Toughtalk forces hill bandh relief
Benoy niece breathes fire
Naxalite hit list sparks panic
Vajpayee disclaimer calms Congress
Atal ally sets price of silence
Burning plane throws up surrendered Naxalite
Captain dies in Lashkar strike
Kathmandu concern over militants’ Bihar links
MCC massacres volunteer force
Jaya picks MGR seat plus another

 
 
TOUGHTALK FORCES HILL BANDH RELIEF 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, April 14: 
Hours after the government vowed to evacuate the stranded tourists and students at “any cost”, the GNLF today decided to lift the bandh for eight hours tomorrow.

Senior GNLF leader Deepak Gurung said the party had decided to relax the indefinite bandh from 8 am to 4 pm for tomorrow only. “We took the decision to enable residents buy essential commodities. Also, we wanted to help the hundreds of tourists and residential students stranded in the hills for the past week. Shops and markets can open and vehicles can ply normally during the relaxation period. However, no vehicles will be allowed to move after 4 pm,” Gurung said after a meeting of the GNLF branch committees of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong.

The decision came a few hours after urban development minister Ashoke Bhattacharya promised to rescue the stranded people come what may. Warning the GNLF of dire consequences if it continued with the bandh, Bhattacharya, who is the local CPM legislator, said: “The GNLF decision to continue with its indefinite bandh is a suicidal step. It will have an adverse long-term ramification for the party in the hills. The bandh is slowly but surely alienating the common man in the hills. The bandh, on since last Monday, has already caused untold suffering for hill residents, tourists and stranded residential students. The GNLF should call off the bandh before it cripples the hill economy.”

The minister said chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee spoke to Ghising on Thursday and requested him to call off the bandh. Chief secretary Manish Gupta called him up yesterday. Even inspector-general of police (intelligence branch) P.N. Saha has apprised Ghising about the progress of the investigation into the February 10 ambush.

But the GNLF chief refused to budge, saying that since the three branch committees had given the bandh call, it was up to them to withdraw it.

Bhattacharya said Ghising should not be adamant given that 16 men, including Gorkhaland Liberation Organisation chief Chhattray Subba, had been arrested.

“In no way can the police be pressured to arrest people against whom there is no evidence. We believe the GNLF wants the police to arrest Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxist leader R.B. Rai and the GNLF’s Kalimpong chief, C.K. Pradhan. The police have no evidence against the two leaders,” he added.

The GNLF, however, ruled out reviewing its decision. “There will be no further relaxation of the bandh in future until and unless the actual masterminds are arrested and the AK-47s used by them are seized. There is no question of the GNLF reviewing its decision before the arrests are made,” Gurung said.

Darjeeling superintendent of police Sanjay Chander said bandh supporters set on fire a hill-bound jeep and damaged an ambulance near Kurseong last night. A jeep used by the bandh enforcers was seized and the driver arrested.

   

 
 
BENOY NIECE BREATHES FIRE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Burdwan, April 14: 
Bandana Nandi, niece of former minister Benoy Chowdhury, has vowed to contest the Assembly elections against the CPM from Burdwan South if the party leadership does not apologise by tomorrow for the “injustice” meted out to her late uncle.

Speaking to reporters at her residence in Badamtala, Nandi said she would contest as a candidate for the Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS) if the CPM does not meet her demand. She will take a final decision at a meeting with PDS chief Saifuddin Chowdhury tomorrow night.

Nandi’s threat to contest from Burdwan South, where the CPM has fielded central committee member Nirupam Sen, has sent shock waves through party circles here. The Burdwan district leadership held an emergency meeting at its Parcus Road office to chalk out its strategy in case Nandi stood by her threat.

Nandi’s mother, Sarajubala, and the late minister’s son, Deepak Chowdhury, went to her residence today to persuade her to revoke her decision and not contest the polls.

Senior district CPM leader Arindam Konar got in touch with Nandi over the telephone and asked her to come to the party office and spell out her complaints. But Nandi refused to go, insisting that the party leaders should instead come to her house and express regret for the treatment meted out to Chowdhury.

“I’m the last person to go to the party office. However, some leaders may come to my residence tomorrow morning. I shall make them apologise for the way the party treated my maternal uncle,” Nandi said.

According to her, the CPM distanced itself from Chowdhury during his later years and pushed him to the sidelines.

