Naxalite leaders in police net
Parishad to agitate against SFI ‘atrocities’
State boost to tribals’ employment
Official shows red-light way
Eviction drive at Sealdah
Basu thanks Centre for park land
Jaya cleared in coal case
After unity show, cracks appear in Punjab Cong
Big brother BJP slams door on new allies
Congress beats BJP in ticket race

Midnapore, Dec. 27: 
Police arrested eight top-ranking Naxalite leaders from different parts of Belpahari, following a combing operation by security forces, and recovered huge quantities of arms and ammunition from them.

The police have also demolished seven camps, in the dense forests of Jhargram subdivision, where the PWG used to provide arms training to its activists.

After the murder of CPM leader Sudhir Sardar and a National Volunteer Front jawan in Banspahari, the district administration beefed up security arrangements in Belpahari police station area and intensified combing operations.

Alarmed at the growing activities of the People’s War Group-Maoist Communist Centre combine in the district, the state government had directed the district administration to crack down on the Naxalites and provide security to the people. A special force consisting of state police, intelligence sleuths, Rapid Action Force jawans and bolstered by specially-trained personnel, was formed to track down Naxalite leaders and curb the activities of the rebels.

Working on a tip off, the special force arrested Amiya Kundu, a front ranking PWG leader last week from Bhalukbasa forest. Kundu’s interrogation had led to the arrest of other leaders. The investigating officers had also collected information on the whereabouts and future plans of the PWG.

The police said Kundu was the brain behind the murder of the CPM leader and had organised several attacks on CPM supporters. The PWG had also planned to kidnap some CPM supporters. The police have recovered from the PWG two diaries containing names and address of some CPM activists. “It has been established from the documents recovered from them that PWG activists have regular contact with the MCC in Nepal and PWG in Jharkhand,” said a senior district police officer.

Last week, security personnel, accompanied by Kundu, raided several areas, including Bhalukbasa, Rajabasa, Taldangra, and Bamundiha in Midnapore district and Mayurjharna, Kankrajhor, and Laljol in Banjura district, where the Naxalites have a strong presence. Seven PWG leaders were arrested during the raids.

The police also located seven camps, where PWG activists were imparted training in the use of firearms, explosives, and sharp-edged weapons. The camps were then demolished.

“PWG activists used to bring tribals to the camps either by threatening them or convincing them of better livelihoods. They were then used in attacks on the police and CPM supporters,” said a district police official.

District superintendent of police K.C. Meena said 10 police camps had been set up and policemen with sophisticated arms had been posted at different points in the region. Ten more camps would be set up soon, he added.


Calcutta, Dec. 27: 
The Chhatra Parishad has decided to launch a state-wide movement against alleged atrocities by CPM supporters on the students of Bengal Engineering College in Shibpur on Sunday.

In the first phase of the movement, a bandh would be called in educational institutions in Howrah in January, Parishad president Subhankar Sarkar said today. “If the administration fails to take action against the offenders even after the strike, a state-wide bandh in educational institutions will be called,” he added.

A delegation would hand over a memorandum to higher education minister Satya Sadhan Chakraborty alleging that members of the Students’ Federation of India, with the help of local CPM workers, were “torturing” Parishad members in B.E. College, the Parishad president said.

The unruly incidents of the last few days, especially the damaging of the vice-chancellor’s car and his manhandling him by some students, has come in for criticism. “The deemed university had witnessed a lot of untoward incidents in the past, but such crimes were never committed by the student,” said a resident of Shibpur.

Residents say the employees of the institution had a very good relation with the local people. They added that most students of the college have no connection either with the Chhatra Parishad or the SFI.

On Sunday night, a scuffle took place between some B.E. College employees and a section of the students. The students turned violent and allegedly damaged the vice-chancellor’s car. They also allegedly assaulted him.


Burdwan, Dec. 27: 
In a move aimed at generating employment opportunities among tribals in the state, the Burdwan district administration has set up a self-employment training centre exclusively for tribals at Kanksa.

Organised by the district police, the centre — the first of its kind in the state — was inaugurated yesterday by district superintendent of police B.N. Ramesh.

The centre will initially train 26 tribal youths for making masks for Chhow dance. Ramesh said on completion of the training, the youths would be provided financial assistanceand helped in producing the masks.

