Knock on Ansari family door
Buddha does a Pervez
Simi sitting pretty in city
Kabul first flight to friend Delhi
VIP nagars, mangled cousins
Cong unveils Akali charges
Sangh sets up martyr gallery
Sealed lips for model candidate
October Pak polls with checks
Calcutta Weather

Jan. 24: 
Aftab Ansari’s mother Mohsina and sister Ruksana are being interrogated by police in Uttar Pradesh in search of leads to the attack in front of the American Center in Calcutta on Tuesday.

Ansari, also known as Farhan Malik, had claimed responsibility for the strike, in which motorcycle-borne gunmen fired on a group of policemen, killing four.

Delhi today announced it was seeking the don’s extradition from the UAE.

The questioning of Ansari’s family members is part of a growing investigation that now spans at least three states — Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where the attackers may be hiding.

Returning from his trip to Calcutta, the special secretary in the Union home ministry, Ashok Bhandari, has reported that the killers — either in Purnea or Kishenganj in Bihar — may try to slip into Nepal.

Investigations have revealed that the blueprint for the attack could have been prepared by an ISI agent operating from Bihar, where the Pakistani agency is suspected to have set up a well-organised network. Purnea is a well-known centre of illegal gun-making and gun-running.

The Bihar chief secretary and police chief are now in Delhi and an IB team from the capital has gone to the state.

“We have fresh inputs that the killers fled Calcutta after the massacre and have taken shelter along the narrow Kishenganj-Siliguri corridor,” an intelligence official said.

The 28-km corridor in the north of Bengal, also known as the Chicken’s Neck, is hemmed in by Nepal to the west and Bangladesh to the east.

“Since the outfit’s Bangladesh links have been established and possible exit routes into that country sealed, the group will try to slip into Nepal. The killers are being sheltered by the fundamentalist organisations in the region,” the official said.

In Ansari’s hometown, Varanasi, the police have picked up a number of people and are interrogating his friends and neighbours in the Lallapura area. “But the key is Mohsina and Ruksana,” a home department official in Lucknow said. The police are “sure” the family knows Ansari’s whereabouts, he added.

The police claim to have “good leads” that could crack the Calcutta conspiracy, but are not ready yet to disclose details for fear of jeopardising a parallel inquiry into what they describe as Ansari’s plot to disrupt the polls in Uttar Pradesh next month.

They have charted Ansari’s transformation from a student at Benaras Hindu University, where he studied law but did not complete his degree, to a member of the Dawood Ibrahim gang with access to some of the world’s most dreaded terrorists like Omar Sheikh, who was freed from Tihar jail with Masood Azhar to secure the release of passengers of the Indian Airlines plane hijacked to Kandahar.

He is supposed to have a “nikat ka rishta” (close relation) with Sheikh.

Neighbours note the change in the family’s lifestyle — describing it as “drastic” — from 1999, when Ansari quit the university, till today. Although the police claim he is still sending money to his mother, sister Ruksana denies the charge.

Mohsina would only say he was always a “good son”.

Investigators say Ansari has been in touch with his family as he pursued the life of a terrorist-criminal. His first big criminal act was thus far known to be the kidnapping of a diamond merchant in Gujarat, but the police here also cite the abduction of Anand Prakash Agarwal, a coal merchant in Varanasi, in 1999. They say Ansari collected a ransom of Rs 2.75 crore in that case.


Calcutta, Jan. 24: 
Stepping into the shoes of General Pervez Musharraf, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is setting out to reform the madarsa system of education.

The Bengal government will announce special conditions for running madarsas once the A.R. Kidwai Commission on the minority community submits its report to the Assembly.

Spelling out some of the possible conditions, Bhattacharjee said all madarsas would have to be affiliated to the state Madarsa Board. Musharraf recently announced a similar measure, asking all madarsas to register by March 31.

Kidwai, a former Bengal Governor, was commissioned about a year ago to submit a report suggesting possible reforms in the madarsa system of education.

The chief minister said some of the unaffiliated madarsas running in different Bengal districts were fomenting anti-national activities. “We have specific information about them,” he said.

However, Bhattacharjee indicated that sudden action would not be taken against errant madarsas but a strict watch would be kept.

“What these madarsas are doing is leading the youth to a dark future,” he said, pointing out the absence of modern education, in content and method.

He said many “right-thinking” members of the minority community were against such education.

