Atal heads for grisly Gujarat
Soft Mayavati whets BJP’s UP appetite
Yen for funds, not fact-finder
Pervez to pop question
Storm kills nine in state
DNA ammo for Mamata
Mamata targets Buddha with DNA result
The phone call that set political bells ringing
Bail for Bollywood ‘Moneybags’ after 15 months
Calcutta Weather

Ahmedabad, April 3: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will tomorrow fly into a Gujarat where macabre murders overnight split open the wounds of the month-old carnage.

Five persons were burnt to death in their sleep and a youth was chopped to pieces as fresh violence flared in the riot-racked state today. Two persons were shot dead by police.

The burst of violence on the eve of Vajpayee’s visit brought about a change in the public posturing of chief minister Narendra Modi, who has been advised by intelligence officials not to accompany the Prime Minister to the relief camps.

Displaying an alacrity that was missing for over a month, Modi tonight issued a statement expressing shock at the burning of the five persons. Modi deplored the “inhuman incident” and expressed his sympathy to the families of the dead, an official release said.

“People of Gujarat should not become victims of elements who are bent on disturbing peace. People should restrain from being instigated and help in maintaining law and order,” he said.

The chief minister also warned that “those trying to take the law in their hands would be strictly dealt with”.

But officials said clashes were now spreading into areas that were largely unaffected after the eruption of the riots in late February in which about 800 people were burnt or hacked to death.

“While most of the areas known as (communally) sensitive have been brought under control, perpetrators of violence are now targeting Muslims in areas perceived to be safe for them” where there are few policemen, a police officer said.

Gujarat woke up this morning to the news of grisly deaths. “Five charred bodies were recovered this morning from one of the three houses burnt by a Hindu mob early on Wednesday,” a senior police officer said.

The police had initially said a short circuit started the fire in a village just outside Ahmedabad, but later conceded that a mob had set the houses ablaze while the victims were sleeping inside. Four persons are in hospital with burn injuries.

In Ahmedabad, a youth was cut into pieces this afternoon and his remains were set on fire.

Some 1,00,000 people, mainly Muslims, are sheltered in relief camps in the state. Vajpayee is expected to visit the city’s biggest camp — Shah-e-Alam Dargah — tomorrow.

Intelligence officials trying to gather how the chief minister would be treated if he decided to go along were told by the camp in-charge that “Muslims respect Vajpayee, but I will not be able to tell you how the riot victims will react to Modi, whom they see as the main culprit”.

Unless Modi decides to brave the hostility, the Prime Minister is likely to be accompanied by Suresh Mehta, No. 2 in the Gujarat Cabinet and a liberal face of the BJP in the state. Vajpayee will be the first top BJP leader to visit the camp.

The impending visit has brought rewards for the camp’s inmates, who had so far been pleading in vain with the authorities to release their daily allowance. Today, the camp received three cheques worth more than Rs 10 lakh.

Four persons, whose relatives were killed in the riots, got compensation. The road leading to the camp was repaired, the number of toilets increased from eight to 20, five water tanks installed and an underground pipeline laid to carry waste.

“We have never seen such a flurry of activity and movement of senior officials in this camp since February 28,” in-charge Safibhai Memon said.

But not everyone is impressed. An inmate referred to the death of an infant at a relief camp at Shahibaug yesterday.

Mayuddin Sheikh, waiting in the queue to collect his cash dole, said: “What is the point of giving relief if rioting continues? Even now when we are getting cash dole, rioting is going on in some localities.’’

Congress spokesman Jaipal Reddy said in Delhi Vajpayee should give Modi his “marching orders” after his visit to the state.

Despite the growing clamour for Modi’s head, the Prime Minister is reluctant to act against him because he has strong support in the BJP and the Sangh parivar.

Justice K.G. Shah, who has been asked by the Gujarat government to inquire into the Godhra massacre and the statewide riots, has said it is “impossible” to complete the probe within the three-month deadline. The commission started functioning on March 7.


