Ulfa supremo sets ‘independence’ agenda for talks with Delhi
PM pits priests against VHP
Clashes shatter Keshpur calm
Atal growth push to budget
Hit-men face home guards
Calcutta Weather

 
 
ULFA SUPREMO SETS ‘INDEPENDENCE’ AGENDA FOR TALKS WITH DELHI 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Guwahati, Jan. 3: 
Ulfa “commander-in-chief” Paresh Barua today said bloodbath in Assam would cease only if the Centre agreed to a “scientific dialogue” with the outfit.

In an exclusive interview to The Telegraph over phone from an undisclosed location, Barua explained what a “scientific dialogue” meant. The agenda would have to be “Assam’s independence”. “The talks must be logical and reasonable to us,” he added.

Barua claimed responsibility for the killings of top Sulfa leader Abinash Bordoloi and two of his associates in Nalbari last night. He hinted that it was a “vendetta strike” against his former comrades. Two other Sulfa men were injured in the shootout.

The Ulfa “c-in-c” said the outfit had granted “general amnesty” to all those who had left, provided they did not indulge in “illegal activities” or help security forces.

Though he did not say that Ulfa was behind last night’s ambush, Barua accused Bordoloi of leading the “killer squad” which shot dead Ulfa “foreign secretary” Sasha Choudhury’s brother in Nalbari last month.

Barua said the government was using the Sulfa as “secret killers” to target the families of Ulfa men and for other “extra-judicial” killings. The police, on the other hand, are yet to identify those who attacked the families of the Ulfa cadre.

Barua refused to accept the term “peace talks” for the dialogue with the Centre and insisted on the word “negotiation”. “We have not violated peace. All our acts have been in self-defence,” he said. Asked if the Ulfa would agree to a protectorate status vis-a-vis India, he said: “Let the Indian government first come out with an agenda for scientific negotiations. If this (protectorate status) is included in the agenda, we will examine it. At this moment your question is premature”.

The Ulfa “c-in-c”, however, dismissed the parleys between the Centre and the NSCN(I-M) as a “mere eyewash doomed to fail”. “The talks are a farce... played by the Indian government and the RAW to delay the Naga struggle by about three years,” he said.

Barua’s reservations about the Naga peace talks assume significance in view of the fact that the NSCN(I-M) is considered the “mother of all insurgent outfits” in the Northeast.

Barua also dismissed police claims that the Ulfa was willing to talk without chief minister Prafulla Mahanta, saying the police “were always resorting to gimmicks for personal gains.” He, however, admitted that Mahanta’s successor would be a “better man to talk to” as the former was a “puppet” in the Governor’s hands.

He also blasted Mahanta for “cheating the Assamese nation” by riding to power on the sacrifice made by 700 “martyrs” during the Assam agitation and then turning his back on the real problems of the state.

   

 
 
PM PITS PRIESTS AGAINST VHP 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Jan. 3: 
Taking a leaf out of P.V. Narasimha Rao’s book, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee is trying to divide the sadhus and scuttle the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s plan to announce a date for the Ram temple construction in its dharam sansad this month.

BJP sources said “influential” clerics, including those from the Bharat Mata temple of Hardwar, and Nritya Gopal Das of Ayodhya’s Maniram Chavni, believed that the time was not “ripe” for the construction of a “grand” temple in Ayodhya.

The sadhus felt a government headed by a “popular” Prime Minister from the heartland, an Uttar Pradesh Brahmin in particular, must not be “disturbed”. “Disrupting status quo at the Centre would leave the field open for the likes of Laloo, Mulayam and Mayavati. This should not happen, the clerics believe,” a source said.

The Prime Minister is counting on the “dissenters” to persuade the dharam sansad — which meets in Allahabad on January 19, 20 and 21 — to defer the construction announcement. “Eventually, the sansad may constitute another high-level committee to finalise the date and this could help the Centre buy time for a negotiated settlement or wait for the judiciary’s verdict,” a source said.

The VHP was earlier expected to declare the date in a meeting in Panaji last September, but the announcement was postponed to January. The BJP is bargaining for a second postponement.

Sources said Vajpayee was as “keen” to resolve the Ayodhya dispute as he was to find a peaceful solution to the Kashmir problem. He had even sounded the VHP on the issue. “Indeed, a major target audience of his Kerala musings (the two-part articles penned for selective newspapers) was the VHP and he hopes they will receive his message for a negotiated settlement in the spirit in which it was meant,” a source said.

