Adventure punch in hill tour brew
Naxalite alert in Jhargram
Pervez ignites bangle blast
Atal drops American Kargil bombshell
Security cocoon after Coke blast
Anthrax panic
Gap becomes full ‘rapport’
Sonia opts for Orissa dark horse
Delhi taps Dhaka’s Musharraf on strife
Influx into Bengal spirals

 
 
ADVENTURE PUNCH IN HILL TOUR BREW 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, Oct. 22: 
Summer over, the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council is offering an autumn bonanza to attract tourists.

The hill body has packed cultural programmes and adventure tourism in several of the special packages on offer.

One can go for a 100-km Himalayan trek through the Manebhanganj-Falut-Sandakfu-Singalila range, stopping in the evenings for cultural programmes by campfire.

Indra Narayan Pradhan, the executive councillor in-charge of DGHC tourism, ruled out a slump in the tourist inflow as a result of the terror attacks in the US. “The flow of tourists to Darjeeling hills remain unaffected. True, we did witness a few cancellations. But things are back to normal,” Pradhan said.

After inaugurating DGHC’s first tourist information centre here, Pradhan said: “Between 4 and 4.5 lakh domestic and 60,000 foreign tourists visit Darjeeling hills every year. We expect the number to go up this year. To make their holiday more memorable, the DGHC has launched a series of entertainment and adventure programmes during the festive months. We have started a special tourism festival at the Loleygaon holiday resort in Kalimpong sub-division. The festival inaugurated this month, will continue till January 2002.”

DGHC principal secretary Prashant said: “The tourism department has decided to introduce Dal Lake-type Shikaras at Mirik. The DGHC is also launching its own tourism website –www.darjeelingtourism.com – will provide the first-of-its-kind detailed tourism information on the Internet. “We will set up three state-of-the-art touch-screen kiosks providing comprehensive information on tourism. The kiosks will be located at the tourism office in Darjeeling, the Bagdogra airport and the Government of India regional tourism office in Calcutta,” Pradhan said.

He added: “To take care of the tourist rush, we have constructed several new lodges and huts.

Four new tourist cottages have been constructed at Lava in Kalimpong, three cottages have been added to the Loleygaon resort, while a 12-room tourist lodge has been constructed at Dello in Kalimpong. Another lodge is nearing completion at Jorebunglow.”

The DGHC councillor said: “Wayside inns have been built on all the major roads in the hills, including the one between Jorebunglow and Teesta Bazar on the Peshoke road, one at Simana between Mirik and Ghoom. A couple of wayside inns have been constructed on the Hill Cart road between Jorebunglow and Kurseong. Another wayside inn has been constructed at Rewyang on the national highway between Kalimpong and Gangtok.”

   

 
 
NAXALITE ALERT IN JHARGRAM 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Midnapore, Oct. 22: 
The government has stepped up security in the Jhargram area of Midnapore district after the PWG and the MCC threatened to blow up a police station if one of their arrested leaders, Pelaram Mahato, was not released immediately.

Pelaram was arrested last week during a joint raid in Joram village by the Eastern Frontier Rifles, the Rapid Action Force and the State Armed Police after 10 activists of the Naxalite outfits attacked the house of a local Jharkhand Party leader in Simulpal village. While Pelaram was arrested, his associates crossed over to the Dalma hills in neighbouring Jharkhand.

The administration is not taking the threat lightly in the wake of the recent incident in Bihar, where a police patrol died in a landmine blast.

Additional director-general of police (intelligence branch) Shyamal Dutta today held a meeting with Midnapore superintendent of police K.C. Meena and other senior officials. Meena said after the meeting that a special combat force with over 100 policemen has been created to deal with militants. “They are guarding all important police stations like Belpahari, Banspahari, Golatore, Salboni and Garbeta. Areas around the police outposts in Mayurjharna and Kankrajhore are also being closely watched,” he said.

