Cadre counter to terror threat
Naxalite catch foils R-Day raid plot
Caught between puja & promoters
Siliguri draft trail leads to ISI ‘agent’
Ansari passport cop in custody
Sants slam Vajpayee over Ram mandir
BJP rain on ally’s parade
Anthem insult slur on Laloo
Blasts shatter Assam push
70 children ill after polio drive

Calcutta, Jan. 27: 
The CPM will use its cadre to shape popular resistance against terrorism and criminal activities, state party secretary Anil Biswas indicated today.

Biswas asked CPM workers to form resistance groups in the city and elsewhere in the state to monitor movements of outsiders and lead an “active” popular response to terrorist and criminal activities.

“We have to form our own resistance groups (in the city and villages) to keep a close watch on intruders and suspicious characters,” Biswas said at the 19th conference of the CPM’s South 24-Parganas district unit at Circus Maidan in Ghatakpukur this afternoon.

The leader asked the gathering to view his observation in the light of what he described as growing operations of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence in West Bengal, which, he said, were borne out by last week’s bloody attack outside the American Center.

“Terrorism has spread its tentacles in our country. The attack on Parliament by terrorist groups proved the Vajpayee government’s callousness in tackling terrorism. We can’t ignore the fact that they are active in our state too,” he said.

This is the first time that Biswas has admitted to the presence of ISI agents in the state though chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had acknowledged their presence earlier.

“These resistance groups will keep close watch on newcomers in their respective localities and help the administration and the police in tackling terrorism,” Biswas said. “The BJP government has vitiated the bilateral relations between India and Pakistan and is depending solely on the US to fight the terrorist activities in our country, which our party does not approve of,” he added.


Paschim Midnapore, Jan. 27: 
A front-ranking People’s War Group leader was arrested on the eve of Republic Day from a house in Salboni. A sophisticated rifle, 52 live cartridges, one grenade and some incriminating documents were seized.

Preliminary investigations revealed that 20-year-old Sanjoy Mandi, alias Sidhu, was part of the PWG’s action squad. On Friday night, he and his associates had gathered in the house of one Susanta Mahato in Belaidanga village to plot the murder of three local CPM leaders. They were also planning a strike on the Republic Day programme at Midnapore police lines.

Mandi was produced before the sub-divisional judicial magistrate’s court today and has been remanded in police custody.

Superintendent of police K.C. Meena, who presented Mandi at a news conference, said police were probing whether he had links with the Maoist militants in Nepal or the ISI.

Claiming to have made a major breakthrough in the PWG base, Meena said sustained raids were being conducted in association with state and Central forces at Salboni, Goaltore and Lalgarh forest areas.

He said police are on the lookout for at least 25 other PWG activists who had joined Mandi to mastermind the operation in Salboni.

“We have information that Mandi and his associates had eight rifles, including two stolen from policemen, on Friday night,” he said.

They had chalked out a plan to murder Biren Mahato, Ganesh Mahato and Jayanta Mahato — CPM leaders from Birghosa village — who they believe were instrumental behind the arrest of two local PWG activists last year.

A diary found in Mandi’s possession revealed that he had prepared a hit list of key CPM leaders and police personnel. The diary also contained a schedule of arms training and some poems that Mandi had penned in protest against the CPM’s misrule.

Mandi told reporters that he belonged to Khayerbari village in Bankura and confessed to having taken shelter at a party activist’s house in Salboni to plot the murder of the CPM leaders. He was, however, tightlipped about the Republic-Day attack plans.


Bhuj, Jan. 27: 
As Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi joined priests in a prayer to mollify “Mother Earth” in the quake-ravaged Kutch yesterday, builder Bharat Chothani wished he would do something “more earthly” to placate homeless people and salvage the construction industry.

“One year has passed, but the government has done nothing to rebuild the collapsed apartment buildings in Bhuj. The flat dwellers have not received any compensation either,” Chothani, president of the Bhuj Builders and Land Developers Association, said.

Chothani said he did not mind the chief minister doing dharti puja. “But he should also settle the pressing issues pending for the last one year. It will not only help the homeless people but also the construction industry on its death-bed.”