Bhattacharjee’s observations suggested that the syllabus taught in madarsas will have to conform to what the Madarsa Board has stipulated. In Pakistan, too, a syllabus is being set with a complete recasting of the content to include subjects that are commonly taught in schools. “We have to prevail on all Muslims to do the right thing in today’s world,” the chief minister said.

In a string of meetings in north Bengal earlier this month, Bhattacharjee had held the ISI responsible for the mushrooming of unregistered madarsas along Bengal’s border with Bangladesh.


Calcutta, Jan. 24: 
A banner of the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (Simi), banned nationwide last September, is fluttering at a busy intersection near the city waterfront but without the knowledge of law-enforcers.

The banner, strung up to announce a convention held in last June when Simi was not outlawed, is now serving as a road sign to a daily recruitment camp in Ekbalpore, hardly 5 km from the city centre, residents said.

But police, supposed to be on high alert after the strike outside the American Center, said they were not aware of the banner on Sudhir Bose Road. “Simi is banned. It (the banner) should not be there now,” Tapas Ganguly, officer-in-charge of the Ekbalpore police station, said. “I will cross-check the information that Simi is recruiting youths and students from Hussein Shah Road.”

A shop-owner said the youths who had tied the banner verify every afternoon whether it is still there.

Around one-and-a-half kilometres away from the banner, Simi activists take turns to sit near a school on Hussein Shah Road in Ekbalpore, the residents said.

At last year’s convention, the Simi leaders had announced a year-long recruitment drive, a man who lives in the neighbourhood said. Since then, every day, someone from Simi arrives in the afternoon and waits for a few hours for new recruits outside the school premises.

“The boys come here in the afternoon and sit in a chair behind a table,’’ he said. “The Simi representatives were here for a while today, too.”

Only boys are encouraged to join. “They have turned back a few girl students,” another resident said.“A lot of students and youths attended the convention last year and had shown interest in the organisation. But, of late, the interest has definitely waned.”

Around 100 youths have been recruited in the last six months, he added.


New Delhi, Jan. 24: 
For Patwant Singh, a 36-year-old Afghan Sikh, it was a dream come true. A Boeing 727 flight out of his birthplace — Kabul — has just landed in his adopted land after six long years. The first plane flown out of the country by Ariana Airways in three years.

For the several thousand Afghans — Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs — who live in the city and elsewhere as refugees, the flight is a window to their pre-war days.

“It’s big news for me. This flight can be our lifeline… back to our roots. Do you realise that though it takes less time to reach Kabul than to fly to Calcutta or Mumbai, we had to wait all these years for this flight?” said the exuberant former medicine dealer.

Today’s flight, which flew through Pakistani airspace, carried 12 people, including Afghan civil aviation minister Abdullah Rahman, and 11 crew. The first international flight by Ariana since the fall of Taliban was more a gesture than the real thing.

Commercial flights are slated to resume once a week from February 17.

Though Indian Airlines stopped flying to Kabul in 1992, Ariana had continued its flights to India intermittently till 1996. Lack of aircraft and fighting in the landlocked country had put an end to all flights out of the country after that.

“We are very happy to have a flight to a friendly country — India,” said Rahman.

Besides signifying the close relations between the two countries, the flight obviously makes good business sense.

“Enquiries for the flights are good,” said Obaidullah Aziz Wakil, Ariana’s new station head here.

Years of war and turbulence had ensured that flights and other links between the countries had snapped but the pre-war years had seen planes to Kabul booked chock-a-block.

Wealthy Afghan businessmen of Indian origin, who had fled the war-torn country and taken refuge in India, would obviously be among the clientele now as would be the hordes of Indian businessmen probing the traditional “neighbourhood market”.

An existing, though virtually defunct, air-pact with India allows both the countries to fly up to five flights between Kabul and New Delhi and another three a week between the Afghan capital and Amritsar.

Rehman and his Indian counterpart, Shahnawaz Hussain, are slated to sign a fresh air services pact tomorrow.

Though the Afghan airline has already decided on its flights to India, Indian Airlines has not made up its mind yet on flying to Kabul, mainly because the direct route to the city, overflying Pakistani airspace, was barred following a tit-for-tat action by New Delhi and Islamabad.

“It is technically possible to fly to Afghanistan the long way round via Iran but it would be costly,” said Robin Pathak, an Indian Airlines director.

Possibly to make up for its lack of presence, India successfully concluded a deal with Iran recently to link New Delhi to Kabul via Tehran. Iran Air will fly twice a week on this route, besides a weekly direct flight between New Delhi and Tehran.


