CPM claims blast verdict relief
Kidnap culprits leave footprints to Nepal
Khadim’s link shadow on Burdwan arrests
Merger heat on TMC with Cong trust coup
Badal threat to PM puts refinery back on tracks
Buddha’s syllabus sena swells
Jumbo hunt for prized tusker
Ordeal in Sonia soft-spot adds to Cong woes
Witty Chacha takes on TV villains

Calcutta, Sept. 2: 
CPM state secretary Anil Biswas today said the Tada court verdict on the Bowbazar blast, apart from being a fulfilment of justice, indicated that no CPM functionary was either involved in the case or was close to satta sultan Rashid Khan.

“After the Bowbazar incident, it was alleged that a number of our party leaders had links with Rashid Khan. Alarmed at the allegation, we had constituted a commission and punished some of the party leaders on the basis of its report. But the court’s order gives a clean chit to party leaders. We welcome the verdict,” Biswas said at the party headquarters on Alimuddin Street today.

A few months after the blast in 1993, the party had suspended Laxmi De, the then CPM chief whip in the state Assembly, and Shyamoli Gupta, leader of the Paschimbanga Ganatantrik Mahila Samity — the women’s wing of the party — for their alleged nexus with Rashid. De was even denied a ticket for the 1996 Assembly polls because of his reported links with the satta don.

Asked on what basis the party had taken action against the two senior leaders, Biswas said: “We instituted the probe to counter the continuous campaign against us about the reported nexus between the leaders and Rashid Khan. It had tarnished our party’s image and we had taken steps on the basis of reports of a party commission which we had formed to probe into the allegations. “But now we are happy to learn that neither were any of our leaders close to Rashid Khan nor were any of them involved in the Bowbazar blast case.”

When asked if the party will take steps against some leaders for their involvement in incidents which had lately tarnished the party’s image, the CPM state secretary said: “We will not hesitate to do so if we are convinced that some leaders had tarnished the image of the organisation.”

Reacting to transport minister Subhas Chakraborty’s alleged involvement in the Salt Lake stadium incident, he said: “I have no specific information regarding Chakraborty’s involvement in the stadium episode.”

Biswas also refused to believe that some local committee members of the party’s Topsia-Tiljala unit had organised meetings in support of Mohammad Taslim, alias Chunnu, who was arrested in connection with the abduction of Khadim’s owner Parthapratim Roy Burman.

Asked if the CPM and the Congress could come closer after the latter’s participation in the conference of non-BJP chief ministers in Delhi yesterday, Biswas said: “Not at all. In the past, too, we have organised similar movements and the Congress had taken part in it.”


Siliguri, Sept. 2: 
The special investigation team, probing businessman Mukesh Agarwal’s kidnapping, and the Bihar police officers aiding it today drew a blank after raids on the hideouts of the east Bihar-based gang suspected to be behind the crime and are convinced that it has slipped into neighbouring Nepal.

The Purnia police conducted as many as eight joint raids with the SIT on known hideouts of the gang, which usually operates in the Siliguri-Kishangunj-Araria-Purnia belt. But they returned empty-handed.

The sleuths then concluded that the gang had fled to Nepal after the recovery of the kidnap vehicle, a white Tata Sumo, at Bahadurganj, 10 km from the Indo-Nepal border.

Purnia superintendent of police K. Surinder Babu said: “Not taking any chances, we conducted eight raids today on hideouts at Golapbagh, Sonapur, Jenaghar, Sarshi, Banmanki, Pandahar, Ketahat and Kaymanchihat in Purnia. The failure in tracing either the abductors or the victim suggests that they have taken shelter in Nepal’s Biratnagar area, where the gang has a strong presence. The criminals may cool their heels in Nepal till the heat dies down.”

Though the officer was not willing to name the suspected gang, the raided areas suggest that the sleuths could be in search of the Golapbagh-based Langotia Baba gang. It is headed by a godman-ganster who is believed to pay regular visits to Siliguri and Kishangunj.

“The fact that gang members were not found in any of its hideouts in the district also suggests that they have not taken the alternative route to the remote criminal-infested riverine areas of north Bihar’s Khagaria-Begusarai-Naugachia region. Since the area is flooded, the gang would have had to share its spoils with other gangs in the region. It is believed that local goons charge huge amounts as royalty from any gang or individual for shelter on the numerous river islands dotting the Ganges and Kosi rivers under their control,” Surinder Babu said.


Burdwan, Sept. 2: 
Three suspected ISI agents were arrested today and sophisticated revolvers, forged passports, cellphones and Rs 2.33 lakh were recovered from a house at Lakshmipur Math here, where they were staying for the past one month.

