Allies lure jobless with package offer
Rebels in talks to shake up Big Two
Dead speak volumes of ‘sheer insanity’
BJP sees clash boost
Communal yesterday, comrade today
‘Hands-full’ Norway shies off Kashmir
Porn leads Net boom
Krishna backs barred minister

 
 
ALLIES LURE JOBLESS WITH PACKAGE OFFER 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, April 21: 
In an attempt to win over young voters, the Congress-Trinamul combine has promised a special package for Bengal’s unemployed youths if elected to power.

In its “common minimum agenda of governance” announced today, the combine said the package will initially benefit youths who have registered their names with employment exchanges during the past 10 years.

The combine also pledged to set up sports schools along the lines of the Sports Authority of India in all districts.

Releasing the common programme at a joint news conference with state Congress president Pranab Mukherjee this afternoon, Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee said: “Our slogan is: remove unemployment and save Bengal. We will try to improve the existing infrastructure through government and private initiatives if we come to power. Our aim is to bring the state back to the first place in the country which it used to occupy.”

Coming down heavily on the Left Front government for “its failure to utilise Central funds” earmarked for adivasis and the rural poor, Mamata said: “We will computerise land records and names of bargadars to make sure that they get the benefits of land reforms.” She promised autonomous councils to ensure speedy development of Purulia and other backward districts.

The Trinamul chief regretted “the steady decline” in the healthcare system in the state during the 24 years of Left rule. “Unfortunately, there is hardly any prime healthcare centre in the state where people can go to get proper treatment. We intend to set up a centre on the lines of Delhi’s All-India Institute of Medical Sciences.”

The common agenda promised to “restore the rule of law and introduce a neutral civic and police administration”. The allies also pledged to take effective steps to “put an end to politicisation of different sectors, particularly education”.

It charged the Left Front government with “violating the cultural and educational rights of religious minorities as enshrined in Article 25 of the Constitution”.

Expressing concern over the increasing number of custody deaths and violation of human rights, the combine underscored the need for giving more teeth to the state human rights commission.

The CPM brushed aside the combine’s complaint on the absence of rule of law in Bengal. “We don’t want to hear about rule of law from those who never cared for laws. How can the Trinamul leader talk about politicisation of education when she resorted to fraud about her own educational qualification?” CPM Politburo member Biman Bose said.

Mukherjee said the combine would accelerate work on administrative reforms to improve work culture and ensure accountability. “We intend to undertake time-bound projects and prepare our plan targets to achieve hundred per cent performance in real terms,” he said.

Asked if he expected a peaceful election, Mukherjee said: “It is the duty of the state administration to ensure peaceful polls. Unfortunately, the administration has so far failed to prevent pre-election violence in different districts. We expect the Election Commission to exercise its power and authority to ensure free and fair polls.”

   

 
 
REBELS IN TALKS TO SHAKE UP BIG TWO 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, April 21: 
Rebels are trying to team up with rebels to queer the pitch for their former parties.

Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) is heading for an alliance with the Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS), the forum for CPM dissidents, to fight the Left Front and the Congress-Trinamul combine in the polls.

Pawar, who had broken away from the Congress with P.A. Sangma and Tariq Anwar to form the NCP, announced in Calcutta this morning that bilateral talks were on to work out the modalities for seat-sharing with the PDS.

Echoing Pawar, PDS spokesman Asish De said: “We have had preliminary discussions with the NCP on seat adjustments and expect to clinch a deal shortly.”

While the PDS has fielded candidates in 132 of the 294 seats, the NCP-led six-party alliance will contest from 70 constituencies.

The NCP, which has roped in former Congress Legislature Party chief Zainal Abedin and eight other legislators, today received a shot in the arm with the induction of the sitting Congress MLA from Burrabazar, Rajesh Khaitan. Khaitan was denied a ticket following the party’s seat-share deal with Trinamul.

“The NCP has made its presence felt in Bengal now and we will surely open our account this time,” a confident Pawar said at a news conference. He later addressed an election rally at Usthi in South 24-Parganas.

The NCP chief ruled out the possibility of an alliance with Trinamul. “We cannot have any truck with Mamata Banerjee, who, after hobnobbing with the BJP for two years and then dumping it, has vouched her support to the Vajpayee government in the event of a crisis,” Pawar said.

   

 
 
DEAD SPEAK VOLUMES OF ‘SHEER INSANITY’ 
 
 
FROM BIDHAYAK DAS AND BIJOY KUMAR SHARMA
 
Tura and Mancachar, April 21: 
Battle-hardened jawans wept unabashedly as the 15 slain Border Security Force men were laid to rest with full honours in the sleepy hill town of Praharinagar, Tura, late this afternoon.

