Terror stamp on PWG before law legitimacy
Aruna Irani hijacks Kabul
Amar is okay, Atal is not
Osama Indian plot
Ordinance ace for Vajpayee
Judge shot dead in Jammu
Naidu’s IT adviser in iftar storm
Beatle temple bridge
Women face bullets in Bihar’s land war
Calcutta Weather

 
 
TERROR STAMP ON PWG BEFORE LAW LEGITIMACY 
 
 
FROM SEEMA GUHA
 
New Delhi, Dec. 5: 
The Centre today used the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance to outlaw the People’s War Group and the Maoist Communist Centre.

It was the opportunity L.K. Advani had been looking for to drive home that the nation urgently needed tough laws to deal with the unprecedented terrorist threat.

Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu, a crucial NDA ally, gave North Block the perfect excuse. Faced with increasing attacks from the PWG, he had been urging the Centre to declare it a terrorist organisation and ban it countrywide. It is outlawed in Andhra.

The PWG recently unleashed a wave of violence in Andhra, targeting units belonging to the families of Naidu and Union minister Krishnam Raju. Last month, the Naxalites kidnapped relatives of Vidyasagar Rao, minister of state for home. While banning the PWG, the Centre included the MCC in the net.

Advani had hinted last week that the Centre was considering Naidu’s request. “These outfits and all their formations and front organisations have been declared as terrorist organisations with immediate effect,” he announced today.

Naidu was measured in his reaction, merely saying it would now be possible to effectively contain the PWG menace. “What is MCC?” he asked his secretaries. When told that it was another Naxalite group, he said: “It is good that such Left groups are being banned.”

The PWG and the MCC have joined the ranks of 23 militant groups banned under the Ordinance. Others include the Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Harkat-ul Mujahideen and Hizb-ul Mujahideen.

The use of the Ordinance a day after an all-party meeting called by the Prime Minister ended in deadlock, is, in a way, a slap in the face of the Opposition.

The People’s Union of Civil Liberties was scathing in its reaction. President K.G. Kannabiran said the ban was “totally undemocratic” and uncalled for in view of the outcry against the Ordinance. He said the ban would not have any effect on the functioning of the PWG. “The PWG would not have survived for the last 35 years and spread to five states if it did not have the support of the people,” he said.

The Maoist uprising in Nepal coupled with violence unleashed by Naxalite groups in Andhra, Bihar and Orissa, has been worrying security officials. Delhi knows the Maoists have close links with India’s extreme left-wing guerrillas and unless they are reined in, they could pose a security threat.

Intelligence officials talked of a “red corridor” extending from western Nepal, through Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Andhra, Madhya Pradesh and parts of Maharashtra.

The agencies fear that unless the government takes action, an extreme-left movement may sweep through the heartland. Considering the poverty and unemployment in these areas, a Maoist movement could catch the people’s imagination.

   

 
 
ARUNA IRANI HIJACKS KABUL 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, Dec. 5: 
With the Taliban gone, Kabul is back in Bollywood fold.

After a gap of five years, a Hindi film is being released next month in the war-ravaged Afghan capital, one of Bollywood’s biggest markets in pre-Taliban days.

The film, Yeh Dil Aashiqanaa, is based on the hijacking of the Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu on December 24, 1999. The hijack ended eight days later in Kandahar with the release of Harkat-ul Mujahideen leader Masood Azhar from prison.

“Afghanistan has always meant a lot to us in Bollywood and we wanted to be the first to go there with a film after a long gap,” said Aruna Irani, producer.

With two fresh faces in the lead, the film is a love story built around a hijacking. “We got the idea from the hijacking of the Indian Airlines aircraft,” Irani, who also acted in the film, said.

Hindi films were extremely popular in Afghanistan till the Taliban took over and shut down all movie theatres.

Young men danced in the streets of Kabul holding aloft pictures of Hindi film stars and rushed to theatres soon after the Taliban fled the Afghan capital.

