Atal pens article in image makeover bid
Punjab alert to keep Sangh offspring at bay
Hurriyat, militants clash over Pak visit
No let-up in Ranchi tension
Left grounds Nepal to halt in new year
Delivery death sparks tension
Clash accused arrested
Gun and ganja seized
Pous mela business drowns in flood fallout
Prison leaves addicts in lurch

New Delhi, Jan. 1: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today sought to outline his major commitments and stressed his government’s resolve to find solutions to the dispute with Pakistan over Jammu and Kashmir and the Ayodhya controversy.

The assertion came in a signed article, My Musings from Kumarakom-I, written by Vajpayee for a group of newspapers.

It was more than apparent that Vajpayee was trying to recreate his image as a visionary statesman who was not oblivious to problems that have been put on the backburner.

Vajpayee tries to give the impression that as a politician he does not believe these are issues that are too thorny and best left unsolved. He dropped enough hints that he would try to find ways out of these problems during his tenure.

He stressed that a self-confident and resilient nation does not postpone inconvenient issues of yesterday to a distant tomorrow. “Rather, it strives to decisively overcome the problems of the past so that it can pursue its developmental agenda,” he wrote.

The Prime Minister said he agreed with those who had told him that it was time a lasting solution was found to these two festering disputes. He described the Kashmir imbroglio as a legacy of the last century and the temple dispute as one that had been inherited by the nation during the last millennium.

On Kashmir, Vajpayee reiterated that his government was ready to resume talks with Pakistan, provided Islamabad showed enough sincerity in creating the right atmosphere.

He spelt out that if the Centre was convinced of Pakistan’s sincerity, the talks could even be held at the highest level, but made it clear that his government was not as yet fully satisfied with Islamabad’s efforts.

Without alluding to the Centre’s unease after the attack on Red Fort, Vajpayee said the “killing spree” was continuing in the state and both innocent civilians and security personnel were being targeted.

The Prime Minister said his administration would soon begin a process of dialogue with various representative groups of Jammu and Kashmir.

“We are prepared to take further steps to respond to Jammu and Kashmir’s deep longing for peace, normalcy and accelerated development. My heart shares the agony of the grieving mothers, sisters and widows who have lost their near and dear ones in the violence that has bloodied the beautiful Kashmir valley,” he wrote.

To ensure that he did not alienate Hindu evictees, he added: “I also feel the pain and anguish of those Kashmiris who have become refugees in their own motherland.”

Vajpayee said his government would not look at the Kashmir problem with an outdated mindset. “Rather, we shall be bold and innovative designers of a future architecture of peace and prosperity for the entire South Asian region,” he said.


Chandigarh, Jan. 1: 
The Punjab police have been put on alert to avert any confrontation between Akali activists and workers of the Rashtriya Sikh Sangat, which owes its allegiance to the RSS, when it celebrates Guru Gobind Singh’s birth anniversary from January 5 to 21.

Though Sangat state president Sewa Singh Chawla has denied such plans, the police are taking no chances as RSS leaders insist they will go ahead with the celebrations.

The decision has irked Sikh organisations, which believe it is part of a “dangerous game” to meddle in Sikh affairs.

Calling it “terrorism”, Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) chief Jagdev Singh Talwandi warned that the issue will cause a dent in Hindu-Sikh relations.

“It is time the Centre reacts and offers a helping hand to chief minister Parkash Singh Badal to resolve the issue. Are those responsible for running the nation sleeping or waiting for an untoward thing to happen?” he asked.

Akal Takht jathedar Joginder Singh Vedanti, too, is perturbed at the RSS insistence.

The SGPC will celebrate the occasion on January 2.

While the Sangat has said it has no plans to hold Guru Gobind Singh’s birth celebrations, state RSS leaders insist they will.

The Akali Dal (Amritsar) led by Simranjit Singh Mann and Gurcharan Singh Tohra’s Sarb Hind Shiromani Akali Dal have reacted strongly to the “sinister” move and have announced a series of agitations.

Earlier, RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan had stirred a hornet’s nest by saying the Sikhs were part of the Hindu mainstream. He antagonised the hardliners among the Akalis calling organisations claiming an exclusive identity for the community secessionist.

The RSS campaign in Punjab began in early 1999. In January 2000, RSS workers visited Gopalpur, a village near Majitha in Amritsar. Its predominantly Dalit Sikh and Hindu residents were urged to bring down a mosque which fell into disuse as local Muslims left for Pakistan after Partition.

Soon afterwards, children at a government school in the Chheharta suburb of Amritsar were quizzed on Sikh religious history and the RSS leadership. The winners’ prizes were sponsored by the local RSS.

