GNLF bent on bandh from tomorrow
Ghising dissolves loyalist unit
Loot cloud on politician
Mamata woos Ghani after lawn show
Naidu scam sermon leaves Atal uneasy
CPM surrender slur on Congress
Tehelka probe goes public
BJP lines up shuffle for polls
Car blast fuels doubts on gas safety

Siliguri, April 7: 
The GNLF today said it was going ahead with the indefinite hill bandh from Monday as the administration was dragging its feet on arresting the masterminds of the strike on Subash Ghising.

However, vehicles going to and coming from Sikkim will be exempt from the bandh.

The GNLF’s Darjeeling branch committee president and executive councillor of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, Deepak Gurung, said: “We had given Darjeeling police sufficient time to arrest all the eight masterminds of the conspiracy to assassinate Ghising and seize the sophisticated weapons that the conspirators and their hired militants had stockpiled in the Darjeeling hills following the Tinkataria shootout between police and Naga militants on November 12 last year.”

Accusing the government of dragging its feet even after the arrested plotters, including militant Gorkha leader Chhattray Subba, had revealed the names of the masterminds and the financiers of the plot, Gurung said: “Darjeeling police have utterly failed in nabbing the actual culprits and have arrested some small flies as an eyewash for the public. Whether they are shielding some of the masterminds and the financiers, we do not know. The police have also failed to seize the sophisticated weapons, including AK assault rifles and carbines and ammunition. We have no option but to resort to our bandh call.”

The GNLF had said that Subba was number nine on its list of suspects. The party had prepared a list of men who, it said, were the most important conspirators.

Reiterating the demand for the immediate removal of Darjeeling superintendent of police Sanjay Chander and district magistrate Anil Verma, Gurung said: “If the Darjeeling administration is not capable of arresting the actual culprits, they should leave it to the GNLF. We are ready to undertake the investigation.”

State minister and local CPM legislator Ashoke Bhattacharya urged the GNLF to withdraw its bandh in the interest of the residents and the hill’s fragile economy. Addressing a news conference here, Bhattacharya claimed that the investigation into the attack on Ghising was being carried out diligently.

“I implore Subash Ghising to call off the indefinite Darjeeling hill bandh. Ghising is a sensible politician who would not like to disrupt the coming tourist season in the hills. Tourism, along with tea, forms the backbone of the hill economy and the GNLF is aware of the bandh’s adverse implications,” the minister said.

Bhattacharya, who looks after the CPM’s north Bengal affairs, praised the investigators. “The special investigation team has done a commendable job by already arresting Chhattray Subba and 11 others. We are on the verge of making a few more arrests. I just don’t understand why the GNLF is bent on going ahead with the bandh,” he said.

Sikkim, which had suffered during the bandh in February, will be spared this time. Ghising, in a letter to Sikkim chief minister Pawan Chamling, said he had considered his request and agreed to keep National Highway 31A, the state’s lifeline, out of the purview of any future bandhs or strikes in the Darjeeling hills.


Siliguri, April 7: 
Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) leader Subash Ghising today dissolved the Kalimpong branch committee headed by C.K. Pradhan, who figured on the party’s list of suspects in the assassination attempt case.

GNLF legislator from Kalimpong Gaulon Lepcha has been told to look after the unit until a new committee is formed.

Ghising’s decision comes a day after six of the 10 executive committee members put in their papers, raising “doubts” about Pradhan’s role in the ambush. Three more executive members — vice-president K.N. Subba and joint secretaries Prem Khawas and Shankarmani Rai — resigned today.

Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council vice-chairman and Kalimpong unit vice-president Hangu Subba could not submit his resignation as he is away in Darjeeling. Hangu Subba is also a central committee member.

Ghising, the GNLF’s central committee president, said in a statement that since the majority of the Kalimpong branch committee members had quit, there was no option but to dissolve the panel.

The Kalimpong leaders decided to resign following reports that Pradhan had a role in the February 10 ambush on Ghising. The leaders said they were resigning from all party posts until the “doubts” raised by the reports were cleared.

Though sources at the GNLF headquarters in Darjeeling did not confirm what kind of action the central committee was contemplating against Pradhan, an associate of the leader told The Telegraph from Kalimpong that the “resignation drama” was enacted on Ghising’s instructions.

