Laloo Patna purge ignites Delhi revolt
Siddhartha sees ‘Banquo ghost’ haunting Basu
Trinamul in graffiti row with election staff
Mamata picks ministers
Delhi quakes in Gujarat fear
10 get life for nuns’ rape
Vajpayee poll tour
Poacher treasure tumbles out
Awami sets Srinagar term for truce talks

Patna, April 28: 
Laloo Prasad Yadav today threw Ranjan Yadav, a rallying point for dissidents, out of the Rashtriya Janata Dal, triggering a split in the party’s Lok Sabha wing.

Three of the seven party MPs, Nagmani, Anwar-ul Haq and Sukh Deo Paswan, met Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi late at night and gave him a letter seeking recognition as separate group called the RJD (Democratic). Dissident leaders Ranjan Prasad Yadav and Kumkum Rai, both Rajya Sabha members, accompanied the three MPs to the Speaker.

Along with Ranjan, Laloo had expelled Nagmani and Dharma Virio Bhante. Laloo’s retaliation came step by step, over several weeks, first stripping Ranjan of his working president title and gauging the impact.

By the time the final blow came, Ranjan’s hold among the MLAs had eased considerably, leaving him with just 12 of the 115 MLAs from a respectable figure of 28 when the revolt erupted a few months ago.

Today, four of the 12 dissident MLAs attended the meeting where Laloo drove the last nail in.

Ranjan and his group of MPs are eventually expected to back the NDA indirectly by offering support to the Janata Dal (United) chief and Union minister Sharad Yadav, a bitter critic of Laloo.

The association between Laloo and Ranjan goes back to over 20 years. Ranjan was by his friend’s side when Laloo married Rabri, now chief minister. They had also stuck together during Jaiprakash Narayan’s Total Revolution days, one of the most tumultuous phases in post-Independent India.

Laloo decided to expel Ranjan after he convened a parallel meeting of party workers and state presidents in Delhi yesterday.

“Anti-party activities can be tolerated only up to a point, whoever may be the leader,” Laloo said after the expulsion.

The RJD chief said he had placed the issue before the national executive body of the party and the consensus was that Ranjan should be expelled. “Their membership from the party has been terminated and this information has been passed on to the Speakers of respective Houses.”

Laloo accused Ranjan of conspiring to topple the Rabri government and bring in another spell President’s rule. “Professor Yadav aur onka sahayogi RSS-BJP ka goad me khel rahe the. Yeh bardast nehi hota (Professor Yadav and his men were playing on the lap of the RSS and BJP. This could not be tolerated),” he said.

“He has been calling state leaders in Delhi with the promise of taking care of their travel expenses,” said Shivanand Tiwari, RJD national spokesman. “All these leaders have now got back to us saying they knew Ranjan Yadav as a Laloo man only.”

According to insiders, Laloo had no option but to sack Ranjan. With the spectre of another jail term in the fodder scam case looming over him, he had to marginalise the rebel. He ensured that by making Raghuvansh Prasad Singh the vice-president of the party.


Calcutta, April 28: 
“The time has come to oust the CPM from Bengal after its 24-year misrule,” former chief minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray said tonight while launching his poll campaign for the Congress-Trinamul combine in city.

Emerging from his long political hibernation, Ray today announced he would remain in Calcutta till May 8 to steer the campaign for the candidates from the combine. The former chief minister addressed four election rallies beginning with the one at Paikpara, under Belgachhia West Assembly constituency, where Sudipto Roy of the Trinamul Congress is in the fray.

Emulating chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s campaign in Jadavpur a week ago, Ray has lined up an interactive session for tomorrow with madarsa students at Basirhat in North 24-Parganas. Earlier, Ray said he would also address election meetings with Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee.

Ray once again called upon former chief minister Jyoti Basu to participate in a public debate on Bengal and the development of the state during the CPM regime.

“The CPM has ruined Bengal in every sphere, not only industry. The party in power has politicised not only the administration but the entire education system,” he said.

