Back-to-back strikes in bloodbath belt
Search on for sensitive seats
‘Insider’ beep grows louder
Midnight raid on arms hub
Foot-and-mouth fear swallows Punjab, Haryana
UN snubs Pak on Kashmir
Livid Laloo’s Brutus barb at rebel Ranjan
Massacre cloud over police ‘encounter’
Chidambaram slams Jaya deal
Karat in Bengal for patch-up

 
 
BACK-TO-BACK STRIKES IN BLOODBATH BELT 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, March 11: 
Blood continued to flow in the run-up to the Bengal Assembly polls with three Trinamul Congress activists being shot dead in indiscriminate firing in Midnapore and three CPM men being found with their throats slit in Murshidabad.

The killings, all within the last 24 hours, took place ahead of the meeting between election commissioner T.S. Krishnamurthy, chief electoral officer Sabyasachi Sen and district magistrates to take stock of poll arrangements.

In the first incident, an armed gang of about 500 CPM men targeted Trinamul activists in Danton in Midnapore district, killing three on the spot. The incident has happened barely two days after the Trinamul men returned to the village following assurances from local CPM leaders.

According to Midnapore superintendent of police A.K. Maliwal, armed CPM men barged into Salemanpur village early this morning and raided the houses of Trinamul workers. As the panic-stricken activists workers char-ged out of their houses, the CPM men opened indiscriminate fire, killing on the spot three Trinamul men, including a gram panchayat member.

Five CPM workers were later arrested. “We are conducting raids and more arrests are likely in a day or two,” Maliwal said. Officials in Calcutta said inspector-general of police (south Bengal) R.K. Mohanty has been asked to visit the disturbed places to review law and order.

As news of the killings spread, about 1,000 Trinamul workers put up a blockade in Midnapore town and later gheraoed Danton police station in protest against police inaction. “The gherao will continue till all the accused named in the FIR are arrested,” said Dinen Roy, district Trinamul president.

Roy alleged the CPM men attacked “innocent” Trinamul wor-kers in collusion with the police though a peace meeting had been held on their return to the village. “We had agreed to live in peace but this gruesome attack proves the CPM believes in violence,” said another Trinamul leader.

But district CPM secretary Dipak Sarkar claimed his partymen retaliated only after they were attacked by Trinamul activists in Salemanpur.

In the second incident, assailants last night shot dead three CPM workers and slit their throats with razors at Mehedipur village, 5 km from Berhampore town.

Senior officials are camping in the village, which is being patrolled by the Eastern Frontier Rifles and the State Armed Police. No arrests have been made.

The inspector in charge of Berhampore police station, Sadhan Kumar Ghosal, said a hunt is on in neighbouring districts to locate the culprits.

The victims have been identified as Lokman Seikh, 45, Tahidul Seikh, 33, and Jabbar Seikh, 37. The bodies have been sent for post-mortem.

Officials said Jabbar was a resident of Betberia village of Beldanga while the others were from Mukundapur village of Nabagram police station area.

Police sources said the killings were the outcome of long-standing squabbles in the organisation. CPM insiders confirmed this saying supporters from rival groups had clashed only two weeks ago.

But Nripen Chowdhury, CPM MLA from Nabagram and state committee member, denied the allegation. He said the murders had nothing to do with the CPM.

Political experts in Murshidabad say the CPM is fast losing base in the district after sitting MLAs from Murshidabad and Hariharpara Assembly segments joined Saifuddin Chowdhury’s Party for Democratic Socialism.

The CPM leadership has been worrying over the massive turnout at a PDS rally in Berhampore last week. Several disgruntled partymen attended the rally.

The CPM has also been jolted by top RSP leaders switching allegiance to Chowdhury. Expelled RSP district leader Asish Roychowdhury joined PDS last week.

   

 
 
SEARCH ON FOR SENSITIVE SEATS 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, March 11: 
Chief electoral officer Sabyasachi Sen today directed district magistrates to start identifying sensitive constituencies ahead of the Assembly elections.