Jawaharnagar (Kutch), Jan. 24: 
Rani Bai, the wizened sarpanch of Jawaharnagar, has lost her home twice to the earth’s upheaval in the last four and a half decades, but got it back each time.

First, courtesy India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who had taken it on himself to rebuild the village — originally called Juran — after the 1956 Kutch quake. It was named after Nehru by its grateful residents.

And now courtesy Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who has turned the village, ravaged in the January 2001 trembler — into a spanking new colony of 330 cement houses, complete with a school, health centre, anganwadi, temple and a mosque.

“We could not have asked for more,” the village head, who bagged the post because of reservation for women in panchayats, said, flashing a toothless smile. Her husband Bura Ahir, who kept dictating to her from a string cot in the presence of a visitor, cut in: “We got it free, absolutely free.”

From Jawaharnagar to Atalnagar and Indraprastha to Vijayrajepuram, the wrecked mud-and-thatch villages are not just being replaced with cement colonies, but are renamed after their political mentors, who have “adopted” them.

No political party wants to be found wanting when it comes to rebuilding the quake-hit region. The result: a new Kutch is taking shape along the highways as villages are getting a taste of towns with concrete houses.

In sharp contrast, political parties — along with the state government and the NGOs — appear to have turned their back on the wrecked city of Bhuj and its mangled cousins, Bhachau and Anjar. The towns, caught up in legal tangles, are waiting desperately for the balm to be put on their festering wounds.

Thousands of Bhuj residents have been living in tin and cardboard cities that have sprung up in Kutch’s headquarters in the last one year. The government has neither reconstructed their homes, nor allowed them to do so. It frittered away one full year, sketching and re-sketching “unworkable” town plans.

The key to Jawaharnagar, adopted by the Congress-led Delhi government, was “handed over” to the sarpanch by Sonia at a village function on November 9. The colony, some 45 km from Bhuj, had been built in a record six months.

Though the pace of construction is somewhat slower in Atalnagar, being built by an RSS wing and named after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, villagers do not seem to mind.

“They are doing their best and we are ready to wait. We hope we will get our new homes in six months,” Kanji Govind, a local resident, said. Vajpayee had attended the ground-breaking ceremony and done the Bhumi Puja during a trip to Gujarat about six months ago, Govind said.

Atalnagar, a huddle of 295 concrete, one-storey houses, is being carved out of Chapredi village. A Kerala-based newspaper group is reconstructing the remainder of the village.

Though no political party would admit it, the motive behind the adoption was not always apolitical.

“The district Congress leadership was worried that if the BJP adopted Jawaharnagar, it would certainly change the name and rename it after one of their leaders. So, they had convinced Sonia to adopt the village,” the sarpanch said. She said the village had also traditionally voted for the Congress.

Govind said the RSS had for some time been trying to increase its influence on Chapredi or Atalnagar and had managed last year to instal a sympathiser’s wife as local sarpanch.

Villagers are unfazed by politics. “We don’t care about politics as long as they rebuild our homes and give them back to us,” an elderly villager said.

“We will accept anybody who will build pucca houses for us.”

The Gujarat government, found grossly wanting in the damaged cities and towns, acted promptly in villages, often with gusto. Land was provided swiftly, mainly along the Bhuj-Bhachau highway — for relocation of some of the villages being rebuilt. The NGOs, for once, overwhelmingly supported the government in village reconstruction.

Dudhai, a remote village, has been relocated to a site next to that highway and renamed Indraprastha. With close to 500 well-planned houses, the colony is being rebuilt by former Delhi chief minister and senior BJP leader Sahib Singh Verma.

Down the road, some distance away, is coming up Vijayrajepuram, named after the politician who adopted it.Many volunteer groups, including the Ramakrishna Mission and Care, are building small, but self-contained villages across the region, making them far from livable than they were before the quake.


Chandigarh, Jan. 24: 
The Congress today released a charge-sheet against the ruling Akali-BJP alliance that accuses the Akalis of sowing the seeds of terrorism and lists their alleged corruption and administrative failures.

The chargesheet is expected to add colour to an otherwise dull electoral campaign in the state.

Apart from accusing the Akalis for mixing religion with politics, the Congress has dubbed the BJP a “fundamentalist” party for raking up the temple issue in Uttar Pradesh, which also goes to the polls next month.

The chargesheet, released by state Congress chief Amarinder Singh, accuses chief minister Parkash Singh Badal of amassing wealth and properties, some of them abroad, and dubs the Akali-BJP regime as “anti-people”.

