ISI hawala trail leads to city
Principal beaten up
3 lynched after train shooting
Split over, Cong sniffs Priyanka step-in
Rebels smoked out of mosque
Ousted ideologue ‘back’ on Sangh rolls
BSP double departure
Starburst on UP battlefield
‘Talking’ heads home in on holiday hotspots
Sharad BJP tilt forces Cong pact pullout

Jan. 9: 
Police today raided a house in Tarachand Dutta street in central Calcutta and detained three persons on the charge of involvement in subversive activities.

However, a hawala operator, the perceived mastermind of such activities with support from Pakistan’s ISI , managed to slip out of the house under Jorasanko police station.

The hawala operator, whose identity police did not readily reveal for the sake of investigation, also sheltered ISI operatives in and around the city, Special Branch (SB) and Intelligence Branch (IB) officials who raided the place said.

Police seized documents, including the passport of hawala operators, which showed he has been to West Asian countries and Pakistan “several times” in 2000.

Documents also indicated that ISI agents had copied maps and details of vital installations on computer. The printouts were passed on to Mohammed Dilshad, the ISI operative who was arrested in Siliguri. Police said computers and floppies were also recovered from the place.

Investigators are cross-checking whether Dilshad was in the city and had stayed at the place for a fortnight. He allegedly tried to get in touch with military personnel at Fort William. Sleuths, however, refused to divulge whether he met any armymen during his stay in Jorasanko.

Quoting from seized documents, SB officials said money was paid in hawala and hundi transaction through the Calcutta-Mumbai-Lucknow-Karachi-Abu Dhabi route. Documents also indicated that the operators used the Calcutta-Chennai-Bangalore-Hyderabad-Dubai route.

“It is just a tip of the iceberg. Sleuths are currently examining documents. We hope to fish out a lot more information after proper study of the secret coded documents,” a senior inspector-general of state police said.

Officials of the security agencies have contacted their counterparts of the special investigation team (SIT) in Darjeeling. Dilshad alias Dillu also revealed a few names of other ISI facilitators based in Calcutta and Howrah through whom he used to get a huge amount of funds.

Dilshad and five of his Indian agents were arrested from Siliguri and Delhi by the Darjeeling police on January 4. Sleuths also raided the premises of a transport operator and arrested one of its employees.

Sanjay Chander, superintendent of police, Darjeeling, told The Telegraph that Dilshad who had earlier proved to be a “tough nut” to crack has finally started “cracking” following marathon interrogation by SIT, state and central intelligence agencies and the military intelligence over the past two days.

Chander said: “Following confessions from Dilshad we raided the premises of a transport firm, Hindustan Goods Carrier, which fronted for a nation-wide hawala operation. We have arrested an employee, Sitaram Kothari (23), and detained another. The total number of arrests has shot up to seven now.”

“The ISI uses the firm’s hawala operations to fund its agents throughout the country,” he added.


Dakshin Midnapore, Jan. 9: 
Students owing allegiance to the Trinamul Congress yesterday beat up with iron rods and chains the principal of Moyna College and then paraded him on the college campus with rope tied around his neck.

Police said the students along with some outsiders assaulted Amarendra Nath Bardhan for not acceding to their demand of forming the students’ union immediately.

College teachers and non-teaching employees have resorted to an indefinite strike from today demanding the immediate arrest of culprits. They also protested against police inaction because the law enforcers “stood by silently as their strength was inadequate”. Authorities of the Vidyasagar University, under which the college falls, have asked the principal to close the college for an indefinite period.

Anuj Sharma, superintendent of police, Purba Midnapore, said he had initiated an inquiry into the incident and the miscreants would soon be arrested.

Moyna College, a traditional SFI stronghold, lost to the Trinamul students’ wing this year. While the Trinamul won 15 seats the SFI bagged only seven. However, the elections remained technically incomplete as polls to choose the class representatives of the third-year students were yet to be held.

