VHP creeps up on complacent Left
CPM rushes three monitors
Mine smoke spreads panic in Burdwan
Explosives racket busted
Stung sadhus threaten direct action
Digvijay axe over govt staff at shakhas
Jafri suspect eludes arrest
Sushma hints at talks standoff exit route
Karunanidhi in fast politics

Calcutta, March 10: 
The violence in Taldi today brought to light how the BJP-VHP-RSS combine has crept into known CPM bastions.

The chinks in the Red fortresses began appearing with the defeat of former CPM legislator from Canning (West), Bimal Mistri, in the last elections. As a shocked CPM went into a huddle, the BJP-VHP-RSS combine cashed in and the Sangh parivar flourished, local CPM leaders admitted today.

The victory of Trinamul Congress candidate Gobinda Naskar, ironically, paved the way for the BJP to gain a toehold and consolidate its position in the area.

The BJP had withdrawn its candidate against Naskar despite Trinamul’s pre-poll alliance with the Congress. Being much more organised than its ally, the BJP is now extracting its pound of flesh said Trinamul leaders.

CPM leaders admitted that they had underestimated the ground reality and the VHP’s organisational capability. VHP activists have been gradually making inroads into localities with passive support from Trinamul. The CPM failed to realise that the VHP could mobilise thousands of activists for a yagna in what used to be its territory not so long ago.

Local CPM leaders did not pay any heed to the state leadership’s warnings regarding the VHP and the BJP, which were building up a base since the Trinamul victory.

Local BJP leader Krishna Debnath claimed that a number of CPM functionaries had recently promised to join the party. “The CPM is fast losing ground here. The former CPM MLA had promised local people a number of development schemes which did not materialise,” the leader said.

Debnath held the police responsible for today’s incident. “All those who had gathered today at Taldi came to offer puja to Lord Vishnu. They had gathered peacefully and had no plans to fight the police,” he said.

“They were all religious-minded people and all of them were not VHP activists. The police had given permission for holding the puja but suddenly panicked after seeing the huge gathering.

“Yesterday, another religious function was organised in the same locality. The police did not raise any objection to that.”

South 24-Parganas district Trinamul president Samir Chakraborty also held the police responsible for the violence.

“The police were reluctant to allow today’s puja, which the organisers had announced much earlier. They had no information that there would be such a huge gathering for the puja. Naturally, they became nervous after seeing thousands of people this morning,” Chakraborty said.

Additional superintendent of police (rural) S.S. Panda said the police had initially allowed the devotees to perform the puja but trouble erupted after a train full of VHP activists crying “Jai Sri Ram” arrived in Taldi.


Calcutta, March 10: 
The CPM has held the Vishwa Hindu Parishad responsible for today’s incident at Taldi in which one person was killed in police firing and many injured.

A worried party leadership deputed minister for land and land reforms Abdul Rezzak Mollah, minister of state for Sundarbans development Kanti Ganguly and youth leader Sujan Chakraborty to monitor the situation. Ganguly and Chakraborty are camping in Taldi.

CPM state secretary Anil Biswas defended the police, saying VHP activists had assembled there to perform a yagna in violation of prohibitory orders promulgated under Section 144. The leadership also wondered how the VHP, with little organisational base in South 24-Parganas, was able to organise the huge gathering.

“(The) VHP activists became violent after the police tried to disperse them. They pelted stones and hurled bombs at policemen, injuring 25 of them. The police initially burst tear-gas shells in self-defence and then resorted to lathicharge to disperse the mob. When everything else failed, they had to open fire when the situation had gone out of control,” Biswas said.

The police had convened a meeting to alert residents about the VHP’s move to spread tension on the pretext of the yagna, Biswas said. The deaths in police firing are unfortunate, he added.

The CPM leader had earlier said party cadre would foil attempts to disturb harmony. On Wednesday, the CPM had organised two huge rallies in the city to condemn the Gujarat carnage.

