Bengal link snapped in cross-border child trade
Court-bound couple hacked
Truce fate meet amid murmurs of dissent
BJP shies off action against Manipur rebels
Sonia calls session on Mamata
Marriage market shifts
Smug third front begins build-up
Naidu’s Jaya disclaimer puts Atal at ease
Laloo protege acquitted
Concert cake for Dylan birthday

 
 
BENGAL LINK SNAPPED IN CROSS-BORDER CHILD TRADE 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, May 22: 
Police have busted an international child-trafficking racket and rescued two Bangladeshi boys in Cooch Behar. Four ringleaders were held.

District superintendent of police Kailash Chandra Meena told The Telegraph that the police had touched only the tip of the iceberg of a child-trafficking syndicate in the region.

“Though we have managed to arrest a couple of king-pins, we are on the look-out for the others who have been thriving along the porous Indo-Bangladesh border in the district,” he said.

“Acting on a tip-off that a couple of Bangladeshi boys have been smuggled into Sitai on Sunday, we raided Majid-ul Haque’s house in Dakshin Singimari near the Indo-Bangla border. Haque said he had abandoned the two boys in a secluded spot after learning that the police were looking for him.” The police rescued the boys, four-and-half-year-old Aktar Mia and five-year-old Mrinal Sarkar, after Haque led them to the children.

The police were hunting for the gang for some time, but could not lay hands on the miscreants for lack of evidence, Meena said.

“We had information that an organised gang of international child traffickers have been operating from Cooch Behar for the past couple of years. But we could not lay our hands on them. The boys were apparently kidnapped from Dola village in Maimansingh district of Bangladesh and were smuggled into India through the border at Sitai,” he added.

Elaborating on the gang’s modus operandi, the police superintendent said: “The gang kidnaps able-bodied boys from remote Bangladeshi villages to be sold in the Gulf. They are smuggled into Cooch Behar. From there the boys are taken to Siliguri and on to Kathmandu. From Kathmandu, they are flown to Dubai in batches. These boys are mostly sold off to Arab sheikhs who buy them at hefty sums to be camel racers.”

“Haque’s arrest led to the arrest of three others. Nayan Roy Sarkar, 17, and his father Upendra Nath Sarkar, 60, of Pirpal village in Sitai were arrested yesterday. Another contact man, Nakul Das, was also picked from his Bhaktinagar residence on the outskirts of Siliguri,” Meena said.

Interrogation revealed that the gang has so far shipped out over 22 Bangladeshi boys via the Sitai-Siliguri-Kathmandu-Dubai route.

“Once the kidnapped children were smuggled into Sitai, they were handed over to Haque, who confined them at the Sarkars’ residence at Pirpal village, a stone’s throw from the border at Sitai. The boys were then taken to Siliguri and handed over to Das, who took them across to Nepal and passed them to their contacts there. The boys were finally flown out to Dubai,” Meena said.

The officer, however, refused to name the “absconding” gang leaders. “Haque is one of the kingpins in Cooch Behar. He is, in fact, the main contact between the Bangladeshi members of the gang and their Indian counterparts,” Meena said.

   

 
 
COURT-BOUND COUPLE HACKED 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Dhubulia (Nadia), May 22: 
A couple was dragged out of a bus and hacked to death much to the horror of passengers and passers-by in this town today.

Three persons have been arrested for the murders, committed in broad daylight allegedly over a family dispute. Tension ran high in the area and a strong police picket has been posted at the spot.

The incident occurred when Yakub Sheikh and his wife Rajmoni were going to Krishnagar court to appear in a case. They have been accused of murdering Yakub’s cousin, Yastulla Sheikh, a month ago. The couple was arrested by the police and was out on bail.

The couple was coming to court by a bus on the Nakashipara-Krishnagar route. As soon as the bus reached Dhubulia, five men began arguing with them in the bus, which led to a scuffle. As soon as the bus halted at a stop, the men dragged the couple out into the open and hacked them with sharp weapons. The shell-shocked villagers could not even utter a single word in protest.

The husband and wife lay in a pool of blood on the road for some time. But as soon as the five armed men started running, the villagers chased them and caught three. They beat them up severely and left them in a serious condition.

The local police reached the spot and saved the three from being lynched. The couple and the assailants were sent to the local hospital, where the victims succumbed to their wounds. The condition of the three alleged killers was stated to be critical.

   

 
 
TRUCE FATE MEET AMID MURMURS OF DISSENT 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
New Delhi, May 22: 
The Cabinet Committee on Security is expected to extend the Kashmir ceasefire by another three months but it will also take into account reports from security agencies, the army and the paramilitary forces on the deterioration in internal security.