District intelligence sources said that according to reports received by them, PWG-MCC activists could launch an attack any day on police installations. “Maybe, they have chosen this period to issue the threat because men from police stations are deployed across the district on Puja duty,” an official said.

   

 
 
PERVEZ IGNITES BANGLE BLAST 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Oct. 22: 
Blaming the Indian leadership for raising the temperature with its rhetoric of “hot pursuit”, President Pervez Musharraf today indirectly appealed to the US to nudge Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee to hold a meeting with him.

Both leaders will be present in New York for the UN General Assembly next month. But Vajpayee today iterated India’s position that talks cannot be held until Pakistan stops encouraging “cross-border terrorism”.

In a chat with senior journalists, televised by Ptv, Musharraf alleged that Indian troops and air force were being mobilised along the Line of Control.

“If they try hot pursuit, they will be paid back in the same coin,” he said.

Home minister L.K. Advani has spoken of “hot pursuit” across the border as a “legitimate” means of tackling what India calls cross-border terrorism.

“Pakistan is not a chhota mota country. We are not wearing chudiyan (bangles),” Musharraf said, referring to the statements made by the Indian home minister.

With such highly charged statements what he appeared to be underlining to the Americans is the volatility of Indo-Pak relations and, therefore, the importance of resuming talks.

His comments come in the wake of reports that Islamabad is keen on a meeting between Musharraf and Vajpayee.

In Lucknow, Vajpayee said: “There is no question of holding talks with General Musharraf until he brings to an end cross-border terrorism.”

India has been pressing the US – with some success — to broaden the battle against terrorism to include Kashmir. Musharraf responded to this campaign by continuing to describe what is happening in Kashmir as a “freedom struggle”.

He carefully differentiated between the situations in Kashmir, Pakistan and Afghanistan. If the unrest in Kashmir is “freedom struggle”, Pakistan is suffering from “sectarian violence and extremism” and Afghanistan, he said, is being blamed for abetting terrorism.

   

 
 
ATAL DROPS AMERICAN KARGIL BOMBSHELL 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, Oct. 22: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today ruled out talks with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf in New York next month or anytime in the near future, saying it would be futile under the present circumstances.

Vajpayee told a press conference there was “no point talking to Pakistan as the talks will not be fruitful”.

“Even today there was an attack in Srinagar,” the Prime Minister said. He, however, did not rule out talks with Pakistan “forever”. Vajpayee dismissed suggestions that India’s foreign policy was guided by the United States, disclosing that, during the Kargil conflict, the US had brought pressure upon India to surrender some territory which was in Pakistani occupation.

“But we did not accept that,” he said. “India’s policies are not governed by America, and it never will be.”

Vajpayee defended defence minister George Fernandes’ remarks that Pakistan was behind the terror strikes in the US. “Pakistan created the Taliban in the first place,” Vajpayee said. “The two cannot be separated.”

Expressing a stronger-than-ever resolve to fight Pak-sponsored terrorism in India, Vajpayee said India has to wage its own battles. The Kashmir problem has not been pushed to the periphery by US, which first has to deal with the Taliban, he pointed out. India favoured a “people oriented” government in Afghanistan that represented all the ethnic groups, but did not include “moderate Taliban elements” as proposed by Pakistan, he said.

Ayodhya ‘pain’

Expressing his disgust with the recent developments in Ayodhya where Ashok Singhal and several senior VHP leaders forcibly entered the disputed site on October 17 and offered prayers, Vajpayee said such incidents would not occur again and that security at the disputed site had been adequately tightened.

Ayodhya ki ghatna se mujhe bahut thes pahuchi hai (The Ayodhya incident has caused me lot of pain),” he said, adding that raking up the temple issue would not help the BJP in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls.

   

 
 
SECURITY COCOON AFTER COKE BLAST 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Hyderabad, Oct. 22: 
A day after the Coca-Cola bottling plant was bombed in Guntur, Union home minister L.K. Advani called up Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu expressing concern over the security of multinationals in the state.