The Kulti Art Academy will provide the six-month training free of cost. “We are starting the centre with 26 tribal youths and later it will be increased to 150. Our move is to create job opportunity for the tribal youths, who are joining hands with extremist forces from frustration and poverty,” the SP said.


Chinsurah, Dec. 27: 
District magistrate Subrata Biswas and Hooghly superintendent of police N. Ramesh Babu chose to comply to the law before enforcing it. The duo dismantled red lights from 70 cars, but only after removing it from their own vehicles.

The home department, in a recent directive, had asked all district administrations to dismantle red lights from vehicles on which they had been fitted illegally. “We have sent to the district police chiefs a list of personalities who are entitled to use red lights on their cars and asked them to remove it from other cars. There are specific norms fixed up by the government of India for using red lights on cars,” said deputy-inspector general of police Narayan Ghosh.

Calcutta High Court had directed the state government to submit a report on steps being taken to dismantle red lights that had been fitted against norms. The government had assured the court that it was making all efforts to ensure that only those who were entitled to used red lights.

“We have followed the guidelines of the government and dismantled red lights from 70 vehicles that are not entitled to use it. The first vehicles from which red lights were removed were the DM’s and mine. We are also not entitled to use red lights on our vehicles,” Ramesh Babu said.

According to the government guidelines, in districts, only the sabhadhipati is entitled to use red light in his/her car. Ramesh Babu said he had already issued a directive to government offices and municipalities to dismantle red lights from the cars of chairmen.

“Several MLAs, BDOs, engineers, the PA to a minister and even councillors of municipalities use red lights in their cars. It is very unfortunate that despite several directives they did not dismantle it. Now we shall compel to take legal steps against them who will use red light in their vehicles illegally,” the police superintendent added.


Calcutta, Dec. 27: 
The state government will start an eviction drive on the approach road to Sealdah railway station on January 1 if the hawkers do not vacate the place by December 31, state urban development minister Ashok Bhattacharya said.

The proposed drive, which was to begin earlier this month, was postponed after Citu, the CPM’s labour wing, threatened to offer al-out resistance to any kind of eviction without a rehabilitation package.

Following the deadlock, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had asked the urban development minister to resolve the crisis through talks with transport minister Subhas Chakraborty and the Citu leadership.

A meeting was held in Bhattacharya’s chamber where Chakraborty, the man behind Operation Sunshine in 1996, and Citu leader Mrinal Das came to an agreement.

The hawkers had demanded that they should be provided alternative land and pleaded that the vacant land belonging to the Railways and the state transport department near Sealdah station is allotted to them. The government had assured them of a “sympathetic consideration”, but at the same time refused to accept any preconditions.

Bhattacharya said the chief minister had already given a green signal to evict the hawkers, if they did not vacate the place by December 31.

“Lakhs of commuters also suffer regularly because of the unauthorised structures. This has to stop,” he said.


Calcutta, Dec. 27: 
Former chief minister Jyoti Basu today thanked the Centre for giving land to build the Millennium Park, while inaugurating a two-day river festival.

Unveiling a string of projects to beautify the banks of the Hooghly, Basu said in the early 1980s he had requested the Centre for land. “Finally it is the new government at the Centre which gave us the land,” Basu added.

The festival has been organised by the CMDA at the Millennium Park to create awareness about the importance of the river. A cultural programme followed the inauguration.


Chennai, Dec. 27: 
Jayalalithaa today sailed over another hurdle towards regaining the chief minister’s post with the special court acquitting her of all charges in the coal import scam case.

“There is no evidence against the accused (including Jayalalithaa, former PWD minister S. Kannappan and eight others) that they had abused their position as public servants, dishonestly or fraudulently misappropriated a sum of Rs 6.5 crore through corrupt and illegal means to gain pecuniary advantage from coal suppliers,” special judge Justice S.S.P. Darvesh, trying a string of corruption cases against the ADMK leader, said in a packed court room.

Jayalalithaa, clad in a green saree and accompanied by confidante Sasikala, was present in the court as the judge took barely five minutes to read out the operational portion of his 266-page judgment. The verdict came just a day after the Election Commission announced the date of bypolls to three constituencies, including Andipatti, from where Jayalalithaa intends to contest for the Assembly.