Nandi said Saifuddin Chowdhury had requested her to contest as a PDS candidate. “I’m the last person to put up with the CPM’s plans to win the elections by exploiting my uncle’s goodwill and achievements. I cannot forget how the party had humiliated him. He was forced to keep himself away from the party after it started ill-treating him,” she said.

PDS general secretary Samir Putatunda confirmed that Nandi would be the party’s nominee for Burdwan South. “We will not give the CPM candidate a walkover in this constituency,” he said.

   

 
 
NAXALITE HIT LIST SPARKS PANIC 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Midnapore, April 14: 
The growing clout of the Naxalites has sparked terror in the villages in west Midnapore and certain areas of Bankura and Purulia districts. The murder of two CPM leaders last week and the disclosure that the People’s War Group (PWG) has prepared a “hit list” targeting, among others, a state minister have added to the panic.

Jawans from the Eastern Frontier Rifles took out a flag march today in an effort to calm the jittery villagers. Inspector-general of police (western range) J.R. Bhagat said 26 PWG activists and 39 Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) supporters have been arrested since the murders of two CPM leaders earlier in the week. The PWG has claimed responsibility for the murders of Tapan Ghosh in Naipa near Garbeta on Monday and Sibram Satpathy in Bankura the following day.

Bhagat despatched a report on law and order in these areas to chief election officer Sabyasachi Sen. The report points to the PWG “hit list” of 12 people. Transport minister of state Sushanta Ghosh and Bankura superintendent of police Basudev Bag are learnt to be on the list.

Bhagat said the residents of the area are living in fear following the double murder. “What has worried us is the vote boycott call given in these areas by both the MCC and the PWG. Leaflets, asking people to boycott the elections, have been distributed. They have also warned that those who ignore their diktat would face dire consequences,” he said.

The inspector-general said 12 police camps have been set up in Naipa, Raskundu, Bhalukbasa, Goalturu, Bupahain and Chhoto Angaria in Midnapore district and Saltora, Tilijat and Sarenga in Bankura district.

One company of the Eastern Frontier Rifles, state armed police and the rapid action force have been deployed in the area. Bhagat, along with the police superintendents of Midnapore, Bankura, Purulia and Hooghly, has been camping in the area for the past few days in search of 12 people wanted for the murders.

A senior police official said on condition of anonymity that the Naxalites had grown in influence because of the lack of development in the region.

   

 
 
VAJPAYEE DISCLAIMER CALMS CONGRESS 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, April 14: 
The Congress is reasonably satisfied and prepared to get back to Parliament without stalling the House after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s clarification on Subramanian Swamy’s charges against Sonia Gandhi.

Congress spokesman Anand Sharma said: “It is good that the Prime Minister has clarified. But he still owes an explanation why minister of state Vasundhara Raje Scindia forwarded such baseless allegations to the CBI. We would like a categorical clarification by the Prime Minister.”

Anand said it was “most unfortunate” that the government tried to push through baseless charges against the leader of the Opposition. “It is a telling commentary on how the government has been functioning in a most casual and cavalier manner.”

Congress leaders said in private the climbdown would help resume a “functioning relationship” between the Congress and the government in Parliament.

Senior leaders recalled how the Congress had ignored similar baseless charges against Vajpayee when he was leader of the Opposition. “That time, too, Swamy was at work,” said a party MP of the Rajiv Gandhi era.

During the recess, the Congress had decided in principle to roll back the onslaught in Parliament. However, the alleged “witch hunt” had fuelled a rethink and divided the party on its response.

A section of the party insisted that unless the government gives up its “nefarious attempts to defame” the leadership, the party should not cooperate.

The hardliners saw a pattern in what they termed the government’s “sustained campaign” against Sonia. First came the disproportionate assets case against her aide Vincent George. Then, a petrol pump charge against Chhattisgarh chief minister Ajit Jogi.

According to Madhavrao Scindia, the “baseless” case against Sonia showed the Centre’s frustration with its “indefensible” position on the Tehelka tapes. “The government has taken recourse to slander and a vilification campaign and is misusing the CBI as a medium for persecution,” Scindia said.

But not everyone in the Congress was happy with the move to kick up dust over Swamy’s charges. They said his charges were a double-edged weapon. “Till now, virtually no one was aware of the bizarre accusations. Now they will get wide publicity,” a Congress functionary said.

Moreover, Congress leaders feared that the charges will distract the public’s attention from Tehelka.

