Bloodshed on border with friend
Delhi pushes but is shy of shove
Friends & family forsake rebel Panja
Centre plans House shutdown
Masood men on ‘shock’ mission
Calcutta Weather

Dhubri & Dhaka, April 18: 
A dawn-to-dusk battle shattered the peace on India’s eventless eastern border with 16 jawans of the Border Security Force being killed in a fierce clash with Bangladeshi troops.

Two members of the Bangladesh Rifles were also killed in the battle as the two sides blamed each other for the flare-up on the sensitive trijunction of the Meghalaya-Assam-Bangladesh borders.

Bangladesh said its border guards repulsed an attack by the BSF on its northern Rowmari border. But at Mancachar on the Indian side, local MLA K.C. Boro said: “The Bangladeshis started shelling the area from 4 am and the fighting was continuing till 7.30 in the evening.”

Not very far from the Bengal-Bangladesh border, the battlefield lies east of Pyrdiwah village in Meghalaya where 19 BSF jawans are locked in a standoff with Bangladeshi troops for the third day today. BDR forces took possession of the village on Sunday night.

Reports about casualties were conflicting with the Indians saying two BSF jawans were injured while Dhaka disclosed that three soldiers had been flown to the Bangladesh capital. The bodies of the dead Indian jawans are in the BDR’s possession.

“We have repulsed a military assault launched by the Indians early Wednesday,” Maj. Gen. Fazlur Rahman, director-general of BDR, said.

Calling it an incursion by India, Rahman said about 300 BSF jawans launched the attack to capture the Baroibari border observation post at Rowmari, about 40 kilometres from the frontier district town of Kurigram. The BDR retaliated with machine-gun fire as the BSF used heavy artillery and mortar during the attack.

Bangladesh officials see the attack as a backlash to the BDR’s retaking of Padua (Pyrdiwah in Meghalaya) village. Bangladesh claimed that the Indians had been in illegal control of the village since Bangladesh’s 1971 independence war against Pakistan.

On the Indian side, the inspector-general of the BSF, V.K. Gaur, said he failed to fathom why Bangladesh had made such an unprovoked attack in the sector. “There is no dispute as Mancachar is a well-demarcated area. The only possible reason for this sort of aggression could be diversionary tactic so that our concentration is diverted from Pyrdiwah.”

“We are baffled by the action of Bangladesh Rifles,’’ an Indian diplomat in Dhaka said. The Indian high commissioner in Dhaka, Manilal Tripathi, was summoned to the foreign office to be handed a strong note of protest against the “unprovoked attack’’. The ritual was repeated in Delhi.

Thousands of villagers fled in panic as the battle raged. The first of the shells fell in Shahpur in Assam, BSF sources said. Local reports said civilians from three Meghalaya villages — Kakupara, Thakurainbari and Mancachar — fled their homes to take shelter in neighbouring areas.

Local people said they heard the boom of guns first at 2 am, which they believed to be shelling from across the border. Heavy exchange of fire followed during which the BSF took the fight to the BDR camp in Boroibari village, but could not hold on to it.


New Delhi, April 18: 
India today cautioned Dhaka that the “unwarranted action was unacceptable” and the Sheikh Hasina government should take immediate steps to restore peace and normalcy along the border.

Foreign secretary Chokila Iyer called Bangladesh high commissioner Mostafa Faroque Mohammed to South Block twice during the day to express concern. The second time was in the evening — after news of 16 casualties reached Delhi — when Iyer issued a sterner message to Dhaka to show restraint.

India wants to prevent at any cost the border shootouts from snowballing into a larger crisis with the country’s security forces returning fire as it would sour ties with a “friendly” neighbour and push Dhaka to the Delhi-haters’ club of South Asia.

With elections round the corner in Bangladesh, the Hasina government would have little choice but to adopt a tough anti-India posture if violence escalates.

This has put India on slippery diplomatic terrain, forcing it to do a balancing act. While getting across a firm message, Delhi has to take care not to alienate Bangladesh, the country India helped create.

Foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal said: “The high commissioner was apprised of the government’s serious concern over the unwarranted action of the Bangladesh Rifles.”

Observers said Jassal was careful to avoid the phrase “summoned to South Block” — used often when the Pakistan High Commissioner is called — and used the milder “apprised” instead.

He added that Faroque was asked to tell Dhaka to advise the local authorities on the border to avoid use of force in the interest of “close and friendly ties between the two countries”.

He emphasised that the need of the hour was “restoration of status quo ante” and utmost restraint to defuse tension along the border.

The foreign secretaries of the two sides had met last December and agreed to set up a joint working group to demarcate the border and expedite exchange of several enclaves between the two countries.

India and Bangladesh share nearly 400 km of border, of which about 7 km is disputed. Most of this falls in the Northeast.

The two sides have a framework which allows them to settle disputes at the sector commander’s level. But two such meetings — held on Sunday and today — remained “inconclusive”.


Calcutta, April 18: 
A day after Ajit Panja staged a dramatic revolt against Mamata Banerjee, the Trinamul Congress leader’s friends and family left him to fight his battle alone.

Panja’s elder brother Ranjit and two other party MPs, who were reported to have backed his views on Mamata in the past, disowned yesterday’s outburst. Tears streaking his face, Panja had complained of humiliation and stopped just short of calling Mamata a dictator.

Party general secretary Mukul Roy today said three MPs had informed him that they did not share Panja’s views. “Ranjit Panja, Nitish Sengupta and Bikram Sarkar said they have nothing to do with what Ajit Panja stated at a press conference yesterday,” Roy said. Panja had indicated that the MPs had not supported Mamata’s decision to pull out of the National Democratic Alliance.

Panja’s daughter Mahua Mondal, who is contesting the Vidyasagar seat on a Trinamul ticket, did not ascribe much importance to the revolt. “My father may have certain genuine grievances, but I hope didi will intervene to resolve the issues. Our party, the Trinamul Congress, is like a family and will solve its problems,” she said.

Reacting to Panja’s outburst, Mamata today said: “Party-r katha party bolbe (The party will react to intra-party matters).”

Mamata has asked partymen to “ignore the matter and fully engage themselves in the coming battle of ballots with the ruling communists”. A one-to-one meeting between the Trinamul chief and Panja before the elections is unlikely.

Calcutta mayor and Trinamul’s Chowringhee nominee Subrata Mukherjee said the party was not “taking any cognisance of Panja’s views”. “We are more concerned about preparations for the elections,” he said.

Ranjit Panja described his brother’s remarks as “damaging, ill-timed and premature”. “Every party has its problems which need to be addressed within the party. I do not go by what he said,” he said.

In Delhi, Bikram Sarkar echoed him: “I don’t share Panja’s views. He should not have gone public with his grievances. Instead, he should have discussed the issues within the party forum. This is unbecoming of Panja who is a key party functionary.”

Sarkar said he had discussed the matter with Jadavpur MP Krishna Bose. “She also expressed her profound unhappiness over the manner in which Panja aired his grievances in public,” he said.

Nitish Sengupta could not be contacted, but his wife said he, too, did not share Panja’s views. Sengupta is believed to have described Panja’s comments as “his individual perception”.


New Delhi, April 18: 
A fresh attempt to break the Parliament deadlock drew a blank today, prompting the government’s strategists to moot a contingency plan.

If the stalemate does not end soon, the government is eager to rush through the railway budget and finance Bills by next week and, then, get the House adjourned till Assembly elections in five states are over.

Barring the Congress and the RJD, all Opposition parties agreed with Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav’s suggestion for a poll-induced break in the session after discussing the Tehelka scandal and passing the budgets.

Sources, however, said two NDA allies, the Telugu Desam and the Shiv Sena, do not fully support the adjournment proposal. Desam, they said, wants the House to discuss farmers’ problems and the stock scam.

Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi is also believed to be uncomfortable with the move to rush through the finance Bills without a discussion.