Ray regretted that Jyoti Basu was constantly criticised Mamata. “Jyoti spoke about Mamata 17 times while addressing an election meeting in Diamond Harbour… Jyoti is suffering from Mamata-phobia… Mamata is haunting Jyoti like Banquo’s ghost,” he said with a smile.

Reacting to Trinamul MP Ajit Panja’s rebellion against Mamata, Ray quipped: “Had I been in Ajit’s position, I would have resigned instead of going against the party line.” Ray recounted that he had to resign from the ministry and the party because of differences with two Congress veterans — late Prafulla Sen and late Atullya Ghosh in 1958.

The former chief minister also made it clear that he disagreed with Panja on his insistence on a letter from Mamata to the Lok Sabha Speaker regarding pulling out of the NDA. “I feel it is the duty of the NDA leader to inform the Speaker,” he added.

Ray described the prevailing stalemate over some seats in Malda and Murshidabad as “unfortunate”. He said Malda MP A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury, who pioneered the mahajot move with Mamata, should concede the Englishbazaar seat to Mamata for the sake of the alliance.

The former chief minister also felt that Berhampore MP Adhir Chowdhury, who is influential in Murshidabad, should withdraw independent nominees from the fray.

“However, these problems are bound to crop up as this is more a seat adjustment between the Congress and the Trinamul Congress than an alliance. I hope they will be sorted out in the coming days,” he observed.


Calcutta, April 28: 
Supporters canvassing for Sovandev Chattopadhyay, the Trinamul Congress candidate from Rashbehari, had an altercation this morning with the electoral department staff who were wiping poll graffiti off the walls of a school.

The poll employees were acting on a complaint lodged by an election observer that slogans had been written on the walls of a school that was a polling station.

Chief electoral officer Sabyasachi Sen said the problem could have been solved had the poll employees taken police escort with them.

Later, Chattopadhyay called up Sen to say he had already wiped off some of the graffiti as earlier advised by the electoral department. “I have given instructions that the job of wiping off poll graffiti should be done systematically,” Sen said.

The chief electoral officer sent a third letter to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation asking the agency to clean the walls of government property in the city.

Poll official Sanjoy Mitra met the secretary of the municipal affairs department and asked him to ensure that the walls were wiped clean before the polls.

Trinamul candidate from Belgachhia East, Ajit Sanyal, handed over a photo identity card bearing the picture of a local CPM functionary to the chief electoral officer.

“He pointed out that the name did not match the face. I have asked for an inquiry into the matter,” Sen said.

Gill visit

Chief election commissioner M.S. Gill will visit Calcutta on May 2 to review the arrangements for the Assembly elections.


Midnapore, April 28: 
Confident of forming the government in Bengal, Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee has started selecting people for her Cabinet.

“Sisir Adhikari and Tapan Kumar, who are contesting the poll, will be inducted in the Cabinet and you will have to ensure their victory,” Mamata told a rally at Khakurdah.

The Trinamul chief assured voters in Midnapore that 90 per cent of MLAs from the district will be inducted into her Cabinet as the people of the region had been struggling for years.

Mamata said her party would form the government by winning at least 180 seats out of 294. “I have been told by police officials that Trinamul Congress will get at least 180 seats in the ensuing Assembly elections,” she added.

The Trinamul chief criticised CPM leader Jyoti Basu and chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. She said that though Jyoti Basu claims to be a representative of the poor he travels by helicopter. Bhattacharjee, she added, moves in air-conditioned rail compartments. “I have covered nearly 1,000 km for election campaigns travelling in an ordinary motor car,” she said.

Mamata said she would complain to the chief electoral officer against the hooliganism of CPM supporters who were, she said, preventing the free movement of voters and even forcing them to leave their villages. Asked to comment on Mamata’s speculation, Left Front chairman Sailen Dasgupta said: “She may be hopeful, but the reality is something different.”

Buddha to return: Basu

Despite all the “conspiracies” hatched by the Congress-Trinamul combine, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will again be the chief minister, Jyoti Basu said at an election rally here today.

Basu alleged that the Trinamul and the Congress were out to create lawlessness in the state.

