Karunanidhi quit signal to pre-empt succession war
Mamata hints at limited mahajot
Goodwill ships build bridges of friendship
Violence, strike cripple Valley
Police surrender notice to builders
Ministers set to get tickets
Mercenaries held in pre-dawn raid

 
 
KARUNANIDHI QUIT SIGNAL TO PRE-EMPT SUCCESSION WAR 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai, Feb. 17: 
Taking a cue from his former ally Jyoti Basu, Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi has said he would not like to contest elections anymore as his health will not permit it.

Addressing the DMK general council yesterday, Karunanidhi said: “This is perhaps the last election in which I’ll be actively campaigning. I’m getting old. I don’t think my health would permit me to stand the punishing campaign schedule anymore...It’s time I retire gracefully...”

While the deliberations were in- camera, the DMK sent an official press release late last night carrying some portions of his speech.

In declaring that he wants to hang up his boots, Karunanidhi is following in the footsteps of Basu, the former West Bengal chief minister who stepped down last November after a 23-year innings. Basu, who was Karunanidhi’s ally in the erstwhile United Front, too had cited poor health as the reason behind his decision.

The press release issued by the DMK stated that immediately after Karunanidhi’s announcement, the DMK functionaries and cadre were on their feet, protesting vehemently. Some women broke down and urged him to change his decision.

Karunanidhi responded that his intention was not to provoke such poignant protests and that he hoped to continue to guide the party even if he did not hold the reins of power.

The chief minister stressed that he wanted the party to emerge triumphant in the elections and would do everything to save the state from “anti-people” forces. He would throw himself heart and soul into the elections, he promised.

However, it was not clear whether Karunanidhi wants to retire after the elections, handing over the reins to his son M.K. Stalin if the DMK is voted to power.

Some say he is anxious to ensure that there is no power struggle within the party after him. His elder son Azhagiri has already created a ruckus over his succession plans.

The chief minister is 77 years old and has headed the Tamil Nadu government for four terms, outsmarting more senior leaders after the death of party founder and then chief minister C.N. Annadurai to assume the reins of power for the first time in 1969.

Jaya charge

Jayalalitha today alleged that Karunanidhi had struck a “deal” with Veerappan, adds PTI.

The ADMK leader said that according to the deal, the forest bandit will allow himself to be “captured” to help Karunanidhi regain the trust of the people in the coming elections.

   

 
 
MAMATA HINTS AT LIMITED MAHAJOT 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Feb. 17: 
Hopes of a mahajot receded further today as the much-talked-about meeting between Mamata Banerjee and A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury did not take place till late tonight.

However, sources in the Mamata camp said the Trinamul Congress was prepared to make some “concessions” to Chowdhury in Malda by leaving a “few” seats for his supporters, provided the Congress did not field candidates where it got less than 5 per cent of the votes.

While this still kept alive hopes of some kind of a Trinamul-Congress understanding for the Bengal polls alive, the chances of a mahajot appeared bleak with sources indicating that Mamata was reluctant to meet Chowdhury, fearing a backlash from ally BJP.

The Ghani camp had sought an appointment with Mamata, but she had said that she would call on him “soon”. Congress leaders today put on a brave front saying they were confident the Ghani-Mamata meeting would take place.

Fearing a mass exodus from the party in Bengal, the Congress high command has said it is prepared to enter into a limited understanding with Mamata in Malda and Murshidabad.

Kamal Nath, the Congress’ general secretary in charge of Bengal, has suggested a three-way alliance. According to the plan, the Congress will not put up candidates against the Trinamul, but will fight the BJP. However, Trinamul leaders did not seem enthusiastic about the idea.

Despite the Ghani-Mamata meet not taking place, Kamal Nath appeared hopeful of the applecart not being upset. He said he was willing to meet the Trinamul boss with whom he claimed to enjoy an “excellent rapport”. Kamal Nath said meeting the Trinamul chief would not be much of a problem. “I can always walk up to her in Parliament,” he said.

Interestingly, WBPCC chief Pranab Mukherjee has been kept out of the negotiations with Mamata though Mukherjee had spoken to Sonia yesterday.

Today, pro-mahajot leader Saugata Roy and his supporters left for Calcutta while Ghani supporters Abdul Mannan, Ruby Noor and Paresh Pal stayed on. They made it clear that they would not leave the Congress even if it failed to thrash out an understanding with the Trinamul.

