After freeze, Pak turns on heat
Body count mounts on border
RBI in chit fund scam shadow
Bengal corridor for Maoist fugitives
Thorns in the rhyme, not in roses
‘Iron man’ talks tough to bring back shine
Heartland goes online
Jailbreak diary exposes cross-border nexus
Lagaan lucky even with 13
Calcutta Weather

 
 
AFTER FREEZE, PAK TURNS ON HEAT 
 
 
FROM IDREES BAKHTIAR AND PRANAY SHARMA
 
Karachi/New Delhi, Dec. 25: 
A day after freezing the accounts of Lashkar-e-Toiba in a token gesture, President Pervez Musharraf appeared to be warming up to take tougher measures against terrorist outfits with India holding aloft the spectre of war.

The general returned home from a visit to China to warn that “no bigoted extremist will be allowed to derail us”. His strong words were backed up by action as the leader of Jaish-e-Mohammad, Masood Azhar, was today detained in his house near Bahawalpur in Punjab.

India has demanded the arrest of the leaders of Lashkar and Jaish, two jihadi outfits that it accuses of having a hand in the December 13 attack on Parliament. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee signalled to Musharraf that India was not satisfied with the freeze of Lashkar accounts since the group itself said it did not have any money in banks in its name.

India had expected Pakistan to take some visible action by Christmas, a call to which Musharraf appeared to be responding tentatively. “(The) vast silent majority should vow not to be voiceless passive onlookers to our internal destruction. We must act in unison,” he said at a ceremony to mark the 125th birth anniversary of Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

The general was referring to the threat Pakistan itself faced from fundamentalist outfits. “We are confronted with internal and external challenges. But let me assure my countrymen that your armed forces are fully prepared to and capable of defeating all challenges.”

In Islamabad, Rashid Qureshi, spokesman for the military regime, confirmed Masood Azhar, who recently floated Al-Furqan after the crackdown on Jaish, had been placed under house arrest. But no one was taking calls at his residence and his cellphone was switched off.

India had demanded that Pakistan close down the offices of Lashkar and Jaish, arrest their leaders and cut off their finances. It turned up the pressure today on Musharraf to crack down on the terrorist outfits with Vijay Nambiar, the recalled ambassador to Pakistan, saying: “If he is taking action, some of it must be visible to the Indian people.”

He said a war could not be ruled out but emphasised that there were ways of avoiding it. “One hopes one does not reach that stage but the indications are not very good,” Nambiar told Reuters before leaving Islamabad.

Vajpayee, celebrating his birthday today, said: “We do not want war but it is being thrust on us. We have to face it.”

“We have stated that this time the fight should be such that it should be the last on the issue of terrorism,” he said.

Behind the militant language lay the barely-hidden assurance that India still intended to settle the crisis through diplomatic means.

Vajpayee expressed hope that the international community would be able to mount enough pressure on Musharraf for him to act against the terrorist outfits. “We have other weapons in our quiver. Taking into consideration the time frame and the results, we are moving ahead step by step,” he said.

Indications suggest India may downsize its Islamabad mission further and ask Pakistan to do the same if Musharraf sat tight.

The Pakistan President stepped aside from anti-India rhetoric, except to quote from an interview Jinnah had given in 1948. Jinnah had said: “If India gives up its superiority complex, the two countries can resolve their vital differences.”

   

 
 
BODY COUNT MOUNTS ON BORDER 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Srinagar/New Delhi, Dec. 25: 
Two Indian and 13 Pakistani soldiers were killed in an exchange of mortar and heavy machine gun fire as a Pakistani army official described the situation on the border as sitting on a knife-edge that could spin out of control any time.

Defence sources in Jammu claimed 13 Pakistani soldiers died and 18 of their bunkers were destroyed in retaliatory strikes by Indian troops along the Line of Control in the Jammu-Poonch sector. Two Indian soldiers were killed and two people, including a woman, were wounded in the exchanges in the Samba sector as hundreds of civilians fled the area.

Indian defence sources said that for the fourth consecutive day today, Pakistani soldiers shelled positions in Noushera, Laam, Bhawani, Kerni, Bhimbergali, Balakote, Krishnagati, Gambhir, Poonch and Mendhar, forcing retaliatory fire.

