Naxalite spectre over CPM murder
Handicap certificate racket busted
Samir terror salvo at old friends
Rain respite for parched & paralysed Darjeeling
Hunt for quake jailbreakers
Tiger growls at PM Mumbai swipe
BJP waits for spillovers
Chorus against Karunakaran rises in Cong
Let down and at a loss after double whammy
One voice, two goals for India and Iran

Midnapore, April 10: 
Last night’s murder of a senior local CPM leader has sent shockwaves through violence-scarred Garbeta and raised the spectre of Naxalite terror in the run-up to the elections.

CPM branch secretary Tapan Ghosh was shot dead in the dense forests of Nalpa in Kasthogura while he was returning home on his motorcycle. The unknown assailants, who were apparently waiting for Ghosh to cross the forest, fired at him and the pillion rider, Haradhan Sau.

Sau survived as he fell off the bike and ran into the darkness.

Garbeta resembled a ghost town today with markets remaining closed, vehicles staying off the roads and people refusing to go out of their homes.

Midnapore superintendent of police A.K. Maliwal said the 22 people named in the FIR belonged either to the Peoples’ War Group (PWG) or the Trinamul Congress.

Police, however, suspect the PWG’s hand in the killing because the Naxalite outfit had announced after the “massacre” at Chhoto Angaria in early January that it would avenge the “murder of PWG activists by CPM cadre”.

The alleged “carnage” was suspected to have been the fallout of the turf war between the CPM and the PWG, which was gaining ground in the district.

On the PWG hit list was one Tapan Ghosh, whom the organisation had accused of being involved in the “mass killing” of its activists. Police feel that last night’s murder of the CPM branch secretary may have been a case of mistaken identity.

“We have taken six persons into custody. During questioning, some of them have made statements that indicate a Trinamul-PWG nexus. I have examined all the four bullets that were pumped into the victim’s body and they all seem to be fired from sophisticated weapons,” Maliwal said.

Trinamul leader in Garbeta, Asim Ojha, said some misguided elements may have carried out the murder.

“It is the CPM which rehabilitated the PWG, a party banned in Andhra Pradesh, in West Bengal. Earlier, the CPM used the PWG activists against us. The Naxalites brought sophisticated weapons with them. But later, the CPM did not look after the PWG members and they felt betrayed. Then they joined us,” Ojha said.

Ghosh’s body was sent from the Midnapore Sadar Hospital morgue after post-mortem to Garbeta this evening where the CPM held a rally to protest against the murder.

Ghosh’s body was taken to his native village of Kasthogura for cremation. Among those present were minister of state for transport Susanta Ghosh and district CPM secretary Dipak Sarkar.

Police said raids are on in Garbeta and its adjoining areas to arrest activists of the PWG and other militant Naxalite outfits such as the Maoist Communist Centre. Police have already arrested more than 55 people from the Garbeta forests and recovered a large cache of arms and ammunition.


Calcutta, April 10: 
The police today busted an inter-district racket in fake handicap certificates and recovered seals of IAS and IPS officers, hospital superintendents and other senior officers.

Deputy commissioner of police, north, Kundan Lal Tamta said the police seized the seals and several thousand fake certificates from the house of mastermind Arjun Sau at Jagaddal in North 24-Parganas this evening.

Preliminary investigations showed that the racket was flourishing in North 24-Parganas, Howrah and Calcutta. Police suspect that some senior government officials are on Arjun’s payroll.

Arjun told policemen during interrogation that he has been running the racket since 1990. The certificates, sold for Rs 700 each, could ensure the benefits reserved for the handicapped for the buyer.

Tamta said the police stumbled on the racket on April 3, when the superintendent of RG Kar Hospital complained that the handicap certificate submitted by a patient, Ranjit Mukherjee, looked dubious.

The police picked up Mukherjee, whose confession set them on the trail of the others involved in the racket, which stretched from Howrah to Jagaddal. Police arrested the main suppliers in Howrah and North 24-Parganas, before going to arrest Arjun.


