Singhal vows to go by verdict
Muslim leaders see ray of hope
Killer signals target Mulayam
Vajpayee wins a breather
Author with a cause chains the rebel
Ex-PMs tar Modi in riot review
Close aide of Ansari held in city raid
Actress death probe in CBI court
Parks for convicts’ kids
Calcutta Weather

 
 
SINGHAL VOWS TO GO BY VERDICT 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, March 7: 
Efforts by the Kanchi Sankaracharya, Swami Jayendra Saraswathi, to unravel the Ayodhya tangle made headway today after Ashok Singhal agreed to accept the Supreme Court’s judgment on the disputed site even if it favoured the Muslims.

Singhal, however, clarified that he gave this commitment as a managing trustee of the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas and not as the working president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

This shift was seen as another victory for the Kanchi seer who declared in Ahmedabad today that the VHP should be kept out of the picture and the Nyas was the only authority.

The commitment was extracted after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee threatened to recommend to the President dissolution of the Lok Sabha.

The Prime Minister’s Office was upset that its efforts to resolve the crisis were being scuttled by VHP leaders like Acharya Giriraj Kishore, who is now believed to have been silenced.

“I gave this commitment because the PMO asked me: ‘Are you sticking to your earlier commitment (given on February 27) or not?’” Singhal said.

The Kanchi seer was also reportedly upset with the VHP’s obduracy and threatened to walk out of the negotiations being conducted under his leadership.

A visibly mellower Singhal even agreed that a “reasonable extent of the acquired undisputed area” — in the Centre’s custody — should be given to the side that won the title suit. “What can anyone do with just a small plot of 40x80ft?” he asked. The Nyas and the VHP’s contention was that the acquired undisputed land belonged to them.

He even indicated he would have no problems if the Muslims constructed a mosque in this area if they won the title suit. The VHP’s earlier stand was that no new mosque would be permitted within Ayodhya’s municipal limits.

In a further climbdown, Singhal said the sants have decided to do just a “shila” puja of four or five small bricks on March 15 on the Ayodhya land with the Centre’s permission. “We don’t want the land to be transferred to the Nyas. We only want permission to go there,” he said and stressed that the Nyas had no intention of “grabbing the land” while performing the yagna. The yagna, he added, would be a “peaceful, joyous, cheerful and pleasurable” one.

Official sources said Vajpayee was still “wary” of allowing the Nyas to go anywhere near the site for fear they would use it as a ruse to gain access to the disputed spot and then create trouble. His other fear was that the Muslim Personal Law Board would challenge such a decision legally and probably obtain a stay. The Prime Minister also has to keep NDA allies happy.

The DMK and TDP have told Vajpayee that “any agreement exclusively between the VHP and the government would have no use or meaning unless the Muslim board endorsed it”. If it did not, not even a symbolic puja should be permitted.

In the light of these objections, the government conveyed to Singhal that the proposed ceremony would have to be scaled down to a gathering of 10 or 15 and no building or construction material like pillars should be brought. The VHP leader was told that the curbs on Ram sevaks’ movement would be lifted on an assurance that only Nyas members would be present during the yagna and not VHP activists.

Singhal was apparently ready to fulfil these conditions. “Only four or five small stones will be taken to the site,” he said.

Apart from the legal and political complexities of allowing the March 15 puja, the other sticky point was the absence of a commitment on whether the Nyas would amend its temple blueprint. The plan now includes the disputed 40x80ft plot as the garba griha (sanctum sanctorum), housing an idol of Ram, which is worshipped through the year. Asked if he would agree to relocating the garba griha, Singhal said: “We will cross the bridge when we come to it.”

Till late tonight, Vajpayee was holding a review meeting with the sankaracharya and Singhal in the presence of RSS leader Madan Das Devi and senior Cabinet colleagues.

   

 
 
MUSLIM LEADERS SEE RAY OF HOPE 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, March 7: 
Hardliners in the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board suffered a setback today when a move to defer a meeting on Sunday was scuttled by the board’s executive.