A Jalandhar-based magazine carrying anti-Christian propaganda came into circulation in the border districts later in the year. A recent RSS publication carries a picture of Guru Gobind Singh without his halo.

Sikh scholars have also spoken against pamphlets containing verses from the Guru Granth Sahib, alleging they have been changed to suit the saffron brigade.

Sudarshan toured the state in April amid widespread protests from the Sikh groups.

The right-wing Dal Khalsa, while proclaiming that Sikhs “are a separate nation”, said: “Any attempt to change this status will be contested and resisted.”

The state home ministry is learnt to have alerted Badal that the situation could affect the communal harmony in the state.

Dissident Akali leaders have demanded a ban on the RSS.

Dal Khalsa’s Kanwarpal Singh Bittu said: “Though Sikhs are a peace-loving and god-fearing people, when all peaceful methods fail, then, as ordained by Guru Gobind Singh, it is righteous to take to the sword.”

On condition of anonymity, RSS leaders said a programme is being drawn to rejuvenate the shakhas (training camps).

Elaborating the need for the Sangat, formed in 1986, the north zone sah prachar pramukh of the RSS, Ram Gopal, said the militant movement in Punjab paved the way for a pro-RSS outfit.

The RSS feared the exodus of Sikhs into Punjab, and the migration of Hindus from the state, would give a fillip to terrorism and bolster the claims of the community being a “separate nation”.

The goal, says Gopal, is to ensure that terrorism does not strike its roots in Punjab again.

“It can be achieved by citing Sikh scriptures and common strands between Hinduism and Sikhism, undermine their separate identity, and gradually bring them into the RSS. Once this happens, an alternative Sikh votebank would silence the guns forever,” an RSS activist close to Gopal said.

What also enthused the RSS was the response to their Khalsa tercentenary yatra in 1999. Former Akal Takht jathedar Giani Puran Singh welcomed the yatris, and Damdami Taksal’s (Sikh seminary) Baba Thakur Singh washed the feet of VHP leader Parmanand before leading him in to the gurdwara.

Attempts are afoot to lure the youth into the RSS shakhas. The RSS leaders say their recent camps have evoked good response as some 15 to 20 per cent of the participants were Sikhs.

“It’s a challenge for us, wait for two or three years and we’ll show the results,” said a senior leader.

BJP leaders, though part of a coalition with the Akali Dal, are hoping for a split in the Sikh votebank through the Sangat.


Srinagar, Jan. 1: 
The rift between militants and the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference has begun flaring up even before the Hurriyat leaders engage in deliberations with them during their Pakistan visit.

Hizb-ul-Mujahideen supreme commander Syed Salah-ud-Din wants all seven executive members of the Hurriyat to come to Pakistan, but the Hurriyat said “only we shall decide the quantum of the visiting delegation”.

“It is only we (the Hurriyat executive) who will decide who should go or who should not,” said chairman Abdul Gani Bhat. “Only we will decide and not Pakistan or any militant leader who are not even the members of the Hurriyat general body,” he added.

The Hurriyat executive will meet at its headquarters tomorrow and finalise the members who will actually visit Pakistan, Bhat said.

“If we go, we will meet the Hizb leadership, the government of Pakistan , Ulemmas and human rights activists,” Bhat said.

Insiders, however, said the Hurriyat will wait till travel documents were issued to all the executive members, including fire brand Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Peoples League chief Shiekh Abdul Aziz. “Only then can we decide who will go with the delegation”, said a Hurriyat executive member.

The Jamiat-e-Islami Pakistan chief Qazi Hussain Ahmed had earlier pressed for the inclusion of Geelani in the delegation.

Salah-ud-Din’s statement has only complicated the issue. “If some leaders of the Hurriyat are allowed to visit Pakistan and some are barred, it will create doubts about the Hurriyat,” Salah-ud-Din said in a statement. He added: “Rather, it can create an impression that the alliance is divided into moderates and extremists.”

The Hizb chief said the Hurriyat leaders “must show farsightedness and diplomatic efficiency to rend the impression that Delhi and not they themselves are constituting the delegation for Pakistan”.

“I will advice the Hurriyat leaders to avoid the visit to Pakistan unless all of them are allowed to travel”, Salah-ud-Din said, adding: “And if all of them get permission, then they should first sit together and evolve an agenda in consensus with each other for the tour.”

The Hizb chief said Hurriyat leaders cannot ask the militants to respect the ceasefire because it does not have a mandate for that.”