For the homeless residents of Bhuj, who baked in summer and now freeze in the harsh Kutch winter in their tin shelters, set up by a religious outfit, one year is enough for the government to come out with a concrete plan and a solution. “People are very angry at the government’s failure,” Chothani said.

More than 100 apartment buildings came tumbling down in Bhuj in the 7.9 trembler that struck Kutch on January 26 last year, killing more than 1,000 flat dwellers.

As residents blamed the tragedy on faulty planning and poor construction, the government in a knee-jerk reaction slapped cases on 60 builders.

The administration, which had clearly acted under public pressure, was hardly serious about bringing the errant promoters to justice.

Chothani said the builders who were charged with negligence and swindling were asked to “come to the police stations and get themselves arrested”.

But despite that, only 38 of them turned themselves over to the police. The rest of them have “gone missing”, they are still trying to obtain anticipatory bails in courts.

Chothani said those arrested were “released immediately as the government had promised to the builders’ association”.

“None of the apartment buildings in Bhuj were quake-resistant, so were vulnerable to strong quakes,” he said, denying that poor construction was responsible mainly for the collapse.

Though very few residents were willing to buy Chothani’s explanation, they were critical of the dharti puja, too.

“The chief minister did puja when he should have overseen the reconstruction efforts. We have waited long enough, but still nothing has happened here in Bhuj,” said Nalin Upadhyay of the Bhuj Development Council, formed largely by owners of the collapsed buildings to fight for rehabilitation.

The government, under its new plans, will not allow highrises to be built in Bhuj any longer. It will permit only two-storied buildings since Kutch is a seismic zone.

“It’s good that the government has finally woken up to reality. But where will those living on the upper floors of the apartment buildings go?” Upadhyay asked.

The plan envisages relocating those living on the upper floors to the new city the government wants to build on the outskirts of Bhuj. The builders will be required to pay more than half of the construction cost to “rehouse” the buyers of their collapsed buildings.

The flat owners will get soft loans to pay the rest of the amount for their new flats. But no one knows when that new city will come about. Even a year after the quake, the plans remain largely on the drawing board.

“We have prepared a town plan and have sought objections to it. We are also preparing a micro plan to determine the plots people had before the quake. It is a time-consuming process and people will have to wait,” Bhuj district collector H.N. Chhibbar said.

The government has, meanwhile, barred builders and residents from reconstructing their collapsed houses on legal grounds. “We need to know precisely who owned what before allowing the construction. We cannot have court cases stalling the process,” the collector said.

Chothani said only 20 per cent of the apartment owners would get their flats on their old locations. “The others will all have to move to the new city. The construction industry in Bhuj that collapsed with the collapse of the city will die out if the government does not act quickly and allows the reconstruction.”

But the chief minister appeared undaunted by the mammoth task ahead as he lit the lamps and sang the vedic hymns with the priests at Swamynarayan temple yesterday.

Modi lashed out at the English language media for slamming his government’s decision to hold pujas. “The English language press is the offspring of the British. What do they know about Indian culture and traditions?’’

The chief minister said there was “nothing wrong” with dharti puja. “Don’t we do bhoomi pujas before building our houses?”

“The chief minister sent a wrong message to people. Such pujas will make people more superstitious about earthquakes,’’ said Sushma Iyengar of the Kutch Nav Nirman Abhiyan, made up of 29 non-government organisations to help rebuild largely rural areas of the region.

Iyengar said the government should, instead, tell the people that earthquake is a geological phenomenon that happens all over the world. “It is not a curse of Mother Earth.”


Jan. 27: 
A demand draft couriered from Siliguri by an arrested ISI agent today sealed the fate of one of his Hyderabad accomplices, who was picked up while trying to make contact with linkmen in Bangladesh.

Police swooped on 21-year-old Shaheen Taher alias Ashique Ali as he was trying to send crucial data on defence installations by e-mail to his colleagues.

Taher had also been trying to reach them by phone from a local booth in Nizamabad, where he had gone for a wedding.

Siliguri police tipped off their Andhra counterparts on Taher’s whereabouts after arrested master operative Mohammed Dilshad disclosed that he was the resident ISI agent in Hyderabad.

Some bank drafts drawn on a Siliguri bank in Dilshad’s name were found with Taher, Nizamabad police super S.K. Jain said.