The state BJP has condemned the firing and has called a bandh tomorrow. The Union home ministry has been informed of the incident. Party vice-president Muzaffar Khan said a three-member delegation would visit Canning tomorrow.

“The police resorted to unprovoked firing on BJP workers who had assembled to perform yagna for communal harmony,” he said. The CPM “is playing with fire by preventing kar sevaks from travelling in trains”, he added.

The Trinamul Congress also condemned the incident and said the firing could have been avoided. “The police have become trigger-happy in Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s regime. We feel that the police could have averted firing by forcibly dispersing those who had assembled to perform the yagna,” said Trinamul MLA Sougata Roy.

Congress leaders echoed Roy, saying the police firing was uncalled for. It also criticised the VHP for organising the yagna in violation of prohibitory orders.


Pandaveswar (Burdwan), March 10: 
Panic-stricken residents of Pandaveswar fled their homes yesterday when smoke with heavy carbon monoxide content billowed from the pits of the Eastern Coalfield’s Ramnagar colliery.

Residents complained of suffering from nausea and acute headache in the four villages surrounding the mines. Nearly 1,500 villagers living close to the mines fled their homes and have been living on the streets and open land.

The authorities have swung into action, organising truckloads of sand to extinguish the fire. ECL officials said the possibilities of miners being trapped inside were remote as no miner had not been sent down because the exhaust fans of the pits, where the fire broke out, had been out of order for the last two days.

“If the exhaust fans and blowers are not working, workers are not deployed inside the pits. So, there is no possibility of any one being trapped inside,” said S.B. Dasgupta, general manager of Pandaveswar area of ECL.

Officials of the Deputy General of Mines Safety (DGMS) and Central Mechanical Engineering Research Institute (CMERI) camping in the area said the smoke resulted from the underground fire spreading and affecting the pits and seams two km away in Puroshottampur.

Five teams of experts from the DGMS and the ECL have been working at mobilising truckloads of sand to put out the underground fire. At least 60 truckloads of sand will be required to cover the area across which the fire is raging.


Asansol, March 10: 
Police today busted a major racket involved in pilferage of explosives in the Asansol coal belt.

Two people were arrested and 14,000 detonators, along with a huge quantity of gelatine sticks, were recovered during a raid in neighbouring Jharkhand this morning. The police said the explosives were stolen on January 12 from a house belonging to a private consignment agency in the Madanpur police station area.

“We are interrogating the arrested persons to extract more information about other members of the racket. We hope to arrest more people who are involved in the pilferage,” said Burdwan superintendent of police B.N. Ramesh.

Ramesh said the two people arrested in this connection were professional thieves who would regularly steal explosives and hand it over to private agencies. However, he refused to divulge their names and other details for the sake of investigation.

“Earlier, we thought the stolen explosives might have reached the extremists who are on the look out for it but interrogation reveals that these pilfered explosives are meant for private agency,” said Ramesh.

At least 12 cases of explosives have been stolen since 1996 but the biggest pilferage took place on January 12, when at least 30,000 detonators were stolen from a Delhi-based private consignment agency.

The district police was under tremendous pressure from various quarters to arrest those involved in the racket as the state government was under the impression that the stolen detonators and gelatine sticks were being passed on to extremist groups such as the PWG and the MCC.


Lucknow, March 10: 
The silent sadhus have decided to come upfront. Having so far allowed the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) to handle the Ayodhya situation, they are now planning to take “direct action’’.

Ramchandra Das Paramhans, chairman of the Ramjanmabhoomi Trust and president of the Mandir Nirman Samiti, today announced that there wouldn’t be a “mere symbolic puja” on March 15 as agreed to by the VHP. “Puja hoga to dhoom dhaam se, baaje gaaje ke saath (the puja will be held with full pomp ad gaiety),’’ he said.

He also declared that pillars would be transported to the disputed site, marking the start of temple construction.

As a first step to shifting into top gear, the sadhus will tomorrow lead kar sevaks in a demonstration to the disputed site at 10.30 am.

