Five shots that shook the airport
Night-duty call comes with death ring
Mystery passenger in crossfire
Protectors busy taking potshots at each other
Raid punches hole in Kashmir brave front
Jaswant visit to formalise ties with Myanmar
Sonia to meet mahajot MLAs
Subhas defies poll diktat
Mamata freeze signal to Atal envoy

 
 
FIVE SHOTS THAT SHOOK THE AIRPORT 
 
 
BY PRONAB MONDAL
 
Calcutta, Feb. 10: 
First person account of Abhas Ghosh, sub-inspector of Calcutta police, who was standing behind one of the immigration counters when the shooting began.

It was a piercing shriek from P.K. Dey, which shattered the silence of the international arrival area of the airport just before three. Only, this was preceded by the sharp sound of a gun going off.

I was lolling behind one of the counters talking to my colleagues even as others were preparing for the night. Some had opened their bedrolls and were preparing to go to sleep, while a few others had brought in their food from the canteen and were starting on a late dinner.

But before they could even get started, the gun kept going off and the shrieks increased. I saw Dey, the officer from the subsidiary intelligence bureau, clutching his right arm from where blood was oozing. Only a moment earlier he was questioning a young man who had arrived on the British Airways flight and whose papers were not in order.

A little distance away I saw the CRPF jawan on night duty holding on to his automatic, and pointing at the immigration counters and picking off the officials there.

One after the other I saw my colleagues fall to the ground. First Ilyas went down, then Mahadev Roy and after him Bikram Pal. I lost count. The gun shots mingled with the cries of pain and the gasps of horror.

By now, I was crouching behind one of the counters, terrified at what was happening. Once I thought I would make a dash for it and run beyond the customs area to a safer zone.

However, I realised that if I stood up I might become an easy target. So I lay low for the time being, even though, for some odd reason, I felt I was suffocating.

Then suddenly every thing seemed to become quiet again. I poked my head above the counter after what seemed to be an eternity though it was barely a minute.

I saw the jawan getting out of the apron door and out into the tarmac. After a brief while, I heard the sound of a shot being fired. At that time I did not know that he was shooting himself; I thought he was targeting some other policemen.

Then, gradually, the immigration area started to come alive once again. I rushed to where Ilyas was lying on the ground, gasping and moaning in pain. As I came over, Ilyas beckoned to me and whispered something into my ears. He seemed to be telling me something about his son, but his voice was so low that nothing of what he was saying was clear.

By now, the medics in the area had also got into the act. Stretchers were being brought out and the injured shifted. I had no idea how many of my colleagues were alive.

We lifted them into the waiting ambulances and rushed them to hospital, leaving the other police officials around to clear up the mess.

   

 
 
NIGHT-DUTY CALL COMES WITH DEATH RING 
 
 
BY PRONAB MONDAL
 
Calcutta, Feb. 10: 
When the phone rang at 5 am at sub-inspector Mahadev Roy’s house in Paikpara, his wife Krishna thought it was the usual call that her husband made whenever he was on night duty.

Even as she picked up the receiver she had no inkling that her life had changed forever.

As she recounted later, Krishna said she thought Mahadev would trot out the same old excuses for not being able to return home before lunch. But the moment she heard the voice at the other end, she knew something was terribly wrong.

“Mahadev is seriously injured,” said the voice of the official at the other end. “Please rush with your son to Nil Ratan Sircar Hospital,” she was told.

Only when she reached the hospital did she realise that her husband was dead even before the call had come through, shattering the early morning stillness.

Rushing into the emergency ward, Krishna found her husband’s body covered with a white sheet and silence all around. “That was the moment when my life, too, ebbed out of me,” she sobbed. “It was all too sudden and all too cruel.”

At the other end of the town, in Bansdroni, in south Calcutta, the phone rang at Ilyas Mondal’s house even earlier.

At 3.30 am, an officer called to inform his mother-in-law, Sarbanu Mistri, that her son-in-law had been shot dead. As she crumpled to the floor, senseless, the voice at the other end kept on repeating the brutal message of death.

When Ilyas’ father-in-law, Abu Bakar, rushed to pick up the receiver from her hand, he was told that he would have to deliver the message to Ilyas’ wife at the police quarters in Tollygunj.

