Left faces House storm over anti-terror law
Jawans held for eve-teasing on express
Govt walks Pak-migrant tightrope
Sidelined Paswan in poll warcry
Flock reads between the streaks of grey
Spycam-stung George in sermon for scribes
Mumbai arrest in kidnap probe
Kabul gets down to business
Night-knock cop shifted
Joshi digs in heels for history ‘clean-up’

Calcutta, Dec. 9: 
An aggressive Opposition is likely to take on chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on the first full working day of the winter session of the Assembly tomorrow.

Signs emanating from various camps suggest that Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress and the state unit of the Congress will ask their legislators to go for a showdown with Bhattacharjee’s government by demanding a statement on the on-now, off-now Prevention of Organised Crime Act.

Though the Cabinet last week approved a watered-down version of the controversial legislation, Bhattacharjee, programmed by the CPM’s national leadership, announced his decision to put it on the backburner, saying he would rather first gauge the impact of the Centre’s Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance.

The Opposition still harbours the notion that Bhattacharjee, in tune with the speculation of the past few days, will make a formal statement in the Assembly tomorrow on the Bill, thus giving it an opportunity to go for the government’s jugular. It reckons the government, having gone through several starts and stops on the legislation, will be cornered if Bhattacharjee rises to speak on the issue.

After successfully putting the Bill on the backburner, the CPM may not be expecting Bhattacharjee to make a statement. The party’s state leadership today indicated that it will offer a free hand to Bhattacharjee in shaping the Bill and will not oppose his government if it uses it against the Peoples’ War or the Maoist Communist Centre in the state.

The party, however, feels the government should launch campaigns against any organisation before banning it. CPM state secretary Anil Biswas said the party opposes any move by any government to clamp a ban on any political organisation.

“But we may have to do that in case of a dire necessity. Before imposing any ban, the government would have to launch campaigns against such organisations,” Biswas added.

“Many organisations banned during the Emergency had become more popular as the government failed to convince the people about the need for the ban. We don’t want ban any organisation unnecessarily.”


Behrampore, Dec. 9: 
Police arrested four jawans of Assam Rifles from the Kamrup Express on charges of assaulting railway officials and teasing women passengers on the train.

The jawans were produced before the Lalbagh sub-divisional judicial magistrate yesterday, where they were remanded in custody.

Four jawans of the fourth battalion of Assam Rifles boarded the Assam-bound Kamrup Express at Howrah on Friday night, according to officer-in-charge of Ajimganj government railway police station Sangram Chowdhury.

The jawans started drinking and teasing three teenage girls travelling with their elder brother Sharda.

When the ticket examiner asked the jawans to vacate the compartment and not disturb passengers or drink alcohol, the jawans beat him up. Many passengers were also assaulted.

When the train reached Ajimganj, Sharda and the ticket examiner lodged complaints at the GRP station, following which the jawans were arrested.


Chennai, Dec. 9: 
The Centre is considering “three or four options” to ward off the “dangerous implications” of the Jammu and Kashmir Resettlement Act, said Union minister of state for home I.D. Swami.

The Act allows the state to grant citizenship to Muslims who had emigrated to Pakistan during Partition on their return to Kashmir.

The first option for the Centre is to “persuade the state government to repeal the Act”, which Jammu and Kashmir has not implemented since the legislation was enacted by the Assembly 20 years ago, Swami said. He declined to spell out the other options.

At a seminar on Jammu and Kashmir: Integral Part of India, Swami said the Centre was “seized of the whole thing” after the Supreme Court had refused to give an opinion on the legislation when it was a Bill and the Governor had to give assent after the Assembly returned it the second time.

A judicial review of the resettlement Act was possible if someone appealed to the Supreme Court against it, Swami said. “All that I can assure now is that such laws, which are ultravires of the Constitution, will not be allowed easily.”

Referring to the suggestion made at the seminar by G. Parthasarathy, former high commissioner to Pakistan, that after the October 1 militant strike on the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly India “should keep the powder dry” and talk to Pakistan, if required, Swami said if Pakistani regulars and the fleeing Taliban tried “to push us in, we are prepared”.

