BE College rerun
Naxalites gun down CPM leader
Govinda grounded in Cong chopper dash
Crime law hope for Buddha
Sena-BJP set to win
Cong returns barb
Police turn deaf ear to Ansari aide cry
Atal turns down temple heat
Telecom giants trade barbs
Netaji flag in UP’s Bengal

 
 
BE COLLEGE RERUN 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Durgapur, Feb. 11: 
In a near repeat of the BE College incident, the authorities of a private management school here have closed the institute indefinitely after students last night clashed with DYFI supporters.

Durgapur Society of Management managing director Anupam Mukherjee today issued the closure notice and asked students to vacate the hostel immediately. He said nobody would be allowed to stay on the college premises.

Police arrested four students and two teachers of the institution in connection with yesterday’s incident.

Last night, the students and DYFI supporters clashed over an eveteasing incident. At least 16 students were injured. The situation worsened when the police reached the spot. The mob attacked the police and ransacked their jeep.

“Our move is to contain the growing tension. If the college remains open, there may be a retaliation,” Mukherjee said.

A police picket has been posted around the college to fend off trouble-makers.

The Shibpur BE College was also closed indefinitely in December following clashes.

   

 
 
NAXALITES GUN DOWN CPM LEADER 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Paschim Midnapore, Feb. 11: 
Suspected PWG activists shot dead a local CPM leader at Barsol under Jamboni police station this afternoon.

Police said a gang of three masked miscreants, accosted 46-year-old Bharat Mondal who was returning home from the Barsol High School where he taught. They fired at him when he stopped his scooter. The CPM has called a 12-hour Jamboni bandh tomorrow.

Businessman shot: Three miscreants fired at businessman Tapan Auddy at his Manohorpukur residence tonight. Police said Auddy was sitting in his office when the miscreants walked in and opened fire. He is battling for life at a city hospital. The miscreants managed to escape.

   

 
 
GOVINDA GROUNDED IN CONG CHOPPER DASH 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Feb. 11: 
In the race for udan khatolas, Chhote Mian has found himself stranded.

The Congress has requisitioned half-a-dozen aircraft and helicopters for its election campaign in the four states going to polls, but star campaigner Govinda, signed for an undisclosed sum, failed to get one.

Govinda was forced to cover 300 km from New Delhi to Ludhiana, spread over seven hours, in an E-class Mercedes, wondering aloud if he had taken the right decision to chip in for the main Opposition party.

The actor, however, did not throw a tantrum, saying he was prepared to ignore small discomforts for the greater cause —crowning Bahu Ma.

The dancing star, who was once dismissed as “Virar ka chhokra”, is an admirer of the Nehru-Gandhi family, particularly Sonia Gandhi. “In Indian society, Bahu Ma has a special place,” he says. “If she takes charge, everyone should follow her.”

Party sources said there is a clamour for helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft though Sonia has told senior leaders to avoid flying in small planes.

The diktat is based on austerity as well as security considerations, particularly after Madhavrao Scindia’s death in an aircrash.

But more than the flouting of guidelines, sources said the party chief is displeased with some leaders who insist on flying to destinations near Delhi because it enhances their status.

A number of Congress Working Committee members, who have often failed to draw more than 500 people, insist on helicopters. As a result, chief ministers of Congress-ruled states are often stranded in Delhi.

Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh, who is campaigning extensively in Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal, was forced to cancel six public meetings in the newly carved out hill state as no chopper was available.

Sonia has put Ahmad Patel in charge of the party’s campaign committee. But sources close to him said AICC functionaries, like general secretaries, and former Union ministers are constantly overruling him.

“Ahmad is merely a CWC member. If a general secretary or treasurer recommends someone, he has to oblige them,” said a well-placed source.

Senior leaders are also upset that the party went about roping in Bollywood stars for campaigning. Initially, film producer-turned-politician Subbi Rami Reddy was given the job of looking up some stars but Reddy left on a different mission to Malaysia.

While Reddy was away, another senior leader, Murli Deora, began tapping his Bollywood connections and succeeded in signing up Govinda.

Reddy finally managed to get two heroines of yesteryears — Reena Roy and Poonam Dhillon. Roy called on Sonia after spokesman S. Jaipal Reddy and Anand Sharma announced their induction into the campaign.