As soon as the verdict was out, there was jubilation all round with ADMK members distributing laddoos and bursting crackers outside the court. A calm and composed Jayalalithaa told reporters it had been “proved that I am not guilty” and it vindicated her claim that the Karunanidhi regime had only “foisted cases on me”.

“Justice has been done,” added Jayalalithaa, who was discharged in the case in 1999 by then special judge V. Radhakrishnan.

The high court had upheld the ruling, but the Supreme Court, on a petition by the DMK, directed the special court to “re-include” her as an accused and proceed with the trial. Recalling that she had been discharged earlier, the ADMK leader said: “Once again, it (special court) has proved that I am not guilty.”

The other key accused acquitted in this case include up-coming Yadav leader Kannappan, who defected from the ADMK to float the Makkal Tamil Desam which aligned with the DMK in the last Assembly polls.

Former chief secretary T.V. Venkatraman, former Tamil Nadu Electricity Board chairman N. Haribhaskar, former finance secretary N. Narayanan, and former industries secretary C. Ramachandran were also cleared by the court. Another accused, former finance minister V.R. Nedunchezhian, has passed away.

In a cryptic summation, Justice Darvesh said the court had come to the conclusion that the “charges are very fragile, pointing its fingers at none”. None of the factors, including criminal conspiracy, misconduct, misappropriation and dishonesty, had been proved against all the accused, he said.

The judge also dismissed the charges under the Prevention of Corruption Act, saying they were “not proved beyond the shadow of doubt”.

Upholding the contention of the accused that the import of low ash-content coal from three Indonesian and two Australian firms by the electricity board in 1992 was in public interest and necessary to mitigate the power crisis prevailing then, the judge ruled that proper procedures had been followed.

The “objections” to the imports raised by then PWD secretary V. Sundaram were also considered in detail by the electricity board.

The judge said the star prosecution witness, Sundaram, was “telling different reasons at different times to suit his convenience”.


New Delhi, Dec. 27: 
Even as Punjab Congress leaders chanted the unity mantra in the morning, factionalism surfaced in the evening when six party MPs wrote to Sonia Gandhi “removing” dissident leader Jagmeet Singh Brar as convener of the state parliamentary party.

In the morning, the Congress’ state election committee had unanimously decided to authorise Sonia to name candidates for the Assembly polls. Brar was a signatory to the resolution. Punjab Congress chief Amarinder Singh said Sonia was authorised to clear the names of party candidates to avoid “bad blood” in the state unit.

However, by evening, the unity mask of the Punjab Congress was ripped off when MPs wrote to Sonia. It was an unprecedented gesture as conveners of the state parliamentary parties are usually selected by the leader of the Congress in Parliament and have a five-year term.

MPs loyal to Amarinder — Praneet Kaur, Charanjit Singh Channi, Santosh Chowdhury, Shamsher Singh Dullo and Balbir Singh — wrote to Sonia saying, “now we have elected Balbir Singh as convener of the Punjab Congress parliamentary party for one year”. Balbir Singh also signed the letter.

AICC treasurer Motilal Vora, in charge of Punjab, played down the rebellion and said Brar would continue to be convener unless removed by Sonia. Amarinder, however, said Sonia had asked him to name the convener and he now wanted the post to be rotational so that other MPs get a chance to serve.


New Delhi, Dec. 27: 
The BJP today declared its intent to contest a majority of the 403 Assembly seats in Uttar Pradesh even as it is yet to begin talking to its allies on their possible demands. The party also ruled out making the Ram temple a part of its manifesto or campaign.

BJP general secretary and spokesman Sunil Shastri said the party planned to fight in over 325 seats in Uttar Pradesh and all the 70 seats in Uttaranchal. The party was prepared to play second fiddle to its more dominant allies in the other two states going to polls in February — Punjab and Manipur.

Shastri said the remaining seats in Uttar Pradesh would be left for the parties which were part of the BJP-led government for the past four years and Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD). The RLD had joined the BJP only recently.

By announcing its intent to contest that many seats, the BJP has virtually closed the door on inducting new allies, though it had eyed the caste-based Apna Dal for the Kurmi votes in eastern and central Uttar Pradesh.

