Minor sisters face night of torment
Threat to shut down Hills till poll day
Woman torches sons, self
Buddha woos labourers
UGC status boost for Burdwan varsity
Old warhorse rears to unseat CM-hopeful
Thackeray between PM & Pawar
Tape shadow on Krishna ministers
Jaya rides roughshod over allies
Delhi wakes up to Taliban threat nearer home

 
 
MINOR SISTERS FACE NIGHT OF TORMENT 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Burdwan, April 8: 
Three minors were allegedly gang-raped by six youths near Saraibikar under Burdwan police station last night.

The girls belonged to the same family and had come to Burdwan from Bihar in search of work. They were working in a field as labourers and had pitched a tent there for the last few days.

Six men allegedly sneaked into the minors’ tent in the wee hours of Sunday when the girls were fast asleep. The men threatened them with knives and swords and forced them to get into the van in which the men had come.

The three minor girls were then taken to a field, about three kilometres away and allegedly gang-raped.

On their return, the girls narrated their story to their parents and relatives. They then went to Burdwan police station and lodged an FIR.

Burdwan superintendent of police Manoj Malviya said today that four youths have already been arrested. The accused were identified as Sheikh Asraf, Sheikh Santa, Manik Mal and Sona Duley. Malaviya added that they are also on the lookout for Sheikh Liyakat and Nilu Majhi.

The girls were sent to Burdwan medical college for medical examination.

One of the girls later told the police that Asraf and his associates had earlier molested her nine-year-old sister. The police said that Asraf and Sheikh Santa had tried to befriend the girls and were spurned.

Police investigations revealed that, a week ago, the girls’ parents had caught Asraf and Manik Mal when they were passing lewd comments at the girls. Though they were let off with a warning, the boys had threatened to take revenge.

The area is tense and a police picket has been posted.

   

 
 
THREAT TO SHUT DOWN HILLS TILL POLL DAY 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, April 8: 
The Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) has threatened to enforce a bandh, scheduled to begin tomorrow, till the polling day on May 10.

The front is going ahead with the bandh to protest against the alleged failure of the district police in arresting the real masterminds behind the attack on its chief Subash Ghising.

Educational institutions in the hills have declared indefinite holiday in view of the bandh. Over 100 residential schools in the hills have also advanced their Easter vacation to Monday.

“All outstation students have been sent home and asked to get in touch with the school to know when we will reopen. The suspense and uncertainty over the indefinite bandh has been too much for us. So we decided that the children should return only after the strike is withdrawn,” a headmaster of a reputed residential school in Kurseong said.

Posters announcing the bandh have started appearing across the hills, prompting people to stock essentials. “Many have stored grain to last a week or so hoping that the GNLF will call off the bandh after a week,” said a grocer in Darjeeling.

The GNLF’s Darjeeling branch committee president and executive councillor of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, Deepak Gurung, said his organisation had given sufficient time to the administration to arrest the plotters and funders of the February 10 attack on Ghising.

“We will go ahead with the indefinite bandh until all the masterminds behind Ghising’s attack are apprehended and the weapons seized. The bandh may continue till May 10, the day the state goes to the Assembly polls,” he said.

Gurung added that the front’s “patience has run out”. “There is a limit to our endurance. We gave the police nearly two months to solve the case and bring the actual culprits to book,” Gurung said.

Accusing the Darjeeling district administration and the police of “total failure” the GNLF Darjeeling unit chief said: “The three GNLF branch committees of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong had last week given the police a week to arrest the culprits. But they have failed.

“The masterminds and their financiers are moving around freely, armed with sophisticated weapons. But the police are neither willing nor have the inclination to arrest the actual culprits.”

The district police have beefed up security on the eve of the bandh. Darjeeling superintendent of police Sanjay Chander said: “We are not taking any chances with law and order during the bandh. Besides the force of the District Armed Police and the State Armed Police, we have made heavy deployment of the CRPF.”

The Rapid Action Force and the district’s special commando force have also been pressed into service in the sensitive areas in the three hill subdivisions.

The GNLF has decided to exempt from the bandh Sikkim-bound vehicles plying on National Highway 31A. However, the police are not taking any chances. “We have deployed several mobile units along the NH 31A. Police pickets have also been set up at several vulnerable spots on the highway,” Chander added. The road links the neighbouring Himalayan state and the plains of north Bengal.

