CPM seeks Buddha-madarsa balance
Mystery of the other Aftab
Two more held
Vajpayee clears air on Sonia slur
Bahus spare spotlight for Varun
SC expands cruelty net
Dimple’s designer home on view at Selfridges
Karzai splits tour of twins
Indo-Nepal bid to fight rebels
Bangles jingle to Kanpur cheers

 
 
CPM SEEKS BUDDHA-MADARSA BALANCE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 7: 
As damage control continued apace, the CPM today appeared to be striving to reach a balance between efforts to distance the party from the controversy over Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s reported remarks on madarsas and the need to stand firm behind the chief minister.

Bengal CPM secretary Anil Biswas suggested that Bhattacharjee’s decision to speak out on some madarsas allegedly conducting activities not befitting institutions of learning had not been endorsed by the party.

“They (the government) will not take any unilateral decisions from now. There will be a lot more collective decision-making,” he said.

Latent in the comment is an indication that the current controversy could cramp the chief minister’s style of functioning with the party watching over him more closely than before.

The leadership — worried over reports from certain districts voicing apprehension of communal disharmony — has advised Bhattacharjee to consult the party before firming up government policy on major issues.

Biswas was, however, quick to point out that “there is no question of lording it over the government”. It will only seek better “understanding” with the government to improve co-ordination.

As a result, a decision taken six months ago by the leadership requiring ministers to consult the party before committing a position on political or administrative issues could see stricter enforcement, sources said.

Simultaneously, the party is taking care to send out the signal loud and clear that it has no differences with the chief minister on the issues he has raised: the need to reform madarsa education and the threat from anti-national forces.

Biswas said fundamentalist forces were trying to extend the reach of religious education in Bengal. “We are not opposed to religious education,” he said, echoing the chief minister who made the same point to a group of Muslim intellectuals today.

“But we have to decide whether we should encourage this or support the initiative for a scientific education system,” Biswas said while releasing a book at the Kolkata Book Fair.

Former chief minister Jyoti Basu also came out in defence of his protégé. He said Bhattacharjee’s comments, made in the wake of the American Center attack, were misrepresented in the media, which confused the issues concerning madarsas and the terrorist threat. Bhattacharjee had never intended to tie the two together, Basu said.

He expressed hope that the planned meetings between the government and the minority community would help straighten out the record. “The controversy would end very soon, in fact, tomorrow.”

Again, he lent his voice to the issues raised by Bhattacharjee, saying he was concerned over the growing activities of the ISI.

With much the same thing in view, Biswas recounted his call to form local-level resistance groups, which, too, has created a controversy because they could become a parallel police force.

Biswas stood by his proposal. “I am willing to invite even our opponents, Congress and Trinamul Congress, to join the resistance groups which we seriously propose to set up. These groups will work against terrorism and nothing else.”

   

 
 
MYSTERY OF THE OTHER AFTAB 
 
 
BY BAPPA MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, Feb. 7: 
After Aftab Ansari, it is now the turn of Aftab Bhatki.

Close on the heels of the American Center attack in Calcutta, the Mumbai police conducted an investigation at the behest of the Union government. They found that the city’s crime files do not have any record of Aftab Ansari, the Dubai-based mafia don and ISI functionary. But what they have found is equally startling.

According to intelligence reports and records available with the force, another man, Aftab Bhatki, a Dawood Ibrahim associate and Dubai-based mafia don, is making a beeline for Calcutta and other parts of eastern India after most of his men, mostly Pakistanis, were shot dead in encounters in 2000 in Mumbai.

Confirming the news of Bhatki’s sudden disappearance from Mumbai, assistant commissioner of police (crime detection) Mumbai, Ramakant. V. Padval, said: “Most criminals are trying to get to Calcutta as fast as they can because they know they might get killed in encounters in Mumbai. Bhatki is one such person who has stopped his operations in Mumbai and disappeared. A detailed probe might reveal whether Bhatki has any connection with the sudden emergence of Aftab Ansari in Calcutta. These people are known to have a lot of aliases.”

Aftab Ansari had directed operations in Calcutta under seven different names, including Farhan Malik, Abu S. Salen and Sheikh Raju.

Calcutta commissioner of police Sujoy Chakraborty said: “We have not been able to trace the link between Aftab Bhatki and Aftab Ansari. We are in touch with the Mumbai police to get further details on Bhatki.”

Padval and other senior officials said Bhatki had twin roles in Mumbai. One was to destabilise the economy by sending fake currency notes, and two, send mercenaries to conduct abductions and terrorist attacks.