On the Sutlej-Yamuna Link Canal issue, the Congress has alleged that the Supreme Court order earlier this month, asking the Punjab government to complete its portion of the canal, was an indicator of Badal’s understanding with his Haryana counterpart.

“For their narrow interests, the Akalis have been bartering away the interest of the state,” the PCC chief said.

The Congress has held the state government’s faulty policies responsible for the state’s dismal financial condition. “Punjab is running on borrowed money,” said Singh.

The Congress has also attacked the pro-farmer policies of the Akali-BJP government, stating that nothing has been done to lower the prices of farm inputs that resulted in an additional burden of over Rs 700 crore on the farming community.

While the Congress chargesheet is expected to invite criticism from both the Shiromani Akali Dal and the BJP, all three parties are currently in total disarray from the onslaught of their rebels.

Ironically, it is the Congress that has been chopping and changing its list of nominees faces the maximum dissidence.

The announcement yesterday of the replacement of Congress nominees Parminder Singh Sandhu and Ratna with Sukhwinder Singh Sarkaria and Darbari Lal from Rajasansi and Amritsar (central) evoked an emotional backlash with Sandhu and Ratna swearing they would work to defeat the candidates who replaced them.

The Congress high command has rushed Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Ahmad Patel to broker peace and prevent the rebels from contesting.

Both the Congress and the Akalis face flak for refusing tickets to candidates who stood a fair chance of winning. Instead, a good number of relatives have been accommodated and there are allegations that a large number of tickets were given to the highest bidder.

The Shiromani Akali Dal is already suffering the consequences of denying tickets to more than half a dozen sitting legislators and three ministers. All three ministers have announced their decision to contest as independents.


New Delhi, Jan. 24: 
The RSS sought to make up for the lack of a political iconography by creating its own “gallery” of “martyrs” who were slain in the post-Independent era for their “dedication to nationalism”.

Struggle Against National Splitters: Martyrdom of Swa-yamsevaks by BJP’s Andhra Pradesh vice-president S.V. Seshagiri Rao was released today by home minister L.K. Advani in the presence of RSS joint general secretary Madan Das Devi.

The book, published by the Sangh-affiliated Martyrs’ Mem-orial Research Institute, lists 429 martyrs killed by the “nation-splitters” in the past 30 years.

Heading the list of “nation-splitters” is the CPM, which, the book alleges, was responsible for the assassination of 205 swayamsevaks.

“Cross-border terrorists (Punjab)” come a distant second with 78 alleged killings. “Islamic outfits” follow with 72, Naxalites with 42, Jammu and Kashmir “jihadis” 17, United Liberation Front of Asom eight, National Liberation Front of Tripura four, “church elements” two and Manipur insurgents one.

For Advani, the function — not characteristically RSS as it was held at the India Habitat Centre instead of its Jhandewalan headquarters — was an appropriate occasion to reconnect with the Sangh and reiterate his credentials as an “Iron Man” as well as to wax eloquent on India’s spirit of tolerance.

It was his first public appearance with the RSS in a long time. So far, it was Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee who had shared public space with the RSS brass, despite the occasional bouts of tension. If anything, the Sangh was reportedly unhappy with the home minister after the abduction and killing of four of its activists in Tripura last year.

RSS functionaries were believed to have conveyed their sentiments to Advani when he went to its headquarters for a condolence meeting.

The genesis of the book lies in Advani’s trip to Hyderabad in April 1997 to pay homage to an activist of the RSS students’ wing, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), who was allegedly murdered by ultra-Left activists.

“When I went to the ABVP office, I was surprised to see the walls covered with photos of activists slain by the Naxalites. So many pictures in just one office! I remarked it looks like a martyrs’ gallery,” Advani recalled.

The home minister attributed the killings to the culture of intolerance. Recollecting an interview he had given to a Canadian news channel in 1989, he said he told them the most striking feature of the Indian democracy was its “respect for all shades of opinion”.

This spirit of tolerance, Advani said, was also manifest in the sphere of religion “in which people normally say there can be no compromise with one’s religious beliefs”.

Advani took a broadside against the CPM and said there were “parties which do not believe in tolerance. Not surprisingly, we lost most of our swayamsevaks in West Bengal and Kerala”.

For the hard-core swayamsevaks’ consumption, he said the Kashmir issue should not be seen through the western prism as an “Indo-Pakistan dispute” because “Kashmir is an integral part of India”.

“It came to us through a proper constitutional and legal process. During the accession period, people there said they will not accept the two-nation theory.”

Advani also warned that if “somehow” Jammu and Kashmir seceded from India, it would have a “domino effect” all over the country.


