‘Son was cadet, not criminal’
Clueless cops in line of fire
Chowringhee eviction prod for mayor
To catch the rising STAR
The City Diary
Canal compensation paves clean-up path
Payloaders clear illegal shanties on GT Road
Two killed in road mishaps
Opp. trains madarsa gun on Buddha
Security cocoon for touring CM

 
 
‘SON WAS CADET, NOT CRIMINAL’ 
 
 
BY DEVADEEP PUROHIT
 
Calcutta, Jan. 27: 
At times, Ishaque Ali Khan’s brown eyes cloud over with suspicion. At times, they are shot through with the daze of disbelief.

“I didn’t turn him into a terrorist, if he was really one,” he says, unapologetic about the way he brought up his son, Asif. A militant group — Asif Reza Commando Force — is now named after this young man, who would have been 29 had he been alive.

Hours after the attack on the American Center last Tuesday, a man introducing himself as Aftab Ansari called The Telegraph to claim responsibility. He said the policemen had been killed to avenge the death of his friend Asif in an encounter in Gujarat.

Ishaque, who is in his mid-fifties, does not believe Ansari. He thinks someone is simply trying to use his son’s death for his own ends. To the depleted family of nine at 38A, Mufizul Islam Lane — 38A is also the number of the American Center on Chowringhee — this only bodes more trouble, more visits by police, more silent disapproval from neighbours.

Sab shak ki nigahon se dekhte hain (everyone looks at us with suspicion),” said 17-year-old Imran, the fourth son who now looks after the family’s building materials shop on nearby Gorachand Road with his father and third brother Ali.

Amir used to attend to the shop before he went off to Dubai in search of a better life and this Thursday afternoon, Ishaque is full of fear for his second son. The police are asking him to bring Amir back.

Dark suspicions have been voiced about Amir’s involvement in the attack. Beyond the fact that Amir took off for Dubai last November and what the police have told him — that his son dabbles in electronic goods — Ishaque has no knowledge of the boy who did not finish college.

“Asif was the best of my five sons,” says the father. Mother Hasina echoes him. She can’t reconcile with the fact that an NCC cadet could become a jihadi.

With the family’s name besmirched, she wonders how she will get her two teenage daughters married. One of them had earlier drawn back the collapsible gate to let this correspondent in. “Abbu, Telegraphwale aa gaye hain,” she said with a smile.

The Khans’ second-floor flat stands in a lane that is not more than five-foot broad. On either side, craftsmen in hole-in-the-wall shops are stitching leather bags and tailoring ladies’ dresses to the blare of radio sets playing popular Bollywood numbers.

On a small courtyard, kids are kicking a football around. In a sunlit corner of the dark, oppressive lane, a knot of young men is discussing a cricket match India is to play.

Asif and Amir would have, naturally, belonged to this group. As natural as they would have looked sitting in front of the assembled computer their father has recently bought and which is now being used by their brothers and sisters.

“I have no idea why my sons are labelled criminals,” says Ishaque, in a moment of disbelief. He recalls the night Asif was picked up by the police from their home at night after an explosion in the locality. They took him away for interrogation.

Asif did not return for five years. “He was arrested on charges of anti-nationalism and dumped with dreaded criminals in Tihar jail for over five years. Looking for a career, Amir went to Dubai, and now police say he is responsible for the killings in front of American Center. What’s happening?” asks Khan-sahab.

Tuesday morning’s massacre has changed the family’s life a second time over. The first was when Asif died. Every day, they get to hear new stories about Asif and Amir’s misdeeds. “Itna seedha aur tehezeeb-wala bachcha kaise aisa kaam kar sakta hai (How can such a courteous and simple boy do such a thing)?” Hasina asks, referring to Asif.

He was arrested in Agra in connection with the Parthapratim Roy Burman abduction case, along with an alleged Pakistani national and a woman in November.

Ishaque, ruefully recalling Asif’s business acumen, can’t justify his son’s regular visits to Bihar over the past two years.