However, senior leaders are sceptical of their crowd-pulling ability. “It has been ages since they performed on screen. I wonder if voters will be attracted in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. They should have got stars like Shah Rukh Khan and Madhuri Dixit,” said an MP involved with the campaign programme.

   

 
 
CRIME LAW HOPE FOR BUDDHA 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, Feb. 11: 
West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee may finally have his way with the Prevention of Crime Act.

The CPM high command is veering round to his view that the state needs a tough law against organised crime after investigating agencies exposed the spread, access and international links of the underworld in Bengal.

“There will be no Ordinance. But there has to be a law to enable detention of criminals. The West Bengal government needs a stronger legal backing to deal with the rising incidence of organised crime,” said a politburo member. The politburo, he added, is unanimous on this issue.

At the politburo meeting, Bhattacharjee explained how vulnerable Bengal was.

A member said the meeting did not discuss the proposed law but majority opinion was gradually shifting towards strengthening Bhattacharjee’s hand against organised crime. However, there may not be an immediate turnaround in the public stance, especially since general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet had ruled out a rethink on the issue after the American Center attack.

But in private, the party high command is acknowledging the need for a special law to check organised crime. “The timing then was bad. There was the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance at the Centre and then the Prevention of Organised Crime Act was hanging fire in the state. But that does not mean we have dropped it,” said a politburo member.

Whatever the name of the new legislation, there is no doubt that Bengal needs a law to fight criminals who have links with mafia dons and terrorists, he added.

In Bengal as well as at the national level, the CPM is treading a thin line on prickly issues like the law on organised crime and the streamlining of the 2,000-odd madarsas.

The chief minister’s criticism of “unaffiliated” madarsas made the party jittery about losing its hold on the minority community, which has traditionally voted for the Left Front. “We have to be tactical,” said a CPM leader.

Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee pounced on Bhattacharjee’s comments about madarsas and went to town against the CPM’s “anti-minority” stance.

   

 
 
SENA-BJP SET TO WIN 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Mumbai, Feb. 11: 
The Shiv Sena and its ally, the BJP, appeared to be coasting towards victory as results for the 227-seat Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, the country’s biggest constituency, started pouring in.

Though an initial trend put the Congress in favourable light, its hope receded with the day. The allies looked set to recapture the corporation in a state governed by a Congress-led coalition. Till late this evening, the Sena-BJP combine had bagged 51 seats, compared to 24 by the Congress. The allies were leading in more than 50 seats.

Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), which shares power with the Congress in the state but fought the elections separately, hovered around 15 at the last count.

The Sena had formed the board with the BJP last time after winning 125 seats. The Congress and the NCP had found themselves in the Opposition, with 37 and 20 seats.

In the eight other municipal corporations that went to polls yesterday, the Congress put up a good show. The party led in Nagpur, Amrawati and Solapur.

The BJP has bagged 10 seats in Solapur, nine in Nashik, one in Akola and two seats in Thane and Mumbai. The Sena has won three in Solapur, seven in Thane, four in Mumbai, four in Amrawati and nine in Nashik, a state election commission source said.

In the Sena stronghold of Thane, the Sena-BJP combine was ahead of the Congress and the NCP put together. Ten municipal corporations had gone to polls yesterday amid charges of sex, lies and deceit. In Mumbai, polling was marked by a low turnout of 40 per cent.

Analysts put down the Congress showing to its failure to maintain an alliance with the NCP in the polls.

   

 
 
CONG RETURNS BARB 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 11: 
The war of words between the Congress and the BJP continued today with the main Opposition party ridiculing the Prime Minister’s remarks on the “dearth of leadership” in the Congress.

Congress spokesman Jaipal Reddy asked Atal Bihari Vajpayee to set his own house in order.

He asked the Prime Minister who was BJP’s “number one” leader — he himself, home minister L.K. Advani or human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi.

Describing Sonia as the de facto and de jure head of the Congress, Reddy said: “The Congress has a well established chain of command. Vajpayee should set his house in order instead of commenting on the Congress.”

Reddy said various surveys in newsmagazines have chosen chief ministers of Congress-ruled states for performing well. “It shows that the party has many leaders in its rank with both talent and stature,” he added.

