Boost to terror law, burial for coffins
Fluttering pigeons and flying bullets
Advani in line of fire
Militants miss reluctant Atal and prompt Sonia
Cong soft on Advani, hard on terror law
Buddha Bill back in front
PM city visit
Scoot, lone gunman is lurking
Bush quick, Pervez quicker
Angry Atal talks tough

New Delhi, Dec. 13: 
The attack on Parliament and the “damage-containment” by security forces have turned out to be a mixed bag for the BJP and the Vajpayee government.

Coming a day after the government was on the backfoot over the coffin scam over which the Opposition demanded the defence minister George Fernandes’ head, the terrorist attack has earned a reprieve not just for Fernandes but the ruling coalition as well.

BJP sources were afraid that the coffin issue could have an adverse fallout on the party’s performance in the Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal and Punjab elections, especially since the last two are martial states and sensitive about anything impinging on martyrs.

”But now a far more serious event has overtaken this issue and on this the Opposition will have no defence,” claimed a BJP functionary. His contention was that the demand for the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance would get strength now as even Parliament has come under attack. “The Opposition seems determined to oppose such a law. It is precisely this stand which makes the terrorists emboldened enough to attack places like Parliament. The Opposition will have a lot of explaining to do on this,” he claimed.

The BJP’s problem was that it had used the strikes in America as the main reason for bringing in the anti-terror Ordinance. It failed to answer a basic question on why the government had dragged its feet on bringing in a replacement for Tada when states like Jammu and Kashmir constantly suffered terrorist attacks.

Once the Opposition had hardened its stand against the legislation, there was an admission in sections of the BJP that the government should have worked out a more cogent reason for bringing in the law.

The attack on Parliament has given the legislation just the immediacy and relevance the BJP was looking for, said sources. If the Opposition continued to reject it — and indications were that it would — BJP sources said the cutting edge of its campaign for the law would be much “sharper”.

BJP leaders welcomed Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s assertion in his televised address to the nation that the battle against terrorism was entering its last phase.

Some BJP leaders, who were unhappy with Vajpayee for stressing too much on evolving a consensus before the Ordinance was introduced in Parliament, saw in his message just the “pitch and push” the legislation was waiting for from the highest office.

There was a tacit admission that notwithstanding home minister L.K. Advani’s determination to enact the Ordinance into law, unless Vajpayee was keen, nothing would be done.

The other source of relief for the BJP was the possible burial of the coffin. Though sources said the party had no love lost for George Fernandes, they felt that it was a case of being stuck with a “bone we can neither swallow or spit”.

Removing Fernandes yet again, and that too just a month after he was reinducted, was untenable, they felt.

But with the Opposition still determined to stick to its anti-Ordinance stance, the government may have to answer uncomfortable questions relating to today’s attack.

The most important was, since the Ordinance was already operative, how were terrorists allowed to have the run of way in Parliament, especially since Advani himself spoke of the complex being on the al Qaida’s hit list just two days ago?


New Delhi, Dec. 13: 
I reached the Lok Sabha press gallery just a minute before 11. Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi took his seat at 11 sharp and the Opposition members stood up, waving a CAG report and shouting, “Coffin chor, gaddi chhod”. Some BJP members tried to shout down the Opposition. It was business as usual. The House was adjourned for the day.

Some of us went up to the third floor to meet the CPM’s Somnath Chatterjee for details about an Opposition meeting on the coffin controversy. Chatterjee was not around. He had gone to attend a meeting between Opposition leaders and parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan that Balayogi had convened.

I saw Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav outside his party office, standing with his MPs. He said he would speak on the coffin controversy and the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance after the meeting. I met CPI MP Ajay Chakraborty who was coming out of his party office. It was 11.45 am, just another day in Parliament.

Then I heard a noise – a staccato burst. Crackers? But the sound didn’t stop. I rushed to a window. The sound had scared the pigeons, now flapping in frenzied circles around the magnificent Central Hall dome. A few seconds later, there was a blast. Then silence. Then the staccato burst started again, followed by another explosion. These were no crackers.

MPs, Parliament staff, everyone started running. No one knew what had happened. But everyone was running, and asking: “What’s happening?”

Maybe, it was like that hijack, a mock drill, someone suggested. No one could have believed that militants had struck at the heart of India’s democracy.

The firing continued and two more loud thuds followed in quick succession. This could not be a security drill. The noises were too real, too menacing.