Calcutta, April 10: 
Alleging that his former party was preparing to win the ballot battle with bullets, breakaway CPM leader Samir Putatunda today vowed to fight the war from the streets.

Putatunda, who has fielded himself against chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in Jadavpur, met chief electoral officer (CEO) Sabyasachi Sen and lodged several complaints against the CPM, charging the ruling party with intimidating voters.

The general secretary of the Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS), Putatunda said the CPM had lost its mass support and it had no alternative but to flex its muscles in an effort to retain power.

“I have told the chief electoral officer how CPM supporters are terrorising several areas and how they are forcibly trying to prevent our activities. Our leaders and candidates are being prevented by the CPM workers from holding rallies and putting up banners. I have urged the CEO to ensure that our candidates and leaders can campaign freely,” Putatunda told reporters at Writers’ Buildings.

He alleged that CPM workers in Jadavpur were threatening houseowners not to allow PDS workers to set up camps or offices on their premises.

“We shall sit on the pavement and show the people what kind of democracy prevails here. Those who mastermind attacks on leaders of rival parties, threaten to kill their supporters and prevent them from carrying on political activities, how can they speak of democracy?” he asked.

CPM politburo member Sailen Dasgupta said none of his party’s supporters was involved in intimidating voters. “We believe in democracy and our policy is not to resist any opposing party to carry on political activities. Putatunda’s allegation is baseless,” Dasgupta said.

Reacting to the denial of the Burdwan district magistrate that PDS leader Saifuddin Chowdhury had been assaulted on Saturday, Putatunda said police, the district magistrate and the CPM were making contradictory statements on the issue.


Siliguri, April 10: 
Late afternoon showers today brought relief to the parched hills, which entered the second day of the indefinite bandh clamped by the GNLF.

The heavy showers that lasted a little over two hours were welcomed by the residents, who have been dependent on water-peddlers for the past fortnight to see them through everyday chores.

“This afternoon’s showers, though brief, was a welcome relief for us. We have been paying Rs 15 for a bucket of water for the past few weeks. The rains brought a welcome respite for us despite the indefinite GNLF bandh. It, at least, washed away all the filth that had accumulated in the town over the past few weeks,” said a Darjeeling resident.

Barring a few stray incidents, the second day of the bandh passed of peacefully, bringing life to a standstill in the urban belts of the three hill sub-divisions but evoking only partial response in 12 of the 72 tea gardens in Darjeeling and Kurseong.

Darjeeling SP Sanjay Chander said: “Some unknown miscreants tried to set fire to the tyres of a NBSTC bus parked near the district magistrate’s office in Darjeeling town last night. This apart, the bandh passed off peacefully throughout the hills today.”

Reports from Kalimpong said some persons last night set fire to furniture at the office of the forest divisional manager and the Lava forest godown. Darjeeling district magistrate Anil Verma said: “Reports are being verified. We are yet to establish if these incidents were accidental, or cases of arson or in connected with the bandh.”


Calcutta, April 10: 
A Gujarat police team has been scouring the eastern fringes of the city for three Calcutta criminals, who had escaped after the January 26 earthquake from Bhuj jail, where they were serving sentences for murder and kidnapping.

The team combed Topsia, Tiljala and Kasba on Monday and the early hours of Tuesday. Deputy inspector-general of Gujarat police (operation), anti-terrorist cell, Bijoy Bipul had sent a message last week to city police chief D.C. Vajpai and director-general Deepak Sanyal, mentioning that Ram Kumar, Pappu Singh and Manish Kartnis had escaped from Bhuj jail and were currently hiding in and around the city.

“We have sent a team to Calcutta to track down the criminals,” Bipul had said.

Gujarat police detectives had descended on the city last year with information that these criminals had abducted a Gujarati businessman, who had come to Calcutta on a business tour, and two of his associates.

