Keshpur clone sires pariah voters
Fight to heal past scars
Star sets stage for solo show
Cracks of discontent surface on red earth
Fat flies in French fries war
Biswas fears election violence
Upbeat BJP signals Ayodhya case burial
BJP in all-out bid to break Kerala jinx
Delhi cheers monarch’s rebel-camp tour
Bloodshed spreads to Assam Congress ranks

Arambagh, May 5: 
Ataul Haque and five of his brothers were forced to leave their home in Goghat’s Ramanandapur village eight months ago. They haven’t been allowed back since. Their crime: they refused to obey the CPM diktat not to attend Trinamul meetings in their hamlet.

The six men are among the thousand people staying in Trinamul relief camps in Arambagh, Ghatal, Chadrakona and Ghatal. All of them were branded Trinamul supporters and hounded out of their homes in the villages dotting Arambagh, Goghat and Khanakul — Hooghly’s violence-ravaged belt: the other Keshpur.

“Let the elections be over. We know how to deal with them,” says a CPM cadre, menacingly pointing to the dirt tracks through which a Trinamul campaign party has just passed.

It is this arrogance that Trinamul says it is fighting. Party leaders fear that if the homeless are not allowed to go back to their villages before May 10, they would not be able to post poll agents inside the booths.

Haque still shudders when he remembers the night two years ago when his struggle for existence began. His “crime” was filing his nomination for the May 1998 gram panchayat elections.

“They (CPM workers) came in large numbers, surrounded my house and ransacked it. I ran to the police outpost but the officials refused to help. What could I do? My brothers and I fled. We returned after the elections and had to pay a fine of Rs 5,000 to the CPM,” he says.

CPM workers are guarding the bastion that has been theirs since 1987 with zeal and are stepping up the vigil at night to prevent Trinamul workers from making a dash under the cover of darkness.

“The CPM has reasons for its worries. In the 1999 Lok Sabha polls, the communists had trailed in the Arambagh and Khanakul Assembly segments. So this time, they are serious. Since 1998, at least 40 Trinamul supporters have been murdered,” says Trinamul leader Samir Bhandari.

He says that it is becoming difficult to maintain the camps because of lack of funds.

Police say they are willing to escort the villagers back to their homes. “But once we send them to their respective villages with police escort we can’t help it if they are attacked again after the force comes back,” says Sripada Das, subdivisional officer, Arambagh.

What strikes is the absence of any sign of Trinamul’s existence. The roads leading to the villages of Arambagh, Khanakul and Goghat are lined with the hammer-and-sickle in various forms: flags, posters, hoardings or cut-outs. There is no jora-phool or the hand in sight.

Fear binds together the Trinamul candidates. Both Hasan Imam and Tarapada Dolui, the party’s nominees for Arambagh and Khanakul, are not risking campaigning after dusk. In Goghat, Congress candidate Haradhan Santra, too, ensures he is back home by 5 pm.

In fact, there is hardly anything to show that an election is round the corner. If anything, the Opposition seems to have resigned itself to giving a walkover to the Left.

“What else can we do? We can’t just match their muscle-power. We will not even be able to persuade our party workers to take up positions in 50 per cent of the nearly 1,000 polling booths in the Arambagh, Khanakul and Goghat,” said Asit Kundu, the BJP candidate from Arambagh.

The local CPM leadership admitted that a large number of Trinamul supporters had fled their homes, but added that they had done so because all of them were criminals. “All have criminal cases pending against them. After the 1998 elections, Trinamul supporters attacked and set on fire houses of 760 families in Arambagh and Khanakul,” says Mozammel Hossain, member of the district CPM committee and convener of the Arambagh unit.

Bhandari laughs off the charge. “The CPM and the police are hand-in-glove. Police have pressed criminal charges against innocent villagers. Their only fault was that they were Trinamul supporters,” he says.

Sabbani Mullick is one such villager who was arrested for, according to him, “supporting the Trinamul”. He was remanded in custody and is now out on bail.

“They arrested me in November last year. I was surprised to find that the police also produced a ramshackle musket in the court, alleging that the firearm was found on me. I was put in jail,” says Sabbani, Haque’s nephew.

