Border bristles, Rumsfeld rushes
Avenger widow’s wing linked to MCC massacre
Transit tax to help brethren
Ordinance buried
Premji heaps plans and praise on Bengal
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, Nov. 1: 
US secretary of state Donald Rumsfeld will visit India and meet defence minister George Fernandes on November 5, it was announced today even as Delhi interpreted a mobilisation of armoured troops by Pakistan as a move to provoke Indian forces.

Pakistan has mobilised armoured divisions of its army close to the international boundary in Rajasthan and Jammu. The movement of two armoured divisions from Okhara and Kharian to Bahawalpur — corresponding to Ganganagar in Rajasthan — and an armoured brigade about 40 km inside Pakistan from Akhnoor in Jammu accompanies the march of two infantry divisions and at least one other mechanised unit.

An armoured brigade usually will have around 150 tanks, and an infantry division 17,000 soldiers. An armoured division can have three armoured brigades.

In army language, the movement of armoured units is a sign that a force is preparing to attack. The build-up has taken place over the last two weeks, defence ministry sources said. “It does not mean war is imminent. But it is a sign of aggressive intent,” an officer said.

Such will be the atmosphere into which Rumsfeld will fly in from Islamabad on Monday. Details of his agenda are not yet known but it is clear he will be reminding New Delhi of its commitment to not overburden Pakistan’s agenda when it is an ally in “the war on terrorism”.

The Indian Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) is understood to have raised the movement of armoured units with his counterpart at the routine Tuesday talks. He was told that the Pakistani army is mobilising forces for training exercises.

In the past, too, training exercises have been fraught with possibilities of a conflict. The best known instance was the Indian army wargame codenamed Operation Brasstacks in February 1987. The exercise provoked Pakistan to launch Operation Trident and it was suspected to have embarked on a plan to attack on February 8, 1987, that was called off at the last minute.

Defence ministry sources said India was not moving its forces from central regions to the border but they were “concerned with the kind of troops mobilised by Pakistan because the mix of units, especially the mobilisation of armoured forces, means that they can be converted into a strike force very quickly”. India’s own strike forces are located away from the borders.

The sources claimed that the Pakistan army had also cancelled leave for its soldiers, and officers’ training courses have been put on hold.

Any movement of Pakistani forces on the region opposite Akhnoor commonly known as the Jhelum-Chenab zone is closely monitored. In the undeclared war in 1965, the Pakistani army had mounted an attack in the Chhamb sector, threatening National Highway 1A, the lifeline to Kashmir.

Defence ministry sources said they were a little surprised to notice mobilisation of troops near the Indian border when it was initially thought that they could actually deploy more troops on the border with Afghanistan. However, the sources said, there was no report of Pakistani forces in Quetta and Peshawar being moved.

The defence ministry’s concern over Pakistani troop deployments comes a day after the northern army commander, Lt Gen. R.K. Nanavaty, said at a seminar in Jammu University that “the nuclearisation of the subcontinent may have altered the situation but space still exists for limited conventional war”.

In the same speech — and it is now known that the general was aware of the movements across the border when he made it — he said he had this message for the Pakistan army opposite the northern command: “We are committed to restraint. If, however, the Pakistan army or terrorists assisted by the Pakistan army continue to carry out hostile acts to include sabotage, infiltration, raids or intrusions, in violation of the Simla Agreement, we reserve the right to take military action.”

It was the clearest enunciation yet of current Indian military strategy. The army top brass have been wont to compare the situation in Jammu and Kashmir to the situation that led to the 1965 war when Pakistan encouraged large-scale infiltration. Today, too, defence ministry officials said infiltration had been increasing.

One of the reasons the army is being asked to observe maximum restraint despite an urge to mount small-scale offensive operations — such as hitting militant camps by crossing the Line of Control — is largely political.

A “limited war”, like Kargil, that such operations can spark will suit the Pakistani establishment when its polity is bitterly polarised over Islamabad’s support to the American war effort against the Taliban.


