MLA son abducted
Heart bleeding, Jana backs VHP
Delhi riot radar catches most, except Gujarat
Trial by mob & mandarins for media
Minorities train terror gun on Modi
People’s Front loads ammo
Rivals join hands to step up riots heat
Gun turns on politicians
House adjourns in tribute to Speaker
Job scheme heat on states

 
 
MLA SON ABDUCTED 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
March 4: 
Three armed men this evening kidnapped the son of an Assam Congress MLA at gunpoint in Jalpaiguri and escaped towards the Assam-Bengal border.

Police said Pradeep, son of Chandan Sarkar, a legislator from Abhayapuri (South) in Bongaigaon, was chatting with his friends in front of a club at Joteswar Hat under Falakata police station. Pradeep was seated on his motorcycle.

Three men on a scooter stopped in front of him. The police quoting eyewitnesses said they brandished a gun. Then two of the abductors drove away with Pradip sandwiched between them on his bike. The third one followed on the scooter.

Though Sarkar could not be contacted, his wife Sapna told The Telegraph that her husband had received a call at around 7.30 this evening informing him about Pradeep’s abduction from the Pragati Sangha ground in Falakata.

   

 
 
HEART BLEEDING, JANA BACKS VHP 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, March 4: 
BJP president Jana Krishnamurthi said today his “heart bled” for the riot victims but he defended the VHP’s bandh call which culminated in mass killings and insisted that “nobody is to be blamed for what happened”.

Violence abated in Gujarat today but seven people were killed in police firing and two incidents of stabbing. But the situation is said to be still grave in Kheda and Anand where the army was deployed after clashes.

“My heart bled when I went to the hospital to see the condition of victims of the communal violence,’’ Krishnamurthi said.

He described the post-Godhra violence as “revolting”, adding: “What happened after the train carnage was an inhuman act which no one can justify.’’

However, the BJP chief defended the VHP for giving the bandh call, dubbing it a “natural reaction to the terrible incident that has shaken the nation”.

He said neither the VHP nor the state government should be held responsible for the violence. “Nobody is to be blamed for what happened. How and why it happened is the question we should ask ourselves, instead of putting the blame on any organisation.”

While trying to absolve the VHP, the BJP president added: “We know some members of the Congress party have been arrested for the Godhra massacre but we are not blaming the entire Congress party. Similarly, the Congress should also not blame the VHP for the post-Godhra violence’’.

Pointing out that the country was violence-free in the last three years when the BJP-led NDA was in power, he felt that some forces who do not like communal harmony must be behind the Godhra carnage.

The manner in which the “pre-meditated attack was carried out forces us to conclude that it was an act of terrorism”, he added.

Criticising Opposition parties which have questioned the way the crisis was handled, the BJP president claimed that the state government had been “very alert” after the incident.

The Centre deployed the army within 24 hours in Gujarat, but the Congress government of 1984 did only 48 hours after anti-Sikh riots had claimed 3,000 innocent lives, he said.

No trust: George

Defence minister George Fernandes said tonight the Godhra attack was “well planned and well executed”, adds PTI.

Winding up his two-day visit to the affected areas, Fernandes told reporters that he had come to the “conclusion” about this and would submit a report to the Prime Minister.

He said the army would be withdrawn in phases but a decision would be taken after two to three days. However, the army would be stationed at the cantonment areas even after withdrawal.

Asked about his assessment after the tour, he said: “Now people feel total lack of trust in anybody. But the trust and faith should be restored.”

Fernandes, who also visited Sardarpur village where at least 31 people were burnt alive, said: “I believe there is still fear in their hearts. Dil tuten haen. Still there is a fear among the people and they have lost the confidence in each other.”

   

 
 
DELHI RIOT RADAR CATCHES MOST, EXCEPT GUJARAT 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Patna, March 4: 
On February 27 — the day a mob torched the Sabarmati Express burning alive 58 kar sevaks — the Union home ministry had sent an alert to “riot-prone” states. But one name was missing from the list: that of Gujarat.

The message asked the states to “raise peace-keeping battalions” and also offered specialised training for the forces.

The letter from Rakesh Gupta, director, ministry of home affairs, was sent to 20 states, including West Bengal and Bihar, asking them “to raise their own armed battalions and also Indian Reserve Battalions which were sanctioned by the central government”.