Divisions within the government have surfaced on continuing with the truce. However, the Centre has few options since it has declared that the larger objective was to begin political dialogue with various groups operating in the Valley.

The perceptional differences between home minister L.K. Advani and defence minister Jaswant Singh reportedly surfaced when they briefed NDA members yesterday on their visit to Kashmir last week.

NDA sources said Advani stressed that militancy had shown no sign of receding in the Valley and “gave the impression” that the ceasefire initiative was “counter-productive”. Advani had invited RSS joint general secretary Madan Das Devi, who is in charge of the Sangh’s political affairs wing, over for lunch shortly before his Kashmir visit.

BJP sources said Devi made a strong case against extending the ceasefire yet again and suggested that the government should tackle the militants “head on”.

Singh, on the other hand, suggested that he favoured continuation of the ceasefire, according to the NDA sources.

At yesterday’s meeting, the representatives of at least three e BJP allies — the Akali Dal, the Shiv Sena and the Loktantrik Congress Party — opposed the ceasefire and other Kashmir-related policies of the Centre in varying degrees.

Akali leader and Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal pleaded that the Centre must involve the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, Farooq Abdullah, in whatever steps it takes.

If the state government was alienated, Badal reportedly warned, Kashmir would meet the same fate as Punjab. Badal added that Punjab was ignored by Indira Gandhi when she decided to take on the terrorists.

The NDA sources said the “consensus” opinion was that milita-ncy must be fought “squarely and fully” even while the development process must continue in the Valley. “But not a single person spoke in favour of extending the ceasefire,” said sources. Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee was believed to have been non-committal.

During their Kashmir visit, Advani and Singh are believed to have directed the security forces to continue their “dominance” but take care not to undertake steps which might alienate the people.

The CCS is also likely to weigh the progress — if any — made so far on the dialogue front. The Hurriyat Conference today hinted at a subtle shift in its stand, saying the Centre can send a positive signal by accepting that Pakistan was a party to the dispute. Hurriyat, which has been insisting on Pakistan’s participation in talks, added that the neighbour’s involvement could be facilitated later.

   

 
 
BJP SHIES OFF ACTION AGAINST MANIPUR REBELS 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, May 22: 
Despite giving an assurance that it would take action against the legislators who overthrew the Radhabinod Koijam government in Manipur after the NDA meeting yesterday, the BJP leadership is reluctant to commit itself on what exactly it would do.

BJP general secretary and spokesman Narendra Modi said: “Whatever action is to be initiated against the rebels will be taken after the joint meeting (on May 28).”

Modi was, however, silent on why the Samata Party had to be involved in an internal matter of the BJP.

There was also an inexplicable silence in the party on the other riddles swarming the Manipur scenario. The party could not explain why the leadership could not enforce its whip on its legislators to vote for the Koijam government. It also had no answer to whether it would continue to back those who broke away from the party to form their own group today.

“There was a written whip issued by the party president, and even George Fernandes was aware of it. The BJP president tried to enforce the whip,” claimed Modi.

Asked to specify how many MLAs the BJP was left with in Manipur, he refused to come out with numbers. “Everything will become clear after the meeting on May 28,” Modi said.

He disagreed with foreign minister Jaswant Singh’s assessment of the crisis — as being the fallout of “intense factionalism”. Singh made the remark while briefing reporters after yesterday’s NDA meeting. “It was not a question of factionalism but simply that some people did not get along with others,” Modi said.

More contradictions surfaced in the BJP stand. Modi reiterated that “no BJP leader will stake claim to form an alternative government”. But after its legislature party leader, R.K. Dorendra Singh, floated a new group comprising 41 MLAs today, party sources said if an alternative government emerged, they would have no option but to prop it up.

“If at all anyone stakes claim, it will be on his own and not on behalf of the BJP. As of today, there is no BJP-led or BJP-participating government,” said Padmanabha Acharya, party national secretary in charge of the Northeast. In the very next breath, he added: “We will wait out until the 28th. The present group, which was formed today, has 41 MLAs. We only wish our original six legislators don’t become part of it.”

The BJP has virtually ruled out the imposition of Central rule in Manipur as an option. Referring to Samata spokesman Shambhu Srivastava’s opinion that Article 356 should be invoked, Acharya said: “This is a crisis of two parties and not a constitutional breakdown. So there is no view on President’s rule in the party.”

Sources also dismissed the Samata-inspired insinuation that George Fernandes had used the restoration of the Koijam government as a bargaining chip: “When he (Koijam) has lost his majority on the floor of the House, it’s ridiculous to expect him to be reinstated,” they said.