Principal Bardhan had fixed February 4 as the date for electing third-year class representatives after the Vidyasagar University announced Part I results last week. According to the rules, the students’ union can be formed only after elections in the third- year classes are complete.

Yesterday, when Bardhan was taking his lunch at a hotel before going to college, about 40 Trinamul supporters, including students, entered the hotel and demanded the union be formed immediately on the basis of the election already held.

“As I did not agree they threw away my rice plate and dragged me out of the hotel. They included some of my students and outsiders. They tied a rope round my neck and put me on a rickshaw-van while abusing me. They carried me to the college in full public view.

Inside the college, they beat me up with chains, rods and lathis and gheraoed the teachers from 1.45 pm to 6.30 pm as I did not agree to their proposal,” said Bardhan.


Calcutta, Jan. 9: 
A 32-year-old man was killed this morning when three hoodlums opened fire inside a crowded compartment of the Gede-Ranaghat local.

The three tried to flee after the shooting but were lynched before police could reach the spot.

The three have yet to be identified, but their victim was identified as Narayan Acharya. Police believe the three had plans of robbing the passengers.

“The three miscreants boarded the train from Aranghata railway station. As the train left the station, the three stood up, taking out firearms they had kept hidden under wrappers,” said a railway police officer.

“Suddenly, Narayan stood up and caught hold of one of the goons. He almost pinned down the miscreant,” said a police officer. The two other hoodlums then opened fire to rescue their associate. The bullets hit Narayan on the chest.

The three fired a few more times before jumping off the slow-moving train. Passengers then raised a shout, hearing which villagers gave the three a chase. They caught up with the three and then lynched them.


New Delhi, Jan. 9: 
The rift in the family of Priyanka Gandhi’s in-laws took a new turn today with her father-in-law accusing Sonia Gandhi of engineering a split among the Vadras.

As the Gandhis and Vadras grappled with domestic quarrels, defamation suits and legal notices, Congressmen from Uttar Pradesh were upbeat over the prospect of Priyanka taking the formal plunge into politics.

Congressmen in the state were quick to perceive that the surprise move by Robert Vadra, Priyanka’s husband, to snap ties with his family was a “political insurance” against any allegations from the Opposition. A state party leader said: “The legal notice was aimed at protecting Priyanka from coming under cloud due to her in-laws.”

Robert’s father Rajinder Vadra was today busy consulting senior lawyers to file a defamation suit against the Gandhis and a section of the media for causing “disrepute” to the family. Vadra senior denied any financial irregularity and said Robert did not consult him before snapping ties with him and brother Richard.

Family friends said relations among the Vadras had worsened so much that family elders were unwilling to act as “peacemakers.” A close relative from Moradabad said: “It will be a murky battle. Both sides will throw mud. It may become an election issue in the Uttar Pradesh polls.”

Without naming Sonia, Rajinder said: “She is responsible for creating the rift in the family.”

The Congress’ political opponents, the BJP and the Samajwadi Party, are keeping a close tab on developments within the Gandhi and Vadra families. Congressmen from Uttar Pradesh said they would not be surprised if the Vadras end up as “political pawns”.

Other members of the Vadra family are rallying round Rajinder and Richard. In Moradabad, they denied any RSS links and some wondered why Priyanka did not visit Moradabad more frequently. Many close relatives of the Vadras said they did not have easy access to 10 Janpath and Priyanka’s 35 Lodhi Estate residence.

Rajinder, who comes from a wealthy brass manufacturing family, said he was surprised by Robert’s decision to issue a legal notice. Sources close to the Vadras, however, admitted that the two brothers were not on the best of terms.


Srinagar Jan. 9: 
The day-long siege around a mosque in Bamrad village in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district ended late in the evening after security forces shot dead one holed-up militant and arrested another in a serious condition.

A senior police official said troops laid siege on the mosque on information that two or three Hizb-ul Mujahideen militants were hiding inside.