Buoyed by the VHP’s pronouncement that it would abide by the court verdict on the Ayodhya dispute even if it went against it, the board now plans to hardsell the concession to Muslim leaders to arrive at a settlement of the dispute.

“It is a major shift by the VHP and Muslims all over India should take note of it,” Kamal Farooqui, a member of the board, said. Farooqui pointed out that for the first time VHP working president Ashok Singhal had gone on record to say they would respect the judgment even if it favoured Muslims.

Simultaneously, the board has launched an exercise to maintain unity among various Muslim sects for Sunday’s meeting. Today, Zafaryab Jeelani, a hardliner and convener of the Lucknow-based Babri Masjid Action Committee, fell in line ,promising to abide by the board’s stand.

Board members are, however, divided on permitting puja on the acquired land on March 15, a major demand of the VHP. Moderates in the board said community leaders should take a stand in view of the change in the VHP’s postion. The hardliners, however, want to involve courts in the decision-making process.

In the last 24 hours, a move has been gaining ground that both should explore possibilities of a full and final settlement of the dispute and then approach the court. Board members privately said the community would be happy if a solution was found in the spirit of “give and take”.

Sunday’s meeting of the board assumes importance as it is unlikely to summarily reject the sankaracharya’s proposal. It would instead submit a counter-proposal. That will include the demand for construction of a mosque on the 67 acres in and around Ayodhya, which the VHP is bound to resist. But board representatives are hopeful that the sankaracharya and the PMO will be able to clinch a deal.

“Even if nothing comes out, the spirit of dialogue would continue,” said a board representative.

For the first time, board office-bearers decided to hit out at Imam Ahmad Bukhari, Syed Shahabuddin and others for questioning the board’s locus standi. Hyderabad-based cleric Mohammad Abdul Rahman Qureshi wondered how some Muslim leaders could question the board’s credentials after having consistently maintained that it was the authorised forum to deal with the Shahbano case and post-Babri demolition litigation.

Both Shahabuddin and Jeelani are members of the board.

   

 
 
KILLER SIGNALS TARGET MULAYAM 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, March 7: 
Mulayam Singh Yadav, and not Manzoor Ahmed, was the real target of Abhishek Bharadwaj, police sources said.

The 23-year-old civil service aspirant gunned down Ahmed, a Samajwadi Party legislator from Baheri in Bareilly, yesterday in front of Raj Bhavan.

Senior police officials said that during interrogation, Abhishek admitted that he had wanted to kill Samajwadi chief Mulayam Singh. The assassin had earlier claimed he had shot Ahmed to “gain instant fame’’.

In court today, Abhishek, however, pleaded innocence and asked the judge to forgive him as he was “severely mentally unstable”.

“I am very disturbed mentally and I didn’t know what I was doing.’’

After killing Ahmed at point-blank range with a country-made pistol, Abhishek had surrendered’’ before a crowd of shocked Samajwadi legislators and activists and threw his weapon on the ground. Eyewitnesses said the killer did not appear to know his target as he asked some people in the crowd if they were legislators.

Mulayam, who convened a news conference soon after the incident, asked for additional security for his MLAs.

The case took another complex turn when Ahmed’s son Anjum Rashid filed another first information report alleging that his father had an “old enmity’’ with some people in Baheri.

Ahmed’s wife had replaced Tanveer, a former Baheri panchayat chairman, and scuttled the latter’s Rs 1 crore land deal. Ahmed was also under attack from Kaala Bachcha, who joined the Bahujan Samaj Party after being denied a Samajwadi ticket in the recent elections.

Rashid has alleged that the two could have plotted the murder of his father. A few days before the assassination, the legislator’s family had received an anonymous phone call threatening to kill Ahmed.

Tanveer claimed to have received a call on the day of the murder. The unidentified voice had said Ahmed’s sins had been avenged.

The police are not ruling out the possibility that Abhishek could have been “used’’ by the real masterminds of the murder.

   

 
 
VAJPAYEE WINS A BREATHER 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 7: 
Who has gained and who has lost from the Ayodhya battle of nerves?