   

 
 
WOMAN TORCHES SONS, SELF 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Srirampore, April 8: 
Unable to bear the humiliation of being called a cheater’s wife, a 35-year-old housewife torched her two sons and later set herself on fire at Gangadharpur in Singur in Hooghly district this morning.

Police said that some youths of Bera Beri village had gone to Kanchan Adak’s house this morning and demanded that she return the Rs 35,000 that her husband had allegedly taken for providing him a job at the Grand Hotel.

The youths allegedly taunted Kanchan for being a cheater’s wife. Unable to bear the taunts, Kanchan locked herself and her sons — Laltu (11) and Paltu (8) — in the bedroom.

After some time, local people smelled burning flesh and saw smoke billowing out of Adak’s bedroom window. They also heard the two young boys shouting at the top of their voices. When they broke open the door, all three were ablaze. The rescuers poured water over them and rushed them to the local health centre. They were later brought to the Srirampore sub-divisional hospital.

Laltu and Paltu died on way to hospital, while Kanchan is battling for life at Srirampore Wallsh Hospital.

Hooghly SP N. Ramesh Babu today said that Binod and four others have already been arrested in this regard from Singur, Baruipur and Joynagar.

Investigations revealed that on March 2 Binod took Rs 10,000 from Sujit Ghosh of Singur, Rs 15,000 from Partha Ghosh of Joynagar and Rs 10,000 from Pradip Ghosh of Baruipur and promised them jobs at Grand Hotel within a week.

After a week, the youths asked Binod to return the money to them on Sunday morning. Binod declined and an altercation followed. Binod then agreed to pay back the amount in instalments. The youths, however, demanded that Binod put the agreements down in writing, which he turned down. They then beat up Binod and forced him to go to the nearby panchayat for a hearing.

   

 
 
BUDDHA WOOS LABOURERS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 8: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today said only a handful of labourers from the unorganised sector had applied for provident fund and urged trade unions to help labourers in this regard.

Addressing an election rally organised by the Citu at the Netaji Indoor Stadium this afternoon, the chief minister added that it was difficult to run such a scheme as there was no parallel. “We have introduced the scheme for the benefit of labourers, but there is no such scheme in any state of our country and there is no law in this regard. But we are determined to run the scheme,” he observed.

Bhattacharjee said neither was there job security for labourers in this sector, nor fixed minimum wages for them. “We will try to remove these unjust provisions and help labourers save themselves from exploitation by employers,” he added.

Bhattacharjee also reassured the hawkers of Calcutta, who are considered unorganised labourers, that they will be allowed to carry on their trade without fear of “police harassment”.

“The Citu leaders have drawn my attention towards the problem and I told them to leave the matter to me. The hawkers are on the streets because we have failed to provide them any employment. They have to run their families and I will not allow them to die by forcing them not to run their business,” the chief minister said amid loud cheers from the audience.

Bhattacharjee also assured the Citu leadership that the democratic rights of workers, such as organising bandhs and strikes, will be protected.

“Whenever I meet industrialists, they urge me to convince trade union leaders. The industrialists complained to me about the incident at Baranagar Jute Mill where a management staff was killed by the workers,” he said.

“I asked them to identify the actual owner of the factory and they failed. I told them that some unscrupulous persons have grabbed the factory and have not paid workers their salary,” he added.

Bhattacharjee also claimed that the number of strikes and bandhs in West Bengal had reduced significantly over the past few years. “Over the past few years, the maximum number of strikes and bandhs were observed in Gujarat and our position in this regard is 11,” he added.

   

 
 
UGC STATUS BOOST FOR BURDWAN VARSITY 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Burdwan, April 8: 
The National Assessment Accreditation Council of the University Grants Commission (UGC) has awarded four-star status to Burdwan university.

A few months ago, the council gave North Bengal university a three-star status.

The funds granted by the UGC to a university depends on the points awarded by the council.

Burdwan university scored approximately 75 per cent, said vice-chancellor Amit Kumar Mullik.

Universities, who do not apply for the accreditation are not eligible for UGC funds. The accreditation council was recently set up by the UGC at Bangalore. It charges Rs 25,000 from universities as inspection charges.

