Lashkar storms airport
Mamata show of massacre wins Atal concern
Jute baron puts police in dock
Rival sansad for alternative temple
Doctors shoo away sleuths
Calcutta Weather

Srinagar, Jan. 16: 
Carrying out its threat to attack strategic installations, a suicide squad of the Lashkar-e-Toiba today tried to storm the high security airport at Kashmir’s capital and triggered a gun-battle that left 11 people dead.

Six of the dead were militants who, dressed in army uniform, carried out the attack at the first entry point at Humhama, about two km from the main airport complex. Three securitymen from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and two civilians were killed in the three-hour shootout.

The Pakistan-based Lashkar claimed responsibility for the attack, which comes two days after an attempt on the life of chief minister Farooq Abdullah.

The Lashkar had claimed responsibility for the raid on Red Fort last month and had threatened to strike at the Prime Minister’s Office and other strategic installations.

Home minister L.K. Advani, while describing the attack as “serious”, refused to say whether it would have any impact on the extension of the ceasefire, which ends on January 26. “When we decide on the future course of action, we will take all incidents into consideration,” Advani said in Mumbai.

The Centre pointed the finger at Pakistan. Terming the attack “reprehensible”, national security adviser Brajesh Mishra said: “While India is trying for peace, Pakistan is not reining in militant groups and is sabotaging the peace efforts.”

J&K director-general of police A.K. Suri said a group of armed-to-the-teeth militants hijacked a State Forest Corporation jeep and followed the motorcade of a minister who was going to the airport to take a flight to Delhi.

The jeep was stopped by the CRPF men at the outer post. The guerrillas got down and, while some of them began hurling grenades, the others opened fire from their automatic rifles.

Three CRPF jawans died on the spot while nine others, including three personnel of the state police, were wounded.

An injured policeman said from his hospital bed that the militants stopped their vehicle and “fired indiscriminately”. “I was lying on the road and crying for help. A colleague of mine managed to help me. He brought me out,” he said.

The militants, he added, were spraying bullets and hurling grenades at random. “I saw the CRPF jawans lying in a pool of blood,” the policeman said.

Paramilitary forces, along with army personnel, rushed to the area. Seeing them, some militants sneaked into a shop adjacent to the main gate and started firing. One guerrilla forced his way into the X-ray room adjoining the main gate, where the baggage of passengers is checked.

The airport building was sealed off. Airport guards took up position all around and on rooftops.

Two planes from New Delhi — one an Indian Airlines and the other a Jet Airways flight — which had landed less than an hour ago, were still parked on the tarmac. The incoming passengers had left the airport shortly before the attack.

Airport officials forced both aircraft to take off half-an-hour before their scheduled departure time, fearing that the fidayeen (suicide) squad may try to storm the main building.

Top police officials remained in constant contact with airport security chief Ali Mohammad, who was supervising security arrangements inside even while heavy fighting was continuing at the main gate.

Sources said the holed-up militants were firing incessantly on the troops who had by now encircled them. After three hours of fire-exchange, the soldiers had to mortar-blast the X-ray room and the shop to draw out the militants.

The forces then mounted a combing operation and recovered the bodies of the six militants. Bodies of two civilians, including an officer of the Ellaquai Dehati Bank identified as Masood Ahmed, were found.

The other body recovered was that of a teenage girl who, Suri suspected, was an associate of the militants.


New Delhi, Jan. 16: 
After Mamata Banerjee exhibited a skull, bones, pieces of flesh and blood-stained clothes of alleged Garbeta massacre victims here today, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee expressed serious concern over law and order in West Bengal.

Bullets, cartridges, video cassettes, photographs and newspaper clippings were among the others exhibits at Vajpayee’s 7 Race Course Road residence.

Last month, Mamata had taken maimed men — allegedly attacked by CPM goons — to the Prime Minister to buttress her demand for President’s rule in the state.