Taking a dig at the BJP, the Congress spokesman said: “Look at the BJP. Its chain of command is confused and it is difficult to say whether Prime Minister Vajpayee is number one or home minister Advani.”

   

 
 
POLICE TURN DEAF EAR TO ANSARI AIDE CRY 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, Feb. 11: 
Rajendra Anadkat alias Raju Sharma, the man arrested with Aftab Ansari in Dubai, was today taken to Rajkot in connection with cases of kidnapping and an arms racket. But the man who helped don Aftab set up operations in Dubai denied involvement in any of the cases.

Police, however, claimed they have enough evidence to nail him. Ever since Aftab claimed responsibility for the attack outside the American Center in Calcutta and threatened similar strikes on Delhi and Rajkot, Saurashtra’s commercial capital has been back in the news.

The city had last hogged the headlines when Aftab aide Asif Reza Khan alias Rajan was shot dead in an encounter.

Aftab is believed to be the brain behind the kidnapping of Bhaskar Parekh and Paresh Shah, sons of well-known jewellers in Rajkot. According to the police, Raju, a resident of Rajkot, identified Parekh as a prosperous target, provided vital inputs and hired locals to execute the kidnap plan.

A commerce graduate who made it big through his underworld contacts — Hazi Alam, Hanif Alam, Aftab Ansari — Raju pleaded innocence when presented before the media here. All of Raju’s Dubai contacts are wanted in India.

Rajkot police commissioner Upendra Singh said Raju has also denied involvement in the fake currency racket busted in Jamnar in 1998.

“But that is how initially every criminal claims to be innocent,’’ Singh said.

“The police have enough evidence to prove his involvement and he will find it difficult to explain when we interrogate him,’’ he added.

Though he has denied the charges levelled against him here, Raju, 38, has admitted to his involvement in charas smuggling and cricket betting in Dubai.

The police will produce Raju in a local court tomorrow and seek his remand. They would interrogate him to ascertain his exact role in the kidnapping — how the conspiracy was hatched, the sequence of events and Raju’s links with other criminals, Singh said.

   

 
 
ATAL TURNS DOWN TEMPLE HEAT 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
New Delhi, Feb. 11: 
In the face of a threat from the VHP to begin construction of a Ram temple at the disputed Ayodhya site, the BJP today sought to cool temperatures with the Prime Minister as well as the party president issuing conciliatory statements.

The Prime Minister’s Office tonight denied the Udupi Pejawar Mutt chief’s claim that Atal Bihari Vajpayee had told VHP leaders he would rather resign than hand over the undisputed land to them.

The seer, Viswesha Teertha Swamiji, who was in the VHP delegation that called on the Prime Minister on January 27, said yesterday Vajpayee rejected their demand to hand over the undisputed land. According to the Swamiji, Vajpayee said he preferred resignation to that prospect.

A PMO spokesman said Vajapyee had told the delegation he would refer their demand to the law minister. He said the decision was accepted by all VHP leaders, including the Swamiji.

As the Prime Minister tried to set the record straight, BJP president K. Jana Krishnamurthi took a step back from his earlier warning to the VHP not to violate the court’s order by trying to start construction.

He said the VHP could prepare the electorate to vote for a party which would bring forth a legislation to facilitate the shrine’s construction as the BJP, despite having championed this cause, was now constrained by the NDA agenda.

“Besides contesting the legal action, the VHP can go to the people and say that matters of faith cannot be decided by court. They can cite a precedent. The Muslims did not accept the Supreme Court verdict in the Shah Bano case and, at that time, the Congress had brought in a legislation to change that verdict,” Krishnamurthi said in an interview in the latest issue of the RSS mouthpiece Panchajanya.

This was as clear an appeal as any to the VHP to help the party win in Uttar Pradesh instead of creating a crisis by insisting on starting temple construction on March 15. The VHP did not appear to be in any mood to wait. General secretary Praveen Togadia said today: “We are not prepared to postpone the date even if we are to be hanged.”

   

 
 
TELECOM GIANTS TRADE BARBS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 11: 
The country’s telecom giants today squabbled over regulations that have prevented the creation of a level-playing field, allowing large monopolistic state-owned corporations to stymie spry private players from muscling into their turf.

“We must have a provision that private players can use to press for penal action against the PSUs that have been doing their damnedest to balk our progress,” said Sunil Bharti Mittal of the Bharti Group.