It said the “training module of these battalions should be remodelled to include handling of communal riots, agitations, etc”. The letter, which is in possession of The Telegraph, also “advised” the state governments to “take action accordingly so that their battalions are capable of handling such situations”.

The home ministry’s missive followed recommendations of the 13th annual report of the National Commission for Minorities, which suggested raising peace-keeping forces along the lines of the Central Reserve Police Force in riot-prone states.

Sources said the home ministry decided to alert the states after it received the commission’s recommendations. They said the ministry’s threat-perception was based on regular reports from agencies like the Intelligence Bureau.

Apart from Bihar, where the Bhagalpur riots in the mid-eighties claimed over 1,000 lives, and Bengal, which has half-a-dozen districts identified as riot prone, other states on the list included Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Chhattisgarh and Orissa.

But Gujarat, which witnessed unprecedented attacks on Christians in 1998 and riots following the Babri masjid demolition in 1992, was ignored. Godhra is also known for its past records of communal violence.

According to officials here, the home ministry list revealed how wrong intelligence departments — both of Gujarat and the Centre — were in their threat perception as over 400 people died in the worst communal flare-up in the country in almost a decade.

A wary Bihar government has requisitioned two columns of army personnel, one each to be posted at Danapur and Purnea. Besides, the state government has already posted armed police in sensitive areas, while patrolling has been intensified.

Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Laloo Prasad Yadav is learnt to have held a meeting with senior police officers yesterday and asked them to step up vigilance. The police have been screening vehicles and motorcyclists at all trouble-prone areas.

“Gujarat should learn a few lessons from Bihar on riot control,” Laloo told reporters here.

   

 
 
TRIAL BY MOB & MANDARINS FOR MEDIA 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
New Delhi, March 4: 
Shooting the messenger when it should be quelling the riots, the administration in Gujarat has come down heavily on the media just because the coverage has not suited its politics.

Almost every correspondent covering the riots in Gujarat has been put through personal “tests” by rampaging mobs led mostly by Vishwa Hindu Parishad volunteers. For the journalist it has been par for the course, a professional hazard. But the media was unprepared for the assault from officialdom.

STAR News correspondent Rajdeep Sardesai and his crew, returning after an interview with chief minister Narendra Modi in Ahmedabad on Saturday night, were stopped by a mob. Every member of the crew was asked for identity cards and details of their religion. They got by, Rajdeep believes, because they were Hindus. But the mob vent its ire on their car, smashed the windscreen and let them off with a warning.

As if that were not enough, the Gujarat government unofficially asked cable operators not to beam the channel. “When I asked the home department, I was told the ‘ban’ was off but our channel is still not being shown in large parts of Gujarat,” said Sardesai.

In Godhra city, Zee News correspondent Umang Soni prepared a story with video clips that showed army soldiers rescuing victims. “For two days, we had been asking the police for help but there was nothing from them,” the victims said on camera. Zee News correspondents’ despatches also feed the subsidiary Alpha Gujarati channel.

Later that evening, Soni was summoned by a police officer named Chudasama who told him that his boss, DIG Vipul Vijay Singh of the anti-terrorist squad, wanted to see the video tape. When Soni went to the police station, Chudasama took the tape and asked him to leave. The reporter said he would not leave unless his tape was returned.

“If you do not give us the tape, we will arrest you under Poto,” the police officer told Soni. A frightened Soni informed his New Delhi head office. His editor in Delhi desperately called the chief minister’s office and requested that the tape be returned.

When the request did not cut much ice, the chief minister’s office was told that Zee News would go ahead with the story anyway with the report that the tape had been confiscated. The tape has since been returned but with four minutes of footage erased.

Modi has had some able help from friends at the Centre. The All-India Radio top brass got a tongue-lashing after its Ahmedabad bureau’s report on the Godhra incident did not go down well with the official medium’s bosses.

The Union information and broadcasting ministry denies it has anything to do with news coverage of All-India Radio and Doordarshan, but in Broadcasting House, there are few secrets.

AIR’s Ahmedabad bureau’s story on the Godhra incident — that there was a quarrel between the kar sevaks on the Sabarmati Express and the shopkeepers at Godhra station — was resented. The kar sevaks had refused to pay up.

Apparently, the AIR bulletin carried the report “from our Ahmedabad correspondent quoting official sources” that the quarrel was between the stall-owners and “VHP workers”. The bureau’s reports went through the desk in Delhi and it is said that “passengers” was changed to “VHP workers”.