The businessman was later released after his family paid the ransom, but one of his associates was found murdered.

With the help of city detectives, the Gujarat team had laid a trap and arrested Ram, Pappu and Manish.

According to records available with the Gujarat police, Pappu stays on R.D. Street on the city’s eastern outskirts, Ram is from Muktaram Babu Street while Manish used to stay in Park Street.

Deputy commissioner of police, south, Ranjit Pachnanda said the police had raided the addresses provided by Gujrat police, but drawn a blank. “The police could not find them. But we have activated our sources, and if they are hiding in the city, we will definitely trace them,’’ he said.

The Gujarat police officials said they have some addresses of hideouts of these criminals in the Topsia and Tiljala areas.

City detectives confirmed that the three were involved in recent incidents of crime in Calcutta and the suburbs. Police said Ram and Manish had also been arrested, but they managed to disappear after obtaining bail.

Sources said Vajpai has directed all divisional deputy commissioners to carry out special raids and track down the criminals.


Mumbai, April 10: 
Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray today hit back at Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, calling the BJP leader’s visit to Mumbai and his remarks about its cosmopolitan culture into question.

Referring to Vajpayee’s comments on Sunday that he wanted Mumbai to be “free for everybody”, a veiled dig at Thackeray’s opposition to the entry of outsiders into the city, the Sena leader said the continuing influx “has not led to the city’s progress, but its ruin”.

Vajpayee was on a short visit to the financial capital, bruised by the second stock market scandal in a decade, to address a Jain gathering on the 2600th birth anniversary of Mahavir.

He was to address a National Democratic Alliance rally in the city that day in an attempt to counter the Tehelka revelations. But the rally was called off after the Sena chief refused to share the dais with him unless he was allowed to speak his mind.

In a signal that he had not forgotten the slight from Thackeray, Vajpayee took a swipe at his ally, without mentioning the Sena.

Hum to Mumbai sab ke liye chathe hain, lekin Mumbaiwale kya chahte hai yeh malum nahi,” the Prime Minister had said, describing the city as “India’s second capital”.

To make his displeasure known, Vajpayee had not met Thackeray, which he usually does on visits to Mumbai. Nor had the leaders spoken on the phone.

Thackeray chose the Saamna, the Sena mouthpiece, to settle the score today.

In an interview he ridiculed the security measures taken for the Prime Minister’s visit to the city.

The Sena chief said the tar roads were dug up and bamboo cordons were set up for Vajpayee’s security when “the country’s borders remain porous”.

For all his remarks about the Prime Minister’s security, Thackeray has made very few public appearances since police unearthed a Lashkar-e-Toiba plot to kill him. On his last birthday, he disappeared from home fearing a threat to his life, letting down throngs of followers who had come to greet him.

Referring to Vajpayee’s remarks, Thackeray said a demand to carve Mumbai out of Maharashtra could come up if the city kept its door open for outsiders. “But Marathis are not going to tolerate any such demands.”

Thackeray accused Jana Sangh — the party Vajpayee had belonged to before its evolution into the BJP — of opposing the movement for a unified Maharashtra, which he said had claimed 105 lives.

But he tempered his criticism of Vajpayee saying he understood the pressure the BJP leader was under in trying to run a coalition government. He also ruled out withdrawal of support.

“I don’t have any animosity towards him. Differences might be there, but we will not allow this government to fall,” the Sena chief said.

BJP downplays outburst

The BJP has underplayed the sarcastic remarks on Vajpayee in the Saamna editorial. The party’s spokesman and general secretary, Narendra Modi, drew a distinction between the Sena mouthpiece and the party chief. He claimed whatever appeared in Saamna did not necessarily reflect Thackeray’s standpoint.

“The Saamna editorial was written by the editor and Thackeray is not the editor. The journal has the right to express its views and we believe in press freedom,” said Modi. He added that if Thackeray had felt strongly about an issue concerning the NDA government or the Prime Minister, he would have conveyed his opinion directly to Vajpayee. “Balasaheb doesn’t need a via media,” he said.

