Terror-hit RSP rushes to Buddha
Surrender after murder over dues
Are KBC days numbered? We’re not confident
Govt turns deaf ear to Hurriyat
Screen against anthrax mail
Sulking Shotgun cries off poll war
Cong push for Narayanan
PM-Putin terror pact in Moscow pipeline

 
 
TERROR-HIT RSP RUSHES TO BUDDHA 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Oct. 24: 
Alarmed at the murder of its three leaders in north Bengal over the past one month, the Revolutionary Socialist Party has decided to take up the matter with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, demanding strong action against Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) activists.

“We are worried that many of our leaders in north Bengal are on the hit-list of the KLO which has unleashed terror in the area. We want the administration to firmly deal with the KLO members,” said RSP state secretary Debabrata Bandopadhyay, also a former irrigation minister. He blamed the police for its failure to protect party leaders from extremists.

State CPM secretary and politburo member Anil Biswas said the chief minister is aware of the extremist activities in some parts of north Bengal. “Some administrative measures are in the offing to tackle the situation,” he added.

Bandopadhyay’s immediate provocation was Monday’s incident at Alipurduar in which masked KLO activists in police uniform shot dead Kumargram RSP unit secretary Rohini Adhikari at his residence.

“This was the third murder involving our party functionaries. Two of our leaders have already been brutally killed in Moynaguri with the administration still groping in the dark,” he said. “There will be more casualties in the coming days if security measures are not beefed up.”

In Jalpaiguri, angry RSP supporters greeted inspector-general of polce, north Bengal, R.N. Das and other senior officials who visited Kumargram where Adhikary was murdered.

Later, submitting a memorandum, RSP state committee member Rana Sen demanded that the police take immediate steps to seal the “Kumargramduar-Kalikhola-Sankosh” corridor used by Assam and Bhutan-based Ulfa, National Democratic Front of Bodoland and KLO.

Going by observations, the RSP appears all set to make the administrative slackness in tackling the KLO activists a major issue when a party delegation meets the chief minister. It is learnt that all five RSP ministers and those in the CPM from north Bengal will call on the chief minister immediately after the Pujas.

A “concrete administrative strategy” comprising reinforcements of police stations and supply of sophisticated weapons to them tops the list of demands to be made to Bhattacharjee.

This apart, the RSP has planned a central rally in north Bengal to step up the campaign against the extremist outfit.

   

 
 
SURRENDER AFTER MURDER OVER DUES 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, Oct. 24: 
Twenty-eight-year-old Lalit Agarwal had a thriving business in edible oil. On his rolls were 16 van-rickshaw pullers. One of them was Sujon Sarkar, a 22-year-old who everyone called Pocha. It was Pocha who beheaded Lalit last evening and grievously injured his wife Anju before handing himself over to the police.

Pocha, accompanied by his landlord’s son, 16-year-old Ashoke Roy, went to Lalit’s Agrasen Road home in Khalpara on Tuesday morning and demanded that he be paid his dues worth some Rs 16,000. But Agarwal refused.

Pocha did not go away. Eyewitnesses said he even played with Lalit’s two-year-old son in the afternoon. Later, he beheaded his former employer and slashed the stomach of Anju.

Anju is still fighting for her life at a nursing home here.

“It was a case of pre-planned murder,” said additional superintendent of police, Siliguri, Kaliappan Jayaraman. “

“After being refused his dues in the morning, he slipped back to the house late in the afternoon, bringing with him the murder weapon – a sword – which he hid behind some cartons in Lalit’s ground-floor office. Late in the evening, when the Agarwal couple was alone in the office, Pocha again repeated his demand. A heated argument followed. Preliminary investigations suggest that there was a tussle.”

Pocha hid the sword and headed for New Jalpaiguri railway station, thinking of taking the first train out of the city. But he changed his mind later, and walked into the Siliguri police station at two in the morning.

   

 
 
ARE KBC DAYS NUMBERED? WE’RE NOT CONFIDENT 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, Oct. 24: 
Lock kiya jaye could come back to haunt Kaun Banega Crorepati.

With approval ratings and revenue plunging sharply, the days of the country’s most popular game show appear to be numbered.

STAR Plus is yanking KBC off its programming from Monday, cutting its viewing almost by half within 15 months of its launch. The game show will now go on air twice a week at prime time, instead of the four days it had started off with.