In the short term, Atal Bihari Vajpayee has saved his “gaddi” by “salvaging” his government’s “secular credentials” and sparing his NDA allies embarrassment. From the long-term viewpoint, Sangh sources insisted that the undercurrent of resentment among the cadre, including those of the BJP, would increase and reopen the battle between hardliners and moderates by the end of the year, closer to the Gujarat elections.

As Vajpayee weighed the legal and political pros and cons of permitting the VHP to perform its token bhoomi puja on a portion of the acquired “undisputed” land, BJP sources said a storm was brewing in the hardline ranks. Some senior ministers are believed to have told their mentor and home minister L.K. Advani that if the Centre kept pushing the VHP to the wall, they would have no choice but to resign.

The VHP general secretary, Acharya Giriraj Kishore, said sports and youth affairs minister Uma Bharti had “assured” him she would quit if the government rebuffed the VHP’s demand.

BJP sources said Advani was in favour of allowing the VHP and the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas to perform their puja on the acquired land and permitting the Ram sevaks to move freely, but Vajpayee would not hear of it.

The decision to involve the Kanchi Sankaracharya as the principal mediator was apparently taken entirely by the Prime Minister’s aides and the home ministry was kept completely out of it. The PMO took full charge after Vajpayee got the feedback that the BJP and some of his Cabinet ministers were not too keen on an early resolution, which would end up “compromising” the VHP’s position. Even the RSS, which initially offered to intervene, did not “have its heart fully in it”, said sources.

“There was a feeling that beyond a point it would not help us to have this government around for too long,” said a Sangh source. “It has failed on all counts — governance, the economy. What’s left is Hindutva and if this, too, becomes a point of confrontation, what’s the use of having Vajpayee around?”

Alienated from his own party, BJP sources said Vajpayee finally played the “Brahmin” card by enlisting the support of some of the who’s who from the community. R. Venkataraman, Ranganath Mishra, Brajesh Mishra and, of course, the Kanchi Sankaracharya were thrown into the negotiations.

But if the Ayodhya issue has been resolved, if only temporarily, BJP sources said the Kanchi seer and VHP working president Ashok Singhal would share the honours equally. The former for taking the risk of earning the label of a “political sant” from the Hindu clergy and Singhal for conceding more in the bargain than the VHP had initially calculated.

   

 
 
AUTHOR WITH A CAUSE CHAINS THE REBEL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 7: 
She decided not to be the goddess of big things. But then Arundhati Roy might turn around and say the Narmada Bachao Andolan is a bigger issue for her than fighting the Supreme Court.

“I was not interested in becoming a heroine. I decided that paying the fine was the correct thing to do because I have made the point I was trying to make. To take it further would be to make myself into a martyr for a cause that is not mine,” the author of The God of Small Things said after spending a day at Tihar jail and paying a penalty of Rs 2,000.

Concerns of the Narmada Bachao Andolan persuaded Arundhati to pay the fine the Supreme Court had slapped on her for contempt. Had she refused to pay the writer-activist would have spent three months behind bars.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court sentenced her to imprisonment for a day and directed her to pay a fine of Rs 2,000, failing which she would serve a term of three months. Before the Supreme Court gave its verdict, Arundhati had hinted in a note that she had no regrets for questioning the judiciary’s motives for dragging her into a contempt case.

“Paying the fine does not in any way mean that I have apologised or accepted the judgment,” she added.

NBA activists, who hugged her and greeted her with flowers, one of which she stuck behind her ear, felt that the movement against the Sardar Sarovar dam would suffer from her three-month absence.

Yesterday in her note to the “citizens” of India — before she was incarcerated in Tihar — the writer had said: “I am ready to face any consequences.”

“I spent a night in prison, trying to decide whether to pay the fine or serve out a three-month sentence instead. But I did not want to become a martyr. It was not just the Supreme Court versus me,” said Arundhati, suggesting that she could not have made a “personal” decision that went against the interests of the movement.

“Tihar is not such a terrible place even though we were crammed like sardine. I could have spent three months there,” said Arundhati.

The place was clean, the food okay and the writer “saluted” those who are in charge of Tihar. “People who run the Tihar jail deserve a zindabad,” she said.