“Ever since the attempted ambush on Ghising, a section of the GNLF leadership had launched an all-out campaign to remove CK (as Pradhan is popularly known) as head of the Kalimpong unit. We will stand by our leader CK come what may,” the leader said.


Calcutta, April 7: 
Seven people, including two Bihar-based criminals, have been arrested on charges of looting a jewellery shop in Baghbazar last month.

A team of detectives went to Betia district in Bihar and picked up four persons early today.

Police are now looking for a political leader from Bihar who had played a key role in looting the shop. Banibrata Basu, deputy commissioner, detective department, said: “We are not disclosing the name of the leader for the sake of investigation. But we have enough evidence to prove the leader’s role in the robbery.”

On March 29, nine dacoits, travelling in a Maruti van, broke into the jewellery shop on Baghbazar Street. The criminals looted gold ornaments and precious stones worth Rs 11 lakh.

Police got their first lead when Manoj Jadav, the driver of the van, lodged a complaint with the Posta police station the day after the incident, saying his car had been stolen.

The officials found discrepancies in Jadav’s statements. The driver broke down when he was questioned at Lalbazar and confessed that he had driven the van while fleeing. Police recovered the van from Gorachand Road in Park Circus and Jadav was arrested.

He revealed that Kasinath Shaw, a businessman, had hired his vehicle. Shaw was the next to be picked up from Posta area.

During interrogation, Shaw confessed and disclosed the name of Sanjoy Poddar, a contractor of deep-tubewells, who had masterminded the operation.

A team of 10 sleuths went to Betia district of Bihar and picked up two criminals, identified as Ali Ahmed alias Engineer and Sikandar Ali alias Doctor, from their residences.

On the basis of information provided by the duo, police arrested Badriprasad Shaw, a jewellery shop-owner in Betia who bought the looted ornaments for Rs 1.82 lakh. One of Badriprasad’s employees was arrested for melting the gold. The precious stones were recovered.


Calcutta, April 7: 
A beaming Mamata Banerjee went to A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury’s Salt Lake residence just hours after clinching a seat-sharing deal with the Congress to draw up a statewide joint campaign strategy.

In an hour-long meeting, Mamata requested Chowdhury to jointly address the rally at the Shyambazar five-point crossing on April 15, where she will kick-off her campaign. She repeated the request to former state Congress chief Somen Mitra.

The Trinamul chief also asked Chowdhury to accompany her on her campaign tour of north and south Bengal after a fortnight. During the meeting, an emotional Mamata sought and received the Congress leader’s blessings to carry forward her anti-CPM movement. Significantly, Chowdhury till yesterday was against Trinamul getting a single seat in his backyard, Malda.

Mamata remained closeted with close aides at Nizam Palace till late tonight, giving finishing touches to the candidate list, which, sources said, will be announced by Tuesday.

As alliance talks resumed yesterday, the most tense person was perhaps Congress general secretary in charge of Bengal Kamal Nath. Time was running out, and party president Sonia Gandhi wanted the alliance at any cost.

After finalising the remaining 18 seats at a night-long dinner-meeting with Mamata at his Robinson Street residence, Nath met Chowdhury this morning. He brought him to his house, where the alliance was to be formally announced at 3 pm.

One by one, state Congress leaders Pranab Mukherjee, Somen Mitra, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, Atish Sinha and Pradip Bhattacharya arrived.

They were followed shortly by Mamata and her aides, Sudip Bandopadhyay, Subrata Mukherjee, Pankaj Banerjee, Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay and Mukul Roy. Congress MLAs from Malda, Abu Hasnat Khan and Ruby Noor, Chowdhury’s siblings, and Gautam Chakraborty were also present.

A little after 3, Nath emerged and led the leaders to the lawn. Chowdhury was seated between Pranab Mukherjee and Somen Mitra. The Congress leaders were kept waiting for a few minutes before Mamata made her appearance with other party leaders.

The announcement over, the person most relieved was Nath. “My job is over. I am leaving for Delhi with a light heart now that we are sure of defeating the Left Front. I will come again to attend the swearing-in of Mamata as the chief minister of West Bengal,” said the beaming leader.


New Delhi, April 7: 
Telugu Desam chief Chandrababu Naidu today met Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee with a litany of complaints.

Vajpayee, who granted him an hour-long audience, was discomfited as Naidu’s major concern was the government’s failure to prevent scams which had besmirched the image of the NDA government.