Hundreds of local residents joined the 118 Battalion as the 14 jawans and deputy commandant B.R. Mondal were given a five-rifle gun salute. Thirteen of them were cremated and two buried. The 118 Battalion has its headquarters in Tura.

The last rites of the jawans began at 4.30 pm. It was delayed because the BSF medical team conducted a formal post-mortem.

Colleagues were shocked when the bodies were taken out for autopsy. All bore laceration marks. Some were charred beyond recognition.

“It was sheer insanity,” said BSF director-general Gurbachan Jagat, referring to the killings of the jawans. He could not attend the funeral because he had to rush back to Delhi, but laid wreaths on the slain jawans.

The medical examination report by Dr M. Anwar Hussain, head of department of forensic medicine, Mymensingh Medical College, Bangladesh, lends credence to BSF inspector-general V.K. Gaur’s statement that it was a “carnage”.

The report says most of the BSF jawans were shot on the forehead from point-blank range. It adds that the 15 died of bullet injuries. The medical college will provide a detailed autopsy report later. Only nine bodies could be identified.

Company commandant of 46 Battalion Gursharan Singh received the bodies at 7 pm yesterday. “I am simply shocked,” he said. “The rest you can see.”

His partner, commandant A.B. Bajpai, who accompanied him to receive the bodies, was also as shocked. He, however, said that Lt Col Saddiq of the 22 Battalion Bangladesh Rifles, who was present during the handing over of the bodies, appeared equally sad at how the jawans had been killed in “cold blood”.

“He was sentimental and said so to a TV crew which approached him,” commandant Bajpai said.

Inspector-general Gaur told The Telegraph that it was hard for him to believe such an act could be perpetrated by Bangladesh Rifles “with which we have always shared good relations”.

Local people remembered 56-year-old deputy commandant Mondal, who had headed the outpost at Mancachar, as a “wonderful person”.

A resident of Tura recalled how only a month ago, Mondal had attended his friend’s marriage and “was of immense help”. He said “it was unbelievable that anyone could even think of hurting him, leave alone killing him”.

Mondal’s body was among the nine which could be identified. The others are of sub-inspector Amrik Singh and Panna Lal, head constable B.R. Nath and Raman Goude, constable A.H. Seik, Gurbax Singh, Sukhjinder Singh and Md. Mofiluddin.

People in Mancachar are still living in fear. Sazzad Hussain, who fled Mancachar to Hatsinghimari after the gun battle began, said: “Villagers in the border villages always live under constant threat of attack from the other side.

“We have forgotten the nightmare of the 1971 war, but recent incidents have unnerved us. The time has come for us to think about the security of the people rather than harp on deploying additional forces.”

Samir Hussain, too, left his home in Kakribari because of the conflict. He said the BSF should “enlarge its scope of duties” and “not think only about detecting smuggling of goods like salt and kerosene”.

More BSF jawans have been deployed at Mancachar to keep a stricter vigil. But local residents are still running scared.

Rahmatullah Khan, a daily wage earner, does not feel safe at Mancachar anymore. “What is the guarantee that they will not fire? There are no written laws on this,” he said.

The subdivisional officer of South Salmara-Mancachar today visited the Ampatti camp and took stock of the situation. He urged the people to return to their homes.

Injured civilian dies

A civilian who was injured by a splinter during the gun battle in the Mancachar sector, died on way to a hospital in Tura today.

   

 
 
BJP SEES CLASH BOOST 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 21: 
The BJP feels the Indo-Bangladesh border killings could brighten its prospects in the West Bengal and Assam Assembly elections.

Although no party member was willing to go on record, the BJP’s preliminary assessment was that the border standoff incident on the eve of elections might polarise the population on religious lines and help the party in both states.

“There is a wave of anger in West Bengal and Assam against Bangladesh and people are blaming the Congress for encouraging Bangladeshi immigrants to take up residence in our country,” a BJP leader said. He alleged that the Congress’ and the CPM’s “political patronage” of Bangladeshi immigrants has made Bangladesh “bold enough” to strike at India’s security forces.

“The Congress and Left’s vote bank politics and pampering of these immigrants have given Bangladesh the impression that we are a soft state and they can do what they want with us,” BJP sources said.

In tandem with the Asom Gana Parishad in Assam and on its own in Bengal, the BJP will emphasise in its campaign that the party has always taken a “tough and uncompromising” stand on Bangladeshi immigrants. It has urged for the repeal of the IMDT Act in Assam as it was “singularly ineffective” in identifying and deporting them.

The BJP plans to stress that only a non-Congress and non-Left Front government can stem the influx of refugees from across the border.

