Mamata dashes to Delhi
Police bosses on the run
Balm on madarsa bruise
CPM bets on new faces in district
Salve for nation, Pak cries foul
Pervez scores another first
Bonanza for Afghan fliers
Sangh asks for more
Father speaks up for Salman wild oats
Target George

 
 
MAMATA DASHES TO DELHI 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Jan. 25: 
Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee today left for Delhi after a telephone call from the Prime Minister’s Office, leading to fresh speculations about her re-induction into the NDA Cabinet.

The Trinamul chief has been asked to stay in the capital on Sunday to take part in an emergency meeting of NDA partners. She is also likely to brief Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee about the Trinamul’s assessment of the terrorist attack on the American Center. Mamata was accompanied by her party MP Akbar Ali Khondakar.

NDA leaders are likely to rope Mamata into their campaign team for the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls in February. She may address a few public rallies in some of the Bengali-dominated areas in the state.

Trinamul sources said Mamata received the phone call at her cubby-hole Kalighat residence around 1.30 pm yesterday.

She informed the PMO that she would leave for Delhi this evening after her party’s law violation programme at Alipore near the office of the district magistrate of South 24-Parganas.

The Trinamul chief’s departure for Delhi has given rise to fresh hopes among her party workers about her possible re-entry to the Union Cabinet. Her recent announcement about completion of the Digha-Tamluk railway line within four to five months also clearly indicated her preference for the railway portfolio.

Sources said that even though there was little possibility of a reshuffle at the Centre before the budget session of Parliament, Mamata appeared to have improved her ties with the BJP at the national level. This may eventually lead to her re-induction into the Cabinet.

“All the signs of a strengthening of relationship between Mamata and the BJP are there. First, Vajpayee took Mamata with him to Bolpur a day after the terrorists struck at Parliament. And now the PMO is urging her to join an emergency meeting called in the wake of the terror-strike at the American Center in Calcutta,” said a Trinamul leader close to Mamata.

Before leaving for the capital, Mamata led a protest rally near the South 24-Parganas district magistrate’s office at Alipore around 1.30 pm.

Nearly 6,000 Trinamul leaders, including Mamata, MP Bikram Sarkar, MLAs Pankaj Banerjee, Partha Chatterjee, Paras Dutta, Gobindo Naskar, Sougata Roy and Nayana Bandyopadhyay, courted arrest around 3.30 pm in protest against the hike in hospital and education fees and electricity tariff. They were taken to Presidency Jail and then released.

Today’s law violation programme formed part of the Trinamul’s month-long movement to protest against the government’s decision to increase the charges in health, education and power sectors.

From around 12 noon, Trinamul supporters arrived in processions from different parts of the South 24-Parganas district.

   

 
 
POLICE BOSSES ON THE RUN 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 25: 
Instead of the killers, it was the police who were on the run on Friday.

Three days after four policemen were gunned down in front of the American Center, their bosses handling the investigation played a cat-and-mouse game with the media.

No one would say anything about the probe, not even the man — deputy commissioner, detective department, Soumen Mitra — who claimed on Wednesday that a “breakthrough was expected in a couple of days”. Mitra today left his office immediately after meeting US consul-general Christopher Sandrolini. No one knew where he was, not even deputy commissioner Banibrata Basu, whose office is on the same floor.

Called on his mobile, Mitra said there was “no development to speak of” and clammed up.

Commissioner of police Sujoy Chakraborty then directed journalists to Basu. But Basu, justifiably, was surprised. “I don’t have anything to do with the probe,” he said. “How can I comment on it?”

Finally, deputy commissioner of the detective department, Piyush Pandey, agreed to meet the media. The result: a one-liner. “Nothing can be said now as that will hamper the probe,” he said.

But officials in the probe team said they had made “tentative progress” in retracing the movements of the assailants in the days leading to the strike. The killers stayed in Beniapukur for a couple of days ahead of the dawn attack, they said.

The police are now certain that the attackers were outsiders. “But all logistical support — like information and their stay here — was arranged by their local contacts,” the official said.

About 150 people have been interrogated so far. One of those picked up was Nadim, a Beniapukur criminal. “Over 50 per cent of the people picked up have a criminal background,” said deputy commissioner, detective department, Piyush Pandey.

The police said if Aftab Ansari was behind the strike as he has claimed, he would have used local contacts recruited by Asif Reza — a one-time resident of Beniapukur who was arrested and shot dead by Rajkot police — after whom his gang is named.

