Trinamul sets terror law term
MLA calls off search for son
Saturday signal for shila shift
Rioters raze ghazal pioneer’s tomb
Poll warning to Hurriyat
SOS to Atal from camp
Backlash-wary govt dilutes Bill
Be Marxist, buy Atal
Flip-flop Farooq to monitor terror law
Portrait protest rocks Bangla

 
 
TRINAMUL SETS TERROR LAW TERM 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, March 24: 
The Trinamul Congress will support the promulgation and operation of an anti-terror law in Bengal only if it is administered by an agency independent of the state government, party chief Mamata Banerjee said today.

The Trinamul chief said her party would resist any law against terrorism or organised crime anywhere in the country if state governments were the implementing authority. If state governments are allowed to implement such laws there is a great chance of it being misused, Mamata said.

A separate authority, such as the RAW, the CBI, or the IB, should be created with the necessary infrastructure to handle laws like the Centre’s or Bengal’s proposed anti-terrorism legislation, she added.

The Trinamul leader said her party had been crusading against misuse of anti-terrorism legislation since the inception of Tada and no Trinamul MP would vote in favour of the Prevention of Terrorism Bill in the joint session of Parliament. Mamata and the eight other MPs of her party had stayed away from Lok Sabha when the Bill had come up for debate and voting.

District magistrates and superintendents of police should not be allowed to implement laws like these, Mamata said. “Such laws can become an instrument to throttle the Opposition. Every law is good for the ruling party. It is only those who are in Opposition like us who realise the danger if an anti-terrorism law is misused,” said the Trinamul chief, who returned from Delhi last night.

Mamata had been one of most vocal politicians against the misuse of Tada seven years ago. In 1995, she had sat on a dharna in Calcutta for several days in this regard. Film star Sunil Dutt had been a frequent visitor to her south Calcutta residence during that time to garner support for the release of his son, Sunjay Dutt, who had been arrested under the provisions of the Act.

“We have been protesting against the misuse of the anti-terrorism law from the beginning and it is not possible to deviate now from the stand taken by our party. If we vote for the anti-terrorist Bill in the joint session of Parliament, it will mean that we have double standards,” the Trinamul chief said.

Mamata, however, clarified that as a partner of the National Democratic Alliance she would not do anything to land the Vajpayee government in trouble.

“We know that the NDA has enough MPs and it will not matter if we don’t vote for the Prevention of Terrorism Bill. If we find that the government is in trouble, we will always be there to support it,” she added.

   

 
 
MLA CALLS OFF SEARCH FOR SON 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Guwahati, March 24: 
Unable to make contact with his son’s captors or find any clue to his whereabouts, Congress legislator Chandan Sarkar today called off the fortnight-long “personal search” for 21-year-old Pradeep and sought divine intervention for his safe return.

Suspected militants had abducted Pradeep from a club at Falakata in Cooch Behar district of Bengal on March 4. Bengal police believe that the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation and the United Liberation Front of Asom had jointly carried out the abduction.

“I long to hear my son’s voice. I humbly appeal to his abductors to at least tell me what they want. I hope God will answer my prayers,” said the MLA from South Abhayapuri constituency in Bongaigaon district.

Despite the frustration of not knowing his son’s whereabouts, the legislator said he would attend the budget session of the Assembly from Tuesday.

Sarkar said he would Bring back his other two children — a son and a daughter who study in classes IX and VII in Falakata — after their examinations are over.

“Though both have been provided security by Bengal police, I do not want to take any risk. They will be safe only in my custody,” Sarkar said.

The legislator said over phone from his residence in South Abhayapuri that he had no idea who his son’s abductors were.

“I am clueless. No extremist outfit or any gang of criminals has contacted me either directly or through a mediator. I don’t even know whether they want me to pay ransom. Every time the phone rings, I pick it up immediately in the hope of getting some information about him (Pradeep),” he said.