Kamal Nath expressed satisfaction over the outcome of deliberations with Bengal party MLAs. He said all Congressmen seemed united in fighting against the CPM without joining hands with anti-secular forces. “All of them said they will fight the BJP and throw out the CPM,” he said.

Congress sources said that, for the time being, Kamal Nath’s deft handling has put the ball back in Mamata’s court. “Kamal Nath and Sonia would not get the blame for ruining the mahajot or causing a minor split in the party. It is for Mamata to respond to Ghani who was a strong votary of a tie-up with Mamata,” an AICC functionary said.

   

 
 
GOODWILL SHIPS BUILD BRIDGES OF FRIENDSHIP 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, Feb. 17: 
Aboard a speeding warship with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, President K.R. Narayanan took salutes today from sailors of various countries as India sought to build “a bridge of friendship” with 24 nations attending a navy summit.

As the US cruiser, Cowpens, fitted with missiles, played India’s national anthem loud and clear, Narayanan, who was passing by on Sukanya, a frigate, waved at the American soldiers standing on the deck. The President smiled when the sailors, in starched white uniform and caps in hands, waved back, giving him a cheer.

In more than two hours, Narayanan’s four-frigate convoy sliced through the grey waters at 12 knots, covering more than six nautical miles and 70 warships attending the International Fleet Review.

Hundreds of people were on the shore at the Gateway of India, watching the spectacle. Many — especially children — were disappointed because a haze made it hard for them to watch the fleets clearly.

Vajpayee, in the city to watch a navy and airforce parade tomorrow, came aboard the presidential ship almost unannounced. Defence minister George Fernandes was on board as well, attesting the importance the Centre had attached to the naval meet. Besides flexing its muscle, the navy hopes to score diplomatic points through the biggest-ever naval extravaganza in the country.

“In response to our call for building bridges of friendship, these foreign ships have come, bringing with them the goodwill and friendship of their people,” Narayanan, supreme commander of the armed forces, said.

Referring to the relief supplies some of the ships brought in for quake victims of Gujarat, the President said: “They are not just a bridge of friendship, but a humanitarian bridge as well to the affected families.”

Dawn broke sunny and clear on Mumbai, but a haze later blurred the view across the sea. With 21 guns booming across the naval dockyard, Narayanan and his entourage began their journey on the Sukanya, followed by her cousins, the Subhadra and Subarna. They were trailed by INS Pondicherry, a mine sweeper, carrying journalists.

As the presidential convoy passed the French nuclear submarine, Perle, its 10 officers, 52 petty officers and eight seamen standing on it fin-snapped in attention and raised their hands in salute. It was the biggest draw at the show, being the only nuclear-powered vessel on display.

Cheers rose from five of the eight Indian destroyers, the backbone of the naval force, present at the show, as Narayanan passed by, waving. Sailors from five Indian submarines also saluted the chief of the armed forces. Narayanan gave a presidential smile when he went by the mammoth INS Virat, the country’s lone aircraft-carrier.

All warships on display were festooned with fluttering flags of participating countries, giving them a cheery look. Narayanan’s convoy lurched wildly when 10 frigates sped by, giving the President a moving ovation.

A fleet of thundering airforce jets and navy Sea Kings and Dorniers welcomed Narayanan back to the shore, their lights blinking as they flew over the Sukanya.

   

 
 
VIOLENCE, STRIKE CRIPPLE VALLEY 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, Feb. 17: 
Violence rocked the summer capital for the second consecutive day even as a strike crippled normal life here today.

Chief minister Farooq Abdullah had rushed two of his ministers to Srinagar, but both failed to visit Hygam. The village, 40 km from Srinagar, is seething with tension ever since five villagers were shot by security forces during a demonstration against the alleged custodial killing of a pharmacist.

The ministers instead visited Baramullah and discussed the situation with district officials. But as they were leaving, angry protesters stoned their motorcade.

In the afternoon, unidentified gunmen shot and critically wounded two stone-throwing youths in Zampakadal, in the city interior. Residents, who took the two injured boys to hospital, later demonstrated outside the local police station alleging that the gunmen were working with the police. The incident sparked off tension in the Karan Nagar locality. Police had to burst tear gas shells to control the situation.

Demonstrations rocked the south Kashmir town of Anantnag, worrying the authorities who fear the trouble might spread to other towns and villages.

At Hygam, thousands shouting anti-India slogans held a demonstration as Jamaat-e-Islami leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani arrived at the village. Geelani, who addressed the gathering, said the “ongoing struggle in Kashmir will continue till the goal is achieved”.

