Sister of don girlfriend detained
Banker’s wife commits suicide
Fiery Atal throws no-trust challenge
Jhansi rani goes to see Ramji
Balco breakthrough eludes talks
Mamata MP set to make Cong comeback
Karunakaran gains edge with three more seats
Poll paper filing begins today
Women brave ballot bullets as Bihar bodycount rises

 
 
SISTER OF DON GIRLFRIEND DETAINED 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, April 15: 
The search for a kidnap linchpin who narrowly escaped capture on Friday took police to Durgapur, where they arrested two accomplices and detained two women.

One of the detained is the sister of don Ajay Singh’s girlfriend, Rita Verma.

The police missed Singh by a whisker last Friday at a checkpost in Salanpur on the Bengal-Bihar border. The police had foiled his bid to kidnap Asansol-based industrialist Rajesh Dharuka.

Three German mausers, four sophisticated imported revolvers, carbines, ammunitions and Rs 2 lakh were seized from the hideouts at Benachity and Bhiringi after today’s raids.

Superintendent of police (Burdwan), Manoj Malviya said that the Maruti Zen, in which Singh escaped from the Salanpur check-post, was also seized.

Malviya identified the arrested as Arun Shaw and Sanjoy Shaw. The duo, operating from Durgapur and Asansol, used to stock sophisticated arms and ammunitions for Singh, he said.

Singh was earlier arrested on charges of kidnapping Exide-chief S.B. Ganguly and was lodged at Alipore jail. He surfaced again after being released on bail last year.

The police has formed a Special Task Force (STF) to nab Singh after his bid to kidnap Dharuka failed last Friday.

Malviya said that the STF had recently raided the Patna residence of Singh and Rita, and seized some documents containing the names of prominent businessmen in Calcutta, Asansol, Durgapur and Burdwan.

The police said the task force is looking into a confession which linked some bureaucrats and politicians to Singh. The confession was made by two associates of Singh who were arrested on Friday.

   

 
 
BANKER’S WIFE COMMITS SUICIDE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, April 15: 
The middle-aged wife of a bank officer set herself on fire in the roof of their house today.

Sarmistha Sen’s charred body was found on the roof when family members started looking for her in the morning. An empty kerosene pot was found at the spot.

According to police, Sen left behind a note mentioning her husband’s alleged extra-marital affair as the reason for the extreme step.

“I am deeply distressed at my husband’s relationship with a woman, who is a close relative of ours. It is she who is responsible for wrecking my family and now my death. Police must punish her and not my husband who will have to take care of my children after my death,” police quoted the suicide note as saying.

Deputy commissioner of police (north) K.L. Tamta said Sen, who was under mental stress, committed suicide at around 4 am, when others were asleep.

Residents informed the police who recovered the body and sent it for post-mortem.

Samapti Pal, Sarmistha’s sister alleged: “My sister was mentally depressed because of her husband’s extra-marital relationship with a close relative. She could not tolerate this as it tormented her every second. Now her in-laws are trying to prove that she was ‘mentally sick’, which she never was. Even yesterday she called us all wishing subho naboborsho.”

   

 
 
FIERY ATAL THROWS NO-TRUST CHALLENGE 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, April 15: 
Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee today challenged the Opposition to move a no-trust motion against the government if it was not satisfied with the way the country was being run.

Declaring that a trust vote did not scare him as neither he nor his party was power-hungry like the Congress, Vajpayee said: “If the Opposition is so unhappy with the way we are governing, let there be a trial of strength. We are not afraid. They are.”

Speaking at an NDA rally on the Laxman Mela grounds, Vajpayee said his government was not daunted by the prospect of a debate on Tehelka either. He “hoped” the Opposition would agree to one instead of holding Parliament to ransom from tomorrow. “Let there be a debate on Tehelka tomorrow. Who is afraid?” he asked.

Saying Parliament cannot be in limbo forever, he said: “You don’t want a debate, you don’t want to go in for a trial of strength because you know you will be defeated. So what do you want? Only power? The race for power should not be so deadly that the interests of the whole nation lie compromised.”