The arrests, coming barely 48 hours before chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s visit to the district, has sent shockwaves through the administration. Senior officials said they are probing whether they were connected with the kidnap of Khadim’s owner Parthapratim Roy Burman.

Mumbai-based dancer Swati Pal, who is suspected to have helped in the crime, was married in a family in the district and the arrests come less than 24 hours after her confession in court.

“The forged passports establish their connection with Dubai-based gangs,” superintendent of police B.N. Ramesh said, adding that they are a “big catch”.

The raid team swooped down on the urban neighbourhood when most people were asleep. When they knocked on the door of the house where Taher Ali and Seva Mandal were staying, the two, still groggy, did not get any chance to retaliate, police said.

In the evening, they rounded up another suspect, Elton Sheikh, a Bangladeshi who was staying with the two for a couple of weeks.


Chennai, Sept. 2: 
A subtle inheritance battle has been set in motion within three days of the death of Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) chief G.K. Moopanar, but not for his political legacy.

Despite a smooth sail in electing the late leader’s son Govindavasan as the new party president yesterday, the party is in discomfort over a tussle for the Congress’ lifeline in the state —- the Tamil Nadu Congress Charitable Trust, which commands properties valued at over Rs 100 crore.

Sonia Gandhi’s sudden move, nominating five new trustees, has jolted the TMC. Till some time back, Moopanar was a member of the trust, which also included former Governors C. Subramaniam and P. Ramachandran and Ramasamy Udayar of Salem. With the first three dead, the trust was left with just one member.

In her decision, communicated through AICC general secretary in charge of Tamil Nadu Ghulam Nabi Azad, Sonia nominated state Congress president E.V.K.S. Elangovan, Congress’ floor leader in the Assembly D. Yashoda, former Union minister M. Arunachalam, Congress MP from Sivaganga Sudarshan Nachiyappan and former Union minister Jayanthi Natarajan. The Congress state unit released the names today. They will have to be ratified by the party’s state working committee.

The TMC occupies Satyamurthy Bhavan, the former headquarters of the state Congress and a prime property belonging to the trust. As long as Moopanar was alive, the Congress high command did not do anything to disturb the trust’s composition. Significantly, the new TMC president does not figure among the new trustees. The lone TMC representative is Natarajan.

Sonia’s swift move to wrest control of the trust signals that the party will no longer brook any delay in the TMC’s merger with the Congress.

Though Moopanar was inclined to consider the merger option after the May Assembly elections, a major section within the party was against any such decision. With 23 MLAs in the House, retaining a regional identity figured higher in their agenda.

The TMC would also like to get a fair share of the cake in the October local body elections in alliance with the ADMK.

The quick move to get a new party president elected is also being seen as an effort to thwart a possible merger. However, Sonia’s master stroke could increase the heat on the TMC to merge with the parent party.

Stakes are high for both the parties as the trust’s properties include the sprawling Congress grounds, where Moopanar was cremated.

The trust was started in 1942 by late Congress leader K. Kamaraj and then editor of The Hindu Kasturi Srinivasan. With Congress loyalists in control of the trust now, the TMC may soon have to vacate Satyamurthy Bhavan.

The inclusion of Natarajan in the trust is a boost to the merger move as the latter is known to favour the proposal. There is also a possibility of her returning to the Congress soon.

“No comments. We are yet to discuss the issue,” said TMC MP Peter Alphonse, when asked about the TMC’s reaction to the changes in the trust.


Chhapar (Ludhiana), Sept. 2: 
Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal today said the contentious Bhatinda refinery was back on the tracks after his meeting with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in New Delhi yesterday.

“There is no problem with the refinery coming to Punjab. In fact, I am told, work on the project is continuing in full swing. I have been assured by the Prime Minister that the project will not be stalled,” Badal said.

The chief minister’s statement comes three days after reports that the Centre was planning to shelve the project.

In a strongly-worded letter to the Prime Minister, Badal had warned Vajpayee that the people of Punjab could resort to violence if the Centre “slowed down or derailed” the refinery project. The chief minister had also alleged that there was a “highly motivated” attempt on the part of some vested interests to derail the project, coming up at Phulokhari in Bhatinda. Badal had asked Vajpayee to come and clear the air on the project.

The chief minister said his letter was in reaction to reports that the Centre was contemplating dropping the project from Punjab. “The air has now been cleared by the Prime Minister. It is a national project.