One truck and 11 houses were damaged and an ex-serviceman was wounded. The houses went up in flames in Gallard village along the border. Kerni in Poonch sector saw intense exchange of fire. Defence officials said firing was continuing in Samba and Hiranagar sectors of Jammu.

A senior Pakistani army officer told Reuters the situation was “highly explosive” and continued border clashes could spark an uncontrollable flare-up involving nuclear weapons.

A PTI report quoted Indian defence officials as claiming that Pakistan has deployed medium-range ballistic missile batteries along the LoC in the Jammu and Poonch sectors. “We apprehend that Pakistan’s strategic units may use ballistic missiles in Jammu sector. We are keeping a close watch,” the sources said.

   

 
 
RBI IN CHIT FUND SCAM SHADOW 
 
 
FROM DEVADEEP PUROHIT AND ANIEK PAUL
 
Calcutta, Dec. 25: 
Investigations into the chit fund scam that broke in Calcutta and extends to Jamshedpur and Ranchi have revealed that the Reserve Bank had probed the accounts of Citi Securities — the key accused — as early as in August 2000 but had not disclosed the fact.

Citi Securities continued to carry on business after the investigation till its promoter was picked up last month following a complaint of default by an investor.

Police are now examining the role of certain RBI officials in the case. The central bank had never revealed that an investigation had been carried out by it. Investors were offered 10-12 per cent monthly returns on their money by Citi and other chit funds.

That the RBI had conducted a probe came to light when the police seized from the office of Citi an RBI memorandum of August 10, 2000, assigning an officer, G.C. Biswal, to carry out an inspection of the accounts. Biswal confirmed that the investigation took place.

In January this year, Calcutta police sought the RBI’s help. “We requested the RBI to investigate. But the central bank said through a letter dated February 9 that it could not initiate action suo motu against any such firm as they did not come under its regulatory purview,” Calcutta police investigators said.

N.C. Chakraborty, deputy general manager of the department dealing with non-banking finance companies in RBI, said: “The investigation (in August) took place by mistake. Chit funds and unregistered finance companies do not come under our purview and hence cannot be probed by us.”

He, however, conceded that the investigation took place on a specific complaint. Asked if the central bank had informed the police about the complaint, he said, “We did”, but admitted it was not before a year later.

Towards the end of 2000, the central bank sent a letter to the Calcutta Stock Exchange (CSE) asking it to investigate the chit funds. “They had received complaints from some trade unions, which they redirected to us,” said a CSE surveillance official.

Soon after the RBI investigation, the chit funds altered their mode of operation. “The firms started claiming that they traded in equities. The point was to steer clear of RBI’s domain,” said a police officer.

The police also said Sanjib Kapur — Citi Securities proprietor — had admitted during interrogation that the suggestion came from his lawyer who had interacted with RBI officials during the investigation. In November, the police again sought the RBI’s cooperation. They were told that the RBI had to follow an elaborate process of sending a decoy to determine if these firms were cheating people.

   

 
 
BENGAL CORRIDOR FOR MAOIST FUGITIVES 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, Dec. 25: 
Maoist leaders on the run from Nepal are using a transit corridor in north Bengal to reach safe-haven camps run by north-eastern extremists in Bhutan jungles.

Two top Maoist leaders, including a 25-year-old woman, are learnt to have pitched camp in Darjeeling, from where they are monitoring the progress of the cadre’s escape to Bhutan.

A senior intelligence official said an area commander of the Maoists’ military wing, Chatraman Singh Rajvanshi, and its women’s wing secretary, Dharma Sheela, slipped into India on December 5 and are being sheltered by sympathisers in Darjeeling.

“We have information that a woman leader of a Maoist frontal organisation based in Kadamtala on the outskirts of Siliguri has been providing shelter to the two Maoist rebel leaders. The trio is believed to be moving from one hideout to another,” the official said.

Intelligence sources said the flow from Nepal started in November after an army crackdown on the Maoists, who pushed the kingdom into a civil war.

The sources said at least a dozen Maoist lieutenants have reached the camps in Bhutan over the past few weeks. Several middle-rung leaders have slipped into north Bengal.

The Bhutan camps are operated by the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa), a component of the newly-forged “umbrella” of insurgent groups in the region. Besides the Nepal Communist Party (Maoists), the confederation includes the north Bengal-based Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) and the National Democratic Front of Boroland, which operates in Assam.