People now panicked and began running but the lifts were full, the staircases far away. I managed to squeeze into a lift which took us to the first floor. By then, the ground floor, which houses the offices of the Prime Minister, home minister, Speaker, Rajya Sabha chairman, Opposition leader and a host of other senior ministers, was cordoned off.

When we got off the lift, security personnel rushed us to the officers’ gallery and said we could not leave till further orders. I tried to contact our office, but the phones were jammed. Then I heard the sound of another explosion – the fifth one.

Congress MP Raju Parmar appeared calm. He suggested somebody was firing at birds.

After being holed up in the gallery for about half-an-hour, a security official came and announced that Pramod Mahajan wanted all MPs and ministers to assemble at the Central Hall. A narrow staircase inside connected us to the Central Hall. I sneaked into the hall with the MPs.

The Central Hall was nearly full, and very tense. Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jailtey, Venkaiah Naidu, O. Rajagopal, Ajit Singh, Pranab Mukerjee, Somnath Chatterjee, Madan Lal Khurana, Amar Singh, P.H. Pandian — they were all there.

Most of the leaders were talking to their relatives over cellphones, telling them it was all right and there was nothing to worry. Some were watching on TV what was going on outside. Khurana was chatting and laughing. Swaraj was on her cell, so was Chatterjee.

Word spread that one badly injured militant had run towards Raisina Road, four had been shot dead, but one might have sneaked inside and hiding inside the Parliament complex. This was clear and present danger. More panic.

At 12.10 pm, Mahajan came with some basic information. “Half-a-dozen militants,” he said, “had made the bid. Of them four have been killed. A couple of our securitymen have also been killed.” He said we had to wait for at least an hour to enable a search operation.

Five minutes later, he came again looking for Aaj Tak editor Prabhu Chawla, who was on his cell giving directions to his staff outside. Mahajan requested Chawla to direct his channel to announce that all ministers and MPs were safe. He was then heard asking an aide to contact Rajdeep Sardesai for a similar announcement on Star News.

In the meantime, L.K. Advani and George Fernandes, who were also holed up inside, held a meeting in Mahajan’s room.


New Delhi, Dec. 13: 
L.K. Advani, the BJP strongman and home minister, will now be in the line of fire.

As the man responsible for internal security, Advani and his team failed to guard the Parliament complex, which, as a symbol of state power, was an obvious target for terrorists. Ironically, the white Ambassador in which the attackers stormed inside had a home ministry and Parliament sticker on the windscreen.

Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav has demanded the resignations of Advani, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and defence minister George Fernandes.

The Left parties talked of a security lapse and blamed the government for not taking enough precaution, while the Congress Working Committee is taking stock of the situation.

A lot will depend on how the government handles the situation. The call for resignation may gather momentum but could well lose steam, depending on public mood and how the ruling alliance responds to it.

Advani and his team are trying to turn the tables on the Opposition, which had failed to take the terrorist threat seriously. The home minister has already spoken of a wide-spread conspiracy linked to the arrest of Mohammed Afroz by Mumbai police. Afroz, according to the home minister, had links with Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida and had revealed the network’s plan to attack Parliament as well as the British and Australian Houses.

The Vajpayee government has made the fight against terrorism a principal plank of both its foreign and domestic policy. Since September 11, the government has spent hours discussing the heightened terrorist threat to the nation and how best to combat it.

Yet, despite anticipating this kind of a strike, more so after the attack on the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, the government failed to plug the holes.

In his first comments to a TV channel after the suicide attack, Advani was on the defensive. He said fidayeen attacks of this nature were difficult to stop and that former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated at home despite security. He also spoke of the September 11 attack on the Pentagon, the defence headquarters of the world’s only superpower.

The government says the damage could have been greater but for the fact that the police were prepared. “After all, the attempt was not successful. The security forces repulsed the attackers and none of the terrorists could actually get into Parliament House. They were stopped on the grounds near the gate,” a senior intelligence official said.

Asked whether intelligence agencies should have been more vigilant considering the information the government had about a likely attack by terrorists, the official explained: “We get hundreds of tip-offs, some are rubbish, others are followed up. It is not possible always to pinpoint the exact timing and location.”

Few in the government are willing to acknowledge the weakness of India’s intelligence agencies. Whether it was the Kargil infiltration or today’s attack, information on the ground is generally both sketchy and off the mark.


New Delhi, Dec. 13: 
Thursday is Prime Minister’s day in the Rajya Sabha, when he answers questions. But today, Atal Bihari Vajpayee did not attend the Upper House. He was told that the Opposition would stall proceedings once again over the coffin scam, forcing an adjournment.