The challenge “we face in Jammu and Kashmir is externally-sponsored terrorism; we need to have an integrated approach in dealing with this and let us not give (Pervez) Musharraf the feeling that we are acting from a position of weakness”, Parthasarathy said.

The government should not do anything to “move ahead on the autonomy talks until the Constitution Review Commission headed by Justice Venkatachalaiah submitted its report and the Sarkaria Commission recommendations were implemented, the former high commissioner added.

Slamming those opposed to the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance Bill, Swami said after the September 11 attacks on the US, the UN resolution required all member-states to take steps to root out terrorism. Now that the global focus is on it, there is a “tremendous opportunity” for India to fight terrorism sponsored by Pakistan, Swamy added.

In the past decade, the low-intensity proxy war, insurgency and cross-border terrorism to “bleed India” has proved very costly in terms of men and money, the junior home minister said.

Indian security forces have lost up to 8,000 jawans in this proxy-war. “We had lost not more than 5,000 people in all the three earlier wars with Pakistan put together,” Swami said, justifying the anti-terror Ordinance as a “legal tool” in the hands of the security forces to effectively deal with terrorists.

Allaying fears about the misuse of the Ordinance, Swami said when there “is a national problem”, it was unfortunate that people were fighting the tool (to fight the problem) itself. The Centre is very much concerned about human rights violations, but in the name of rights “you cannot allow the terrorists to take away the right to life,” he argued.


New Delhi, Dec. 9: 
Union coal and mines minister and Lok Janshakti Party chief (LJP) Ramvilas Paswan has been miffed with the BJP leadership for giving more importance to his rival and Janata Dal (United) president Sharad Yadav in the forthcoming elections in Uttar Pradesh.

Paswan, unhappy with the way Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee removed him from the communications ministry, today said he would not “remain a silent spectator” if seat-sharing talks in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Uttaranchal did not meet the party’s aspirations.

The LJP chief said he was in no hurry to merge with the JDU and the Samata Party, and added that he wanted a joint front of the various Janata Dal factions to fight the Assembly elections.

Denying reports of his “silent approval” for a merger of splinter groups of the erstwhile Janata Dal, he said: “What I have said is that I have no reservations in bringing the party on a single platform to fight the elections on a common programme. As regards the merger, no decision can be taken without due consultation with party functionaries.”

In their bid to make their mark among the Yadavs in eastern UP, senior BJP leaders, including former president Kushabhau Thakre, Rajnath Singh and Sangh Priya Gautam, had addressed a series of meetings with Sharad Yadav, while Paswan has been campaigning all alone.


New Delhi, Dec. 9: 
It was supposed to be a quiet affair, but the usually reticent Sonia Gandhi emerged out of the four walls at 10 Janpath to receive greetings and happily posed for photographs.

On her 56th birthday, streaks of grey in her well-groomed hair came into view. Congress leaders, forever looking for signals that may or may not exist, quickly interpreted the inevitable mark of age as the emergence of a “mature politician”.

They would be right if the calls and flowers from “friendly Opposition parties” were read as results of her maturity. Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh, of the Samajwadi Party and erstwhile enemies who have turned friends ahead of the Uttar Pradesh elections, were among them. The CPM’s Somnath Chatterjee, who brought the two sides together last week, greeted her, too.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was travelling in Japan, but sent a bouquet, nonetheless. President K.R. Narayanan and his deputy Krishna Kant did not forget to send flowers either.

Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah, whose name is doing the rounds for the vice-president’s job, called on Sonia in the evening. The bitter aftertaste of alligning with the Congress before the May Assembly polls only to end it after the disappointing results did not prevent Mamata Banerjee from wishing her.

Sporting a chocolate salwar suit, Sonia released 56 white pigeons to mark her birthday. Truckloads of oranges and laddoos were freely distributed. Youth Congress and Mahila Congress activists danced and sang: “Tum jiyo hazaron saal”.