Police have seized several documents from him, including sketch-maps of the missile-building centre, Imaarat, and the College of Air Warfare in Hyderabad.

Taher was also carrying details of how to get to these places from the city airport, railway station and bus stands as well as from Visakhapatnam and Vijayawada. A pocket diary containing phone numbers of his Pakistani contacts was also found.

Another of Taher’s colleagues, Riyaz Jahan, who was in touch with Dilshad, had been arrested two days ago. Intelligence officials in Hyderabad said Jahan had also spilt the beans on Taher.

Taher, who has a Pakistani passport, landed in Hyderabad last June with instructions to set up an ISI network in Andhra, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu and had since been going about his job.

Hailing from the Sindh province of Pakistan, he is believed to have trained in espionage activities with the military for two years.

Taher has built himself a house in Hyderabad and is believed to have had plans of marrying a local girl and settling down. He also runs a DTP cum photocopying business.


Patna, Jan. 27: 
Stung by the Calcutta killing uproar, Bihar police today arrested the sub-inspector who verified the passport papers of Aftab Ansari alias Farhan Malik, prime suspect in the case, and summoned a deputy superintendent of police.

Sub-inspector Ramraj Ram was arrested this morning from his village in Bhojpur district.

The police said the arrested sub-inspector has claimed that the deputy superintendent, now posted in Hajipur, had asked him to sign Anasri’s verification papers. The verification certificate was given though Ansari was not living in a Nalanda village as he claimed in his application.

Nalanda superintendent of police Amit Lodha said the arrest was carried out on the basis of a first information report which names seven people.

The police are now looking for the others who include a notary public and an advocate who had signed an affidavit stating that he lived in the village. The role of a principal, who allegedly translated the papers for Ansari, is also being investigated.

The investigating officers are now questioning the sub-inspector on whether he had met Ansari before signing the papers.

The police suspect that Ansari has pockets of influence in several parts of the state but the Kishenganj-Purnea belt could have been the centre of the Calcutta conspiracy.

A police team has been raiding hideouts of some gangs that operate on the Nepal-Bangladesh borders through Kishenganj, Purnea and Siliguri in Bengal. The police are looking into reports that associates of Ansari had abandoned a car from Bengal at Katihar to ascertain whether it has any link to the Calcutta strike.


New Delhi, Jan. 27: 
The mood veered from belligerence to churlishness but there was no mistaking the dominant sentiment at the VHP’s Sant Chetavni rally. After having resuscitated the temple issue, the sadhus and the dharmacharyas were in no hurry to let go, no matter what the Prime Minister thought or said.

Speaker after speaker at the Ram Lila Maidan here virtually declared war on the Centre, rubbished politicians, especially of the BJP, and asked kar sevaks to brace themselves for yet another confrontation at Ayodhya. The stated objective was that the temple would be constructed whatever the political cost after the March 12 deadline set by the VHP’s dharam sansad expired.

The mood was reflected by the slogans at the maidan: “Ram Lalla ka bhoomi de do, varna desh hee Avadh banega” (give up the Ayodhya land which is home to Ram Lalla or the country will be destroyed) and “Ram Lalla hum ayenge, bhavya mandir wahin banayenge” (Ram Lalla we will come to your birthplace and construct a grand temple).

Acharya Dharmendra, a prominent member of the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas, launched a diatribe against A.B. Vajpayee. “On April 4, 1991, we held a mammoth public meeting at the Boat Club in the capital. The present Prime Minister was proud to share the dais with us. Prime Ministers, ministers and MPs come and go, but sadhus and sants are immortal. He should remember that he is where he is today because of the Boat Club meeting”.

“Our home minister tells the Liberhan Commission that December 6, 1992, was the saddest day of his life. But he, too, wouldn’t be sitting there as minister had he not climbed on his Ram rath,” he added. All of them have made it to power by hanging on to Ram Lalla’s pallu,” he said.

Dharmendra added that Ram’s idol — which was specially brought from Jaipur for display at the rally — would not be treated as a museum piece but kept in a temple at his “birthplace”.

While saying Vajpayee had his compulsions of running a coalition, the Acharya urged him to “appreciate the sentiments on the ground”. “And if he cannot see them, my advice to him is to get his eyes operated as well,” he said in a dig at the Prime Minister’s two knee surgeries.

