Cadre in terror tract slam missing bosses
Army alert on Bhutan pushout
Bloc unity barb at CPM
Cop censured for ‘arresting’ innocents
Clinic shutdown
Gutter-scam burial to coffin
Chhattisgarh split stuns BJP brass
Envoy dinner to gauge mood of party
India multiple missions
BJP, Cong trade fire over blaze at mosque

 
 
CADRE IN TERROR TRACT SLAM MISSING BOSSES 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Belpahari, Dec. 20: 
CPM members from Naxalite-infested Bhulabheda and Banspahari have severely criticised the Midnapore district leadership for its “failure to protect them from the wrath of PWG activists”.

The members hit out at the district leadership, including secretary Dipak Sarkar, at a conference of the Belpahari local committee on Monday. Agitated that none of the district secretariat members were present as required, representatives of Bhulabheda and Banspahari branch committees and the Belpahari local committee spoke out against the leaders’ absence and their failure to “ensure their security in the wake of constant threats from PWG activists”.

“We are risking our lives to keep the organisation going, but there is no district secretariat member to listen to our grievances,” some branch committee members said. District CPM sources said district secretariat member Tarun Roy could not attend the conference due to his preoccupation at the state level.

The CPM members’ fury reached a crescendo when acting secretary of the Banspahari local committee, Himangshu Mahato, initiated a discussion on activities of the Opposition parties. They wondered why the district committee could not take suitable action to contain the Naxalite menace even after receiving detailed reports from the branch committees for the past few years.

The CPM delegates at the conference virtually pulled up Sarkar and Roy for leaving the condolence meeting of slain local committee secretary Sudhir Singh Sardar at Banspahari on December 12 in a hurry, even before a party workers’ procession reached the venue. “How can we fight the Naxalites if the district leaders leave us in the lurch?” they asked.

Local CPM legislator Sambhu Mandi also drew flak for his “failure to stand by the party workers and common people facing Naxalite threats”. The party representatives also slammed the police and accused them of harassing innocent people instead of apprehending hardened criminals.

   

 
 
ARMY ALERT ON BHUTAN PUSHOUT 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, Dec. 20: 
The army and police have stepped up vigil along the Assam-Bengal-Bhutan tri-junction at Kumargramduar in Jalpaiguri, fearing an exodus of Northeast and Kamtapuri militants from the Himalayam kingdom as the deadline for their expulsion draws near. The Royal Government of Bhutan has asked militants to leave their bases in the country by December 31 or face a military operation.

“The army has decided to man the porous border with its own personnel. It would be shoot-at-sight for those who defy orders,” an army officer said.

For several months now, a small army detachment has been posted at the Sankosh tea estate at Uttar Haldibari in Kumargram. Reputed to be a Kamtapuri hub, Kumargram gained notoriety in the run-up to the Assembly elections when Kamtapur Liberation Organisation separatists murdered several people in the area.

Military intelligence sources said as the deadline is drawing near, there is heightened activity in nine militant camps in the Sarbhang and Gelephu districts of Bhutan, which border Jalpaiguri. The Bhutan army deployed three battalions along the border with Assam and Bengal earlier this month. There are reports that United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) militants have sent secret notes to the Bhutanese administration, asking them to allow them to stay on “off-the-record” or face “dire consequences”.

Ten army camps have been set up on the hilly border stretch from Kalikhola in the south-west to Daifam in the south-east of Bhutan. “Due to Bhutanese pressure, ultras have abandoned over seven camps in the upper reaches of the Fisfshu jungles and are now concentrated along a 40-km stretch between Kalikhola and Shamdurpjhonkar. We apprehend that the militants might try to set up hideouts on the Indian side IN the dense jungles of the Kumargram-Jayanti-Dalshimpara belt,” said a senior intelligence officer.

“Kumargram remains the most sensitive area as the deadline approaches,” said a police officer from Kumargram. “That’s why the army has increased its activities here. We will only provide inputs and local-level information. We have done a recce of the belt recently to have a better lay of area if operations are mounted to flush out the militants,” he said on phone.

   

 
 
BLOC UNITY BARB AT CPM 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Dec. 20: 
The Forward Bloc today launched a veiled attack on the CPM, saying it was taking unilateral decisions at the political and administrative levels.

Without naming the CPM, Forward Bloc state secretary Ashoke Ghosh said this attitude would ruin Left Front unity. “Only harping on a better Left Front will not help. If there is no change in the (CPM’s) policy of running the government, the gram panchayats and the panchayat samities unilaterally, there will be disaster. I don’t want to point fingers at people, but we are part and parcel of the Left Front as is the Cabinet. It is our duty to act with responsibility,” he said at an open session of the party on the eve of its three-day state conference in the city.