Senior officials of the crime branch added that, over the past few months, Mumbai police have found evidence that a clutch of gangsters had moved to Calcutta fearing death at the hands of Mumbai police in encounters. One of them was Abdul Gaffar alias Chikna Gaffar, who was caught by the detective department in Calcutta last November.

“Several of his (Bhatki’s) men were arrested, but the police could not find out much about him. He could not be traced either. He stopped his operations in Mumbai, but we had information that he was planning to start his operations in Calcutta,” a senior intelligence bureau official said.

   

 
 
TWO MORE HELD 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 7: 
Calcutta police today arrested two more for their role in the attack on the American Center.

Adil Hasan and Rohan Alam, alias Monty, were brought for interrogation from Hazaribagh on Wednesday. They were formally arrested for “their role in the conspiracy”, said deputy commissioner of police (detective department) Soumen Mitra. With this, the total number of arrests in this case has gone up to three. Jamiluddin Nasir was arrested last week on charges of being the chief facilitator.

Mitra said: “Satisfied that the duo had a role to play in the attack, we arrested them.” The duo had helped Idris escape from Koderma to Hazaribagh in a white jeep a day after the attack.

“They had played a bigger role in the conspiracy then, helping the killers escape. We are investigating that at the moment,” said a senior detective department official.

Both Adil and Monty were produced before a magistrate and remanded in police custody till February 20.

The CID, meanwhile, said it was sure the core team involved in the abduction of shoe baron Parthapratim Roy Burman was the one responsible for the attack on policemen in front of the American Center.

   

 
 
VAJPAYEE CLEARS AIR ON SONIA SLUR 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
New Delhi, Feb. 7: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today cleared the air on Sonia Gandhi’s “foreign origins” after the Congress demanded an apology for his comments at an election rally yesterday.

Sonia “is a foreigner in the sense that she is foreign-born but has subsequently acquired Indian citizenship”, Vajpayee underlined.

“I said that she is a mahila and Indian tradition requires us to respect her as a mahila and as a videshi,” he said, adding he meant no disrespect to her.

An outraged Congress had demanded an “unconditional apology” from the Prime Minister for his uncivilised” utterances against Sonia.

Vajpayee was quoted as saying at a rally in Punjab yesterday that “she is a mahila and that, too, a videshi mahila. It is natural and necessary to respect her. But the way she delivers her speech, my head starts spinning”.

The Congress attributed the slur to the Prime Minister’s apprehension of losing control over the “Delhi throne” after the polls in Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Manipur and Punjab. “He has degraded all Indian women,” Congress spokesman Anand Sharma said.

Another party spokesman, Jaipal Reddy, said people were revolting against the NDA-led coalition “everywhere”. The development has rattled Vajpayee so much that he is attacking “the person of Congress president”.

“ He has lowered the level of political discourse... We, therefore, demand that Vajpayee should offer an unconditional apology to the nation and to Sonia Gandhi,” Reddy said.

“Make no mistake, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the BJP represents the irretrievable past and the Congress represents the irreversible future,” he added

Describing Sonia as a patriotic Indian, Reddy said Vajpayee had himself acknowledged the “spontaneous and patriotic cooperation” that she had extended to the government to counter terrorism in the wake of the attack on Parliament. “…Nor the people have forgotten Vajpayee’s superlative praise showered on Sonia for her unstinted and unqualified support to fight terrorism,” he added.

The party said Vajpayee had “slighted the office of the leader of Opposition and humiliated the position of the Congress president .

Ambika Soni said the Prime Minister appeared to have got perturbed by the huge response to Sonia’s meetings a day before his own rallies in Punjab, which evoked lukeworm response.

Congress circles were intrigued by why Vajpayee chose to rake up the foreign-origin issue though it has been settled by the Supreme Court. Even in 1999, when Sonia’s foreign origin had become an election issue, Vajpayee had remained silent, Congress leaders recalled. “Why has he chosen to attack her now?”

According to the Congress, there are four factors that may have influenced Vajpayee:

He wants to bridge differences with the Sangh and the VHP taking up their anti-Sonia agenda.

He is upset over the Congress campaign against the defence scams that seem to be making an impact in the Assembly polls. After all, the issue of national security is BJP’s USP.

The BJP has begun to look at Sonia as a serious challenger in contrast to the earlier assessment that her continuation as an inexperienced leader of the Opposition was an “insurance cover”.

He has done it to please old friend and chief minister Parkash Singh Badal who is fighting a grim battle in Punjab.

where the Amrinder Singh-led Congress is set to take charge. The foreign origin issue may tilt the scale.