As the troops moved into the village they came under fire from the militants. The security forces retaliated even as the administration rushed army and police reinforcements to the spot. “The militants opened heavy fire from inside on the security forces. The troops also retaliated and the exchanges continued till late this afternoon,” said the officer.

The standoff began early today after a group of militants fired on army personnel on an “area domination patrol” in the village, about 45 kilometres from here. The rebels fled after the troops fired back and two of them took shelter inside the mosque.

The dead militant was identified as Bashir Ahmad. The injured militant, who has been identified as Abdul Razaq Bhat, was arrested in a critical condition. He was taken to the police hospital in Srinagar from where he was shifted to the SMHS hospital after his condition deteriorated.

Sources said security forces mounted a massive combing operation in the adjoining locality to track down a third militant.

The sources, however, said that militants who were hiding in a house adjacent to the mosque escaped. The mosque was partially damaged in the exchange of fire.

In October last year, security forces had stormed a mosque in Panzan village in central Budgam district. One militant holed up inside was shot dead.

Life in the Kashmir valley, meanwhile, ground to a halt following a strike called by the trader’s federation against alleged atrocities by security forces. Shops in the capital were closed and traffic remained off the roads. Work in government offices was also affected.


New Delhi, Jan. 9: 
RSS spokesman M.G. Vaidya was forced to retract his statement today, a day after he announced at a news conference that K.N. Govindacharya was no longer a pracharak (whole-timer).

Sangh and BJP sources said a section of the RSS, notably general-secretary in charge of its political cell Madan Das Devi, was furious with Vaidya for giving the impression that Govindacharya had been thrown out of the RSS.

To dispel the impression, the media-shy Devi went on television today to say that the former BJP general-secretary and ideologue was part of the parivar and there was no question of his ouster. He also dissociated himself from Vaidya’s statement.

Following Devi’s denial, Sangh sources said Vaidya was forced to issue a clarification: “I had only said yesterday that he is not a pracharak at present. This does not mean that he is expelled from the RSS as is tried to be conveyed by some reports.”

Vaidya described Govindacharya as “one of the outstanding swayamsevaks and karyakartas of the RSS”. The RSS spokesman added that a few months ago, Govindacharya had expressed a desire to the Sangh brass to relinquish his position as pracharak and “concentrate on study and meditation for six months”, which was okayed.

Sangh insiders claimed that the episode was given a “negative” slant by Govindacharya’s detractors in the BJP, who were bent on stymieing his rehabilitation. Devi had apparently indicated that Govindacharya’s sabbatical ended on January 14 after which he could be expected to play an “important” role.

The special dinner being hosted for Govindacharya on January 14 by Khadi and Village Industries Commission chairman Mahesh Sharma may give a clue on what’s in store for the once-influential BJP leader. Union ministers Arun Jaitley and Uma Bharti as well as Devi have been invited to the dinner.

However, in trying to revive Govindacharya’s career, Sangh sources admitted that Devi would have to ensure that he did not rub the Prime Minister the wrong way. Atal Bihari Vajpayee has nursed a grouse since Govindacharya called him a “mukhota” (mask) though the latter denied it. Former BJP president Bangaru Laxman had dropped Govindacharya from his team of office-bearers in 2000 to please Vajpayee.


Lucknow, Jan. 9: 
The Bahujan Samajwadi Party has fielded a large number of Muslim and Hindu upper caste candidates for the coming elections in Uttar Pradesh, deviating from its earlier “experiments” which focused on the Dalit vote bank.

The party has included as many as 86 Muslims and 91 upper caste candidates on the 403-strong nominee list. BSP leader Mayavati’s “social re-engineering” has spread unease in the Samajwadi Party, the self-appointed custodian of minority votes, and the BJP, which was boasting a stranglehold on the upper castes.

Maintaining that the BSP will go it alone in the polls, Mayavati said candidates from backward classes will contest 126 seats and Dalits in 97. She added that 14 seats have been set aside for women.