Singling out the Congress for special mention, he said: “They don’t believe in inquiries, they don’t even believe in courts. What more can we offer? They want to change the government with anarchy and mischief. But in a democracy that cannot happen.”

Vajpayee had another go at the Congress as he regretted the failure to pass the Lok Pal Bill. Stating that he favoured bringing the Prime Minister within its purview, he said: “The Congress said no to that also. Unlike them, we take issues of corruption very seriously.”

Vajpayee was the star of the show, but it was former defence minister George Fernandes who came across as a “tragic hero”.

Sending a signal to the Opposition on the NDA’s “perception of Fernandes and his role in the defence scandal”, all the speakers, from Ram Vilas Paswan, Uma Bharti to Loktantrik Congress Party chief Naresh Aggarwal, lionised him by turns.

While Bharti said she had been a fan of George sahib’s since childhood, human resources development minister M.M. Joshi said: “The difference between the Congress’ (Vincent) George and the NDA’s George (Fernandes) is the difference between the two parties... one being a mere clerk amassed crores, another being a Union minister lived like a fakir.”

Aggarwal added: “I want to make it clear to George sahib that whatever the Opposition says we will always be with you. No one can take away anything from what you have nobly achieved.”

Fernandes sounded more mellow than angry about the controversy. Maintaining the exposé was a conspiracy hatched by the Hindujas who were facing trial in the Bofors case, he said: “The person who filmed it is himself under surveillance for cheating.”

Fernandes reiterated Tehelka was a “deceitful” controversy but clarified his “resignation was given keeping in mind the effect the whole controversy had on the defence forces. No one should be mistaken on that account.”

But he conceded he had no option but to step down. “I was in great difficulty. I was not allowed to speak in Parliament, neither was I given a chance to justify and defend myself. Resignation was the only way out.”

Reserving the last barb for Sonia Gandhi, he said: “It is ridiculous the woman who took 20 years to become a citizen of this country now wants to become its Prime Minister.”

   

 
 
JHANSI RANI GOES TO SEE RAMJI 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Lucknow, April 15: 
Jhansi ki rani went home happy with the show.

Baking under a sun which blazed at 40ºC, the plump and fair BJP supporter found on the NDA dais non-stop entertainment and something purer than Ganga jal.

She puckered up her nose and hid her face in her pallu in mock embarrassment when Uma Bharti said: “There are useless people who have the audacity to point a finger at George Fernandesji. He is more pure than Ganga jal. If some day you want to purify yourself with Ganga jal and don’t find it, you can just utter George sahib’s name. It will do the trick.”

The rani then waved at Bharti. “Aisa bhi kabhi hota hai?” she asked. The 30-something rally faithful had led 1,000 BJP workers, mostly women, from Gorakhpur, where they call her Jhansi ki rani.

She laughed when Vaiko took the dais and started off in Hindi. “Yeh kahan se tapka?” she asked.

The rani was not amused when Ram Vilas Paswan gunned for Loktantrik Congress Party chief Naresh Aggarwal, saying he was “incompetent to be a minister, for that matter even to hold a post”.

Playing to the gallery during his speech, Aggarwal, the most powerful ally of the BJP in the heartland, had asked Paswan to lay more telephone lines in the state.

Jhansi ki rani took upon herself the task of saving the alliance’s face. “You know, they fight in public. But in private, they really love each other. Anyway, don’t take what Paswanji said seriously. See, even Aggarwal is sitting silent.”

Her grimace gave way to a smile when Murli Manohar Joshi compared Fernandes to a saint.

Joshi went a step further to say Vajpayee would establish Ram rajya. But the rani had the last word: “Vajpayee himself is like Ramji. So much pain he is going through. First, in his knee and now, because of Tehelka, in his heart, too. But he still manages a smile, just like Ramji.”

   

 
 
BALCO BREAKTHROUGH ELUDES TALKS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 15: 
The tripartite talks involving the Centre, the Chhattisgarh government and union leaders here failed to break the Balco impasse with none of the sides willing to relent.