New Delhi, April 3: 
The BJP is trying to coerce Mayavati into giving up her claim to the chief ministership and accepting its nominee if she wants to see a coalition government in place in Uttar Pradesh.

Party sources said the Bahujan Samaj Party — which had insisted on Mayavati as chief minister and its own candidate as Speaker — now seem inclined to settle for a Speaker of its choice from the BJP.

“This is a definite climbdown. We are confident that she will eventually give in on the chief ministership, too,” said a BJP office-bearer while the BSP refused to either confirm or deny the contention. The BJP is sticking to its earlier offer that Mayavati could come to the Centre as a Cabinet minister with a “plum” portfolio like petroleum.

The BJP’s confidence springs from its perception that Mayavati “desperately” needs a government in place in Lucknow to prevent Mulayam Singh Yadav from poaching on her legislators.

“She is under tremendous pressure from her MLAs. If she has not kept them under lock and key and allowed them to move around freely, it is because she has convinced every MLA that she would form a government. But time’s running out and we believe that many have become restive and are looking at the Samajwadi Party,” BJP sources said.

The sources added that with Mulayam’s outfit emerging as the single largest party, a long-term partnership between the BJP and the BSP would be to mutual advantage in a future election.

As there is strong opposition to an alliance with the BSP from the state unit and leaders like Rajnath Singh and Kalraj Mishra, forcing Mayavati to accept its terms would give the BJP the much-needed “face-saver”, the sources pointed out.

Former ministers like Om Prakash Singh, Lalji Tandon and Narendra Gaur, who have been pitching for the tie-up, were told by the high command to either ask Mayavati to give up her demand for the top post or sit in the Opposition.

The BJP was also clear that if Mayavati could be “arm-twisted” into accepting a BJP chief minister, the claimant would be Rajnath.

Sources said the BJP could at most concede a Speaker of Mayavati’s choice as she would reject its “natural” candidate, Kesri Nath Tripathi, for his controversial role in legitimising a split in her party in 1999. “There’s no way she can dictate to us who the CM would be,” the sources stressed.

The deadline for ratifying the presidential notification on Central rule is May 8. If it is rejected by the Rajya Sabha — where the ruling coalition is in a minority — either a government would have to be hurriedly rustled up or the Assembly would be dissolved and fresh elections ordered.


April 3: 
The mission: a diplomatic foray (by Japan) to gauge the status of members of the minority community of one country (Bangladesh) now seeking refuge in another country (India).

The key player: a senior Japanese foreign affairs department official who can speak Bengali fluently.

The response from the hosts: very cold.

The result: not much to write home about.

This is the story of a secret Japanese diplomatic mission and how it came unstuck within hours of its launch in Calcutta because of the state government’s “very cold” and “uncooperative” response.

Hideo Fujita, a political counsellor to the Japanese envoy in Dhaka, arrived in Calcutta on Sunday evening by a Biman Bangladesh flight (No. BG093) to gather details of the Bangladeshis who fled their country during and after last year’s polls to escape persecution.

To facilitate the probe, the Japanese foreign affairs department had got in touch with the state government, which has been overtly aggressive in wooing Japanese capital. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had visited Japan earlier this year.

The message that was conveyed was that Fujita, with other officials, would like to meet a senior state government employee to ascertain facts before reaching a conclusion.

Japan is keeping close tabs on the situation since it is among the largest aid donors to Bangladesh. Japan also has a large number of Buddhists — the second largest minority group in Bangladesh.

But the Bengal government poured cold water on the mission, after what home department officials termed as prodding from the “very top”.

A communication from a home department official reached the Japanese delegation, conveying the state home secretary’s inability to meet the delegation because of “unavoidable reasons”.

The state government’s cold-shouldering of a representative from a country which it is wooing for investments here has created ripples in the administration.