The channel, trying to remain a step ahead of its competition, is now looking to a superhit BBC game show for its next thunder. BBC Worldwide chief executive officer Rupert Gavin and STAR’s India head Peter Mukerjea will announce a tie-up here tomorrow to broadcast the Indian version of The Weakest Link, a quiz show that analysts see as a replacement of KBC in the not-too-distant future.

STAR’s senior vice-president Yashpal Khanna said the channel had so far made “no decision” to drop KBC, the pioneer game show on Indian television. He said the channel would wait till the new show took shape before making any decision on the fate of KBC. Khanna said the show, hosted by Amitabh Bachchan, was “still doing better than other television game shows, though the ratings and ads have come down”.

With his superstar standing, baritone and grey goatee, Bachchan made KBC a must-see in Indian satellite TV households. The show will now go on air only every Tuesday and Wednesday at 9 pm for an hour.

On Mondays, Aruna Irani’s Desh Mein Nikla Hoga Chand will take its place, a big-budget soap on a UK-based NRI family shot in London and Mumbai.

The non-prime time Junior KBC will continue on Sundays.

With its novel format and the larger-than-life host, KBC caught the country’s imagination when it was launched in June last year. Its approval ratings soared to 22, an unprecedented high in the rollercoaster world of entertainment. Later, it stabilised around 14.

KBC injected zing into the sluggish STAR Plus channel, helping the entire STAR bouquet to blossom financially, emerging as its number one show and the main source of revenue. It also gave the aging superstar a new lease of life, rescuing him from being snowed under a mountain of debt.

But as the novelty wore off, KBC started to lose out to the family soaps. From the peak, it has tumbled to the 12th position among STAR’s programmes.

KBC’s declining fortunes first came to light in May when the channel removed it from Thursday’s prime time slot. In its place was brought in Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, a joint-family saga, which has now emerged as the channel’s top show.

Khanna said the channel found that people were still watching KBC, but not in its entirety. “People are often leaving half-way through.”

It is still drawing 80,000 to 100,00 phone calls from aspirants seeking to sign on for the show. “but naturally with its ratings, ads have come down,” he said.

Indication of KBC’s indifferent health was also available in STAR’s recent ads, which showed Bachchan trying to tempt housewives into becoming crorepatis instead of letting their neighbours steal a march on them.

Khanna said the new game show STAR is toying with would take time — three to six months – to go on air. Besides the name, the channel will have to find an anchor. Whoever it is, it is not going to be Bachchan.

   

 
 
GOVT TURNS DEAF EAR TO HURRIYAT 
 
 
FROM SEEMA GUHA
 
New Delhi, Oct. 24: 
The Hurriyat Conference indicated yesterday that it is ready for talks with the Vajpayee government, but the Centre is in no mood to oblige.

“The timing is not right,” a senior government official said.

The Centre believes the Hurriyat, a loosely-knit umbrella of Kashmiri groups, is a pro-Pakistan organisation which is losing its credibility with the people of the state.

Hurriyat leaders are used by Pakistan to push its line on Kashmir, the government feels. The call for talks comes close on the heels of feelers from the Musharraf regime on resuming dialogue.

New Delhi is not prepared to do go back to the talks table yet. When Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee travels to Washington next month, he will try to point out to the US that though Musharraf is fighting terror in Afghanistan, there are no signs he wants to do the same in Kashmir.

The Hurriyat has lost much of its shine among Kashmiris by supporting Musharraf’s about-turn on Afghanistan.

“We have opened our door for talks with all elements and groups in Kashmir,’’ said I.D.Swamy, minister of state for home. “The Hurriyat is not the only group that represents the people of the state. Our interlocutor, K.C.Pant, wants to listen to hear all shades of Kashmiri views.’’

Hurriyat leaders are certainly not the favourites of the Indian establishment at the moment. When militant groups in Kashmir announced a strike in protest against the US attack on Afghanistan, the Hurriyat advised the local population not to heed the call. But the strike was a success and Indian intelligence agencies were happy at least on one count. “The Hurriyat has no popular base. No one listened to them,” said a senior official.

The fact that many citizens might have stayed home because of fear of militant reprisals was not considered.

The government is also waiting to see how the situation in Afghanistan plays itself out. Musharraf’s about-turn on the Taliban has sent out mixed signals to militant groups operating in Kashmir. India hopes it will also confuse those Kashmiris who looked up to Musharraf for moral support.