Paramhans said he was fed up with the “failed backroom politics’’ pursued by the VHP. “Every one is a liar; the Prime Minister lied to us; even Union minister I.D. Swami, who came here and met us to assure that restrictions on the movement of pilgrims and Ram bhakts would be eased, took us for a ride,’’ he fumed.

Sadhus in Ayodhya have been pushed into a corner by the administration and they are very angry. Knowing that their “anger”, at almost everybody — the Centre, the VHP, the Governor and the All India Muslim Personal Law Board — could spell trouble, top administration officials are devising ways to neutralise their efforts to perform a puja at the disputed site on March 15.

Governor Vishnukant Shastri, who said he had given a written order to the administration to allow pilgrims easier access to Ayodhya, was quick to add that security could not be relaxed at any cost. “I will visit Ayodhya if the need arises. The situation out there is not normal,’’ he said.

The administration, fearing a direct confrontation between sadhus and kar sevaks on the one hand and police forces on the other, has already got cracking. Twenty companies of the CRPF and PAC today held a flag march in Ayodhya.

Security has been stepped up more than ever before. Jails in 18 districts have been alerted and asked to be ready for any eventuality. Hospitals in and around Faizabad have been told to keep adequate staff on stand-by. Schools and colleges will remain closed till March 15.

Trains expected to resume services will not halt in the twin cities of Ayodhya and Faizabad at least till March 15. Despite Swami’s assurances to the sadhus, the administration is unwilling to relent. “Nothing about easing restrictions or resumption of train and vehicular services has come to us in writing,’’ commissioner (Faizabad range) A.K. Gupta said.

The administration is also mulling over ways to keep senior VHP leaders away from Ayodhya and banning their entry to the temple town. ADG (law and order) A.K. Mitra said this was for their own good.

“We have intercepted messages pointing to a plan by suicide squads to target a prominent Ram temple in Ayodhya and attack kar sevaks at Karsevakpuram. Security has been beefed up for these reasons also,’’ he said.

With senior Muslim leaders rejecting the Kanchi seer’s proposals to allow a symbolic puja in the undisputed area, the VHP has again toughened its stand. “There will definitely be a puja on March 15,’’ VHP international secretary Pravin Todagia said.

The VHP will hold a meeting on March 14 to take stock of the rapidly changing situation and chart out a new strategy. But the administration is bent on not allowing the leaders to meet.

Gujarat yatris

About 1,000 Ram sevaks and Bajrang Dal activists will leave Ahmedabad on March 12 by the Sabarmati Express to take part in the symbolic puja. VHP state unit general secretary Dilipbhai Trivedi and Dal’s Gujarat chief Ranchodbhai Bharwad said in a joint statement the Ram sevaks would be headed by senior VHP leader Hareshbha Bhatt.


Bhopal, March 10: 
Chief minister Digvijay Singh has cracked the whip on Madhya Pradesh government employees attending RSS shakhas. Any staff detected doing so would have his service terminated “with immediate effect”, he said.

At a National Integration Council meeting yesterday, Digvijay said he has directed all district collectors and superintendents of police “to ban holding of RSS shakhas on government lands or offices”. “Government employees participating in RSS shakhas are to be sacked with immediate effect,” he added.

However, the RSS and the BJP in the state and the trade unions are not taking the threat seriously yet. According to the RSS top brass, Digvijay had used the same words at his first news conference as chief minister in December 1993. The government has gone on record several times afterwards claiming to be preparing a “list” of RSS members in government services.

There have been allegations by employees that ministers, bureaucrats and senior officials are using the chief minister’s statement to settle personal scores. But till date, no government staff has been sacked for being an RSS member.

“The chief minister has only made a political statement, there is no need to get alarmed,” said RSS spokesman Anil Saumitra.

“The service rules are that a government employee cannot join an organisation which makes him prejudiced or biased towards the execution of his duties. We don’t think the RSS makes a government employee biased.