Memory visits Ishaque of the November day an intelligence man showed up at his shop asking after Asif, while the young man stood on one side with his face turned away. The sleuth did not obviously know Asif. The same night, their home was raided, but Asif was not there.

He had said he was going off to Bihar to buy stone chips, a business he had lately started.

Whenever Asif went to Bihar, he would be away for four-five days. But this time, he was back the next day.

Ishaque told him that the police had left word for him to get in touch with them. Asif, he recalled, was torn by the bitter experience of 1994, when he left his house to spend five years in jail (with the likes of Masood Azhar and Aftab Ansari) and the compulsion to call on the police.

That night, he packed his bags, never to return.

“In 1994, police charged him under Tada. After spending over five years behind bars, he came back to Calcutta. Before calling him a criminal and anti-national, the government must take the blame for converting a simple boy into a dreaded terrorist who can influence people to set up terrorist outfits like A.R. Commandos,” says the father, his gentle voice rising in anger.

The Khans’ flat, going by the 10x8-ft size of the sitting room, is small but clean and well-maintained without any visible signs of luxury. The computer, Ishaque said, had to be bought for his children as a necessity, though he confessed to be hard up on money. “After fighting court cases for Asif and then marrying off three daughters, I am neck-deep in debt.”

“He (Asif) first took admission in Aligarh Muslim University to study journalism, then he went to Gaya to do his MA in Urdu. But in both cases, financial constraints compelled me to call him back to Calcutta. I wish I could have supported his studies. We wouldn’t have had to see these days.”

“The police told me that my son had earned crores. I just want to know, why didn’t he help me out with a few lakhs?” Ishaque asked.

But doubts come hanging on to the coattails of indignation. Ishaque talks about the day Asif’s body — he was killed in Gujarat — was being brought to their home.

“Thirty to forty thousand people descended on this lane. They queued up for a glimpse. Main use dekhne ke liye taras gaya tha (I was dying to see him but couldn’t because of the crowd)”, he recounts. “Who were these people? Jihadis, terrorists? I don’t know.”

Ishaque describes his son as unafraid of the father but respectful. He remembers to have slapped him once. “Hum Gandhiji ke bhakt hain, aap is gaal pe maar dijiye,” Asif had told him, turning the other cheek.

For the only time, Ishaque’s eyes fill with tears.

   

 
 
CLUELESS COPS IN LINE OF FIRE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 27: 
Taking a cue from chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, city police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty on Sunday pulled up the 36-man special investigation team for its failure to achieve a breakthrough in the American Center case.

Bhattacharjee had summoned an inspector of the 5th Battalion to his office on Friday afternoon. The officer, who was on night duty in front of the American Center, was one of the few who was armed with a revolver. “Why didn’t you fire when your men were shot?” Bhattacharjee demanded.

On Sunday, it was the turn of the special investigation team to face the flak. Sources close to the police chief said Chakraborty was peeved at the tardy progress of investigation and directed his officers to pull up their socks.

“The police chief arrived at Lalbazar around 4 pm,” said a detective who attended the meeting. “He summoned senior members of the team and remained closeted with them for over an hour,” he added.

A few hours earlier, he pulled up an official who had been hiding in the driver’s cabin of the van that was waiting for the changeover to be effected on Tuesday. “You, at least, had cover. Why didn’t you fire?” Chakraborty asked.

Around the time the senior sleuths were being hauled up, police teams were busy raiding Beniapukur, Rajabazar, Narkeldanga, Entally, Tiljala, Topsia, New Park Street and other central Calcutta areas. The raids started on Republic Day.

“We have rounded up more than 150 persons and they have been detained for interrogation,” said deputy commissioner (detective department), Soumen Mitra. He is also heading the special probe team.

“We have evidence to suggest that the assailants were outsiders with strong local contacts,’’ Mitra said.

Six policemen, led by detective department officer-in-charge Bimal Saha, raided a central Calcutta residence on Saturday night. They detained a man who had received “suspicious long-distance calls” from West Asia.