Even before dawn had broken, a devastated Bakar was trying to break the news as softly as possible to his daughter, Sakira, that her young husband had met a tragic end.

At SSKM Hospital, Sakira was inconsolable. Breaking down and losing consciousness repeatedly on seeing her husband’s lifeless body, she had to be sent back home with her two small children while Ilyas’ body was being prepared for post mortem.

By late afternoon, Krishna was taken by her husband’s colleagues to the security control office where his body had already been brought.

Within minutes, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee also arrived to place wreaths on the bodies.

Seeing him, Krishna threw herself at his feet, weeping uncontrollably. At a loss initially, the chief minister slowly bent down and picked her up — his arms around her — trying to console her.

Bhattacharjee led Krisha into an adjoining room, where he assured her that even though her husband was no more, the police would always be with her and look after all her needs.

Bhattacharjee announced a Rs 2-lakh compensation for the next of kin of both the slain policemen.

Late in the evening, a guard of honour was held before the bodies of the two slain police officers before their last rites were performed.

   

 
 
MYSTERY PASSENGER IN CROSSFIRE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 10: 
An hour after all the passengers of the British Airways flight had cleared immigration and customs and left for the city, there was still one passenger still stuck, being questioned by intelligence officials.

This was Sanjib Basak, a resident of Murshidabad, who had been sent back from Heathrow airport apparently because his visa was not in order. It was because of this that he had been held up by subsidiary intelligence bureau officer P.K. Dey.

But when the shooting began it was Basak who had a lucky escape. Police were clueless where he had vanished.

Some of the confusion was cleared tonight when Basak returned and submitted all his documents to the airport authorities. They cross-checked his papers and did not find any problems with his visa. The airport authorities, finally, allowed him to go.

The police were not aware of Basak’s return. “We did not inform the police. We are not investigating the case. We released him as all his papers were in order,” said an airport official.

During the day, the police tried hard to trace Basak. They went to the Calcutta address mentioned in his passport, but there they were told that he had left the place a couple of years ago. Now, they are pinning their hopes on tracing him in Murshidabad. The police want to find out if there is any link between Basak and Burma, the jawan.

   

 
 
PROTECTORS BUSY TAKING POTSHOTS AT EACH OTHER 
 
 
BY NIHAR GHOSH
 
Calcutta, Feb. 10: 
The tension that was simmering between the Calcutta Police and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) since the paramilitary force was put in charge of airport security eight years ago burst into the open today.

Senior police officers said the CRPF should not be deployed in areas to which passengers have access. They alleged that the CRPF jawans often harassed passengers and even plainclothesmen, customs and immigration officials in the name of “security checks”.

The CRPF usually man the entry and exit gates of the terminal building. Their interaction with the public is normally restricted to asking for valid tickets and security passes. They usually assist the police on duty in case of emergencies and help nab criminals inside the airport.

Police officers feel it is necessary for the CRPF men to only guard the vital installations within the airport and the operational areas where there is scope for sabotage. “The CRPF jawans are trained to shoot without thinking twice as they have to combat terrorists,” a police officer said, implying that they were not the best of persons to man the terminal building, a task which could be better handled by policemen.

However, some airport officials disagree. Given the necessity for water-tight security at the entry and exit points, they argue that the CRPF is better equipped for the task.

They pointed out an incident which took place over a year ago when antisocials shot dead a tea-stall owner between the control tower and the domestic terminal. The miscreants fled and no one was arrested.

The incident prompted the commissioner of the civil aviation security bureau to airdash to Calcutta as such an incident was unheard of in airports around the country.

The CRPF was deployed at the Netaji Subhas International Airport eight years ago. Their presence was strengthened after the December 1999 hijack of the Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu to Delhi.

There were three hijack alerts in January this year. The security forces were put on maximum alert on these days to foil any hijack bid.

The first alert was on January 11 when a Biman flight from Calcutta to Dhaka was under hijack-threat. The next alerts were issued on January 22 and January 31. Both were for Indian Airlines flights, one coming in from Dibrugarh and the other bound for Mumbai.

The CRPF battalion to which R.D. Barman belonged had arrived in the city last May from Aizawl. The battalion was deployed at the airport from February 6.