   

 
 
BALM ON MADARSA BRUISE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 25: 
The CPM today rushed to control the damage done to its image by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s threat of a crackdown on unregistered madarsas.

Following reports that Bhattacharjee’s statements have not gone down well, the party fielded its best-known faces from the minority community to reach out to the disgruntled people.

Labour minister Mohammad Amin and minority welfare minister Mohammad Selim have been asked to initiate talks with the community’s leaders. The duo will have to convince them that the chief minister was not targeting the community, only the unscrupulous elements within it who use madarsas for anti-national activities.

The state’s minority population has largely stood by the CPM. The party has 39 MLAs from the community, many of whom have been urging the leadership to “do something” about Bhattacharjee’s statements.

Selim and Amin will report to the party leadership about the outcome of their talks with community elders.

Immediately after the attack on policemen outside the American Center, Bhattacharjee warned the state’s unaffiliated madarsas against carrying on anti-national activities and said he had specific information against some of them. A government crackdown was imminent, he said. Simultaneously, a few madarsa teachers were rounded up by the state’s law-enforcing and intelligence agencies.

Almost all Left Front partners share the CPM’s worry about Bhattacharjee’s statements. Forward Bloc state secretary Ashok Ghosh said he would broach the subject at his next meeting with the chief minister.

“Bhattacharjee is very immature compared to his predecessor, Jyoti Basu. He should solve the problems that plague the community — like unemployment — instead of creating fresh ones,” said Jamait-e-Ulema-Hind general secretary Maulana Siddiqullah Chaudhuri.

Left partners who are not happy with Bhattacharjee’s comments cannot raise the issue with the CPM because it has not convened a meeting of the Front after Tuesday’s attack.

The president of the Madarsa Board, Abdus Sattar, today said there were no unaffiliated madarsas in the state. “We have 507 madarsas affiliated with us, 10 of which are in Calcutta. I don’t think there are any institutes which are not affiliated with us,” he said. It is possible, though, that Sattar has no knowledge of the existence of unaffiliated madarsas which are proliferating in border districts.

   

 
 
CPM BETS ON NEW FACES IN DISTRICT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 25: 
The CPM is going full steam ahead to regain majority in South 24-Parganas.

On the cards is a reshuffle in the district-level leadership and party portfolios. The changes are expected to be announced at the party’s district conference, which was kicked off today at Bhangor in South 24-Parganas.

The party has now decided to induct younger leaders. According to CPM sources, the reshuffle will be carried out up to the post of the district secretary, with incumbent Abul Basar being possibly replaced by someone young.

The two names doing the rounds are that of Sujan Chakraborty and Rahul Ghosh.

But a section of the CPM does not want Chakraborty as he has already held a few vital government posts, including that of chairman of the West Bengal Rural Electricity Board. He also lost the Baruipur seat in the last Assembly polls. This section believes young Ghosh would be ideal for the post. But already an influential section of the party is opposing Ghosh.

   

 
 
SALVE FOR NATION, PAK CRIES FOUL 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Jan. 25: 
In blasting off a short-range Agni missile at this juncture, Delhi appears to be assuring the domestic audience while telling key world players that it would continue to take steps it thinks are necessary for the country’s security.

“It is a well-thought-out step and is not directed against any country,” foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said. India, she added, had informed members of the Permanent Five as well as Germany and Japan — the two probable entrants into the elite United Nations Security Council — about the test at least 48 hours before the launch.

As Delhi is not dealing with the Pakistani high commissioner as part of its diplomatic offensive against Islamabad, it called deputy high commissioner Jalil Abbas Jeelani to South Block to inform him about the test.

“It is not an abrupt or sudden decision, it is part of our technical evolution,” Rao said, adding that the test-fire was conducted according to the international specifications and guidelines of giving prior-notice to aviators and mariners.

Defence observers feel India’s decision to go ahead with the test-fire — when the US is pressuring the nuclear neighbours not to do anything that could escalate tension in the subcontinent — is a clear attempt at brinkmanship.

US ambassador to India Robert Blackwill told reporters yesterday that though secretary of state Colin Powell had managed to “lower the temperature somewhat”, the situation along the Line of Control “continues to be dangerous”. Anything could spark a major disaster, he said.

Observers say the test-fire is therefore an attempt at telling Indians that the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government would not bow down to international pressure. Sources said it could also be a message to the world community that Delhi is impatient to see some positive developments from Islamabad.

India feels that by raising the temperature in the already volatile region, it would help world powers, particularly America, convince President Pervez Musharraf to act fast on the list of 20 criminals Delhi wants handed over.