Most of the camps are located around the Kalikhola tri-junction on West Bengal-Assam-Bhutan borders .

But increased activity by Indian forces along the border and pressure from the Bhutan government have forced the Ulfa to shift the camps to Udangnala in the east.

Udangnala has become not only a sanctuary for the Maoists but also a training hub. The hideout is complete with a secluded firing range “the size of a football field on the forested banks of a river”, an intelligence official said.

Investigators have identified an unmanned trail near the Darjeeling Hills, known as the Jaldhaka route, as one of the porous areas being used by the Maoists. The officials have identified four KLO operatives who are acting as the main “guides” of the Maoists.

   

 
 
THORNS IN THE RHYME, NOT IN ROSES 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA AND RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Dec. 25: 
The roses were there, but the war was waged with verse.

The poet-Prime Minister, who had expressed the depths of his loneliness in his much-quoted poem Unchayee (the height), had for company on his birthday a President, three former Prime Ministers and numerous poets.

A Prime Minister-hopeful sent her greetings over the phone — an instrument that has brought Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Sonia Gandhi closer in recent times.

But politicians took a backseat as the poets took over to rattle the mighty pen at the “adversary-cum-potential enemy”during a kavi sammelan organised to fete Vajpayee, who turned 78 today. The day was celebrated in Pakistan, too — Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s birth anniversary falls on Christmas Day.

The ‘kavi samrat’ neither raised his voice nor pointed fingers but picked his lines with care this evening. “Aakhir sahne ki bhi seema hoti hain. Bhole Shiv ka bhi kabhi netra khool jaati hain (There is a limit to endurance. Even the unworldly Shiva’s eyes open sometimes to see what is happening).”

The lines were penned when terrorism was beginning to strike roots in Jammu and Kashmir. “The situation has not changed. I do not know whether we are reaching the end of our tether or not,” he said.

There was more. “Na dinata dikhayenge. Na maidaan chhor ke jayenge (Neither are we going to show humility nor are we going to run away).

Kisi chunauti ke sammookh ham jhoonke nahin (We have never bowed before a challenge).

Toot sakte hain lekin jhook nahin sakte (We can break but we will not bend).”

The “enemy” hovered on the horizon, but the sammelan was packed with well-wishers. Home minister L.K. Advani took the lead in singing the hosanna.

“The country needs a leader like Vajpayee — someone who, even though committed to a particular ideology, can embrace all others,” said the home minister, often in the news for perceived differences with the Prime Minister.

Former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao read from Vajpayee’s translated book of poems.

“I was invited to a kavi sammelan. But here Vijay Goelsaab (the organiser) tells me that Atalji has come to spend the evening with poets. Then what am I doing here ?” asked the Congress’ last Prime Minister.

The next aspirant-in-waiting did not wait till the evening. Sonia rang up Vajpayee in the morning to wish him “a long and happy” life.

The telephone lines between 7 Race Course Road and 10 Janpath have been busy this month. First, Vajpayee called up from Japan to greet Sonia on her birthday on December 9.

Four days later when Parliament was attacked, Sonia dialled her mobile to enquire about Vajpayee’s well-being, prompting an unparalleled expression of gratitude by the Prime Minister in the House.

Vajpayee again called her up to inform her that the Indian envoy to Pakistan was being recalled. Sonia extended full support.

   

 
 
‘IRON MAN’ TALKS TOUGH TO BRING BACK SHINE 
 
 
FROM SEEMA GUHA
 
New Delhi, Dec. 25: 
Home minister L.K. Advani is pushing hard to make the Centre take a tough line against Pakistan, hoping this will boost the BJP’s image, which is sagging after two years of lacklustre governance.

Regarded by the BJP as the man who takes after Sardar Patel, Advani is keen on getting back some of the shine the party has lost. The BJP, which sees itself as a party that believes in a strong state, feels the attack on Parliament could be just the opportunity it was looking for to revive its image.

Since the attack, Advani’s public profile has zoomed. He is the man who articulates the government’s policy before television cameras and is seen setting the public pace as war clouds loom over the subcontinent.

Party hardliners find it hard to live down that a BJP government let off Jaish-e-Mohammad leader Masood Azhar at the height of the Kandahar hijack crisis. What is more, the three freed militants were escorted to Kandahar by foreign minister Jaswant Singh.