He went as far as to say that the true threat to the Left Front was not from the Trinamul Congress, the Congress or the BJP.

“In Bengal, if we fail to take steps towards strengthening the Front immediately, we will not be able to save Bengal from the clutches of divisive, fundamentalist and ultra-Left forces like the PWG,” he added.

   

 
 
COP CENSURED FOR ‘ARRESTING’ INNOCENTS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Behrampore, Dec. 20: 
The sub-divisional judicial magistrate here served a showcause notice on a sub-inspector of Berhampore police station for producing six innocent persons as criminals.

Tapas Banerjee today produced 25 persons,wanted on different charges, in court. SDJM Suresh Viswakarma smelt a rat as the accounts of six persons did not match that of the police. On being grilled, the six men told him that Banerjee had picked them up from their houses and threatened to kill them if they refused to go to court. Police records showed they were innocent. The magistrate released the six after recording their statements.

Kalyani examination

BA, B.Sc and B.Com examinations of Kalyani University for 2002 will begin from May 3.

   

 
 
CLINIC SHUTDOWN 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Bolpur, Dec. 20: 
With only a couple of days left for pous mela, the Birbhum administration is in a fix after doctors here refused to attend to patients in private chambers during the four-day annual extravaganza.

Thirty doctors of the Bolpur sub-divisional hospital have decided to close their chambers for a week to protest against the manhandling of a colleague at the hospital on Monday. They said Dr Ashis Saha was assaulted in the hospital when he arrived to attend to two youths injured in a road accident. The mob alleged that Saha arrived late.

The administration is worried as thousands of tourists from across the state converge on Santiniketan for pous mela and nearly 1,500 of them fall ill daily during the fair. Most of them are attended to doctors in their private chambers.

“We will ensure full services in the hospital, and after hospital hours, patients will be treated in the emergency department that will remain open round the clock,” said hospital superintendent Manabendra Ghosh.

The administration also plans to open medical camps in and around the mela venue in association with the local clubs and NGOs to tackle the situation.

   

 
 
GUTTER-SCAM BURIAL TO COFFIN 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 20: 
Though the December 13 suicide strike on Parliament has buried the coffin scam for now, defence minister George Fernandes is not sitting idle. Tit-for-tat, he has begun scavenging the Congress backyard to put Sonia Gandhi in the dock.

In his efforts, Fernandes has come across a “gandha nullah (gutter)” scam allegedly involving Delhi chief minister Sheila Dixit, a “personal choice” of Sonia. Fernandes’ Samata Party had yesterday demanded Dixit’s resignation and Sonia’s apology on the issue.

The party promised more skeletons from the Congress cupboard in days to come. “If they think they can browbeat him (Fernandes) they are mistaken, the disinformation campaign against George sahab will not help,” said Fernandes confidant and Samata spokesperson Shambhu Shrivastwa.

The “gutter scam” also has elements of the coffin scam in it. While the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) had blamed the defence ministry for the coffin scam, the Lokayukta, another constitutional body, indicted the Delhi government for the sewer scam.

While the defence ministry was taken for a ride by a US firm in the casket scandal, the Delhi Jal Board was allegedly cheated by a US collaborator. While the Congress is demanding Fernandes’ resignation, the Samata wants Dixit to quit.

Fernandes had earlier downplayed the CAG report saying it was based on “hearsay”.

Shrivastwa alleged that a US firm took 50 per cent payment and disappeared in the gutter scam. Glass Fibre Reinforced Plastic (GRP) sewer lines (for sewer rehabilitation) designed and manufactured by Channeline (UK) was not used, flouting contract terms, and instead, inferior quality, locally made GRP, was used, Shrivastwa alleged.

“We are worried about terrorists. We are also worried about water-borne diseases. Forty per cent diseases are water-borne,” Shrivastwa said. “It is literally gutter-level, it is of gutter standard. Sheila Dixit is concerned over national security. Let her first clean the gandha nullahs”, Shrivastwa said. His party would keep the issue alive as it affects 1.25 crore people of Delhi, “their health, hygiene”.

The Lokayukta report alleged fraud, gross irregularity and corruption in contracts awarded by the Jal Board to Cemcon Builder, Werm India and Advanced Ocean Systems for sewerage repair and rehabilitation by “trenchless technology”.

Holding Dixit responsible for misappropriation of funds by the board, of which she is chairman, Shrivastwa said: “She has no business to continue in office.” Asked whether Fernandes will follow Dixit if she quits, Shrivastwa said the two issues were not related.