The UGC had recently made it mandatory for all 250 universities registered under it to be accredited. The accreditation is valid for a period of five years.

Infrastructure developments of a university and its future plans are taken into consideration during the process.

After North Bengal university, Burdwan university is second among the seven state-aided universities which has got accredited.

The accreditation to five other universities are pending because of their delay in sending information sought by council. These include Calcutta university, Rabindra Bharati, Jadavpur university, Kalyani university and Vidyasagar university.

The council’s inspection team is likely to visit Calcutta university between April 24 and 26. But sources at the university said the visit is likely to be deferred as the university is yet send some essential documents for verification.

Mullik said the council did not disclose the parameters on which the university’s performance was found to be the best.

   

 
 
OLD WARHORSE REARS TO UNSEAT CM-HOPEFUL 
 
 
FROM T.N. GOPALAN
 
Thiruvananthapuram, April 8: 
K. Karunakaran looks determined to scuttle his bete noire A.K. Antony’s chances of becoming Kerala’s chief minister.

Upset that his daughter was denied a ticket and that only 24 of his supporters were accommodated in a list of 88 candidates for the state Assembly polls, the veteran leader had walked out of the Congress Working Committee. “I cannot be held responsible if my supporters are out to avenge the insult,” he fumed at a press conference yesterday.

Though the high command rejected his resignation today, Karunakaran does not have much ammunition at his disposal, said analysts. Some of his supporters are already having talks with Antony loyalists, hoping to reap some benefits if “Mr. Clean” becomes the chief minister.

Some like C.N. Balakrishnan, a close associate of Karunakaran from his native Trichur district, are also peeved with the veteran leader for being pre-occupied with ensuring a ticket for his daughter, Padmaja. Balakrishnan was denied a ticket for the Assembly elections and Karunakaran did not plead his case.

In Chalakkudy, from where Karunakaran had hoped to launch his daughter’s political career, local Congress leaders are not showing much sympathy for him. “This is a Congress fortress and anyone we put up will win,” they said.

The BJP, which has some influence in Chalakkudy, is ready to extend an olive branch to the Congress leader. “We may support Padmaja if she is put up as the rebel candidate,” BJP sources said.

The BJP state organising secretary, P.P. Mukundan, has gone on record saying that the party is willing to put a joint front with Karunakaran loyalists against “the authoritarian rule of the Italian-born Congress chief, Sonia Gandhi”.

Karunakaran and his son Muralidharan are considering a secret pact with the BJP to sabotage the chances of Antony’s supporters, sources said.

Earlier, it was believed that the Congress-led United Democratic Front would strike a deal with the BJP to defeat the Left Democratic Front. The state Congress leaders’ silence on the Tehelka exposé was attributed to the Congress-BJP pact in the making. However, the Congress high command is fighting shy of the proposition.

Analysts believe that Karunakaran won’t risk defying the high command and would rather ensure the victory of his supporters. He would then use his MLAs to stall Antony’s accession as chief minister.

On the other hand, the leadership tussle within the Congress has been a morale-booster for the LDF. It hopes to gain immensely from the main Opposition party’s infighting during the Assembly polls.

   

 
 
THACKERAY BETWEEN PM & PAWAR 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, April 8: 
Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray has put a spanner in Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s plans to woo the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) into the National Democratic Alliance as part of a “contingency plan” to bolster the depleted coalition.

Sources close to NCP founder Sharad Pawar said despite reservations in a section of NCP leaders in Maharashtra, Pawar was willing to take the plunge as once inside the government in a senior position, he would be able to woo a sizeable section of anti-Sonia Gandhi elements from the Congress.

Pawar, who was made vice-chairman of the National Disaster Management Committee by the Prime Minister last month (with a Cabinet minister’s rank), was in touch with rebel Congress leader K. Karunakaran to split the Congress. The Kerala strongman had a meeting with Pawar in Delhi recently, the sources said, but declined to disclose details.

But as his price for joining the NDA was being negotiated, Thackeray smelt danger for the Sena if the two came together in Maharashtra and succeeded in nixing the move, at least for the time being.