“Afghan people love our films. We consider ourselves lucky to be the first to release a film in Kabul,” Kuku Kohli, Irani’s husband and the film’s director, said. The shooting started early last year after the couple picked newcomers Karan and Zubeda as lead actor and actress. “We were looking for fresh faces and they fit the bill,” Kohli said.

Unlike the real-life hijacking two years ago, in which the government had given in to terrorists’ demands after the killing of a passenger, the hero in the film rescues not just his heart-throb, but all other passengers from the clutch of the hijackers and helps authorities to capture them.

“It’s a topical story. People would appreciate what we have portrayed in the film,” Kohli said, denying the film, shot in Hyderabad and London, was made with an eye on the Afghan market.

When he started shooting last year, he said he had no idea that the film would ever “see the light of the day” in Afghanisation because it was then held by the Taliban.

“We have now decided to donate the entire collection from that country to Afghan children suffering from the continuing war,” the director said, adding that he expected the film to release in Kabul theatres in mid-January. It would simultaneously be released in India.

   

 
 
AMAR IS OKAY, ATAL IS NOT 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Dec. 5: 
Amar was there, so was his Akbar — Mulayam Singh. Anthony wasn’t, but Amitabh Bachchan had sent his children — Shweta and Abhishek.

Sonia Gandhi didn’t mind being shot with Amar – Akbar was more than welcome – but said ‘cut’ when the camera panned on Atal.

It was just the gesture Uttar Pradesh’s anti-BJP constituency was waiting for: a Sonia-Mulayam reunion in public gaze.

Mulayam’s iftar was the perfect occasion to beam what could be 2001’s most politically loaded message.

Sonia Gandhi refused to pose for a photo-op with Atal Bihari Vajpayee despite media insistence and chose instead to cajole the Left leaders to share the frame with her and Mulayam.

Even Amar Singh, whose relation with the Congress has been bitter, got his substantial girth between Sonia and his leader Mulayam.

The signal going out from the Congress president was simple: she was ready to do business with the Samajwadi Party if only to prevent the BJP from coming to power again in Lucknow.

An Uttar Pradesh Congressman commented when Sonia and Mulayam stood together before the camera: “Lakhs of copies of this shot must be circulated right down to the rank and file. It is now or never for the non-BJP Opposition in UP.”

Last year, Mulayam’s iftar was a small gathering meant exclusively for the envoys of Islamic countries, Muslim intellectuals and handpicked politicians of the Left-secular brand. Hoi polloi were missing and the cuisine was eclectic. The theme was as politically correct as an avowedly pro-minorities party could get to be.

The iftar became an occasion to champion the Palestinian cause.

This year’s was a poll-pourrie in more ways than one. The doors of his Krishna Menon Marg bungalow were thrown open to the masses and, barring a separate entrance created for Vajpayee, Sonia and those under SPG cover, the rest had to muscle their way in through the common gate. And that included the Bollywood babus and biwis.

Other than the junior Bachchans, the filmi fare consisted of Raj Babbar, a Samajwadi regular, Jayaprada and Shatrughan Sinha.

Tina Munim, another Bollywood ex, came too. But did she come with Anil Ambani or did the Reliance scion come with her?

While Page Three favourites like Nafisa Ali, Saleem Sherwani (Samajwadi MP from Badayun) and Asraf Jehangir Qazi, the Pakistan envoy, were back on familiar ground, there were additions, too. For instance, Livleen Sharma, in her gyspy-like lehenga and backless choli.

But the celebs were hopelessly outnumbered by the milling crowds from Chandni Chowk and Seelampur.

With Mulayam determined to regain his status as a “Muslim messiah” — after a brief dalliance with the upper castes — his Samajwadi colleagues said he could not afford to pick and choose his guests.

With Sonia as the chief guest, the Congress’ leaders were in full attendance.

They had to break bread with heavyweights from the BJP camp: L.K. Advani, Madan Lal Khurana and V.K. Malhotra.

Mulayam didn’t forget his friends from the erstwhile United Front — former PMs H.D. Deve Gowda and I.K. Gujral.

