Civilians killed in crossfire
Samajwadi sacks MP for Amar revolt
BJP chants security and stability mantra
Left selfish slur on Mulayam
Red, green & saffron for Pawar party
High court hope for homosexuals

Srinagar, Dec. 8: 
Kashmir’s killing fields spurted blood again today when at least nine people were mowed down in a fierce gun battle in Baramullah in north Kashmir after militants ambushed an army convoy.

A soldier and two militants died in the encounter at Azad Gunj. Five civilians and a police head constable were killed in the crossfire and 39 people were injured, a police spokesperson said.

Police sources said a group of heavily-armed militants ambushed the army convoy around 11.30 in the morning.

The militants hurled grenades and fired on the convoy from assault rifles, killing one soldier and injuring seven. Security forces fired back, killing two militants.

Residents, however, alleged that the escorts of the army convoy fired indiscriminately in the old town and its outskirts, killing six persons, including the police head constable.

“They fired heavily all around in the town. The injured were crying for help. I saw everyone running for security,” Abdul Hameed, a resident of the town, said over phone from Baramullah.

“There was total chaos in the town. I took shelter in a shop. The firing continued for nearly 25 minutes,” said another resident.

A road-opening party of the Border Security Force (BSF) fired on the militants. According to a BSF spokesman, the road-opening party killed two militants on the spot.

Police sources said 31 persons received serious injuries. They include five passengers of a minibus, which came under fire near Delina, five kilometres from Baramullah.

The critically wounded were shifted to various hospitals in Srinagar. The condition of some is said to be serious.

Following the gun battle, high tension gripped the town, which wore a deserted look within minutes of the incident.

Mobs gathered in front of the town’s main hospital, shouting anti-government slogans.

Security guards of the Baramullah district magistrate and the district police chief fired warning shots in the air after the two officials were attacked by the demonstrators. The two were later escorted to their homes.

The state government has ordered a magisterial inquiry into the incident and announced a compensation of Rs 1 lakh for the kin of each of those killed and Rs 5,000 for the injured, an official spokesman said.

Those who have permanent disabilities would be given Rs 75,000 each, the spokesman added.


New Delhi, Dec. 8: 
One more Samajwadi Party MP today raised the banner of revolt against party general secretary Amar Singh, spelling trouble for Mulayam Singh Yadav before the Uttar Pradesh polls.

Bhal Chandra Yadav, the MP from Khalilabad, today demanded Amar’s expulsion from the party. He alleged that the party was being run by filmstars and scam-tainted capitalists and said the cadre often questioned the Rajya Sabha MP’s Amar’s “mysterious activities”.

Later in the day, Bhal Chandra was expelled for anti-party activities. He is the fourth MP to rebel against Amar Singh.

Ramakant Yadav, MP from Azamgarh in eastern Uttar Pradesh, had accused Amar of “ruining” the party and was promptly suspended.

Before him, Balram Singh Yadav from Mainpuri and Kunwar Sarvaraj Singh from Anola had also revolted against the secretary’s “style of functioning”.

It was clear that the BJP and Janata Dal (United) president Sharad Yadav were behind Bhal Chandra’s action. The rebel MP, before shooting off the four-page letter to Mulayam demanding Amar’s expulsion, met Sharad, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Rajnath Singh and BJP leader and Union minister of state for parliamentary affairs Santosh Gangwar at Lucknow. Sources said Bhal Chandra would campaign for the Dal(U).

Last month, Ramakant had attended a rally at Azamgarh in the presence of former BJP president Kushabhau Thakre and Sharad, while Balram Singh’s son was backed by the BJP in a recent Assembly byelection in the state.

Bhal Chandra, in his letter, said Amar’s “active role” was becoming intolerable.


Lucknow, Dec. 8: 
If “kisan, Mussalman and naujawan” is the Samajwadi Party’s war cry in the Uttar Pradesh elections, for the BJP it is “stability, internal security and development”.

The BJP is clearly trying to cash in on the global fight against terrorism and emphasising the importance of “security” in a “terror-ridden place like Uttar Pradesh”.