   

 
 
SATURDAY SIGNAL FOR SHILA SHIFT 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, March 24: 
The district magistrate of Faizabad today assured protesting sadhus that the two shilas kept at Ayodhya’s Dasrath Mahal temple would be removed by Saturday.

Though the administration refused to divulge where the shilas would be taken, district magistrate B.P. Mishra confirmed that the sants met him today. “Something will be worked out by next Saturday,” he added.

The administration had earlier written to the Prime Minister’s Office, apprising it of the situation building up around the shilas. Sources said the PMO is yet to reply.

However, the administration is hopeful that the Ayodhya cell, led by Shatrughan Singh, will direct the next course of action by Saturday.

The sadhus, led by mahant of Dasrath Mahal Devendraprasad Acharya, had threatened the administration with an indefinite hunger strike and even forcible removal of the shilas, kept in a small enclosure inside the temple premises since March 15. The sadhus threatened to “throw the shilas in the gutter if the administration does not remove it as soon as possible”.

Though the “deadline” set by the anti-VHP sadhus expired on Friday, a confrontation with the government was averted following the death of a member of the prominent Manohar Trust.

The 22 sadhus belonging to various temples and akhadas postponed their meeting with the district magistrate to Monday to mourn the death of the trustee, Narayandas Khatri, who was perceived to be close to the anti-VHP lobby in Ayodhya.

The administration, however, swiftly entered into talks with the sadhus before they could garner more support.

Sants belonging to the anti-VHP camp have been lobbying hard to shift the two shilas, donated to the Centre on March 15 by Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas chairman Ram Chandra Paramhans.

The rebel sadhus have not only condemned the “farce” propagated by Paramhans and VHP president Ashok Singhal, but have also stepped up their revolt against the duo.

Acharya Satyendradas, chief priest of the Ram Janmabhoomi mandir, said the district magistrate had given a “commitment” to remove the shilas at the earliest.

Satyendradas met the official along with a five-member delegation of sadhus and mahants. “It was the DM who gave us a call in the morning, expressing his wish to meet us,’’ the mahant said.

“He is fully aware of the gravity of the situation. The prolonged presence of the shilas at Dasrath Mahal could have very serious repercussions,” he added.

Though the mahants claim that the shilas were kept at the Dasrath temple without their consent, there is a feeling among them that the temple movement has been hijacked by a few in recent times.

The mahants of the money-spinning Dasrath Mahal also fear that the shilas are a pretext for the eventual takeover of the temple by “others”.

“It (takeover of temples) has happened in the past,” said a sadhu who was part of the five-member delegation leading the “remove shila” agitation.

“Today they put shilas here, tomorrow they might send goons to look after it. And then before we know they will claim this place to be theirs, throwing us out,” the sadhu added.

Paramhans refused to get dragged into the controversy. “Those protesting against the shila daan and their custody at the Dasrath Mahal don’t know the importance of things,’’ he said.

Paramhans explained that the shilas were kept in the temple because Bara Sthan, which houses Dasrath Mahal among other temples, played a crucial role in the Ram mandir movement.

“It was the chief mahant of Bara Sthan who was arrested by the British in 1934 when the protests against the Babri masjid first began. That is why it is there.’’

He added that with the donation of the shilas to the government, his work was over and it was left to the administration to do want it wanted with the shilas.

“Please don’t involve me in this,” the sadhu said.

   

 
 
RIOTERS RAZE GHAZAL PIONEER’S TOMB 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, March 24: 
The miles that separate Afghanistan and Ahmedabad did not prevent a rerun of Bamiyan during the Gujarat riots.

The tomb of Vali Gujarati, the 17th century Urdu poet widely regarded as the pioneer of ghazals, was among the cultural and historical milestones demolished by the rioters, much like the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas by the Taliban.

“Vali Gujarati was part of Ahmedabad culture. The destruction of his tomb is a barbaric cultural assault which we writers have condemned and demand that the tomb is rebuilt,” said noted Gujarati writer Manishi Jani.

Former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral, too, expressed shock at the demolition of Vali Gujarati’s tomb and called for its restoration during his visit to the city about a fortnight ago.