The BJP knows well that its image cannot take another such show of weakness. After December 13, the party has no choice but to act. It has kept up the pressure on the government since.

Uttar Pradesh BJP leaders believe the state elections can be won if the Centre can force Pakistan to blink. If Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf refuses to play ball, military action is the only option, hardliners said.

Advani made the same point today when he said Pakistan had long sponsored terrorism against India. Those responsible “will have to pay,” he told reporters. “The government and the people of India do not want war. What they want is an end to terrorism,” Advani said.

The minister put the ball squarely in Pakistan’s court. The message the government has conveyed to Musharraf right through last week was: act against terrorists or face action.

Advani feels this is the time to take a strong stand against terrorism. Since the December 13 attack, he has raised the rhetoric against Pakistan and terrorism to fever pitch. He believes that unless the government shows some spunk, the party has no future. If India play its cards right and is able to nail Pakistan, terrorism can be reduced by a considerable degree.

Since the September strike on the World Trade Center, international opinion has overwhelmingly been against terrorism. No country sponsoring terrorists can escape global censure.

“The situation has developed in a manner now to make it possible for India, with the support of the world opinion, to force Pakistan to abandon terrorism as an instrument of state policy,” Advani said.

Dealing with terrorist outfits is “not much of a problem”, but when a state sponsors terrorism and adopts it as a policy, “then difficulties arise”, he added.

India can force Pakistan to stop using terrorism as “an instrument of state policy” with the help of world opinion against the menace”, the home minister said. “The government and the people of India do not want war. What they want is an end to terrorism.”

Advani ruled out giving evidence on the Parliament attack to Islamabad. “We are not going to share evidence with Pakistan after they levelled preposterous allegations that the terrorist strike was carried out by our agencies.”

   

 
 
HEARTLAND GOES ONLINE 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, Dec. 25: 
The Uttar Pradesh government today presented an expensive — and elaborate — “gift” to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who turned 78 today.

The Prime Minister today “video-inaugurated” a Software Technology Park of India centre in Lucknow and a video conferencing link-up. Bureaucrats feel the network, which would connect all the 70 districts of the state, will make the job of future chief ministers easier.

District magistrates can now provide the chief minister with the information he wants without having to rush to the capital.

“Officers in districts can now interact with the chief minister at the click of a mouse,” an officer said.

It would make things easier for district magistrates of places like Agra or Mathura, which are at least 10 hours from Lucknow, he added.

Most ministers and bureaucrats are looking forward to the link-up. “The facility will not only save a lot of money that is wasted on fuel and the bureaucratic entourage but will also be a great help in times of an emergency,” chief minister Rajnath Singh said.

The government has also commissioned an “international gateway” that would enable entrepreneurs to access high-speed data communication from other countries. An 8,000-square-feet area has been cleared for the software park project.

   

 
 
JAILBREAK DIARY EXPOSES CROSS-BORDER NEXUS 
 
 
FROM MUNTAZIR IMAM
 
Patna, Dec. 25: 
The recovery of a diary from the possession of slain gangster Akshat Singh has brought to light links his gang had with criminal elements in Bangladesh. Singh and his associates had plans to escape to Bangladesh, the diary discloses.

A phone number of a minister was also found in the diary.

Singh was one of the eight inmates of Nawada jail who escaped on Sunday after snatching a rifle from a sentry at the gate during visiting hours. Earlier reports, quoting police sources, said the eight criminals escaped in a jeep parked outside.

The police had launched a massive manhunt to arrest and eventually gunned down three of the escaped prisoners, including Singh and Ashok Mahto, the main accused in the massacre of 12 upper caste villagers in Apshar village in Nawada district last year.

The diary gives detailed information on the plan to flee to Bangladesh. The escapees had decided to go to Bokaro in a Tata Maxi provided by associates who had helped in the jailbreak.

Nawada superintendent of police J.S. Gangwar said the Tata Maxi was from Bokaro.

The diary reveals that after reaching Bokaro, the criminals had plans to go to Sealdah, in Kolkata, from where they were to proceed to Bongaigaon in Assam by train. The plan in the diary indicates that a large network of criminals operating in Bihar, West Bengal and Bangladesh had helped in chalking out the escape route. From Bongaigaon, Singh and his associates were to proceed to the Bangladesh border by rickshaw.