The section of the special investigating team that is monitoring the long-distance calls received by city addresses from Tuesday, has zeroed in on 54 suspicious calls. The team is headed by deputy commissioner of police, detective department (special cell), Piyush Pandey.

On Sunday morning, another senior police officer led a team to Tiljala and Topsia. “We raided five houses and detained six criminals who might provide information about the assailants,’’ an official said.

According to CID and IB sources, detectives had interrogated Mohammed Tasleem, alias Chunnu, and his henchmen for possible leads.

   

 
 
CHOWRINGHEE EVICTION PROD FOR MAYOR 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 27: 
The city’s civic authorities on Sunday came under pressure from police to drive out hawkers from pavements of the Chowringhee and Esplanade areas on security grounds.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee during the day directed the conservancy department to take action against the hawkers by this week.

“Before taking action, we will first request them not to encroach on pavements,” said assistant director of conservancy Swapan Mahapatra.

Following the attack last Tuesday on the police guarding the American Center, city police requested Subrata Mukherjee to keep the pavements of the Chowringhee-Esplanade area free of hawkers, as most of them are not Indian citizens.

Commissioner of police Sujoy Chakraborty and DC (traffic) M.K. Singh have already had several rounds of talks with Mukherjee on the issue.

Sources said Singh told the mayor that after the shoot-out, 12 Bangladeshi nationals, who claimed they were hawkers, were rounded up from Chowringhee .

The police commissioner sought help from the civic authorities to keep the guest houses operating in the Free School Street, Sudder Street and Kyd Street area under surveillance.

The police commissioner on Thursday requested municipal commissioner Debasis Som to verify the records of three guest houses, one on Sudder Street.

Singh said any organisation with sinister designs could easily make use of the guise of either a hawker or a customer.

Mukherjee said the civic headquarters were a vital and vulnerable installation.

   

 
 
TO CATCH THE RISING STAR 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, Jan. 27: 
Talented youth in Calcutta “engaged in anything creative” can now aim for the STAR. That was the message Peter Mukerjea was carrying this weekend on his first visit to the city in three years.

“There is such immense talent here, waiting to be harnessed, in music, theatre, arts, dance… the works. I would like to encourage young people in Calcutta engaged in creative pursuits to send us their stuff and keep us posted,” says the chief executive India, STAR India Pvt Ltd, in town to review operations.

The STAR boss is “really keen” to plug into a city which has “always led the pack” in art and culture. “I would like to see — and not just because I’m a Bengali — more talent coming out of here. The more darts you throw, the more chances you have of hitting bull’s eye.”

STAR is set to conduct programming workshops in Calcutta, with “some local creative people interacting with the programming people”. The idea, says Mukerjea, is not just to put a face to a name, “but to talk, discuss, to generate some ideas”. In the next four-five months, the focus will be on the workshops. “We tell them this is what we are looking for, what have you guys got? We would like to try those out,” explains Mukerjea, eager to dispel doubts often voiced in Calcutta about the channel’s accessibility.

The effort to reach out to the Calcutta youth is already on. Mukerjea’s visit coincided with the city leg of Channel V Popstars, which saw Shubha Mudgal and Sushma Reddy scouting for a Calcutta clone of Spice Girls.

But that’s just the beginning, assures Mukerjea, pushing for more Calcutta in STAR’s overall content. “Eighty per cent of the stuff on television is from Mumbai. There’s nothing from Calcutta. I would like that to change.”

The first step in that direction, said the STAR chief, has been taken with a concept note that actor Victor Banerjee’s production house Chinar Entertainment has sent him. “It’s a soap with a distinctive Calcutta flavour. The look, the emotions and the feelings of the family drama will reflect the sensibilities that have lingered in this city,” says Banerjee.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Post office robbed of Rs 50000

A gang of miscreants broke open the door of a post office in the Jadavpur area and made off with cash amounting to Rs 50,000 on Saturday night. Preliminary investigations point to the involvement of some local youths in the robbery. No arrests have been made.