Urdu poet Jayant Parmar, who criticised the “shocking” destruction, feels that the government should build a memorial in place of the tomb.

Vali’s works were translated into French in 1833, the first ever Indian work to have been translated abroad. The marble tomb with a marble canopy had survived a series of riots since 1969.

In a swift operation, the Congress-ruled Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation removed the rubble, leaving no traces of the tomb.

Mayor Himatsinh Patel, however, denied AMC bulldozers, cranes and rollers were used in the demolition.

“It was a mob act, we do know where they got equipment to pull down the structures,” said Patel.

Several mosques and tombs, including two historical monuments, were damaged during the carnage.

The Muhafiz Khan Masjid in Gheekanta and the small stone mosque in Isanpur area, protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), have been damaged.

Superintending archaeologist R. Gahlot said while the Muhafiz Khan Masjid was “reparable”, the Isanpur mosque that was repaired just seven years ago was beyond restoration. Built in the 15th century during the rule of Mohammad Begda, this three-domed mosque was also known as Gumte Masjid.

Independent legislator Usman Devdiwala said as many as 125 mosques and dargahs, including 43 in the city, had been razed to the ground.

In many places, including Vali’s tomb, flags and idols were installed by the “demolition squad”, which were removed only after the state government came under fire. Vali’s tomb was renamed “Godharia Hanuman temple”.

Following the vandalism, the ASI has written to collector K. Sreenivas and police commissioner P.C. Pande and submitted a list of protected monuments in the city.

The Ahmedabad Sunni Muslim Wakf Committee has also submitted a list of 53 monuments to the National Human Rights Commission, many of them defaced, two of them already knocked down by the mob.

Not all of these monuments are listed with the ASI or the state archaeological department.

   

 
 
POLL WARNING TO HURRIYAT 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, March 24: 
Al-Jehad, a militant group dormant for nearly five years, has surfaced here with a warning to separatist leaders “waiting in the wings to join the Indian electoral fray”.

“We have not given sacrifices for participating in the elections, but for complete freedom from India. Thousands have been killed, property destroyed during the past 12 years. We have given sacrifices for achieving complete azadi,” said Sharyar Khan, the outfit’s supreme commander in a statement in Urdu.

Al-Jehad, formed after the merger of the Muslim Janbaz Force and the Jehad Force, emerged as a frontline pro-Pakistan group in the early 1990s and was believed to be close to the People’s League, then headed by Shabir Ahmad Shah. Security forces had claimed in the mid-90s to have wiped out the outfit by arresting and killing its top leaders.

Last week, another militant outfit, the Islamic Front, had warned the All Parties Hurriyat Conference leaders to desist “from taking part in the forthcoming Assembly polls”. “If the leaders of the Hurriyat choose to take part in the Assembly polls, they would get nothing but betrayal from the Government of India…. The Hurriyat leaders should stop visiting Delhi frequently and concentrate, instead, on the ongoing struggle for freedom in Kashmir,” the Front had said in a statement.

In continuing violence, eight persons were killed today.

Geelani passport

Having received no word from the government about the issuance of his passport, Jamaat-e-Islami leader and former chairman of Hurriyat Conference, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, has written to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee for permission to visit Saudi Arabia to attend a function of a Muslim body.

Geelani also sent a copy of the letter to minister of state for external affairs, Omar Abdullah who is in charge of passports.

   

 
 
SOS TO ATAL FROM CAMP 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, March 24: 
Alarmed by civil supplies minister Bharat Barot’s move to shift relief hubs out of his constituency, organisers of the Dariyakhan Ghummat Rahat camp have petitioned Delhi to direct the state government to desist till alternative arrangements are made for the homeless.

Camp in-charge Ataulla Khan today faxed letters to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani, seeking their help to thwart Barot’s move “until and unless all the victims get their houses, compensation and protection”.

Khan, who has already complained to the National Human Rights Commission, forwarded copies of the letters to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Amnesty International.

