Identity goes under the razor to protect body from the knife
Advani clean chit to Modi
Ayodhya iron curtain works
Sunday curse claims Balayogi
Border troops to tiptoe back
Calcutta Weather

 
 
IDENTITY GOES UNDER THE RAZOR TO PROTECT BODY FROM THE KNIFE 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Ahmedabad, March 3: 
The fez came off heads and beards got shaven as rumour fed panic in Gujarat’s commercial capital, convulsed by sectarian violence.

Minorities living in trouble-prone areas are trying hard to mask their identity. Anybody identified can be a target in Ahmedabad.

Three men made the mistake of revealing their religious identity yesterday, ending up in ditches, dead. They had come to visit their relatives in trouble. Sporting caps and beards, they had got off Howrah Express at Ahmedabad station and were walking down a main road to Maninagar, where their relations lived. There were no taxis or autorickshaws at the station.

Marauding groups searching for preys soon spotted them. Two were stabbed to death instantly, while the third man tried in vain to run away. He was chased and killed in a ditch he had fallen into. The other two bodies joined him, and all three were set on fire.

“They could have saved their lives if their caps and beards had not given them away,” a deputy commissioner of police said.

As barber shops stayed closed, people in many areas took up razors themselves.

“I got both my sons to shave their beards. I also asked them not to wear caps till things return to normal,’’ said Sheikh Aftab of Bapunagar, his head and face shorn of cap and beard. He said many in the area had done the same.

Bapunagar, represented in the Assembly by none other than home minister Gordhan Zadhaphia, has witnessed one of Ahmedabad’s worst riotings, fuelled largely by rumours. Mobs burnt down shacks and shops in the area, angry over baseless reports that three girls travelling in the burnt Sabarmati Express had been kidnapped, raped and killed.

“There is absolutely no truth in these rumours,” a senior police officer said.

“People were seething because of these reports of the three women being abducted, raped and killed. They wanted revenge,’’ Harshad Patel, an injured schoolteacher from Bapunagar, said, sitting on his hospital bed.

The attacked Muslims of Bapunagar retaliated by tossing homemade bombs at their Hindu neighbours, separated by a road running through the colony. More than 15 people are lying at the civil hospital with bomb injuries.

The schoolteacher said the area, home to both communities, had never witnessed communal violence before. “Even after the Babri Masjid was demolished, nothing happened here.”

“We have always turned to each other for help. They came to us to get their clothes stitched in our tailoring shops, we went to them to mend our shoes. There was no tension between us,” Daxesh Patel, who had come to see his wounded neighbour, said.

This time was different. Rumour mills churned out fake tales of horror, poisoning even the children. “For the first time, small boys and girls are asking their fathers and uncles who are Muslims, something they never bothered to find out earlier,’’ Dikshit Patel, a videographer, said.

As rumours of all kinds flew around, residents of upscale Vastrapur and Bodakdev came out on the streets at night with what they could lay their hands on. Some residents of Thaltej stockpiled rocks on their rooftops to fend off an attack that the rumour mills had suggested was imminent.

   

 
 
ADVANI CLEAN CHIT TO MODI 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, March 3: 
Home minister Lal Krishna Advani gave Gujarat’s Narendra Modi government a clean chit after a brief visit to Ahmedabad and Godhra today as the state appeared to be fumbling its way out of five days of violence that has left 500 people dead.

Ahmedabad, where the rioting has been the worst with a toll of over 200, was peaceful but the textile town of Surat had not calmed down. Incidents of stabbing were reported from across the town and police had to open fire in several places as rioters defying the curfew set fire to shanties and vehicles.

Only two persons were stabbed to death today — one in Ahmedabad, the other in Godhra.

The home minister ruled out handing the state over to the army, describing as “prompt” the Modi administration’s response to the violence triggered by the torching of the Sabarmati Express last Wednesday.

“Whatever measures were required were taken. The fact that the police had to resort to firing shows the police firmly dealt with rioters. So I have no reason to believe that there was inaction.”

The BJP government in Gujarat has been charged with delaying the deployment of the army and its police have been accused of either not responding to calls for help or standing by as rioters unleashed wave after wave of death and destruction.

Referring to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Advani said: “I am surprised at the demand made by some leaders that Gujarat should be handed over to the army. Army is on the border. Calling out army can only help to control the situation, which it has done, but putting the state under the control of the army is a ridiculous idea.”

