Naidu recce puts BJP on guard
Flood helps NDA clamber ashore
Delhi on alert after PM threat
Capital hotels shut door on Kashmiris
Tezpur boy gives power lessons
Love-and-greed twist to factory murders
Govt under pressure to club caste with racism

New Delhi, Aug. 11: 
A worried BJP is trying to figure out the real reason behind Telugu Desam chief Chandrababu Naidu’s three-day whirlwind tour of the capital from Wednesday night to Saturday morning, ostensibly to expedite pending projects in Andhra Pradesh.

Sources said the BJP has started snooping on Naidu, who met 15 ministers — including Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, home minister L.K. Advani and National Democratic Alliance convener George Fernandes — to collect information on the Centre’s stability following the BJP and the Shiv Sena’s war of words. Naidu’s 29 MPs provide the much-needed oxygen to the Vajpayee government.

BJP leader V.K. Malhotra rang up a couple of senior Cabinet ministers, whom Naidu had met on Thursday and Friday, to ask them what exactly he had discussed and what was the mood of the Andhra chief minister.

Sources said Naidu, who discussed a number of projects awaiting Central clearance, was anxious to know about the Sena’s growing disenchantment with the Prime Minister.

Naidu also discussed the Sena’s attitude with Fernandes, civil aviation minister Sharad Yadav, commerce and industry minister Murasoli Maran, power minister Suresh Prabhu — a Sena member — and rural development minister Venkaiah Naidu. He also discussed the political situation with Vajpayee.

Naidu did not give a straight reply when asked how he rated the stability of the NDA government. Sources said he mumbled an incomplete reply — “As long as the media...” — before walking away.

Sources close to the chief minister said he was worried about the drastic fall in the BJP’s image.

“The BJP is becoming a liability for us. The panchayat elections proved that the BJP’s and even the Prime Minister’s image have taken a beating. But that does not mean we will quit the NDA. At this juncture, what is the option before us?” a source close to Naidu asked.

Though sources said the Desam had no plans to desert the NDA, at least for the time being. Naidu has ruled out the possibility of the Desam joining the NDA government. At a Desam parliamentary party meeting, some MPs had raised the issue and expressed a desire to join the government.

The MPs told the chief minister that they were becoming lazy without work. But, sources said, Naidu told them he was opposed to any such idea and asked them to concentrate on the development of the state.


Patna, Aug. 11: 
The flood in Bihar has given the adrift National Democratic Alliance an opportunity to touch shore.

Riding a wave of public anger against the “messy distribution of relief”, NDA leaders have buried their differences and decided to mount an offensive against the Rabri Devi government.

The public outcry was triggered by the police firing on flood-affected people in Muzaffarpur earlier this week. Three people had died in the firing.

The NDA’s state unit, rudderless in its fight against Lalooraj since its defeat in last year’s Assembly elections, met yesterday after the all-party convention at the chief minister’s 1 Anne Marg residence. It charged the government with “unleashing its corrupt policemen” on the relief-seekers.

The alliance leaders, speaking in unison for the first time in months, criticised the government’s “partisan” approach to relief distribution. Around the same time in Delhi, an NDA delegation met Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and submitted a charter of demands for farmers in Bihar.

The NDA will kick off its agitation with a siege on the state administrative headquarters on Monday. The protest programme will spread to the districts from August 14 and continue for a week. On August 21, the NDA has proposed to call a statewide bandh. Alliance leaders and Central ministers like Nitish Kumar, Sharad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan are expected to attend the public meetings in the run-up to the bandh.

The NDA has accused the government of turning a blind eye to the flourishing abduction industry in the state. The alliance says the administration’s inefficiency in tackling the kidnappers has forced businessmen to flee Bihar.

While a surge of flood water from Nepal continues to devastate life in at least 10 districts of north Bihar, the central part of the state has been hit by a drought.

The agrarian economy of the state has been severely hit following the flood and the drought. With the mines and industry going to Jharkhand after the division, the remaining part of Bihar is heavily dependent on agriculture.

“The NDA’s political subsistence is mainly from northern India’s agrarian belt. It just cannot sit idle,” said Samata Party spokesman K. Sinha.

The Janata Dal (United), which has got a strong base in Muzaffarpur and Sitamarhi, swung into action immediately after the firing. Sharad Yadav’s call for unity among NDA partners found an immediate response from the BJP and Paswan’s Janshakti. “We have decided to fight the inefficient Rabri Devi government whose police has a tinge of colonialism,” Sinha added.

Left to cope with controversies and scandals, the BJP is trying to get its flock together to put up a big fight. The party has sent instructions to all district bodies to gear up and be by the side of the affected people.


New Delhi, Aug. 11: 
Pakistan-backed militants have issued threats against Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the hawks in his Cabinet ahead of Independence Day, according to intelligence reports.

“Three persons have been named as targets: Vajpayee, home minister L.K. Advani and a third person belonging to the Cabinet. These threats have also appeared in the Pakistani vernacular press,” R.S. Gupta, special commissioner (security), Delhi police, said.