Balayogi, prompted by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, convened a meeting of all party leaders today after both Houses were adjourned over the Congress’ demand for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe. But the meeting, the third since Monday, failed to break the logjam.

The Congress, the RJD and the Indian Union Muslim League stuck to their demand for a JPC while the government rejected it, saying a judicial commission of inquiry was already in place.

As the deadlock continued, parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan issued a whip to all BJP members to be present in the House on April 19, 20 and 23.

“Important items of business like discussion and voting on demands for grants (general and railways) and the Finance Bill, 2001, will be taken up in the Lok Sabha on April 19, 20 and 23,” Mahajan said. The railway budget, he added, is likely to be passed by the end of this week.

Mahajan said passing the budget without discussion will be the last resort but conceded that the Centre was worried the Congress could create trouble in the Rajya Sabha where it has a majority.

“We cannot trust the Congress now. To avoid any such eventuality, the government is trying to take recourse to the technicality that if the Rajya Sabha does not pass the finance Bills within a period of 14 days, the budget is presumed to be automatically passed,” he said.

The BJP said if the Congress continued its “obstructionist attitude”, both Houses should be adjourned after approval of the general and railway budgets. “Get the budgets passed as early as possible and if even after that the Congress does not allow Parliament to function, then there is no point in the House continuing,” spokesperson V.K. Malhotra said.

Congress spokesperson Jaipal Reddy opposed the move. “Under the Constitution, the government has no right to get the session adjourned sine die. Such discretionary power is vested in the Speaker,” he said.


Lucknow, April 18: 
Police claimed that three Pakistani militants of the Jaish-e-Mohammad group were shot dead this morning by a team of the special task force at Gomtinagar in the heart of the city when they were on their way to “capture” the disputed site at Ayodhya.

The outfit was floated by Masood Azhar, one of the three militants freed by India to secure the release of passengers of the Indian Airlines plane that was hijacked to Kandahar in December 1999.

Uttar Pradesh police are “shocked” at the size of the arms cache recovered from the slain militants. They were caught with a rocket launcher, 20 grenades, an AK-47, one AK-56, two improvised explosive devices, four electronic detonators, RDX, two automatic 9 mm pistols and a bagful of live cartridges. Some of the arms had the Pakistan army seal.

A senior STF officer claimed the militants were laying out a plan to eliminate Sonia Gandhi and daughter Priyanka, besides Ashok Singhal and L.K. Advani.

An associate of the militants, who was nabbed last night, said they had hatched a plot to kill the Congress leader and her daughter as they were “soft targets”, whom “no one would expect to be attacked”.

The militants, identified as Salim alias Babar, a resident of Sind, Rashid and Sajjad, both from Lahore, were directly under the charge of Masood Azhar. Rashid had been in charge of Masood’s personal security.

“It is not just the VHP which has its eyes on the disputed site at Ayodhya,” a senior police officer said, adding that the militants, by attacking the security forces stationed at the site, wanted to make an international issue of it.

“We can actually heave a sigh of relief,” state police chief M.C. Dwivedi said. He added that never before had hardcore militants been nabbed in Lucknow, that too with such a huge cache of arms.

Police said the militants had been promised another big consignment of arms once they reached Ayodhya. “We were tipped off about their movements in Uttar Pradesh by both the Intelligence Bureau and the state intelligence unit,” superintendent of police Rakesh Pandey said.

He added that the police were “extremely fearful” of their agenda. “We now have proof that the Jaish-e-Mohammad is making inroads in the state,” he said.

Police said the militants had visited several schools and institutions run by those “close to Pakistan” to recruit new members.

Dwivedi fears the “game is not over” yet. “We know there are more hardcore militants hiding in the state,” he said. Police have zeroed in on several possible hideouts and are keeping a close watch. “We just cannot afford to take any more chances,” he added.




Maximum: 31°C (-5)
Minimum: 22.9°C (-2))


2.5 mm

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 93%,
Minimum: 58%


Partly cloudy sky. Maximum temperature likely to be around 35°C
Sunrise: 5.16 am
Sunset: 5.55 pm

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