   

 
 
SCREEN AGAINST ANTHRAX MAIL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Oct. 24: 
Though the anthrax scare at the home ministry turned out to be a false alarm, Union minister Lal Krishna Advani today asked the government to create a centralised sorting post to screen mail before opening.

Advani had yesterday received a “suspicious” letter that, according to his ministry, contained some white powdery substance. A chemical examination of the letter however certified it as “harmless”.

The letter, the home minister later told the media, had only chalk powder.

“Two similar letters were received at the home ministry yesterday. They may or may not contain anthrax. But keeping the situation in mind, we are not taking any chances,” Advani said.

The home ministry is believed to have received another letter at the North Block office, which was sent to the laboratory straightaway for examination.

Officials in the home ministry said the centralised sorting mail post would become operational from today. They also urged other ministries to do the same.

Scare in states

The anthrax scare gripped Mantralaya, the secretariat of the Maharashtra government, after envelopes containing suspicious powder were spotted in the offices of chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal today.

An envelope containing white powder and with “Laden” written on it in Urdu was also received at the residence of the Uttaranchal chief minister, Nityanand Swami.

The envelopes in Bhujbal’s office were found while sorting out the daily mail. The peon who opened the envelope complained of giddiness and itching.

Five other employees, who were present, came in contact with the suspicious material after the powder spread as a ceiling fan was on. They have been sent for a “precautionary medical check-up”.

The section of the deputy chief minister’s office dealing with incoming posts has been sealed.

The envelopes have been handed over to the Haffkine Institute to identify and verify the contents.

   

 
 
SULKING SHOTGUN CRIES OFF POLL WAR 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Oct. 24: 
The BJP is in a fix with Big B Amitabh Bachchan deciding to campaign for the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh and Shatrughan “Shotgun” Sinha sulking on the sidelines. In the forthcoming Assembly elections, the Samajwadi’s star power far outweighs the BJP’s.

Sources close to Sinha said the matinee idol has refused to campaign in Uttar Pradesh. A nervous L.K. Advani yesterday invited Sinha for lunch in a bid to lighten his foul mood. But the saffron brigade’s only crowd-puller, after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, is far from mollified.

Mulayam Singh Yadav bagged 29 MPs in the 1999 polls (which translates into 145 legislators in the Assembly), without Bachchan’s help. The BJP used Vinod Khanna in Punjab and Hema Malini in Bihar. But the dream girl had little impact in Lalooland.

While the Samajwadi Party will have a formidable campaign lineup in Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan and sitting MP Raj Babbar, the BJP without Shotgun Sinha is on the lookout for some star to bolster the beleaguered Rajnath Singh.

“The song and dance of VHP leaders Acharya Giriraj Kishore and Ashok Singhal and Bajrang Dal leader Vinay Katiyar at Ayodhya is not going to help,” said an NDA leader of the secular camp, poking fun at the BJP’s desperation. “But a Hrithik Roshan, a Shah Rukh Khan or a Madhuri Dixit could serve as the much-needed tonic.”

Scheduled to go on tour abroad with his play Pati, Patni Aur Main, Shotgun Sinha, considered close to Advani, may not be available for electioneering in Uttar Pradesh, sources close to him said, underplaying Sinha’s latest grouse against Vajpayee for reinducting the scam-tainted George Fernandes into the defence ministry.

   

 
 
CONG PUSH FOR NARAYANAN 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Oct. 24: 
Congressmen want President K.R. Narayanan to get another term in office.

The presidential elections are due in July 2002 and lobbying has already begun with several senior politicians vying for the coveted post.

Some prominent names doing the rounds at Raisina Hills include Karan Singh, Farooq Abdullah, Najma Heptullah, K.C. Pant, S.S. Barnala and L.M. Singhvi.

The Congress, however, favours Narayanan seeking another term in view of the statesmanship that marked his four years in office.

According to the Congress leadership, in this era of coalition politics, Rashtrapati Bhavan has remained non-partisan and upheld the highest traditions of probity in public life. In that sense, 80-year-old Narayanan is seen as the “conscience keeper” of the nation.

In the electoral college that votes for the President, the Congress and the non-NDA constituents have an edge over NDA partners in purely arithmetic terms.

Moreover, with the vice-president’s election due in 2003, there is a possibility of a quid pro quo between the government and the Opposition to avoid elections for high offices.