“The capital has been on an alert for the last three days and will continue to be so till August 16, keeping the security threat in mind,” he added. Border districts of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh have also been put on high alert. According to Gupta, outfits like the Lashkar-e Toiba, Al Badr, Harkat-ul-Jihadi-Islami and Saudi billionaire-turned-militant mastermind Osama bin Laden’s organisation Al Qida may strike on Independence Day.

Intelligence reports have also indicated the involvement of women in the attacks by suicide squads. This, police sources said, has added a new dimension to the threat. The Lashkar-e-Toiba had claimed responsibility for sending two militants on a suicide mission to attack army personnel inside Red Fort in December last year.

Elaborate arrangements have been made to keep a check on the security situation. An additional 7,000 personnel have been deployed this year to patrol the capital’s streets. Delhi police will be working in close coordination with civil, military and paramilitary agencies. Contingency schemes for handling emergencies have been made. Assistance has also been sought from the fire brigade and all major hospitals in the city.

The security arrangements include anti-sabotage checks, frisking people and deployment of armed commandos at strategic points to thwart armed intrusions. Areas within one to three kilometres of Red Fort and Rashtrapati Bhavan will be under scrutiny. Close-circuit cameras have been installed at a number of places.

Sharp-shooters from the National Security Guard have been posted at strategic places. Checks are also being conducted in flats and buildings with new tenants in the vicinity of Red Fort.

Following the recent militant strike at Jammu station, security has been beefed up at stations in Delhi. Security has been stepped up at bus-stands, market areas and cinema halls. Delhi airport has been placed under tight vigil by deploying National Security Guard commandos. The bomb disposal squad and sniffer dogs have also been put into action.


New Delhi, Aug. 11: 
With less than a week to go for Independence Day, Kashmiri Muslims visiting the capital are being turned out of hotels and lodges they normally check into.

The reason: owners of these hotels, located in the downtown areas around Red Fort, have been warned by Delhi police not to put up “foreigners” (read Kashmiris).

Although no written directive has been issued, the police have verbally ordered the owners of “suspect” hotels in Old Delhi to turn out Kashmiri occupants for “security” reasons.

The police seem to have their own yardstick for identifying “suspect” hotels. Those in the Jama Masjid area have apparently come in for more scrutiny, mainly because of their apprehension that some Muslim residents may be involved with Kashmiri terrorist groups and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence.

A hotelier from the Jama Masjid area said: “Every year around Independence Day and Republic Day, every Muslim in the capital is looked upon as a security threat by the administration. There are militants in the Northeast and Punjab, but for the police the ones from Kashmir seem to constitute the biggest threat.”

R.S. Gupta, special commissioner (security), Delhi police, however, said the police do not intend to clear hotels of Kashmiri occupants. Instead, the thrust would be on stepping up vigil in all hotels in Old Delhi and on conducting extra searches, if necessary.

But the hoteliers are not taking any chances. Scared of getting the rough end of the cops’ stick, some of them have decided not to put up Kashmiris, even if they are visiting the city for business or treatment or even passing through. “I have made it a rule not to allow Kashmiris to stay as a precautionary measure,” says Raza, who owns a hotel near Jama Masjid. “If there is any untoward incident, I will be questioned.”

His fears are shared by a fellow hotelier, Ikram, who runs the Hindustan Hotel in Ballimaran near Chandni Chowk. “I stopped putting up Kashmiris because the police would show up at all odd hours asking for them. Sometimes they would come with their sniffer dogs or officials would rummage through their belongings,” he said. The surprise raids, Ikram added, would upset the non-Kashmiri lodgers. His business, he said, would also suffer daily losses to the tune of Rs 4,000 if he continued taking in Kashmiris.

The apprehensions of these hoteliers are borne out by the experience of visiting Kashmiris. Habib Bashir, a small-time businessman based in Jammu, has been checking in at Samir Hotel in Old Delhi for the past eight years. But, while the hotel staff see him as a family member, for the police he is a “suspect”.

Bashir, who has often been questioned by the CID and the special cell set up by Delhi police to deal with terrorist attacks, went through the drill this year too. But this time, he claimed he had asked the policemen why Kashmiris were not trusted and allowed to live with respect. “I told them if you cannot treat us like other citizens, then give us independence,” Bashir said.

Most Old Delhi lodges are bereft of Kashmiris. “Just before Independence Day, they stop coming or they clear out a few days earlier,” says Mehboob Ali, who works in a hotel near Jama Masjid.

Farooque, an employee of Jawahar Hotel, also near Jama Masjid, says the number of Kashmiri visitors have fallen drastically over the last two years. Compared to the 90 per cent occupancy by Kashmiris two years ago, it has come down to almost nil these days.


Guwahati, Aug. 11: 
Buried in the dusty record books of Gauhati University’s statistics department is a roll number, 219, from the class of ’77.

Nearly a quarter of a century later, the student to whom the roll number belonged has become a teacher himself, one capable of giving “lessons” to the Indian government, no less.

Meet 44-year-old Dipak Jain, Tezpur-born management guru and recently-appointed dean of the world’s second-best business school — the Kellogg Graduate School of Management.