His party managers made it a point to mention that the Bahujan Samaj Party, a former Samajwadi ally, was not forgotten. Mayavati was not invited.

   

 
 
OSAMA INDIAN PLOT 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Dec. 5: 
Home minister L.K. Advani today disclosed a “massive conspiracy” by Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida to attack Parliament House along with the September 11 strike on the US.

Advani, quoting confessions of a man arrested in Trombay recently, told a Ficci meeting in New Delhi that the al Qaida had plans to attack “Britain and Australia and our Parliament House”.

Advani did not name the arrested man but Mumbai police sources identified him as Mohammad Afroz.

Advani said the arrested man said he had learnt to fly planes in Australia and in Britain. “We have been able to verify the information and confirm it. So there is truth to what he has said,” Advani said. Investigations are still on and the leads he has given were still being pursued, the home minister said.

Sources in Mumbai said Afroz had left India in 1997. He was picked up on a visit home after the police received a tip-off that he had been “wining and dining lavishly” in some hotels in Mumbai. The sources said the police had got in touch with Interpol to check the antecedents of some of Afroz’s “contacts” who, they suspect, are linked to al Qaida.

   

 
 
ORDINANCE ACE FOR VAJPAYEE 
 
 
FROM SEEMA GUHA
 
New Delhi Dec. 5: 
The message from the Prime Minister’s all- party meeting on the anti-terror Ordinance yesterday is clear. The Vajpayee government wants to nail the Opposition on this one and take the issue of fighting terrorism to the people in next year’s crucial Uttar Pradesh polls, an election which can make or break the National Democratic Alliance at the Centre.

The government is in no mood to allow the Congress and the rest of the Opposition to pussyfoot on the anti-terror legislation, especially when many in the BJP believe there are rich dividends to be gained from the Opposition’s refusal to cooperate on fighting terrorism.

It’s a popular perception among party stalwarts and supporters that it’s a win-win situation for the government. If the Centre can get Parliament to endorse the anti-terror legislation, it will be projected as a victory for Vajpayee and his government.

If the Ordinance falls through, the NDA can point an accusing finger at the Opposition and charge them with being anti-national, a spoke in the wheel of the government’s determination to stamp out terrorism.

The decision to place the anti-terror Ordinance in Parliament, despite knowing it will be thrown out in the Rajya Sabha where the ruling NDA does not have the required numbers, is a pointer.

This explains why the Prime Minister did not go out of his way to woo the Opposition. According to Opposition leaders, yesterday’s interaction with the Prime Minister was at best a perfunctory meeting.

Neither side was willing to concede an inch, when the battle lines have already been drawn on the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance.

At one point, the PMO was much more accommodating in its stand on the anti-terror Ordinance. In fact, there was talk of changing some of the provisions in the Ordinance to reassure alliance partners, some of whom had been uneasy on certain points. The idea then was to get the necessary changes worked out before the all-party meeting.

But the Naxalite attacks in Andhra Pradesh and chief minister Chandrababu Naidu’s request to the Centre to declare the People’s War Group a terrorist outfit, gave the government a shot in the arm. Naidu with his 29 MPs is an important ally of the BJP and the renewed Naxalite violence in his state has made him acutely aware of the need to have a tough anti-terror legislation.

The Desam suggestions to make the Ordinance valid for three instead of five years and to ensure that the media’s rights are protected will be seriously considered by the law and home ministries.

Government sources ruled out the Congress suggestion that the current Ordinance should be replaced by a fresh draft.

“It is time the Opposition stopped reducing everything to a political battle. If they are serious about fighting terrorism, they should come out with their suggestions to improve the Ordinance,”’ a senior PMO official said.

“This kind of destructive attitude can lead nowhere. They should learn some lessons from the US, where the Democrats are all ready to help President Bush.”

The government believes the public mood is for tough action against terrorism and is willing to go to the people for a mandate on the issue in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous and politically important state.