The AIR bulletin was relayed in regional language bulletins as well. Subsequently, Modi complained to Union information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj, who in turn asked AIR to balance its coverage.

There is no written evidence of the instruction from the ministry to AIR and the suggestion that the minister has anything to do with news coverage is promptly denied. For more “responsible” coverage, AIR has sent two senior staffers to Gujarat from New Delhi.

   

 
 
MINORITIES TRAIN TERROR GUN ON MODI 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 4: 
Muslim leaders today demanded Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s arrest and threatened to move the Supreme Court if the Vishwa Hindu Parishad went ahead with its March 15 temple plans.

Twenty-one prominent Muslim groups organised a dharna here with Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid Syed Abdullah Bukhari asking for Modi’s arrest under the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance.

The All-India Muslim Personal Law Board said it would move the apex court to restrain the VHP. The board reiterated its demand for reconstruction of the demolished Babri masjid on the disputed site in Ayodhya.

Yusuf Hathim Muchala, a member of the board’s panel on the mosque, said they would adopt all constitutional and democratic means to thwart the VHP’s plan to symbolically start construction of the temple on the acquired land.

“If need be, we will approach the Supreme Court to get a restrain order,” Muchala said. The board panel is the umbrella organisation of all Babri outfits, including the Babri Masjid Coordination Committee and the Babri Masjid Action Committee.

The law board considers the VHP’s demand for the return of the “so-called undisputed land” illegal.

The government has no power to concede the demand, Muchala said. “The decision of the Supreme Court is unambiguous and clear and the government is bound to keep the acquired land in safe custody as the receiver till the court decided the title suit relating to the Babri masjid and the scheme described in the Ayodhya Requisition Act is implemented.”

The law board member said they were prepared to negotiate with the government but ruled out dialogue with the Sangh parivar.

The Centre should act against Modi according to the anti-terror Ordinance, the leaders from the minority community said and called for an inquiry into the Gujarat killings under a sitting judge of the Supreme Court.

Imam Bukhari said the Godhra incident was not a Hindu-Muslim riot. “The Gujarat government, under Modi, is terrorising people. He should be arrested under Poto (acronym the anti-terror Ordinance) and President’s rule imposed,” Bukhari said.

The demonstrators demanded seizure of police records in the state and compensation for the victims on the lines of the Delhi High Court judgment on the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

Apart from representatives of the law board, the Milli Council, the Mushawarat Committee, the All-India Talimi and Milli Foundation, the Babri Masjid Action Committee, the Majlis-e-Mushawarat and others participated in the demonstration.

   

 
 
PEOPLE’S FRONT LOADS AMMO 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 4: 
Gathering ammunition from the recent “state-sponsored” violence in Gujarat, the People’s Front today demanded the resignation of the Narendra Modi government and renewed efforts for an alternative dispensation at the Centre.

It was the first time since their bitter exchanges during the Uttar Pradesh elections that Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav spoke to each other at a meeting hosted by Lok Sabha deputy Speaker P.M. Sayeed.

Sources said there could be a softening of stand on both sides in view of the Gujarat flare-up that has claimed over 400 lives.

Jyoti Basu, chairperson of the front, presided over a meeting in Delhi where former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda appealed to secular parties to close ranks. “I know we had differences with the Congress in the past, but it is time we came together,” Gowda, who in 1996 had lost his prime ministership because of the Congress, said after the meeting.

Gowda was pushed out of by his partners in the United Front after the Congress refused to support a government led by him.

The Front leaders discussed a range of issues from the Uttar Pradesh imbroglio to the communal carnage in Gujarat. Though their immediate demand is for the resignation of the Modi government, the final target is the Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime at the Centre.

At their last meeting with the Prime Minister, CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet had told Vajpayee that his government must sever links with the Ayodhya controversy as that was the only way to end the riots.

“It is high time the secular parties got together,” senior CPM MP Somnath Chatterjee had said last week. “This government is outrightly communal.”

   

 
 
RIVALS JOIN HANDS TO STEP UP RIOTS HEAT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 4: 
Short of seeking Narendra Modi’s resignation, an incensed Opposition today demanded “effective and adequate” deployment of the army in Gujarat and wondered why the Prime Minister was shying from sending an all-party delegation to the riot-torn areas.

In a joint statement, the Opposition, led by Sonia Gandhi, charged the Gujarat government with abject failure in protecting lives and properties. “We are of the view that without the criminal negligence, if not connivance of the state government, such dastardly events could not have happened,” they said.