Two different projections emerged within the BJP. First, that an alternative government will be in place by May 28 — when the high-level BJP-Samata summit is expected. The Samata, sources said, will be “neutralised” by then and the BJP, after making token noises, would eventually accept the government.

Another view was that an “old and valuable” ally like the Samata must not be “sacrificed” on the altar of “petty power politics”. And so, rather than back a new government, the BJP should work towards keeping the Assembly in suspended animation.

   

 
 
SONIA CALLS SESSION ON MAMATA 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, May 22: 
Fed up with the ceaseless bickering in the Bengal Congress over ties with Trinamul, party president Sonia Gandhi is calling heads of the state’s district units over.

A meeting of district presidents and senior leaders will be held in Delhi soon to decide the future relationship with Trinamul.

Sonia, who was extremely keen on having an alliance with Trinamul, has lost heart with Bengal leaders speaking in different voices, even holding the high command responsible for the “mess” that resulted in the crushing defeat of the combine.

Sources close to Sonia said senior leaders like Pranab Mukherjee, Atish Sinha, Somen Mitra and Pradeep Bhattacharya were very much party to the decision to align with Trinamul.

Leaders like A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury and Somen Mitra wanted an alliance even when Mamata was part of the BJP-led coalition. “We have now realised that mahajot was confined to English Bazar (in Ghani Khan’s Malda) alone,” a bitter AICC functionary said.

Congress leaders at 24, Akbar Road have washed their hands of Bengal. “Let the wise men in WBPCC decide how they wish to proceed,” an AICC office-bearer said, claiming that the high command had made a sincere effort to revive the party in Bengal.

“If the dominant view is to snap all ties with Mamata, let them decide so that at a future date they do not start talking about a mahajot,” he said.

AICC leaders alleged that a section of the state leadership wanted to push Mamata back into the NDA lap as part of its strategy and go for a tacit understanding with the Left.

“The fact is that many of these characters never wanted a tie-up with Mamata. Throughout the campaign, they tried to puncture it and now they are provoking Mamata to call off the alliance so that they can resume proximity to the Left,” a Congress MP said.

The war of words is hotting up between Trinamul and Congress. Trinamul general secretary Sultan Ahmad accused Somen Mitra, Pradeep Bhattacharya and Pranab Mukherjee of levelling “baseless charges” against Mamata.

“They want us to react to serve their purpose. The Congress leadership should rein in or else....,” Ahmad said.

The Sonia camp, however, maintained that all was not over between Mamata and the Congress.

“Let the tempers cool down and then we will try to put things in place. But, if the situation goes out of hand, we will go by local sentiment and wishes of district party units,” a Sonia aide said.

   

 
 
MARRIAGE MARKET SHIFTS 
 
 
FROM G. S. RADHAKRISHNA
 
Hyderabad, May 22: 
Mehrunnisa had left her dingy shack at Chaderghat slum in the old city with dreams of dollars and family. But a couple of days ago, the 15-year-old was brought back by Mumbai police, her fantasy of hearth, husband and happiness in the Gulf in tatters.

Not only Mehrunnisa, but Ameena, Fareeda and several other shattered souls have laid bare the gory details of the “Arab marriages”, embarrassing the community in the city.

But their tales have hardly had any impact on the wife “bazaar”. Feeding on poverty and lack of security and education among the Muslim population in the city, the practice is thriving. Acting as a catalyst are the several Arabic channels, advertising the posts of maids, shop assistants and a “luxurious life in the land of Arabs”.

Through the nineties, about half-a-dozen teenage girls have returned home after a year or two, said Chand Biwi, mother of 17-year-old Fareeda. Her daughter was given in marriage as the fifth wife to a 73-year-old sheikh. “She had to virtually work as a housemaid for his elderly wives and her status as junior wife came into play only for a weekly sexual date along with others,” Bibi said.

With the Arabs shying away from Hyderabad for fear of bad publicity, the modus operandi of marriage brokers have changed. Brokers and agents now take the girls, their parents and qazis to Mumbai, where the teenagers are offered in “marriage” to sheikhs. Mehrunnisa and Fareeda were married in Mumbai.

“In six out of 10 cases, the Arabs leave their wives behind with promises of sending visas for them later. They also send measly allowances for a few months and then forget them,” said Mohammed Ibrahim, one of the qazis now in police custody.

“The marriages are nothing but a crime of poverty, which the media is sensationalising. But the problems continue to dog the community and the families for years without any remedy,” said Mohammed Taqiuddin, general secretary of the Indian Union of Muslim League. Despite the promotion of IT education among women, there is still a large Muslim population which look to petro dollars for survival.

