Raids in crime belt net 1000
Nod to Nepal border force
Govt takes erosion fight to Vajpayee
Fernandes on soothe-Farooq mission
Shabana joins burqa protest
Centre to send Priya letter to House panel
Tribals strip Dalit
Youth wins freedom from jail and father’s sin
Mamata chooses only option
Old friends keep grassroots ties alive

Calcutta, Aug. 27: 
In one of the biggest raids conducted simultaneously in all the 32 police station areas in South 24-Parganas, more than 1,000 people were arrested and a huge cache of arms and ammunition seized last night. A similar operation was mounted in the district last Monday in which almost the same number of people were rounded up.

Officials, including the additional superintendent of police, subdivisional police officers, deputy superintendents of police and officers-in-charge of all the police stations, were present.

The raids were conducted in wake of the spurt in criminal activities in Tiljala, Kasba, Thakurpukur, Regent Park, Sonarpur and Canning. South 24-Parganas SP Deb Kumar Ganguly said: “Two successive raids involving all the police stations have helped us arrest the criminals we had been tracking for a long time.”

Police are paying special attention to Tiljala and its adjoining areas, the domain of Chunnu Mian, who is now in custody for alleged involvement in the kidnapping of Khadim’s owner Parthapratim Roy Burman, Ganguly said.

He added that 1,009 persons were arrested and a dozen pipe guns, three revolvers, several rounds of cartridges, over 50 bombs and a huge quantity of country liquor were seized during last night’s raids.

Ganguly said the raids were carried out simultaneously to ensure that criminals from one area could not take shelter in another police station’s jurisdiction. He said such raids would continue to create terror among the miscreants. The officers-in-charge have been asked to be harsh with the criminals. “I have specifically asked my officers to make arrests of persons with criminal records without considering their political colours,” the SP said.

Additional SP (rural) Rajesh Kumar Singh said the police were facing problems chasing criminals in the Sunderbans in the absence of adequate boats.


Siliguri, Aug. 27: 
The state government has got Central clearance to set up a joint border force with Nepal — on the lines of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police — to check the growing threat from Maoist rebels and counter ISI activities.

Announcing this yesterday, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said: “Nepal-based Maoist rebels have posed a new threat to north Bengal. The ultra-Left rebels are now trying to establish a political and militant platform in the region with the help of local sympathisers, especially in the Darjeeling hills. Neither will we tolerate such a thing nor will we allow such a thing to happen.”

Bhattacharjee’s statement followed a meeting with police superintendents of the six north Bengal districts.

The chief minister’s acknowledgement of Maoist “threat” follows reports of a secret conclave of Left leaders of Nepal, including leader of the Opposition Madhav Kumar Nepal and the Maoist’s supreme commander, Puspakamal Dhal alias “Prachand”, in Siliguri on August 15. The local police have, however, refused to confirm the reports.

Bhattacharjee said the need to deploy a crack Indo-Nepal border force was discussed with Union home minister L.K. Advani, who gave the go-ahead.

“The modalities are to be worked out and the force will soon be deployed to check the growing infiltration of ISI-backed militants and Maoists into the region,” he added.

Maintaining that Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) militants were still active in Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar, the chief minister said security had to be revamped in the three districts.

“In the wake of increased militant activities in the region, we have decided to boost the number of police personnel in Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar. The force will be upgraded and provided with sophisticated weapons to match the firepower of the militants. Adequate number of vehicles will also be provided to the police for counter-insurgency operations. I have asked the police to be more vigilant on KLO insurgency,” the chief minister said.


Calcutta, Aug. 27: 
Prompted by the Ganga’s changing course and the resultant erosion in Malda, state food-processing and horticulture minister Sailen Sarkar is leading an all-party delegation to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

The worst-affected areas in the district include Kaliachak, Manikchak and Panchanandapur where erosion is a two-decade-old problem, said officials. Even as Sarkar boarded the train for Delhi this evening, reports reached the district headquarters that one more gram panchayat, Jhaubona, was being eroded by the river.

The river has rendered 6,000 people homeless this year, said district officials. The problem is compounded by the fact that the western bank of the river — in Jharkhand — is made up of rocky soil whereas the eastern bank in West Bengal is composed of soft, alluvial soil, making it more susceptible to erosion.

Sarkar wants the Centre to play a “pro-active” role to prevent further erosion, because the state government — with its “limitations” — will not be able to solve the problem alone.

CM-Bloc meeting

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee met five Forward Bloc ministers to assess progress in their departments.