Pak condemns test

Pakistan reacted strongly to the Agni test-fire, calling it “prejudicial” to the pursuit of stability in the region and hoped that the international community would take note of the “Indian behaviour”, reports our Islamabad correspondent.

“The test comes at a time of tension when the Indian forces are amassed all along our borders,” a foreign office spokesman said. “We hope the international community will take note of this Indian behaviour which is prejudicial to the pursuit of stability in our region, especially during the current situation.”

Pakistan favours a policy of restraint in the region, the spokesman said and added that the country has the means to defend itself. “The Indian side had given us advance notice about the test,” Islamabad said.

The foreign office said Pakistan’s missile programme follows the logic of technical requirements. “We test when it is technically required in the process of development and validation of our missile capabilities.”

In an interview with BBC, the spokesman said the Agni test-fire came at a time of tension along the border. Pakistan has called for a reduction of tension in the region and tests like these do not help the situation, he said.

   

 
 
PERVEZ SCORES ANOTHER FIRST 
 
 
FROM IDREES BAKHTIAR
 
Islamabad, Jan. 25: 
For the first time in decades, there will be no call for a countrywide strike on February 5, observed as Kashmir Solidarity Day in Pakistan.

The National Kashmir Committee set up recently by President Pervez Musharraf has decided not to hold the annual strike and to restrict activities on the day to seminars, discussions and in-house meetings.

The decision was taken unanimously by the committee, which met here under the chairmanship of its chief Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan, a moderate. The panel felt that the basic objective of observing Kashmir Day was to create public awareness and that had already been achieved.

A meeting will, however, be held as usual on February 5 in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

The committee is likely to send a delegation to India to explain Pakistan’s stand on the Kashmir issue. It believes the move will help remove some of India’s “misunderstandings”. The panel also hopes that sending a team will reduce tension between the nuclear neighbours and pave the way for a return to the talks table.

Musharraf told a gathering of senior officers at the military headquarters in Rawalpindi today that peace is in the greater interest of Pakistan and India.

But he added that Pakistan is fully prepared to thwart any “nefarious enemy designs”. “Pakistan’s deterrence, which consists of its quantified force, capability of causing unacceptable damage to the enemy and our resolve, is in place,” he said.

The President said there was no reason for India to escalate tension along the border, emphasising that the ball was now in New Delhi’s court.

Talking about the internal situation in Pakistan, Musharraf said the writ of the government would be established at all costs. He added that any action that the government was taking was in the interests of Pakistan and its people.

In Islamabad, foreign minister Abdus Sattar echoed Musharraf and said Pakistan will keep trying to promote peace and de-escalation in the region.

After his second meeting this week with Canadian Deputy Prime Minister John Manley, Sattar said: “We will consider very seriously Canada’s ideas and impressions and see what we can do in addition to what the President had already done to promote the objective of de-escalation and dialogue.”

He said Islamabad has taken note of the Canadian leader’s impressions after his visit to India. “We are deeply appreciative of the engagement of Canada and John Manley’s personal efforts to promote de-escalation and dialogue,” Sattar said.

Manley had earlier said: “I left India with no pessimism about the situation but (I am) hopeful that perhaps, through further efforts, the two countries will talk (among) each other.”

   

 
 
BONANZA FOR AFGHAN FLIERS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 25: 
India and Afghanistan have decided to double the passenger limit allowed each way through an aviation pact signed today.

The agreement will allow two designated carriers out of each country to carry up to 1,600 passengers every week in each direction, with a maximum of 1,000 seats earmarked for the Delhi-Kabul route. The remaining 600 is meant for Kandahar.

The Afghan airlines can now fly to Delhi and Amritsar and the Indian carriers to Kabul and Kandahar.

With this, there can be up to 10 flights between Delhi and the Afghan cities and six between Amritsar and Kabul and Kandahar. Initially, the Afghans, who have two airlines — Ariana and Mahan — will operate only one flight a week from this quota between Delhi and Kabul.

Indian Airlines and Air-India will not use any part of the entitlement as of now.

“It is an historic moment as we are reviving our age-old traditional relations with Afghanistan,” civil aviation minister Shahnawaz Hussain said. His Afghan counterpart, Abdullah Rahman, thanked Delhi for the support and cooperation.

The memorandum of understanding was signed by civil aviation officials of the two countries in the presence of the ministers a day after the Afghan delegation arrived here in the first Ariana flight out of the country in three years.