Thackeray forced the issue, conveying his displeasure to Vajpayee in clear terms. The Sena chief allowed his party mouthpiece, Saamna, to carry a write-up criticising PMO officials and refused to attend the cancelled anti-Tehelka NDA rally in Mumbai along with the Prime Minister. Sena minister Manohar Joshi had attended the first rally in Delhi on March 25.

The contingency plan, now shelved till the budget session is over, also envisages bringing back the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and the Trinamul Congress.

   

 
 
TAPE SHADOW ON KRISHNA MINISTERS 
 
 
FROM HABIB BEARY
 
Bangalore, April 8: 
The high command’s decision to force Karnataka Congress president V.S. Koujalgi to resign has sparked rumblings in the ruling party.

Chief minister S.M. Krishna, caught in the crossfire between the Koujalgi camp and the H.K. Patil group, rushed to Delhi this morning to discuss the fallout of the bribery charge on Koujalgi.

Pictures of Koujalgi, taking a bribe in 1998, were recently published in a local newspaper and a complaint was filed with the lokayukta with video taped evidence.

Koujalgi has hit out at two senior ministers, H.K. Patil and A.M. Hindasgeri, for their alleged involvement in the tape episode and his group is demanding action against them.

Krishna had decided to stay away from today’s rallies against the Tehelka-tainted Vajpayee government organised by the two camps in the twin towns of Hubli and Dharwar. The Hubli rally was backed by Koujalgi.

After Koujalgi sent in his papers last evening, Krishna cancelled all his Sunday engagements, saying he was indisposed. However, the high command, worried whether the rift in the party will blow into a full-scale rebellion, summoned Krishna this morning.

The confusion in the party reflected in the poor attendance at both the rallies.

Stung by the turn of events, Koujalgi spent a quiet day at his home district, Belgaum. He has dashed off a letter to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, accusing major irrigation minister Patil and Hindasgeri for implicating him in the scandal.

“My political opponent H.K. Patil, in association with Ramesh Jharkiholi, party MLA from Gokak, is behind the whole, false, fabricated and malicious episode,” the letter said. Koujalgi also accused Hindasgeri, from neighbouring Hubli district, of joining hands with Patil to bring him down.

According to Koujalgi, Patil, who nurses an ambition of becoming chief minister, had a secret meeting with reporters in Mumbai and had arranged to fax photo copies of the alleged bribe-taking pictures to the AICC. Patil has been quoted as saying: “Koujalgi will not be the party president to address the rally at Hubli. I will not leave any stone unturned to remove him from the post.”

The charge was, however, denied by Patil and his camp. “I don’t know why Koujalgi has made such an allegation. We have no role to play in the tape episode,” said labour minister Hindasgeri.

In his letter to Sonia, Koujalgi also said: “I am sorry to mention that as the seniormost Lingayat leader having been elected six continous times to the Assembly, this is a great injustice to the entire Lingayat community.”

But Koujalgi’s caste card may not work. The Congress is keen to replace him with another Lingayat, a dominant community that holds sway in northern Karnataka. Chief minister Krishna belongs to the rival dominant community of Vokkaligas, who are powerful in southern Karnataka.

The Koujalgi camp is certain that the Patil group released the video tapes, provided as evidence to the Lokayukta by complainant Anil Kadam, a contractor.

What has flummoxed the party is the timing of the exposé. It has surfaced at a time when the Congress was planning to nail down the Vajpayee government over the Tehelka expose.

   

 
 
JAYA RIDES ROUGHSHOD OVER ALLIES 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai, April 8: 
There is no stopping the formidable Amma these days. She has released the list of constituencies that her party intends to contest without consulting any of her allies, including Ramadoss, the most loyal of them all.

The list of 141 seats released by Jayalalitha yesterday has left parties, especially the Tamil Maanila Congress and CPI, squirming. She has chosen to stake claim on some constituencies avidly sought by the parties.

Jayalalitha has taken away as many as 21 of the 34 seats now held by the Tamil Maanila.

The CPM, on the other hand, has been rewarded for its “loyalty” — most of the constituencies it is seeking have been left untouched.

The ADMK has kept a lion’s share for itself in the eastern and western regions which are its strongholds. A constituency from down south, from where Tamil Maanila leader S. Balakrishnan was elected last time, has been taken over by her.