Displaying rare unity, Opposition members gathered at Sonia Gandhi’s chamber in Parliament to take stock of the Gujarat situation. Somnath Chatterjee, Raghuvansh Prasad Singh and the Samajwadi Party representative wanted to include a demand for Modi’s resignation in the statement but the Congress vetoed it on grounds that the call would be politicised and dilute the focus on restoration of normality in the state.

The Nationalist Congress Party was absent in the chamber of the leader of Opposition but Chatterjee said the party had given its consent to the statement.

Sonia also sent a missive to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee reminding him of the promise to send an all-party delegation to Gujarat. “I am writing again to urge you to kindly arrange for an all-party delegation to visit (the) affected areas at earliest,” she wrote.

Opposition MPs said if they did not hear from Vajpayee soon, they would go ahead and form a team of their own for Gujarat.

Opposition MPs — Chandra Shekhar, Arjun Singh, G.M. Banatwala, Amar Ray Pradhan, Ajay Chakravarty, Prakash Ambedkar, Raghuvansh Prasad, Ram Das Atawale, B.S. Ramoowalia and Chatterjee — asked the Centre to ensure that the state government did not abdicate its responsibility. It was the Centre’s duty to provide protection to the people of Gujarat, they said.

Asked why they were not asking for Modi’s resignation, Chatterjee said the first priority was to restore normality and initiate relief and rehabilitation measures in Gujarat. He, however, added that Modi was “not fit to be chief minister”.

The veteran CPM leader regretted Vajpayee’s show of “helplessness” and his failure to pull up Modi. “Why doesn’t he act? His party government is there. The Prime Minister has not bothered to pull up the state chief minister,” Chatterjee said. Home minister L.K. Advani is “behaving like a party functionary”, he added.

The MPs said it was “false propaganda” that the Opposition had failed to condemn the Godhra massacre.

   

 
 
GUN TURNS ON POLITICIANS 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Ahmedabad, March 4: 
As Muslims cower in fear of attacks, their Hindu neighbours squarely blame politicians for instigating riots that have left more than 500 people dead and thousands wounded across Gujarat.

“These rioters are killing people at the instigation of the politicians who are to be blamed solely for violence in Ahmedabad and elsewhere in the state,’’ said Nitin Patel of Bapunagar, scene of one of the worst riots in the city.

Patel is not alone in pointing the finger at the politicians. Even those attacked by mobs see political hands behind the carnage.

“These leaders have started this violence because they wanted to stay in power, playing on Hindu sentiments,’’ Ramjibhai Chauhan, a wounded autorickshaw driver, said, lying on his hospital bed.

Chauhan was passing through Girdharnagar, a sensitive area, on Thursday when a band of youths stopped him.

“They asked me who I was. I feared for my life and lied,’’ he said. But the picture of a Hindu god he kept garlanded in his autorickshaw gave him away.

Chauhan was dragged out, doused with kerosene and then set on fire. As he began to burn, his attackers fled.

“The moment they went away, I tore off my clothes and began to run,’’ he said. He was still in flames when a police patrol spotted him and brought him to Ahmedabad’s civil hospital.

Chauhan said the police stood by as rioters burned the city for the first two days unchallenged. “Chief minister Narendra Modi should tell the public who had asked the police to keep quiet and watch silently.’’

Both the Union and state governments have so far refused to order an inquiry into the questionable role of the police in the wake of the Godhra train attack that had left 58 people killed and triggered state-wide violence.

Union home minister L.K. Advani, announcing an inquiry into the train attack, called the post-Godhra violence a “separate’’ issue yesterday. He said it was for the state government to order an investigation into the riots.

Chief minister Modi, who sat by Advani’s side during the news conference, did not say a word on an inquiry into the riots.

Patel, a primary school teacher in his thirties, said Hindus and Muslims of Bapunagar had never fought in the last five decades because riots meant starvation in the low-income neighbourhood. “Residents here are mostly small-time shopkeepers, repairmen and coolies. Even a day’s income counts for them. Nobody wanted trouble here, but people were aroused.’’

From Bapunagar to Gulbarg and Narora to Shahpur, residents said the attackers were outsiders, most of whom they could not recognise.

“I have never seen these people before. They are certainly not from this area,’’ Sharda Behen, who had her home looted in Narora, said. A total of 66 people were killed in this shantytown.