Shaken by the Naxalite strikes on the symbol of American enterprise in India, protesting the strikes on Afghanistan, the state government today tightened security around US establishments and Americans working here.

The American Studies Research Center was provided a special police cover. Security of the over 200 American nationals working in IT, petroleum and power companies in Kakinada, Visakhapatnam and Hyderabad was beefed up.

Soft drinks giant PepsiCo is increasing security at all its plants. “We are all concerned after what happened yesterday. We are beefing up security at all our facilities,” a company spokesman said.

Pepsi has 44 bottling plants in India with three franchisee-owned plants in the state, including one in Guntur.

“We are being particularly vigilant in Guntur,” the spokesman added.

Police superintendent Poornachandra Rao today discounted the labour unrest and the donation dues theories behind yesterday’s blasts. It was alleged that rebels of the People’s War Group (PWG) had been demanding a “donation” from the company for the past three months. Kaustav Mitra, a Coke executive, denied the donation theory.

The rebels had left a hand-written note in Telugu on their way out of the blasts site, claiming responsibility and declaring that the act was to protest the US strikeback.

The rebels, led by their district committee secretary, Mohan, had planted steel tiffin boxes packed with gelatine and RDX at the boiler plant, parking area and administrative building. The plant collapsed as its roof was blown off, the administrative block came down crashing. The transformer room, two boilers and three cars were gutted. One of the devices did not explode.

Mohan and his men fled raising anti-US slogans. According to Coca-Cola estimates, the damages were to the tune of Rs 1.5 crore.

“We will begin operations after a month or two as there was no damage to the assembly line or the main boilers,” Mitra said.

   

 
 
ANTHRAX PANIC 
 
 
FROM AMBEREEN ALI SHAH
 
New Delhi, Oct. 22: 
Anthrax panic gripped Shahi Imam Syed Ahmed Bukhari’s residence this afternoon after a powdery substance fell out of an envelope that he received.

Bukhari, one of the most vocal critics of the US attack on Afghanistan, is the first prominent figure in the capital to receive an envelope containing powder. Police seized the cream-coloured envelope with the brown powder and sent it to the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) for examination.

The imam’s personal secretary informed the local police station about the suspicious letter.

Ranbir Singh, station house officer, Jama Masjid, said: “We treated the call from the Shahi Imam like any other anthrax call. We rushed to the spot and kept the envelope in a polythene bag. The letter has been handed over to the NICD for examination.”

Singh said it would take 72 hours for experts at the NICD to find out whether the letter contained anthrax spores or it was another case of anthrax hoax. He, however, refused to throw light on the contents of the letter. “The Imam had already read the letter. As per instructions from our senior officers, we are not allowed to reopen any envelope till it is sent to the laboratory for proper verification,” he said.

Writers’ panic

Anthrax panic gripped Writers’ Buildings this morning after some white powder was found in an envelope containing a letter addressed to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

The name of a banned students’ outfit was mentioned as the sender on the envelope. However, Bhattacharjee dismissed the possibility of the powder containing anthrax germs. “The way you (the media) are spreading panic, I think some of this powder should be rubbed on your face,” the chief minister said.

   

 
 
GAP BECOMES FULL ‘RAPPORT’ 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Oct. 22: 
A little over 24 hours after admitting to a “growing distance between the government and the party”, both Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and BJP president Jana Krishnamurthi — towards whom the remark was directed — decided to mend fences.

Vajpayee told in Lucknow today that a “mountain out of a mole hill” was made of his remarks of a “communication gap” between the BJP and the NDA government. Krishnamurthi said the Prime Minister’s comments were made in a “light vein”.

The Prime Minister’s remarks yesterday were provoked by what seemed like a forced absence in a flag-hoisting ceremony to kick-off the golden jubilee celebrations of the Jan Sangh-BJP at the Talkatora Stadium here.