Bhattacharjee is believed to have told the ministers —Kamal Guha (agriculture), Chhaya Ghosh (relief), Kalimuddin Shams (food), Naren Dey (co-operative) and Hafiz Alam Sairani (agricultural marketing) — to be more attentive in their work.

Reiterating the advice to his CPM colleagues in the Cabinet a few weeks ago, the chief minister asked the ministers to take up programmes that offered job opportunities.

Bhattacharjee also asked the ministers to speed up on-going projects.


New Delhi, Aug. 27: 
After maintaining what apparently was a tactical silence on the latest Tehelka revelations, George Fernandes came into his own in the NDA meeting this morning, essaying a role he thinks is “tailor-made” for him: as trouble-shooter and rabble-rouser.

On the one hand, as NDA convener he assured the NDA that he would sort out the “misunderstanding” between Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah as a result of the former’s remarks allegedly questioning the fairness of Assembly polls in the state.

On the other, while he did not succeed in extracting a resolution supporting the Samata Party stand against Tehelka, he managed concessions in the form of pressuring the Venkataswamy Commission, probing the tapes, to expedite its inquiry.

To maintain a degree of objectivity, Fernandes reportedly stepped out of the meeting when the Tehelka issue was discussed.

NDA sources asserted this was not “lack of concern”. Till yesterday, the Samata chief was trying hard to get an FIR filed against Tehelka owner Tarun Tejpal by an NDA member. But after his legal advisers counselled him to get an outsider to file the FIR, he dropped the idea.

Abdullah stayed away from the NDA meeting because of the death of a Cabinet colleague but his son, Union minister Omar Abdullah, represented the National Conference.

Fernandes said he spoke to Farooq this morning. He will meet him shortly to clear the air on Vajpayee’s remarks, he added.

Yesterday, the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister took umbrage at Vajpayee’s purported comments and claimed if Vajpayee implied they were “unfair”, his remark was directed against Abdullah and, therefore, he would snap links with the NDA.

However, in a press conference in Lucknow, Vajpayee clarified that all he said was there were some “irregularities” in the elections but the Election Commission had taken due cognisance.

Fernandes said there was no discussion on Vajpayee’s remarks in the NDA meeting. “All differences within the NDA would have to be settled within the alliance. There will be no difficulty in that,” he said.

However, Fernandes met with limited success as far as Tehelka was concerned. Party sources said BJP spokesman V.K. Malhotra raised the subject and expressed concern at the manner in which sex workers were used in the portal’s sting operation.

Interestingly, Jaswant Singh, who took over as defence minister from Fernandes, brought up the issue of the Venkataswamy commission, according to sources.

The only point on which the NDA was one with Fernandes was in asking the commission to speed up its probe and not drag its feet as other commissions in the past.

Fernandes himself had made out a case for expediting the probe when he told the press that several files pertaining to the purchase of arms, urgently needed for the country’s security, were with the commission. Asked if there was any move by the NDA to file an FIR against Tehelka, he said the NDA was “not structured” to fulfil such a brief. “This could be done at a different level and it will be done shortly,” claimed Fernandes.

NDA sources said the meeting discussed the terms of reference for the commission and explored the possibility of enlarging them in the context of the use of sex workers for the Tehelka investigation. Nothing conclusive emerged.

The meeting also took note of the fact that the Tehelka editors had changed their stand on the methods they used five times from justifying them in the beginning to later admitting that they had “transgressed” the accepted boundaries of propriety in journalism, the sources said.


New Delhi, Aug. 27: 
College students and activists today organised a campaign to end violence against women. The campaign comes in the wake of the Lashkar-e-Jabbar threat to attack those who flout their diktat that women should wear burqas outside their homes.

Those present at the campaign included Shabana Azmi and Nafisa Ali. Azmi read Eve Ensler’s poem Under the Burqa.

“It is necessary to change the mindset of people who for thousands of years have come to believe that women are inferior to men. This change can be implemented through legislation and the civil society,” the writer-activist said.

“Women of Kashmir should come together and not accept the dress code. The Kashmiri women have the backing of all the women in India,” she added.

“It is not only the Lashkar-e-Jabbar that is trying to curtail the independence of women. Goons of the Bajrang Dal and the Shiv Sena are also attacking women in Kanpur over dress code,” said Megha, a second year student of Sri Venkateswara College, who has written a prize-winning essay on strategies to curtail atrocities on women.

Megha is the only person from South and South-East Asia whose essay has been selected by an international selection committee in a contest organised by V-Day, a movement that began in the US in 1998. “My essay incorporates strategies to solve the problems faced by women.

They are immediate solutions that can be implemented by an individual without banking on funds. For instance, instead of greeting a person by saying good morning, you can begin the day by saying end violence on women,” she said.