   

 
 
BAHUS SPARE SPOTLIGHT FOR VARUN 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
Pilibhit, Feb. 7: 
The battle of the Gandhi bahus is missing here.

Sonia Gandhi and daughter Priyanka are conspicuous by their absence in Pilibhit, where Maneka Gandhi and son Feroze Varun are slugging it out to win a couple of seats to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly.

The parties of the bahus – the Congress and the recently-floated Shakti Dal which is contesting four seats here – are not attacking each other either. Both talk of only development issues and their targets are the BJP or the Samajwadi Party, depending on the local electoral arithmetic.

In Pilibhit proper, Maneka’s is focusing the attack on the sitting BJP MLA even though she is a minister in the NDA government. Out of the four seats here, the BJP and Shakti Dal are pitted against each other in two.

While no one from 10 Janpath is scheduled to campaign here, perhaps to avoid the spectacle of the Gandhi bahus washing dirty linen in public, senior Congress leaders N.D. Tiwari and Ghulam Nabi Azad, and state unit president Sriprakash Jaiswal, made an appearance.

Though other rivals have coined slogans like “Maneka bhagao, Pilibhit bachao”, Congress leader Kamaluddin said: “The Shakti Dal is of no consequence, so there is no need to attack it.”

This correspondent met Maneka at a guest house here from where she is conducting her poll campaign. But she refused to speak. “I do not talk to the press,” she said while leaving for a rally. “Where are you going? — “I do not know,” was the curt reply as the van zoomed off.

The modesty of small corner meetings and moderate rallies notwithstanding, nobody has missed the projection of Varun as a “leader” and of Prime Ministerial material.

The 1982-born Varun, will not contest the Assembly elections. “He will only contest the Lok Sabha when he attains the age,” said M.R. Mallick, the media in-charge of the Shakti Dal. Showering praise on the Gandhi scion, he said Varun is bubbling with energy and “the youths are crazy about him. They see him as the future Prime Minister”.

Rival parties rubbished the claim, saying the Shakti Dal may win just one out of the 14 seats it is contesting.

If the showing is too poor, Varun’s morale may be hit, more so since Sonia is not using son Rahul in the campaign except perhaps for a couple of appearances, said Congress worker Shyam Lal at Mandi market.

Varun, who has addressed over a dozen meetings, does not attack either his cousins or the Congress. He told reporters he felt good when people referred to him as the “pota” of Indira Gandhi.

His main issue is “vikas” (development). Varun highlights his mother’s achievements. As sitting MP and Union minister Maneka got pension for widows, every village was connected to roads and water and power supply was improved.

Asking people to vote for his party candidate at Amariya, about 25 km from here, Varun said: “I want to fulfil the dreams of my mother.”

   

 
 
SC EXPANDS CRUELTY NET 
 
 
FROM R. VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, Feb. 7: 
Men perpetrating “mental cruelty” on women could be punished under the penal provisions of law, the Supreme Court has ruled, holding that “cruelty for the purposes of constituting the offence need not be physical”.

“Even mental torture or abnormal behaviour may amount to cruelty and harassment in a given case,” a division bench of Justices R.P. Sethi and Bisheshwar Prasad Singh said while delivering the judgment in a case involving dowry harassment.

The appellant/convict, Gananath Pattnaik, was, however, let off by the apex court for lack of evidence. The court set aside the conviction of the trial court that was upheld by the high court.

Pattnaik married Rashmirekha in 1984 and a male child was born to the couple in 1985. Rashmirekha had committed suicide by hanging herself in the bathroom.

The prosecution contended that dowry demands were made from Rashmirekha by her husband and his family members and there was also evidence to prove that the deceased was subjected to ill-treatment, harassment and cruelty.

The appellant was also “alleged to be having illicit relationship with his brother’s wife”. His intimacy with his sister in law, too, was argued to be one of the reasons for Rashmirekha’s decision to commit suicide.

The trial court had acquitted the accused under Section 304-B (penal provision for dowry death leading to a punishment of seven years or life imprisonment) of the Indian Penal Code but it convicted him for cruelty under section 498-A of the IPC. It provides “whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine”.

On appeal against the verdict of the trial court, Orissa High Court confirmed the findings of the trial court and upheld the punishment.

On further appeal to the Supreme Court, the apex court said “a hearsay evidence” could not be admitted as evidence in the instant case, while releasing Pattnaik.