Palamau, Nov. 1: 
The MCC massacre of 13 policemen in Jharkhand using women decoys followed a sweeping organisational recast that spurred the return and rise of a widow thirsting to avenge the death of her husband at police hands.

Yesterday’s carnage at Topchanchi in Dhanbad is being seen as an attempt by the new leadership to send the message that different factions of the MCC were united, contrary to the impression given by chief minister Babulal Marandi.

Till recently, Mohanbabu, a 67-year-old Bengali, used to head the MCC. But he has been replaced by 50-year-old Paresh Kumar, who is now the supreme commander.

Nirmala Chatterjee is believed to have been put in charge of the MCC women’s wing with 100 members. Sagar Chatterjee, her husband and a Naxalite, was killed in a police encounter at Aurangabad in 1998.

Yesterday, her group is learnt to have played a key role in the attack in which the rebels, accompanied by women and children, won the sympathy of villagers by accusing the policemen at an outpost of molestation. The policemen were murdered in the melee that ensued.

The cunning strike mirrors the tactical shift within the extremist organisation after a sidelined Mohanbabu opted out and assumed charge of the MCC’s Bengal units in Midnapore and Purulia.

The first signs of dissent had emerged in 1999 when Nirmala broke away from the party. After Sagar’s death, she lobbied hard to get the MCC to avenge the death of her husband, who had been a close aide of Mohanbabu.

She demanded that her party ambush the superintendent of police responsible for Sagar’s death. But Mohanbabu disagreed. She left the MCC in a huff and formed the Radical Communist Centre.

But the revamp has brought rebels like Nirmala back into the MCC fold. She was responsible for re-inducting some women activists from Narimukti Sangh, a front-line organisation of the MCC. Some of them took part in yesterday’s operation.

The change of guard was announced at a secret meeting of the MCC’s Bengal-Bihar Special Area Committee in Palamau’s Chandwa block early last month.

Mohanbabu had left Bengal in the late sixties and taken shelter with a tribal family in Garhwa district of undivided Bihar. He became the MCC chief in 1980.

For the past 20 years, this elusive leader known for his orthodox ways helped spread the organisation from Palamau to central Bihar. But he began to gradually lose ground following complaints of “autocratic” attitude.

Bengal murder

Naxalites struck in Bengal today with police linking them to the murder of a CPM local committee secretary in Midnapore.

The motorcycle-borne CPM leader, Sashanka Nath, was waylaid by a group and attacked with sharp weapons at Jhargram sub-division this evening. He died in a hospital at night.

The area has been witnessing frequent clashes following reports that an unofficial alliance has been struck between some factions of the Jharkhand Party, the Trinamul Congress and the Naxalites to oppose the CPM.


Mahadipur (On the India-Bangladesh border), Nov. 1: 
Humanitarianism has strange faces. On the India-Bangladesh border, it means a 50 per cent premium for those wanting to go to Bangladesh without a passport.

A few weeks ago, Rs 100 was the standard rate of payment to ‘syndicates’, which arrange the safe transit through the border near Mahadipur for crossing over to Bangladesh — or coming to India.

Now, post-October 1 (the day Bangladesh went to polls and decided that a BNP-led alliance of fundamentalist parties was best for itself), the price for going to Bangladesh is Rs 150.

The premium, however, does not imply a sudden rush for going to see how Bangladesh is doing under a new regime. The 50 per cent hike, ironically, speaks of an influx to India.

The syndicates running the show at Mahadipur — and elsewhere on the border in Malda and South Dinajpur — have decided not to charge anything from those crossing over from Bangladesh. Instead, they have decided to make up a portion of that loss from those going there.

“No, we are not charging a single paisa for arranging cross-overs to India,” B.M. (full name withheld on request), a member of one of the syndicates, said. “It’s pointless being heartless with people who often don’t have anything to give except the clothes on their back,” he said, explaining the sudden magnanimity of people on the other side of the law.

The conversation started with orders for tea at B.M.’s joint, a rundown restaurant like those of most of the other syndicate members. It ended with B.M. revealing everything — including the route to and from Bangladesh through the crematorium near the Mahadipur market — and a vehement turning down of requests from this reporter for a safe passage to Bangladesh.