At a meeting in Writers’ Buildings, also attended by election commissioner T.S. Krishnamurthy, Sen asked the DMs to plan out the deployment of police forces. Bengal has asked for 200 companies of Central forces to help the state police guard the 61,500 polling booths, he said.

Sen also asked the DMs to ensure that poll personnel as well as voters are familiar with the electronic voting machine (EVM). This is the first time that the entire state will be voting on EVMs.

The chief electoral officer said government officials of the rank of block development officer and higher had already been trained to use EVMs. The state election department will procure 1,000 more machines from Madhya Pradesh for training purposes.

Sen, who left for Delhi this evening for a series of meetings with chief election commissioner M.S. Gill, said the Election Commission preferred a single-day poll in the state. But he declined comment on the poll date or when it would be announced.

Chief secretary Manish Gupta and state director-general of police D.K. Sanyal also left for Delhi for a meeting with Gill.

Sen said 85 per cent of the voters would get their identity cards by March 20. “In case a voter does not have a voter’s identity card, he will have to establish his identity through other documents.”

He said some polling stations and counting centres would have to be relocated following last year’s floods. Exchange of information with the Election Commission during the polls would be over the Internet, he said.

Today’s meeting was also attended by the three district electoral officers in charge of Calcutta. Krishnamurthy urged all officials to ensure peaceful polls and assured them of full support from the Election Commission.

   

 
 
‘INSIDER’ BEEP GROWS LOUDER 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, March 11: 
Calls traced to the cellphone of Vijay Dewan, alleged to be the prime conspirator behind the attack on Subash Ghising, and disclosures made by a former militant have thrown up new leads pointing to a stronger insider angle in the conspiracy.

A special investigation team officer said Sharan Dewan, a former militant who headed the Gorkha Volunteers Cell’s Kurseong unit in the mid-eighties, had revealed during questioning that a section within the GNLF leadership were allegedly hand-in-glove with the conspirators.

Claiming the team would soon make a major breakthrough, the officer said: “The former GVC chief’s interrogation has revealed startling facts surrounding the conspiracy. Names revealed by Sharan and calls traced to the cellphone of prime conspirator Vijay Dewan alias Dhiren Rai indicate that a section within the GNLF could be involved.

“Sharan has revealed the names of a few GNLF leaders believed to be behind the conspiracy which took shape immediately after the fierce shootout between suspected Naga militants and the police on November 12 at Tinkataria jungles,” the officer said.

But the investigators have lost touch with Gorkhaland Liberation Organisation chief Chattray Subba, the officer added. The sleuths had made initial contact with the elusive leader, believed to be holed up at a Maoist hideout in Birta More in eastern Nepal.

“Our contacts with the GLO chief have snapped since our Nepal counterparts developed cold feet over the handing over of a key conspirator, Deven Gurung alias Dipendar Rai. The GLO chief had earlier sent us feelers saying he wanted to “surrender” to the Indian authorities provided he and his family are given total protection,” the SIT officer said.

He said that after the Nepal police refused to cooperate with the handover, “Chattray who initially wanted to stage a surrender, too, developed cold feet”. Nepal police have refused to hand over Deven Gurung — who they claim is a Nepalese citizen —- following media hype over the earlier handover of Sharan Dewan and colleague Arjun Tamang.

“Though we have information that Subba is holed up at a Maoist hideout in Birta More, we are unable to bring him over ground without the active cooperation of our Nepal counterparts,” the officer rued.

“The earlier handover of Sharan and Arjun went off without a hitch because both were Indian subjects. Gurung’s Nepalese citizenship has become a major hitch. The Nepal police have become very touchy. They say they cannot hand over one of their subjects to us. Political and diplomatic compulsions have made matters worse for them,” the officer said.

   

 
 
MIDNIGHT RAID ON ARMS HUB 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 11: 
A day after the Baruipur arms haul, South 24-Parganas district police have tracked down an arms factory in Gobindapore and arrested one person.