When the Opposition raised the issue after the Lokayukta report was tabled, instead of coming clean, the chief minister had raised national issues hurling accusations at Fernandes and Samata leader Jaya Jaitly, he said. The Samata leader came down heavily on the Congress for not letting Fernandes speak in the Lok Sabha. “Since March this year, Fernandes was not allowed to speak either on Tehelka or the so called CAG report,” Shrivastwa said.

“We are not running away from the truth. He is an MP, senior-most and elected nine times. Does he have a right to express his viewpoints? They are jittery because they know they will be demolished by him,” he added.

   

 
 
CHHATTISGARH SPLIT STUNS BJP BRASS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 20: 
The BJP, which has been gunning for Chhattisgarh chief minister Ajit Jogi, was stunned today when a third of its legislators broke away to float a new party.

The split in the BJP legislature party and the formation of the Chhattisgarh Vikas Party caught the high command napping.

Reports from Raipur indicated that the new party would eventually merge with the Congress. Its leader, Tarun Chatterjee, who represents Raipur rural, affirmed his faith in the leadership of Congress president Sonia Gandhi on television.

The breakaway MLAs met Speaker Rajendra Prasad Shukla after the split. Jogi was also present at the meeting.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was briefed about the developments by BJP president K. Jana Krishnamurthi and Madhya Pradesh veteran and former party president Kushabhau Thakre, the unofficial link between the BJP and the government. Party sources said Vajpayee was likely to indicate his “mind” tomorrow.

BJP general secretary Sunil Shastri said the leadership was awaiting details before initiating action against the errant legislators.

Two central ministers from Chhattisgarh, Ramesh Bais and Raman Singh, and senior MP Lakhiram Aggrawal were rushed to Raipur to prevent further defections. Rumours were rife that eight more MLAs were likely to join Chatterjee.

In the 90-member Assembly, the BJP had a strength of 35, which has now come down to 23. The Congress has 50 members.

An office-bearer admitted the BJP was taken by surprise. He charged Jogi with using “big money and ministerships” to lure the legislators and said the party’s base would not be affected by the desertions. “Because the MLAs have gone, it does not mean the party will be weak,” he said.

Chatterjee, who was elected leader of the new outfit, said he left the BJP because he was “treated badly” and felt “humiliated”. “We were feeling humiliated and sometimes we were even treated with suspicion,” he said. “I do not want to say anything about the BJP,” Chatterjee added.

Jogi was quoted as saying the breakaway MLAs would meet him very soon. “Only then will I know what their purpose is,” he said. The chief minister added that he had heard the dissidents say on television that they were unhappy with the BJP’s leadership and its policies and had confidence in Sonia’s leadership.

He stressed that since his government had a comfortable majority, it did not need a split in the BJP to make it stronger. “This only shows that people are fed up with the BJP at the state level and that is why there have been desertions in the party,” Jogi said.

This is the second time a BJP legislature party has broken up. The first was in Gujarat, where Shankersinh Vaghela had weaned away a chunk of the MLAs and installed himself as chief minister briefly.

A senior leader played down the dissidence, saying: “After all, we are also a mass-based party, so such things are bound to occur.”

In Chhattisgarh, the BJP had been gunning for Jogi from day one. They first insinuated that he was “anti-Hindu” because he was a Christian. When that campaign did not take off, word about him not being a tribal began to do the rounds.

The chief minister was elected on a reserved tribal seat which, ironically, was vacated by a BJP MLA.

   

 
 
ENVOY DINNER TO GAUGE MOOD OF PARTY 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 20: 
Miffed at the practice of “double-standards” on the condemnation of terrorism, BJP office-bearers and MPs are expected to convey the country’s “sentiments” on the December 13 attack on Parliament to US ambassador Robert D. Blackwill.

Blackwill has invited to dinner tonight the conveners of the BJP’s foreign and defence cells, Surinder Arora and former Lt Gen. Mallik respectively, general secretary Sunil Shastri and some MPs.

The dinner meeting was originally scheduled on December 6, but Blackwill postponed it because of an unexpected engagement. BJP sources said the US envoy had decided on the dinner meeting to “feel the pulse of the party”.

“We want retaliation, of course, and that means crossing the Line of Control and bombarding the terrorist camps in PoK. But we are also prepared to concede that the decision would ultimately have to be taken by the government at an appropriate time, depending on the weather and other circumstances,” said a BJP office-bearer.

The US ambassador’s dinner invite mentioned that the agenda was to discuss Indo-US relations after the Vajpayee-Bush summit, but BJP sources said the event of last Thursday and its fallout was likely to dominate the discussion.