The items on display were later handed over to home secretary Kamal Pande, who asked: “What can I do with them? I will send them to the state chief secretary.”

After producing the “evidence” and giving a graphic account of “sinking” law and order, Mamata and two BJP leaders accompanying her demanded immediate dismissal of the state government.

The Prime Minister “heard them patiently” and “expressed serious concern” but did not say what steps he would take. He remained silent even when the leaders urged him “to rise to the occasion”.

Mamata submitted a memorandum and a report of the NDA team which visited the alleged carnage site to the Prime Minister. Trinamul leader Sudip Bandopadhyay said: “We hope he will react at the appropriate time.”

PMO sources said Vajpayee will monitor the situation and consult his Cabinet colleagues, including home minister L.K. Advani and defence minister George Fernandes, before committing himself.

Telugu Desam leader Yerran Naidu, who was part of the team that met Vajpayee, expressed concern at “worsening” law and order but did not endorse the demand for President’s rule.

West Bengal BJP president Ashim Ghosh, Calcutta mayor Subrata Mukherjee, BJP MP Vijay Goel and Trinamul MPs had accompanied Mamata.

Two senior BJP leaders from the state, Tapan Sikdar and Satyabrata Mukherjee, were missing. Trinamul sources said they had personal engagements.

After the meeting, Yerran Naidu said: “My party is disturbed over the recurring violence in West Bengal. We requested the Prime Minister to take steps to ensure the safety of life and property of the people and ensure free and fair elections.”

But when asked about President’s rule, Naidu said: “Our stand on Article 356 is well-known.” Making it clear that the Desam was against imposition of Central rule, he said Vajpayee should “take all possible steps to improve the law and order situation”.

“Being a Cabinet minister”, Mamata did not speak to the press after meeting Vajpayee. Party colleague Sudip Bandopadhay said: “We demanded President’s rule because free and fair polls are impossible under the Marxist-led government.”

Asked if Vajpayee had given any assurances, Bandopadhyay said: “I am sure he will try to rise to the occasion. It is for the Prime Minister to decide the course of action.”

Justifying the demand for President’s rule, Ashim Gosh listed state-sponsored terrorism, breakdown of constitutional machinery, collusion of police and administration and killings of political opponents as grounds for dismissing the state government.


Calcutta, Jan. 16: 
Controversial jute baron Govind Sarda said tonight that police could have prevented the three gory deaths in Baranagar Jute Mills had they taken note of recurring violence there over the past two years.

“I know the management had brought to the attention of the local police assaults by a section of workers on executives and a trade union leader. But neither the police nor the unions acted in time,” said Sarda, believed to be an arm’s-length owner of the mill.

On Saturday, a worker and two managers were killed in the violence on mill premises.

Intelligence bureau officials confirmed that at least two executives, P.R. Dhaniwal and Rajinder Singh, and union leader Arjun Maji had been assaulted recently by workers armed with crowbars.

Maji, a Citu-affiliated union official, was attacked when he went to the mill to tell a section of workers that under the agreement to reopen the mill, they were bound to meet a certain production level.

“We made enquiries when the incidents were brought to our notice and took appropriate action,” an officer of Baranagar police station said. “The situation did not merit arrests then,” he added.

Sarda said it would be wrong to describe him as the owner because he had “only made some investment” when the mill was acquired by well-known foodgrain trader Chaitan Chowdhury.

“I gave him some money, management expertise, a team under Jagadamba Tiwari (killed on Saturday) and an assurance to supply raw jute on credit.” Chowdhury, however, did not confirm his “ownership”.

“Suddenly, everyone is casting me as the villain of the Baranagar mill, but nobody is willing to credit me with taking over and reopening eight mills and providing employment to at least 50,000 people.”

Sarda said the industry could be streamlined if the government and unions addressed the issues of growing difference between production costs in the mills on two sides of the Ganga, the lack of work culture and labour militancy. “The difference between production costs is about Rs 75 lakh a month,” he said.