The labour leaders accused the Centre of staging the talks “merely to be able to tell Parliament that they have heard us out”. But mines minister Sunderlal Patwa, who led the Union government in the two-hour talks, said that “we have started to understand each other’s position and will continue the discussion tomorrow”.

The meeting was called to end the month-and-a-half strike at the Bharat Aluminium Company in protest against its sale to Sterlite Industries.

The BJP government, which is under sustained Opposition attack over the Tehelka tapes and an unfolding stock market scam, seems worried that accusations of a scam involving the Balco sale could become a major issue during polls in the five states.

This could be a possible reason why despite early aggressive postures over the strike, the BJP government decided to talk peace today without pre-conditions. But Balco’s union remained adamant on its demand that the controversial sale of the aluminium major to Sterlite Industries be rescinded, and they be offered a 10-per cent stake in the company. The Intuc-led union’s general secretary, Brahma Singh, said: “We do not accept Sterlite as the new owners. We want to remain a PSU.”

They described Patwa’s stand that most of their demands were under consideration in court and a decision in the meeting would be difficult as a stalling bid. Given the positions taken by the two sides, a long-term solution seems difficult.

Besides accusations that Balco was sold for a song to Sterlite, the deal is also being opposed on grounds that its mines are on scheduled tribal land which are not supposed to be given to private companies and that the company produces secret alloys for India’s nuclear and space programmes and hence should remain under state control.

The Supreme Court is hearing a bunch of petitions on these accusations challenging the sale as well as cases filed by the Centre against the striking workers and the Chhattisgarh government, accusing it of helping the workers.

The Congress government in Chhattisgarh has taken a militant position on the sale, serving notices on Central officers accusing them of violating state laws by transferring tribal land to outsiders.

But its representative, industry minister Mahendra Karma, today struck a reasonable pose, saying: “We are willing to take a few steps backwards if the Centre too takes them.” Karma avoided all questions on chief minister Ajit Jogi’s earlier statements, accusing Central officials of taking bribes while selling Balco. “We have come here leaving behind all the controversies,” he said.

The Sterlite management was not a party to the talks as both the Union and the Chhattisgarh governments wanted them to be kept out.

   

 
 
MAMATA MP SET TO MAKE CONG COMEBACK 
 
 
BY BARUN GHOSH
 
Calcutta, April 15: 
Trinamul Congress Rajya Sabha MP Jayanta Bhattacharya has fallen out with Mamata Banerjee and looks set to return to the Congress.

His change of heart comes barely a year after he was propelled into the Upper House by the Trinamul chief with help from foe-turned-friend Somen Mitra, dealing a blow to the Congress high command.

“There is no denying the fact that differences have cropped up between her and me,” Bhattacharya said in an interview with The Telegraph. “I cannot support her stand on many issues.”

Bhattacharya whetted speculation about his return by attending the function to commission the new Congress headquarters at the invitation of Mitra, once his mentor.

Asked if he had sought Mamata’s permission before attending, Bhattacharya replied in the negative. “I don’t think I have done anything wrong,” he said.

Mitra had successfully plotted Bhattacharya’s House entry in collaboration with Mamata after the high command turned down the state unit’s proposal for a Rajya Sabha berth for him and set up its own candidate, D.P. Roy.

A long-time Mitra confidant and a spokesman for Mamata for a brief period in 1999, Bhattacharya’s election was interpreted by the Congress high command as an affront to Sonia Gandhi.

Asked if he had any immediate plan to rejoin the Congress, Bhattacharya avoided a direct answer, but admitted distancing himself from the party he had joined to practise “value-based politics”.

Fed up with some of Mamata’s recent decisions, Bhattacharya said: “I am not going to accept Mamata blindly like others though she is my leader.” He did not back her decision to support the Kamtapuris, who have been demanding statehood.

Hours before leaving for Delhi to attend the Parliament session beginning tomorrow, Bhattacharya said this afternoon he would not bow to any pressure and would continue to “raise my voice against Mamata’s wrong decisions”.