So, Vajpayee sat glued to TV to see what the Opposition was up to. He didn’t have to wait long. In a couple of minutes, the House was adjourned.

A relieved Prime Minister then gave audience to senior BJP leader Madan Lal Khurana, who was waiting to meet him with a list of complaints against fellow BJP men in Delhi.

What the terrorists knew was that it was the Prime Minister’s day at the Rajya Sabha – the reason, perhaps, why they targeted Gate 12.

But what they hadn’t bargained for was that the Prime Minister wouldn’t attend, anticipating an adjourned House.

One of the terrorists, a human bomb, could have sneaked inside, had he not been challenged. The entry to the Prime Minister’s Office, adjacent to the Lok Sabha, entry point is from the heavily-guarded Gate 5. One terrorist was shot dead outside this gate as the militants ran with policemen hot on their heels.

Congress president and leader of Opposition Sonia Gandhi was in the Lok Sabha dot at 11 and left the House as soon as it was adjourned. She drove straight to 10, Janpath.

When the first gunshots were heard, barring Vajpayee and Sonia, almost all senior Cabinet ministers and Opposition leaders were inside the House.

Oblivious to what was going on outside, Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi was holding a meeting of Opposition leaders, including Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, Shivraj Patil, Somnath Chatterjee, Mulayam Singh Yadav and parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan to find a way out of the impasse over the coffin scam. Vice-President and Rajya Sahba chairman Krishan Kant was also in his office.

When reality sank in, senior Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee said: “They are trying to prove that if they can strike the Pentagon, they can also strike Indian Parliament.… It should enhance our determination to fight terrorists.”

Sushma Swaraj said there was no panic. The response was good and retaliation quick.

L.K. Advani said they targeted the “supreme democratic institution”. “It will prove costly for them. They will have to pay a heavy price.”

George Fernandes said the attack was not unexpected as intelligence inputs said Parliament could be targeted. Somnath Chatterjee echoed him, but regretted that the information was not shared with Parliament.


New Delhi, Dec. 13: 
Hours after the attack on Parliament, divisions continued to run deep between the government and the Opposition on the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance.

Sonia Gandhi summoned an emergency session of the Congress Working Committee, which concluded that the anti-terror law has proved ineffective.

“The Ordinance has been in operation for the last seven weeks. Today’s attack has once again highlighted the inefficacy of the Ordinance,” Congress spokesman Jaipal Reddy said.

“It happened in spite of the Ordinance,” Reddy added, making it clear that there was no change in the Congress’ stand on the Ordinance.

The CWC criticised home minister L.K. Advani for not pre-empting the strike despite being alerted by Mumbai police of an earlier plot by the al Qaida. A section of the CWC wanted to demand Advani’s resignation but the old guard vetoed it on the ground that such a demand would be inappropriate when the nation was collectively addressing a crisis.

Condemning the attack, a CWC resolution said: “This incident brings out a monumental security and intelligence failure, particularly highlighted by the fact that the government had previous information about a possible terrorist on Parliament.”

The Congress plans to go all out against the government on the “stark intelligence failure”. It has no plans to give up the “coffin scam”, though many leaders admitted in private that it had lost a “lot of bite”.

The rest of the Opposition, too, is sharpening its claws and will highlight the government’s failure to use the Ordinance. “What is the point of ratifying the Ordinance when the government cannot even prevent an attack on Parliament?” asked an Opposition leader.

The CPM, however, did not echo Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav’s demand that the Prime Minister, the home minister and the defence minister should quit.

If anybody has benefited from today’s attack, it is defence minister George Fernandes, who was at the receiving end of the coffin scandal. The Union minister will have some breathing space now.


Calcutta, Dec. 13: 
Today’s terror assault on Parliament has helped chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to rally support for a Bill against organised crime that he was forced to shelve.

In a swift move, primarily aimed at the critics of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act, Bhattacharjee unveiled in the Assembly plans to raise a crack force to combat terrorism.

The 1,400-strong force dedicated to combating terrorism will be made up of two battalions, the first of which will be located in the industrial town of Durgapur. It will be used to contain the violent activities of the various groups active in agrarian districts like Midnapore, Bankura, Purulia, Jalpaiguri, Cooch Behar and Darjeeling.

