Big Brother looks outside Front for support
Cross-vote fear for Opp.
Women night curfew stalls apparel parks
Security cordon for Santiniketan festival
Naxalite threat haunts Dinajpur
Sonia lobs people or parivar choice
Rivals flash riot trump card
Jaws drop at tit-for-tat fire
Law made, experts fear cracks
Raid on Delhi Hurriyat hub

 
 
BIG BROTHER LOOKS OUTSIDE FRONT FOR SUPPORT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 26: 
With the CPI showing no sign of forgetting and forgiving for being denied a Rajya Sabha seat, the CPM is looking for support from other groups as a precaution against possible cross-voting in the election to the Upper House tomorrow.

Left Front chief whip Lakshmi De today issued a whip to all Front MLAs to be present in the Assembly and vote for its candidates.

“There is no room for complacency because if even one vote is misplaced it may affect the party’s image adversely. Four of our MLAs — Nandarani Dal, Sudhanya Raha, Nemai Mal and Sudhir Pramanick — are ill and we have made special arrangements to bring them over to vote,” the Left Front leader told newspersons.

De said no decision has been made to cast any second preference vote for the Congress and all Left Front legislators are expected to vote only for Front candidates.

Earlier, the chief whip held a meeting with all Front MLAs at the Assembly, to brief them on tomorrow’s election. De reportedly asked Front MLAs not to abstain from voting under any circumstance. Though the Front leader did not name any political party or its MLAs, it is apparent that his whip was aimed at the CPI, especially in the background of the CPM’s refusal to give the former a ticket for the Rajya Sabha polls this year.

In the 2000 Rajya Sabha elections also, the CPM had denied a ticket to former CPI MP Gurudas Dasgupta. The CPI had objected strongly at that time and, this year, the party accused the CPM of a “breach of contract”.

State Congress president Pranab Mukherjee had, in that election, bagged five votes from the Left Front. The ruling Front, particularly the CPM, is yet to identify the Front MLAs who had cross-voted in Mukherjee’s favour.

Sources in the CPM indicated that there might be cross-voting by Left Front MLAs this time, too. “We expect all Front constituents to vote for our candidates. At the same time, we want to make sure that none of our MLAs cross-vote,” said a senior CPM leader.

The CPM has fielded three candidates — Prasanta Chatterjee, Khabiruddin Ahmed and Tarini Roy — for tomorrow’s elections to the Upper House. The fourth Front seat has been given to the Forward Bloc, which has put up its all-India general secretary, Debabrata Biswas.

The CPM is not taking any risk and has even approached the GNLF, which has three MLAs, as well as the two-member SUCI.

Left Front chairman and CPM politburo member Biman Bose has already spoken to GNLF MLA Shanta Chhetri, who reached the city during the day. The Front chief whip said he, too, had spoken to the Gorkha leader and sought the votes of all three GNLF legislators.

The Front chairman had yesterday telephoned SUCI secretary Provas Ghosh and sought the support of his party MLAs. The SUCI leader has assured Bose the votes of his party’s legislators, despite his party “having differences with the CPM on many vital issues”.

The CPI has seven MLAs in the Assembly. CPI leader and water resources development minister Nandagopal Bhattacharya said this evening his party would vote for all four Left Front candidates.

“We cannot take any decision that will strengthen our political adversaries like the Trinamul Congress or the Congress,” Bhattacharya said.

“We may have some differences with the CPM, but we have to back the Front candidates in the interest of Left Front unity,” the CPI leader said.

   

 
 
CROSS-VOTE FEAR FOR OPP. 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, March 26: 
Hours before the curtain goes up on tomorrow’s Rajya Sabha elections, the Opposition camp appeared tense as both the Trinamul Congress and the Congress legislature parties feared that cross-voting may queer the pitch for their candidates.

While the 60-MLA strong Trinamul has nominated low-profile all-India general secretary Dinesh Trivedi, the Congress has fielded noted economist Arjun Sengupta, despite not having the required strength of 49 legislators. The Congress has only 30 MLAs in the Assembly, including the four Independents backed by it.

Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee’s call that all her 60 MLAs should cast single-preference votes in favour of Trivedi has made the election a prestige issue for her. “If Mamata’s candidate gets even one vote less than 60, it will indicate a split in Trinamul,” said a senior party member.

Though the mood was upbeat in the Trinamul camp, Mamata was busy the whole day urging party MLAs not to fall prey to state Congress leaders’ overtures.

“Desperate to get its candidate elected through on cross-voting, Congress leaders visited the houses of party legislators during the day. Why are they making these secret overtures to my legislators a day before the elections? This is nothing but an attempt to poach,” the Trinamul leader alleged.

Mamata, however, asserted that all her party MLAs would vote for the party nominee, despite the Congress’ efforts to rope them in.

If Trivedi wins, it will be the first time that a Trinamul candidate will make it to the Upper House. Jayada (Jayanta Bhattacharya) was elected to the Upper House two years ago from here as an Independent candidate.

Asked if she had issued a whip to her party MLAs, Mamata replied in the negative. “Why should I issue a whip when I know that all my 60 legislators will toe the party line and elect Trivedi on the basis of a single-preference vote?” she asked.

However, Trinamul sources said some “disgruntled” party legislators may vote for the Congress nominee. They confided that two votes were cancelled during Sunday’s rehearsal with mock ballots.

   

 
 
WOMEN NIGHT CURFEW STALLS APPAREL PARKS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 26: 
The Centre is stalling on an application filed by the Bengal government to build two apparel parks in Calcutta and Howrah, because of the state’s stringent labour laws that do not allow women to work at night.

“We have requested the state government to consider relaxing the labour laws that will allow women to work at night. When we encourage the establishment of world-class plants at such parks, we do not need such outmoded labour laws. We hope West Bengal will listen to our appeal,” said Union textile minister Kashiram Rana while announcing the approval of five centrally-sponsored schemes for apparel parks.

Rana said the Bengal proposal was couched in vague terms. “They must put forward a more consolidated plan instead of just saying that we want to set up apparel parks in Calcutta and Howrah,” the minister explained.

The application from the state government is basically a half-liner, saying it would like to set up two consolidated apparel parks in Calcutta and Howrah as many powerlooms already exist in the city.

While the state has identified a plot of land near the Kona expressway as a possible location for the project on the Howrah side, there has been no mention of where the project will be located in Calcutta.

“The parks will be export oriented and Rs 80 crore has been earmarked to be spent in three years. They will also cater to the domestic market,” explained Rana.

“They will be set up under a memorandum of understanding between the state and Union governments, but the states can take in private players at a later stage. Foreign direct investment up to 100 per cent will be allowed through the automatic route,” the textile minister added.

While there was no limit on the number of parks that can be set up in each state, the central assistance would be given to the extent of 75 per cent of the capital expenditure for infrastructural facilities. The states will have to bear the remaining 25 per cent cost, subject to a maximum of Rs 10 crore.

“The Centre will also provide Rs 5 crore to set up an effluent treatment plant and help with the marketing,” the Union minister said. “The government would also provide a grant of up to 50 per cent of the cost of any training facility created in the park up to a maximum of Rs 2 crore,” he added.

The minimum number of machines allowed in each park is 200, as cleared by the Cabinet Committee of Economic Affairs, instead of 400 as was originally approved by the planning commission.

“These changes have been made to boost small-sector investment and make the plan more viable. In all, we have received applications for 18 parks,” Rana said.

Kuppum and Vizag in Andhra Pradesh, Surat in Gujarat, Bangalore in Karnataka, Tronica City in Uttar Pradesh, and Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala are the places approved for the first phase of the project.

“This will generate a minimum employment of 20,000 people and we will remain competitive when the Multi-Fibre Arrangement is phased out by 2004.” The agreement provides for textile export quotas to enable developing countries to access markets in Europe and the US.

   

 
 
SECURITY CORDON FOR SANTINIKETAN FESTIVAL 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Bolpur, March 26: 
The Birbhum district administration has made unprecedented security arrangements for the ensuing Basantotsav to be held on Thursday at Santiniketan.