   

 
 
JUDGE SHOT DEAD IN JAMMU 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, Dec. 5: 
Militants today gunned down the sessions judge of Rajouri, along with a friend and his two bodyguards and driver, at Talara village in Jammu.

This is the first time that a senior judicial official has been killed in the past 12 years of militancy.

Police sources said the sessions judge, Vijay Kumar Phull, was on his way to Poonch from Rajouri to visit his relatives. His car was ambushed by a group of heavily-armed militants near Talara, 40 km from Rajouri.

“They hurled grenades and fired indiscriminately from their automatic weapons on the car,” a senior police officer said. “All the four occupants died on the spot,” he said. The judge’s friend was driving the car.

The militants escaped after the attack. No group has owned responsibility for the attack.

As the news about the killing reached Poonch and Rajouri, senior district police officers rushed to the spot. They ordered security forces to mount a search operation in the area to track down the assailants, the sources said.

Senior police and civil officers from Jammu are expected to visit the spot, according to the sources.

In another incident, at least 19 persons, including 16 members of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), were seriously wounded in a powerful bomb explosion on the Jammu-Doda highway late this afternoon.

Police said a CRPF vehicle, on its way to Jammu, hit an improvised explosive device near Malohri in Doda district.

“Due to the massive explosion, the vehicle of the 33 Battalion of the CRPF was extensively damaged,” said a police source. “One woman and her two children also received injuries in the explosion.”

The injured were immediately shifted to hospital as police and security forces rushed to the spot. The area was later searched. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Militants also attacked a defeated candidate of the Janata Dal(S), identified as Ghulam Mohammad, at Kreeri. He was shifted to hospital with serious injuries.

   

 
 
NAIDU’S IT ADVISER IN IFTAR STORM 
 
 
FROM G.S. RADHAKRISHNA
 
Hyderabad, Dec. 5: 
A technocrat’s protests against the hosting of iftar parties by the state government have sparked a controversy.

IT adviser to the chief minister T. Hanunman Chowdhary has taken objection to the Iftar reception hosted by Governor C. Rangarajan at the Raj Bhavan yesterday. In a letter to the Governor, Chowdhary expressed his inability to participate and gave reasons why he did not want to attend.

Arguing that such an act amounted to preferential treatment to the followers of one religion over others, Chowdhary, an RSS sympathiser, wanted similar favour to be shown to followers of other religions as well.

“Such governmental extravaganza was against the principle of Sarva Dharma Sadbhavana and highly discriminatory,” he wrote, adding, “a secular state should not spend money on a religious feast.”

The letter attracted an angry response from the minority community. “If (the) iftar feast is not secular, then (the) government’s arrangements for the Ganesh immersion in the city is also not secular,” argued Amanullah Khan, leader of the Majlees Bachao Tahreek.

Leaders of Islamic institutions in Hyderabad, the Jamia Nizamia and the Darul-ul-Sabeel-us-Salaam, have criticised Chowdhary’s contention.

“Iftar is a token camaraderie and religious harmony observed for generations between people of all religions. Similar gesture is undertaken by other religions also during Christmas and Diwali,” said Maulana Arif Quadri.

   

 
 
BEATLE TEMPLE BRIDGE 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Varanasi, Dec. 5: 
George Harrison’s secret dream is silently turning into reality in Varanasi.

The “quiet Beatle” had this long-cherished but little-known plan to build a Krishna temple in this holy city – Harrison’s “soul destination”.

He even pledged some Rs 4 crore for the temple. Iskcon officials at the Durgakund centre in Varanasi say the elaborate marble structure will not just bear testimony to Harrison’s love for Krishna but also celebrate the pop legend’s “free, soaring spirit”.

Harrison, they added, wanted to see the temple in a place that was “the bridge between life and salvation”.

A.P. Kanviande, a Delhi-based architect, has designed the temple that will come up on a two-acre plot donated by the Dabur group.

Swami Prashanna Atma Das, head of the Iskcon here, maintains the project was “very close” to Harrison’s heart. His death has only hastened the project.

The swami said construction would start as soon as the money reached them.