The men are increasingly becoming restless and are readying for a fight. “If we are threatened with guns, we will also carry them. But tell me how long you can stay away from your home, the place where you were born and brought up?” says Haru Chongdar.


Calcutta, May 5: 
Beleghata has a choice — between a “goonda” and a gentleman.

The “goonda” lost an eye and five fingers fighting for the CPM in the seventies — or so he claims. He’s now a councillor of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation.

The gentleman is a graduate from St Xavier’s College and has a business management degree from Calcutta University. He’s won from here thrice, and is now environment minister.

Of course, gentleman Manab Mukherjee avoids calling Ajoy Sanyal — better known as Mantu — a goonda. “Why should I call him an antisocial or goonda? Local people know Mantu Sanyal. They also know me. Let them compare between us and decide who they will elect,” says Manab.

But others in the CPM don’t pick their words as carefully. “He (Manab) is a gentleman and Mantu is a goonda,” says former mayor Prasanta Chatterjee.

Mantu himself is not ashamed of his past. He didn’t even finish school. Now, he’s Trinamul candidate from Beleghata. “I know many people call me goonda and the CPM is trying to brand me an antisocial to retain their seat here.”

He holds out his mutilated left hand. “Look at my hand,” he says. “I can’t hold anything. I also lost an eye. But for what?”

Mantu became a CPM member in 1970. He was part of the action squad. “I used firearms on the instruction of CPM leaders. Naren Sen was in charge of the party’s action squad in Calcutta at that time. I was the personal bodyguard of many important CPM leaders.”

If the past was violent, the present is bitter. “The CPM tried to defeat me in the corporation elections by branding me as an antisocial,” he says. But he won from Ward 34 by about 400 votes.

Now he has a mission: take the blinkers off the people’s eyes. “This party (CPM),” he says, “misguided the younger generation in the mid-seventies. About 1,200 youths — supporters of the CPM — lost their lives during the Naxalite movement and I believe they died for wrong policies adopted by the CPM leadership.”

But it will be tough convincing people. This is Manab’s backyard; he’s won from here thrice, and now he’s going around campaigning in jeans and T-shirt. He has his charm. He’s a good orator, a crowd-puller. He’s 44 and looks young and dynamic. But he’s not taking any chances. He’s busy. He doesn’t even get time to trim his beard.

Mantu, too, is not leaving any stone unturned. It’s afternoon and the courtyard at his home has filled with his party activists waiting to take him on a campaign tour. His wife, Manju, a telephone operator at the Cholera Research Institute in Beleghata, is out on duty. Daughter Tisha, who appeared for her Higher Secondary examination this year, is preparing lunch for him.

“I am a paying guest in my own house,” jokes Mantu. “I don’t even know how my wife is managing the family without me.” He rushes out. There’s no time even for lunch. His daughter’s effort has been in vain.

“The CPM,” he says, “will try to cast false votes in all the 151 booths in this seat. They have plans to cast 100 false votes in each booth. If we can prevent that in at least 50 booths, they will be in trouble this time.”

But Beleghata has not let the CPM down since 1977. In 1996, Manab won by 9,659 votes. In 1991, it had been a higher margin — 15,781 votes. In the 1999 Lok Sabha polls, however, Trinamul was ahead of the CPM by 2,139 votes in this segment.

This time, the Left will also have to reckon with Saibal Bhattacharjee of the PDS and BJP’s Mohammad Oli. But no one is talking about them, not seriously. What matters here is who will triumph: “goonda” or gentleman.


Goalpokhar (North Dinajpur), May 5: 
She may be there because of him, but now is not the time to ask Deepa Das Munshi about husband Priya. There were other times when she was there because of her husband, to help him get past the poll post at Raigunj. But this is Deepa’s own election or so she tells her voters at Goalpokhar.

True, the husband will pitch in with his bit, as he always has — by giving her first the primary membership of the Congress in 1996, an AICC membership earlier this year and now this Assembly ticket. But she insists it’s her love for the people, more than for her husband, that has made her take the plunge, leaving behind a two-year-old child to others’ care. There are party malcontents, though, who grumble she has been foisted on them, ignoring the rightful claim of several other local Congress aspirants.