Jain, whose expertise the Centre has sought to carry out power reforms, has termed his appointment as dean as the equivalent of “achieving nirvana”.

He said over phone from Srinagar, where he is visiting relatives, that he had a “very fruitful and serious” two-hour sitting with Union power minister Suresh Prabhu and senior officials on Monday.

The Chicago-based Jain said he offered tips on distribution, sales and after-sales service. “It was a lengthy discussion. In short, I talked about distribution since it is my subject. The power ministry needs to ascertain how things are in different countries before deciding on anything, because power is an important sector and the development of a nation depends a lot on its health. More or less, my views matched those of Prabhu. I went through a report prepared by the ministry, and I must say it was quite encouraging,” he said.

Jain, who will be teaching for a week at the Hyderabad-based Indian School of Business starting August 13, said “piecemeal solutions” to power sector’s problems would not be of any help.

The meeting with Prabhu was the result of an “invitation” by the minister during his visit to the business school under Northwestern University in June.


Mumbai, Aug. 11: 
Police today unearthed a “love affair” behind the bangle factory murders with the arrest of five persons.

Police commissioner M.N. Singh, in a hurriedly called news conference, blamed the murder of the eight persons, including the owner of the factory, on the affair. Amarjeet Singh, an employee of Poonam Plastic, a factory in Goregaon’s Rocky Industrial Estate, allegedly had an affair with Helen, working in a neighbouring factory.

The police chief said Singh and his colleagues Pankaj Bihari and Kailash Nepali had hatched the murder plot with the help of three outsiders — Ghulam, Joginder Singh and Gulzar Singh.

The police commissioner said the owner, Duglaram Chowdhury, had reprimanded Singh for the affair in full view of the workers and threatened to sack him a week earlier, which could have been the immediate provocation.

Another motive was to “raise funds” for the couple’s marriage. Helen’s brother did not approve of the relationship and had reportedly asked Singh to get Rs 1 lakh before seeking his sister’s hand.

The police commissioner said Singh and the other accused had forced Chowdhury to sign two blank cheques before strangling him on Thursday morning.

The accused had originally planned to kill only the owner after extorting money. But the plan fell through when five workers objected to their entry. The workers were given tea laced with drugs and then strangled. Their bodies were dumped in plastic drums used to store raw materials.

Police said the accused first killed Chowdhury’s brother and brother-in-law, who had been called to the unit. Then the drugged workers were strangled.

Police said the owner was killed on Thursday morning soon after he arrived at the factory to enquire about his brother and brother-in-law. Before killing him, the accused tied him with a rope and forced him to sign the cheques.

The culprits encashed the first cheque for Rs 30,000 at the Goregaon branch of Canara Bank as soon as the bank opened on Thursday, almost two hours after the murder. At noon, two of them — Pankaj and Gulzar — returned to encash the second cheque for Rs 90,000. This time, the manager of the bank became suspicious as the factory owner had never withdrawn such a large amount in a day.

He called up the factory owner and learnt about the murders. He immediately called the police and the two accused were arrested.

Joginder was arrested later that night. A trap was laid at Helen’s house where Amarjeet was expected to come. He, too, was arrested yesterday. Kailash surrendered at Goregaon police station.


New Delhi, Aug. 11: 
The UN-sponsored World Conference on Racism this month-end in Durban may prove to be yet another embarrassing event for the Vajpayee government and the BJP. While they are opposed to discussing “casteism” in India at the UN forum, pressure is mounting on the Centre to include the much-talked about Indian malady.

The CPM, the Republican Party of India (RPI), the Bahujan Samaj Party and some Dalit organisations have started a campaign for the inclusion of “caste oppression” on the agenda at the UN conference. RPI president Ramdas Athavale said he had sought an appointment with Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee to impress upon him the need to include casteism at the conference.

But the Centre has rejected the demand on the grounds that the government has comprehensive policies for untouchables and that casteism is not akin to racism. While the NDA government is of the view that caste does not fall within the framework of a conference on racism, the RPI says it is very much an issue to be discussed at the international forum as it concerns about 200 million Dalits in the country.

Athavale said he would attend the conference and highlight the issue in his personal capacity. “The world knows about caste oppression in India. No use hiding it. Our Constitution had rejected casteism, but it is still prevalent in the minds of the people,” the Dalit leader from Maharashtra said.

BSP chief Mayavati also supported the demand, saying in India the social structure was based on caste. The CPM, which, too, is pressing for the inclusion of the topic at the UN conference, said there were elements of racial outlook in “varnashrama dharma”. The National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights and several other NGOs have been asking for the inclusion of the topic for the last two years.

The conference, which will begin on August 31, will also discuss issues like “racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance”. Some 250 NGOs from India are expected to attend the meet.

An official delegation, comprising 35 members, will be led by external affairs minister Jaswant Singh, who is co-chairman of the conference.

Soli Sorabjee, who is Indian representative on the UN Commission on Human Rights, had also opposed the inclusion of caste at the conference. He said the UN Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination has made it clear that the conference on race is concerned with discrimination, irrespective of the sources of discrimination, arising out of caste and untouchability.


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