Dharmendra declared the temple issue was not meant to benefit any political party. “We are not bothered about who is ruling Lucknow or Delhi. You are bound to power, we are committed to truth. But he must remember that the villains of history like Hiranyakashyap, Ravana, Taimur, Aurangzeb and even Tony Blair’s aunt, the great Queen Victoria, could never retain power for long. So when time is still on your side, I urge you to do something and redeem yourself,” he advised Vajpayee.


Hyderabad, Jan. 27: 
N. Chandrababu Naidu has broken a post-Independence stranglehold to capture the Hyderabad civic board in a close finish, prompting the BJP to claim that the Telugu Desam cannot survive without the national party.

The combine of Naidu’s Telugu Desam and the BJP won four of the five municipal corporations, leaving one to the Congress.

The most significant upset was in Hyderabad, where the Desam snatched power from the MIM, which has never lost the city before.

As the Desam and the BJP fought together, the respective votes of the two parties could not be collated to conclusively prove the assertion that the regional party would have lost without the support of the ally.

But the narrow margin prompted the BJP to claim credit in public. BJP leader and Union minister Bandaru Dattatraya said “Naidu should realise now that without the BJP, the Desam is in for a rout in the state”.

The statement marks a turnaround – a few years ago it was the “neutral” Naidu who had propped up the BJP-led government at the Centre in what was the beginning of an enduring relationship.

But the last Assembly elections sounded a first note of warning to the national coalition partners when the BJP did well and helped the Desam retain power. The BJP’s performance had triggered an informal debate among the allies on whether “the Big Brother”, using them to gain a toehold, will eventually swallow them.

The municipal election results have revived the debate and a section of the BJP leaders indicated that the party expected a better deal in the next elections.

The Desam won 22 seats on the 100-member Hyderabad board and the BJP 15 against the MIM’s 36. The Congress bagged 21. The victory was on a cumulative lead of 21,000 votes and a margin of less than 2 per cent.

But Desam sources claimed that a new rule to record all voters’ fingerprints kept the people away from the polling booths.

They said the municipal election could not be considered a sample as only 41.38 per cent of the 27 lakh voters turned up.

Besides Hyderabad, the Desam won the municipalities of Tirupati, Rajahmundry and Markapur. The BJP took the Gaddiannaram board on the outskirts of the state capital and the Congress romped home in Hindupur.


Patna, Jan. 27: 
The Opposition in Bihar is targeting the state’s first couple after their alleged misdemeanour during the Republic Day parade in the state capital. Chief minister Rabri Devi and her husband, Laloo Prasad Yadav, are being accused of not rising to their feet when the national anthem was being played during the march-past yesterday.

The alleged indecency was telecast by two television channels yesterday, firing the BJP to demand a public apology from the chief minister and the Rashtriya Janata Dal chief.

BJP party president Nandkishore Yadav said: “The disrespect by the chief minister and the RJD chief was clear. Both should publicly apologise and make amends.” Several freedom fighters at the function were dismayed that Laloo and his wife remained seated when the anthem was being played.

Eyewitnesses said Rabri and Laloo, seated among the VIPs during the parade, stood up twice during the function. They were on their feet when the Governor came to the venue and when the national flag was unfurled. But they did not budge when jawans were marching past to the tune of the national anthem.

“All the leaders and freedom fighters were present when this was going on. But to everybody’s surprise, the chief minister and her husband were seated. This is clearly unbecoming of both of them,” said a freedom fighter.

Laloo, however, defended his decision to remain seated when the national anthem was being played for the marching of troops. “This was not obligatory and my behaviour did not amount to showing disrespect,” he said.

But Opposition leaders are not convinced. Some of them also accused the state’s first couple of breaking protocol during the function. Though it is obligatory for the chief minister to stay till the Governor leaves, Rabri Devi left during the prize distribution ceremony, in which Governor Vinod Chandra Pandey was present.

Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly Sushil Modi said: “These customs may not be legally binding, but constitute a few basics that a leader of a state, especially a chief minister or head of a ruling party, should follow. It is unfortunate that the chief minister and her husband did not bother to adhere to them.”