The arms factory, unearthed after night-long raids, threw up three revolvers and four half-made ones. Some bullets, with “Made in Bangladesh” markings were found. Electric drills, gascutters, hand drills and electric saws were also seized.

S.K. Sikdar, officer in charge of Bhangore police station, under which Gobindapur falls, said he started search operations after authorities flashed a green signal following the Baruipur haul.

“We had been tipped off that an arms factory was secretly manufacturing weapons. We were only waiting for the go ahead from superiors,” said Sikdar.

The OC said his team closed in on the factory around 1:30 am. A 12-member team circled it, hoping to net arms factory owner Kutub Mollah, he said. But Mollah fled, leaving behind Mohamed Khabir Ali, one of his customers. Khabir is in police custody.

The additional SP (rural), Rajesh Kumar Singh, said: “The factory used to supply arms and ammunition to criminal gangs based in neighbouring districts.” A senior officer said political parties were regular customers.

The district police have been asked to raid a number of houses believed to be arms manufacturing units.

   

 
 
FOOT-AND-MOUTH FEAR SWALLOWS PUNJAB, HARYANA 
 
 
FROM GAJINDER SINGH
 
Chandigarh, March 11: 
Panic gripped villages in Haryana and Punjab as an infectious and fatal affliction similar to the foot-and-mouth disease roaring across the UK threatened the bread basket of India.

The disease is claiming the lives of cattle, a significant means of income for farmers in the region. In Khanna village in Punjab, hundreds of cows have already perished. More than 250 cattle have died in Punjab’s Ghaloti village.

Veterinary surgeons say the infection can be transmitted through dust particles and affect pigs, cows, sheep and goats. The first signs of the disease, farmers said, come from cattle running high fever and then stopping to eat. This is followed by a froth-like watery discharge from their mouths, lesions on the feet and reduced milk production.

Some animals die within a few hours of contracting the disease, while others within a week. Punjab Agricultural University experts said if the animals recover, they become weak or lame.

Efforts are on to identify the disease. Hissar Agricultural University experts, who have conducted tests in Haryana, insist that the strain is more potent than that affecting livestock in the UK.

Veterinary surgeon Surinder Singh said the strain affecting cattle in Khanna is more infectious than the one that affected the Ferozepur-Bhatinda belt a couple of years ago. The authorities had then abandoned measures to control the disease after it had vanished within a few days of its outbreak.

The villages in Punjab where the disease has struck include Ghudani Kalan, Rara Sahib, Jeerakh, Ghaloti and Bilaspur. Cattle are also affected in Rewari, Bahadurgarh, Gurgaon and Karnal.

The state government has issued no guidelines on the steps to be taken. “Experts are looking into the nature of the problem,” an official said. Villagers who have lost cattle say they are simply told that the death has been caused by “heart failure”.

Satwant Singh of Rara Sahib lamented government inaction. “I have lost Rs 5 lakh in five days because several of my healthy buffaloes died. They had high fever and then one by one fainted and fell to the ground. They were my only source of livelihood,” he said, tears rolling down his cheek. With no means to survive, Satwant has come to live with his brother who owns a small store in Mohali.

When the disease struck the Bhatinda-Ferozepur belt a couple of years ago, cattle were vaccinated. However, vaccinated animals are also carrying the virus.

“The best way to stop the spread of the disease is to destroy any affected herd, incinerate the carcasses and isolate all affected farms inside a five-mile radius. But that is impossible as entire families survive on the produce of one or two cows or buffaloes,” a veterinary surgeon said.

He added that there was no risk to human health.

   

 
 
UN SNUBS PAK ON KASHMIR 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, March 11: 
UN secretary-general Kofi Annan has ruled out implementation of the UN resolutions on Kashmir, stressing, instead, on reviving the Lahore peace process to solve the outstanding dispute between Delhi and Islamabad and restoring peace in south Asia.

“I call upon both India and Pakistan to retain the spirit of the Lahore Declaration. This will require restraint, wisdom and constructive steps from both sides,” Annan was quoted as saying at the Chakala airbase on arriving in Pakistan last night.