President’s awards

Additional commissioner of Calcutta Police S.I.S. Ahmed and additional director-general of state police R.K. Mohanty have been awarded the President’s Medal for their services. The awards were announced on Republic Day.

False alarm

Tension mounted at Sealdah station on Sunday when railway officials mistook a used battery box for a bomb while examining a train. Railway police personnel rushed to the spot and removed the box.

Scholarship tests

The scholarship examinations for Class IV students of state-aided primary schools, conducted by the Primary Education Development Board of West Bengal, will begin on February 11. The tests will continue till February 15. The board, run by a non-government body, was set up by some eminent citizens after the Left Front government decided to abolish English at the primary level and cancel scholarship examinations for Class IV students.

Campus clash

Fifteen students were injured at Vidyanagar College, in Bishnupur, on Friday in a clash between supporters of the Students’ Federation of India (SFI) and the Trinamul Chhatra Parishad. Police said the clash was a fallout of the elections to the students’ union. Of the 15 injured, 10 belong to the Chhatra Parishad and five to the SFI. Some of them were admitted to Vidyasagar hospital.

Health meet

The 46th All-India Annual Conference of Indian Public Health Association ended on Sunday. Panelists discussed the association’s activities for the improvement of people’s health.    

 
 
CANAL COMPENSATION PAVES CLEAN-UP PATH 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 27: 
The state government has fixed Rs 2,500 per family as compensation for vacating the land along Tolly’s Nullah. More than 1,800 settlers on either side of the Nullah will have to release government land in exchange of the sum by February 24, or face a joint eviction drive by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) and the state government from next morning.

Though Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee and MLAs like Sougata Roy, Pankaj Banerjee and Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay, are still firm on the ‘no-eviction-without-compensation’ stand, a high court directive has asked mayor Subrata Mukherjee to help the government in the clean-up operation.

On Friday, Mukherjee attended a meeting convened by municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya to finalise the clean-up drive. “I am bound to obey the court, which has directed the CMC to help the government in this matter,” the mayor said, adding: “The question of compensation to encroachers cannot arise, as it will set a precedent of rewarding law-breakers.”

The minister has requested Mukherjee to supply trucks, payloaders and a demolition squad. “We are ready to pay adequate compensation only to those who can produce valid documents relating to their rights over the plots,” Bhattacharya said.

Meanwhile, officials from the irrigation and municipal affairs departments will start distributing coupons among the settlers living within 15 feet of either bank of Tolly’s Nullah from Monday. Coupons will be distributed till February 3, said minister of state for irrigation Ganesh Mondol. “The land is needed for re-excavating the Nullah and for construction of Metro Railway’s proposed extension up to Garia,” Mondol added.

   

 
 
PAYLOADERS CLEAR ILLEGAL SHANTIES ON GT ROAD 
 
 
BY A CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Jan. 27: 
Alarmed at the mushrooming of illegal structures in Howrah, the district administration on Sunday morning launched a drive to remove encroachments along a five-km stretch of GT Road, between BE College and Belur Bazaar.

The drive, which started around 7 am, continued till late in the afternoon, almost without any resistance. Officers said over 1,000 roadside shanties were razed with the help of payloaders and bulldozers of the Howrah Municipal Corporation.

Superintendent of police (Howrah) C.V. Muralidhar said the encroachers were warned about the drive over the public address system during the past few days. Many of the squatters had left on their own.

Additional superintendent of police (town) Rajib Mishra, who supervised the eight-hour-long operation, later said the action followed numerous complaints from local people, particularly pedestrians, who said the unauthorised structures were impeding movement of traffic on this busy road.

At the crack of dawn, half-a-dozen payloaders of the Howrah Municipal Corporation rolled on to GT Road near Bengal Engineering College (Deemed University) and waited for the police contingent to arrive. Realising they would not be able to hold on to their shanties for long, most of the 5,000-odd squatters began to pack up to vacate.