The diary also divulges that the fugitives planned to go to Bangladesh under the direction of Singh.

Police said the Tata Maxi carrying the escapees met with an accident before it could cross the boundaries of Nawada. The criminals then snatched a jeep from near the accident site and fled, but had to abandon the vehicle near the jungle of Kauakol hills where they were immediately surrounded by pursuing policemen led by the Nawada superintendent of police.

The police also arrested three of the dozen associates who had helped in the jailbreak and the subsequent escape. A massive manhunt is still under way to arrest those who are still at large.

Minister for labour Rajballabh Prasad Yadav, whose phone number was found in the diary, today told reporters that it was wrong to conclude that he had any links with criminals. He said he was a people’s representative and his phone number was available everywhere. He demanded a CBI enquiry into the jailbreak.

Yadav said he had gone to Calcutta on the day of the jailbreak to attend a wedding and had returned to Patna by Shatabdi Express the next day.

Taking exception to remarks that he had links with notorious criminals, Yadav said he was an MLA from the Nawada Assembly constituency while the criminals who escaped came from Warsaligunj Assembly segment of Nawada district.

Yadav also claimed he had a document that would throw light on the nexus between criminals and jail staff, which resulted in the jailbreak. He said he would publish the document on January 7, 2002, in a Hindi weekly he plans to launch on that day.

Minister for prisons Ashok Chaudhary and inspector-general (prisons) Harjot Kaur admitted that security lapses and the connivance of jail staff could not be ruled out.

   

 
 
LAGAAN LUCKY EVEN WITH 13 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, Dec. 25: 
Kachra stuck by Bhuvan on the cricket field today in much the same way he had done in Lagaan to help defeat the rival team and retaining the “honour” of Champaner.

The Lagaan 13, led by actor Aamir Khan, beat the Britannia XIII by three wickets in a promotional match at the Brabourne Stadium, held as much to keep the Lagaan coffers brimming as to keep the Lagaan fever alive.

Bhuvan’s victory — the lead character played by Khan — was sketched by none other than the disabled social outcaste he had drafted in his team in the film — Kachra, played by Aditya Lakhia.

Lakhia won the man of the match award at the end of the 25-over game, umpired by real-life captain and vice-captain of the Indian cricket team, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid.

He hit the balls hard as a batsman when he was not spinning them out magically as bowler.

Deva, the angry Sikh in Lagaan, thundered his way into rival territory, throwing off three wickets. Rajesh Vivek, the clean-shaven actor behind the bushy beard and turban, grinned ear to ear as he received the best bowler award.

Fantasy overtook reality the moment the game got off the ground. For one, each team comprised 13 players, giving the cricket rulebook a go by.

Khan said his team had to play with 13 players because the Britannia team had as many. As a result, director Ashutosh Gowariker and Amin Gazi, the boy who had played Tipu in the film, were included.

The Britannia team comprised 13 winners of a promotional contest, including two young girls and a boy. Winning the toss, the team opted to bat first. By the time all 13 members left the ground, the team’s score was 96.

Donning vests and dhotis, the Lagaan cast ran about the ground throughout the innings in a replay of the film, as they struggled to block the stream of runs.

With his Lagaan haircut, Khan, his biceps rippling, opened the innings with Rajesh Vivek. Khan had logged 19 runs by the time Ganguly ruled him out.

Gowariker, who had prodded Khan to produce and act in the film, held his ground till the Lagaan cast was declared victorious. “It felt great playing the game. I did not get the chance to play in the film. I was busy directing then,” the director said.

Gowariker said the Lagaan cast had practised for two days, before taking the plunge. “It was a serious match and we put in our best effort.”

Khan said they had an offer to play at Calcutta’s famed Eden Gardens against a team led by none other than Sourav Ganguly. Sachin Tendulkar would also be part of the team.

“We are essentially actors, but there is a will to win and achieve the impossible,” said Khan, who returned from Los Angeles only yesterday morning, where he had gone to prepare the ground for Lagaan’s Oscar nomination.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 25.5°C (-2)
Minimum: 13.5°C (-1)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 91%,
Minimum: 41%

Sunrise: 6.21 am

Sunset: 4.54 pm

Today

Partly cloudy sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 13°C
   
 

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