Even today the Opposition Congress alleged large-scale “state-sponsored violence” as it claimed that the death toll in violence was 806, much higher than official estimates of around 500.

“Whatever happened after Godhra and what is still happening is largely state-sponsored violence,” senior party leader Kamal Nath said.

The culprits of the Godhra massacre, in which 58 people died, should be rounded up, Kamal Nath said, adding that only their arrest would unravel the real story or any possible ISI hand.

Advani linked the Godhra incident to the attack on Parliament. “Although facts will be revealed only after the inquiry is over, one feels that only local residents of Godhra were not involved in this horrendous act. The needle of suspicion points to those elements which attacked Parliament.”

Godhra suspect held

The police this morning picked up Mohammad Hussain Kolota, local Congress leader and president of Godhra municipality, described as the prime suspect in the train carnage.

Kolota, convener of the city Congress minority cell and a practitioner of law, has been evading arrest since the attack on the Sabarmati Express.

   

 
 
AYODHYA IRON CURTAIN WORKS 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Ayodhya, March 3: 
Karsevakpuram is deserted. Ramsevakpuram is empty.

Cornered by the Godhra carnage, the government has come down heavily on the VHP’s Poorna Ahuti Yagna and its attempts to fan a frenzy before March 15, when kar sevaks plan to march to the disputed site with pillars for the proposed temple.

Though the VHP claims there are about 550 kar sevaks at Ramsevakpuram — the makeshift camp of tin shacks raised to house them — a local pujari said only about 150 of them are left.

The administration yesterday locked the main gate leading to the temple workshop at Karsevakpuram. Today, the streets — jammed with thousands of kar sevaks only a few days ago — wore a deserted look. Trains have been diverted from Ayodhya and its twin station, Faizabad.

Traffic has been restricted, too, making it difficult for kar sevaks to reach here. Only 90 kar sevaks from Andhra Pradesh could make it to Ayodhya today and most of those stranded in towns like Gonda and Sultanpur were said to be heading home.

Most of the 200-odd shops that had mushroomed near Ramsevakpuram have shut for “lack of business”, and the havan kund at the yagna has been left with a few stragglers.

The tough measures have meant a double disaster for the VHP. While its hardcore cadres are angry with the “soft stand” and “weak-kneed response to the assault by the administration”, residents are seething at the disruption of civic life in Ayodhya.

Dharmendra Singh, a kar sevak on his way home, said he had never expected the VHP to give in to the administration without even token resistance. “We had hoped for some action, but it is becoming boring now. It is better to leave. VHP se kuch nahi hoga (VHP is capable of nothing),” he said.

Rakesh Srivastava, a local businessman, said the VHP had turned the lives of Ayodhyavasis upside down. “Marriages have been postponed, there is no wood for cremations, no business for anyone,” he complained.

The unprecedented security in Ayodhya has severely affected business and normal life. Residents, cutting across caste and religious lines, are blaming the VHP for their misery.

However, the VHP continues to put up a brave face and insists it will stick to the March 15 deadline. “The government should not play with the religious feelings of Hindus and should allow the entry of kar sevaks,” said senior VHP leader Rajendra Singh Pankaj.

But the VHP is weighing other options. Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas chairman Ram Chandra Paramhans will reach New Delhi tomorrow to discuss with other leaders of the Mandir Nirman Samiti a change of strategy.

VHP leaders in Delhi sounded defiant today but sources said efforts are on to persuade them to limit the March 15 programme to a “symbolic” gesture.

   

 
 
SUNDAY CURSE CLAIMS BALAYOGI 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
March 3: 
Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi died after his helicopter crashed into a fish pond this morning in Andhra Pradesh, stunning the political establishment that has been losing young leaders to Sunday accidents with chilling regularity.

The 51-year-old Balayogi, the youngest to occupy the Speaker’s chair at 47 four years ago and the first Dalit to be elected to the post, was the first Speaker to die in harness. Balayogi is survived by his wife Vijayakumari, one son and three daughters.

The chopper’s pilot, G.V. Menon, and Balayogi’s additional personal secretary, K.S. Raju, also died in the crash that occurred in bad weather at Kaikalur, about 100 km from Vijayawada.

The helicopter developed a technical problem while ferrying Balayogi to Hyderabad from Bhimavaram in West Godavari district, where he had gone to attend a prayer meeting.

The helicopter hit a coconut tree and crashed into the pond minutes after taking off. Balayogi died of burn injuries and multiple fractures.