   

 
 
SMUG THIRD FRONT BEGINS BUILD-UP 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, May 22: 
Leaders of the newly-formed People’s Front had predicted that the Assembly elections would be a turning point for the Opposition and a disaster for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

Bolstered by the results and the NDA’s mounting troubles, the front is planning to meet here this month-end. “We will finalise a common programme for the front,” CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan said.

But this is only spadework and front leaders are in no hurry to oust the NDA government, aware of the absence of an alternative political arrangement. Though the leaders are not saying so publicly, the general feeling is that the answer lies in another general election that will throw up a new political configuration to replace the NDA.

The political commentary delivered by front leaders on the future of the NDA is being borne out every day by disaffected allies. Yesterday, it was the Trinamul Congress which walked out of the alliance in a huff. Today, the Samata Party is threatening to follow suit.

“How can a government survive like this? It will fall under the weight of its own contradictions,” say Left leaders as they prepare to fill up another political void after the NDA government exits. Though the front is made up only four Left parties, the Samajwadi Party and former Prime Ministers V.P. Singh and H.D. Deve Gowda, its leaders believe the future is full of potential.

“At present, we cannot say whether the ADMK will become a partner in the front. But it cannot be ruled out,” sources said. Even the Telugu Desam is no longer out of bounds. “Chandrababu Naidu has started talking critically about the WTO following its adverse impact on peasants in his state,” the sources said.

Naidu today said he would not “create instabilty” at the centre, but the Left is not ruling out any development that could stitch up a new alignment of political forces. One of the main factors for the changed scenario, the Left believes, would be rooted in the new economic regime following the implementation of the WTO.

The increasing impact of the WTO, setting new rules for the economy and the market, is expected to further jeopardise the fragile alliance between the BJP and its NDA partners.

Yesterday’s chief ministers’ conference in the capital indicated the jitteriness of each dispensation in the face of the WTO onslaught.

The common programme to be drawn up by the front will offer an alternative route to the economic regime ushered in by the WTO.

“We are not saying India should quit WTO. But the policies can be different,” says Bardhan. Left trade unions, along with others, have been demanding that India move out of the WTO and set up a parallel organisation of developing nations.

Left leaders maintain that the front’s programme will be different from Common Minimum Programme of the erstwhile United Front government. Economic policies will form the fulcrum of the programme.

   

 
 
NAIDU’S JAYA DISCLAIMER PUTS ATAL AT EASE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 22: 
Scotching speculation that the Telugu Desam Party may dump the National Democratic Alliance, Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu today said he would not create instability at the Centre.

Much to the delight of a beleaguered Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Naidu said: “I am not like Jayalalitha. I am not a person to destabilise governments and do politics.”

The chief minister said his basic orientation is for development of the state. “We are supporting the government from outside for the development of our state,” the Telugu Desam chief said here today. Naidu, who had a long meeting with Vajpayee yesterday, said nothing would happen to the NDA government.

Naidu, who arrived here yesterday to attend a chief ministers’ meeting on the World Trade Organisation, said there was no sense of insecurity at the Centre and that the differences between the BJP and the Samata Party over Manipur leadership would not pose any threat to the Vajpayee government.

“It is a family feud and both parties are trying to solve it,” the chief minister said, adding that it should not be construed as a threat to the government.

Asked if he was not concerned when there was feud in the family, he said concerned people have expressed concern.

The Telugu Desam chief said that till the Uttar Pradesh elections, he did not foresee any problem for the BJP.

Though he declined to say what transpired at the meeting with the Prime Minister, sources said he discussed the post-election political situation in the country and sought speedy clearance of some projects in the state.

The chief minister also discussed the demand for a separate Telengana state, the Naxalite menace and the need for more funds to modernise the police force.

Apart from the Prime Minister, Naidu met home minister L.K. Advani, finance minister Yashwant Sinha, agriculture and railway minister Nitish Kumar, food and supplies minister Shanta Kumar and Planning Commission deputy chairman K.C. Pant before leaving for Hyderabad this evening.

Earlier, he said almost all chief ministers and the Centre agreed on the WTO and ruled out the possibility of pulling out of the global body.

   

 
 
LALOO PROTEGE ACQUITTED 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, May 22: 
Rabri Devi’s former cooperative minister Lalit Yadav is rejoicing today.

Sporting a tilak on his forehead, Lalit is supervising “a mass bhoj (community lunch)” in his house. He is celebrating his acquittal in the case of atrocity on two Dalits — Dinanath Baitha, a Harijan driver and Karu Ram, a cleaner.