“If joining and attending RSS shakhas made a government employee biased and anti-national then what would Digvijay do with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who calls himself a swayamsevak and Union home minister L.K. Advani, who never shies from calling himself one? These men hold two of the country’s top government posts — will Digvijay sack them too?” state RSS leaders asked.

Last year, the BJP-led government in Gujarat had got into trouble after it tried to remove the ban on government employees joining the RSS. The Madhya Pradesh government contends that under the existing rules, government employees are not allowed to join any organisation apart from recognised trade unions. State government permitting, an employee may, however, join cultural organisations.

As a result, the Gujarat government had failed to lift the ban on employees joining the RSS.

However, Saumitra had a different argument. “If Gujarat couldn’t lift the ban, Digvijay will not be able to sack employees either. Let him first make laws that make the RSS an anti-national organisation. How will he ban the RSS?” Saumitra asked.

“We will react only after the laws are passed, we will take the issue to court. If being an RSS member tantamounts to termination of service, then punishment for employees with Congress membership should also be the same. If a government employee cannot attend RSS shakhas, his colleague shouldn’t be attending the chief minister’s dharna either,” he said.

“Digvijay would have to sack thousands in that case and he knows he cannot.”

The trade union wing of the BJP, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh is not giving much importance to Digvijay’s axe-threat either. It is another of his random statements, the trade union thinks.

On March 1, Digvijay had demanded a ban on the VHP. “There is a need to ban the Vishwa Hindu Parishad,” he had said. Digvijay had also passed an order empowering police to arrest kar sevaks going to Ayodhya from the state. But none of the more than 2,000 kar sevaks who reached Ayodhya from here fell into the police net.


Ahmedabad, March 10: 
He has been identified by police as the leader of the mob that burnt alive over 60 people in Naroda on February 28. Yet he is roaming free. Babu Bajrangi, a local Bajrang Dal leader, has managed to dodge the police even as hundreds of his compatriots have been rounded up for rioting.

The police also suspect Bajrangi’s involvement in the torching of Gulbarg Society, where former Congresss Ehsaan Jafri and 32 others were burnt alive.

But will Bajrangi, alias Babu Patel, be ever arrested? The police have no clue to the whereabouts of the man with a long criminal record. “He has been involved in the crime and so he will definitely be arrested,” said police officers. But, with the VHP throwing its weight behind Bajrangi, it looks unlikely.

The VHP claims that Bajrangi was not in Naroda when the incident took place. “If he was there leading the mob, why didn’t the police arrest him? What were the police there for?” asked Haresh Bhatt, the state VHP vice-president.

“What crime has he committed? He was not even in the city on the day the incident took place,” said Chetan Shah, a VHP supporter heading a team of 20 advocates who are working to get the Bajrang Dal activists released. The team has already freed more than 800 workers.

The brief to this team of advocates is clear: ensure that Bajrangi is not arrested. After all, he is not any ordinary Bajrang Dal member. A convener of the local unit of the Bajrang Dal, Bajrangi has come to symbolise the new face of militant Hindutva. He is wedded to the ideology of the Bajrang Dal so deeply, that his friends began calling him Bajrangi.

The VHP is not defending any other arrested activist as strongly as it is defending “the innocence of Bajrangi”, who, it claims, has been falsely implicated by police officers opposed to their ideology.

Two first information reports were lodged against him on February 28 for his alleged involvement in the Sahizpur and Naroda carnages. Bajrangi is accused of leading the mob which set on fire the two slums.

Advocates trying to pick holes in the police case say the FIRs lodged on the same day show him leading the mob in two places about 2 km apart. How can he instigate the mob at two places at the same time, they ask.

But the police say the first incident took place around 2 pm, while the second incident went on from 11 am to 8 pm.


New Delhi, March 10: 
In what appears to be the laying of a route out of the standoff with Pakistan, Delhi has suggested that if Islamabad hands over at least seven of the 20 criminals on its most-wanted list and “considerably” cuts down cross-border terrorism, the stalled bilateral dialogue could resume.