Deepa protests, claiming she’s there on her own right, not as her husband’s wife. “I have been nursing the entire Raigunj (Lok Sabha) constituency much before Priya became an MP,” she tells her new-found folks. “People relate to me more as I represent him during his absence.” Now, let me represent myself and you is the none-too-subtle message.

The message is important, but as a former actress, Deepa knows it’s the medium that makes the day. So she has carefully chosen to make the women the main medium for her message. “The women are my strength,” she claims.” She doesn’t forget to stress that most such women are Muslims.

She can’t afford to do that in this Muslim-dominated constituency. Boudi to her Hindu voters, she is bhabijan to the Muslims. Echoing her claims, 29-year-old Haifa Khatoon says: “Bhabijan has encouraged us to take an active part in society. She has encouraged girls to go to attend the madarsa.”

She also promises to give the villages safe drinking water, electricity, roads and higher madarsas if the alliance makes it.

All that may come if only Deepa can achieve what no other Congress candidate from Goalpokhar has achieved since 1977 — defeating her Forward Bloc rival and sitting MLA, Hafiz Alam Sairani. The seat had been held by Sairani’s brother Ramzan Ali for four terms until he was killed in his room in the MLA Hostel in Calcutta under mysterious circumstances.


Suchpur (Birbhum), May 5: 
Red earth and pouring rain cannot stop Mamata Banerjee’s dream from taking shape in Birbhum: the mahajot, her “peoples’ alliance”, is a fact here.


There simply has to be a better reason for euphoria in the Trinamul camp. The mahajot needs to be grand and grander still to wash away the colour of Birbhum’s outbacks.

Here, in Suchpur, where the killing of 11 people months ago led to such an outcry, the CPM is more entrenched than ever before. So much so, that the men of the village’s 160 households, distrust the outsider, drive him away lest that visit leaves a smear. “If you want to talk, go to the party office,” says Sheikh Dulal, leading the crowd. “Nobody in this village will talk to you.”

There is a fatwa at work here.

“You write that we have gone to Trinamul, that the men of the village are running scared, are homeless. All is at peace here. Don’t disturb the peace.”

Suchpur is at pains to prove its political allegiance. Understandably, for the CPM needs to be doubly assured, too.

Suchpur is in the Nanur Assembly constituency, where the CPM’s Ananda Gopal Das and Trinamul’s Krishnagopal Majhi are the main contestants. The BJP is not in the fray. The mahajot, therefore, is born naturally.

Trinamul leaders in Suri, the district headquarters, claim they stand a chance in Nanur because of the local grand alliance. In the 1999 Lok Sabha elections, the CPM polled more than 59 per cent of the votes. Of the 11 panchayats, the Left controls 10.

Krishnagopal Majhi needs to swing the vote his way by at least 5.5 per cent. If he succeeds here, Mamata is truly riding the crest of a wave. That wave will have to wash over Labhpur, too. Graffiti on walls in Parui village urge voters to support the Trinamul candidate, Arup Kumar Misra. They are signed “TMC/BJP”. The paint looks fresh — the graffiti is certainly not a leftover from the last election.

Labhpur has a BJP candidate, Pranab Ukil. Clearly, the party’s men are not behind him. To what effect though? The mahajot will need a swing of 8 per cent here to break through. The wave would not be enough unless it is tidal in character.

The Left won in 10 of the 12 Assembly constituencies in Birbhum in 1996. The Congress-Trinamul alliance is optimistic on three this time — Muraroi, Suri and Hansan. In Rampurhat and Bolpur, the alliance stands a fighting chance.

“I am sure we will win in three,” says Susobhan Banerjee, chairman of the district Trinamul committee and the candidate for Bolpur. “But I will not be surprised if we win in as many as seven.” Hiru Ghosh, district committee member of the CPM, laughs it off. “If they do very well, at best five.” Coming from a CPM leader, that is a mile when an inch is asked for.

Irrespective of the tally of seats, though, across Birbhum there are unmistakable signs of a political churning. In the elections, that will be reflected in the rise in the voteshare of the non-Left parties. The intensity of acrimony in the villagers is surprising for a red bastion where the party and the administration mesh into one.