The Andhra Pradesh chief minister later evaded a direct reply when asked whether he agreed with the suggestion that the Prime Minister’s image had suffered because of the scams. “All hypothetical questions,” he said with a smile, adding that “drastic steps need to be taken to prevent such scams”. About the stock scam, Naidu said he would soon write to him, suggesting ways to check such scandals.

Naidu had come to the capital to attend the dinner Vajpayee was to host for former US president Bill Clinton. The dinner was cancelled because of Devi Lal’s death. But the Prime Minister met Clinton at his residence this evening.

Naidu denied “speculation” that he was uncomfortable with the NDA government or that he was “bargaining” for his crucial support. “We are not exploiting the situation. It is our duty as elected government to work for the development of the state. From the very beginning, I am fighting for my state,” he said. The Desam boss, who is particularly concerned over the stock scam, said he would take up the matter with finance minister Yashwant Sinha tonight.

“Harshad Mehta exploited the system. Now, after a long gap, another individual (Ketan Parekh) is exploiting the loopholes and weakness in the system,” Naidu had said earlier.

On March 31, Desam’s Rajya Sabha MP C. Ramachandraiah had written to the Prime Minister, expressing concern over the stock market crash following the scam and the failure of the finance minister to plug loopholes.

Despite his unhappiness with the Vajpayee regime, Naidu, sources close to him said, would not like to be a “Deve Gowda”. Which means, he will not be in a hurry to topple the government and become a stop-gap Prime Minister and retire prematurely to the political fringe.

Naidu also apprised Vajpayee of the fallout of the WTO treaty, especially the hardships farmers were facing, and the state projects pending with the Centre for clearance. The Prime Minister, Naidu said, agreed to convene a meeting of chief ministers here on April 23 to discuss WTO “and its implications on the farming community”.

Earlier, Naidu complained to civil aviation minister Sharad Yadav about the lethargic approach of his department to providing air connectivity between Hyderabad and other world centres. He said that though leading international airlines were coming forward to put Hyderabad on the world map, the ministry’s response was lukewarm.


Calcutta, April 7: 
The CPM lost no time in stepping up its campaign against the Trinamul Congress and the Congress as the two parties entered into a seat-sharing deal, dubbing it an “opportunistic alliance”.

“This is an abject surrender on the part of the state Congress to Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress which came into existence only three years ago,” said CPM state secretary Anil Biswas. “People must reject them after realising that this is a move to destabilise the Left Front government.”

Biswas said the Congress had not split when it was defeated in the 1996 Assembly polls.

“But the Congress split (after that) and the Trinamul was born. Now they are united again and the May 10 Assembly polls will be much more crucial for the Left Front,” he said.

He criticised both the parties for their failure to present an election manifesto so far.

Though the CPM is putting up a brave face and officially not attaching importance to the alliance, insiders said the party is worried. Adding to its worries was the Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS) — floated by CPM rebels — which had decided to field candidates in 60 Assembly seats.

CPM leaders admitted that the ruling coalition was for the first time facing a triangular fight in many key constituencies, including Jadavpur where chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is seeking re-election for the third consecutive term.


New Delhi, April 7: 
The Justice K. Venkataswami commission on the Tehelka tapes is set to “go public”. “The commission will shortly issue a comprehensive questionnaire to the general public so that any member of the public can go and file affidavits and join the inquiry,” law ministry sources said.

“Under the Commission of Inquiries Act, generally a member of the public can go to depose before the commission if he or she has any substantial information on the subject. However, this would be the first time that a commission has invited public participation through a questionnaire,” they added.

The one-man panel is also likely to summon journalists to seek their opinion on the ethics of secr-etly recording conversations purported to be private.

Impersonating as arms dealers, the Tehelka journalists had bribed public servants, including former BJP chief Bangaru Laxman and his Samata Party counterpart, Jaya Jaitly, purportedly to clinch a military equipment deal for a non-existing firm, and clandestinely filmed their transactions.

Following public uproar, the government appointed Justice Venkataswami, a retired Supreme Court judge, to hold an inquiry and submit a report within four months. Justice Venkataswami assumed charge on March 30 and began work on April 3 from the high-security Vigyan Bhavan.

“I am commencing my inquiry with an open mind and without any pre-conceived notion. My endeavour will be to complete the probe within four months,” he said after assuming charge.