There were bands, horses and men dressed in traditional Rajasthani attire. And there were Manmohan Singh, Pranab Mukherjee, S.M. Krishna, Arjun Singh, Ambika Soni, Tarun Gogoi, M.L. Fotedar, Ajit Jogi, Sheila Dixit, Mukul Wasnik and the rest of the Congress Working Committee, who formed a queue to greet “madam”.

They carried a rose bud each as Sonia had made it clear that she would not accept sweets, chocolates and other gifts. The seniors were followed by representatives from frontal organisations and MPs, ex-MPs, Congress legislative party leaders and the general public.

After meeting party leaders and supporters between 9:30 am and 12:30 pm, the Congress president hosted a meal for daughter Priyanka, son-in-law Robert Vadra and grandson Rehan. Sources said one-and-a-half-year-old Rehan Rajiv Gandhi Vadra presented her a rose in the morning much before the doors of 10 Janpath were opened to the general public. In the evening, Sonia visited Priyanka’s 35 Lodhi Estate residence, where her daughter prepared a vegetarian meal.


New Delhi, Dec. 9: 
Like the wearer knows where the shoe pinches, George Fernandes knows where it hurts. The Union defence minister, under continued flak in Parliament over Tehelka, got some of his own back last night, telling journalists what responsible reporting is.

“I have seen in recent times that fishing for defence matters is considered as journalism, is considered as ‘investigative journalism’. Defence is always a sensitive subject. One needs to be discreet,” Fernandes advised.

“Defence is always a sensitive subject. Reporting defence in print is even more sensitive. If where your soldier is, is known to the enemy through the medium of the media, you have given him away,” Fernandes said while releasing a journal, Defence Digest.

Before he quit in the wake of the Tehelka sting operation in March this year, Fernandes said, he was actually working on making procurement more transparent.

“I wanted to put up on the ministry of defence website all that we wanted to buy. We debated its pros and cons. The ‘cons’ were more from the vendors. Some of them felt that their prices for ‘friendly’ countries should not be leaked out because it would be bad for their business.”

Information on the country’s defence needs also ran the risk of being misinterpreted. “There is a lot of speculation with such ‘fishing operations’ that cause damage. Possessing a gun has no great secrecy about it but it is important that the calibration of the weapon is not given away. We have enemies in our country’s environment and it is important that matters pertaining to our country’s defence acquisition, procurement, location and particularly where strategy is involved do not become commonplace journalism. We may also suffer if some vendors are not prepared to do business.”

Beginning this month, India is set to make whopping defence purchases that could continue for upto two years. In Fernandes’ regime, defence procurement has been made easier despite questions raised over the process by the Tehelka sting operation in which journalists posing as representatives of a fictitious company ‘West End’ peddling ‘thermal imaging devices’ bribed their way through the system.

The minister, however, doubts the intentions of such operations because they delay procurement at the cost of national security.

Fernandes cited the instance of the Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) that have been in the buying for nearly a decade-and-a-half now.

He indicated that vested interests might have been at work because delays in procurement lead to price hikes, which in turn mean bigger pay-offs.

Price negotiations for the AJT are now said to be near culmination. India is considering buying 66 AJTs from British Aerospace for around Rs 3,300 crore.

Still not able to express himself in Parliament the way he would like to, the peripatetic minister — sarcastically called “Minister for Siachen” after 20 visits to the disputed glacier — has drawn up a busy Christmas-New Year schedule during which jawans will give him a captive audience.

On Christmas, Fernandes will be in Siachen for the 21st time. Before that he will be with soldiers at the China border in Arunachal Pradesh and before that in the western sector.


Dec. 9: 
Mohammad Shahid Azmi, a key aide of slain Khadim’s kidnap case suspect Arshad Rezak Khan alias Rajan, was arrested from a Borivli slum hours before Rajan’s relatives in Calcutta received his body from Rajkot.

Rajan was shot dead on Friday night while trying to escape from the police near the Gujarat city, where he had been taken in connection with another case.