Ceasefire, Syed Salah-ud-Din said, was of no value unless “India makes a categorical declaration that Kashmir is a disputed territory”. Till that happens, the operations will continue”.

“We will discuss all the issues with the Hizb leadership. Boys with guns are the hardest people. We will try. If they don’t listen it is up to them”, Bhat added.

“People of Jammu and Kashmir are the supreme authority and not the resolution passed in parliament,”he said.


Ranchi, Jan. 1: 
Stray incidents of arson and stone pelting were reported from some parts of the city as it ushered in the new year amidst an indefinite curfew. The curfew was clamped yesterday evening following the death of deputy superintendent of police U.C. Jha.

Jha was cremated at Subarnarekha ghat today with full state honours. Jharkhand Governor Prabhat Kumar, who was in Jamshedpur since December 29 rushed back to the capital today for Jha’s funeral.

Soon after reaching Ranchi, the Governor visited Jha’s official residence at HEC Colony where he laid a wreath on the official’s body and offered his condolences to the bereaved family. The official is survived by his widow and three minor daughters.

Uproarious scenes today marred the cremation as hundreds of policemen raised anti-government slogans. Policemen, who launched a mutiny against the state government after Jha’s death last evening alleging apathy, criticised the chief minister Babulal Marandi for failing to initiate steps to control the law and order situation and indirectly causing Jha’s death.

The policemen were so hostile that senior administrative officials had to be escorted out of the cremation ground by RAF personnel.

Jha had been admitted to a local nursing home on December 28 with a serious head injury after being attacked by a violent mob, which set up a road blockade to protest against the death of an eight-year-old girl run over by a police vehicle.

The attack on Jha triggered off the police firing killing three persons. A spate of attacks on policemen prompted the state government to clamp an indefinite curfew in five police stations areas. Though a team of doctors had performed an emergency operation on Jha on December 28, they failed to save him. Jha succumbed to his injuries yesterday. A post mortem report today said his death was caused by bomb splinters, which had formed blood clots inside his brain.

Jha’s death sparked off a virtual revolt as irate policemen did not allow the hospital authority to conduct post mortem for more than four hours till their eight-point charter of demands were met.

The demands included immediate cash compensation of Rs 25 lakh to the official’s family, a police job equivalent to the post of a deputy superintendent of police to Jha’s widow, an Ashok Chakra recommendation for Jha, free housing, free conveyance and free education for the official’s children.

However, the state’s stand was not clear continued till the early this morning after the Jharkhand chief minister refused Rs 25 lakh cash compensation to the official’s family as demanded by the police unions. Sources pointed out that since an ex gratia of Rs 10 lakh was paid to Lohardagga superintendent of police Ajay Kumar Singh, who was shot dead by extremists on October 4, compensation for Jha’s death could not be exceed that amount.

After protracted discussion between the director-general of police and the police associations, the chief minister finally announced a cash compensation of Rs. 7.50 lakh to Jha’s family, a job for Jha’s widow commensurate with her educational qualifications, free education for Jha’s children, free housing and a recommendation for Ashok Chakra for the official.


Kathmandu, Jan. 1: 
Life in the Himalayan kingdom skidded to a halt and the usually effervescent capital city wore a deserted look as day one of the nationwide strike called by nine Left parties ensured that residents did not venture outdoors.

The two-day strike was called to put pressure on the G.P. Koirala government to quit over the death of five student protesters in last week’s violence, which had rocked Kathmandu after alleged anti-Nepal remarks made by Bollywood superstar Hrithik Roshan ignited furious demonstrations.

Business establishments, educational institutions, shops and markets in the Himalayan kingdom remained closed.

Streets went empty as both public and private vehicles stayed off. However, reports of mixed responses to the bandh in the rest of the country poured in too.

The Koirala government, which is faced with a no-trust motion, had made elaborate security arrangements. Riot police were stationed at strategic intersections to prevent any repeat of last week’s frenzy.

The situation in the south-eastern parts of the kingdom bordering Bihar also remained tense following the death of two persons on Sunday evening at Rajbiraj.

RSS, the Nepalese official news agency, today said that at least two people were killed and several others injured when police fired at demonstrators in Rajbiraj, the district headquarters of Saptari, about 200 km south-east of Kathmandu.

The pro-India Nepal Sadbhavana Party had called a general strike yesterday in several Terai districts of southern Nepal bordering India, protesting against “attacks, vandalism, and arson against Nepalese citizens of Indian Terai communities” in Kathmandu last week.

The Left parties — including the Nepal Communist Party (Marxist), a breakaway faction of the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninists) — have also demanded the resignation deputy prime minister Ram Chandra Paudyal, who holds the home portfolio.