If she had known who was responsible for Tihar’s clean-up, the author would have thanked trendsetting police officer Kiran Bedi.

Arundhati has no intentions of putting together her experiences in a book. “As a writer the place was full of stories, but I was not there as a voyeur” was her comment. She met women who are serving out 10-20-year sentences.

“I had the option of going away and would have made a mockery of the women had I still decided to stay,” she said.

A panel of editors, including Vinod Mehta and N. Ram, and NBA leader Medha Patkar shared the podium with Arundhati whose spat with the Supreme Court has raked up a dormant issue — the Contempt of Court Act.

“Every other institution is open to a probe. This is the only holy cow left. And this last cow has to be slaughtered,” said Vinod Mehta.

He called for a review of the Contempt of Court Act by Parliament, which had brought it into effect.

“This is not just an issue of the media, but also of people’s movements. Forty thousand people in the Narmada valley are already homeless, more people are joining. They will be thankful to go to jail — at least they can have a better life,” said Medha.

   

 
 
EX-PMS TAR MODI IN RIOT REVIEW 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Ahmedabad, March 7: 
V.P. Singh and I.K. Gujral today expressed shock and anguish at the orgy of violence that shook Gujarat and questioned the state government’s role in stemming the post-Godhra riots.

Citing his own example, Singh urged chief minister Narendra Modi to own moral responsibility for the riots and signalled that he should step down. He said that when he was the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, he resigned after dacoits killed some people. There is something called “constructive responsibility. I felt I was holding office, so I was morally responsible. I demitted office’’, Singh said.

The toll crossed 600 as 41 more bodies were pulled out from under debris and a woman was stabbed to death here today. As the state’s commercial capital limped backed to normality, the government focussed on relief for an estimated 56,000 homeless people.

The former Prime Ministers and noted Gandhian Nirmala Deshpande today toured Ahmedabad and met the riot victims. “Our sympathies and hearts go out to the bereaved family members and all those who suffered’’ because of the alleged “government indifference” and “non-cooperation” by the police force, they said.

“Everywhere we went — civil hospital, relief camps and colonies destroyed in the violence — we saw terrible sights. The victims have made serious complaints,” Gujral told reporters. The administration claims to have made arrangements for the victims, but “our on-the-spot study in some of the relief camps does not bear this fact”.

Gujral said people at the relief camp in Aman Chawk said they have not received essential supplies. Many have alleged that the police did not stop rioters from converting mosques into temples. “It is shocking and a matter of great concern,” he said.

Singh and Gujral also held meetings with local NGOs and social workers involved in rehabilitation, describing them as the real “ray of hope” in the violence-torn state.

Singh slammed the state government for its discriminatory attitude, reflected, he said, in the way it handled the situation and the unequal compensation announced for the Godhra victims and those killed in the reprisal riots.

Modi today said a higher compensation of Rs 2 lakh was given to the Godhra victims’ relatives as it was a terrorist incident. “There is a difference between terrorist attacks and communal violence, and the attack on the Sabarmati Express on February 27 fell in the category of terrorist attack.”

Singh maintained that the need of the hour was to restore peace and confidence among the people, which, he said, could be done only by severely punishing those guilty of the inhuman acts. The government should firmly deal with the culprits. And if there were lapses on the part of the government machinery, action should be taken against the erring officials.

Slamming the “merchants of hatred”, Singh said Gujarat has already suffered huge financial losses and the army had to be called from the borders because of this hatred.

   

 
 
CLOSE AIDE OF ANSARI HELD IN CITY RAID 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 7: 
Calcutta police have arrested a 24-year-old, believed to be a close friend of Aftab Ansari, the mastermind behind the attack outside the American Center on January 22.

City sleuths, who dubbed it “another breakthrough” in the American Center case, arrested Mohammad Sabir from his Motijhil residence in Entally late last night.

Sabir is also the prime accused in the kidnapping of Niranjan Shah, a well-known diamond merchant in Mumbai and the brother-in-law of filmstar Govinda.

“We have arrested him in connection with the American Center case. Mumbai police have already been informed about this,” said Soumen Mitra, deputy commissioner of police, detective department.