Andipatti, Jan. 24: 
Jayalalithaa followed the rule book to the T.

Not once did she talk to reporters till she was “outside” the venue where she filed her nomination papers — the Theni collectorate complex — for the Andipatti byelection scheduled for February 21.

She talked, but talked briefly. She appeared confident.

As Jayalalithaa drove down from Madurai to the office of the returning officer, K. Pulamadan, district backward classes and minorities welfare officer, strict instructions had been sent to the party cadre to avoid following her car in vehicles as the code of conduct permits use of only three cars.

But her party cadre, gathered on both sides of the road, lustily cheered her as she stopped en route, first at Usilampatti to garland the statue of nationalist leader Pasumponn Muthuramalinga Thevar, and later, at Andipatti, to garland a statue of ADMK’s founder-leader MGR.

The approach-stairway had been given a fresh coat of paint last evening.

But it was all quiet in the Election Commission office. Jayalalithaa, clad in her favourite green saree and accompanied by her friend, Sasikala, arrived at the Theni collectorate complex at 11.15 am. It took her barely 15 minutes to complete the formalities.

Chief minister O. Panneerselvam and his Cabinet colleagues had reached there in advance to greet her.

Perhaps, the returning officer’s room, facing north this time, was a good augury according to vaastu experts. But Jayalalithaa went about the exercise in a business-like fashion. In all, she signed at four places, twice in Tamil and twice in English.

As Amma emerged from the room, requests from reporters to meet her met with a polite reply that the code of conduct did not permit it within the premises, but added that she would be glad to speak “outside the collectorate”. It was then virtually a mad scramble as reporters and the TV crew raced to outpace her slow-moving vehicle to a spot outside the main gate.

She made light of the DMK challenge, saying: “I am coming here because of people’s support.” She made it clear that her campaign would focus on “fulfilling the needs of the people of the constituency”.

DMK petition

DMK candidate Vaigai Sekar today filed a petition before Delhi High Court, seeking a direction to the Election Commissiom to defer the Andipatti polls. The petition alleged that 17,000 bogus names were included in the electoral rolls of the constituency.


Islamabad, Jan. 24: 
President Pervez Musharraf today said general elections for the national and provincial assemblies will definitely be held in October this year ushering in real democracy “which will be fine tuned and adjusted according to our requirements”.

“There will be strong checks and balances at the leadership level,” he said adding that nobody will be allowed in future to give preference to his personal interests on national interests.

Inaugurating a Pakistan Human Development Forum meeting here today, he said Pakistan needed thorough political restructuring to establish true democracy which was so far been non-existent. “But this job will be done by my government”.

The first session of the forum was also attended and briefly addressed by the UN secretary general Kofi Annan, British secretary of state for international development Clare Short and the President of the Islamic Development Bank Dr Ahmed Muhammad Ali.

Musharraf said nobody will be allowed to reverse political and economic reforms that were introduced by his government during the last two years. “I will ensure the continuity and sustainability of reforms and the restructuring done so far by my government”.

He said the democratic system has been put in place through local governments and that a beginning has been made to bring a “silent revolution” in the country.

The President said every country has its own requirements to practice democracy. “Our requirements are different from US, UK, Australia and Zimbabwe. Therefore, we will have such a democracy which should suit us and fulfil our requirements,” he added.

Musharraf had previously pledged to stick to a Supreme Court ruling giving him three years from the date of the coup to restore civilian rule.

It remains unclear how a new government would be structured, although Musharraf, who also heads Pakistan’s powerful military, has said he will remain President.

Musharraf last week announced landmark electoral reforms under which Pakistan’s 140 million people — Muslims and non-Muslims — will be permitted to vote for the same candidates for the first time since 1977. He also increased the number of seats in parliament.

Musharraf, shunned internationally after he seized power, has been praised for ambitious economic and social reforms that aim to put cash-strapped Pakistan on a firm footing and efforts to stamp out widespread corruption. He finally won international favour after the September 11 attacks on the US when he dumped his former friends in the Taliban and joined the US war on terrorism. “I will ensure the continuity and sustainability of all the reforms and restructuring that we have done in these three years, nobody can reverse them,” he said.




Maximum: 23.3°C (-4)
Minimum: 17.5°C (+3)



Relative humidity

Max: 96%
Min: 53%

Sunrise: 6.25 am

Sunset: 5.13 pm


Partly cloudy sky. Possibility of morning fog or mist. Minimum temperature likely to be around 16°C

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