The BJP was particularly peeved at the US for suggesting a joint probe with Pakistan into the Parliament attack, though both Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani had rejected the idea.

“They (the US) have nothing but their own interests at heart. They expect everyone to fall in line with their battle against terrorism but when it comes to others, the yardsticks are different,” sources said.

The party hopes that Blackwill would get the message that while the BJP was against rash action against Pakistan, it also wanted the US to enlarge the ambit of the international coalition against terrorism to include Pakistan-sponsored activities.

Though the BJP leadership was against linking the clamour for action against Pakistan with the elections in Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal and Punjab, sections of the party felt its traditional Hindutva constituency would be upset unless “something concrete was done”.

   

 
 
INDIA MULTIPLE MISSIONS 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Dec. 20: 
The Indian liaison office in Kabul will start functioning as an embassy from December 22, the day the interim government headed by Hamid Karzai formally takes charge of Afghanistan.

The Vajpayee government also plans to open consulates in Herat, Kandahar, Jalalabad and Mazar-e-Sharief. Earlier, India had only three consulates, the one in Mazar being the addition.

Officials say the consulates will help India establish and strengthen its links with Afghanistan. The consulates and the embassy in Kabul were shut in 1996 when the Taliban moved into the capital and took charge of the country. The consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif is being planned with an aim to reach out to the people of north Afghanistan.

It is not yet known who will lead the Indian delegation on December 22. Chances are it will be foreign minister Jaswant Singh. But it will also depend on the level of the representations of other countries, particularly the key international players.

The 30-member interim council will be sworn in on Saturday in the presence of a large number of world leaders. If Singh is unable to go to Kabul, the Indian team will be led by a junior minister.

Though the Indian embassy, and those of the other countries, start functioning from Saturday, South Block is yet to choose its ambassador to Afghanistan. Gautam Mukhopadhyay, a joint secretary level officer in the foreign ministry, who had been functioning as the liaison officer, may be designated as the deputy chief of mission. But indications suggest that Delhi may opt for someone more senior for the ambassador’s post. This decision will also depend on the kind of representatives the other countries choose as heads of their mission.

The swearing-in ceremony of the interim government will formally bring the United Nations Security Council sanctions on Afghanistan to and end. In the following weeks, not only will various countries move in with financial and other help to support the new regime revive civil life in the war-ravaged country, it may also see progress in other areas.

Delhi is hopeful that within a month or so of the interim government’s induction, the possibility of airlinks between Afghanistan and India will increase. Till last year, the Ariana Airways, the official carrier of Afghanistan, used to operate a flight between Kabul and Amritsar. But it had to be suspended after the Security Council imposed sanctions on the Taliban.

With the fall of the student militia in Kabul, officials here expect the airlinks between the two countries to be revived. Law and order and reconstruction of the country will be the top priorities, both of the Kabul regime and the international community.

   

 
 
BJP, CONG TRADE FIRE OVER BLAZE AT MOSQUE 
 
 
FROM FREDERICK NORONHA
 
Panaji, Dec. 20: 
Politicians in Goa are divided and defensive over the torching of a small mosque on Monday, the day Muslims were celebrating Id-ul-Fitr. The incident at Soccoro village, just outside Panaji, was perhaps the first such attack in decades in the peaceful state. Nobody has been arrested.

The opposition Congress has latched on to the issue to embarrass the ruling BJP, which has hit back questioning the Congress’ own record in maintaining religious amity.

The shrine was set aflame on the same night when two youths on a motorcycle had an accident with the vehicle of Union minister Shripad Naik in central Goa. In panic, his bodyguard had opened fire and rumours soon started circulating that the minister had been “killed”. The arson could have been some form of “retaliation”. Some local newspapers blew the incident, which now appears to have been a case of road rage, beyond proportion.

The incident has sent the politicians in a tizzy with former chief minister Wilfred de Souza, a one-time BJP ally and earlier a Congress leader, saying in Assembly: “An attack on a mosque has not happened for 500 years in Goa. That it has happened on the day of Id is shameful. If this is the way ahead, then God help Goa.”

Deputy Speaker Ulhas Asnodkar, in whose Aldona constituency the prayer hall was located, said these were “bad” incidents for Goa, and noted that such incidents “didn’t happen earlier”. Police and government should take special steps, he said.

Opposition leaders have targeted industries minister Shaikh Hassan Haroon. He is seen as a leader of Goa’s Muslim community, which forms around 5 per cent of the population. “Why are you bothered about the mosque? I’ll make a statement. You’re using it to pick on me,” he complained during a recent Assembly debate.

He said the “torching of the small mosque” was unfortunate, but added: “I have full faith in the government and the chief minister.”

   
 

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