Congress leaders are encouraged by “positive signals” from Rashtrapati Bhavan that Narayanan himself is toying with the idea of a second term. The President is said to be keen to have a secretary, a post vacant since Gopal Gandhi moved as Indian envoy to Colombo.

The slot for the President’s press secretary has also been lying vacant for several months. Narayanan’s move to fill these high-profile positions for his remaining nine months is seen as a sign that he may want to continue beyond July 2002.

Highly placed sources said the President’s move to fill the posts of secretary and press secretary was aimed at resolving “protocol” problems at Rashtrapati Bhavan as his military secretary, Maj. Gen. Bhoopinder Singh, is tipped for promotion as Lieutenant General.

In such a situation, the military secretary would not be in a position to report to the joint secretary to the President, S.K. Sharief, an IAS officer of the 1977 batch.

Government sources said they have yet to receive a formal requisition for the secretary and press secretary’s post. “We will submit a panel once we get a communication,” said a senior government functionary.

Tada clone approved

A new Ordinance to counter terrorism, considered to be a stricter Tada clone, got presidential clearance today, sources said.

The approval came after it was “scrutinised in detail” by President K.R. Narayanan. Opposition parties and human rights groups had expressed strong reservations against the Ordinance, sources said.

   

 
 
PM-PUTIN TERROR PACT IN MOSCOW PIPELINE 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Oct. 24: 
India and Russia have decided to come out with a Moscow Declaration expressing their intent to jointly fight terror and put in place a “broadbased, multi-ethnic and representative” political structure in post-war Afghanistan that will help restore normality to the country.

The declaration, scheduled to be announced during Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit to Moscow next month, will give the Indian leadership a chance to clear any misgivings of the domestic audience that it is dumping its time-tested ally for America.

At the same time, India will have the opportunity to tell the world that while Pakistan is a frontline state, it is not the only country that should be consulted in deciding on the new regime in Kabul.

Delhi and Moscow are also likely to set up a joint working group at the foreign secretary level on combating terror. India already has a working group on terror with the US.

The Prime Minister will be in Russia from November 4 to 7. Interestingly, Vajpayee starts his visit from St.Petersburg, where he is scheduled to spend the night. He will reach Moscow on November 5, but it is the next day that he is likely to have most of his meetings with Russian leaders, including President Putin. At the end of the talks, the two leaders will sign the Moscow Declaration.

Soon after the summit, Vajpayee will leave for the US where he is scheduled to meet American President George W. Bush on a “working visit” on November 9. A few days later, the Russian President will reach Washington for talks with Bush.

There are precedents in the past when Indian Prime Ministers have rushed off to Moscow soon after a visit to Washington. Indira Gandhi had done this and so had Rajiv Gandhi. This is perhaps the first time the journey has been reversed.

Since the September 11 attacks, there has been close cooperation between Cold War rivals Russia and America in the fight against global terror.

India, which has been fighting cross-border terrorism in Kashmir for over a decade, wants to play an important role in this coalition. The back-to-back visits by the Prime Minister to Moscow and Washington are being seen in that light.

India and Russia have been working closely with each other on terrorism, particularly that originating from Afghanistan in the past few years. Most militants in Kashmir are trained in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Russia, too, has been fighting rebel groups in Chechnya and Dagestan supported by the Taliban.

The two countries had coordinated their positions in the past to strengthen the Northen Alliance, which till recently was the only pocket of resistance against the Taliban. Last year, during President Putin’s visit to India, a working group on Afghanistan was set up.

For India and Russia, it is important to have a regime in Kabul that will not be as hostile as the Taliban have been. Aware that Pakistan will attempt to use its new-found bonhomie with the US to install a regime that it can control, the two countries are trying to spoil Pervez Musharraf’s plans.

In the past few days, both sides have been trying to mobilise support from China, Iran and the central Asian republics for a regime in Afghanistan that will not be under Islamabad’s thumb.

Initially, the Russians were against expanding the Six-Plus Two group on Afghanistan, which is expected to have a say in deciding Afghanistan’s future. But during recent discussions, Moscow appeared to be coming round to the view that countries like India and France should also be allowed in. If that happens and if the Indian leadership can convince America, New Delhi will perhaps be able to ensure that even if the new regime in Kabul is not pro-India, it will at least not be hostile to the country.

   
 

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