“America had tried twice to topple the Left Front government. We are well aware of which party is being funded by America,” the former chief minister said.

Criticising the NDA government’s industrial and economic policies, Basu said that most Central government undertakings were being closed down. “They want to turn this industrial belt into a desert,” he said.

“Surprisingly, Mamata Banerjee had announced that she would save these units. Though the workers were overjoyed, their happiness was short-lived as nothing was done.”


New Delhi, April 28: 
An earthquake measuring 3.8 on the Richter scale struck the capital at 8.30 this morning, reviving memories of the Gujarat quake and causing residents to rush out of their homes in panic.

No casualty or damage to property was reported as a result of the tremor, which had its epicentre near Sonepat in Haryana. “There is only a remote possibility of any major damage. Some cracks may have developed in some buildings near the epicentre,” an official of the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) said.

India is divided into 5 seismic zones according to severity of earthquakes. Zone V is the most active and zone I the least. With faultlines near Moradabad, Rohtak and Haryana, Delhi falls in zone IV, said IMD officials.

Delhi’s topography is not homogeneous. East Delhi is built on soft alluvial soil and is susceptible to greater damage than South and West Delhi which are in rocky areas and, thus, shock absorbent.

Though tremors are not new to Delhi, with the city experiencing four tremors every month, the Gujarat catastrophe has set alarm bells ringing.

“The magnitude of the Gujarat quake coupled with an increase in the frequency of tremors has changed the mindset of the people. The fear of an earthquake hitting Delhi has become greater,” said Rohit, a management consultant. “The tremor felt in Delhi on Ja-nuary 26 has had a long-lasting impact on me. I can still visualise the chandeliers and the fan shaking.”

Fear is writ on the faces of East Delhi residents, many of whom belong to the middle and lower-middle income group. These people have invested most of their savings on their houses. A rumour was doing the rounds soon after the Gujarat quake that property prices in the area had fallen.

This has, however, been refuted by Kumar, a property consultant in Patparganj. “A few people are reluctant to invest in East Delhi and plan to invest in Noida instead. However, the percentage of such people is very small,” he said.


Bhopal, April 28: 
Thirty-one months after four nuns were gangraped by tribals in Jhabua, the district sessions court today sentenced 10 of the 23 accused to life-imprisonment.

Passing a 327-page judgment around 2 pm, the sessions court sent seven more persons to jail for periods varying between two and two-and-a-half years while acquitting six.

The rape was the first incident in a chain of attacks on the minority communities which began two months before Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh. A week after the rape, a Christian priest was assaulted in the same district and a maulvi’s wife was allegedly molested and murdered in Indore.

Pushed on the backfoot, chief minister Digvijay Singh, who was seeking a second term, had demanded “death penalty” for the culprits. The attacks later spread to Gujarat and Orissa.

Four young nuns, three of them in their 20s, were gangraped by 21 tribals in 1998, at a Christian charitable dispensary in Jhabua’s Nawapara village bordering Gujarat. The dispensary, which also housed the nuns, was located nearly a kilometre away from the parish priest’s residence.

Around 2 am on September 23, a mob of anti-social elements forced its way into the dispensary, breaking down an iron grill and two doors. They ransacked the whole dispensary while the four nuns huddled together, praying and calling for the chowkidar, who did not come to their aid.

Though the nuns reported 21 culprits, subsequent police investigation led to the arrest and chargesheeting of 23.


New Delhi, April 28: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will kick off the election campaign from West Bengal on May 5.

The Prime Minister’s four-day trip will conclude on May 8 with a public meeting in Chennai that he will jointly address with DMK chief and Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi. He will attend rallies in Bengal and Assam on May 5, 6 and 7 before going to Tamil Nadu, party sources said.

The BJP top brass who will campaign in Bengal include home minister L.K. Advani, party president Jana Krishnamurthi and human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi. NDA leaders George Fernandes, Ram Vilas Paswan and Sharad Yadav are also scheduled to tour the state.