“We should have gone to the meeting and asked the Prime Minister why charges were not framed against Bangaru Laxman and Jaya Jaitly and the other Tehelka accused. We could then have walked out of the meeting,” a party MP said before the Prime Minister’s clarification.

The sharp division in the Congress over boycotting the all-party meet was clear from a series of meetings that took place both inside and outside 10 Janpath since last evening.

Sonia finally gave the green signal just before leaving for Jaipur, where she levelled serious allegations against the Vajpayee regime.

Sonia said the Tehelka episode was an eye-opener, regretting that corruption had penetrated like cancer at every level in the Vajpayee government. She asked the people to ponder whether the NDA-led coalition should remain in power.

“The Tehelka episode has opened the eyes of the people to the fact that corruption has penetrated at every level in the government like cancer and it is for them to decide how many more days such a government shall be allowed to continue,” she said.

   

 
 
ATAL ALLY SETS PRICE OF SILENCE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Lucknow, April 14: 
Unlike partners elsewhere, a key ally of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh has agreed to attend the Prime Minister’s rally here tomorrow, but with a rider: steer clear of Tehelka.

The Lucknow show of strength was initially touted as one of the launchpads for Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s offensive against the Opposition assault on the tape scandal.

However, the Loktantrik Congress Party has told the BJP that the rally should skirt the Tehelka expose as “development is what people want to hear about”.

“The Prime Minister should announce an economic and development package for UP and leave the Tehelka story aside,” said LCP chief Naresh Aggarwal.

Aggarwal, who does not want to share a stage that is used to justify the BJP’s position on the sting operation, said his party had made the demand at a meeting in Delhi early this week.

Allies in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra had distanced themselves from the Prime Minister’s roadshow.

Aggarwal said even those ministers accompanying Vajpayee should talk about the various projects pending with their respective ministries — and not about defencegate.

   

 
 
BURNING PLANE THROWS UP SURRENDERED NAXALITE 
 
 
FROM G.S. RADHAKRISHNA
 
Hyderabad, April 14: 
An Indian passenger who jumped off a burning plane bound for Frankfurt at Colombo airport earlier this week and received serious head injuries is a former Naxalite leader who had surrendered to the police two years ago.

A baffled Chandrababu Naidu has asked the home minister and the state police chief to explain how the former People’s War Group (PWG) top gun, Sammayya, who was under the protection of the security agencies, got a passport and obtained funds for a foreign trip.

Sammayya is one of the top 30 PWG cadre who have given up arms. He was given police protection after he shot dead PWG Dalam commander Bhoopathi and two of his associates in their sleep. Branded a traitor by the PWG but described as a “covert operator” by the police, Sammayya lived in exile for two years with police escort on the outskirts of Hyderabad.

PWG sources said that in exchange for the protection, Sammayya helped the police track down Naxalite leaders. He was instrumental in “eliminating” about 21 cadre, including two commanders and three deputy commanders. “Sammayya is now a major extortion racketeer. He is involved in kidnappings, smuggling of liquor, sandalwood, ivory and drugs,” a senior police official claimed.

Once a lorry cleaner in Karimnagar, Sammayya joined the PWG in 1989 and rose through the ranks to become one of its top rung and most feared leaders. After his surrender in 1998, Sammayya received a compensation of nearly Rs 12 lakh, which he used to purchase a house in Hyderabad. He also made investments in Vijayawada and worked as a financier-cum-labour contractor.

Sammayya was among the passengers on the Lufthansa aircraft which caught fire at Colombo airport last Wednesday. He was seriously injured while trying to save himself and has been admitted to a hospital in the Sri Lankan capital.

Enquiries traced him back to Hyderabad and the police were aghast to learn that the person was none other than the dreaded extremist who was supposed to have been in their protection.

The government has spent almost Rs 4 crore on rehabilitating the 340 Naxalites who have surrendered in the last decade. Some of them, including Sammayya, were given police escort and a gun licence.

Naidu took up the issue at a tele-Cabinet meeting today and asked the director-general of police to clarify when and how police protection to Sammayya was withdrawn and how the former Naxalite went underground without his knowledge.

The police contended that Sammayya may have got the passport from Tamil Nadu.

   

 
 
CAPTAIN DIES IN LASHKAR STRIKE 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar April 14: 
Five armymen, including a captain, were killed and nine seriously injured when Lashkar-e-Toiba militants stormed a heavily guarded Rashtriya Rifles camp at Lasipora in northern Kupwara last night.