Stressing that despite the recent bout of rancour the BJP-Sena relationship was in place, he said: “The Sena and BJP are serving the country together,” he said.

Soon after the Tehelka exposé, Thackeray was quick to join the chorus demanding the removal of tape-tainted PMO officials, Brajesh Mishra and N.K. Singh. But even on that occasion, the demand was articulated through Saamna.

Vajpayee is believed to have summoned power minister Suresh Prabhu of the Sena and asked why Thackeray was “keen” to give the impression he was with the Opposition on Tehelka.

Vajpayee’s response was conveyed to Thackeray, who asked his MP Anant Geethe to “clarify” that he had nothing to do with the editorial, although Thackeray vets everything that appears in Saamna.


New Delhi, April 10: 
Anticipating the entry of disgruntled leaders from Trinamul and the Congress camps, the BJP has held back its list of candidates for West Bengal.

The lists for Bengal and Assam will be announced after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee returns from Iran on April 13.

The BJP’s central election committee, which met at Vajpayee’s residence yesterday, could not finalise the candidates for the two states and could only partially decide the Kerala list. However, barring one seat, the candidates for Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry are in place.

The party has decided to contest all 294 seats in Bengal. Explaining the delay in drawing up the Bengal list, BJP vice-president in charge of the state Kailashpati Mishra said: “People from Trinamul and the Congress are joining the BJP in hundreds and thousands every day. So we are waiting for the migration to be over before selecting our candidates.”

[Union minister Tapan Sikdar held a camp in Garia today where nearly 2,000 Trinamul workers switched over to the BJP.]

Pointed out that BJP sources had been quoted as saying that the delay was not because of a surfeit of aspirants but for want of them, Mishra retorted: “There is no dearth of candidates. Even sitting MLAs are approaching us.”

The BJP leader said several new entrants could be fielded from “winnable” seats and claimed that this would not antagonise the party’s loyal cadre. “We have 50,000 active members in Bengal but not all of them have joined the party to fight elections,” he argued.

Asked if the BJP’s campaign would attack the Left Front or the Trinamul-Congress combine, Mishra said: “Our campaign will be mainly against the Left. There is no need to take note of Trinamul and the Congress because notice is only taken of forces which are significant.”

The party has nominated Rama Prasad Tewari, the Midnapore district BJP president, for the byelection in the Lok Sabha constituency which fell vacant after the death of CPI leader Indrajit Gupta.

For the Tiruchirapalli Lok Sabha seat in Tamil Nadu, represented by P.R. Kumaramangalam who died last year, the BJP has chosen M.N. Sukumaran Nambiar, a state unit secretary. Two relatives of Kumaramangalam —his wife Kitty and sister Lalitha — were reportedly interested in Tiruchirapalli. While Kitty was ruled out by the leadership for her lack of even a working knowledge of Tamil, Lalitha Kumaramangalam, who is a member of the BJP’s national executive, has been offered the Tiruppur Assembly seat as consolation.

Nambiar is the son of an erstwhile Tamil screen villain M.N. Nambiar. The father is expected to campaign for the son.

The BJP has fielded both its sitting legislators in Tamil Nadu, C. Velayudhan and B. Venkataswami. State general secretary H. Raja, who narrowly lost from the Sivaganga Lok Sabha seat in 1999 to the Congress’ S. Nachiappa and pushed former finance minister P. Chidambaram to third spot, has been put up from Karaikudi.


Kochi, April 10: 
K. Karuna-karan’s revolt seems to be petering out. With the Congress high command unwilling to do much to provide a face-saving formula, the former chief minister’s detractors went on the offensive today, branding him a spoilsport.

Senior leaders opposed to him said in private that Karunakaran wants to become the chief minister again. “He wants to beat Nayanar’s record stint in power. Both of them have served four terms, but Karunakaran lags behind by a few months because on two occasions he had to bow out of office prematurely,” a senior leader said.