Advani will be touring Bengal on May 2 and 3. Tomorrow and day after, he will tour Assam. Advani will campaign in Kerala on May 6, 7 and 8. Joshi will campaign in Calcutta tomorrow.

Krishnamurthi will campaign in Bengal on May 2 and on May 3, he will be in Assam. He will campaign in Kerala on April 28 and May 7.


Lucknow and New Delhi, April 28: 
Within days of the country’s biggest haul of tiger and panther skins on Tuesday, ivory jewellery and other products were seized in Delhi while leopard and tiger skins were recovered in Kanpur and Lucknow.

A Special Task Force (STF) team today arrested four men, including two Nepalese nationals, with a consignment of 24 leopard skins and one tiger skin bound for Nepal.

One of them, Gopal Gurung, said his bosses had asked him to take the skins to Pokhara, from where “agents” would distribute them around the world. The consignment had come from Chhattisgarh.

Gurung, caught with a 9 mm pistol, live cartridges and Rs 5 lakh in cash, said he had earlier carried over 40 tiger and leopard skins to Nepal. While the leopard skins were “retailed” for Rs 20,000 each, a tiger skin could even fetch more than Rs 1 lakh each.

On Thursday, Delhi police arrested two men for possessing 26.4 kg of ivory goods worth Rs 26 lakh.The ivory was recovered from Askar, a resident of Zakir Nagar, and Mohammed Yunus.

Police said the duo was hoarding ivory products in the hope of making huge profits. “There could be a larger gang at work and the two accused are merely middlemen,” said deputy commissioner of police, East, Manoj Kumar Lal.

Ivory continues to be in demand despite the ban on Asian ivory in 1986 and on imported ivory in 1991. Raw ivory in the form of whole tusks or two or three large pieces is used for trade. Bangles, bracelets, statues, carved tusks and chessboards are some of the products in demand. Powdered ivory is used as medicine.

There are ivory carving centres in Jaipur, Mysore, Varanasi and Thiruvananthapuram. The main trading centres in the country are Delhi, Agra, Calcutta and Mumbai.

“From Delhi, the ivory is marketed to Europe. From Calcutta, it reaches the markets in the far east, and from the north-east, it is siphoned off to China and Myanmar. Mumbai is also used for trading ivory goods to the far east, the Middle-East and Europe,” said Manoj Kumar Misra, director of Traffic India, World Wide Fund.

Between 10 and 12 tuskers have died in December in the Rajaji-Corbett Park belt. The current figures show there are less than 1,200 breeding tuskers in the country.

Acknowledging the grave danger posed by poaching, Uttar Pradesh police chief M.C. Dwivedi said in Lucknow the forest department, the special task force and the police would work closely to check the menace.

The traders in feline skins had spread their net all over Uttar Pradesh and had been operating unnoticed in Ghazipur, Kanpur, Allahabad and Lucknow.

The police said the CBI was looking into the details. They were unable to say where the animals had been killed. It was, however, clear that the skins had been brought from Chhattisgarh. The skins, neatly packed in two boxes, also contained the nails of the animals which are sold as ingredients for aphrodisiacs.


Srinagar, April 28: 
The Awami National Conference today announced that it will participate in talks with the Centre provided interlocutor K.C. Pant visits Srinagar for parleys.

“If the government sincerely wants to talk to Kashmiris, Pant, instead of sitting in New Delhi, should visit the state for talks,” Ghulam Mohammad Shah, former chief minister and president of the Awami, said after the working committee meeting of his party.

“I will not go to Delhi to talk to Pant. I have been bitten several times by people in Delhi. I will exchange my views with Pant only in Srinagar,” Shah said.

“The Awami would have no objection or feel no hurdle to exchange its views with Pant to solve the Kashmir issue peacefully, equitably, honourably, democratically and permanently,” he added.

The Awami in a statement, however, said: “Talks initiated for restoration of peace alone seems, knowingly or unknowingly, an attempt to sabotage these talks at the very first step. Every humanist heart and a conscientious Kashmiri are in search of peace. Peace for peace is meaningless unless the issue is not addressed to be solved on a permanent basis.”


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