After having alienated minorities with its often-ambivalent stand on Ayodhya and the ban on the Students’ Islamic Movement of India, the BJP is trying to win over the divided majority community by harping on the need for anti-terrorism laws.

Chief minister Rajnath Singh loses no opportunity to tell his audience that even if the Centre fails to clear the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance in Parliament, it would definitely be introduced in Uttar Pradesh.

“If not the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance, then its clone will be promulgated in Uttar Pradesh,” Singh told reporters today.

Asked if his state was so ravaged by terrorism that it needed such an Ordinance, he said: “I can’t give you the exact figures of terrorist acts and the lives of innocent people and police personnel lost because of the acts, but I can vouch for the fact that Uttar Pradesh has been fighting terror in various forms since the last decade.”

But he was quick to add: “Terrorism should not be seen only in the context of Muslims, because terrorism does not have a face, caste or creed.”

Maintaining that Ramjanmabhoomi was never a political issue with BJP, he said the party would not make it an election plank this time as well.

“It is the Opposition which is making it a poll issue by trying to instill a sense of fear and insecurity among the minorities,” the chief minister said.

Asked if a solution to the Ayodhya dispute was possible before the March deadline, the chief minister said: “The only thing I want to say is that I believe in the Prime Minister.’’

He denied that there was any squabble between the BJP and its allies over the issue of ticket distribution. Tickets, he said, would be distributed according to the “present character of each Assembly constituency”.

He also denied that the seats in which there were sitting BJP members were being given to Ajit Singh’s Lok Dal. “All I can say is that there will be adequate representation for our partners and there will be no bitterness.”

He refused to state whether women will be given 30 per cent of the seats. “We will definitely field the maximum number of women, more than any other party,” he said.


New Delhi, Dec. 8: 
The CPM and CPI units in Uttar Pradesh are unhappy with Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav for being “selfish” about seat-sharing and not taking them into confidence.

The state leadership of both parties has informed their high commands that though the going has been good, Mulayam would be entirely to blame if anything goes wrong in the elections. Praising the Samajwadi Party for its role in fighting the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, they have cautioned its chief not to take his allies for granted.

According to the CPM and the CPI state leadership, Mulayam seldom takes his allies into confidence, preferring to take decisions unilaterally, a trait that seems to be unsettling the People’s Front in Uttar Pradesh.

Mulayam feels the allies would be more useful after the polls, when he needs the numbers to emerge at the top. As the main anti-BJP player in UP, he would like the lion’s share of the seats, making the allies unhappy.

The acrimony between the Left and the Samajwadi Party dates back to 1993 when Mulayam-engineered defections led to the dissolution of the CPI state unit.

Attempts by the CPM and the CPI central leadership to hammer out a Left-Samajwadi alliance for the Assembly polls had been unsuccessful.

Though the acrimony has softened since the BJP-led government came to power, relations are far from cordial between the Left and Mulayam in Uttar Pradesh, the state that holds the key to the future.

The CPM, because of Mulayam’s closeness to party general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet, may find it easier to deal with Mulayam than the CPI which has yet to recover fully from the effects of the winding up in Uttar Pradesh.


Mumbai, Dec. 8: 
It’s going to be the mother of all birthday bashes, especially for a leader looking for a way out of political wilderness.

The red, green and saffron are expected to blend in when Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar celebrates his 61st birthday in the commercial capital on Wednesday.

Among those invited are communist, Congress, BJP and Shiv Sena leaders. NCP leaders do not want too much to be read into this, but political circles here are abuzz with speculation of a new political alignment on the horizon.

Heading the invitee list is none other than Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. A Pawar aide said the Prime Minister had accepted the invitation and promised to make an appearance.

That’s not all. Legislators, many of them from the BJP, would cut short the ongoing Nagpur session in the Assembly and charter an aircraft to get to Mahalaxmi race course, the venue, in time.

Significantly, Congress president Sonia Gandhi has declined the invitation. A Congress spokesman blamed her inability to attend the bash on a tight schedule.

Party sources, however, said Sonia was offended because Pawar had not invited her personally, but had sent the invitation through former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar.