Project manager Arijit Das, who has taken the model out of cold storage, said some changes will be made to the original plan – keeping in mind Harrison’s “free spirit and immense love for Krishna”.

“The temple will have lots of open spaces dotted with trees. There will also be a reading room. A Rs 5-lakh statue of Radha-Krishna has been commissioned in Jaipur,” Das said.

But before the project takes off, Harrison’s wife Olivia and son Dhani will arrive here to scatter the late Beatle’s ashes in the Ganga, caretaker of the Harrison family in London, Varsharani Devdasi, said. But she added it would be a “quiet affair, away from the media glare”.

Swami Prashanna Atma Das avoided giving the date Olivia and Dhani would arrive, but said Harrison would definitely make the “last connection” in Varanasi.

“If he has been cremated his ashes will definitely find their way here,” the swami said, adding, however, that “it could be within the next 15 days”. “And, yes, I don’t think they will fly in a chartered aircraft.”

Three American and British news agencies today gave instructions to their correspondents to “wait for Harrison”, at least for another week.

Hundreds of foreign tourists today gathered at the Dashaswamedh Ghats and flew kites with messages and obituaries to Harrison. Read a message by Paul Buck from America and his wife Ananda Mitchel: “George, All you need is love. All we need is love. Give peace a chance.”

   

 
 
WOMEN FACE BULLETS IN BIHAR’S LAND WAR 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Darbhanga, Dec. 5: 
An assistant public prosecutor of Patna High Court has been accused of ordering his private army to fire on a group of Dalit women, killing one and injuring seven.

The murky chapter in Bihar’s endemic land wars has an unusual footnote. The absconding landlord is not from the upper castes, the usual suspects, but a backward class family from the “creamy layer”.

The women from the bataidar (sharecropper) families met with a hail of bullets on November 27 as they set out to harvest paddy on the 55-acre plot they have been cultivating for the last 22 years.

The firing has triggered a furore that is raging even after a week. A group of women activists led by Brinda Karat, general secretary of the All-India Democratic Women’s Organisation, visited the area yesterday and held a protest rally.

Today, they called on chief minister Rabri Devi, who ordered a high-level probe and directed the police to submit a report immediately. Karat condemned the incident as an “attempt to crush women’s movements in the Dalit colony”.

The main accused in the case, Ravi Bhagat, allegedly opposed sowing of the plot by the Dalit families to whom his father had given share-cropping rights more than two decades ago.

He claimed to have registered a case with the district land registration officer, Darbhanga, asking for a stay on cultivation till the dispute was resolved. But the bataidars refused to oblige him.

They sowed rice this year, too, and amid alleged threats from the landlords to set the fields on fire, the women of the sharecropper families had gone to reap the paddy around 8.30 am last Tuesday.

They were allegedly confronted by the landlord’s musclemen, who were armed with .12-bore rifles. When the women refused to disperse, they opened fire, killing Kusuma Devi, 50, on the spot and injuring seven, who are in hospital.

“The women had gone to the field as most of their menfolk are migrant labourers and were away in Punjab,” said Vijaykant Thakur, a CPM leader in Darbhanga.

He alleged that the police failed to act on time even though the local women activists of his party had tipped off the force about the possibility of violence. He said the firing had reopened the old wounds of social acrimony between the backwards and Dalits.

Darbhanga superintendent of police Sudhansu Kumar said one person was arrested and added that though Bhagat was named in the FIR, it was yet to be established whether he was present on the field during the mayhem.

“The dispute is at least 20 years old and the incident has exacerbated the social tension in the area,” he said.

“This is a village of brave women who have been at the forefront of progressive movements while their husbands were away in other states.” Karat said.

Her colleagues alleged that the women of the 75-family Dalit colony in Andhari village were being terrorised to thwart their attempts to be on their own.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 29°C (+1)
Minimum: 15.2°C (0)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative Humidity

Maximum:91%,
Minimum: 42%

Today

Sunrise: 6.08 am
Sunset: 4.47 pm
Mainly clear sky
   
 

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