Though the refinery is being built in Punjab, it is not just the people of Punjab, but the rest of the country, too, that stands to benefit from it. There may be some problems with new projects, but the old ones have been cleared by the Cabinet and the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs,” Badal said

He, however, did not elaborate whether it was the letter or his meeting with Vajpayee yesterday that helped him clinch the deal.

The chief minister said the Centre has also cleared the Shahpur Kandi hydro scheme which ensures that the Ranjit Sagar project on the Ravi generates power throughout the year.

Badal refused to comment on home minister L.K. Advani’s statement that the Centre was looking into excesses registered against Punjab policemen during the years of militancy. “The Centre knows better,” he said.

The amnesty issue is becoming a major poll plank for all parties in the state. BJP leaders say Advani’s amnesty offer was a ploy to stop the flow of Hindu votes to the Congress. “It was a move that seems to have failed,” a senior BJP leader said.

The chief minister also refuted allegations that he had asked for a ministerial berth in the Cabinet for his son Sukhbir. “The Shiromani Akali Dal’s relation with the BJP is different from others. We do not seek anything from the party,” he said.

Badal, who later attended his party’s political conference here, urged rebels not to help the Congress during next year’s polls.


New Delhi, Sept. 2: 
Classrooms will turn into battlegrounds of ideology if the non-BJP parties succeed in what they have set out to do.

At a meeting convened by West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today, the debate on “saffronisation of education” seemed to gain momentum with not only ministers of Opposition parties but two from the NDA — the National Conference of Jammu and Kashmir and the United Democratic Party of Meghalaya — joining the chant against “communalising” the school curriculum.

The NDA’s main ally, the Telugu Desam Party, however, kept away from today’s meeting. Chandrababu Naidu said he had not received an invitation while Bhattacharjee maintained he had sent an invite to the Andhra Pradesh chief minister.

It was also Bhattacharjee’s maiden attempt to rally together as many non-BJP chief ministers as possible. Though Congress chief ministers, barring one, did not show up, the meeting was well-represented from many states.

In the past few months, the slogan against “saffronisation of education” has become a potent weapon in the hands of the Opposition. “This was not part of the NDA agenda and we will oppose it,” said Mohammad Safi, Jammu and Kashmir’s education minister.

Chief ministers from Delhi, West Bengal, Bihar, Tripura and Meghalaya attended the meeting. There were 11 education ministers, 7 of them from Congress-ruled states. The participants put together a resolution demanding that human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi summon a meeting of all state education ministers if he wanted them to accept the new curriculum framework drawn up by the National Council For Educational Research and Training.

However, states are not bound to go by the Centre’s fiat since education is on the concurrent list.

The Opposition’s focus was obvious: not so much on the academic part of education as its politicisation. None of the leaders at the meeting mentioned the government’s silence on the Education Fundamental Rights Bill that Joshi had promised more than a year ago.

“This is a historic meeting convened by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. The human resource development ministry is trying to push through a religious agenda through circulars and documents sent to state governments,” said Delhi’s chief minister Sheila Dixit.

For the National Conference, which has been clashing with the BJP over several issues — from the question of autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir, home minister L.K. Advani’s controversial statement on free and fair elections in the state to not promoting Omar Abdullah to Cabinet rank in yesterday’s reshuffle — “saffronisation of education” seemed yet another sticky point.


Bangalore, Sept. 2: 
It could have been mistaken for yet another attempt to nab the country’s most wanted outlaw, Veerappan. But unlike the agonising, unsystematic and decade-old hunt for the bandit, this pursuit was marked by optimism and purpose. And it paid off.

More than 50 forest guards, accompanied by 11 elephants and about 75 tribals, were involved in the search for Balarama, the tusker that carries the golden howdah during the annual Dusshera procession in Mysore.

The flurry of activity in Nagarhole forest range, also known as the Rajiv Gandhi Game Sanctuary, near Mysore, began when Balarama “escaped” early this week. For the state forest department, 42-year-old Balarama is a prized asset. “We were concerned. The Dusshera festivities begin next month,” said conservator Ravi Ralph.

State forest minister K.H. Ranganath was being briefed regularly on the search operations.

Wildlife authorities issued an alert in the forest range, which stretches between Mysore and Kodagu districts.

Forest officials began search operations on Tuesday. Assisted by people belonging to the Kadukurubas and the Jenukurabas tribes, the teams trekked deep into the jungle. Eleven of Balarama’s mates also joined in the hunt. The operation was hampered by incessant rain but the search team refused to give up. Forest rangers had got reports that Balarama had been spotted on Thursday.

