Atal peddles Ajit model to Trinamul
Govt plays Tehelka team saviour
Bollywood cocaine cloud spreads
Car finance bait for kidnapping
Pariah disease eats away nails
Calcutta Weather

 
 
ATAL PEDDLES AJIT MODEL TO TRINAMUL 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, May 6: 
A singing and poetry-spewing Ajit Panja by his side, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee virtually issued an open invitation to Trinamul MPs to split and rejoin his coalition.

“The NDA will be strengthened if a few other MPs (from Trinamul) come and join believing in Ajit Panja’s principles,” Vajpayee said at an election meeting at Kamarhati, on the northern fringe of Calcutta.

Panja, who was invited by the BJP to attend the meeting, brought along a sizeable number of Trinamul supporters. Waving huge party flags, they shouted “Atal Bihari Vajpayee zindabad”. In between castigating Mamata for “betraying” the BJP and bonding with the Congress, their leader sang a tappa and recited several Tagore poems, living up to his reputation as a performer.

Even Vajpayee acknowledged the actor in Panja. “He was discharging his duties well as a minister and was carrying the message of Bhagwan Ramakrishna (the part Panja plays in Nati Binodini) across the world.”

“If the Trinamul-BJP combine had contested the Bengal elections this time, no one could have stopped a change. I am happy that Ajit Panja has come with us today.” The Prime Minister said he hoped the two of them would work together again in the near future.

Asked at the city airport if the NDA’s door would remain open for Mamata, Vajpayee said: “Election ke bad dekha jayega.”

It was Vajpayee, though, that set the stage for the performance to follow from Panja. He described the Congress as a “sinking ship” and said anyone climbing aboard would sink with it. “Hum to dubey hain sanam, tujhey le kar dubenge,” the Prime Minister said without naming Mamata once.

Vajpayee’s main targets were the Congress and the Left Front. “The Congress and the communists accuse us of communalism. But it is not true that the Muslims don’t vote for us. India did not become a secular country from 1947. Our country has a tradition of secularism. Now Trinamul has forged an alliance with the Congress. It is like jumping from the frying pan to the fire,” he said. “In Bengal, the BJP is the third and the only alternative.”

Panja accused Mamata of distancing herself from the NDA to woo minority votes. The former junior minister in external affairs dismissed allegations that he had risen in rebellion because he coveted a place in government.

“I offer my pranam to my leader. During our tenure as Central ministers, whenever I or Mamata had sought his audience to discuss Bengal, he had granted it to us within the hour,” he said, explaining why he had agreed to attend the meeting. Panja claimed he had support in Trinamul for his stand to continue to be a part of the NDA. “Don’t think I am alone in this battle. I have plenty of MPs and MLAs with me.”

   

 
 
GOVT PLAYS TEHELKA TEAM SAVIOUR 
 
 
FROM AMBEREEN ALI SHAH
 
New Delhi, May 6: 
Less than two months after the Tehelka revelations, Delhi police claimed to have unravelled an ISI plot to kill the dotcom company’s proprietor, Tarun J. Tejpal, and its investigative editor, Aniruddha Bahal.

The police said they had arrested six men with ISI links. “Acting on a tip-off, a team of special personnel led by inspector Mohan Chand Sharma arrested the six — Bhupinder Tyagi, Raj Kumar, Dinesh Tyagi, Rakesh, Anil and Ombir,” said special commissioner, intelligence, S. Ramakrishnan.

They were picked up at Jahangirpuri in northwest Delhi yesterday on arrival from Nepal in a Tata Safari. The six were part of a “hit team” that was to intercept the vehicles of Tejpal and Bahal and fire at them from close range, he said.

Tyagi has a base in Nepal. The rest are local gang members who were to help him find a safe hideout and execute the plan. The main hit team consisted of Naresh Yadav, Subhash Pandey, Vinod Pandey, Ramesh Rai and Hare Ram Singh, all currently staying at Beerganj in Nepal, Tyagi told the police. They were supposed to travel to Delhi in two vehicles.