In retaliation, NCP leaders said Pawar was likely to stay away from the Congress’ annual iftar thrown by Sonia in Delhi on Tuesday.

NCP leaders said Chandra Shekhar, heading a reception committee set up for the bash, had invited Vajpayee, too. “No one should have felt offended by this when the Prime Minister of the country did not mind accepting the invitation,”a Pawar aide said.

Sources in both parties said the gap between Sonia and Pawar had only widened despite attempts by CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee to bridge it through dinner diplomacy.

The relations between the two parties, running a coalition government in Maharashtra, have reached an all-time low with chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and Pawar openly squabbling over the jinxed Enron project.

Pawar, who had okayed the project as chief minister in the mid-nineties, even threatened to withdraw support after Deshmukh ordered a judicial inquiry.

Pawar’s decision to invite Vajpayee rattled the Congress further. NCP leaders said the Maratha strongman, in political wilderness, was trying to make a comeback and could end up backing the BJP government in exchange for berths.

Sources said the BJP, “sick of” the Sena’s bullying tactics, is trying to keep options open. The Prime Minister’s acceptance of Pawar’s invitation points to that direction. Shiv Sena has a balance-tilting 15 MPs in the Lok Sabha.

An NCP-BJP alliance could spell doom for the Congress-led government in Maharashtra.

Analysts said the BJP was on the lookout of “new allies” at the centre, with M. Karunanidhi’s DMK, with 12 MPs, refusing to back it on the Ayodhya issue.

Karunanidhi, who said he favoured a mosque over a temple on the disputed site, refused to meet VHP president Ashok Singhal in Chennai a day after ADMK chief Jayalaithaa welcomed him.

Interestingly, NCP pledged to back the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance if the suggestions Pawar had made at an all-party meeting on the act were accepted.


New Delhi, Dec. 8: 
Delhi High Court yesterday fanned the winds of a social revolution by nudging the Centre about the possibility of legalising homosexual relations between two consenting adults. The Indian Penal Code describes a gay or lesbian relationship as an offence on the grounds that it is against the “natural order”.

The high court sought a reply from the Centre after a public interest litigation was filed by Naz, a non-governmental organisation working with gays and HIV affected persons.

The NGO argued that the rising graph of AIDS in the country could be arrested by legalising homosexuality.

“The harassment of homosexuals and lesbians constitutes a blatant abuse of their fundamental and human rights,” the petitioner added.

The legal notice served by Delhi High Court is going to raise the hackles in several quarters — particularly of those who, despite overwhelming evidence, continue to deny the prevalence of homosexuality in society. In fact, policy-makers in educational institutions are loath to talk about the subject that is virtually taboo.

Films portraying lesbian relationships have evoked a vicious response from political and fundamentalist groups. Deepa Mehta’s Fire, a film about two women who develop a lesbian relationship, ran into serious trouble after Hindu fundamentalist groups attacked and damaged theatres screening the film.

The government was wary about backing the film though it had been cleared by the censor board. It sent the film back to the censors for a second time, fearing a backlash from orthodox groups.

“Through its public litigation, Naz has brought out in the open a subject that has been kept strictly under wraps — a subject society prefers to dismiss out of hand,” said an activist.

Naz has reminded the Centre that Article 14 guarantees all citizens equality before law while Article 15 safeguards them against any discrimination. This gives a citizen the freedom to live life the way he or she wants.

But these rights are negated at one stroke by section 377 of the IPC, which says voluntary sex against the “order of nature” with any man, woman or animal will be penalised with imprisonment up to a maximum of 10 years in addition to a fine.

Homosexuals are among the sections most vulnerable to AIDS and the NGO argued that by making homosexuality an offence, the court was driving it under the carpet. The legal bar, they stressed, was coming in the way of raising awareness about AIDS among homosexuals.

Naz has sought an immediate injunction on police taking action against homosexuals. The court, however, adjourned the hearing after issuing notices to the Centre, ministry of social welfare, Delhi government, the police commissioner and National AIDS Council, asking them to file replies by January 28.


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