India’s position was made known by information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj in an interview to the Pakistani daily, News.

“India will wait and see the change on the ground before agreeing to talks. If Pakistan hands over seven to 10 fugitives wanted by us and brings down cross-border terrorism by 30 to 50 per cent, then the relations can be normalised,” Swaraj, in Islamabad for the Saarc information ministers’ meet, reportedly said.

Though South Block refuses to officially comment on Swaraj’s reported remarks, they clearly show a shift in India’s position on both the list and infiltration across the Line of Control. Swaraj’s comments — if they have been reported truthfully — does indicate that attempts may be under way to resolve the diplomatic and military standoff between the neighbours.

Since the December 13 terrorist attack on Parliament, India has launched a number of diplomatic offensives against Pakistan along with mobilising its troops along the border.

Delhi’s tough stand has yielded some results, such as the ban on the Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the arrest of a large number of its activists and leaders by the Musharraf regime.

Officially, India maintains that it wants the handover of all the 20 criminals on the list it has submitted to Pakistan and will not move towards the negotiations table till Islamabad eliminates infiltration and cross-border terrorism. On the face of it, Swaraj, too, has maintained this position.

“If he considers the Kashmir issue a freedom struggle, there is no use of all these steps that you have mentioned,” she said in reference to General Pervez Musharraf’s recent crackdown on terrorists and extremist elements in Pakistan. She argued these steps only benefited Pakistan.

“Yes, a change in Pakistan’s policy has come after September 11 and December 13, but it has been Pakistan-specific and not related to cross-border terrorism,” Swaraj said. She also maintained that the ban on the Jaish and the Lashkar had not in any way affected cross-border terrorism.

Officially, foreign ministry officials here are not willing to comment whether Swaraj’s remarks indicate a shift in India’s position.

But, in private, they are willing to concede that this may be an opening line for the resumption of dialogue between the two sides. This is, however, subject to Pakistan acknowledging and acting according to the information minister’s statements.


Chennai, March 10: 
Former chief minister M. Karunanidhi surprised political circles in Tamil Nadu today going on a fast demanding action against the people who damaged his MLA Constituency Office in Chepauk.

However, nerves were soothed by the end of the day after a cellphone assurance from Chennai police commissioner K. Vijayakumar. The DMK chief called off his fast in the evening bringing down the political temperature in the state considerably.

Tension had spread like wildfire this morning with the news of the fast.

Miscreants had broken the windowpanes of the office of the MLA from Chepauk, Karunanidhi, on Friday night. He had inaugurated the office two days ago.

Karunanidhi, who came face to face with ADMK chief Jayalalithaa in the Assembly for the first time in 13 years on Thursday, alleged last night that the attack was the “handiwork” of the ADMK. This morning, while on a surprise visit to the damaged office with Union environment minister T.R. Baalu, Karunanidhi dramatically announced the fast calling for justice.

This created a commotion on Wallajah Road with partymen swarming into the compound to join their leader. Several senior DMK leaders, including Leader of Opposition K. Anbazhagan, rushed to the venue.

The demand for justice had its echo in far away Madurai where Karunanidhi’s elder son M.K. Azhagiri and former minister Ponn Muthuramalingam took to the streets and blocked traffic.

Given his old age and the way the police had bungled over his arrest in June, the fast had enough ammunition in it. But having learnt a bitter lesson last year, the city police resorted to some deft fire fighting to placate the 78-year-old DMK patriarch.

Obviously piqued by the developments, Jayalalithaa dubbed the sit-in a “cheap political gimmick”. The attack on the Chepauk office was “masterminded” by Karunanidhi, she alleged.

Charging Karunanidhi with making a mountain out of a mole-hill, Jayalalithaa said the decision only exposed his “unhealthy political style”.

Accusing the DMK leader of trying to “sully the ADMK’s image”, she said his behaviour only showed he had no worthwhile political issue to talk about. Recently, Jayalalithaa had called the DMK chief’s politics “diversionary”.


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