Mayavati is expected to fight from Harora, which she had won in 1996, but she has not announced the candidates for two other constituencies, Rampur and Moradabad.

The candidates for the three seats will be announced after the Samajwadi Party releases its full list of candidates. Samajwadi chief Mulayam Singh Yadav has till now announced only 295 candidates for the 403 Assembly seats, maintaining other seats will be decided keeping constituents of the People’s Front in mind.

Observers felt that the BSP’s tactical move to field 86 Muslim candidates, as against the 27 announced so far by the Samajwadi, will help split votes in favour of the BJP.

But the BJP will also be forced to rethink it strategy as she has picked a large number of upper caste nominees.

“I have put up so many upper caste candidates because I feel that people are slowly shedding their manuvadi mindset and are now more tolerant towards others,’’ Mayawati said, adding that she will do everything to retain their (the upper castes’) trust after she is elected to power.

The BSP leader attacked the BJP saying that their thrust on terrorism as a poll plank was “not only unfair but totally misjudged".

Alleging that the BJP was only trying to divert attention from its failures by harping on the bogey of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism, Mayawati added that the people are wise enough to see through the saffron party’s game plan.

She also criticised the Samajwadi Party and said Mulayam’s promises were “hollow”.


Lucknow, Jan. 9: 
Uttar Pradesh is heading for a star-spangled election with almost all the major parties racing to grab silver screen celebrities to help them gain the edge in a scenario increasingly pointing towards a hung Assembly.

Leading the pack is the Samajwadi Party, which seems to have loyal friends in superstar Amitabh Bachchan, his wife Jaya and poet-playwright Javed Akhtar. And if Javed is around, Shabana Azmi can’t be far behind.

The Big B — who still nurses a grudge against the Congress for “leaving me alone when I needed them most” — has been sending subtle messages favouring the Samajwadi Party for quite some time now.

“Mulayam Singhji doesn’t leave the hand he holds, and the hand he holds is always that of the poor, the wretched and the victimised,” Bachchan told a packed audience at a felicitation ceremony last October in his hometown Allahabad.

Tomorrow and the day after, Shabana will join husband Javed on the dais which they will share with Samajwadi chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and senior leader Amar Singh in Rampur and Azamgarh. While the old-faithful, Raj Babbar, party MP from Agra, is always around, indications are that the party is trying to rope in Dimple Kapadia, even as her former hubby will campaign for the Congress.

The Y-generation will be represented by the on and off-screen hit pair of Ajay and Kajol Devgan. “But that is if,” a Samajwadi leader hastens to add, “we succeed in getting the Devgans to campaign for us. Usually, young people these days are not interested in all this campaigning-shampaigning.”

For the Congress, though, Priyanka Gandhi has been in recent years their most popular and sought-after campaigner. The party hopes that the badshah of the silver screen, Shah Rukh Khan, will lend a bit of his glitter to their gloom. There are, of course, Rajesh Khanna, Dilip Kumar and Sunil Dutt.

However, tragedy king Dilip Kumar can be both a big draw and a bigger embarrassment. During the Lok Sabha elections in Gujarat last time, he kept confusing the names of candidates or forgot them completely.

Shatrughan Sinha, quiet after his recent tantrums against the BJP, will once again be the party’s star campaigner. Fellow actor Vinod Khanna, too, is slated to lend his star power to the BJP’s poll prospects, as would Nitish Bhardwaj, Krishna of the small screen to the uninitiated.

Some party insiders say they are “trying their best” to get the “dream girl” to say a few nice things about them. Hema Malini, they say, would most certainly light up the BJP’s campaign trail.

That leaves out the Bahujan Samaj Party, perhaps the only party with a difference. The BSP does not seem to be overly bothered about Bollywood stars doing a jig or shaking a leg for the Bahujan’s cause.