Later in the evening, one BSF soldier and a militant were killed in a fierce gun-battle at Lal Chowk, at the city centre. One BSF jawan later succumbed to injuries in hospital, sources said, adding that the condition of another soldier was critical.

Police sources said militants fired a rocket at the guard room of the main entrance, killing the sentry on duty. They forced their entry into the camp, hurling grenades.

Once inside, the militants fired from automatic weapons on soldiers and also hurled grenades. In the gun-battle that followed, a captain and two soldiers died, sources said.

Though heavy firing continued for nearly two hours, the militants escaped in the cover of darkness. Reinforcements were rushed to the spot and the area was sealed off. Police sources said no one has been arrested. Lashkar-e-Toiba has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Senior police and army officers visited the spot today. Sources said the injured armymen were recovering at the hospital but four of them were in critical condition.

Hundreds of people blocked the Srinagar-Baramulla highway, shouting anti-government slogans. They were protesting against the killing of two villagers at Waripora Kreeri in Baramulla.

Army sources said the two villagers, identified as Ghulam Hassan and Mohammad Sultan, died after being caught in a crossfire. The villagers, however, alleged that both died in firing by the soldiers.

Police fired warning shots and teargas to clear the highway. Police have registered a case and started investigations.

   

 
 
KATHMANDU CONCERN OVER MILITANTS’ BIHAR LINKS 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Patna, April 14: 
The Union home ministry has forwarded to the Bihar government Nepal’s request to flush out from the state “mercenaries” who are conducting “training camps” for Nepali militants.

Nepal grew concerned over the Bihar links after a series of Maoist attacks in the country early this month in which over 72 people, including police officers, were killed.

The Centre had verified Nepal’s claims before forwarding it to Bihar, according to intelligence sources. The home ministry was told that there had been a steady trickle of Nepali militants into Bihar’s two districts — Kaimur and Aurangabad — over the past two years.

Both the districts provide an ideal setting for such camps as they are hilly and are covered by dense forests. Kaimur, being close to Uttar Pradesh, also provides an easy escape route for the militants.

It is believed that the Naxalites were giving training in landmine-blasts and handling of Kalashnikovs.

The People’s War Group (PWG) was the first contact between the Bihari and Nepali militants. The Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) of Bihar, though initially reluctant, agreed to impart operational training.

Police sources said intelligence officers arrested a Nepali citizen, believed to be member of the Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist), from Samastipur in February when he was travelling in a train. The man, still languishing in a jail, was carrying “objectionable literature” and letters of introduction from Nepal Left leaders to their counterpart in Bihar. Police learnt about the Nepal-Bihar Naxalite links after interrogating the man.

On April 6, Leftist militants killed 47 people, including 29 policemen, in an attack in Dailekh district, west of Kathmandu. This was the second strike in quick succession.

Alarmed at the spurt of Leftist attacks, Nepal contacted India at the diplomatic level seeking help to bust the training camps.

“Since there are Naxalites in Bihar they may have links with their Nepal counterpart,” said a senior officer in Bihar, adding that the state government was doing its bit.

“But the kind of expertise required to make an in-depth investigation on these links is not available,” he said.

Sources said even as Bihar gets into the act, the Naxalite outfits are burrowing deeper in the state’s remote areas.

In 1998, the Party Unity of Bihar got merged with the PWG of Andhra, linking the Naxalites in the two states. The PWG is now expanding in Uttar Pradesh and Orissa.

   

 
 
MCC MASSACRES VOLUNTEER FORCE 
 
 
FROM RUDRA BISWAS
 
Ranchi, April 14: 
Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) extremists today gunned down 14 people of the Gram Raksha Dal of Belthu village.

Police have launched combing operations in the bordering districts of Chatra and Palamau as senior officials, including Jharkhand director general of police T.P. Sinha, rushed to the village under Keredari police station in Hazaribagh district.

The Gram Raksha Dal, which was set up in 1992-93, is part of a village volunteer force to prevent infiltration of MCC extremists. The MCC had taken serious affront to the formation of the force and there were regular skirmishes between the extremists and the Gram Raksha Dal.

Sources said more than 100 MCC extremists surrounded the village around 4 am. They sealed off all entry and exit points and took hostage all the 14 members of the Gram Raksha Dal.