The campaign began with a street play, Touch the Sky, written and directed by Gauhar Raza. The play, enacted by both male and female students, opened with harrowing statistics of atrocities committed on women in South Asia — 6,000 women are set ablaze every year in India, 5,000 get raped in Bangladesh, while in Pakistan 2,500 women are raped.

The play also dealt with how the role of a women is restricted to that of mother, wife and daughter. The campaign voiced its protest against dowry deaths, sexual abuse and gender discrimination. The play will be enacted in various schools, colleges and slums of Delhi.

Television soaps like Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi and Ghar Ghar Ki Kahani, where the role of a good daughter-in-law is limited to looking after the husband and mother-in-law and where falling in love before marriage is considered wrong, were presented in the play as examples.

Ali said: “Violence against women is a fundamental issue in India and the government should play an important role in combating this violence.”

“Girls and boys should be given equal opportunity. Even educated people are ignorant about gender equality,” she added.


New Delhi, Aug. 27: 
The government is thinking of sending to a House committee of the Lok Sabha the controversial letter on Air-India that Cabinet secretary T.R. Prasad allegedly sent to the Prime Minister’s principal secretary. It may also refer the matter to the Speaker.

If a decision to this effect is taken, it will go half-way in meeting the demand of Priya Ranjan Das Munshi. The Congress chief whip had demanded that the letter be probed by the privileges committee of the Lower House and not the CBI, as disinvestment minister Arun Shourie had announced on the floor of the House. Das Munshi had produced the letter during a discussion on disinvestment.

The additional secretary in the Cabinet secretariat had filed a complaint of forgery with the CBI, which has begun investigation. But official sources made it clear that Das Munshi’s interrogation was not within the ambit of the CBI inquiry because his claim was made inside the House. The CBI, the sources said, was expected to look into three aspects — the Cabinet secretary’s version, the “movement” of the letter from his office to the PMO and verification of the handwriting.

Official sources, ruling out the scope for a privileges committee to look into the letter, said: “A privileges committee is not an inquiry committee. It can only look after the privilege of a member or a group of members or the entire House. It cannot be given the job of finding out if a letter is correct or not.”

A decision is expected to be taken at a meeting likely to be convened by the Lok Sabha Speaker tomorrow. Government sources, however, indicated they were “convinced” that the letter was “forged”. “With the kind of photocopying facilities available today, it is possible to do an expert cut-and-paste job by transposing a genuine signature from an official communique on manufactured contents,” they said.

At a meeting of the Rules Committee, called by the Speaker today, it was unanimously decided that any member who enters the well of the House and creates disorder, wilfully and persistently defies the authority of the Chair, shouts slogans or in any way obstructs the business of the House shall, on being named by the Speaker, be automatically suspended for five consecutive sittings or the remaining session, depending on which is shorter. The rule will be formalised as Rule 374 (a) and incorporated in the Lok Sabha rules of procedure.

Official sources said the committee members felt that MPs should speak from their allotted seats.

The report, incorporating the amended rules, is likely to be placed before the House in the early part of the winter session.

Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav voiced his protest against the rule and declared that he would be the first to break it.

Speaking on MPs’ salaries, allowance and pension, Yadav said MPs often had to enter the well to raise people’s issues.


Bangalore, Aug. 27: 
A Dalit woman was paraded naked in Bellary district last night. However, her tormentors were not upper-caste members — the usual suspects — but those belonging to a Scheduled Tribe.

Additional director-general of police M.D. Singh said the victim, Yeramma, was beaten up before being stripped by eight members of the Naik community. Her crime: she was suspected of helping a Dalit youth elope with a Naik girl. The Naiks, who held posts of village chieftains during the colonial days, consider themselves economically and socially superior to the Dalits.

The aggressors were unrepentant during interrogation, saying they had no regret for what they had done.

Yeramma’s husband, who was also beaten up, could do little as the Naiks are in majority in Onenur village in this backward district of north Karnataka. Bellary had shot to fame when Congress president Sonia Gandhi contested from here in the 1999 parliamentary polls.

Yeramma was paraded naked on the main street of the village. “It was around four in the afternoon and there were lots of villagers watching,” Singh said. There was no resistance from the outnumbered Dalits. Some villagers also abused Yeramma’s caste.

The incident came to the notice of the police late in the night and it was only this morning that all the accused, including three women, were taken into custody. The police have charged them with illegal detention, rioting and outraging the modesty of a woman.


Ranchi, Aug. 27: 
Dongo Jonko is at last a free man. After languishing in jail for three years, for a crime allegedly committed by his father, the 22-year-old tribal youth was released by the Jharkhand High Court today.