Signalling his encouragement for Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s peace initiative in Kashmir, Annan also nixed the possibility of appointing a special representative to monitor alleged human rights violations in the strife-torn state.

The fact that he made these remarks in Pakistan with emphasis on reviving the Lahore Declaration — a peace process which India accuses Pervez Musharraf of scuttling by launching his Kargil intrusion — is particularly significant to the military regime in Islamabad.

Pakistani officials tried to soften the secretary-general’s remarks on Kashmir, claiming that Annan has stressed on the need for a settlement of the issue “for a durable peace in south Asia”. But the All-Party Hurriyat Conference accused the UN of being “biased” and “shirking from its commitments” to the Kashmiris.

“If he (Annan) has said that, it is not appreciable and it would not be wrong to say then that the UN is inactive and biased,” Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani said. He was placed under house arrest this morning by the police to foil his plan to visit Nowhatta and stage a demonstration against alleged excesses by the security forces in the area.

While Pakistan seeks to stress on all international agreements, including the UN resolutions, the Simla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration, for solving outstanding issues with Delhi, India has always argued that UN resolutions were not relevant anymore and pending disputes with Islamabad, including Kashmir, should be resolved bilaterally.

Asked last night why the resolution on Kashmir could not be implemented on the lines of resolutions on East Timor, Annan pointed out: “The UN resolutions that come under chapter seven of the charter were self-enforcing, like those related to East Timor and Iraq. The second type of resolutions, which do not fall under the purview of chapter seven, needed cooperation of the concerned parties for their implementation.”

He added: “The UN resolutions on Kashmir do not fall in the category of chapter seven, and hence require cooperation of the concerned parties for their implementation and in this case it is lacking.” It indicates that the UN will not try to impose the resolutions on India, despite Pakistan’s goading. On the other hand, Annan has made it clear that like most international leaders, he, too, was in favour of the nuclear neighbours resolving their differences bilaterally.

During his talks with Pakistani leaders, including President Rafiq Tarar and foreign minister Abdul Sattar, Annan discussed the developments in south Asia, particularly Kashmir. He also spoke about restoration of democracy in Pakistan and the Taliban’s destruction of Buddhas. Annan will be leaving for Nepal tomorrow and will visit Bangladesh before arriving in Delhi on March 15.

   

 
 
LIVID LALOO’S BRUTUS BARB AT REBEL RANJAN 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Patna, March 11: 
The dissidence drama in Bihar has taken on elements of farce and Shakespeare is writing its script.

After six days of threats from rebels who want to unseat his chief minister wife, Laloo Prasad Yadav today invoked the Bard as the last resort.

When all his feelers for a rapprochement with arch rival Ranjan Yadav failed to break the ice, a furious Laloo, bathing in coloured water during the lacklustre Holi at his residence yesterday, said that his party’s working president was “Brutus reincarnate”.

“He has invoked all the devilish instincts of the Shakespearean character.”

For the first time in 25 years, Ranjan did not visit Laloo’s house on Holi, an act of omission that ended speculation of a reconciliation.

Ranjan retaliated to Laloo’s barb by saying that the party chief has failed to understand the character from Julius Caesar. He said Brutus was not a betrayer, but had been advising Julius Caesar against the latter’s misrule and resorted to side with the rebels only when Caesar failed to pay heed to his sermons.

“I have been and still am a friend of Laloo Yadav. But if he fails to respond, let him decide on his own fate,” said Ranjan, a college teacher and a Rajya Sabha MP.

He also advised Laloo to read Shakespeare in the proper perspective.

Ranjan’s house at Nala road here has become an alternative power centre with senior RJD leaders thronging it at all hours. Among the ministers who visited him were Shankar Prasad Tekriwal, Monazir Hossain and Samrat Chowdhary. “The march has started and I now don’t care if I am sacked,” Tekriwal was quoted as saying.