BJP sources said of the allies, the RLD would get first preference for its caste base among the Jats of the west, which has 130 seats and is regarded as a saffron stronghold. The party was not overly concerned about the seat claims of the other allies, the sources said.

All of them, including the Loktantrik Congress Party (LCP) and the Jantantrik Bahujan Samaj Party (JBSP), the splinter groups of the Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), have split again and this, the BJP believes, has debilitated their base and undermined their bargaining clout.

Sources claimed that some LCP and JBSP legislators had conveyed their desire to contest on the BJP symbol.

Shastri ruled out any pre-poll understanding with the BSP. However, he remained silent when asked if this also excluded a post-poll arrangement if the elections threw up a hung House.

The state units are expected to brief the BJP leadership on their poll preparations after the national executive on December 29.

A date for a meeting of the central election committee, which includes Prime Minister Atal Bihai Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani, will be fixed after that.

State leaders of Punjab and Manipur have been authorised to talk to allies and only if a major problem cropped up would the party high command intervene, Shastri said.

For instance, Haryana chief minister and Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) leader Om Prakash Chautala staked claim to his share of seats in Uttar Pradesh but the RLD put its foot down since both have a Jat vote base. The BJP is inclined to go with the RLD but if Chautala creates trouble, sources said Vajpayee would sort matters out with him.

Shastri said the main issues on which the party’s Uttar Pradesh campaign would revolve were Rajnath Singh’s tenure as chief minister, his sectional policies for farmers, unemployed youths and teachers, development and the fight against terrorism.

“We will not make Ram mandir an issue but if the Opposition rakes it up, we will be forced to answer,” Shastri said.


New Delhi, Dec. 27: 
If crowds are anything to go by, the Congress seems to have a headstart over the BJP in the run-up to the Assembly elections scheduled for February.

The AICC headquarters at 24 Akbar Road is a hub of political activity these days. Such is the space crunch at times that ticket-seekers are forced to park their cars outside air force chief A.Y. Tipnis’ residence across the road. Never mind that this involves violation of traffic and security norms.

The high-security zone around Sonia Gandhi’s house at 10 Janpath is not free of unauthorised parking either. Each day, crowds throng 24 Akbar Road to see general secretaries Ambika Soni, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mohsina Kidwai and treasurer Motilal Vora. Many aspirants return disappointed as the office-bearers are busy finalising the list of candidates or planning for campaigning and fund-raising meetings.

In contrast, the BJP central office at 9 Ashoka Road looks forlorn. Since the election dates were announced, most of the office-bearers, including president K. Jana Krishnamurthi, have made it a point to remain in office from morning to evening. But barring a handful of office-bearers and leaders from Punjab, there is hardly anybody to call on them. The BJP hopes to set its political activity in motion with a meeting of the central office-bearers tomorrow.

Though the meeting was convened to chalk out an agenda for the national executive, to be held on Saturday, BJP sources said the impending elections, too, would be discussed.

The Congress headquarters looks like its Punjab unit office with most of the aspirants coming from the state. Each aspirant comes armed with reams of paper — some claiming to be freedom fighters, religious leaders or social workers.

Soni’s room is flooded with ticket-seekers. Her biggest problem is everyone wants to have a word in “private”. Next door, Mohsina Kidwai has found a way to please everyone. There is a small ante room and all those who wish to have a word are invited to do so.

Treasurer Vora is the most sought-after man. At 80, Vora is handling money and is in charge of Punjab. As a former Governor of the undivided Uttar Pradesh, he is seen as the best bet for ticket-seekers from Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal.

Vora is in by 10 in the morning and stays till 10 pm. When he gets back to his North Avenue residence, a sizeable crowd waits for him stretching the day past midnight.

But nobody is complaining. “It is an obvious sign,” says a smiling Vora claiming that it is going to be four-nil against the BJP. In realistic terms, the Congress hopes to be a “king-maker” in Uttar Pradesh. “The poll results are going to vindicate our stand that the Congress is the government in waiting at the national level. In Uttar Pradesh, too, the Congress will do much better than expected,” said Kidwai.

State unit general secretary Arun Kumar Singh Munna reels out statistics. There have been more than 6,000 applications for 403 seats, he says.


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