The helicopter, belonging to Deccan Aviation Ltd, was hired by the missionaries who had organised the prayer meeting of a US-based evangelist, K.A. Paul.

Balayogi was scheduled to take a train last night to reach the state capital this morning but he later accepted the offer to use the helicopter.

Balayogi’s family members said he went to Dwaraka Tirumala, a renowned temple in West Godavari district, last night and boarded the helicopter this morning at Bhimavaram. The Centre has ordered a probe into the crash.

Officials came to know of the crash after Mani, a fishery-owner who saw the helicopter nosediving, called Kaikalur police on his cellphone minutes after the accident.

This is the third time that a tragedy is snatching away on Sunday a politician from the younger generation. Congress leader Rajesh Pilot died in a road accident on a Sunday two years ago. Congress’ Madhavrao Scindia, too, died on a Sunday in an air crash last year.

Balayogi’s body will be taken to Delhi tomorrow to enable parliamentarians and other leaders to pay their last respects. In the evening, the body will be flown to Rajahmundry to be taken to Eedurulanka, Balayogi’s home town, for funeral on Wednesday.

The Cabinet has announced national mourning for two days. The national flag will be flown at half-mast during this period.

Parliament will meet tomorrow at 11 am presided over by deputy Speaker P.M. Sayeed but will be adjourned for the day after paying homage to Balayogi.

   

 
 
BORDER TROOPS TO TIPTOE BACK 
 
 
FROM GAJINDER SINGH
 
Chandigarh, March 3: 
The defence ministry denies having ordered a pullout, but there are signs that army units — other than the three strike corps — are about to start returning to their barracks from forward positions on the border.

Defence sources at the Western Command at Chandimandir here said troops would be trickling back to their headquarters in batches in the next few days along with their commanders.

“As far as the Western Command is concerned, the orders to move some of the troops back to the headquarters have been received. The leave ban too has been lifted and made liberal for soldiers to visit their families. There are reports that similar orders have also been passed to the Southern Command,” a senior officer said on condition of anonymity.

However, a defence ministry spokesman in Delhi said: “There is no reason to order a pullout now. If and when it takes place, it will not be done in a secretive manner.”

Western Command sources did not say that a pullout, or even a de-escalation, had been ordered, but that the conditions — such as a ban on leave — were being relaxed with movement of some troops back to the barracks.

The operational and tactical headquarters continue to be on the front, and not at their normal locations at Chandimandir for the Western Command and Pune for the Southern Command.

Enquiries at Chandimandir revealed that the army headquarters had made a tactical decision to move some troops back to the barracks following the deployment of soldiers in Gujarat to maintain law and order.

Apart from the Gujarat disturbances, reports of unease among soldiers are being cited as a factor in bringing some troops back from the border. Strategic analyst General Himmat Singh Gill said: “The perpetual alertness on the border without any long-term or interim objective is totally uncalled for.”

Frustration at being on high alert without any orders to adopt offensive measures was evident even as early as the first week of January. Soldiers holed up in trenches had spoken of the risk of a lapse in concentration. “We want orders to move forward,” some of them had said.

The normal defence of borders over the years is the duty of “holding divisions”. “Such divisions have been doing a good job and provide good tactical support to the strike corps which are permanently on alert and make the first offensive move,” Gill added.

The move to recall some troops from the border is not being termed “de-escalation”. On paper, it is being described as necessary for staff officers to attend to their administrative work which had been held up for the last few months in their respective headquarters.

While total de-escalation is expected to take a couple of more months, some formations are expected to move back to their headquarters within a week or so. Defence sources spoke of indications of the Pakistan army also making similar moves.

The three strike forces will remain wherever their formations are positioned. The strike forces are trained for operations deep within enemy territory and their withdrawal, sources said, can only be effected following a political decision and not by the army headquarters.

There are no apparent reasons for that political decision to be made now since Pakistan has not met the demand of the Vajpayee government to hand over offenders named in a list of 20. And, it will be at least a couple of months for the Indians to arrive at a conclusion on whether or not infiltration has stopped from across the border once the snow melts.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 32.5°C (0)
Minimum:23.1°C (+3)

Rainfall

2 mm

Relative Humidity

Maximum:95%,
Minimum:41%

Sunrise: 6 am

Sunset: 5.36 pm

Today

Generally cloudy sky, with possibility of light rain accompanied by thunder in some areas.
   
 

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