Villagers in the region also kept an eye open for the six-tonne absconder. The forest team zeroed in on the elephant on Saturday at Veerannahoshalli range inside the sanctuary, famous for its tigers. Balarama gave in without any resistance, ending his five-day tryst with freedom.

Forest officials believe that Balarama strayed after its chains were removed. “The chains are removed once in a while. The animal cannot be chained all the time,” said Ralph.


Bangalore, Sept. 2: 
She lies slumped in a hospital bed, traumatised by the experience of having to walk naked through her village in full view of 600 silent spectators.

Yeramma, who was stripped and paraded by members of a scheduled tribe and was brought on Saturday to the Jayadeva Institute of Cardiology here by the government, does not want to live any more. “There is no point in living,” she keeps telling her family members.

It was more than an eight-hour drive from Onenur village in Bellary district in northern Karnataka, with doctors in attendance. The government was not taking any chances. The shifting is intended to project the S.M. Krishna government’s concern for Yeramma’s welfare, whose ordeal has created shock waves in the corridors of power.

That the outrage took place in Bellary district, where Congress president Sonia Gandhi successfully contested the last parliamentary elections, has added to the discomfiture of the ruling Congress. Sonia has often claimed that she had a soft-spot for Bellary, though she forfeited it in preference to Amethi.

To add to the Congress woes, Onenur village comes under the Kurugodu constituency of state Congress president Allum Veerabhadrappa.

The decision to bring Yeramma here was taken by home minister M. Kharge after he visited her and consoled the terrified Dalits of the village, which is dominated by Naiks or Valmikis, a scheduled tribe with stronger economic standing.

A group of Naiks targeted Yeramma on suspicion that she was involved in the elopement of a Naik girl with a Dalit boy.

Doctors attending on Yeramma, in her late thirties, said she was “exhausted” and should not be disturbed, though her overall health condition was not a cause for worry. Chief minister S.M. Krishna, scheduled to visit her, said the guilty would not be spared.

Yeramma told Kharge and social welfare minister Kagodu Thimappa seven Naiks had dragged her from her hut in the presence of her husband. “They beat up my husband when he tried to intervene. I was stripped naked and paraded in the street. Nobody helped me; the villagers just watched my plight. There were over 500 to 600 people when the incident happened.”

Her husband, Honappa, asks: “How can we live in the village after what has happened?” Yeramma has refused the compensation of Rs 10,000 announced by the government. The home minister has asked the district police to extern the accused. Twenty seven people have been arrested for perpetrating what Kharge called “dastardly crime”.

Senior Congress leader and chairman of the state finance commission, T. Narsimamurthy, said the accused should be hanged to deter the recurrence of such heinous acts against the Dalits.


Mumbai, Sept. 2: 
Every diehard criminal and ruffian, not to mention the small time pick-pocket, knows better than to mess with this old man. And now he is set to invade the small screen.

The venerable Chacha Chaudhary — one of India’s most loved cartoon characters — is the hero of Ketan Mehta’s next project. The teleserial, tentatively called The Adventures of Chacha Chaudhary, will have Raghuvir Yadav playing Chacha and Praveen Kumar, who played Bheem in B.R. Chopra’s Mahabharat, as Sabu, his aide-de-camp.

While the white-mustachioed Chacha solves every problem with his native wit that is hidden inside layers of an oversized turban, Sabu is a friendly alien, an inhabitant of Jupiter, and 20-feet tall. Together, they form the invincible combination of wisdom and strength and prove as effective as Asterix and Obelix in Indian situations.

In the television show, however, Sabu will generally be around 7 feet — the height that Praveen Kumar is naturally — but will pull himself up to his full height in moments of anger, with the help of special effects courtesy Maya Entertainment Company, the makers of the series.

The serial will be aired on Sahara TV from end-October. Of the 100 episodes that have been planned, about 22 have been shot.

“We were to make a printed version of a sci-fi serial called Captain Vyom with Diamond Comics, the publishers of Chacha Chaudhary, but it didn’t materialise. Then Chacha came along,” said Ashish Jalan of Maya.

Diamond sells about 4 lakh Chacha copies a month and is published in seven languages in newspapers and comic books.

Despite the presence foreign heroes like Superman, Batman or the age-old Phantom, the chacha has held his ground, said the publishers.The author of the series, Pran, had received several offers for films on Chacha, but Mehta was chosen because of his distinguished film career.

Each episode will be about 22-23 minutes. They have been spun out of the strips that would only last three to four minutes when translated to the screen. But script-writer Brij Mohan retains the flavour of the original and sees that Chacha keeps chastising villains with a twinkling in his eye as he is wont to.


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