“He had some friends in Mumbai, but we are not sure about their antecedents. I don’t believe that my son was a terrorist,” Rajan’s father, Mohammed Ishaque Khan, said. He vowed to move the human rights commission over Rajan’s death, claiming it was a “cold-blooded murder”.

Mumbai crime branch officials said Azmi is a Hizb-ul Mujahideen member who was arrested in 1994 and shared a cell with Jaish-e-Mohammed founder Azhar Masood. Azmi, in his mid 20s, is “extremely close to Rajan” and was in touch with him just before his arrest near the Indo-Pak border.

Describing Azmi as a “mujahid”, the officials said he and Rajan had crossed over to Quetta in Pakistan early this year and received training from the ISI. Azmi told investigators that he had met Masood on one such visit and even accompanied Rajan to Afghanistan.

Azmi’s whereabouts in Mumbai were revealed last week when the CID busted a “control room” set up in Park Circus by Parthapratim Roy Burman’s abductors. Documents there showed Azmi’s links with Rajan, prompting inspector-general (CID) Partha Bhattacharya to leave for Mumbai with a team. Sources said Azmi knew about the abduction and transaction of hawala money through the Hyderabad route.

The arrival of Rajan’s body in Calcutta has set off renewed demands by several senior CID officers for a second post-mortem. This would put at rest speculation about a “deep-rooted” conspiracy to eliminate Rajan in Rajkot before he spilled the beans about the far-flung Jaish network.

Rajkot police commissioner Sudhir Sinha has denied any conspiracy behind the death. But he admitted that it would hamper investigations concerning national security.


New Delhi, Dec. 9: 
Afghanistan foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah will pay an official visit to New Delhi on Wednesday, within a week of the trip of interior minister Yunis Qanuni, signalling the growing importance of Delhi in Kabul’s scheme of things.

Qanuni came here on Friday on a private visit — to meet his ailing parents and family in Delhi — but turned it into a thanksgiving trip by holding meetings with foreign minister Jaswant Singh and home minister L.K. Advani. It is not clear whether Abdullah will meet family and friends in India, but the thrust of his visit is on holding discussions with Indian leaders.

Significantly, this will be the first visit by the newly-appointed foreign minister to another country since the interim government accord was hammered out last week by Afghan groups in Bonn. His selection of Delhi as the first port of call shows the importance India enjoys with the new regime, particularly with the Northern Alliance — of which both Qanuni and Abdullah are a part — which is going to play an important role in the future of Afghanistan.

Abdullah’s main interaction is expected to be with his Indian counterpart, but he will also meet others in the Indian government. He might also call on Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who is likely to return from Japan on Tuesday night.

India has made it clear that it is willing to extend all support to the new regime in Afghanistan — irrespective of the fact that it just an interim arrangement — to ensure that the new dispensation is able to bring peace and stability in the war-ravaged country. India has committed Rs 600 crore as a line of credit for the new government. Moreover, a team of Indian doctors are busy reviving the Indira Gandhi hospital in Kabul.

On Wednesday, another Indian aircraft with doctors, medicines and other relief material will leave for Kabul.

Like Qanuni, Abdullah is also likely to express his gratitude to the Indian leadership for the support extended to the Northern Alliance. He will possibly assure Delhi that Kabul will do all to ensure that the country does not again become a breeding ground for terrorists.

The outcome of the Bonn conclave — one being the interim government — and the future of Afghanistan will definitely be the focus of discussions between Abdullah and the Indian leaders. Delhi will be keen to find out from the representatives of the interim government, which takes charge from December 22, is the role Pakistan is likely to play in future Afghan politics.

Police tips for Kabul

India will send a team of senior police officials to Kabul to help set up an efficient policing system there, reports PTI. “We are willing to help in all possible ways in the reconstruction of Afghanistan,” Advani said, pointing out that Qanuni sought India’s help in setting up an effective police organisation.


