Sacrifice at temple to murder cult
Police chase kidnap clues here, there and in Bihar
Morning driver is suspect next day
Musharraf reaps Agra dividends
Calcutta Weather

 
 
SACRIFICE AT TEMPLE TO MURDER CULT 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
Mirzapur-Bhadohi, July 26: 
Flames from the pyre lick the inky sky as dusk shrouds Chaube Ghat, Mirzapur, on the Ganga. Phoolan Devi is turning to ash here, within sight of a temple to a cult of murder.

Phoolan is not cremated a bandit queen.As the cortege bearing her body is escorted by a long convoy that cuts a swathe across south-east Uttar Pradesh, from Varanasi airport to Mirzapur, she is feted in death.

And not by Mirzapur alone. Before her body was flown out of Delhi, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee led a stream of government and political leaders to Phoolan’s residence, blessing her bandit legend with the perfumed respectability of their flowers-in-hand presence.

After Bhadohi, the funeral convoy crosses Shastri bridge over the river. The bridge is choking with people and cars. From Chaube Ghat, it is a line of bobbing heads. Beyond the bridge, on the same bank, is the Vindhyavasini temple, home to a goddess who inspired the thuggee movement, a cult of murder in her honour.

Gali gali mein naara hain, Rajnath hatyara hain,” someone raises the slogan. The crowd, mostly young villagers who have marched through the drizzle over slushy paddy fields, joins in.

The priest goes round the pyre, setting it alight as Mulayam Singh Yadav, son Akhilesh, Amar Singh and Phoolan’s husband Umedh Singh supervise the last rites. On the loudspeakers, a shehnai drones. It is playing the matam, music of mourning.

Moolah Devi, Phoolan’s mother, is on the bank with the family. Her face is set in stone. Phoolan’s elder sister, Rukhmani, who stood by her when the family was torn by disputes after her surrender, is wailing. She leans on her son’s shoulder. Phoolan’s mother-in-law, Ramkali, takes ill in the crush of people. She is escorted to a car.

The crowd is trying to identify who is who in the family — Phoolan’s younger sisters, Ramkali and Munni, a brother-in-law, Hargobind, his sons, Sonu and Lalit, two other nephews, Mathura and Santosh. Phoolan’s brother, Shivnarain, forces his way to the pyre. But for him, all of them leave, virtually carried by helpful hands through the crowd, just as the pyre is being lit.

This is not a family that looks prosperous, fattened by deals with film producers or others. Their clothes are dirty and cheap; the hair is dishevelled. Phoolan had taken a fancy to Shahnaz Hussain’s cosmetics, but Delhi’s sanitised environs have not yet untied all of Moolah Devi’s matted hair.

The family blends into the countryside. They look like many of the people who had lined the roads as the convoy passed from Varanasi district through Bhadohi to Mirzapur. This is not Phoolan’s Chambal, not Shekhpur Gurha, where she was born. But she was a Mallah and spoke their language. This is the Samajwadi constituency. Mulayam Singh’s spectacle of Phoolan’s death is thought through. It is getting to be election time in Uttar Pradesh.

“I was with her last Saturday, at the district magistrate’s office in Gyanpur,” says Feroze Waziri, national secretary of the Samajwadi youth front. “I filled up her application forms for gun licences which were refused. I didn’t take it so seriously then. I told her yeh mamla to apka chalta hi rehta hain. If she was in Mirzapur, she would not have been killed because here she was well protected. So they got to her in Delhi.”

Who are they?

Phoolan’s constituents in Mirzapur point their accusing finger westwards, towards Behmai, where she allegedly killed 23 Thakurs in February 1981. Even those who are not Samajwadi loyalists point to Behmai.“I was in Behmai that evening,” recalls Sriram Misra, a police driver. “In Behmai, people put tikas of blood swearing revenge. Last night, they lit lamps of ghee.”

Behmai had sworn not to celebrate Diwali till it was avenged. Many in Mirzapur believe Behmai celebrated its festival of lights yesterday.

The cult of the thuggee is not yet buried.

   

 
 
POLICE CHASE KIDNAP CLUES HERE, THERE AND IN BIHAR 
 
 
BY BAPPA MAJUMDAR AND PRONAB MONDAL
 
Calcutta, July 26: 
After waiting in vain for a ransom call, investigators left for Orissa and Bihar in search of shoe magnate Parthapratim Roy Burman, who was kidnapped from a crowded street in Tiljala yesterday.

Officers of the Criminal Investigation Department said some gangs operating out of Bihar and Orissa are under the scanner along with local crimelords, much the same song they had sung when senior Exide executive Satyabrata Ganguly was kidnapped in 1999.