“I am happy to be released after such a long period. I don’t know what is the fate of my family and property. I am told that they had to sell it off to meet the expenses of legal formalities to secure my release,” he told The Telegraph in his dialect, Ho, after coming out of the court room.

Jonko’s case came up before a division bench of Chief Justice V.K. Gupta and Justice Devki Nandan Prasad. The chief justice ordered his release the moment he was produced.

Jonko’s plight began when a woman, Nitima Jayak, filed a case in Chakradharpur on July 17, 1988 in connection with the alleged murder of her husband. Jonko’s father, Bagun, was an accused. As Bagun went into hiding, police secured a property attachment warrant against him. But even as investigations continued Bagun died.

A superstitious tribal society then forced Jonko to own up to his father’s alleged “sin”. He was made to surrender before the police, substituting for his father, and was produced before the lower Chaibasa court.

On September 16, 2000, the court pronounced a 20-year rigorous jail term on Jonko and he was shifted to the Birsa Munda Central Jail here.

After running pillar to post for justice, the Jonko family appealed before the high court. The bench of Chief Justice V.K. Gupta and Justice Devki Nandan Prasad asked the director-general of police to depute an officer not below the rank of a deputy-superintendent to investigate whether Jonko was substituting his dead father in jail.

DSP (CID) K.D. Yadav, who probed the matter, took Jonko to his village at Kamai in West Singbhum for identification.

The bench directed the state to produce Jonko before it after receiving Yadav’s report.

During the last hearing of the case, the court had said that if a person committed a crime, no one else could be held responsible on his behalf. Not even his son.

“This is a unique case in itself and the role of the court was very positive. The court had taken special care to ensure that justice was not denied,” said Binod Poddar, the state’s additional advocate-general.

But this morning, a handcuffed Jonko appeared before the court amid security befitting a hardened criminal. “How can we open the handcuffs till the court gives an order,” said a constable accompanying him.

As Jonko came out of the court room, justice done, the police handcuffed him again. Only after objections from the advocates around were the handcuffs removed. Jonko was the centre of attraction — mobbed by anxious onlookers and even advocates.

Not knowing Hindi at all, Jonko could neither make out what the mob wanted from him nor could he express his feelings.

Jonko spoke in Ho. A tribal court chowkidar, who understood the dialect, said Jonko desperately wanted to be united with his family and specially with his brothers in the village.

Asked whether he would claim any compensation for the days behind bars, Jonko said: “I don’t know what you are saying. Who will give me the money and why. I have to go and see if my land is still intact or sold out,” he said.

The police in Chakradharpur were Bhojpuri-speaking and never understood him, said Jonko said. “I tried to convince them that they have wrongfully arrested me in place of my father. But no one paid heed,” he said.

Additional advocate-general Poddar admitted that there could be many Dongo Jonkos in the state’s jails. “We want such cases to be brought to notice. The state is serious about taking up such cases on priority,” he said.


New Delhi, Aug. 27: 
When Mamata Banerjee broke her long silence in the Lok Sabha recently, speaking on problems of refugee rehabilitation in West Bengal, a political columnist wryly noted a personal angle to it. Here was a “political refugee”, it was said, waiting for “rehabilitation”. There is neither an element of surprise nor of anticipation about Mamata’s return to the BJP and the National Democratic Alliance. This time it is a tame, predictable affair waiting to happen ever since she failed to realise her dream of unseating the Marxists by striking an alliance with the Congress.

There are two ways in which one can look at Mamata’s return to the NDA. The first — and the most obvious reaction — is that she has now destroyed whatever was left of her political credibility after her last betrayal of the BJP and the alliance with the Congress. This view will place her in the undistinguished company of the typical Indian politicians who change parties and partners for gain, while masquerading as rebels with a cause. They always do it for “honour”. Mamata, too, wanted the return to be an “honourable” affair and was satisfied it was so. The “alliance” with the Congress, she maintained, was valid only for the polls.

The other view is actually Mamata’s own. According to it, this was the only course open to her after the electoral debacle. With the Congress or with the BJP, she set herself the one-point agenda of fighting the CPM. She hoped to achieve it in the elections and the arithmetic of votes convinced her that aligning with the Congress was her best bet. Once that failed, she thought she could best carry on her fight by returning to the NDA for the simple reason that the government in New Delhi could be a powerful weapon with which to hit the Marxists.

The moral censure misses the point that despite her posturings of “value-based politics”, Mamata has grown to be a completely amoral political animal, for whom the end justified the means. That has been her political style all along — in the street fights as much as in the backroom bargains. For her, the only credibility that matters is her unrelenting crusade against the CPM.