   

 
 
DIMPLE’S DESIGNER HOME ON VIEW AT SELFRIDGES 
 
 
SHRABANI BASU
 
 

Londoners will soon be able to see an entire floor of Dimple Kapadia’s home, designed by Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla, at one of London’s top departmental stores, Selfridges, as part of a month-long celebration of Bollywood here.

From May 3 to 25th, Selfridges will dedicate its store to Bollywood, the biggest film industry in the world churning out over 800 films a year.

The exclusive store in Oxford Street will be transformed by a series of sets on a grand scale designed by Nitin Desai, the Lagaan designer. Desai has also designed the sets for Mira Nair’s Oscar-nominated Salaam Bombay and Devdas, which is to be released this summer.

Apart from film sets, there will be a faithful reconstruction of an entire floor of Dimple Kapadia’s house in Mumbai which was designed by Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla. Both designers use a blending of traditional Indian designs and crafts with a thoroughly contemporary environment.

Selfridges is not prepared to announce which megastar will be present for the inaugural of the season, but they are saying that Bollywood stars will be visiting throughout the season for workshops and lectures.

Customers will be able to experience the Bollywood lifestyle and meet the artistes, enjoy live performances of dance and music, film screenings, exclusive fashion shows, specialist food in the food hall and cooking in the restaurants by India’s leading chefs from the Taj group of hotels, as well as choose from an array of precious objects and designs for the home.

Throughout the season, Selfridges will also host a series of discussions and masterclasses with leading players from Bollywood, including producers, directors, actors, designers and choreographers.

“Bollywood films have become very popular in this country and its time to celebrate it mainstream,” Jane Quinn of Selfridges said.

Films like Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, Kuchch Kuchch Hota Hai and Lagaan have entered the top ten charts of films running in the UK.

Several halls all over the country now show Bollywood films and they are released simultaneously in UK and India.

Films like Monsoon Wedding, which has been running successfully in London, have also invited a crossover audience.

Many Hindi films like Mission Kashmir, Lagaan, Asoka, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham have had mega premieres in West End theatres. Bollywood producers now want to see the films going mainstream drawing in more than just a South Asian audience.

At the same time, the British Film industry is keen that Bollywood films are shot in London and around Britain in castles and stately homes so that it provides a boost to tourism.

   

 
 
KARZAI SPLITS TOUR OF TWINS 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Feb. 7: 
Hamid Karzai, the head of Afghanistan’s interim government, will come to India later this month in what appears to be the culmination of a stream of visits from that country.

The exact date of the visit is still being worked out, but indications suggest that Karzai, who is scheduled to visit Pakistan tomorrow, will touch Indian shores some time this month.

Though it may have suited the Afghan leader to include a trip to India from Islamabad, he was advised to delink the two visits as the Indian leadership would not have been flattered if he tagged Delhi to his Islamabad visit.

This will be Karzai’s first visit to India since he became the head of the interim government in Kabul. Earlier, he had spent some years in the country as a student. A number of important members of the Afghan interim regime have visited India recently, but Karzai has so far been unable to come. This has prompted speculation in diplomatic circles, especially as the Afghan leader had been visiting other important world capitals in the past few months.

For the Indian leadership, which has been playing a meaningful role in Afghanistan after a gap of almost six years, a stable government in Kabul is imperative, especially from the security point of view. This will be one of the main areas of focus during Karzai’s interaction with the Indian leadership. South Block, along with other major world players, has been stressing on a stable regime to bring peace to the battle-weary country and lead it towards progress.

Most of the Afghan leaders who have visited India have been from the Northern Alliance — an important part of the interim regime in Kabul and a group that the Indian leadership had been supporting for many years. Karzai, a popular choice of the US and other western nations even before he became the head of the interim regime in Kabul, is seen to be a moderate who has good relations with important countries neighbouring Afghanistan.

Russia on Pak terror

Russia has asked Pakistan to hand over terrorists and criminals sought by India and disarm terror groups operating on its soil to prove its commitment to curbing terrorism, reports PTI.

Russian deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov said it was time for Pakistan to prove its “seriousness” in fighting terrorism.

“We absolutely agree when India tells Pakistan to do something on ground to show its sincerity. We want that terrorists should be disarmed, punished and where cases were made out to hand them over to India,” he said.

   

 
 
INDO-NEPAL BID TO FIGHT REBELS 
 
 
FROM SEEMA GUHA
 
New Delhi, Feb. 7: 
Faced with the respective threats of terrorism and insurrection, India and Nepal are finally waking up to each other’s concerns.

The two-day home secretary level discussion between the two countries has assumed great significance as both governments are working out a common strategy to fight terrorists and criminals who have long used the porous Indo-Nepal border to their advantage.