Vajpayee is among a handful of surviving members who founded the Jan Sangh in 1951. The organisers had planned that he would hoist the party flag and then deliver the concluding address. But the Prime Minister reached the venue at the fag end, just in time to speak. He scarcely concealed his anger at not being there to hoist the flag and said it was an example of the government-party “distance”.

But evidently disconcerted by the media attention his remarks received, a mellower Vajpayee stressed in Lucknow that there was “complete rapport” between the two apparatuses. Asked if the gaffe was a result of a communication gap between the Prime Minister and his office, Vajpayee said: “I agree with you.”

Giving his version, Krishnamurthi asked: “Didn’t you notice what the Prime Minister subsequently said? He said he did not want to blame the party leaders. He even stayed on for the community lunch.”

As for the flag-hoisting, the BJP president said party presidents had always performed the ritual in the past and in some cases senior leaders like Vijaya Raje Scindia and Sikandar Bakht.

After Jan Sangh ideologue and president Deen Dayal Upadhayaya’s death in 1968, it was decided that Vajpayee would deliver the valedictory address in all major BJP functions, Krishnamurthi said.

In a bid to further mend his fences, Krishnamurthi emphasised the party would not interfere with the government but only sound the occasional note of caution.

“A Lakshmanrekha has to be drawn and we cannot interfere in the government’s role and functioning. As a party, we can draw policies but their implementation is the government’s sole prerogative. If we find something lacking in the implementation, we can caution the government and in the past it has been taken in the right spirit,” he said.

The conciliatory postures of Vajpayee and Krishnamurthi were apparently dictated by the perception that in the run-up to the Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat elections, a public spat was the last thing the cadre wanted. However, party sources conceded that subterranean tension between the two persisted.

Sources said the bone of contention was Krishnamurthi’s predecessor Bangaru Laxman and Vajpayee’s attempts to rehabilitate him after he quit in disgrace following the Tehelka exposé.

After appointing Laxman as chairman of the Rajya Sabha Housing Committee, Vajpayee made it a point to take him along in his aircraft to the BJP’s Yuva Morcha convention in Agra last week.

   

 
 
SONIA OPTS FOR ORISSA DARK HORSE 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Oct. 22: 
Pinning hopes on “generational change”, Sonia Gandhi today appointed dark horse Sarat Patnaik as the Orissa Congress chief.

Sarat’s appointment robbed the anti-Janki Patnaik factions of having a say in the successor issue.

The Congress chief zeroed in on Sarat after meeting most contenders. In the end, she went along AICC general secretary Kamal Nath’s assessment that the party should make a “new beginning” in the state and field a “youthful face” to shore up the Congress’ prospects in Orissa.

The Assembly elections will be held in 2004, so the leadership has ample time to experiment with Sarat. If everything goes according to Sonia’s plans, Sarat will be projected as the party’s chief ministerial candidate.

Factions opposed to Janki wanted K.P. Singhdeo for the post but the former ruler of Dhankanal declined the offer.

Janki’s wife Jayanti also lobbied hard to bag the coveted post but her credentials were rejected when she began to criticise her husband publicly.

Former ministers Nirajan and Jagannath Patnaik were also in the fray, but they were edged out as there were some cases against them.

Hemananda Biswal’s candidature was unacceptable to the Janki faction.

A sulking Janki arrived in the capital on Friday with a new PCC executive list, oblivious of the fact that the leadership had made up its mind to remove him. When he called on Kamal Nath, Janki was curtly told to step down. He refused, and insisted on meeting Sonia, claiming that he was the “elected PCC chief”.

The old warhorse, however, gave up resistance after meeting the Congress president, who indicated at a possibility of “utilising” his talent in the AICC.

There are indications that Janki will be drafted in the Congress Working Committee as a special invitee.