“You must be a Hindu,” he said after hearing the name. “And mad.” To go to Bangladesh when the situation was “like this” was not sanity, he said, explaining that he and his colleagues had heard their share of the horror stories emanating from Bangladesh.

The illegal human traffic to and from India was more or less equal during normal times, he said. Yet, despite raising the premium for crossovers to Bangladesh, all the syndicates were awfully short of money, B.M. added. “No one, except Muslims returning to their country, is going there,” he said.

But it’s not merely illegal crossovers to India that have increased following the polls. The rush among even passport-holders to come to India has increased.

The immigration check-post at Mahadipur now entertains about 70 pleas — mostly from Hindus — to come to India every day, a senior official said. “The figure is at least 50 per cent more than that during peaceful times,” he added.

But the stories of atrocities on the minority population across the border and the rumours, which amplify each tale of terror, have also affected Muslims coming to India.

Musharaf Rahman Mithu was one such Bangladeshi waiting at the check-post today. He was on his way to Calcutta for urgent medical treatment, he said, but could not muster up the courage to come unaccompanied.

Sitting with him at the check-post were two women with conspicuous dashes of sindoor on their heads. Both were neighbours — and, of course, Hindus — from his village, Chapa, in Nawabganj district.

“They are here to protect me,” he said.

But how could two elderly women protect an able-bodied youth like him in Calcutta?

“Just in case,” Mithu said cryptically. Later, after a little bit of prodding, he explained that he was afraid of a Hindu backlash here.

“News travels fast. And bad news faster still,” he said. “Two Hindu women could just be stronger than me in Calcutta if there’s trouble. You have your share of fundamentalist parties here, don’t you?”


Calcutta, Nov. 1: 
The Bengal government today gave up the move to promulgate the Prevention of Organised Crimes Ordinance, bowing to pressure from the CPM politburo and Left Front partners.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said his government would try to introduce a Bill in the winter session for passing an Act to combat organised crime. “On second thoughts, we found it would be wise not to rush through with the Ordinance,” he said.

Bhattacharjee said the opposition from within the Front had surprised him because the last Cabinet meeting had approved the Ordinance. “At that point I thought there would be no objections… But in a democracy we have to honour everyone’s views.”


Calcutta, Nov. 1: 
After his 45-minute meeting with Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Azim Premji was dripping praise for the chief minister.

“West Bengal is an important market for us and we would like to invest in the state. The new chief minister is extremely supportive and he wants to make Bengal the favoured destination for IT companies. Wipro would like to be part of it,” Premji told The Telegraph.

The Wipro chairman today submitted a proposal to the government to take part in a World Bank-aided health project. His company will help set up the health information system.

“The idea is to link up all the districts and give them information on primary health. The state government is finalising the project with the World Bank. Once that is in place, we will start work,” Premji said.

His company has carried out similar exercises in Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Premji said work on the company’s proposed software development centre at the Salt Lake Electronics Complex is expected to begin in the next financial year. Earlier, the company had proposed to start work in September.

The centre, to come up at a cost of Rs 40 crore, will employ about 2,400 people. Premji attributed the delay in the project to the overall slowdown in the IT sector. “I know the chief minister wants to use Wipro as the messenger to bring in further investment in the IT sector. I told him that work will begin next April,” Premji said.

“The industrial climate has changed a lot in the state. The city looks much better. The administration seems to have changed a lot with the new chief minister taking instant decisions,” he said.

Bhattacharjee took only three days to clear 12 acres for Premji’s project.

The Wipro chief said his company will set up a computer assembly unit in the state. At Writers’ Buildings, Bhattacharjee said about 1,200 square feet of space at the Webel Technologies office has been provided to Wipro. He said the project would start functioning by December, but Premji refused to comment.

Wipro is also developing software for the Calcutta police department at a cost of Rs 30 crore.

The company today tied up with Haldia Petrochemicals Ltd for strategic IT outsourcing. Bhattacharjee said Wipro has finalised the deal to provide hardware for computer training in 100 schools in the state.




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