“In order to create political instability in India and to spread contempt and disaffection towards the government”, the ISI had planned to knock off Tejpal and Bahal, the police said. The idea was to place the Vajpayee government under suspicion as it had suffered political damage from the Tehelka exposé.

Police sources said the ISI had first contacted Bihar-based criminal Bhupinder Tyagi, also known as Avadesh Tyagi or Modi in Nepal. With a criminal history since 1993, Tyagi had some contacts in the Indo-Nepal border areas.

In Nepal, Tyagi had come in contact with an ISI operative codenamed Jain who offered Rs 10 lakh for the assignment and arms and ammunition. Between the third week of April and May 5, he travelled several times between Delhi and Nepal, carrying weapons and fake currency.

The police were tipped off about his trip to Delhi yesterday and intercepted the vehicle at 4.30 in the afternoon. Arms, ammunition, a layout of the residence and office of Tejpal with his and Bahal’s photographs and a diary containing telephone numbers were found in the vehicle.

Tejpal said: “My phones have been tapped in the past, but recently I have not received any threatening calls. The ISI connection has come to me as a shock, I have no idea why they would be involved.”

A month ago, Tejpal was given Z-category security unilaterally by the government. Two days back, Tejpal was taken by surprise when the assistant commissioner of police visited him at his office and wanted security to be stepped up. Unlike Tejpal, Bahal has no security protection.

   

 
 
BOLLYWOOD COCAINE CLOUD SPREADS 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Mumbai, May 6: 
The cocaine trail looked set to snake deeper into Bollywood with the Narcotics Control Bureau saying that one of the peddlers arrested along with actor Fardeen Khan has admitted to have supplied drugs to several “personalities” in the film world.

Fardeen, the first actor to be arrested under the narcotics Act in India, was remanded in the custody of the drug-busters’ bureau till May 18. However, a special narcotics judge will hear his bail application on Tuesday.

Fardeen, who was picked up yesterday while buying cocaine from a peddler, has been charged with consumption of the drug. If convicted, the charge carries a sentence of one year and a fine. Peddling is a graver offence which could invite a term of up to 10 years.

Two drug traffickers, Tony Gomes and Nasir Abdul Karim Shaikh, were also sent to custody along with Fardeen, whose latest film Pyar Tune Kya Kiya is now running in theatres.

Nasir had said he used to supply drugs to other “personalities” in Bollywood. The bureau is still interrogating him. But Gomes, said to be the main supplier, is yet to be questioned. Sources had said yesterday officials have kept under watch six persons linked to Bollywood for buying drugs.

Fardeen’s father, Feroze Khan, accompanied the actor to the judge’s house where the remand order was issued. Feroze told a television channel that his son had made a mistake. “He has to pay for it. The law has to take its course. I hope he will emerge stronger from the crisis,” he said.

Feroze added that his son was not an addict. “He told me ‘Pa, I am not an addict but have taken the drug three or four times in life to get relief from stress’,” the veteran actor said.

   

 
 
CAR FINANCE BAIT FOR KIDNAPPING 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 6: 
A week after a city businessman and four associates driving down to Chhattisgarh went missing, details of the hushed-up drama have begun to spill.

Police today disclosed that Pawan Saraf, his uncle Radhakishen Khemka and three others were kidnapped on April 29 while travelling to Jagdalpur in a Tata Indica. The team reportedly had plans to set up a car finance business there in collaboration with a ‘‘local partner’’, suspected to be the brain behind the abduction.

The police got whiff of the kidnap after the Saraf family, which owns the Pawan market in Burrabazar and has stakes in various businesses, started getting ransom calls at their Cotton Street residence. The first of the calls, demanding Rs 5 crore, was made on May 1.

The police began tapping the Saraf telephones soon after, quickly finding out that the calls were being made from public booths in Raigarh, Raipur and Mumbai. Phones at the Saraf residence have caller line identification devices attached to them.

Impersonating as members of the Saraf family, the police spoke to the abductors several times, fixing details of when and where the money would be handed over. But they appear to have pushed their luck too far, choosing to wait for a clue to the exact whereabouts instead of raiding the booths rightaway.