Sonia and Kamal Nath acted swiftly to find a successor to Janki. The AICC chief felt that any delay would lead to further factionalism and bad blood. Sonia then decided to summon senior party leaders to Delhi instead of sending observers to Bhubaneshwar.

Sarat’s task is challenging but the former youth Congress chief is counting on support from senior leaders.

“My first priority will be to take everyone along. We are fighting the BJP-BJD and not among ourselves. The Naveen Patnaik government is in complete mess, having failed in all fronts,” the new state party chief said.

   

 
 
DELHI TAPS DHAKA’S MUSHARRAF ON STRIFE 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Oct. 22: 
It was a Musharraf meeting with a difference.

While South Block continues to be ambiguous about a possible meeting between Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf in New York next month, the Indian high commissioner in Dhaka today met Bangladesh minister of state for religious affairs Musharraf Hussein Shahjehan to discuss the attacks on Hindus.

Though the meeting was said to be a “courtesy call”, sources said the minister assured high commissioner Mani Lal Tripathi that the new regime in Bangladesh was “determined to look into the reports” of attacks on Hindus and take immediate measures to stop them.

Yesterday, new Bangladesh Prime Minister, Khaleda Zia, wrote to Vajpayee expressing her government’s desire to maintain and strengthen “good relations” with all neighbours. She was replying to the letter written by the Indian Prime Minister a few weeks back, inviting her to visit India. Khaleda said she was looking forward to the visit.

The attacks on Hindus in Bangladesh are a fallout of the post-election clashes between supporters of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the rival Awami League. It is, however, not clear whether the Hindus are being targeted because of their support to the Awami League or because of the Islamic hardliners in the new ruling coalition.

Vajpayee, in his letter, had given a clear signal that Delhi did not have any favourites in Bangladesh and was looking forward to work with the new BNP-led coalition. He had also made it clear that he was not losing any sleep over the defeat of Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League.

The Prime Minister had stressed on his meeting with the late President Zia-ur-Rahman and his contribution towards the creation of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc). His highlighting of Zia’s role was not lost in the political and diplomatic circles of the two countries, especially Bangladesh.

The rivalry between the Awami League and the BNP is not so much about ideology as about their differences on the contribution of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Zia to Bangladesh’s development. While Mujib’s place in Bangladesh’s history is secured and the title Bangabandhu rarely disputed, there are many who do not want to attach the same importance to Zia.

Vajpayee’s stress on Zia’s contribution is seen among Awami League supporters as an attempt not only to offer a hand of friendship to Khaleda but also to tell her that Hasina was not as close to New Delhi as she was perceived to be in Dhaka.

Though his comments may not have gone down well with the Awami League, it is clearly an attempt by India to ensure that its eastern borders remain secure and calm and nobody takes advantage of the change of guard in Bangladesh.

Stable relations with Khaleda would ensure that no decision inimical to India’s interests would be taken in the Saarc. It would also ensure that Pakistan does not get the chance to use the forum for Delhi-bashing.

   

 
 
INFLUX INTO BENGAL SPIRALS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Malda, Oct. 22: 
Thousands of Hindus from Bangladesh have sneaked into Malda and North and South Dinajpur since Begum Khaleda Zia’s BNP came to power there.

Officials said growing violence against the minority community in Bangladesh forced the people to flee. Intelligence officials had cautioned the Bengal government against possible infiltration of Bangladeshis when the new regime took over.

Writers’ Buildings sources said the government has already lined up a meeting with BSF personnel to review the situation arising out of the sudden spurt in infiltration across the border.

Though the district administrations are yet to give the exact number of those who have crossed over, officials said they were all from Rajsahi, Shibgaunge, Nachol and Nababgunge in Bangladesh and are all Hindus. They were allegedly subjected to torture and humiliation despite of Khaleda’s assurances of security.

South Dinajpur police superintendent Anuj Sharma said they had identified the members of five families who took shelter in Dikul village under Kushmandi police station.

   
 

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