“But one battalion is not enough to combat growing terrorism or organised crime in our state. Still, it will help us to control terrorism to some extent,” Bhattacharjee said, replying to a question from the Opposition.

Even though the CPM-led government and Delhi often clash on ideological grounds, the two are devising strategies together to counter terrorism and organised crime, Bhattacharjee said, adding that the Centre is going to underwrite the cost of raising of the first battalion at an estimated Rs 13 crore.

Today’s terror attacks enabled Bhattacharjee to ride out the Opposition challenge even before it began. Sensing that the timing was wrong, the no-confidence motion proposed by the Opposition at the instance of Trinamul Congress was dropped.

“We did not want to present any sign of fissures within the polity,” Trinamul leaders said.

Bhattacharjee’s breather, however, was just that – a breather. The lobby opposed to the allegedly “unnecessary” set of rules – most Left Front partners like the Forward Bloc and the CPI and important CPM leaders, including Front chairman and CPM politburo member Biman Bose and CPM peasants’ wing leader Benoy Konar, are sticking to their stand – is showing no signs of backing down. They are receiving unexpected support from the Trinamul Congress-led Opposition within the Assembly.

Their argument: the very necessity of the state Act is questionable as the Centre is already formulating a similar law which will be implemented through the respective state governments.

Bhattacharjee, without getting into any debate about the Act which he deems necessary to tackle organised crime and terrorism within the state, talked tough within the Assembly.

“My government would combat terrorism at any cost,” he said, announcing the setting up of a special battalion to combat terrorism.

“They (the Centre) will provide us with the entire fund to the state government for setting up the battalion, which will be a part of the special force the state government is going to set up with Central assistance.”


Calcutta, Dec. 13: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s two-day tour programme in West Bengal remains unchanged, according to information received at Writers’ Buildings this evening.

The Prime Minister will arrive at Calcutta airport at 10 pm tomorrow by a special flight. He will drive straight to Raj Bhavan. Vajpayee will leave for Santiniketan at 10 am on Saturday by a helicopter to attend the convocation at Visva-Bharati.

Gabbar aide: Pappu, a close associate of Md Rashid Alam alias Gabbar, was arrested late tonight from his Taltala residence. Pappu is also a neighbour of Calcutta’s most wanted man.


New Delhi, Dec. 13: 
Normally the grounds outside Parliament overlooking the North and South Blocks appear peaceful. Today they were crawling with armed personnel and media persons, barely a kilometre away from Parliament, which was under siege.

From noon, 20 minutes after a suicide squad of terrorists pounded Parliament with bullets, till three in the afternoon, all eyes had been riveted on Parliament, which looked deceptively calm belying the panic and commotion inside.

On the grounds outside Parliament, there were visible signs of panic with the police asking reporters to step back for cover, as one of the terrorists was still alive. “He could be hiding inside,” said a police officer.

Virtually every security agency was present outside Parliament. Truckloads of armed personnel from the Delhi Police, CRPF, CISF, BSF, NSG and the army drove up to the gates.

The area was cordoned off and the police had blocked almost all roads leading to Parliament. Mobile phones had been jammed. In the midst of all this activity, as people were waiting to hear the “inside” story, Congress MP Renuka Chowdhury arrived and made the most of the media attention. Delighted to see an MP, reporters rushed to Chowdhury who spoke as if she had been a witness to the operation.

But Chowdhury had been nowhere near the premises when the bullets drilled holes into Parliament walls. “Five of the terrorists have been killed,” she said. Chowdhury bustled around hoping to grab her share of the publicity as the police asked mediapersons to “co-operate with the police and the MPs”.

There was one MP who had managed to flee the spot just in time. BJP MP K.B. Swain was about to leave the premises following adjournment of the Lok Sabha within five minutes of the beginning of the morning session, when all hell broke loose.

“I had almost reached the gate when I heard shots. At first I thought they were crackers. Then I heard the police shouting atankvadi, bhago! (terrorists, run),” Swain said.

He said he took cover behind a pillar and was joined by some of the watch staff. “The noise kept growing louder and then grenades exploded,” said Swain, adding that the security personnel asked him to run out of the premises. “I will tell you frankly, I am not a brave person and I ran to save my life,” he added.

As the day wore on and the panic subsided following news that all five terrorists had been shot dead, the babus from nearby offices started ambling in, munching peanuts. By four in the afternoon, the Parliament lawns were once again teeming with curious bystanders and mediapersons sitting and chatting.

But the police was still on alert, as they believed one of the terrorists was still lurking about somewhere. “Abhi bhi andar hain ,” said a policeman.