The Maoist insurrection in the Himalayan kingdom has helped make the Nepalese establishment realise the gravity of the problem faced by India in combating terrorists who operate from Nepalese soil.

“What would once be dismissed as India’s paranoia and eternal carping about ISI using Nepal has a base to launch attacks into India, is now being taken much more seriously,” said a senior official.

India wants Nepal to closely monitor the large number of unauthorised madarsas and mosques that have mushroomed along the India-Nepal border in recent years. Indian intelligence agencies believe these are the “hotbeds of terrorism”.

Officials say many of these madarsas and mosques on the Nepalese side of the border are being used as storehouses for weapons which are sent out to terrorists and criminals hired by Pakistan’s ISI to carry out terrorist attacks on targets in India. The West Bengal government is already working towards regulating unauthorised madarsas and mosques on the Indian side of the border.

The common threat has lent a certain urgency to working out a coordinated strategy to combat terrorism. It has also led to a warmth and openness in the fourth round of home secretary level talks, generally marred by suspicion and mutual recrimination.

Home secretary Kamal Pandey and his Nepalese counterpart, Keshav Rajbhandari, had an exchange of views and hope to put in place a legal framework to ensure that “wanted” terrorists and criminals do not escape to the neighbouring country.

Indian intelligence has long considered Nepal as the getaway point for both criminals and terrorists fleeing from Indian police and security forces. Kathmandu has often decried the fact that the Maoist insurgents threatening the Himalayan regime found a safe haven in North Bengal. There was always suspicion that Indian authorities were encouraging the anti-government forces in Nepal.

Much of the problems in the past were because of a lack of coordination between the agencies. For instance, the border is manned by the BSF on the Indian side, but intelligence is forwarded by the state authorities.

   

 
 
BANGLES JINGLE TO KANPUR CHEERS 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Aryanagar (Kanpur), Feb. 7: 
Ghulam Hussain wades through ankle-deep slush to enter Saliluddin’s house in one of Aryanagar’s dirtiest ghettos. Clapping and twirling, Hussain then reaches for Saliluddin’s year-old son and blesses him.

“You know, we hijras have special powers,” Hussain — also called Pauwa hijra — says, before soliciting Saliluddin’s vote.

For the first time in Kanpur’s electoral history, eunuchs have jumped into the fray in all six Assembly seats in the city. Many are calling this the “third wave”.

While Dolly Pandit is fighting from the Cantonment seat, Haji Anwari Begum is in the fray from Generalganj. Then there is the well-known eunuch Payal contesting from Govindnagar, Ramkali from Kalyanpur and Rita Bharati from Sisamau.

“It is a reaction,” says Sanjeeva, playwright and social worker, who has been staging street plays on the plight of the oppressed in Kanpur and is now rooting for the eunuchs. Others, dancing and joining Pauwa’s campaign, nod their heads in agreement.

Support for the eunuchs — fighting as Independents on the bangle symbol — has come from well wishers and those who want to express displeasure at the present crop of politicians. “In most cases, it is the people who have forced them to file nomination papers,” Sanjeeva, whose theatre group is called Nukkad Natak, says.

Help — both financial and moral — is also coming from small shopkeepers, slum dwellers, autorickshaw-wallas and hawkers. “It is a subaltern reaction to the politics of partiality and corruption,” another Nukkad Natak member, Rajesh, says.

Apart from the poor who point to overflowing sewers and dry water pipes, many students are backing these eunuchs. Sunidhi, a student of Christ Church College, feels eunuchs don’t have their personal agenda, so it will be easier to drive sense into their “impartial heads”.

“Moreover,” her friend Amrita adds, “the message has to go out to politicians who do no work that we are exploring other options and people have lost faith in political parties.”

Many politicians, out of sheer embarrassment and anger, have been threatening the eunuchs to force them to opt out. Dolly Pandit is believed to have already given into the demands of a powerful Congress MLA. Sanjeeva claims he receives dozens of threat calls and hate mail from those opposing his campaign for the eunuchs.

But most of the poor people pitching for the eunuchs are unfazed. “We are troubled by crime, communal violence, industrial pollution and corruption, Kanpur has become emblematic of everything that is wrong with Indian society,” Dinesh Shukla, a professor, says. “The Manchester of the East, as Kanpur used to be called earlier, is dying a painful death. People see hope in these eunuchs,” he adds.

As Pauwa goes to another house sprinkling coloured rice grain “for luck”, people from adjoining slums run to join the entourage.

   
 

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