District superintendent of police Jayanta Basu said Santiniketan and its adjoining places would be covered by the tightest security net. Apart from the district police, a specially-trained armed force, the Rapid Action Force and a special force will be deployed in the area, following directions from the home department to heighten security, Basu said.

Plain-clothed policemen will be posted at the railway station and the bus terminus. A mobile police force will keep watch on government tourist lodges and other guest houses where the VIPs will be lodged.

Ten police jeeps fitted with relay-transmission sets will patrol the area. More than 500 policemen will be deployed around the venue of the festival of colours.

The superintendent of police and all other senior district police officials will be camping in Santiniketan round the clock to monitor the security arrangements.

“Apart from Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, four ministers, three high court judges and several other VIPs will be present at Santiniketan to celebrate Doljatra,” the police official said.

“Besides, delegations from the US, the UK, Belgium, France and German will reach Santiniketan that day. We, therefore, do not want to take any risk. We have taken all steps to make the security system foolproof,” the superintendent added.

After the recent incidents of communal violence in Gujarat and other parts of the country, the home department has directed the district police to ensure tight security during the yatra, according to district police officials. The intelligence branch has also alerted the district administration in this regard.

Visva Bharati authorities expect a record gathering of more than 40,000 at Santiniketan this year to enjoy the festival of colour. All hotels and guest houses are already booked to capacity and some visitors have already arrived.

Man kills sister

A 40-year-old man hacked his sister to death at Manikdihi in Rajnagar police station area in Birbhum district last night. Police said 40-year-old Anil Hembram attacked his sister, Khendi, with an axe after an altercation over a family dispute. Khendi died on the spot. Police have arrested Hembram.

   

 
 
NAXALITE THREAT HAUNTS DINAJPUR 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, March 26: 
The police administration of Dakshin and Uttar Dinajpur have been a worried lot ever since the Sunday night encounter with alleged “second central committee (2nd CC)” members, in which a policeman and a Naxalite leader had sustained bullet injuries.

The Kushmandi police station in Dakshin Dinajpur, bordering on Uttar Dinajpur under which the encounter took place, has been receiving anonymous phone calls since Sunday night, giving “misleading” information of whereabouts of the injured Naxal leader, who managed to escape.

The police have been apprehending Naxalite attacks ever since PWG activists, in a letter addressed to the Uttar Dinajpur police early in February, threatened to strike police stations unless they released a number of senior Naxalite leaders now lodged in jails within the two Dinajpur districts.

Uttar Dinajpur superintendent of police Arun Kumar Sharma admitted that Naxalite outfits such as the Biplabi Kishan Front and the 2nd CC have several strongholds in remote villages of Nandagram, Parbhotipur, Laskarpur, Nagua, Taltungi under Itahar police station and Hatkaliganj, Sahebghat and Jamalpur under Kaliaganj police station.

Recounting the Sunday night encounter, Dakshin Dinajpur superintendent of police Gyanwant Singh said a police team was laying in wait for the Naxalites, who regularly visit the weekly Sunday cow market at Patirajpur under the Kushmandi police station to extort money from businessmen.

Late that evening, the police team spotted an eight-member Naxalite group and surrounded them. Sensing a trap the Naxalites split up and tried to merge with the market crowd.

A police constable finally picked up Jatin Sarkar, a senior Naxal leader, near Dehabasanta village.

On the way to the police station, Sarkar said he wanted to hand over the money he was carrying for the purchase of a cow to an acquaintance before the police took him to the police station.

On the pretext of taking out the money, the Naxalite leader took out a weapon and shot the constable.

Sarkar managed to escape but not before the injured constable fired five rounds at the fleeing Naxalite.

Singh believes that the anonymous phone calls to the Kushmandi police station are a Naxalite ploy to put the police off their sent so that they could ferry the injured Sarkar away from the area.

“We have sealed all exits point from the area in both the districts and a massive combing operation is on to nab the Naxalites, who we believe are still holed out in the area and are like to seek medical treatment for the injured Sarkar,” Singh said.