“We are looking at various locales, various scenarios, various gangs,” said Partha Bhattacharya, inspector-general, CID. “At this moment, we are concerned about his (Roy Burman’s) safe return for, as we understand now, he had received two bullet injuries.”

Through the day, the police waited for the ransom demand which, they thought, would give them an idea of the whereabouts of the magnate and the state of his health.

“We haven’t yet received any such call and that has made our task difficult,” said CID deputy inspector-general V.V. Thambi. But there was a buzz in the city that the abductors had conveyed a hefty ransom demand to the family. No confirmation was available and might never be.

Satyabrata Ganguly was freed after a tense wait for several days without any hint of either ransom demand or payment.

Parthapratim’s father, who is chairman of Khadim’s, spoke to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in the morning. Later, Bhattacharya, the CID chief, visited the family in Salt Lake.

Handicapped by contradictory statements of eyewitnesses, police tried to piece together the kidnap puzzle. Roy Burman’s driver Naba Kumar Mondal, who was present at the spot and has been giving conflicting statements, is suspected to be “deeply involved” in the abduction.

Senior officers claimed that Mondal had given them something to work on. His statements were leading them “more and more” to a gang based near the airport and led by Orissa-born Ramu Nayak alias Ramu Khatik.

There were several pointers to Khatik’s involvement. The first was that Roy Burman’s abduction was “very similar” to the kidnapping of trader Jaiprakash Gupta in November 1999. Gupta was kidnapped from near his Mullickbazar residence and his body was found by the police at Nimta, in North 24-Parganas, a week later.

Special branch officers who pored over details of that abduction said yesterday’s kidnapping — like the one in 1999 — could be described by only one word: “ferocious”.

Gupta’s was the only case of abduction in the recent past that ended in murder, officers said, not giving up hope of Roy Burman’s safe return.

The second pointer was that Mondal, who kept his interrogators busy with contradictory statements throughout the day — leading the police to suspect his involvement, lives in an area where Khatik’s word is law.

“Naba stays at Kestopur, where he is involved in shady deals,” a senior officer said. “Not coincidentally perhaps, the area is controlled by Khatik,” he said. A search has been launched for Khatik and his associates at Kestopur, Baguiati, Jagatnarayanpur and areas near the airport. Police have also sent a team to Orissa where the gang leader might be hiding.

But the involvement of Ajay Singh, a Bihar-based ganglord, is not ruled out. The CID has sent a team to Gaya to track down Singh.

A forensic team visited the kidnap site in Tiljala today and found a hammer that had been used to break the windshield of Roy Burman’s vehicle. Mondal had told the police that a bullet had pierced the windshield.

Police have also interrogated a Tiljala-based druglord near whose home the incident occurred. “It’s very difficult to believe that he wouldn’t know of an operation taking place in his backyard,” a senior officer explained.

   

 
 
MORNING DRIVER IS SUSPECT NEXT DAY 
 
 
FROM AMBEREEN ALI SHAH
 
New Delhi, July 26: 
In the morning, Pankaj, a 24-year-old youth from Roorkee, had driven Phoolan Devi to Parliament in a green Maruti. Hours later, he might have been among the three masked men who shot Phoolan in front of her Ashoka Road residence and escaped in the same car.

Pankaj, one of the prime suspects, is absconding. Uma Kashyap, chief of Phoolan’s political outfit Eklavya Sena, who brought Pankaj to the bandit leader-turned MP, is being questioned by police.

Uma had carried Phoolan’s bullet-riddled body to Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital yesterday. It is not known if she is also one of the suspects, but her links with Pankaj are under scrutiny.

The crime branch of Delhi Police despatched teams to Uttaranchal and Uttar Pradesh to pursue leads on the assailants and dig out details about Pankaj and Uma. Both are from Roorkee.

Uma describes Pankaj as her “moohbola bhai” (brother by acquaintance), a term commonly used in the Hindi belt. The two were said to be frequent visitors to Phoolan’s house for one-and-a-half years. The police, however, claim that Uma took Pankaj with her to meet Phoolan only once.

Information with the police suggests Uma and her husband Vijay Kumar came to Delhi from Roorkee in Pankaj’s car yesterday. They apparently wanted to meet Phoolan to fix who the next president of Eklavya Sena would be.

Pankaj has emerged as a key suspect because it is believed he fled with the two other assailants after shooting Phoolan. The driver of the three-wheeler, which the assailants used to make their getaway after abandoning the Maruti, told the police he was forced to stop twice — once at Khursheed Bhavan and then at Tilak Marg — to allow the assailants to escape.