When the police arrived a little before 7 am, a large number of squatters approached the force and requested them to extend the deadline so they could gather their belongings. But the police refused to oblige.

At 7 am, the first payloaders had bulldozed a row of shanties to the ground. By 2.30 pm, the payloaders had cleared most of the shanties.

Police will soon start another drive against hawkers in central Howrah. Now GT Road looks wider and cleaner.

Officers said meetings have been planned periodically with representatives of local people and other agencies to put a check on encroachment.

   

 
 
TWO KILLED IN ROAD MISHAPS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 27: 
Two persons were killed in accidents during the past 24 hours in and around the city.

On Sunday, Kalyan Bhattacharya, 48, on his morning walk, was run over by a lorry while trying to cross Cossipore Road. The driver escaped with the vehicle. Bhattacharya was taken to R.G. Kar Medical College and Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

In the other accident, Robin Mondal, 68, was run over by a car on the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass, near Parama Island, on Saturday afternoon. He was taken to Chittaranjan Medical College and Hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries.

The driver tried to flee but bystanders caught him and handed him over to the police.

Residents of the area put up a roadblock on the Bypass, protesting against rash driving. The blockade was removed on a police assurance that measures would be taken against rash driving on the Bypass by motorists and goods vehicles.

   

 
 
OPP. TRAINS MADARSA GUN ON BUDDHA 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Jan. 27: 
The Bengal Opposition, marginalised since the state returned the Left Front to power last year, today sought to creep back into the reckoning by harnessing the madarsa issue.

Putting their differences aside and playing to the sizeable Muslim votebank, the Trinamul Congress and the Congress attacked chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee for his recent pronouncements on madarsas.

They slammed the statement that certain unaffiliated madarsas spread across several districts were encouraging anti-national activities. 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.

Sultan Ahmed, Trinamul Congress MLA and president of the West Bengal Pradesh Qaumi Tanzeem, a body dedicated to the development of Muslims, demanded that Bhattacharjee immediately release a list of the madarsas allegedly engaged in anti-national activities and serving ISI interests.

“By generalising on the institutions belonging to the minority community, Buddhababu has villified Muslims. He must spell out the specific names of such madarsas or else we urge Buddhababu to stop this campaign,” said Ahmed. “The police have not been able to prove anything against those they have picked up,” he told reporters.

Ahmed said that never before in the country — not even after the terrorist strike on Parliament — had a particular community been singled out like this. “From Buddhababu’s tenor, it appears that it is a madarsa teacher who launched the attack on the American Center. It is wrong to link up communities with terrorism. Let Buddhababu give us a list of madarsas involved in anti-national activities, then we will go and down their shutters,” he added.

Congress MP Adhir Chowdhury alleged in Behrampore that Muslims were living in fear following police raids on their institutions. “The police are beating up members of the Muslim community and ransacking their houses in the name of searching for ISI agents. Those picked up are being detained under false charges,” said Chowdhury.

He said the Congress will launch a civil disobedience movement on February 14 in front of the district magistrate’s office at Behrampore in protest against police atrocities on the minority community.

   

 
 
SECURITY COCOON FOR TOURING CM 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Behrampore, Jan. 27: 
The Murshidabad district administration has made elaborate security arrangements in view of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s two-day visit to the district.

The chief minister arrived at Behrampore tonight amid tight security. He will go to Domkal, 35 km away from here, to attend the CPM’s district conference tomorrow.

Armed policemen have been deployed at all the intersections on National Highway 34 and in the congested areas through which the chief minister’s convoy will pass. Shanties and stalls by the road have been demolished.

“The chief minister has come to Behrampore many times, but, this time, the situation is different following the terrorist attack outside the American Center. We have utilised all of our forces to make the chief minister’s security foolproof,” said district superintendent of police Rajesh Kumar.

Behrampore has virtually turned into a fortress with about a thousand policemen patrolling it. Another large contingent has been deployed in Domkal, where Bhattacharjee will address a rally.

   
 

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