   

 
 
RAID PUNCHES HOLE IN KASHMIR BRAVE FRONT 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, Feb. 10: 
The police and the administration were left squirming today with the Lashkar-e-Toiba suicide squad shooting down eight securitymen inside the nerve centre of the state force and then escaping despite the “tight” cordon.

Police claimed that they had taken control of the main command centre of the Jammu and Kashmir Armed Police at Batmallo after a 12-hour gunbattle with the militants.

A senior police officer admitted that at least three guerrillas managed to pierce through the security cordon and escape.

The audacious assault and the daring escape have blown up on the face of chief minister Farooq Abdullah who had claimed yesterday that all the four militants had been killed in the shootout.

As the shell-shocked police tried to recover from the stunning blow, Jammu and Kashmir DG A.K. Suri made a desperate attempt to inject morale into his troops.

“My boys should be so battle-hardened and brave that instead of requisitioning paramilitary forces, other states fighting militancy should opt for my police,” he said at the armed police headquarters.

The attackers, who used guns and grenades, stormed the control room late on Friday near the main gate of the complex in the heart of Srinagar.

Sources said eight policemen, who were manning the main entrance, were mowed down in the fierce firing. One militant was killed. Police sources here said another person — who was wearing police uniform — who died in the fire-exchange is yet to be identified.

A spokesman for the Lashkar said the attack was led by Salah-ud-Din.

The administration later sought the army’s help to tackle the militants. The troops laid a tight cordon and engaged the militants in a fierce encounter. Early this morning, police mounted a massive search operation to hunt down the militants but later admitted that at least two guerrillas had escaped from the complex.

An eyewitness said the militants came in a white Ambassador (KMT 936) and asked the sentry to open the gate. Challenged by the guard, two militants jumped out of the car and opened fire.

Attacks on the police have been on the rise ever since the state force was given the task of counter-insurgency operations.

“There is no denying the fact that the local police here are gradually taking on itself all counter-insurgency operations. The obvious result is that they have to pay the price,” said a senior police officer.

Scores of policemen and other staff spent a sleepless night inside the complex as did the residents living in the locality.

The raid came on the heels of the attack on Sikhs in the state. The Jammu and Kashmir government has assured the Sikhs living in various parts of the valley of full security cover. Paramilitary units are being deployed in the Sikh villages and in areas in the city dominated by the community.

Confronted with a threat from Sikhs in Jammu and Kashmir that they would migrate elsewhere in view of the series of strikes on them, the Centre has also decided to beef up security in areas dominated by the community and said it would try and create more job opportunities for local Sikh youths.

“Right now the priority of the state police chief must have shifted from providing security to us at Mehjoor Nagar. He must be now more worried to provide security for his own headquarters,” says Rachpal Singh of Mehjoor Nagar.

   

 
 
JASWANT VISIT TO FORMALISE TIES WITH MYANMAR 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Feb. 10: 
After dragging its feet for years, India has decided to formalise relations with the military junta in Yangon with foreign minister Jaswant Singh making an official visit to Myanmar on Tuesday.

It will be the first foreign ministerial visit from India to Myanmar in more than two decades. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the last foreign minister to visit the country in 1977. However, this will be the first high-level visit to Yangon after Rajiv Gandhi’s visit in 1987.

Ostensibly, Singh’s three-day visit is to inaugurate the 165 km-long Tamu-Kalayeva-Kalameyo road that Indians built at a cost of Rs 100 crore. The road will link the Northeast to Myanmar and Southeast Asia.

The visit will be the first by a senior Indian leader to Myanmar since army generals seized power disregarding the democratic elections which chose Aung Sang Suu Kyi and her party in 1990.

The Suu Kyi issue does bother the Indian leadership — not only because of her close links with leaders in Delhi but also because of India’s commitment to democracy. However, it also realises that this is “too sensitive” an issue and, therefore, has been left out of the talks agenda.

Officially, India maintains that the issue is an “internal political development of Myanmar”. “We wish the people of Myanmar well. We want to pursue a policy of non-interference,” a senior foreign ministry official said.

India’s relations with Myanmar goes beyond traditional, historical and cultural links. Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh share a boundary with it. Besides, Myanmar is India’s physical link to high-profile trade bloc Association for South Eastern Nations (Asean). If the Trans-Asian-Highway is to become a reality, the new road link that Singh is going to inaugurate is perhaps the first big step in that direction.