Mitra, who is overseeing the probe, said Sabir was one of the four who had abducted Shah. “He stayed with Aftab and Asif Reza Khan, who died in an encounter last December, for 55 days when Shah was in their custody.”

According to sources, Sabir, Ansari and his associate Raju Anadkad — who was also arrested in Dubai — had chalked out the plan to abduct Shah who was then in Nepal on business.

Mitra said: “After getting directions from their chief, Sabir and Shakil Akhtar, alias Rahul, left Calcutta in a white Maruti van and crossed over to Nepal.” Rahul was arrested earlier by the city police.

Following Ansari’s directions, Sabir invited Shah to a tea party at a house, 6 km from Kathmandu town. When Shah reached there, he was abducted. The gang demanded a Rs 50-crore ransom for his release, but later scaled down its demand to Rs 20 lakh after Chhota Rajan intervened.

“We have enough evidence against Sabir that will prove his strong links with Ansari. If Mumbai police want him in connection with the Shah kidnapping, we will hand him over,” Mitra said.

According to officers investigating the case, Sabir had information on Ansari’s plan to attack the American Center. “Ansari used to contact Sabir whenever he came to Calcutta,” said an officer of the detective department.

The sleuths today unearthed the printing press in Narkeldanga that apparently supplied Ansari the forged papers. The 40-year-old owner of the press, Hasrat Alam, and a middleman, Musaraf Hussein, were arrested. Ansari used false identity cards of the CBI in a number of operations.

   

 
 
ACTRESS DEATH PROBE IN CBI COURT 
 
 
FROM G.S. RADHAKRISHNA
 
Hyderabad, March 7: 
The Andhra Pradesh government has agreed to order a CBI inquiry into the circumstances leading to the death of actress Pratyusha last month.

Chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu told the Assembly he was ready for either a judicial probe or a CBI inquiry into the controversial incident in which relatives of Telugu Desam and Congress leaders are allegedly involved.

Police and doctors have given conflicting versions of the death. While the city police commissioner termed the death a “murder”, the DGP said it was a “suicide”. The doctor who conducted the post-mortem, Muniswamy, alleged that DNA and semen samples were tampered with at the forensic department.

Pratyusha and boyfriend Siddhartha Reddy drank coke laced with pesticide after their families blocked their marriage. Siddhartha, however, survived.

Siddhartha issued a statement saying Pratyusha died due to a “higher dosage” of pesticide. He confessed that some relatives of ministers alleged to have gangraped Pratyusha were his “close friends”.

   

 
 
PARKS FOR CONVICTS’ KIDS 
 
 
BY TARAK NATH DE
 
Calcutta, March 7: 
Life for Abhirup (name changed), the three-year-old child of a convict in Howrah jail, will no longer be different from other children. Thanks to the initiative of the prison department, in collaboration with the forest department, parks on jail premises are expected to change the lifestyle of convicts’ children.

Presidency jail will be the first to have a children’s park. On Thursday, inspector-general of prisons Anil Kumar said: “The proposal was mooted to ensure that such children have a healthy growth. We are happy that the forest department has agreed to help us financially and donate saplings for the proposed parks.”

According to Kumar, parks inside jails are an international concept. The proposed parks will have merry-go-rounds, seesaws, tigers’ cages and other amusement facilities.

“Since a jail is now called a correctional home, we must ensure a sincere effort to guide such children. The least we can do is try to provide them with a life similar to those outside the prison walls,” said Kumar.

The prison authorities have already requested the forest department to plant some rare saplings and seasonal flowers on the jail premises, where parks are expected to come up. Convicts will also be trained to clean and maintain these parks.

Child psychologists have lauded the prison department’s move, which aims at freeing the hapless children from a stigmatised life. Mukul Pathak, a renowned psychologist, said: “They should have done it earlier. However, I am glad that growing up in such environs, these children will turn out to be better individuals in life.”

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 32.2°C (-1)
Minimum: 18.5°C (-1)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative humidity

Max: 77%
Min: 29%

Sunrise: 5.57 am

Sunset: 5.38 pm

Today:

Mainly clear sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 20°C
 

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