Barot had sought relocation of the camp, housed in a three-storey municipal school, on the ground that “Hindus no longer feel secure in its presence in the locality”. But the residents around the school and the refugees contested the minister’s claim and said there was no tension.

But the situation in Ahmedabad continued to be tense, leading to Muslims deciding against taking out tazia processions on Muharram. “Since no procession will be taken out tomorrow, we do not have to make special arrangements,” said police commissioner P.C. Pande.

Police, however, cannot afford to relax as more blood was shed in the state’s commercial capital today with three persons being stabbed to death and two being injured in Vejalpur. Incidents of arson, too, forced police to extend curfew to the area this afternoon.

Indefinite curfew was clamped in Chota Udaipur in Baroda district, Borsad, Jambusar and two police station areas of Ahmedabad following fresh incidents of arson and clashes since last night, police said.

The Dariyakhan Ghummat Rahat camp in Shaibaugh is home to 4,500 victims mostly from the worst affected areas of Chamanpura, Meganinagar and Naroda. Taking strong exception to Barot’s controversial request to state home minister Gordhan Zadaphia, Khan asked: “Does the minister want us to set up the camp in Pakistan? Aren’t we Indian citizens?”

Khan alleged that the organisers had been receiving threats and feared that miscreants might place explosives in the camp to implicate the victims and get the shelter closed. He urged Vajpayee and Advani “to provide security to local social workers” and take precautionary measures against those who may put “illegal things” in the camp.

   

 
 
BACKLASH-WARY GOVT DILUTES BILL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 24: 
Angry women activists on Saturday hit the streets of the capital in protest after the Union government “toned down” the Bill against domestic violence fearing a “backlash from society”.

To the chagrin of women’s organisations and the Lawyer’s Collective, which had laid down the first draft outline of the Bill, the definition of domestic violence has been narrowed down to take cognisance of only “habitual” offenders.

“Otherwise, there would have been a severe backlash from society,” said an official in the department of women and children. “We have to take into account India’s social reality.”

The official said that unless the definition was narrowed down it could give a woman the right to use the law at the “first instance”. “We have the experience of how the law against dowry was used by women to send in-laws to jail,” she pointed out.

The Lawyer’s Collective and women activists dismiss the argument as “bogus”.

“How can the government say that women are going to misuse the law when it is part of the Indian social reality that they would continue to suffer rather than take any action against their husbands?” the activists asked.

“What we wanted was a Bill to protect the woman. Instead, what we have got is a Bill protecting the family,” said a member of the Lawyer’s Collective.

But the government is unmoved. It defends the Bill as the best that could have been drafted in the present situation. The BJP feels western ideas of feminism do not fit into the Indian reality and should not be considered part of the women’s movement. Mridula Sinha, who was secretary of the BJP’s Mahila wing, had, in fact, defended Roop Kanwar’s sati.

Government officials stress on conciliation — at least to make an effort to keep the family together till the last moment.

Sumitra Mahajan, minister in charge of the department of women and children and known for her “traditional” views on gender, has already gone on record saying her government was not in favour of breaking families.

The argument has raised the hackles of women’s organisations. “Even if a woman is getting battered badly, she has to make up. That’s what the government wants,” they said.

Women’s organisations had hoped the Bill would help check the violence spiral against women. The first draft of the Bill was chalked out by the National Commission for Women, while the Lawyer’s Collective later laid down another one.

Though the government maintains it took out positive features from both the drafts, the Lawyer’s Collective feels its whole purpose has been “defeated”. “Now we feel it will be better not to introduce the Bill in its present form,” it says.

   

 
 
BE MARXIST, BUY ATAL 
 
 
FROM TAMAL SENGUPTA
 
Hyderabad, March 24: 
Marx and Lenin are no longer bestsellers; BJP and Atal Bihari Vajpayee are.

CPM delegates at the 17th party congress here have shown a keen interest in collecting two books on the BJP and the Prime Minister. The volumes — The BJP and the Compulsion of Politics in India and the BJP and Evolution of Hindu Nationalism — are on display at the party book stall in Kalyana Mandapam, where ordinary delegates are staying.