At Indragacha, a village of mostly Santhals and Muslims in Suri, people are angry with the party for not giving them land deeds. “All this land you see on either side of the road and at least five ponds are still legally owned by someone in the town,” says a sharecropper. (He cannot be named because, he said “the last time a newspaper named a man in my village, the party gave him hell”.)

“We have been asking the party repeatedly for the pattas — deeds — now that we have been tilling the land for years. They keep saying later, later… What if my land is taken away tomorrow?”

In Bolpur, the long-haired Susobhan Banerjee — the “Ek Takar Daktar”, so called because he charges a fee of Re 1 — is clearly the favourite of the townspeople, from the rickshawallah to the shopkeeper to the hotelier. The RSP’s sitting MLA, Tapan Hore, is banking on the CPM’s hold in the villages to win.

Motahar Hussain, the Congress MLA from Muraroi, who has since joined the TMC, is more confidently placed, despite the CPM pinning its hopes on a new candidate — Kamre Elahi. He, too, is a doctor like his main rival.

Suniti Chattoraj leads in the campaign in Suri. His rival, the CPM’s Braja Mukherjee, is a four-time zilla parishad sabadhipati. Mukherjee won the 1999 bypoll by about 14,000 votes. That took even the CPM by surprise. Suri is a traditional Congress seat. Mukherjee is hoping for a split in the Opposition — there are seven in the fray in Suri, including the BJP and PDS — but his party is not assured.


May 5: 
The beef stakes seem to be going higher, with the BJP threatening to continue its agitation against McDonald’s and the burger giant stressing that its French fries here are shuddh shakahari — innocent of cow or any other animal meat.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) today threatened to sue the food conglomerate while the Shiv Sena demanded that all its food products be mandatorily lab tested. The Sena announced that it was carrying out tests on the French fries. “The onus, however, is primarily on the US fast food chain to conclusively prove that the item did not contain beef as it has hurt feelings of Hindus,” Sena spokesman Subhash Desai said.

McDonald’s India brought along its suppliers, McCain Foods India Limited and Lamb Weston, to back up its claims that its French fries and other vegetarian products do not contain any animal extracts.

“From the beginning, we had made it clear that no beef or pork would be used in any of our vegetarian or non-vegetarian products,” said Amit Jatia, who runs McDonald’s India, at a news conference.

BJP activists had smeared a McDonald’s “mascot” with cow dung yesterday at an outlet in Mumbai to “purify” the atmosphere “sullied with beef”. The party claimed that McDonald’s was using beef in its French fries in India, too, after a lawyer from Seattle, US, filed a lawsuit against the company, accusing it of “misleading” vegetarians by using beef fat in the fries.

In the US, McDonald’s uses beef extract in its French fries for flavour.

“But what holds in the US does not hold in India. Here, McDonald’s has developed a menu keeping in mind the cultural and religious sentiments. Given the number of vegetarians here, we have even developed a costlier eggless mayonnaise.

“There is complete physical segregation of vegetarian and non-vegetarian items while they are being processed, starting from our suppliers’ ends, through our kitchens, until they reach our customers,” Jatia said.

But the BJP is not ready to buy the argument. It said it would step up protests if McDonald’s did not agree to “an independent probe”. “We have every apprehension that the potato wedges have beef,” said party leader Atul Shah, who is leading the “anti-McDonald’s campaign” from the front.

“We suspect that the beef is added before the potato wedges go into the freezing plant,” Shah added.

McDonald’s India imports most of the potato for its French fries from New Zealand. McCain Foods, its biggest potato supplier, processes the potato and par-fries it. It is then put into the freezing plant, to be refried and sold at the McDonald’s outlets.

Jaideep Mukherjee, country manager, McCain Foods India Limited, said the company’s factory in Timaru, New Zealand, par-fries the potatoes in vegetable oil only. The product is 100 per cent vegetarian, he said.

Rajiv Goyal, director, business development (India subcontinent), of Lamb Weston, issued a similar statement for its factory located in Oregon, US. He said products bound for India are totally different from the ones bound for North American markets.

McDonald’s US has also issued a statement which says that in India, no beef or pork flavourings are used in vegetarian menu items. Similar is the case with predominantly Muslim countries in Southeast Asia, West Asia and Africa, it adds.