After the first flash of anger against Vajpayee’s articles — in which he obliquely warned the VHP not to violate status quo in Ayodhya — the outfit has become subdued. Senior vice-president Acharya Giriraj Kishore said: “The VHP did not have anything to rejoice earlier when Vajpayee said temple construction was a national aspiration. Nor are we anguished today. We stand by our agenda, and we will listen only to the dharmacharyas.” But he was noncommittal when asked if Vajpayee’s veiled warning would be a stumbling block to fulfilling their temple agenda.

RSS sources said they have decided not to criticise Vajpayee’s Ayodhya turnaround. “We have decided instead to support him fully and this will be reflected in the editorial pages of our journals,” a source said.

Narasimha Rao had nearly convinced one section of the clergy to advocate building the temple outside the disputed site. But the VHP and the BJP foiled his plans. This time, sources said, the conditions were different. The mosque was not there and no party had demanded its reconstruction at the site. Therefore, they claimed, the makeshift temple could be upgraded to a permanent structure through talks or the court’s verdict.

   

 
 
CLASHES SHATTER KESHPUR CALM 
 
 
FROM TAMAL SENGUPTA, KUMARESH GHOSH AND NARESH JANA
 
Keshpur, Jan. 3: 
Bengal slipped back under a cloud of confrontation as fresh clashes erupted here on a day Mamata Banerjee mounted a show of strength and declared that the area was picked out as part of a “calculated move” to tie down the CPM.

Bursts of violence preceded and followed Mamata’s meeting, her first in clash-scarred Keshpur since chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee took over as chief minister.

A Trinamul Congress supporter was killed while he was returning from the meeting and over 50 houses of CPM workers were torched in clashes that broke out in a cluster of villages in Keshpur.

With the situation worsening in the evening, Mamata, who was on her way to Calcutta, returned to Keshpur. Trinamul leaders said several injured supporters were being rushed to hospitals in the city. A “control room” has been opened at Mamata’s house to keep track of the patients.

The fuse was lit when suspected CPM activists fired country-made guns and shot arrows at buses carrying the Trinamul Congress’ workers to the rally. Four injured Trinamul supporters were admitted to hospital.

The Trinamul camp retaliated by attacking a police jeep and a truck, injuring a home guard and a constable. Mamata had to rush to the spot to pacify her party workers.

After the meeting, home-bound Trinamul supporters clashed with CPM workers at Amdubi and Eluni villages. Several houses were set ablaze and two CPM workers injured. The CPM has called a “protest day” in Midnapore tomorrow.

An undeclared bandh was enforced today in Keshpur by the CPM as shops downed shutters and most of the houses remained locked. The Trinamul supporters said they were denied even drinking water. Only a few hundred residents of Keshpur are believed to have been present at today’s rally following a blanket ban by the CPM.

However, marshalling a huge turnout from elsewhere, Mamata unveiled her party’s “secret strategy” in Keshpur. “It was our calculated move to intensify our political activities at Keshpur in order to keep the CPM busy here. We have exploited the CPM’s confinement here to increase our strength in other parts of the state. Keen to retain Keshpur and Garbeta, the CPM has lost ground in other places,” she claimed.

Mamata also slammed the chief minister for giving “a free hand to the police to kill criminals”. “Why are not the police opening fire on those who are killing our supporters here and setting fire to their houses? Aren’t they criminals? I know Bhattacharjee’s police will not shoot them,” she said.

Mamata directed her party workers to gherao all police stations on January 9 and the offices of the district superintendents of police on January 15.

   

 
 
ATAL GROWTH PUSH TO BUDGET 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 3: 
Concerned over the economic slowdown, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today asked finance minister Yashwant Sinha to prepare a growth-oriented budget.

The Prime Minister used a hurriedly-convened meeting to voice his anxiety over the slump in the economy, particularly in the capital goods and manufacturing sectors, and the lack of foreign investment into infrastructure.

According to the latest data of the Central Statistical Organisation, growth rate in the manufacturing sector has declined to 5.9 per cent in July-September from 6.6 per cent in the same period of the previous year.

Vajpayee directed his Cabinet colleagues to take measures to spur growth in capital goods and manufacturing. Yashwant Sinha said: “The Prime Minister has directed me to make ready a growth-oriented budget”.