Explaining why India could not take up flights to Afghanistan just yet, Hussain said: “We have shortage of fleet at present. We will take a decision as soon as that is taken care of.”

Air-India and Indian Airlines would be the “designated carriers” for India.

An earlier limitation of carrying up to 5,000 tonnes of cargo has also been done away with. There will no restriction on the amount of cargo carried by the airlines of both countries.

The Afghan minister said the designated airlines of both nations would work out arrangements for technical collaboration for training of operational and technical staff.

The Afghan government has also sought Indian assistance for the reconstruction of airports and all required facilities there, Rahman said.

   

 
 
SANGH ASKS FOR MORE 
 
 
FROM HABIB BEARY
 
Bangalore, Jan. 25: 
Not satisfied with today’s test-fire of the short-range missile from the east coast, the RSS said India should develop missiles with a range of over 10,000 km to cover the whole of China and beyond.

“India can hit Pakistan any time,” Sangh chief K.S. Sudarshan said, reacting to the test-fire of the Agni missile, which has a range of 700 km. “What we require is to fire missiles with a reach beyond 10,000-12,000 km.”

India has already developed missiles with a range of about 2,500 km.

The RSS has no reservations about naming China as a threat to the nation’s security. “China has already deployed its missiles in Tibet that can target any city in India,” Sudarshan said after the inaugural function of a three-day RSS meet here. Over 30,000 Sangh members are attending the congregation, which Sudarshan said, has been called to “consolidate” Hindu society.

The meeting is one of the biggest conclaves of the RSS in over two decades in Karnataka. Seventeen mini-townships have sprung up over 270 acres of open space to accommodate RSS members who have come from the southern parts of the state.

   

 
 
FATHER SPEAKS UP FOR SALMAN WILD OATS 
 
 
FROM CHANDRIMA BHATTACHARYA
 
Mumbai, Jan. 25: 
It’s tough being a star father. Salim Khan defended son Salman Khan’s misdemeanours with actress Aishwarya Rai as just youthful excesses.

Salman was pulled up by police on Wednesday and asked to behave after Aishwarya’s parents lodged a complaint at Bandra police station. The actor had allegedly threatened his ex-flame with dire consequences and rammed his Pajero into her car at a shoot at Film City in Goregaon.

Later, he is also reported to have thrown a bowl of water on Aishwarya’s face at a Goa restaurant after forcing her to come out with him for dinner.

Lekin bachche aise karte hain. Children do such things. While falling in love or out of love, they tend to behave emotionally. It was the same with Salman. He tried to get into this girl’s house because he was in love. But now the police have told him to stay away and he will do so,” Salim said. He added that the media had blown the incident out of proportion.

There were reports earlier that Salman had barged into Aishwarya’s flat one night.

The complaint lodged by Aishwarya’s parents said there is a threat to the actress and her family and none of the Rai family should be held responsible for any untoward incident or accident involving the actor. The police confirmed the complaint.

The Rais fear that Salman may attempt to harm himself in a fit of anger, a source said.

Following the complaint, the Crime Branch Unit VII at Bandra questioned Salman for about 30 minutes.

Salman and Ash were hailed as Bollywood’s star couple. Till reports of the actor — who has been repeatedly called up by the police for questioning on alleged connections with the underworld and is notorious for his bad behaviour with mediapersons — misbehaving with his ladylove, too, began to surface.

The actor is desperate for Aishwarya, the former Miss World who is a leading lady in Bollywood and one of its most beautiful faces, a family source said. But the actress felt that the relationship was affecting her career and chose to distance herself from Salman.

Since then, Salman has tried to get her back, failed and then indulged in such histrionics, Salim added.

   

 
 
TARGET GEORGE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 25: 
The Congress today decided to focus on the coffin scam during the Assembly polls and demanded action against defence minister George Fernandes for alleged violation of the Official Secrets Act.

All India Congress Committee spokesman Jaipal Reddy accused Fernandes of making available a “lot of classified material” to a journalist who released a booklet in defence of transactions involving purchase of caskets for Kargil martyrs.

Reddy also alleged that Samata Party activists distributed to the media a “super secret” letter written by army chief General S. Padmanabhan to the defence minister.

“The defence ministry has been leaking and we have a leaking minister. We charge Fernandes with having violated the oath of office and the Official Secrets Act. We, therefore, demand his prosecution,” an agitated Reddy said. He, however, refused to comment on the contents of the letter written by General Padmanabhan.

The Congress spokesman said the party was observing “utmost restraint” on matters of national security but Fernandes had provoked them to take the battle to the “people’s court”.

   
 

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