The group wants Paudyal to accept responsibility for the shootings last week and resign, but he has refused to do so.

The ruling Nepali Congress, meanwhile, described the atta- ck on the residences of three senior members as an act of “cowardice”.

Unidentified miscreants had hurled powerful bombs at the residences of party general secretary Sushil Koirala, the minister of state for education, Dilendra Prashad Badu, and former home minister Govinda Raj Joshi around 6 last evening. Though no one was injured, the houses were severely damaged.

Nepali Congress leaders suspect Maoist insurgents to be behind the attacks, as Sushil Koirala has been a staunch critic of Maoist activists.

Police said the attackers had come on motorcycles and escaped after lobbing the bombs simultaneously.

They also sprayed bullets into Joshi’s house at Jawalakhel and Badu’s residence at Patan on the outskirts of Kathmandu city.


Burdwan, Jan. 1: 
Tension gripped the Khoshbagan area of Burdwan town this morning following the death of a 29-year-old woman in a nursing home after child-birth.

Khoshbagan residents and relatives of Sarbani Mondal gheraoed the attending doctor, Benu Roy, alleging gross negligence on part of the doctor and nursing home employees. Police had to rush to the clinic to bring the situation under control.

After preliminary investigations, officials of the Burdwan Sadar police station arrested one employee of the nursing home. A probe is also on to find out if the nursing home was run legally.

According to the police, Sarbani, a resident of Rayon in the Burdwan police station area, was admitted to the nursing home yesterday around 6 am. She had already begun having labour pains.

Sarbani was earlier being treated by Dr Jayanta Sen, who sees his patients every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at the nursing home.

Sen had given instructions that in his absence, his patients would be attended to by Roy. So, when Sarbani’s husband, Kanchan, brought her to the nursing home last morning, she was admitted under Roy’s supervision.

Police said Roy checked Sarbani at 9.30 am and advised that she be put on saline drip. In the evening, around 6.30, Roy decided to operate. The operation started around 7.45 and Sarbani delivered a girl child.

Today morning, around 6.10, the nursing home informed Kanchan over telephone that Sarbani’s condition was serious. But when he reached the clinic, he found that his wife had died at 5.30. The baby, however, is keeping well.

Kanchan accused Roy, the nursing home authorities and the anaesthetist of gross negligence.

“Till Sunday midnight, the nursing home authorities told us that Sarbani’s condition was fine. Then suddenly this morning my wife was dead. I suspect foulplay,” Kanchan said.

According to his brother Kajal, Sen had said that blood would be needed during the operation. But Roy did not ask for any. “I am sure that after the operation my sister-in-law was not attended to properly. Even the doctor cannot explain the cause of her death,” he added.

Roy, however, said the patient died of a sudden cardiac arrest. “But how it has happened I don’t know. I have recommended a post mortem,” Roy said.

A nursing home employee, who did not want to be named, said Sarbani’s condition had deteriorated early on Monday and the attendant on duty was fast asleep. “This nursing home is illegal and it does not even have a resident medical officer (RMO) or a trained nurse to attend to patients round the clock,” he said.

Samar Pandey, inspector-in-charge of Burdwan Sadar police station, said the body will be sent for post mortem after an inquest by a magistrate.

“After a post mortem is carried out on the body, the cause of death can be ascertained. Then a technical committee of doctors headed by C.R. Maity, principal of Burdwan Medical College, will submit a report to the police,” Pandey said.


Calcutta, Jan. 1: 
Five people named in an FIR were arrested today in connection with the murder of two Trinamul Congress workers in a clash at Mandirbazar in South 24-Parganas.

Additional superintendent of police (rural), Sanjib Bose, said: “The arrests were made on the basis of complaints made by the family members of those killed. More arrests are likely in the next few days.” The alleged showdown with CPM supporters occurred early on Sunday.

The clash left two persons dead and three injured, who are still in a critical condition. Both the victims were Trinamul workers.

However, yesterday, both police and the CPM said the clash was between two groups of anti-socials and had no connection with any political party.


Burdwan, Jan. 1: 
Police seized huge quantities of ganja, worth about Rs 8 lakh, and an AK-47 rifle from an abandoned jeep on the Panagarh-Morgram National Highway on Sunday night and arrested one person who claimed to be a CRPF jawan posted in Coimbatore.

Police sources said a patrol jeep of the Kanksa police station came upon an abandoned taxi without a number plate on the road-side. Fifty-five ganja packets, weighing about 350 kg, and the AK-47 were found under the back seat of the vehicle

Immediately after the haul,the patrol party combed the nearby villages and arrested one person who was identified as Maipan.