Samrat Chowdhary, son of high-profile Koiri leader Shakuni Chowdhary, Rabri Devi’s health minister, was heard telling Ranjan today that he was committed to the cause of development, sparking speculation about his father’s loyalty to Laloo.

While Ranjan’s behind-the-scene politics of grooming new leaders and smoothing over the squabbles went on at a hectic pace since yesterday, he suddenly went underground for six hours this morning.

It is believed that he met some senior ministers of the Rabri Devi government seeking a change of leadership.

He also held a round of discussion with RJD legislator Sadhu Yadav, Rabri Devi’s brother. At 2.30 pm, when he returned home, at least six other RJD MLAs were waiting for him. He held a closed-door meeting with them.

It seems that the rebels are likely to refrain from taking any immediate step, at least not in the Assembly tomorrow, to split the party. Ranjan’s associates said that some of the MLAs he had earlier counted as rebels failed to meet him because of Holi. They are still in the districts.

Laloo might go ahead with his plan for a confidence motion tomorrow and the declaration of a party whip against defection. Sources said that the chief minister had worked out a plan for a Cabinet expansion to woo back some of the rebels.

However, rebel Ranjan is grappling with some inherent problems in his camp. The chief minister’s controversial brother, Sadhu Yadav, had been waging a battle against the finance minister. Now both Tekriwal and Sadhu are in the rebel camp as both are against Laloo Yadav for their own reasons. Will Sadhu accept Tekriwal as a senior member of the rebel group?

Besides, a section of RJD men who are against Shivanand Tiwari and Shakuni Chowdhary, two Laloo confidantes, would not like to join the rebels because of the presence of Sadhu. “He would like to be deputy chief minister after dislodging his sister and brother-in-law. He wants to be a Chandrababu Naidu of Bihar,” said a rebel at a Holi party yesterday. Ranjan is busy smoothening out the contradictions.

As the rebels’ activities become more hectic, the NDA seems to be enjoying a good joke. Nitish Kumar, who is in the city today, said: “We have given a postdated cheque to the rebels certifying unconditional support to them in forming government. The RJD is soon to bomb out and a new force within the parry is all set to take responsibility,” he said, adding that like “any Opposition party, the NDA was active in hastening the fall of the Laloo raj”.

However, Ranjan said he was not in touch with the NDA. “I am not in any contact with any NDA leader. I am in touch with my party leaders and carrying on talks on development,” he said.

   

 
 
MASSACRE CLOUD OVER POLICE ‘ENCOUNTER’ 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Bhawanipur (Mirzapur), March 11: 
Bhawanipur was always a forgotten village. But since Friday evening, when police gunned down 16 Naxalites here, it has become even more remote.

Bhawanipur is scared today, cowering at the sight of anything alien. As soon as an outsider is seen, villagers rush inside their huts. No one talks — it is as if the hamlet of 400 impoverished Dalits and Kor tribals has suddenly lost its voice.

The only ones more than willing to talk are the policemen.

“We should be given promotions,” gushes Panna Lal, in charge of Marihan police station, under whose jurisdiction Bhawanipur falls. “All the policemen involved in the encounter should be given the gallantry award,” Lal says, adding that the “mission” was the biggest ever against any Naxalite group.

“Can you imagine we killed 15 of those Naxalites?” he asks, not mentioning the 16th person killed, 12-year-old Kallu.

The policemen are ecstatic that a list of their names has gone to the DG. They have also been told that it would soon go to the chief minister. “We just continued shooting at those terrorists,” Shyam Singh, another policeman, says. “Finally they ran out of bullets and we killed them all.” No one talks of the houses that were looted, the Rs 500 snatched from Sharda Prasad or his new pair of leather shoes that found their way to a cop’s feet. Neither are there any signs of an “encounter”.

“Does it look like there was any encounter? They were all asked to surrender. When they came out of a hut with their hands in the air, they were all shot down like dogs. Even 12-year-old Kallu, who had come to visit his grandmother Pyari, was killed,” says Sharda Prasad. Bhachai, taking the lead from Prasad, adds: “Sixteen people were killed in cold blood and no one thinks it is a big issue. Is it because we are harijans and tribals?”