On the other hand, the problem with Mamata’s own view is that she is depending too much on her equation with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. She is going back to the NDA at the weakest moment of both Vajpayee and the alliance in its two-year rule. The government’s failures — UTI, Agra summit, Kashmir, Tehelka (even after the sex tapes), rift with partners like the Shiv Sena — are making even BJP insiders wonder if the Prime Minister has lost the ability and the energy to run the coalition and the country. Also, important BJP leaders, including L.K. Advani, are known to have lost their earlier faith in her. In fact, some of them simply hate her now, as strongly as Tapan Sikdar and his cohorts in the Bengal unit. The Central interventions and NDA support she sometimes got before the Bengal elections on law and order issues will also be less forthcoming now.

Yet, she seemed to have little option but to go back to the NDA. Ajit Panja may have revolted openly. But several others of the Trinamul Congress made no secret of their keenness to go back to the alliance. Once she lost the elections, she was in no position to withstand the pressure from these MPs. They could have left her and joined Panja if she dithered. With Panja vindicated, she would now have to beg the BJP not to reward her suspended party colleague with a ministry or some other office.

She would, however, do all she could to try and get an important portfolio for herself — if possible, railways again — because a Union ministry would help her get the power and the resources she needed to give teeth to her anti-CPM fight.

At home, though, her battle would lose the edge it could have had in the company of the Congress, particularly among the Muslims who would be even more sceptical of her. And she would now have to plough a lonely furrow. There are more and more takers in the state BJP today of Sikdar’s view that the party’s own growth has been stunted because of its flirtations with Mamata.

For large sections of Congressmen and certainly party leaders like Somen Mitra, it would be good riddance from a bad alliance. The state Congress, too, will now fall back on rebuilding the party on its own and in doing so may get back at Trinamul with a vengeance.

The first indications of these are already on way in the collapse of the Congress-Trinamul alliances in some civic boards, which may fall to the CPM as a result.

Having lost the election, Mamata was desperate not to lose her fight, too. She could have built up the fight all over again by strengthening her own party as well as the alliance with the Congress. But she has neither the patience nor the skill for the long haul.


Calcutta, Aug. 27: 
The Trinamul Congress and the Congress are likely to have an unofficial understanding at the grassroots level despite Mamata Banerjee’s formal reinduction into the NDA.

However, state Congress chief Pranab Mukherjee had said yesterday that his party’s representatives in the panchayats and municipalities will snap ties with Trinamul for rejoining the BJP-led coalition at the Centre.

“Pranabbabu has taken the party’s official line but in the municipalities, national politics do not play a major role. There are too many local issues which assume importance,” said state Congress vice-president Pradip Bhattacharya.

Sources said these grassroots-level compulsions prompted the state Congress to maintain a working relationship with Trinamul in the municipalities and panchayats.

Leader of the Opposition and Trinamul spokesman Pankaj Banerjee also called upon his party’s functionaries to maintain ties with the Congress at the local level to keep the communists at bay. He said the party will discuss the issue at its proposed Panchayati Raj convention next month at the Netaji Indoor Stadium.

“Pranabbabu is indulging in armchair politics and does not have any idea about his partymen’s grievances against the ruling CPM. So, I strongly believe that they will continue to maintain relations with us, defying his directive,” he said.

Banerjee’s stand has been vindicated by Trinamul chairperson of Midnapore municipality Gouri Ghosh who said she was confident of Congress support in running the civic body. “Congress councillors have promised to extend their support to me despite our return to the NDA,” she added.

Trinamul all-India general secretary Mukul Roy said the party did not get any report so far about the CPM capturing municipal or panchayat boards because of differences between Congress and Trinamul representatives.

“Our party’s readmission to the NDA will in no way change the existing tieup between the Congress and Trinamul in the local bodies as the arrangements were made when we were in the NDA,” he added.

Both Banerjee and Roy claimed that Congress and Trinamul representatives have an understanding in as many as 18 municipalities.

“We shall try to keep the boards under our control to prevent the Marxists from capturing them,” they maintained.

But in Suri Trinamul took control of the Congress-run municipality when two Congress councillors switched support to Mamata. The strength of the Trinamul-BJP combine rose to 11 in the 18-member board.

Former PCC chief Somen Mitra said Mamata’s return to the NDA was “inevitable”. He said that it was Mamata who effected a fracture in the “secular anti-Left alliance forged in Bengal before the Assembly polls in May”.

“We could not keep the anti-Left alliance together because of her inconsistent stand. Congress cannot have any truck with a communal force like the BJP,” he added.


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