Slogans like “jail ka phatak tut gaya, Lalit Yadav chut gaya (the jail door has broken apart, Lalit Yadav has been released) rent the air around Lalit’s bungalow on Hardinge Road. Some of his supporters raised slogans comparing him to Mahatma Gandhi, “Mithila ka Gandhi”.

In July last year, Baitha and Ram were rescued by police from the outhouse of the former minister after being confined there for over a month. During the confinement they were battered and flogged. The two were only served the leftover food of Lalit’s family.

When the police rescued them, Lalit went underground following an uproar over the incident. He kept on giving the police slip till the government came under heavy stricture from the National Human Rights Commission. Later, Lalit, under pressure from his colleagues, surrendered before the court and was sent to jail.

In a curious twist, the witnesses turned hostile in a manner similar to the Jessica Lal case. Both the victims and other witnesses kept on retracing their earlier statements made before the police. The same witnesses, who on camera and before the magistrate had charged Lalit of third degree atrocities, told the court that they had made those statements under coercion.

Additional district judge (Harijan cell) S.K. Mishra said in his judgment yesterday that there was no substance on ground to prove that Lalit himself had perpetrated the horror.

Special public prosecutor Suresh Chandra Prasad, however, stuck to his gun saying the gaping injury marks and the place of occurrence, the signature and left thump injuries of the victims along with their statements before the magistrate were enough to prove that the accused was guilty.

Lalit was released today from Beur jail. Wearing a white kurta pyjama, he sat flanked with his men. He is as much emphatic in his faith in judiciary as his political mentor Laloo Prasad Yadav.

“It is the media which overplayed the incident landing me in trouble. But I had no role in whatever happened to Dinanath Baitha, a truck driver,” the former minister said.

   

 
 
CONCERT CAKE FOR DYLAN BIRTHDAY 
 
 
FROM CHANDRIMA BHATTACHARYA
 
Mumbai, May 22: 
Mortals get such tributes after their death. Living legends get it on their birthdays. Bob Dylan turns 60 on Thursday and distant Mumbai is going berserk over it.

Dylan — singer, poet, visionary, loner, wanderer, and one of twentieth century’s greatest artistes, may be still brooding on death; his last album Time out of Mind, too, has an old man waiting for death — but he sure is going to get raucous birthday parties all over the world, including one in Shillong.

But one of the biggest and noisiest will be Mumbai’s. It’s not known whether they will actually get down to singing “Happy Birthday Bob”, but all of the city’s talents have lined up for a huge “Thank You, Bob” concert to take place on Thursday.

Touted as “the largest gathering of the best rock and pop artistes in India”, the concert has drawn up a long list from the Indi-pop stable. There’s Gary Lawyer, Louis Banks, Suneeta Rao; there’s Mehnaz, Vivienne Pocha, Sophiya Haque; Jules Fuller, Brian Tellis, Suresh Bhojwani and about 20 others.

The concert will be sponsored by Tata — its is the next Tata Legends event after the tennis tournament starring Bjorn Borg — and will be beamed on Channel V.

The birthday celebrations have already begun. There was a pre-concert party last night, where some of the artists sang in an unlikely setting for a Dylan concert — the soiree was held at a rooftop restaurant of a five-star hotel; the air was full of the aroma of canapes and choice liquors flowed. Even as Louis Banks, the keyboard man, stayed glued to his keyboard, pop diva Suneeta Rao brought the house of select guests down with Me and Bobby McGee, a song originally written by Janis Joplin.

The point was made — there is more to Bob Dylan than Blowin’ in the wind, Mr Tambourine Man and The times they are a-changin’ and huge concert grounds with doping fans.

Pop veteran Gary Lawyer says the man has always been on his mind. “Dylan enjoys legendary status. Every musician has been influenced by him in some way or the other,” says Lawyer, who will be singing Lay Lady Lady at the concert.

There will be other treats. Says Louis Banks: “There’ll be 20 of his best songs. But we’re also doing a rap version of one of his tracks which should be fun.” Jules Fuller will be performing a track by Bob’s son Jacob, titled One Headlight.

At the end, all the artistes will perform a song called Thank You Bob written by Banks. “I wrote the song as a tribute to Dylan,” says Banks.

Wonder what Dylan would say to all this adulation. Accepting the Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 1991, he had delivered an odd speech.

“‘Son, he said,” Dylan had said, and a long pause followed. “He say,” Dylan continued, “‘You know, it’s possible to become so defiled in this world that your own father and mother will abandon you. And if that happens, God will always believe in your ability to mend your ways.’’’

   
 

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