According to details pieced together by investigators, Uma, her husband and Pankaj arrived at Phoolan’s house in the morning. Since Phoolan’s car was in the workshop, Uma asked Pankaj to drop the Samajwadi Party MP and her guard, Balwinder Singh, at Parliament.

“The car dropped Phoolan at gate number 2 of Parliament. After that she boarded a ferry car that took her inside. Then she went to the (Parliament) annexe for physiotherapy,” Qamar Ahmed, assistant commissioner of police, crime branch, said.

On her way back, Phoolan was given a drop by fellow Samajwadi MP Raghuvir Singh Sakia. “She was dropped near the main entrance to her residence by the MP who left within a few seconds as he had another appointment,” Ahmed said.

There are, however, no plausible answers to how the MP failed to either see or hear the shots fired at Phoolan almost immediately after.

“Perhaps, the assailants were hiding in the green Maruti parked near her house by Pankaj and Sakia failed to see them,” Ahmed tried to explain.

   

 
 
MUSHARRAF REAPS AGRA DIVIDENDS 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, July 26: 
The failure of Agra is beginning to take its toll on India. President George W. Bush has compared Kashmir to Kosovo, Northern Ireland and West Asia.

At the same time, Pakistan has earned praise from the World Bank for the management of its economy and a loan of $700 million. In addition, a $130-million loan from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) is on its way.

These developments, although unconnected with each other, are being interpreted here as a fallout of the clever public relations drive launched by General Pervez Musharraf in Agra and by his ministers abroad in the weeks prior to the Indo-Pak summit.

Bush spoke of “ethnic intolerance and narrow nationalism” in a speech during his just concluded tour of Europe, adding: “We will pursue a world of tolerance and freedom. From Kosovo to Kashmir, from West Asia to Northern Ireland, freedom and tolerance is the defining issue for our world.”

Speaking to American troops engaged in peace-keeping in Kosovo, he said: “As we head into the 21st century, we must not allow difference to be a licence to kill and vulnerability an excuse to dominate.” The President’s reference to Kashmir resurrected memories of remarks by his predecessor, Bill Clinton, nearly eight years ago about human rights abuses from “the Caucasus to Kashmir”.

Officials had dismissed Clinton’s remarks in his first term as the handiwork of speechwriters who were new to the White House and not well-versed in the intricacies of diplomacy.

This time, too, that appears to be the case since the state department’s bureau where policy is made on India and Pakistan, headed by Christina Rocca, has been extremely careful not to wound the sensibilities of either side on Kashmir. True, speechwriters may be unaware of the nuances of the state department’s delicate diplomacy. But they are not inexperienced in speechwriting.

And the fact that Kashmir has sprung to their minds while thinking of ethnic intolerance, narrow nationalism, the licence to kill, freedom and domination is a reflection of how Musharraf has been able to catch the imagination of the world and focus it once again on Kashmir after a gap of at least five years.

For India, it is evidence that Kashmir has been brought back to the world stage once again. For Pakistan, it is proof that their President’s gamble in going to Agra has paid off.

In South Block, officials are unlikely to unduly worry about remarks by Bush. They have just concluded three days of meetings with Rocca, who has assured her Indian interlocutors of the consistency of US policy on Kashmir.

In any case, India’s is now a more confident presence in Washington. Having successfully weathered the storm caused by Pokhran II, Delhi is quite confident that its lobbying efforts here can prevent any slide back on Kashmir to the days of Clinton’s first term.

There was clear evidence of this on Tuesday, when the House of Representatives adopted by a voice vote a legislation by Democratic Congressman Jospeph Crowley providing for $10 million towards relief efforts at the time of natural disasters in South Asia.

All the same, there are conspiracy theories circulating in South Block portraying the Bush statement as a carefully-planned sop to Pakistan just as Rocca is scheduled to arrive in Islamabad.

After all, Rocca’s long-term objective as assistant secretary in the South Asia bureau is to bring to book terrorist Osama bin Laden for his crimes against America and her dealings with Pakistan are pivotal to that objective.

Announcing the loan of $700 million, a World Bank official praised efforts by the Musharraf junta to bring order to Pakistan’s economy and curb corruption. “This boost in lending reflects our confidence in the reform agenda developed by the new government,” John Wall, country director for Pakistan and Afghanistan, said.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 32.4°C (0
Minimum: 27.2°C (+1))

Rainfall:

2.1 mm

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 95%,
Minimum: 69%

Today

One or two spells of light to moderate rain in some parts.
Sunrise: 5.07 am>
Sunset: 6.19 pm
   
 

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