The police have now been left red-faced as the ransom calls have stopped abruptly. The abductors have apparently been tipped off by a Calcutta contact close to the Saraf family about the phone surveillance.

Left with little option, the city police are exploring two angles: one, the involvement of one of Pawan’s close relatives in gambling; and two, the role of Ranjan Mishra, an alleged Jagdalpur resident believed to have egged Pawan on to set up the car finance business.

Pawan’s father Sitaram said Mishra was a recent acquaintance who had introduced his son to a possible business partner. Mishra was in Calcutta the day Pawan set out.

Central Calcutta DCP Zulfiquar Hasan said: “We are taking a close look at the relative believed to be running a satta network.”

Chhattisgarh chief minister Ajit Jogi said the Raipur police would cooperate fully with their Calcutta counterparts. A team led by Raipur SP Mukesh Gupta was scouring areas in and around Ambikapur near the Bihar border as a group matching the description of the missing businessmen had been spotted there, he said.

But the Raipur police today drew a blank as they found that Mishra neither belonged to Jagdalpur nor had any business there. ‘‘It appears that Mishra rented a house and recruited a man to answer Pawan’s phone calls,’’ Gupta said.

   

 
 
PARIAH DISEASE EATS AWAY NAILS 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Kuyiankhera (Farrukhabad), May 6: 
Sanjeev Gangwar knew his life would not be the same again when his students, in the only primary school of Dharampur, started shying away from him.

“It’s my nails,” he says, sad eyes belying the forced smile on his face. “They are scared to even look at them.”

Gaurav Mishra, a strapping 22-year-old, has stopped visiting relatives and friends. “When I go over, I am not offered any food,” he says, adding that children are told to keep away from him.

“It is very insulting and hurtful. Even in my own house, I am served food in special plates and I eat alone. Sab kuchh badal gaya.”

Sanjeev and Gaurav are among hundreds afflicted by a mysterious disease that eats away the nails and leaves dark blotches all over the body, the scabs of which keep peeling off. A slight change in temperature and the skin hardens, leading to incessant bleeding. Scaly rashes cover the forehead, forearms and legs of patients.

Doctors say they have no cure for this epidemic, which has hit Farrukhabad and the adjoining villages of Kalyanpur, Kayamganj, Kuyiankhera and Faizbag. They are administering anti-cancer drugs “as of now”.

Clueless doctors at Farrukhabad’s Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, which is receiving around 500 patients every month from all over the district, say the epidemic is a “variation” of psoriasis, a disease that leads to rotting nails and severely chapped skin that bleeds all the time.

“There are more than 50-80 cases being reported from Farrukhabad city alone,” says Dr K. M. Dwivedi, chief physician at the hospital. He says patients who have been coming to the hospital for the last three months have showed no sign of progress. All that he knows about the disease is that it is “tropical and uncommon”.

“We are giving anti-cancer drugs to severely afflicted patients and still monitoring it,” says chief medical officer Dr Daya Prakash, adding that there is no allopathic cure.

The doctors at the hospital, who are now seeking expert advice, are stumped by the epidemic. “We don’t know why it is spreading so much,” says a worried Dr R.C. Joshi, the chief medical superintendent.

In the ward, other patients turn away as Gaurav exhibits his ravaged body. Scales have formed all over, covering both his hands and legs. Though his face has been spared, his back and stomach have not. As Dr Dwivedi runs his finger over a rash, the rotting skin suddenly comes off and blood oozes out.

Though doctors insist the disease is not communicable, victims have not been spared the trauma of social censure and untouchability. Many take it to be leprosy. Patients are treated like pariahs.

“It is difficult for us,” says Sanjeev at Kuyiankhera, a village on the outskirts of Farrukhabad.

Villagers in Kuyiankhera say the disease is genetic. “My father had the same thing,” says Ramlal.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 32.4°C (-4)
Minimum: 21.3°C (-5)

Rainfall

3.3 mm

Relative Humidity

Max: 98%
Min: 55%

Today

Possibility of development of thunderclouds towards evening. Maximum temperature likely to be 35°C.
Sunrise: 5.03 am
Sunset: 6.02 pm
   
 

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