The Uttar Dinajpur police have conducted several raids under Itahar and Kaliaganj police station and are keeping a close watch on all government and private hospitals and nursing homes.

   

 
 
SONIA LOBS PEOPLE OR PARIVAR CHOICE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 26: 
Placing the Prime Minister in the direct line of fire, Opposition leader Sonia Gandhi today challenged Atal Bihari Vajpayee to rise above his party’s “narrow ideological” considerations to keep the country together.

“The Prime Minister’s moment of reckoning has come. He has to decide whether to protect the people of the country or succumb to the pressures coming from within his own party and its sister organisations,” the Congress chief said at the historic joint sitting of Parliament.

Her argument was vindicated soon when Shiv Sena minister Manohar Joshi, an ally in the NDA government, warned Vajpayee against banning groups like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal — a demand repeatedly made by the Opposition.

“These are all groups that function in the interest of the nation. We will never tolerate any action against them,” Joshi said.

For Sonia, it was a no-holds-barred attack on the Vajpayee government. She spared no one in the government and especially targeted the Prime Minister and the home minister. “Will the Prime Minister be weak and submissive or will he keep the interest of the nation in mind?” Sonia asked. Referring to the “180 degree” turn on the anti-terror law issue by several Cabinet colleagues of Vajpayee, Sonia said: “Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha, George Fernandes, Ram Naik, Ram Vilas Paswan — these are the honourable gentlemen who had referred to Tada as a ‘blot on democracy’. What happened to their noble concerns?”

The Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (Poto), the Opposition leader forecast, will become an instrument to suppress political dissent, religious and ethnic minorities and trade unions. “The definition of terror has been so cleverly crafted that terror unleashed through religion does not come under its purview,” Sonia said.

Since Tada was introduced by her party, Sonia took pains to draw a distinction between the political climate in which that law was passed and how the Vajpayee regime was pushing through the anti-terror Bill. “Tada was enacted without any dissent from the Opposition in a climate of consensus. We are ready to admit the law failed in its purpose,” said the Congress president. “Now both Houses have been reduced to a rubber stamp — the Vajpayee government is subverting the Constitution to execute its ideological agenda,” she added.

The treasury benches were unusually quiet as the Opposition leader hurled one charge after another at the NDA government, questioning its integrity of purpose and intention in ramming through a law that has been rejected by the upper House. “At a time when our polity is split down the middle, this government has shown utter contempt for the media, the intellectuals — ignored the NHRC’s opinion,” Sonia said. In all this, the government has “revealed its true intention by arming itself with a menacing weapon like Poto”, she added.

The shadow of the Gujarat horror and chief minister Narendra Modi’s brazenness in the face of stringent criticism underlined Sonia’s speech.

The Congress’ recent electoral success in four states echoed in her warning to the government.

“The Congress does not need lessons on patriotism from anyone, least of all from a party propagating hatred,” she said.

   

 
 
RIVALS FLASH RIOT TRUMP CARD 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 26: 
The Opposition today focused on the “selective use” of the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance in Gujarat to oppose the anti-terror Bill.

At the joint Parliament session, which the government convened to pass the Bill, speaker after speaker, from Sonia Gandhi to Mulayam Singh Yadav, harped on the Gujarat situation, making National Democratic Alliance members uncomfortable.

NDA allies like the Telugu Desam Party, while supporting the Ordinance, remained silent on its “misuse” and “selective use” in the riot-scarred state, where the administration has come under fire for discriminating before wielding the baton.

Congress chief Sonia led the charge, accusing Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi of having the “temerity” to blame parliamentary discussions for the continuing communal violence in the state. “In view of such shining credentials of a BJP chief minister, Poto (as the Ordinance is commonly known), I suspect, will become an instrument in the hands of a government to suppress political opponents, religious minorities, ethnic groups, weaker sections and trade unions,” she said.

Congress general secretary Kamal Nath has brought a privilege notice against Modi for “assaulting” Parliament.

CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee described the anti-terror Bill as a “black Bill” and said the whole object of bringing forward the controversial legislation was not to tackle terrorism but to carry out a virulent propaganda. “I wonder how the government would be able to enforce the law in view of the fact that 20 states are ruled by Opposition parties,” he said. “It is inevitable that nemesis will overcome this government.”

In his hard-hitting speech, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav said the Ordinance’s “selective use” in Gujarat had plunged the country into “turmoil and evoked fear and insecurity among the minorities”.

Mulayam targeted defence minister George Fernandes for supporting the Ordinance. He said Fernandes was booked under similar draconian laws during the Emergency. “They had not even spared Chandra Shekhar who was a ruling party MP. George sahib, beware of that,” he said.

Sonia also took a dig at NDA leaders Yashwant Sinha, Fernandes, Jaswant Singh, Ram Naik and Ram Vilas Paswan for supporting the Ordinance when they had bitterly opposed Tada.

Mulayam said it was strange that BJP leaders were trying to bring forward such a law when the late Shyama Prasad Mookerjee was a victim of similar draconian legislations 50 years ago.

Former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda also pointed to the Gujarat situation, quoting remarks of senior police officers that they were not given a free hand to control the violent mobs. Reeling out facts and figures, Kapil Sibal of the Congress said though the country was divided over the Ordinance, the government was not interested in discussing the legislation by setting up a joint committee or a House panel.

He said his opposition to the Ordinance was not political but on the ground that it would give “drastic” powers to the police. Pointing at Gujarat, Sibal said: “If ordinary laws can be misused by the police, what will happen with Poto.”

   

 
 
JAWS DROP AT TIT-FOR-TAT FIRE 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, March 26: 
Stunned by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s belligerence, Congressmen were wondering aloud why he chose to target Sonia Gandhi once again in Parliament.

The leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister are not on the best of terms for many months but today’s verbal assault left many around Sonia speechless. They said there was nothing in her speech that could have warranted such harsh remarks.

“It was like unprovoked firing. Instead of speaking on Poto (as the anti-terror law is known), he spoke on LoP (leader of Opposition),” said a bewildered Congress MP.

Some Congress leaders saw it as a calculated move to go on the offensive. Rattled by the events in Gujarat and Ayodhya, Vajpayee had chosen to assert his supremacy in a televised debate, they said.

The Prime Minister tried to debunk Sonia’s premise that he was pushing through the anti-terror Bill under pressure from the Sangh parivar, a view that has been gaining currency in Delhi’s political circles. Vajpayee was also upset that many MPs, particularly those belonging to the Left, had accused him of acting under pressure from the US.

In his short but acrimonious intervention, Vajpayee was quick to point out that it was a Congress Prime Minister (P.V. Narasimha Rao) who had called off a nuclear test at the last moment under pressure from a foreign power. He also reminded the nation that he had turned down former President Bill Clinton’s invitation to visit the US at the height of the Kargil conflict when the then Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, had already reached there.

During the motion of thanks to the President’s address, Vajpayee had objected to Sonia’s description of the Gujarat riots as “genocide”. The Prime Minister had cautioned her against using strong words, pointing to possible international ramifications. In the winter and monsoon sessions of Parliament, the two had crossed swords.

At the personal level, too, there is little rapport between the leader of the House and the leader of the Opposition. Vajpayee and Sonia seldom exchange greetings, preferring to deal with each other through bureaucrats and letters.

Congress leaders said Vajpayee’s strategy to pin down Sonia was a result of the growing clout of the main Opposition party, particularly after its victory in three more states. The Congress is now in power in 14 states and is expected to sweep the Delhi municipal polls. In such a scenario, Vajpayee was under pressure to take on the Congress, they said.

But Sonia’s inexperience was exposed again today. While she seemed to have improved a lot in her style of delivery and speech content, her inability to retort was fully exploited by the Prime Minister, the seasoned parliamentarian.