Chennai, Dec. 9: 
Controversial Greater Chennai police commissioner K. Muthukaruppan, who oversaw the midnight arrest of DMK president M. Karunanidhi in June, was today shunted to a relatively insignificant post.

Only two days after a bureaucratic shuffle that did not even spare chief minister O. Panneerselvam’s first secretary C.K. Gariyali, the shake-up by Tamil Nadu’s ADMK government in the police hierarchy has taken the department by surprise.

Muthukaruppan has been transferred as inspector-general, armed police, Trichy. K. Vijaya Kumar, the additional director-general of police in the special task force (STF), hunting for sandalwood smuggler Veerappan, has replaced Muthukaruppan.

Muthukaruppan was one of the three IPS officers who was called out of the state by the Centre after protests by the DMK and its allies over the “inhuman manner” in which Karunanidhi was arrested around midnight.

However, the Jayalalithaa government had refused to release the officers while an inquiry commission had been appointed to look into the Karunanidhi arrest-related episodes.

Muthukaruppan and the two officers had moved the administrative tribunal against the Centre’s order, though the transfer issue had virtually reached a dead end after a while.

Sources described Muthukaruppan as a “fairly capable” officer. But his transfer was “on account of not being able to handle certain situations very effectively”.

There is no word on what the situations were but it may well include the Karunanidhi-arrest episode. In a recent report, the Press Council of India had indicted the police in the “brutal lathi-charge”, “singling out of journalists” and other incidents related to the DMK chief’s arrest and the subsequent rally by DMK supporters in Chennai.

The officer had also hit the headlines recently playing the “moral police” when he issued shutdown orders for discos in the city on grounds that the star hotels had violated the licensing conditions and fallen prey to westernisation that “corrupted our culture”. He was even eager to regulate cable TV networks, if he had it within his powers.

The government had on Friday shifted Chennai Corporation commissioner J.T. Acharayalu, the complainant in the flyover scam case, implicating Karunanidhi and his son M.K. Stalin, in what seems to be an image-building signal to the Centre.

While Walter Davaram will continue to preside over the special task force operations, director of vigilance and anti-corruption R. Nataraj will take over from Vijaya Kumar as the operational head of the force in inspector-general rank.


New Delhi, Dec. 9: 
Murli Manohar Joshi is not giving up his agenda, come what may.

Close on the heels of the NCERT’s decision to delete “objectionable” portions in current history textbooks, the human resources development minister announced his intention to consult sadhus and sants if any controversy arises over religious events, practices or historical personalities.

The new textbooks being drawn up by the council will have no references that could hurt the sentiments of any community, the minister assured a delegation of Arya Samajis who called on him last week. This would mean seeking the opinion of sadhus and sants on the practice of beef-eating in ancient India — whether it should find a place in history textbooks or not.

The delegation greeted Joshi with accolades and demanded the arrest of Romila Thapar, R.S. Sharma, Satish Chandra, Arjun and Indira Dev for authoring “offensive” textbooks. The minister played along.

Attacking historians who criticised the government for “talibanising” education, Joshi said: “They are the real Talibans. There should be a second war of independence for the cultural freedom of the country.”

Though Joshi had earlier said in the Lok Sabha that the NCERT would drop any portion of the new social science textbooks that the Opposition finds objectionable, it is clear that he is standing his ground on “cleansing” history of “distortions”. “He is just carrying out the Sangh parivar’s agenda,” said Dev, former head of the NCERT’s history department.

One of the main issues in the recent controversy centres around the depiction of Guru Teg Bahadur by Satish Chandra in his book on medieval history.

Joshi had joined the chorus started by the NCERT that the “offensive” portrayal of the Guru could harm “young minds”. However, the textbook, historians on the other side argued, was meant for the higher classes — XI and XII — and not junior classes.

But the minister today reiterated his position that the specific contents of Satish Chandra’s book would “prejudice” young minds against a particular community. “The NCERT books with the deleted portions will be freely available outside and anyone can read them after reaching a certain age,” he said.

As criticism against “saffronisation” of education is gaining ground, Joshi is also revealing his “cards” in public.


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