“Besides, he can’t forgive Antony for replacing him in 1995. All that he wants now is to become a chief minister and promises to opt out after a year or so. But he is a limpet and Soniaji doesn’t trust him,” he added.

The usually taciturn Antony also lashed out indirectly at his long-time rival at a news conference. “This way you’d only end up bringing the LDF led by V.S. Achuthanandan into the government on a golden palanquin,” he said.

Saying he would accept any decision taken by the high command to defuse the crisis, Antony warned that the way Karunakaran’s men are kicking up a ruckus would badly damage the party’s interests.

Followers of another faction leader, former KPCC president Vayalar Ravi, are delighted that the high command is not rushing in to mollify Karunakaran. “All this will subside in a couple of days. He knows which side of the bread is buttered,” they said.

Karunakaran’s loyalists in Thrissur district, however, claim that a formula is being worked out in Delhi to enable his daughter, Padmaja, to contest from Chalakudi. According to them, the nominee from Vadakkekara — another constituency in Thrissur — who belongs to the Antony camp, would be eased out and sitting Chalakudi MLA Savitri Lakshmanan shifted there. This would pave the way for Padmaja’s nomination from Chalakudi.

Besides ensuring a berth for his daughter, such an arrangement would give Karunakaran one more seat at the cost of Antony.

Some Congress leaders in Thrissur are, however, getting impatient and want their leader to call off the revolt in the interest of the party. The district Congress committee headquarters, named the Karunakaran Sapthathi Mandiram to commemorate his 70th birth anniversary, looks deserted.

District party chief C.N. Balakrishnan has kept away from the furore in Thiruvananthapuram and not condemned Antony. Balakrishnan is reportedly upset over the denial of a ticket to him as Karunakaran’s son, Muralidharan, wanted somebody else to contest.

A Karunakaran loyalist who has been nominated has also come down heavily on his leader, though on condition of anonymity. “This is like cutting the branch on which you are sitting. I don’t know why he is going to such lengths. Ultimately it is we who are in the fray who are affected,” the loyalist said.

The candidate pointed out that he was cooling his heels at home and had yet to start campaigning as he was too embarrassed to face the people. “They would ask me all kinds of questions. What do I tell them?” he asked.

The pressure from within his own camp has forced Karunakaran on the backfoot and the former chief minister is reportedly looking for an honourable way out. “This has happened here time and again. If the Congress cannot do without him, as his supporters claim, he, too, cannot do without the Congress,” commented an analyst.

The crisis has even rattled the Indian Union Muslim League, which is talking to the rival camps to resolve the problem quickly.


New Delhi, April 10: 
The defiance of octogenarian leaders K. Karunakaran and A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury has baffled Sonia Gandhi as she had accommodated them in the Congress Working Committee as permanent invitees after vetoing strong reservations from their state party units.

Sonia is also in a bind over private secretary Vincent George, entangled in a disproportionate assets case. George, now on leave, is playing the “loyalty” card while a section of the party wants Sonia to “sacrifice” him to project the Congress’ clean image.

There is, however, no dearth of “friends of George”, including three chief ministers and many CWC members, who have cautioned Sonia against falling prey to the NDA’s campaign to drive home the point that the Congress is equally tainted.

“Today, it is George, tomorrow it will be Ajit Jogi and other senior party functionaries,” a Congress chief minister recently told Sonia.

Faced with a problem in Kerala and hiccups in Bengal, the AICC chief is said to be extremely disappointed with Ghani and Karunakaran. She reportedly told her close aides that she always went out of the way to help out and stand by the two senior leaders. “Tell me, what have I done to deserve this?” she asked an aide.

In view of their seniority and long contribution to the party, Sonia has ruled out any disciplinary action. But as the head of the organisation, she is concerned about the impact of mutiny in Kerala and Bengal.