New Delhi, Dec. 13: 

Unity call to battle terror

Staggering from the impact of this morning’s attack on Parliament, the Vajpayee government decided to put up a brave front with its assertion of “liquidating” the terrorists and their sponsors.

The government hinted that the Opposition should refrain from politicising the issue and stressed that the need of the hour was “for all us to remain united.”

“The nation accepts the challenge. We will liquidate the terrorists and their sponsors wherever they are, whoever they are — as our valiant security forces have done in this particular instance,” home minister L.K. Advani read out from the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) resolution at a press conference this evening, almost echoing Vajpayee’s address to the nation soon after the attack.

Within hours of the attack, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee convened, at his residence, the emergency CCS meeting that discussed at length the political and security implications of the attack. All senior ministers, including Advani, foreign minister Jaswant Singh, defence minister George Fernandes, as well as the chiefs of the armed forces and the heads of intelligence agencies and some bureaucrats, attended the meeting.

“The first requisite for the battle is that each of us be vigilant, and that all of us remain united. The assault is yet another reminder that each of us must measure the issue and take up the challenge that confronts the country,” the resolution said.

As the Opposition readied to criticise the “breach of security and intelligence failure”, Advani decided to build up his defences. He congratulated the security forces for “successfully thwarting” the terrorists.

Though Advani said the terrorists seemed to be foreigners, he refused to point a finger at anyone, particularly Pakistan.

Advani claimed that the government “had certain leads which will make it possible to unearth the entire conspiracy”.


New Delhi, Dec. 13: 
Pervez Musharraf today joined world leaders in condemning the suicide strike on Parliament, but a grim Atal Bihari Vajpayee sent out a clear signal that Delhi may be forced to take a tougher line against Islamabad as its patience is running out.

“Now the fight against terrorism has reached its last phase. We will fight a decisive battle to the end,” Vajpayee said this afternoon in a televised address to the nation.

Key global players rallied behind India, assuring help and support in its fight against the menace of terrorism. US President George W. Bush and Russia’s Vladimir Putin telephoned Vajpayee. Condemning the assault, the two expressed their sympathies for the victims, official sources said.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said: “President Bush this morning called Prime Minister Vajpayee … to condemn the attack… The President also offered the assistance of the FBI and of the State Department counter-terrorist teams is so desired.”

British Prime Minister Tony Blair also slammed the attack.

Musharraf sent a personal message to Vajpayee. “I was shocked to learn about the attack earlier today by armed intruders on the Indian Parliament building in New Delhi,” the Pakistan President said in a message released both in New Delhi and Islamabad. “I have been saddened by the loss of life and injuries suffered by Indian security personnel.”

Expressing his condolences to the bereaved families, the military ruler said: “My government strongly condemns the attack. Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration.”

South Block officials have taken note of Musharraf’s description of the terrorists as “armed intruders”. Though he did not call them terrorists, the general refrained from describing them as “freedom fighters”.

None of the Indian leaders have so far accused Pakistan or any other country by name. But Delhi has warned it would go after the terrorists and their sponsors. In Indian diplomatese it should be read as Pakistan.

Though there is nothing to suggest that India will finally go ahead with “hot pursuit” against Pakistan-based terrorists, Vajpayee’s rhetorical remarks gives the impression that India is thinking of a tougher line against Pakistan.

However, at a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security, chaired by the Prime Minister, it was decided that India will not jump to any conclusion and start pointing fingers at Pakistan as it had done in the past.

This does not mean Delhi is ruling out the possibility of Pakistani involvement in the attack. On the contrary, it is certain that the military leadership in Islamabad, Musharraf’s message notwithstanding, is behind the terrorists. However, the government has decided to wait a few days more and allow investigations to be complete before making out a case against its neighbour.

“We have enough evidence, but we want to be absolutely sure before holding any one responsible for this attack,” a senior government official added.

Jammu blasts

As many as 30 blasts rocked the international border in Akhnoor area of Jammu and Kashmir, but there was no casualty, according to a PTI report.

Twenty-one blasts were reported in Beli Azmat area of Akhnoor last night targeting mainly BSF personnel, official sources said. Nine blasts shook Razwar in Jammu sector, the sources added.

devices fitted with timers were planted along the border in Beli Azmat last night, targeting mainly BSF personnel. The IEDs exploded in brief intervals one after another.

The IEDs exploded in brief intervals one after another.


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