The terms of reference of the commission are “to inquire into transactions relating to defence and other procurement referred to in the Tehelka tapes and transcripts to ascertain whether they have been carried out in terms of the prescribed procedure and imperatives of national security; to inquire whether in any of the aforesaid transactions, illicit gains have been made by persons in public office, individuals and other organisations as alleged and if (so) to what extent; to suggest action that may be taken in respect of persons who may be found responsible by the commission for their acts of omission and commission in respect of transactions referred to above and to inquire into all aspects relating to making of these allegations or any other matter which arises from or is connected with or incidental to any act of omission or transaction referred to above”.


New Delhi, April 7: 
BJP chief K. Jana Krishnamurthi today indicated that he may reshuffle his team of central office-bearers to cope with the “challenges coming up in the form of a series of elections” at various levels — Assembly and local bodies.

Speaking to reporters, Krishnamurthi said: “Keeping this (the string of elections) in mind, whatever changes are required will be done and some reshuffle may be carried out.”

Krishnamurthi clarified that no Central minister would be asked to return to the party to end speculation that either information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj or rural development minister M. Venkaiah Naidu may be reinducted in the BJP organisation to “strengthen” it. “Those in government will continue to be in government,” he said.

The BJP chief also made it clear that former general secretary and party ideologue K.N. Govindacharya may not be brought back into his team. Govindacharya was dropped by Krishnamurthi’s predecessor, Bangaru Laxman.

The change was allegedly engineered by Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, who could neither forget nor forgive Govindacharya for describing him as the BJP’s “mukhauta” (mask) in a taped interview to a UK diplomat.

Although Govindacharya continues to be a member of the BJP national executive, he chose to go on a two-year sabbatical to study and evolve an alternative economic model closer to the spirit of “swadeshi” and has virtually cut himself off from party politics.

After Laxman’s exit it was speculated that with home minister L.K. Advani running the BJP by proxy, it was a matter of time before his protégé Govindacharya was “rehabilitated suitably”.

It was also said that either Sushma or Naidu — both Advani loyalists — would also return to 11 Ashoka Road to “re-establish” Advani’s grip over the party which had slackened during Kushabhau Thakre and Laxman’s regime.

But Krishnamurthi said: “He (Govindacharya) is on leave for two years and he has not changed his mind. He is doing good work now and he should be given the two-year leave he has taken.”

There are three vacancies in the central team: a vice-president’s post which feel vacant after Krishnamurthi’s elevation, a general secretary which was not filled after Naidu joined the government, and a national secretary which was kept vacant from the start of Laxman’s tenure.

Sources mentioned two possibilities: either bringing a state leader to the centre or infusing “new blood” from the RSS, something which has not happened after functionaries like Govindacharya and Narendra Modi were absorbed into the BJP.

Rattled by questions on what prompted the BJP to go back on its move to include legislators in the code of ethics mooted by Krishnamurthi on becoming the chief, he denied having said such a thing.

The BJP president announced that his party would contest between 175 and 200 seats in the West Bengal polls and emphasised that there was no question of a “tacit understanding” with the Trinamul Congress.


New Delhi, April 7: 
The explosion of a compressed natural gas (CNG) cylinder of a car in the capital yesterday has raised questions about the suitability of the fuel and given the anti-CNG lobby a shot in the arm.

Seven people were injured when the second CNG cylinder of an Ambassador, which was being refilled, exploded at 5.45 pm yesterday. The refuelling machine was torn apart and the roof of the fuel station blown off.

The roof of the car, which was torn apart, landed 10 metres away and the boot is still missing. A Maruti van and an autorickshaw were also damaged. Witnesses said there was a loud noise, but no fire.

This is the first CNG accident in Delhi, and it has raised a plethora of questions.

A significant aspect that needs to be looked into is who will be responsible for the quality of the fuel. Attention also needs to be paid to the infrastructure required to make the fuel available to the consumer.

“There is nothing wrong with the fuel, but thought should be given to the right specification and design of the cylinder. This also means that people should be careful about the quality control of the gas,” said Tata Energy Research Institute director Rajendra K. Pachauri.

CNG is a very high pressure gas and is kept in special cylinders. The cylinder is made of 10 mm thick single-cast iron. Only three companies in the country — in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh — manufacture these cylinders. The shortage had led to suppliers not using the right type of cylinders.


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