The argument did not wash with either the Shiv Sena or the VHP, both of which mobilised their activists in large numbers to protest. The Sena’s northern India president, Jai Bhagwan Goel, demanded that all the branches of McDonald’s should immediately shut down.

Demonstrations were held at the central Delhi office of McDonald’s in Jor Bagh. Goel later presented a memorandum to the Prime Minister and the Union health minister demanding action against the fast food chain.

The Sena spokesman said: “The party would adopt tough measures on the issue if our doubts about the product are proved right.”


Calcutta, May 5: 
CPM politburo member and state party secretary Anil Biswas has not ruled out the possibility of violence during Assembly polls on May 10.

“Though we believe in peaceful elections, I cannot rule out the possibility of violence in some pockets in the state,” Biswas said at a news conference this afternoon.

“Despite the move by some political parties to disturb law and order during the elections, the Left Front will come to power again with absolute majority,” he added.

He claimed the Front had so far organised more than 1,500 election meetings which were addressed by 240 Central leaders, including H.K.S. Surjeet, Prakash Karat, Sitaram Yechury and Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar.

“Altogether 247 meetings were organised for Hindi-speaking people, 15 for Oriya-speaking people and 10 for the Punjabi-speaking electorate in the state. Forty-six meetings were arranged exclusively for an Arabian-speaking population, too”, Biswas said.

The Left Front had also distributed about 5.5 lakh manifestos in four languages to convey its messages to the people of Bengal, he said.

Biswas said people who had lost interest in Left politics during the mid-eighties, were returning back to the fold with more enthusiasm. “We are receiving good response from youths and women in our election rallies, which is a very good trend for the ruling Marxists.”

Asked why the ruling party had failed to throw light on the Kashipur mass killings, Biswas said the Left Front government had set up a commission immediately after coming to power in 1977.

But the commission could not complete its findings as the files related to the killings were missing from Writers’ Buildings.

Biswas held former Congress chief minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray responsible for the Kashipur mass killings. “The man, who has a very tainted past, has appeared again in the campaign for the Congress and Trinamul and we will be benefited by his move to help the Opposition combine,” he said.


New Delhi and Lucknow, May 5: 
The BJP welcomed the designated CBI court’s decision to drop criminal proceedings against L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti and 18 others in the Babri masjid demolition case and said there is no need for the Uttar Pradesh government to issue a fresh notification.

Briefing the press today, BJP spokesman V.K. Malhotra said: “We welcome the verdict of the special court as the case was filed when the Congress was at the Centre and there was President’s rule in Uttar Pradesh. We had all along been saying the case was politically motivated and it was a vendetta.”

The Opposition in Uttar Pradesh, however, said it would not allow the Rajnath Singh government to get away without filing a fresh notification to rectify the “legal defect” in the existing one.

The designated court had used this ground to set aside the cases against Advani and the others.

In Lucknow, the Congress asked all Opposition parties and the BJP’s coalition partners to ut pressure on the state government to issue a fresh notification for the trial of all the accused.

Congress leader Pramod Tiwari, in a letter, sought the help of all Opposition leaders to “forcefully” raise the issue when the Assembly is convened on May 10.

The CPM said the earlier judgment of the Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court — which had temporarily quashed the trial because of the same technical flaw — did not “question the substance of the charges and had made it clear that the trial should proceed”.

Opposition leaders urged the Centre to take immediate steps to ensure that the case against those chargesheeted by the CBI proceeds.

“Any attempt to subvert or delay the court proceedings against the accused will not be acceptable to the people of the country,” they said.

Bahujan Samaj Party leader and former Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Mayavati, in a press conference, alleged that by dragging its feet on issuing a new notification, the Uttar Pradesh government was trying to “shield the culprits”.

“The state government literally slept over the directives from the high court. We will not rest until fresh notifications have been served by the government,” she said.

“Advani and company had incited the kar sevaks before the demolition with their rath yatras. If the Uttar Pradesh government does not do anything, we will expose the BJP all over the country,” warned Mayawati.

Some Opposition leaders said the court’s decision to let the “guilty” go scot free is a “cosmic symbol” of the BJP’s “demonic rule”. Though they “rightly” smelt blood, the BJP, they said, “had already covered the tracks”.