The meeting, which lasted over two hours, was inconclusive since a number of issues were still to be discussed. The second round will be held on January 17, when the Prime Minister returns from Vietnam and Indonesia.

Sinha said: “The PM has asked his Cabinet colleagues to come back with specific suggestions within a fortnight.” The urgency is an indication of Vajpayee’s worry over the slowdown.

Asked why a few ministers stayed away, Sinha said there were no differences among Cabinet colleagues on issues relating to disinvestment.

Shiv Sena ministers have in the past questioned the government’s disinvestment decisions, particularly the one concerning Maruti. Communications minister Ram Vilas Paswan, too, has reservations about plans to divest government stake in Videsh Sanchar Nigam.

“Discussions remained inconclusive not because of differences. More preparations are needed to concretise the ideas discussed at the meeting. Postponement of meetings should not become a matter of speculation,” Sinha said.

“We reviewed the economic situation and prospects for the next year. The meeting also took up among various other issues the steps which the government should take in the immediate future and medium-term. These could form part of the forthcoming budget,” he added.

Sinha declined to elaborate, saying: “Since the discussions related largely to what shall be incorporated in the next budget, I am constrained not to go beyond what I have said.”

The informal meeting was also attended by foreign minister Jaswant Singh, defence minister George Fernandes, commerce minister Murasoli Maran, power minister Suresh Prabhu and disinvestment minister Arun Shourie. Paswan was away in Kerala. Sources said there was nothing “political” about his absence.

   

 
 
HIT-MEN FACE HOME GUARDS 
 
 
FROM R. VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, Jan. 3: 
The Bill against domestic violence proposes appointment of protection officers who will have the power to enter and inspect any premises after receiving a complaint from a tormented wife.

According to the proposed legislation, these officers can “at any time enter and inspect any shared household in respect of which a complaint of domestic violence has been received”.

They can also “...enter and inspect any premises from where the stridhan or other property of the person aggrieved is to be recovered”.

Under Section 25(a), these officers “shall be under the control of the court” and make a “Domestic Incident Report in the prescribed form upon receipt of a complaint of domestic violence”.

The officers will be appointed by the states. Section 23, Chapter V of the Bill, to be known as Domestic Violence (Prevention) Bill, 2001 says state governments “shall by notification in their official gazette appoint such number of protection officers in each district as it may consider necessary”.

The Bill also proposes to make “extortion” by a husband an offence, as also an “act likely to spread infection of disease”.

The legislation proposes amendments mainly in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which will be incorporated into the new law. A portion of the proposal made available to The Telegraph says Section 269 (negligent act likely to spread infection of disease), Section 270 (malignant act likely to spread infection) and all offences affecting the human body which are listed under IPC will be incorporated.

“The draft was sent to the legal affairs and legislative departments of the law ministry which opined that there would not be any problem enacting the law,” sources in the law ministry said.

“It was actually a proposal made by lawyer Indira Jaisingh’s Lawyers’ Collective. They were sent to the legal affairs department during Ram Jethmalani’s tenure as law minister. The department said it could be legislated,” an official of the law ministry said.

According to the Bill, dishonest misappropriation of property (of a woman or wife by a man or husband or in-laws) and criminal breach of trust would be treated as offences. So will defamatory remarks and comments against a wife.

Criminal intimidation and intentional insult would be crimes as word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman.

Under the Act, the proceedings will be held in-camera “unless the court is satisfied to the contrary” and the protection officer or an accredited service provider “may be permitted to attend the proceedings”.

The proposal adds that the court to settle the dispute should be the one under whose jurisdiction the person aggrieved “permanently or temporarily resides”.

Law ministry sources said that few proposals under the Bill were left to be decided by the states. One of them was compulsory registration of any marriage and, to begin with, compulsory registration of a Hindu marriage.

Legal experts on the job said that since registration of a marriage comes under the concurrent list of the Constitution, states would have to take the initiative to pass a law in their legislatures.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 25.2°C (-2)
Minimum:16.8°C (+4)

Rainfall:

Trace

Relative humidity

Maximum: 88%,
Minimum:60%

Today

Mainly clear sky, with possibility of morning mist. Minimum temperature may be around 14°C
SUNRISE: 6.22 am
SUNSET: 5.00 pm
   
 

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