Maintaining that they did not need powdered and rouged actors to wave their elephant-embossed blue flag, party worker Naresh Khushwaha gives a better reason why BSP leader Mayavati is their best bet.

“Tell me,” grins Khushwaha, “is there anyone who is more charismatic, more forceful and attractive than behen Mayavati?”


New Delhi, Jan. 9: 
There could not have been a better site for a discussion on health. Two months ago, members of a parliamentary consultative committee landed on Kovalam beach and spent a couple of days by the sea to “promote and propagate” Ayurveda.

They stayed at Ashoka’s beach resort — the best spot overlooking the sea and a favourite with well-heeled tourists, both Indian and foreign.

Union health minister C.P. Thakur presided over the meeting, along with counterparts from Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry.

Next month, the same group of the consultative committee on health and family welfare is flying down to Port Blair to discuss the “health” of the nation.

Between Kovalam and Port Blair, the MPs squeezed in a meeting in Goa.

In all, there are 29 consultative committees attached to different ministries. The committee on health and family welfare includes 15 MPs -- nine from the Lok Sabha and six from the Rajya Sabha.

These committees, under the jurisdiction of the parliamentary affairs ministry, have no real powers. “At best, they can just discuss an issue and leave it at that,” a ministry official said.

Standing committees, on the other hand, wield some authority since they work under the direction of the Lok Sabha Speaker and submit their reports to Parliament.

There is a section in government that believes consultative committees have become redundant since standing committees came into existence in the early nineties when Shivraj Patil was the Speaker.

“They had some relevance when they were the only committees but now, with standing committees in place, consultative committees have become a chit-chat forum for MPs,” said an official.

Last year, a certain ministry’s consultative committee meeting was held in one of the southern cities, where members were put up at a five-star hotel and each was given an air-conditioned car.

“All expenses were billed to a local public sector company which also gave expensive gifts to each consultative committee member,” a source said.

The committee meetings were originally supposed to be held only in Delhi. When he was Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi had barred holding the meetings outside the capital.

“Before the government starts talking about an austerity drive, it should tighten the belt in the top echelons,” an official said.

Despite repeated lectures by the Prime Minister and the finance minister to slash government expenditure, there is little evidence of this happening.


Mumbai, Jan. 9: 
The Shiv Sena and its ally, the BJP, could not have asked for more: The proposed alliance between the Congress and its ally for the forthcoming municipal polls, the Nationalist Congress Party, collapsed today.

Deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal, who had proposed the alliance, ate his words, blaming the collapse on Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee chief Govindrao Adik and two other Congress leaders. He praised chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, who, he said, had wanted the alliance along with Mumbai Congress chief Murli Deora.

Sharad Pawar’s NCP threw in the towel after a section of the Congress leadership led by Adik openly opposed any truck with the NCP in the municipal polls. This is despite the fact that both parties share power in the state.

Relations between the Congress and the NCP, under strain from the start, nose-dived recently after Pawar leaned towards the BJP and invited Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to his birthday party in Mumbai. Congress president Sonia Gandhi had stayed away from the bash, citing prior engagements.

NCP sources said Pawar was unhappy when Bhujbal called for an alliance with the Congress in the municipal polls in a newspaper interview. They said the Bhujbal had not consulted his boss before airing his views on the contentious issue.

Congress sources said both Deshmukh and Deora favoured the alliance so as not to split the “secular” votes. The leaders felt that a split in what was essentially the Congress vote bank would only help the Sena and the BJP.

But the suggestion was shot down by the PCC chief and two other senior party leaders, Sunil Dutt and Gurudas Kamath. They argued that the Congress should go it alone in the municipal polls because the Congress-NCP alliance came about only after the results of the last Assembly elections were declared.

Party sources said Adik had “convinced” the party high command that the Congress should go it alone in the municipal polls when Pawar was “hobnobbing” with the BJP and even backed the BJP-sponsored anti-terrorism Ordinance, despite the Congress’ opposition to it.


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