The Opposition is also miffed at “Rajnath’s feeble response” in the capital after the CBI court passed its order.

The All-India Muslim Forum dubbed the judgment “a black spot on the concept of rule of law” and threatened to move court if the government fails to step up the process of issuing a fresh notification.

The BJP, however, made it clear that it would not yield to the Opposition’s demand. Malhotra sought to turn the tables on the Congress by arguing that while it clamoured for the resignations of Advani, Joshi and Bharti, it was now “unashamedly saying that Jayalalitha should become the Tamil Nadu chief minister although she has been barred from contesting the polls”.

BJP leader Hriday Narain Dixit thinks the case is over. “Our stand has been vindicated,” he said. “We are jubilant that cases have been dropped against our leaders.”

But the Opposition said they would see to it that the BJP’s happiness is shortlived. “We will not keep quiet,” state vice-president of the Samajwadi Party, Bhagwati Singh, said.

Asked whether the BJP’s statement on the court’s decision was meant to be a message to Rajnath not to issue a fresh notification, Malhotra said: “We are only suggesting.”


New Delhi, May 5: 
The BJP is going all out to break the jinx in Kerala, the only southern state where it is yet to open an account, thanks to a cocktail of nearly 45 per cent minorities and a sizeable red army.

The party has fielded 12 Central ministers, including Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who will address a rally in Thiruvananthapuram on May 7, to campaign in God’s own country.

Home minister L.K. Advani will hold public meetings on May 5 and 6 at Cochin, Palghat, Kasargod and Thiruvananthapuram. Human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi will start a two-day tour on May 7, addressing half-a-dozen public meetings. Information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj will cover seven constituencies on May 5.

Other ministers joining the campaign trail include Uma Bharti, M. Venkaiah Naidu, Anant Kumar, O. Rajagopal, Pon Radhakrishnan, Dhananjay Kumar and Sripat Naik.

The party hopes to win at least five of the 112 seats it is contesting in the 140-member Assembly. Though five seats might be a tall order, chances of the BJP winning one or two have brightened.

The CPM’s decision to join hands with the Indian National League (INL), which it had earlier labelled communal, is also likely to benefit the saffron party in at least one or two constituencies in Kasargod district.

The tie-up will split the Muslim votes as the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) is aligned with the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF).

The INL-IUML split is expected to help the BJP in Manjeswaram, from where its state president C.K. Padmanabhan is contesting.

The party is confident of winning the Neman seat in Thiruvananthapuram, where both the UDF and the LDF have fielded a Nadar Christian, which is bound to split the predominantly Christian constituency. The BJP has fielded a Nair Service Society (NSS) leader with an eye on Hindu votes.

Apart from the crack in Muslim consolidation, the two Hindu outfits, the Nair Service Society (NSS) and the Sree Narayanana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) of the backward Ezhawas, have not fielded any candidates. The NSS represents the upwardly mobile Nairs and usually professes “equidistance” from the UDF and the LDF. But this time in some constituencies, it has taken a pro-BJP stand.

The SNDP, a traditional pro-CPM outfit, is unhappy with the LDF government’s new excise policy which adversely affected the economy of the Ezhawa community. The SNDP is also dissatisfied with the education policy which, it feels, favours the Christian community. The BJP hopes to cash in on this discontent.

The BJP has so far been a political pariah in Kerala and its efforts to knit a National Democratic Alliance (NDA) did not bear fruit.

But shrewd party managers have found a better way to mobilise votes this time by roping in little-known pro-Hindutva organisations such as Temple Protection Samiti and Minority Morcha. VHP leaders are already in the arena.


New Delhi, May 5: 
In an unprecedented development, the Bhutanese monarch last month toured the southern parts of his country and visited the base and training camps of the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), bringing cheers to Indian authorities here.

This is the first time that the head of state of a neighbouring country has visited the training camps of Indian insurgent groups. King Jigme Singye Wangchuk undertook his visit in a helicopter and stopped over at some of the camps being run by Ulfa and Bodo insurgents. In the past, both these outfits have mounted offensives against Indian security forces and civilians from base camps in southern Bhutan, especially Samudra Jhonkar district where they are deeply entrenched.