Bhattacharya also objected to Mamata’s support to the Centre on the Balco issue. He felt that Mamata’s decision to stand by home minister L.K. Advani and two other ministers on the Babri masjid demolition issue was wrong. “Unlike Mamata, I feel that both Advani and (Uma) Bharti were responsible for the demolition of the disputed site.”

A disgusted Bhattacharya said he dissociated himself from Trinamul’s electioneering process due to his “strained relations with the netri”.

Reacting to Bhattacharya’s stand, Trinamul spokesman Pankaj Banerjee said: “Jayanta is free to do whatever he likes. But he should not forget that Mamata has done a lot for him before he become the Rajya Sabha MP.”

   

 
 
KARUNAKARAN GAINS EDGE WITH THREE MORE SEATS 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, April 15: 
The Congress high command broke the logjam in Kerala by offering three more seats to veteran leader K. Karunakaran in exchange for withdrawal of his resignation from the working committee.

However, Karunakaran’s daughter Padmaja has not been given a ticket for the Assembly polls. The warhorse is disinclined to make that a prestige issue as he is eyeing the post of chief in case the United Democratic Front (UDF) wins the polls.

In the faction-ridden state Congress, the Karunakaran camp now has an edge over arch rival A.K. Antony, who was considered to be a front-runner for chief ministership.

AICC general secretary in charge of Kerala Ghulam Nabi Azad on Sunday announced changes for three constituencies — Peravoor, Vadekkekare and Aaranmulla — where A.D. Mustafa, M.A. Chandrasekhar and Sarala Devi will now contest in place of Nuruddin, K.P. Dhanapalan and K. Shivadasan. Azad said Antony had accepted the changes on the party list.

Antony had made it clear that in principle he was not in favour of “opening” the list of candidates, but at the same time he said he would abide by the decision of the high command, Azad said. He added that Karunakaran would attend Parliament from Monday and has withdrawn his resignation from the CWC, where he is a permanent invitee.

The truce comes two days after Azad and party treasurer Moti Lal Vora visited Thiruvananthapuram to mollify Karunakaran, who resigned from the CWC expressing dissatisfaction over the denial of tickets to his supporters and Padmaja. An angry Karunakaran had made personal remarks against Sonia Gandhi, but had later withdrawn them.

Peace in Kerala was important for Sonia as the Congress is being seen as the frontrunner in the state and Assam. If the Congress romps home in the two states, she is expected to project the victory as a mandate against the Vajpayee regime.

In a related development, the UDF’s ally in Kerala, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) thanked Sonia and Azad for resolving the crisis, saying it would strengthen the front and help defeat the Left Democratic Front (LDF).

League MP E. Ahmed said it would help consolidate the UDF and capture power in the state. Ahmed, who was actively involved in bringing about rapprochement among different factions of the Congress in the state, said the IUML had always tried to strengthen secular and democratic forces.

Karunakaran’s son, K. Muraleedharan, termed the AICC decision as “a welcome step”. “We certainly welcome the AICC decision. The UDF is going to win,” he told reporters.

Karunakaran was expected to call all sections in the Congress to work for the victory of the UDF, he said.

Vayalar Ravi, another state leader, said: “We accept the decision since it has come from the AICC. We are going to regain the lost ground in a big way in the coming days. We will win. I think nobody is going to create any more problems.”

   

 
 
POLL PAPER FILING BEGINS TODAY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 15: 
Submission of nominations for the May 10 Assembly polls in Bengal will begin tomorrow amid uncertainty over filing of the papers for the three constituencies in Darjeeling because of the GNLF-sponsored indefinite strike in the region.

Chief electoral officer Sabyasachi Sen has appealed to the GNLF to withdraw its strike. “I have asked the Darjeeling district magistrate to appeal once more to withdraw the strike. If the appeal is not heeded, we shall inform the Election Commission and will take action as per instructions,’’ he said at the Writers’ Buildings. The candidates filing nominations there will get security, Sen added.

The chief electoral officer has sought a report from the Calcutta Municipal Corporation on steps taken to clean poll graffiti from public buildings. Earlier, the commission had instructed Sen to ensure that public walls were free from graffiti.