Veteran leader Arjun Singh rushed to Sonia’s rescue when Vajpayee said of the Congress president, “Who is she to put me in the dock?” The wily Thakur’s brief point of order may not have been forceful but in the context of intra-party affairs, it underlined the importance of being Arjun Singh and his equation with 10 Janpath. Arjun was most vocal and in the forefront of the protest when Vajpayee decided to take on Sonia.

   

 
 
LAW MADE, EXPERTS FEAR CRACKS 
 
 
FROM SEEMA GUHA
 
New Delhi, March 26: 
The government today succeeded in arming itself with a brand new anti-terror law, but analysts fear the lack of political consensus in pushing it through could further polarise the country’s fractured polity.

For now, the government is happy that it could ram the Bill through at the joint Parliament session, as it had become a prestige issue with the Opposition bent on stopping it.

“The Constitution provides for this and the government has done nothing wrong in using this as an instrument to get what it needs done for the security of the nation,” a bureaucrat said, defending the move to call the joint session, only the third in India’s history.

Though the government succeeded in passing the anti-terror law, the Centre cannot force a reluctant state government to use it as law enforcement is a state subject. If the majority of the states do not use the law, the very purpose of having it is defeated.

Home ministry sources, however, said most chief ministers would be willing to use the law whenever the need arises. They said that when home minister L.K. Advani had convened a meeting of chief ministers and directors general of police of all states and Union Territories last year, most of the DGPs were keen on the Ordinance.

The government, sources said, is aware of the sensitivities of not just the Opposition but National Democratic Alliance partners as well and will have to make sure the law is not misused. “We will have to be very careful that the anti-terrorist law is not misused. Any hint of wrong application would create a furore. The Opposition, anyway, is waiting for a chance to say ‘we told you so’,” a senior government official said.

Intelligence agencies and the police have welcomed the law. Echoing Advani, senior police officials said the country was not in a position to fight the terrorist threat without a sharp new law that would ensure that suspects are not let off easily by the courts.

“We will be able to do our work much more efficiently with the help of the new law,” is the general consensus among most police officials.

There are, however, many who believe the answer lies in training, modernising equipment and getting the best people into the police and security agencies. “The new law will make it easy for the police to get easy convictions and make the investigations even more tardy,” said one senior bureaucrat.

But police officials dismiss such criticism as usual rivalry between the IAS and the IPS. “We will have to prove our point by making sure that the rate of conviction of terrorists are higher and the rate of terrorist attacks go down. This is the only way we can get the critics to shut up,” said a senior police officer.

   

 
 
RAID ON DELHI HURRIYAT HUB 
 
 
OUR BUREAU AND AGENCIES
 
March 26: 
Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chief Yasin Malik, who was arrested under the anti-terror Ordinance, was remanded in seven days’ custody today even as police raided the Hurriyat’s Delhi office in connection with the seizure of US$ 100,000 allegedly meant for the JKLF.

In Kashmir, the police had to fire teargas shells to disperse JKLF activists throwing stones on vehicles and security personnel to protest the arrest of the Hurriyat Conference leader. Srinagar remained tense and shops in the city centre were shut. The JKLF has called a general strike tomorrow.

Malik was shifted to Udhampur under tight security last night. Chief judicial magistrate M.K. Hazura, who gave the remand order, directed the principal of the Jammu medical college to form a panel of doctors for examining Malik, who complained of chest pain. After the hearing, Malik was taken to the medical college to ascertain whether he could be in custody or needed to be hospitalised. He had undergone a heart operation in the US last year.

Malik was taken into custody in Srinagar following the arrest of Shazia Begum and Mushtaq Ahmed Dar with the dollars. They had claimed the money was meant for him.

A police team from the state crime branch and Delhi police searched the Hurriyat premises at Malviya Nagar in south Delhi for a friend of Malik and incriminating documents, police sources said. Shazia had reportedly met Malik’s friend before proceeding for Srinagar.

Hurriyat spokesman in Delhi Abdul Majid Bandey said: “We believe the whole exercise is to scuttle the voice of (the) Hurriyat Conference. In fact, the vested interests in this country have always tried to sabotage any process aimed at peaceful resolution of (the) Kashmir issue.”

   
 

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