The incident took place when the members were sleeping at one end of the village after a night-long vigil.

The extremists tied up their hands and made them walk across to the other end. Later the hostages were made to stand in a single file after which the MCC opened fire, killing all of them on the spot.

The extremists fired 250 rounds in the air to scare off the villagers who had woken up by the sound of the gunshots. They also raised slogans against the Gram Raksha Dal and set ablaze parts of the village before fleeing into the neighbouring forest.

The rebels armed with sharp-edged weapons chopped off their heads before setting their houses on fire, a PTI report from Hazaribagh quoted Hazaribagh police superintendent Dipak Verma as saying. Thirteen gram raksha dal volunteers including three belonging to the same family were butchered while an 18-year-old girl perished in a blazing hut, Verma said.

As day broke, more than 500 villagers began a sit-in around the 14 corpses and refused to allow the police to remove them. They were protesting against the persistent refusal of the state government to provide firearms to the Gram Raksha Dal.

The angry villagers were demanding that Jharkhand chief minister Babulal Marandi visit the site of the incident. In the evening, after senior police and district officials intervened, the bodies were shifted to Sadar Hospital for post-mortem.

Hazaribagh deputy commissioner Amrendra Pratap Singh said the district administration had decided to provide an immediate compensation of Rs 20,000 to dependents of each of those killed in the attack.

Today’s massacre comes as a severe blow to the state government which soon after assuming power in November had called upon all extremists to surrender their firearms and give themselves up to the police. Earlier this month, chief minister Babulal Marandi announced a rehabilitation package of Rs 500 to Rs 1 lakh for extremists who would surrender with their firearms. None of the groups have responded so far.

On the other hand, People’s War Group extremists set ablaze several vehicles belonging to Hindalco at Lohardaga on April 11 and at Chatra, at least 18 MCC extremists were arrested while they were trying to execute a person at a jan adalat on April 2.

   

 
 
JAYA PICKS MGR SEAT PLUS ANOTHER 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai, April 14: 
ADMK chief Jayalalitha today made the surprise announcement that she would contest from two constituencies — Krishnagiri in the north-western region and Andipatti in southern Tamil Nadu.

Andipatti is an ADMK stronghold. MGR got elected from the constituency twice. The Thevars, an intermediate caste which backs the ADMK, has a strong presence in the region.

Jayalalitha won from the other constituency — Krishnagiri — in 1991, but lost in the last elections.

In 1997, the Election Commission had barred anyone convicted by a court for more than two years from contesting elections even if an appeal was pending against the verdict and a stay had been granted. But Madras High Court ruled this week that Jayalalitha, who was convicted in the Tansi land deal case, faces no disqualification as the conviction stood suspended because the sentence had already been suspended. However, a hint of ambiguity remained with the judge leaving it to the Election Commission to accept the nomination papers.

As a result, sources said, Jayalalitha is playing safe by putting in her papers from two constituencies. They said she is banking on the fact that at least one of the returning officers would pass her papers. But the name of her close confidante, Sasikala, does not figure on the list of 141 candidates released here this evening.

An interesting inclusion in the list is Inbathamizhan, the son of stormy petrel Thamaraikani. He has been fielded from Srivilliputhur.

Jayalalitha had earlier announced that the father would not be given a ticket but the son would get one, giving rise to a lot of bad blood within the Thamaraikani family. She also announced the names of 20 candidates for Pondicherry. Ten seats have been allotted to the PMK there.

This rules out the possibility of an alliance with the Congress or the Tamil Maanila Congress in the Union territory, which has only 30 Assembly seats.

The PMK and ADMK had entered into a deal which would allow the two parties to head the government alternately, with the PMK getting the first chance for two-and-a-half years.

In order to entice the Congress into the alliance, Jayalalitha offered to step aside and allow it to head the government for the second term.

The Congress appeared willing to enter into the deal with the pro-LTTE PMK, but insisted that it be allowed to head the government for the first two-and-a-half years on the ground that it is heading the government there now.

But PMK boss S. Ramadoss refused to yield any ground and talks ran into rough weather.

Sources said after today’s seat-share announcement, it is likely that the Congress, the TMC and the two Leftist parties would form a separate front in Pondicherry.

“Amma is in an upbeat mood,” said sources. “She is confident nothing stands between her and the chief ministerial office and hence all her peremptory gestures, giving a short shrift to the CPI and the TMC,” the sources added.

   
 

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