The resident of Dimapur, Nagaland, was arrested on charges of drug-trafficking and illegal possession of arms.

Additional superintendent of police, Durgapur, R.K. Adhikary, said a probe was on to find out if Maipan had narco-terrorist links.


Santiniketan, Jan. 1: 
The recent flood in Birbhum district has severely hit shopping at the century-old pous mela in Santiniketan this year.

The local people on whom the mela thrives are hesitant to buy anything. Visitors from Calcutta have gone back before Christmas after attending the first three days of the mela.

“We have been coming for the last couple of years but we have not faced such poor business like this year,” said Rajesh Singh, a bedcover-seller from Calcutta.

“We did not expect such dull business. Our regular customers visited our stalls but could not buy anything as they were severely hit by the flood,” said Pradip Debnath, a cane furniture dealer from Alipurduar.

Debnath said he had managed to sell only 10 per cent of what he has been doing in the last few years.

Bidhan Dutta, a farmer from Suri who lost his entire crop in the flood, could not buy cane chairs, mora and jhuri as he did in prevous years. “I can barely make both end meets this year. I just can’t think of buying anything for home,” he rued.

Tarachand Thakur of Dubrajpur, Swadhin Das of Nanoor and Irfan Ali of Labpur had similar tales of woe.

However, Sarifuddin, a shawl-seller from Lalchak in Kashmir said flood is not the only reason for bad business as far as warm clothes are concerned. He said this year, the winter has not been severe so far.

“That is why I had very few customers who wanted to buy shawls and sweaters,” he said.

The turnout of rural people have been low for some time. It is the urban crowd from Calcutta who throng the mela for the first three days.

“This poor participation of the rural people has also changed the nature of pous mela” said Amita Sen, a resident of Santiniketan and mother of Nobel laureate Amartya Sen.

Sen was echoed by veteran professor of Visva Bharati Somendranath Banerjee: “Once it was a rural fair. The fair had rural flavour but times have changed and the exchange and exhibition of commodities have changed the nature of pous mela. At present this mela can be compared with any other mela in Bengal.”

An influx of industrial goods and machine-made items have overtaken local cottage industry artefacts and handicrafts.

Veteran Santiniketan residents said the mela should give equal importance to local and rural products and handicrafts like dokra, cane, leather, shola and wood.

A dokra artist from Dumka in Bihar, Nazir Zadupatia, said: “We never get the prime place for display and sale of our products. We are very poor but no one cares for us or our products though they have good demand in foreign countries.”


Burdwan, Jan. 1: 
Prisoners addicted to drugs are languishing in Burdwan jail without adequate treatment.

Fifteen addicts, all of them male, out of a total of 175 prisoners in the jail, which the government has now redefined as correctional home, are lodged with general patients at the jail hospital.

However, there is only one doctor and an attendant. There is no psychiatrist or specialised physician to treat these drug addicts.

At present there are 154 male and 21 female prisoners in Burdwan jail.

Debasish Sarkar is the only full-time doctor at the jail, but as there are no doctor’s quarters on the jail campus, he generally visits the jail for only an hour.

Moreover, Sarkar is an ENT specialist and runs his own chamber in Khosbagan where he lives with his family. In case of an emergency, he is called by the jail authorities.

Burdwan jail has a 20-bed hospital where only first-aid is available. Due to lack of infrastructure, the drug addicts are treated as general patients.

If there is an emergency, the prisoners are shifted to Burdwan Medical College and Hospital.

Jail authorities say the only alternative is to send the addicts to the Alipore Central Jail in Calcutta with the court’s permission.

Although Burdwan Medical College and Hospital has a de-addiction centre, the drug addicts are not sent their because of administrative problems, a senior district health official said.

He said according to rules, there should be a treatment centre for drug addicts in all district towns. The centre should be under the supervision of hospital authorities.

The Central government had sanctioned Rs 8 lakh and state governments Rs 5 lakh to all district towns to develop infrastructure for such treatment.

A prisoner said those addicted to drugs cannot sleep at night and beg for a dose of the drug they are addicted to. Other prisoners are affected as a result.

“There is urgent need for a permanent psychiatrist in this jail. Besides, the jail hospital should be equipped with proper staff and infrastructural facilities to provide all sorts of treatment,” a senior district official said.

“Being a correctional home, the prisoners are not getting proper treatment, especially those who are drug addicts. The government should take the initiative to equip the jail hospital with all sorts of facilities. Presently a psychiatrist is urgently needed,” said Samiran Ghosh, jail inspector and advisory committee member.


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