Sarda said he felt the Baranagar management would consider reopening after the government and the unions ensured return of a congenial environment by marginalising the trouble-makers among the workers.

Indian Jute Mills Association chairman Sanjay Kajaria feared that the moribund jute industry would collapse under the blow of this incident.

“Who would take the risk of setting up units in West Bengal where the administration proves so callous?” asked jute baron Arun Bajoria.

The association has sought an appointment with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.


New Delhi, Jan. 16: 
Hindu religious leaders opposed to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) plan to hold their own sant sansad at the Kumbh Mela venue shortly after the dharam sansad gets over later this week.

A decision on the date is expected to be taken at a meeting tomorrow which will be attended by the four Shankaracharyas and the Akhara Parishad, which is made up of a group of 13 important akharas or religious order. Other “influential” religious figures are also likely to attend.

Sources close to one of the Shankaracharyas already camping at the Kumbh, Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati of Jyotishpeeth, said the main agenda of the sant sansad will be to unveil an alternative model of the Ram temple, patterned after the Angkor Vat in Cambodia, with the proposal that it should be constructed a little away from the disputed site in Ayodhya.

The Jyotishpeeth Shankaracharya was propped up by former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao to undermine the VHP’s influence at the height of the Ram temple campaign, but he failed to muster support in Ayodhya as well as outside for his Angkor Vat temple blueprint, described by the Sangh parivar as a “sellout of the Hindu cause”.

This time round, however, sources close to him claimed he had the backing of the other three Shankaracharyas as well — namely Nischalanand Saraswati of Puri, Jayendra Saraswati of Kanchi Kamakotipeeth and Bharati Teerath of Sringeripeeth.

Sources said although apart from Swaroopanand, the only other Shankaracharya camping in Kumbh was Swami Nischalanand, the other two religious heads were expected to arrive in a “day or two”.

The proposal to undercut the VHP on its political turf got a boost after the Akhara Parishad passed a resolution last week deciding to boycott any sadhu or sant who participated in the dharam sansad. A further shot in the arm came when highly regarded religious heads such as Swami Ramanandchari Ramnareshacharya of the Varanasi Math openly questioned the locus standi of VHP president Ashok Singhal to speak on behalf of the Hindu community.

Even Ramchandradas Parmahans, the mahant of Ayodhya’s Digambar Akhara, one of the 13 religious orders and the head of the VHP-sponsored Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas (trust), could not exert his influence on the Akhara Parishad when it gave its boycott call although he had unveiled a model of the VHP’s version of the Ram temple at the Kumbh Mela shortly before that.

BJP sources, while maintaining it was “too early” to comment on the dissension within the sadhu and sant parivar, for once did not dismiss their agenda too lightly. Sources admitted that it would “suit” the central dispensation to have a divided pro-temple front rather than allow the VHP to speak in one voice and create problems for the Uttar Pradesh government as well as the Centre.

Sources said the feelers sent to former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar by Atal Bihari Vajpayee to do his bit towards solving the Ayodhya tangle were of apiece with this “line of thinking”. When he was the Prime Minister, Chandra Shekhar attempted to use Chandraswami to try and split the sadhu samaj. For a while it appeared he would succeed when he nearly spirited away prominent players like Vinay Katiyar and Parmahans, but eventually the VHP outmanoeuvred him.


Calcutta, Jan. 16: 
The doctors of Bellona Nursing Home in Ekbalpore today turned away CID officers who had gone there to interrogate Abdur Rahman Mondal.

Mondal, the “prime witness” to the Chhoto Angaria “massacre”, was admitted to the nursing home on Saturday after complaints of a nervous breakdown.

The patient showed “some improvement” today, said Dr M.A. Kaseem. “He is recovering slowly. The depression is wearing off and the headache has subsided.”

Mondal told The Telegraph: “I have requested didi (Mamata Banerjee) to help me... please ensure that the police do not arrest me.”




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