Mittal was fulminating against Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) which has undermined his IndiaOne network’s plans to offer cheaper mobile-to-mobile STD services by refusing to route its calls over the Bharti network on alternate days as ordained by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai).

Mittal, who was the last speaker at the fourth telecom conference organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) here today, said: “Today there is no clear-cut penalty for operators who do not follow the guidelines of the regulator. The only alternative left was to approach the arbitrator but then litigation isn’t the solution.”

Earlier, BSNL chairman and managing director D.P.S. Seth alleged that the private telecom industry — both cellular and fixed-line service providers — had not contributed to the growth of teledensity in the country. He said the cellular industry’s claim that addition of cellular subscribers had increased teledensity was false.

“The cellular mobile industry claims that the growth in number of subscribers has led to an increase in teledensity. That is nonsense because cellular subscribers both in urban and rural areas are those who already have fixed-line phones. There should be a separate study to examine how many of the mobile users do not have a fixed phone as their first phone,” said Seth.

Responding to Seth’s comment, Mittal said: “We are not here to increase the teledensity but to improve the quality of telecom services and also to provide a bouquet of value-added services.”

Seth also demanded the repeal of the National Telecom policy 1999 as it did not address the telecom issues in a holistic manner. His plea was rejected by Shayamal Ghosh, secretary in the ministry of communications.

   

 
 
NETAJI FLAG IN UP’S BENGAL 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
Pilibhit, Feb. 11: 
His symbol is the lion, but he looks meek and shabby. He sits on a dirty dhurry in a small room with straw to keep him warm from the night’s chill. Supporters do not mill around him. Nevertheless, he keeps Netaji’s flag aloft at Pilibhit’s Mandi Market in front of his home-cum-campaign office.

Harbhajan Singh, contesting as an All-India Forward Bloc candidate from Pilibhit, has a lone armed constable for company provided by the Election Commission as is mandatory for all candidates. A cutout of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and two party banners with the lion symbol stand in front of his campaign office.

Singh has no powerful legacy like his rivals — Maneka Gandhi, son Varun and Congress candidate and former minister Rajrai Singh. But the Forward Bloc candidate is hoping to sell the legacy of Netaji in Pilibhit. Subodh Bose and Chitra Bose, relatives of Netaji, came here to campaign, Singh said. Forward Bloc general secretary Debabrata Biswas is also expected here, he added.

The Forward Bloc has fielded two candidates from Pilibhit district, the other being at Puranpur, a mini Bengal. The party, which set up a state unit only six months ago, has 14 candidates in the fray in Uttar Pradesh.

A small-time worker of the Samajwadi Party, Singh joined the Forward Bloc after being spurned by Mulayam Singh Yadav.

While the Congress has packaged development and the Nehru-Gandhi legacy to sell to the people of this backward district, about 220 km west of Lucknow, Varun, campaigning for his mother’s party — the Shakti Dal — has invoked the name of his dadi, Indira Gandhi, to garner votes.

Bereft of legacy, money, muscle or manpower, the 58-year-old sardarji pins his hopes on the Bengali settlers, about 13,000 here, and the 8,000-odd Sikhs. About a lakh Bengali settlers face eviction in Pilibhit district.

The Bengali influence can be gauged in neighbouring Puranpur constituency where Congress candidate Mohammad Omar Khan is campaigning with the cutout of local Bengali leader Kumud Ranjan Rai. The Bengalis are unhappy with Maneka’s Shakti Dal.

“Maneka Gandhi is arrogant. She insults party workers. She will lose all the 14 seats her party is contesting. People are fed up with BJP rule. The Vajpayee and Rajnath Singh governments have been squeezing the kisans and workers,” Harbhajan Singh said, revealing the secret behind his confidence in winning a “cent per cent victory”.

About 20 minutes into the conversation, Singh forgets what he said earlier and says the Congress will win the Pilibhit seat. “The Muslims and the sardars will vote for the Congress,” he said.

Asked why he chose the Forward Bloc, Singh said he liked the ideals and principles of Netaji.

“We are with the Bengalis. The Hindu settlers from East Bengal were given permit cards 30 years ago that expired last year. The Bengalis are in trouble. So I back them and they back me,” he said.

   
 

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