Such a line, BJP sources maintained, would “go down well” with Hindus in the two states. Sources claimed that in Assam, its campaign would bridge the traditional linguistic division between Bengalis and Assamese and unite the Hindus of both communities on the Bangladesh issue.

However, they were not sure whether the killings which occurred at a time when there is a non-Congress government both at the Centre and in Assam, might blunt the edge of their anti-Congress tirade.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) urged the government to take steps against Bangladesh and seek public apology from Dhaka and punishment of the guilty, failing which India should declare Bangladesh an “enemy” country.

“The government of India should take strong steps and step up pressure on this issue,” VHP president Vishnu Hari Dalmiya said.

VHP general secretary Acharya Giriraj Kishore described the border killings as a “challenge to India’s sovereignty”.

   

 
 
COMMUNAL YESTERDAY, COMRADE TODAY 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 21: 
Desperate to hold on to the Kerala crown, the CPM today officially admitted its seat-share arrangement with the Indian National League (INL), which it had earlier dubbed as communal.

The party denied practising the politics of opportunism and defended the deal, saying it was only backing Independent candidates as part of its strategy to defeat the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF). The party will support INL candidates in three constituencies.

INL is a breakaway group of the Indian Union Muslim League, a partner of the Congress-led UDF. While the Muslim League has a stranglehold over north Kerala, INL has pockets of influence in the south.

Earlier, chief minister E.K. Nayanar and Left Democratic Front (LDF) convener V.S. Achuthananthan had categorically stated that the party would not have any truck with the INL. However, Nayanar later changed tack and party secretary Pinarayi Vijayan justified the tie-up, saying that an understanding was imperative to defeat the UDF.

Briefing reporters here today, CPM Politburo member Sitaram Yechury played down the alliance, saying: “We consider their candidates as Independents. The Congress(S), which is part of the LDF and was allotted 11 seats, will give three of its seats to the INL. It is only seat-sharing.”

Yechury criticised the Congress for the impasse in Parliament and for stalling discussions on the railway budget. The party wanted discussion on both the railway and general budget before their passage, Yechury said.

The CPM demanded “action before discussion” on the Tehelka issue. Asked how its strategy was different from the Congress if the party insisted on action before discussion, he said: “Congress was playing a different ball game as it had aligned with the Trinamul Congress whose leader presented the budget.”

Asserting that the party was not “backtracking” from its earlier stand on the Tehelka exposé, Yechury said: “We are continuing with the same position. Action is the first step required from the government to pave the way for a discussion in Parliament.”

Releasing a 54-page booklet, titled Indefensible Dealings, on defence procurement and the exposé, Yechury said it was only through “vigorously pursuing and prosecuting the cases arising directly out of the Tehelka expose that the wider issues can be properly addressed”.

Talking about corruption in defence, he mentioned deals involving advance jet trainers, submarines, missiles, T-90 tanks, aircraft carriers and MiG-29s. “All these deals are vital to our national security and there are charges of corruption in all of them.... The issue is not about effectiveness of these equipment but the manner in which the procurement took place,” he said.

   

 
 
‘HANDS-FULL’ NORWAY SHIES OFF KASHMIR 
 
 
FROM AMBEREEN ALI SHAH
 
New Delhi, April 21: 
After mediating in the Sri Lankan crisis, a clever Norway today said “that as of now” it had no plans of playing peacemaker in Kashmir as its “hands were full”.

“We cannot take a special responsibility in Kashmir. At the moment, we are concentrating on Sri Lanka, Middle East and Latin America,” visiting Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said. The statement is interesting as it does not rule out the possibility of Oslo playing a role in the dispute in future.

Norway is not the only western country which sees a role for itself as mediator in the India-Pakistan dispute, though Delhi has made it clear that its differences with Islamabad can only be resolved through bilateral talks.

Stoltenberg also spoke of furthering economic cooperation between Norway and India on information technology, water management, shipping and fisheries. Norway today signed a $1 billion agreement for the Swalkot hydro-electric power project in Jammu and Kashmir. The two countries are partners in a global project on vaccination which has the support of the World Health Organisation.

At a seminar in Delhi’s Peacekeeping Training Centre, the Norwegian leader — who is on a five-day visit to the country — said India and Norway were taking the first steps towards closer ties on peace operations. The training centre, he said, would be the regional focal point for peacekeeping operations and contribute to initiatives worldwide.

Stoltenberg extended full support to India’s candidature as a permanent member of an “expanded United Nations Security Council”. India is becoming an important country in the world and has a huge population, he said. “The developing world will get a strong voice in the world body with India’s inclusion in the Security Council.”