After cold shouldering the military junta for a few years, India started engaging with the army generals in Yangon in the early 1990s. J.N. Dixit as India’s foreign secretary visited Yangon in 1993 that subsequently started a dialogue between senior officials of the two sides for cooperation in different areas, particularly security related issues.

The insurgent groups in the Northeast had been using Myanmar as major shelter for their training camps and launching attacks against India. Having entered into a ceasefire with most rebel groups in Myanmar, the military leadership of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) created a situation where it could extend help to Indian authorities, particularly in counter-insurgency measures.

With help from Myanmar, most armed rebels groups in the Northeast are now without a major base, barring Bhutan and some parts of Bangladesh.

This has encouraged India to broadbase its relations with Myanmar to other areas and formalise the cross-border trade that has been going between the two sides for years.

India is Myanmar’s largest market and last year, India’s import from Yangon was over $141.14 million while its export was over $75 million.

   

 
 
SONIA TO MEET MAHAJOT MLAS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Feb. 10: 
The tug-of-war between the Congress and the Trinamul Congress over the formation of an anti-CPM mahajot reached a flash-point this afternoon with Sonia Gandhi asking former state president A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury to bring all party MLAs to Delhi to discuss the issue.

Chowdhury received Sonia’s phone while he was holding a crucial discussion with PCC chief Pranab Mukherjee at his Salt Lake residence. A host of pro-mahajot legislators were also present.

Chowdhury later told reporters that he had renewed his demand for a mahajot with the Trinamul during the meeting, which, however, remained inconclusive.

“I will go to Delhi along with party MLAs to explain to Soniaji about the need for an electoral adjustment with the Trinamul Congress. We will not be able to remove the CPM from power without a mahajot,” Chowdhury, the MP from Malda, said. He is likely to leave for Delhi on February 15.

Sources said Mukherjee today again failed to persuade Chowdhury to accept the high command’s condition for a mahajot with the Trinamul Congress in the run-up to the Assembly polls.

The high command has insisted on Mamata Banerjee’s dissociation from the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance as a condition for an electoral tie-up with her party against the Left Front.

Mukherjee apparently drew a blank as Chowdhury reiterated that the Trinamul’s association with the BJP should not stand in the way of an unofficial adjustment with the Congress.

Mukherjee told reporters after the meeting that the party president had gone through the fax sent by some MLAs who want a poll alliance with Mamata’s party and had urged them to meet her in New Delhi.

Anxious to prevent a split in the state Congress, Sonia has also sought the assistance of party MP Kamal Nath who is known to most of the party legislators because of his long stint in Calcutta as a businessman-politician.

Nath, who is in Nairobi now, spoke to PCC vice-president and pro-mahajot MLA Saugata Roy over telephone yesterday, urging him not to take any “hasty decision” and come over to Delhi for a discussion with the high command.

Trinamul leaders are anxiously awaiting the final stand of Congress legislators as they feel it is time to clinch the issue. Trinamul leaders and legislators will meet at Nizam Palace tomorrow to discuss the party’s electoral strategy. Mamata may attend the meeting if she can manage to save some time despite her preoccupations in Delhi over the railway budget.

Trinamul leaders feel most of the Congress legislators will have very few options left before them if the high command stands in the way of a mahajot.

“They will either have to join hands with us directly or help the CPM by opposing us in the coming elections,” Trinamul general secretary Mukul Roy said.

   

 
 
SUBHAS DEFIES POLL DIKTAT 
 
 
FROMUTPAL BANERJEE
 
Burdwan, Feb. 10: 
Defying the party diktat, dissident leader Subhas Chakraborty today reiterated he will not contest the coming Assembly elections though the leadership has said he would be a candidate.

“I will stick to what I have said before. I have nothing new to say at all,” Chakraborty told reporters here.

Asked about CPM politburo member Biman Bose’s statement that that Chakraborty would contest the elections, the transport minister retorted: “Everybody has freedom of speech. He may have said so, but I am going to do what I think is proper and ethical.”

Left Front circles in Calcutta see Chakraborty’s stand as an attempt to defy the high command. They pointed out that even Jyoti Basu had to bow to the party decision and continue as chief minister for several months though he had wanted to step down on health grounds.