Jan. 27: 
Militant groups today triggered a series of blasts across Assam, virtually blowing up the state government’s customary peace overtures made on Republic Day.

Two persons, including a police officer, were killed and 27 securitymen and civilians injured in three separate incidents, a day after the state’s Governor called for a dialogue with rebel outfits.

Leading the attack on security personnel was the banned Ulfa, which triggered two powerful improvised explosive devices (IED) in Kamrup and Golaghat districts, in which a deputy superintendent of police and his driver were killed. Fourteen security men were also injured.

In Karbi Anglong district, suspected United People’s Democratic Solidarity (UPDS) rebels attacked a police station near Diphu, injuring 13 civilians.

Chief minister Tarun Gogoi, who is in New Delhi to meet Planning Commission officials, has cut short his visit and will return to Guwahati tomorrow following the sudden spurt in violence, official sources said.

Official spokesman Himanghsu Sekhar Das said all police stations have been alerted in view of the attacks. Security personnel are also on “maximum alert”, he said.

Governor Lt. Gen. (retd) S.K. Sinha’s Republic Day speech yesterday included an appeal to militant outfits to come forward for negotiations without any pre condition.

Minister of state for home Pradyut Bordoloi had said in Kokrajhar yesterday that the “Ulfa and National Democratic Front of Boroland are dancing to the tune of ISI.”

In Kamrup district, the police vehicle was blown off in an improvised explosive device blast at Balapur under Boko police station, around 40 km from the state capital.

While Kamrup deputy superintendent of police (headquarters) Debojit Pathak and driver Digvijay Das were killed on the spot, four policemen were injured as the vehicle took the full impact of the explosion. Kamrup superintendent of police L.R. Bisnoi said: “The attack was the handiwork of the Ulfa.”

A massive manhunt has been launched to flush out rebels believed to be hiding in the area. The police personnel were returning from Nagarbera, where a police camp was attacked by Ulfa rebels on January 25.

Those injured have been identified as Gajen Boro, Dipak Barman and Utpal Talukdar. They have been shifted to the Guwahati Medical College Hospital. The condition of Chandradhar Das, another policemen, was stated to be serious.

In another incident near Merapani in the Upper Assam district of Golaghat, an IED went off under a CRPF bus, injuring 10 jawans. The incident occurred when the bus, the last of a five-vehicle convoy, was crossing the Ghiladhari bridge under Furkating police station.

Three of the injured — Bhim Singh, Purshuttom Nath and Mahinder Singh — were shifted to the Air Force hospital in Jorhat in a serious condition, Golaghat deputy commissioner John Ekka said.


Jan. 27: 
The Assam government has yet again landed in a tricky situation on the health front with over 70 children taking ill after being administered pulse polio drops in Sonitpur district on January 20.

The joint director of health, Sonitpur, confirmed that 66 children had taken ill but attributed their illness to “winter diarrhoea of viral origin”. No casualty has been reported so far.

Health commissioner Alok Perti said in Guwahati that he is yet to receive any report from Sonitpur health authorities in this regard.

Last year, the death of 23 children, who received vitamin A doses, had rattled the Gogoi government. The Assam Human Rights Commission has indicted state government agencies for the botched vitamin campaign.

Though the Assam health department had apparently taken all measures to prevent another health fiasco, a tour of the affected areas indicate that untrained field workers might have contributed to more than 70 recipients of vaccine during the pulse polio programme falling ill.

Over 30 immunised children in Thelamara and 40 under the Bihaguri public heath centres took ill but health officials said they were not related to the first phase of the pulse polio immunisation programme conducted on January 20. The next phase is scheduled for February 17.

Admitting that not all field workers were properly trained, a health official said some did not know how to administer the doses in the right quantity. Over 3,000 field workers were employed for the immunisation drive.

The tour of the affected areas also revealed that most parents had developed cold feet over health programmes after the vitamin A scare.

The locals also gave the cold shoulder to health workers who conducted the door-to-door campaign to cover those left out on January 20. This was evident from the turnout in the district.

Only 4,966 children were immunised in urban areas (31.03 per cent) and 1,05,104 in rural areas ( 42.95 per cent) as against a target of 1,06,003 in urban areas and 2,44, 672 in rural areas in Sonitpur district.


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