Firebrand Tamil Maanila youth wing leader Chellakumar has also lost his seat to the ADMK — one of the few seats the front will be contesting from the city. Chennai has been the citadel of the DMK right through.

Another Tamil Maanila veteran, Ponnammal, has been deprived of her home constituency as a few days ago, she had spoken highly of the DMK administration.

The CPI is disappointed that Jaya has taken away three of the eight seats it had won last time.

The loss of the textile town of Tiruppur represented by K. Subbarayan is especially annoying for the party. Apparently Jaya wanted to cut him to size as she was angry with him for the vitriolic attacks he had launched against her in the Assembly.

A CPI leader said: “It is indeed shocking the way she goes about fixing her detractors, one after another ... it’s not fair. But what can we do? We have to swallow it all in the name of upholding secularism .... Of course, we only hope that the list is not final and she could be made to change her mind....”

A couple of opinion polls conducted recently have predicted that the ADMK-led front is set to sweep the polls — more than 150 of the 234 seats at stake. The situation deteriorating with the MDMK’s exit from the DMK front. An analyst with Apt research group, which conducted the polls, said: “It might be unpalatable to the DMK and even intriguing, given the government’s not so bad track-record. But then her front is strong and we have taken care in choosing the representative constituencies .... Unless some major sensational development in favour of the DMK takes place between now and the polling day, I think the ADMK will come back to power.”

   

 
 
DELHI WAKES UP TO TALIBAN THREAT NEARER HOME 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, April 8: 
The rise of Islamic fundamentalist forces in Central Asia is giving India the jitters. The possibility that “secular” governments in the region will cave into pressure from Taliban-trained militants, providing the much-needed strategic advantage to Pakistan, has raised South Block’s concern.

With the Taliban regime in Afghanistan creating problems in Kashmir, the last thing that India wants is the fall of the secular governments in Central Asia, considered as the “immediate neighbourhood” by Delhi.

In a recent report, the International Crisis Group, chaired by former New Zealand foreign minister Gareth Evans, however, discounted the threat of Islamic forces in the region. Instead, it laid stress on the undemocratic manner of functioning in the Central Asian republics and highlighted these regimes lack of respect for its citizens’ human rights.

India, though aware of the scant respect these regimes have for human rights and democratic norms, does not fully agree with the assessment.

It feels that the Central Asian republics have strong secular credentials and, therefore, attempts should be made to bolster the governments in the face of threats from Islamic militants.

The Islamic rebels’ activities are focused around the Farghana Valley — one of the most fertile basins bordering the important states of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in the region. In the past few years, the industrialised valley has become the hothouse for Islamic forces.

However, it is Uzbekistan that has drawn the ire of the militants. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan serve as the main land routes for the Taliban-trained armed rebels to conduct their forays into capital Tashkent and elsewhere in Uzbekistan.

The Central Asian republics, which gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, have not lived up to economic expectations. Though endowed with resources like natural gas and oil, the economy of these republics have gone downhill, leading to social and political unrest.

But the leaders of these states, trained in the Soviet mould, have little patience for political dissidence. The harsh measures adopted by Ismail Karimov of Uzbekistan and other rulers have forced the political opposition to go underground and take up arms against these regimes.

One such group is the Taliban-trained Islamist Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which draws support from the mother organisation Hizb-ut-Takhrir, a London-based outfit receiving finance from questionable sources. In the past few years the IMU has, using Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan as land routes, attacked Uzbekistan several times.

The Karimov regime has blamed the Kyrgyz and the Tajiks for their failure to check the attacks and dubbed them as “soft-states”.

But the two states do not have an army to take on the ideologically-driven, committed and well-trained IMU members.

The comparatively better-trained and well-equipped Uzbek army has incurred heavy losses against IMU attacks and the country is now scouting for help from different sources to combat the militants effectively.

For India, the rise of Islamic militancy in Central Asia poses a twin-problem. While the Taliban and its main backer, Pakistan, are not directly involved in the attacks and are using home-spun rebels to conduct a proxy war against the Central Asian regimes, its fallout may affect India’s interests in the near future.

If thwarted, the IMU may join militant groups in Kashmir to fight against the Indian security forces. On the other hand, if the Islamic forces succeed in defeating the “secular” governments in the region, it may provide Pakistan with strategic leverage.

   
 

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