Officials here said the Bhutanese sovereign’s “bold” initiative is the culmination of a sustained mix of pressure on Thimpu and New Delhi’s bid to clamp down on the insurgent groups. Last year’s flush out operations by the Bhutanese army were not much of a success.

Following his visit to the camps, Wangchuk called over the Indian ambassador and briefed him on his experience and interaction with leaders of the two groups. He is learnt to have supplied the Indian envoy with a list of names of some top Ulfa and Bodo militants and their cadres operating from these camps. Ulfa chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa lives in one such camp, while outfit commander-in-chief Paresh Barua often slips into the country from Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Indian officials here feel that in the past, Wangchuk had been dilly-dallying on the kind of approach his government should take towards Indian insurgents operating from within his country. There was no clear commitment, they say. But last month’s developments are being seen as “clear signs” of cooperation at the highest level in Thimpu. “This is an indication of positive change and the king appears to be taking personal interest,” an official said. The general assessment here is that Ulfa and the NDFB may not launch strikes against Indian security forces from their camps in Bhutan.

There are unconfirmed reports, however, that recently Rajkhowa and Barua met Pakistani ISI officers at an undisclosed location in southern Holland. They were reportedly asked to create large-scale disturbance, engineer violence and target BJP-AGP candidates and supporters during the Assembly elections in Assam next week.

Fearing Ulfa and Bodo strikes, the Centre has taken steps to deploy army and paramilitary forces to seal the Indo-Bhutan border to prevent infiltration of insurgents.


May 5: 
In a new twist to the pre-poll violence in the state, five Congress activists were shot dead last night by “unidentified gunmen” in Sonitpur district, triggering speculation of the re-emergence of secret-killers.

Of the five, three were killed in Dhekiajuli, while the other two were shot dead in Biswanath Chariali. Two other persons were also murdered, but they are not election-related killings.

All along, as the Ulfa’s violent tirade against the AGP and BJP continued, the allies had blamed the Congress of masterminding the attacks. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today accused the Congress of joining hands with the banned outfit.

In the first attack, assailants shot dead two Congress workers at 10.30 pm in Sadaru under Biswanath Chariali police station.

Police said the killers came in a white Ambassador and fled immediately after killing the Congress workers. The victims were identified as Puspa Gowaa and Rajiv Munda.

In the second incident, two motorcycle-borne gunmen sprayed bullets on a vehicle carrying a Congress campaign team in Doomduma under Dhekiajuli police station at 12.30 am.

Doomduma mandal Congress president Haren Das, executive member Puspa Magar and party worker Mukul Haloi died on the spot.

The killing triggered violent protests from thousands of Congress supporters who took to the streets shouting slogans against the AGP. They alleged that the ruling party was behind the killings.

Four Ulfa militants were shot dead by the army today near Sarupeta in Barpeta district.

Unholy nexus: PM

Addressing a rally of the AGP-BJP combine at Judges’ Field in Guwahati today, Vajpayee exhorted the people to “come out of their homes without fear and vote for the alliance”.

Echoing chief minister Prafulla Mahanta’s charge against the Election Commission on “deciding the poll date on the advice of the Congress”, Vajpayee said: “Unfortunately, the commission did not accept the suggestion made by the Assam chief minister for holding the poll in phases.”

Describing the poll scenario as a fight between “ballots and bullets”, he accused the Congress of having an “unholy nexus” with the proscribed Ulfa. He alleged that the Congress has not clarified its stand vis-ŕ-vis the killings of AGP and BJP workers by Ulfa rebels.

Vajpayee told newsmen that “no formal probe is needed” to investigate the alleged nexus. “An internal inquiry is being held and the truth will come out soon,” he added.

Ruling out a unilateral ceasefire in Assam on the lines of the one in Jammu and Kashmir, the Prime Minister said: “Talks are on with all concerned.” He, however, clarified that the “Ulfa is not one of them”.

He said talks were on with Bhutan for evolving a common policy to flush out the Assam rebels from the neighbouring country.

Vajpayee also rejected All-Assam Students’ Union’s demand for deployment of the army all along the Indo-Bangladesh border. He claimed that the “Border Security Force is doing its job well to safeguard the border”.


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