   

 
 
HOUSE ADJOURNS IN TRIBUTE TO SPEAKER 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 4: 
Both Houses of Parliament were adjourned till Wednesday as a mark of respect to G.M.C. Balayogi, who died in a helicopter crash yesterday.

The Lok Sabha, presided over by deputy Speaker P.M. Sayeed, briefly met to condole the death of the youngest-ever Speaker. Sayeed had convened a meeting of all political leaders to decide about the adjournment before the House assembled.

The Business Advisory Committee will meet on Thursday to reschedule the House agenda.

Earlier, the mortal remains of Balayogi were brought here in a special plane from Hyderabad. Sayeed and parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan accompanied the gun carriage draped in the national tricolour from the airport to Parliament. The glass casket was placed at Gate No. 3, which was used by Balayogi to enter his chamber.

Balayogi’s son Harish and daughter Deepti accompanied their father’s body to 20 Akbar Road, the late Speaker’s official residence. The body was later flown to Rajahmundry, in Andhra Pradesh, his native state. The funeral will be held with state honours on Wednesday.

Sayeed described the Dalit leader as a humble, self-effacing person who ensured equality of treatment to all parties while upholding the letter and spirit of the Constitution. “Cruel hands of death have snatched him away from amongst us at the prime age of 51 years,” Sayeed said.

In the Rajya Sabha, chairman Krishan Kant said Balayogi had endeared himself to one and all while showing firmness when required.

The members also mourned the deaths of K.S. Raju, Balayogi’s additional private secretary who was with him on the ill-fated chopper, and G.V. Menon, the pilot of the single-engine craft.

President K.R. Narayanan, Vice-President Kant and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee led the nation in paying homage to the departed leader. Former Prime Ministers V.P. Singh, Chandra Shekhar, P.V. Narasimha Rao and I.K. Gujral and Congress president Sonia Gandhi placed wreaths on Balayogi’s body.

Several state legislatures paid glowing tributes to the late leader. The Andhra Pradesh Assembly witnessed poignant scenes as chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu moved a condolence resolution. Several members, overwhelmed with emotion, broke down while recalling their association with Balayogi.

A team of officials from the directorate-general of civil aviation has reached Hyderabad from Delhi to probe the crash of the chopper, which developed technical snags within 10 minute of take-off.

   

 
 
JOB SCHEME HEAT ON STATES 
 
 
FROM OUR LEGAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 4: 
The Supreme Court today issued notices to the Centre to reply within 10 days on a petition seeking increase in the supply of foodgrain to states and Union Territories from five million to 10 million tonnes.

A division bench of Justice B.N. Kirpal and Arijit Passayat also asked all states and Union Territories to reply within 10 days why the Maharashtra model of employment guarantee scheme ensuring right to work to adults in rural areas has not been implemented.

The notices were issued on a People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) petition contending that non-implementation of the flood code and laws relating to famine result in hunger deaths while foodgrain rot in government godowns. The bench has posted the matter to March 19 for further hearing.

Counsel Cecil Gonsalves and Aparna Bhat, appearing for the PUCL, contended that the Maharashtra scheme is functioning well without any assistance from the Centre. The judges then asked all states and Union Territories to reply why a similar scheme should not be framed.

The counsel for the petitioners contended that the Maharashtra government collects a “nominal professional tax and utilises only half of the amount so generated for giving work to the unemployed poor”.

The petitioners also sought a direction to state governments to ensure at least 100 days of employment in a year to the unemployed and a direction to the Centre to modify the Gramin Yojana so that foodgrain supply to states and Union Territories is increased.

Recount ruling

The Supreme Court has held that a narrow margin of defeat cannot be the sole ground for recounting.

“Recount of votes could be ordered very rarely and the petitioner who seeks recount should allege and prove that there was improper acceptance of invalid votes or improper rejection of valid votes,” a bench of Justice M.B. Shah and Justice B.N. Agrawal said in a recent judgment.

In the 1998 Himachal Pradesh Assembly polls, election of BJP candidate Ram Dass Malanger was challenged by Congress candidate Mahandra Pal who secured only three votes less than his rival. Pal filed the petition on the ground that his valid votes were rejected and that his rival’s invalid votes were accepted.

However, the high court rejected the plea of Pal for recount, saying no proper evidence was laid to establish the charges.

   
 

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