Reports from Baramullah said security forces fired warning shots and burst teargas shells to disperse protesters. In Srinagar, police clashed with protesters who poured into the streets.

Separatist leader Shabir Ahmad Shah defied curfew restrictions and, along with his supporters, tried to enter the Maisuma locality where a 14-year-old boy died in the firing by security forces. He was arrested.

   

 
 
POLICE SURRENDER NOTICE TO BUILDERS 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, Feb. 17: 
A day after the Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Act (Pasa) was invoked against two builders, police today issued notices to all builders facing charges to surrender.

All builders against whom cases of causing death and injury to residents were registered have been asked to “surrender immediately”, even as the builders’ lobby appealed to the commissioner of police not to succumb to “political pressure” to book them.

In a public notification issued today, police commissioner P.C. Pande warned the builders that if they do not surrender, the police will be forced to take legal action. This, he added, will include attaching properties and freezing bank accounts.

The police today alerted all airports in the country. “They will not be able to leave the country and escape the police net,” a police official said.

So far only six builders have been arrested, while the police have registered cases against 60.

The high court today directed the police to “temporarily stop investigation”.

While the builders’ lobby has hailed the court ruling a “moral victory”, the police have decided to challenge the order.

“As per law, all cases have to be investigated. So we have decided to challenge the court judgment and we will continue our investigation against the builders,” the police commissioner said.

The Confederation of Real Estate Developers’ Association of India, which met in Ahmedabad today, expressed concern over the police action against builders.

The association appealed to the police not to book builders, architects, engineers under Section 304 “as there could be endless reasons why the building collapsed”.

It said the police can take action against any builder provided it is established by a competent authority that the particular building collapsed because of substandard material being used or some structural fault.

   

 
 
MINISTERS SET TO GET TICKETS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 17: 
Barring labour minister Shanti Ghatak, the CPM is likely to renominate most of its ministers for the coming Assembly elections.

CPM sources said Ghatak, perhaps the oldest member of the Left Front Cabinet, has decided to opt out on health grounds.

Two former ministers, Shyamal Chakraborty and Prasanta Sur, might be given tickets from Maniktala and Tollugunge, sources said.

Aware of Subhas Chakraborty’s unwillingness to contest, Alimuddin Street bosses are looking for a candidate for Belgachhia East, from where the transport minister has won five consecutive times.

Amitava Nandy, a “known rival” of Subhas Chakraborty, is likely to be fielded from either Kamarhati or Ashoknagar in North 24-Parganas.

The CPM appears undecided over nominating Laxmi De from Vidyasagar though the powerful Calcutta district committee has recommended him. Some party veterans are against De because of his alleged links with satta don Rashid Khan, the prime accused in the Bowbazar blast case. De was the CPM’s chief whip but was removed from the post and denied a ticket in the 1996 elections.

Jyoti Basu’s election agent Gokulananda Bairagi is expected to be nominated from the former chief minister’s seat, Satgachhia. Basu will campaign for Bairagi and is likely to address two rallies in the constituency, sources said.

Susanta Ghosh, the minister of state for transport, is expected to be renominated from Garbeta East. In Keshpur, another “prestige seat”, the party is set to renominate sitting MLA Nandarani Dal, who was unwilling to contest.

Youth leaders in Burdwan, Midnapore, Bankura and Hooghly will replace some sitting MLAs. Legislators who have representated a constituency for three consecutive terms are set to be dropped.

   

 
 
MERCENARIES HELD IN PRE-DAWN RAID 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 17: 
In a pre-dawn swoop on Saturday, 300 criminals, including 20 professional killers, were arrested from North 24-Parganas.

A huge cache of arms and ammunition was recovered during the special raid by the district police. “The arrests will help us solve a number of murder cases,” additional superintendent of police Praveen Kumar said.

Sources said 200 policemen, divided into 18 teams, stormed the three sub-divisions and arrested the criminals from their hideouts.

Thirty-two-year-old professional killer Abbas Ali was arrested from his Bamundanga residence. “Abbas was offered Rs 4 lakh to kill Humayun Mollah, an antisocial in Machlandapur area. Mollah’s rivals paid him Rs 27,000 as advance. Abbas murdered Mollah last year. But Mollah’s rivals refused to pay up the rest of the amount,” police said.

The police raided hideouts in Guma, Gaighata, Haroa, Sandeshkhali, Bhebia and Gobardanga.

   
 

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