“In our organisation, individual opinion does not matter. One has to go by the party decision,” Left Front chairman Sailen Dasgupta said.

Chakraborty, who looks after the sports portfolio as well, was in Burdwan to inaugurate a training centre of the Sports Authority of India in Jhinguti, about 15 km from Burdwan.

After the function, the minister took the police by surprise by asking the pilot van to take him to the irrigation inspection bungalow, though the district administration had arranged a lunch at the circuit house.

The caretaker of the inspection bungalow was caught unawares when he saw that the minister’s convoy was entering the premises. He was then asked to prepare the minister’s lunch.

Chakraborty had a closed-door meeting with leaders of various political parties there. Expelled Forward Block leader Chandranath Mukherjee was entrusted with the task of monitoring Chakraborty’s visitors.

The chairman of the Forward Bloc-dominated Kulti Municipality, Ujjwal Chatterjee, had come all the way to attend the secret meeting. Kabita Chatterjee, secretary of the CPM-controlled All-Bengal Teachers’ Association, too, was present. Among others who attended were Kaushik Das of the Congress and CPM leader from Durgapur, Runu Dhar.

Asked about his proposed new party, Chakraborty said: “Don’t ask me the same question over and over again. The time is not ripe enough to announce what I have in mind.”

Earlier, Chakraborty declared at the SAI stadium that West Bengal will observe two-minutes’ silence on Monday to pay respects to those who died in the Gujarat earthquake.

“Everything, including trains, will be brought to a halt,” he said.

   

 
 
MAMATA FREEZE SIGNAL TO ATAL ENVOY 
 
 
KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 9: 
Sparking speculation that he could offer some concessions to his demanding ally, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today despatched Yashwant Sinha to meet Mamata Banerjee, who insisted on presenting a fare-hike-free railway budget given the Assembly elections in West Bengal.

The finance minister briefed Vajpayee on his discussions with Mamata later in the evening, but details were not available.

The Prime Minister sent Sinha to meet Mamata soon after the all-party meeting called by the railway minister got over. Mamata had convened the meeting to discuss the budget and budgetary support to her department.

Though most parties made token noises for a populist budget, Mamata insisted that 90 per cent of the invitees had favoured a “pro-people attitude”.

She, however, declined to give details of the meeting, saying she could not disclose the budget proposals as “this is the prerogative of Parliament”.

Asked what she would convey to the Prime Minister after the meeting, Mamata said: “What I talk with the Prime Minister is absolutely confidential.”

The minister asserted that she could not question Vajpayee if he was firm on increasing the fares. “The Prime Minister is the captain. It is his prerogative,” she said.

However, Trinamul Congress MP Sudip Bandopadhyay made it clear that the party would insist on a populist budget. “We should go for a hike-free budget to reduce the burden on the common man,” he said.

Though today’s meet was aimed at getting an all-party endorsement to pressure Vajpayee into allowing a populist budget, most groups pushed their own regional agenda while making perfunctory noises about a common man’s budget.

The BJP did not support the demand for a hike-free budget, while the Congress stayed away from the meeting.

CPM’s Nilotpal Basu disagreed with the government’s suggestion that the fares be hiked in view of the Gujarat earthquake. He said there is a need to “balance and reconcile” contradictory trends — the railways’ twin roles of being a fund raiser and a public utility service, especially in backward areas.

Mamata’s allies — the Biju Janata Dal, Asom Gana Parishad, DMK, Indian National Lok Dal, National Conference and Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Jan Shakti Party — demanded more funds for regional projects.

Mamata told the leaders of the regional parties to give their demands in writing. No resolution was adopted unlike last year, when a similar meeting had forced Sinha to increase budgetary support to the railways.

Apart from Mamata and Paswan, Union ministers Arjun Sethi (BJD) and Digvijay Singh (Samata Party) attended the meeting. Sethi was critical of the railways for its “step-motherly treatment” of Orissa and also for “reappropriating” and diverting funds meant for state projects.

Mamata later told reporters that Congress leader Priya Ranjan Das Munshi had met her last night and offered support.

The BJP chief whip in the Lok Sabha, V.K. Malhotra, who was present at the meet, wondered how the government would mobilise resources if there was a clamour for more budgetary allocation from “all ministries”.

   
 

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