Those killed, the villagers insist, were all outsiders who had come to attend Pyari’s daughter’s marriage. “Someone went to the police with the information that a group of Naxalites had gathered at Bhawanipur. The next thing we knew was that the whole village had been surrounded by around 150 policemen and there was firing from all sides,” says the 60-year-old Shalta.

Bhawanipur will not admit the youths mowed down were “Naxalites” — there was MCC literature on their bodies, carrying exhortations to kill landlords and policemen. All the villagers say is that young people — 13 of those killed were below 22 — are drawn towards Naxalite groups like the MCC and the Party Unit because of crushing poverty.

“The young ones are more restless. They say things have to change and that there are ways one can triumph over poverty. They also say there are more people than we think who are willing to help us,” says Shalta.

“No one is crying here,” says 16-year-old Madhav softly. “But no one will forget what happened. We will not let the blood dry.”

   

 
 
CHIDAMBARAM SLAMS JAYA DEAL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai, March 11: 
Tamil Maanila Congress leader P. Chidambaram today spoke out against his party’s decision to join hands with the ADMK, sparking speculation that he was preparing the ground for his exit.

He denounced the deal as totally unacceptable and opposed to the aims of the party.

The nominal No.2 of the party, he has been fretting on the sidelines for some time. Chidambaram had strongly opposed any move to strike an alliance with Jayalalitha, but his ilk was hopelessly outnumbered in the party.

In a statement issued here, Chidambaram claimed that he had not been consulted before the decision on the deal was taken. The decision reflected the chasm that had opened up between the progressive party supporters and the party leadership, he said, adding that five years ago there was harmony.

The party came about in 1996, when G.K. Moopanar and his supporters revolted against the Congress high command’s decision to align with Jayalalitha.

Taking a dig at Moopanar’s observation yesterday that he hoped Jayalalitha had learnt her lessons and would provide good governance this time, Chidambaram said good governance depended on who headed the government, the constituents and a common minimum programme. On that reckoning, the TMC’s alliance with the ADMK would not ensure any good governance.

He said TMC supporters were not superstitious — a reference to Jayalalitha’s penchant for yagnas.

Pondicherry contest

A day after sewing up alliance with the ADMK in Tamil Nadu, the Congress today said it would fight the ADMK and the PMK in Pondicherry in the Assembly polls in the Union Territory, reports PTI.

   

 
 
KARAT IN BENGAL FOR PATCH-UP 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 11: 
CPM politburo member Prakash Karat held a meeting today with members of the party’s North 24 Parghanas district committee at Barasat where transport minister Subhas Chakraborty was also present.

CPM insiders said the meeting was important as this was an “unusual” one. Karat met the party members of the district for the first time and urged them to fight the next Assembly polls unitedly.

It is learnt that Chakraborty had met party general secretary H.K.S. Surjeet in Delhi and complained to him that a section of party leaders was trying to “corner” him within the CPM.

CPM sources said that Surjeet instructed Karat to come to Calcutta and meet the party’s district unit.

Karat said the politburo was anxiously watching the development in the party’s district unit and has practically issued a whip to fight the polls unitedly.

Former chief minister and politburo member Jyoti Basu had tried his level best to remove differences between the two rival factions in the CPM’s district committee led by Subhas Chakraborty and Amitava Bose-Amitava Nandy faction.

Later Karat held a meeting with party members and sympathisers at Bhatpara in the same district.

CPM ticket blunder

An embarrassed CPM had to replace its candidate for the Alipore Assembly constituency having earlier nominated a key Trinamul Congress functionary for the seat.

Not realising that she was a senior Trinamul leader, the CPM had nominated Archana Banerjee, principal of Murlidhar Girls’ College. The CPM has now hurriedly changed its nominee to Mira Bhowmik, principal of Calcutta Girls’ College.

CPM state secretary Anil Biswas announced the change in the candidates’ list before leaving for Delhi.

   
 

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