupur. It was decided to erect concrete walls fitted with electric wires skirting Mayurjharna forest.

Animal experts, though, objected to the new feature, fearing it might irritate the pachyderms and result in more depredation.

The proposal, however, has not yet been sent to the Centre by the state government. Forest officials here say Delhi is ready to bear the entire cost of the project and has been waiting for the papers for 12 years.

The herds came down this year also and are mostly staying in the Nayagram jungles. Some of them have also learnt to co-habit with human beings. They have done no harm this year. On the other hand, two of them have died — one was electrocuted and another fell into a village well.

Rs 40 lakh has been spent as compensation to the farmers whose crops the elephants damaged since 1987 when they started coming down the Dalma Hills into south Bengal.


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