According to her, senior leaders were expected to set examples and keep the party’s interest paramount.

The conduct of Karunakaran has stunned Sonia more. During her recent visit to Kerala, the AICC chief had asked Karunakaran if he was interested in fielding daughter Padmaja. The veteran leader flatly denied any interest.

Subsequently, Sonia learnt that Karunakaran wanted her to propose Padmaja’s name. Since Sonia failed to fulfil Karunakaran’s wish, she should now compensate by projecting him as the next chief minister or at least deny the coveted post to arch rival A.K. Antony.

The party chief is also upset over Karunakaran’s “personal” remarks against her, though the former chief minister denied it.

A few days ago, Karunakaran had dubbed Sonia “Rajiv Gandhi’s wife” and not Indira Gandhi’s daughter-in-law, implying that she lacked Indira’s political acumen. Sources close to Sonia wondered why Karunakaran was comparing her with the former Prime Minister when such a comparison was “absolutely uncalled for”.

Ghani’s outburst is also beyond Sonia’s comprehension. The Malda MP was the strongest votary of mahajot and on a number of occasions, he was blunt enough to tell Sonia that minus Mamata, the Congress was “zero” in Bengal.

Now that Sonia has worked out an alliance with Trinamul, Ghani is crying foul, even threatening to campaign against Mamata. “Is this the way politics works?” an aide quoted Sonia as asking.


Tehran, April 10: 
India today managed to enlist the support of Iran in condemning international terrorism and berating countries abetting terror groups.

Pakistan was not named, but the signal was directed towards it, too, as Delhi has all along held Islamabad responsible for cross-border terrorism in Kashmir.

By aligning itself with the condemnation, Iran is seeking to convince the outside world, particularly the West, that it wants to shed the tag of a terror-sponsor and exporter of Islamic hard line.

The condemnation of terrorism was one of the main planks of the Tehran Declaration signed by Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and his Iranian host, President Mohammad Khatami.

The declaration came after an exclusive tete-a-tete, which was followed by delegation level talks.

Foreign minister Jaswant Singh described the document as a “path-breaking” agreement. He pointed out that this was the first time that the two countries have signed such a document.

“It is a turning point in relations between India and Iran. It is marked by cordiality and determination of the two sides to take forward their relationship,” Singh said.

Hours before the document was signed, Vajpayee had sent a goodwill message to Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf.

Getting Iran to join the condemnation of terrorism on one hand and repeating his intention to build friendly ties with Islamabad on the other, Vajpayee is trying to convince the Musharraf regime to give up its path of confrontation.

Vajpayee sent a clear signal to Islamabad to either join Delhi’s initiative to establish stability in the region through economic development or be isolated from the international mainstream by being branded a sponsor of terrorism.

India and Iran also signed a memorandum of understanding on co-operation on energy, which will help the two sides work closely in oil and natural gas.

Cooperation on natural gas has already started. The two countries are now exploring various options, including an overland route through Pakistan, for transferring the gas to India.

Four other agreements were also signed, covering technical co-operation, information technology, trade and customs duties.

Barely a year ago, India signed the ‘Vision Statement’ with the US, expressing Delhi’s intention to work closely with Washington on issues beneficial to both. Now a similar document has been signed with America’s once enemy number one, Iran.

It is a sound move as it not only establishes India as an important player in the region but also shows its ability to be a bridge between two adversaries.

Khatami’s victory in the presidential election of Iran had raised high expectations and hope in the West as his pro-reform views were well-known. However, the slow progress of reforms over the past few years had disappointed many.

With the categorical condemnation of international terrorism, the new regime in Tehran hopes to reassure those awaiting an acceleration of reforms.

Iran supported India’s initiative for a comprehensive convention at the UN for combating international terrorism.

Afghanistan was another area where both had a common perception. They called for an end to the civil conflict in the state and felt that only a broad-based government could bring peace to the country.


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