Sen has cautioned the CPM against flouting the election code of conduct by using microphones beyond the permissible time at a meeting in Malda.

Unhappy with the preliminary report by the Hooghly district magistrate on the killing of two persons at Jangipara, Sen has asked for a fresh report.“The district magistrate has submitted an incomplete report on the incident. I have asked him to submit a detailed report afresh by Monday,’’ he said.

The election officer said the project could be implemented if urgent.

   

 
 
WOMEN BRAVE BALLOT BULLETS AS BIHAR BODYCOUNT RISES 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Mukdampur (Jehanabad), April 15: 
Saab, ab tak to teen wicket girne ki khabar hai (Sir, three wickets are down now),” said a chowkidar in a village near Ullaspur, turning away from the transistor. But he wasn’t talking cricket. He was relaying the toll in the second phase of the panchayat poll.

That was around 2 pm in Jehanabad, one of the troubled districts. By 5.30, it had gone up to 10. The election offices in all the districts were informed at 6.30 pm that the toll was 14.

In Bihar, deaths now draw parallels with wickets tumbling in a cricket match. Stripped of their tragic dimensions, killings have been reduced to mere statistics. And the toll in the local polls is racing towards the 400 mark recorded during the panchayat polls in 1978.

Home secretary U.N. Panjiyar, however, was a satisfied man. “The panchayat polls were as good as it could be. There were a large number of policemen deployed. And they were active everywhere,” he said.

A tour through central Bihar revealed that the police were indeed on their feet. “But even God cannot stop killings in the state,” said an officer in Mukdampur police station. The police were clearly out of depth trying to counter gangs armed to the teeth. They have recovered 10 rifles, 18 pistols, 12 bombs and two dynamite sticks. As many as 250 people were arrested, most of them with arms.

Perhaps the only upshot from these bloody elections — being held in the state after 23 years — was the huge turnout of women, who refused to run scared of the violence.

A 63-year-old woman died in Vaishali after she was hit by bomb splinters. But it didn’t deter Dhanu Chowdhury. Waiting in a queue for her turn to vote in the same district, she said: “We could die in the ganglords’ war. But we will bring change.”

Keeping up their initial enthusiasm, women voters turned out in large numbers all over the state. Of the 65 per cent turnout, women made up about 50 per cent, state election commissioner M.L. Mazumder said. The toll was low because of the heavy presence of women voters, he added.

Trouble started early this morning, when a gang of upper-caste miscreants exploded bombs in Sukiama village before raiding booths and taking away over 200 ballot boxes. The police fired in the air to disperse the goons, but the situation remained tense. In a dimly-lit room, presiding officer Sukhdeo Yadav said: “They were all from the village itself. Till yesterday, they were good neighbours. Hours before the poll, they suddenly became enemies.”

This was true in all the troubled districts of Jehanabad, Gaya, Vaishali and Champaran. The armed upper-caste goons threatened to disrupt polling whenever they found the Dalits turning up in large numbers.

In a Ullasnagar booth, the trouble-makers successfully chased the Dalits away. It was only after the intervention of the district magistrate that the Mushahars of the area could vote.

In Gaya’s Gurwa village, some miscreants, allegedly Naxalites, raided a booth and tried to run away with a ballot box. However, the police patrol spotted the gang and chased them away. One person was killed in the firing. As terrified voters stayed away from a majority of the polling booths in Gaya and Jehanabad, anti-socials deployed minors to cast the votes. Many booths witnessed unfettered gunfights between rival gangs.

The maximum number of deaths was reported from Vaishali. Apart from the woman, three persons were killed in the district when rivals lobbed bombs at each other.

In East Champaran, Seohar, Begusarai, Nawada and Patna, there were several cases of villagers dying in the crossfire between rival gangs. In Purnia, one such clash led to the killing of a 13-year-old boy. As many as 39 persons were injured in statewide clashes.

In Nawada district, where three persons had died when the MCC blew up a van carrying Jain pilgrims on April 11, the extremists today snatched four rifles from policemen on duty and injured two constables. One of them died, sources said.

   
 

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