According to him, the “present structure of the Security Council represents the world of 1945 and not the world of today, and India’s non-inclusion so far is not fair”.

Stoltenberg informed Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee about Norway’s efforts to broker peace between the Sri Lankan government and the separatist Tamil Tigers. Eric Solheim, the Norwegian special envoy who is spearheading the peace initiative, has kept Delhi informed about developments in the island nation.

   

 
 
PORN LEADS NET BOOM 
 
 
FROM G.S. RADHAKRISHNA
 
Hyderabad, April 21: 
Yahoo might have been forced to drop its porn plans like a hot potato in the US, but in the cyber cafes of Hyderabad, smut is hot property.

Come evening, and you can see hordes of pimply teenagers making a beeline for these cyber cafes to catch a slice of porn on screen.

It’s boom time for porn. First, Incable of the Hindujas is offering a Net-over-cable connection, which makes downloads faster. Most cyber cafes are opting for this Net access. Some 1,200 new Net parlours have sprang up in the city which already had 2,300 of them.

Second, it’s summer vacation time. For students bent on a voyeuristic trip, a visit to a cyber cafe works out cheaper — @ Rs 15 an hour — than going to a cinema showing some B-grade porn flick.

This also means good business opportunity for some. Take the case of Prakash, a 21-year-old software engineer. He created the domains kamala and parvati which host photographs of maids in various stages of undress. Prakash has a tie-up with some cyber cafes which are allowed to use the sites for a fee.

There are more such smut traders like Prakash. But police claim helplessness in cracking the crimes of the virtual world as there is no concrete evidence — not even a CD or a floppy to give them something to go by.

“We can ask one cyber cafe to shut down. But another is born at a different locality with a different name,” says Suryanarayana, a special task force official.

Some cyber cafe owners who encourage browsing of smut sites defend their stand, saying “it is no crime”. “We do not encourage hard porn but only soft porn,” says Ramakrishna Reddy, a cyber cafe owner of Musherabad. “What we show is not even 10 per cent of the scintillating scenes in Telugu movies,” he adds.

He set up a 15-terminal cafe three months ago. His income now: a neat Rs 1,500 ever day.

What’s feeding more such localised porn sites is the large pool of unemployed software engineers.

With dotcoms going up in vapour and a global meltdown in the software sector, thousands lost their jobs. Andhra was hit the hardest because it had produced a large pool of software professionals.

According to the latest figures, over 30,000 software engineers are waiting for the market to improve in the US. Since many foreign firms used to outsource their jobs from Indian companies, this has taken a toll of the domestic firms as well.

Of the 1,100-odd infotech companies registered with the Software Technology Park of Hyderabad, only about 200 are functioning. Around 300 dotcoms have folded up. Even medical transcription firms have been hit hard. Of 120 such firms that came up initially, only 10 exist at present.

   

 
 
KRISHNA BACKS BARRED MINISTER 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Bangalore, April 21: 
Karnataka chief minister S.M. Krishna has said he would not ask medical education minister Nafeesa Fazal to quit after the high court yesterday disqualified 11 legislators, including the minister.

Justice Chandrashekariah said in his order that fresh elections should be held for the 11 seats. But he gave six weeks to the council members to appeal against the order.

“We will move the Supreme Court. There is no need for Fazal to resign,” Krishna said, reacting to the court order.

Of the 11 legislators, eight are from the Congress, two from the BJP and one from the Janata Dal (United).

They were disqualified on the basis of a petition filed by Vatal Nagaraj, a former MLA from the Chamarajnagar constituency.

Last May, Nagaraj had filed his nomination papers to contest as an Independent. But the returning officer rejected his papers on the ground that he was holding an office of profit. Nagaraj challenged this in court.

After Nagaraj lost his Assembly seat in the 1999 elections, Krishna made him the chairman of the Karnataka Border Commission. He had filed his papers while holding the post. At the time Nagaraj filed his nomination papers, there were 11 seats vacant in the state’s Upper House.

“His nomination should have been considered,” the judge ruled, declaring as null and void the elections of all the 11 council members who were elected at the time Nagaraj’s papers were rejected.

Besides Fazal, those disqualified include B.S. Yediyurappa, former BJP state unit president, Vimala Gowda (BJP), M.P. Prakash, former minister and member of the Janata Dal (United), and Congress legislators M.V. Rajashekharan, M. Krishnappa, Winfred Fernandes, M.R. Malla, V.R. Sudharshan, Jalaja Naik and Karianna.

“We all will get together and decide on moving the Supreme Court,” said Prakash. Yediyurappa echoed the JDU leader.

   
 

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