The first book, by Thomas Blon Hansen, is fast disappearing from the shelves. On Friday, 10 copies were sold, while at least 30 delegates have paid advance for the book costing Rs 250.

The other, by Partha Ghosh, has also drawn the attention of the delegates. “Our party leaders are not showing any interest in purchasing party literature, but are more interested in buying the books on the BJP and Vajpayee,” said the manager of the stall.

Three delegates from West Bengal — Manab Mukherjee, Moinul Hassan and Tanmoy Bhattacharjee — were seen flipping through them.

“I don’t see anything wrong in displaying the books in our party book stall,” Mukherjee said. “I have gone through some pages and I believe the books will help our party leaders understand the communal BJP and their Prime Minister.”

However, both the manager and officials of the stall are dissatisfied with the response to party literature.

   

 
 
FLIP-FLOP FAROOQ TO MONITOR TERROR LAW 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, March 24: 
Chief minister Farooq Abdullah has said he would review every case registered under the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance in Jammu and Kashmir.

“I will review these cases myself, and if it is found that any officer has misused it, severe action will be taken against him,” Farooq told the Assembly.

Stating that “wherever necessary, it (the law) will be revoked”, he added: “Such a measure would be used only against elements found assisting Pakistan-backed militants or anti-nationals as there are adequate laws to meet other offences.”

Three National Conference MPs had abstained during the crucial voting in the Rajya Sabha when the NDA government tried in vain to get the Ordinance ratified in the upper House.

“The Ordinance should not be used to settle scores or against any particular community. Its use has to be judicious, irrespective of the religion of the guilty,” Farooq said.

The chief minister added that reports of the alleged misuse of the Ordinance in riot-hit Gujarat were refuted at the NDA meeting convened by the Prime Minister recently in New Delhi. It was clarified that those booked under the Ordinance belonged to all communities and not any specific community.

Farooq said the meeting was unanimous on the need to ensure that people belonging to all religions were respected so that nobody nurtured a feeling of insecurity. “Nobody should think that it is difficult for him to live in India,” he said.

On the defeat of the Prevention of Terrorism Bill in the Rajya Sabha, the chief minister said his MPs had abstained following reports of its misuse in Gujarat.

“Now that the position has been cleared and the home minister will probably come up with a statement in Parliament, we will participate in the joint session on Poto,” Farooq said.

Security strengthened

The state government has taken additional measures to reinforce security at vulnerable places, including the legislative complex at Srinagar, to avoid suicide attacks by militants.

Minister of state for home Khalid Najeeb Suharwardy said troops would patrol the outer perimeter of the protected places to ensure that no explosives are planted and foil any attempt to ram explosive-laden vehicles into the buildings.

The measures include maintaining close coordination between the forces deployed within and outside a protected place, erecting strong barricades at a suitable distance from a highly protected place, minimising entry points and installing an alarm system to alert all in the event of an emergency.

   

 
 
PORTRAIT PROTEST ROCKS BANGLA 
 
 
FROM FARID HOSSAIN
 
Dhaka, March 24: 
Riot police clashed with hundreds of Awami League demonstrators when they tried to stage a banned hunger strike against the repeal of a law that made it mandatory for government offices and schools to display the portrait of the country’s founding father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Several people were injured.

Police also detained former minister, Motia Chowdhury and Saber Hossain Chowdhury and actor-turned-lawmaker Asaduzzaman Noor in central Dhaka, where the Bangladesh Secretariat building is located. Former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called for a nationwide hartal on April 6 to protest against police action.

Hasina’s Awami League had planned to hold a hunger strike today in Osmany Uddayan park, close to the secretariat building.

Authorities had banned the protest and also the gathering of more than five people in and around the park. Despite the restrictions, Opposition leaders and activists began gathering in central Dhaka. The demonstrators arrived in small groups to avoid being arrested by the police.

As the protesters began marching towards the park police used batons and fired teargas shells.

   
 

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