Some officials said the decision reflected the Left Front government’s eagerness to avoid friction with the Khaleda Zia regime in Bangladesh. Others cited a function at the Bangladeshi deputy high commission here on March 26 to suggest the bonhomie that senior Cabinet ministers here now share with the current dispensation in Bangladesh.

The function, to celebrate the Bangladeshi Independence Day, saw the presence of several CPM Cabinet ministers. “The presence of so many ministers is a never-before occurrence at the mission,” a senior state government official said.

The fact that the government — and the CPM — tried to play down the inflow into the state after the October polls in Bangladesh was a part of that “broader picture”, he added.

Fujita left the city on Wednesday after meeting some organisations known to champion the Bangladeshi refugees’ cause but without meeting any government representative, senior external affairs ministry officials posted here said.

On Tuesday, he visited the Bangladesh Udbastu Kalyan Parishad office in south Calcutta. “He came here with some other officials and stayed for over two hours,” a BUKP spokesperson said. Besides seeking to know the condition of the recent batch of refugees, he also collected information about the BSF firings on Bangladeshi refugees.

Fujita, sources said, also visited another organisation at Ramlal Bazar in the Jadavpur area.


Islamabad, April 3: 
Armed with an official seal, President Pervez Musharraf is expected to unwrap his referendum blueprint on Friday.

An official announcement said a joint session of the National Security Council and the federal Cabinet today unanimously approved the proposal for holding a national referendum on “important national issues”.

It is almost certain that through the referendum, Musharraf would seek another five years in power before holding parliamentary elections later this year.

“The President will address the nation on Friday, April 5, to take the people into confidence on the details of the referendum,” the announcement added.

The referendum, expected in the first week of next month, will be the second of its kind in Pakistan.

In December 1984, then dictator Zia-ul Haq had also held a referendum in which a convoluted question was asked. But Musharraf is reported to be keen on a simple question that would ask the people to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to whether they wanted him to stay in power.

Some legal experts have said if the term ‘President’ is included in the question, it could create a grey area as there is a specific provision in the Constitution for electing the President.

The National Security Council, which approved the proposal, includes the chiefs of the armed forces and they are believed to be behind Musharraf.

Most mainstream political parties had been opposing the referendum plan. But none of the parties, barred from any significant activity, is in a position to mobilise the voters against Musharraf.

Analysts, however, pointed to a flip side. They are wondering how many people will turn out to vote in a country where political parties usually mobilise people and transport them to polling stations.

Some fear a repetition of the Zia referendum, when the government declared a huge turnout, though commentators had put it between 5 to 10 per cent. Any such repetition would undermine Musharraf’s legitimacy and credibility.


Calcutta, April 3: 
The second of a dozen expected seasonal storms crept up on a Bengal deep in slumber before dawn, flattening houses and killing nine persons in the border districts of Nadia and North 24-Parganas.

A few hours later, a nor’wester roared through the city with a windspeed of 62 km per hour. The rush-hour rain inconvenienced office-goers and held up traffic, but soothed the city by pushing the mercury five notches down.

Although the meteorological office at Alipore recorded only 1 mm of rainfall after the squall broke around 10 am, heavy downpour was reported from the northern and southern parts of the city, with water-logging in several low-lying areas on the fringes.

As a result of the trough-line of low pressure, thunderclouds about 12 kilometres tall had been gathering over the city and its adjoining areas since morning.

More drizzles are expected tomorrow as the met office has forecast the possibility of light rain accompanied by thunder in some parts. According to experts, about a dozen nor’westers hit Calcutta and its adjoining areas in the pre-monsoon period between March and May. This morning’s was the second, the first hitting on the night before Holi.

Usually, the squalls at this time of the year, better known as kalbaisakhis, occur in the afternoons and evenings. “But often the development of the thundercloud cells and appropriate conditions for a storm are delayed and nor’westers occur late at night or early morning,” said met office director T.K. Sarkar.

The severe storm broke around 3 am over the districts, razing over 500 houses and rendering nearly 3,000 villagers homeless. In many areas, power lines snapped, while train services were disrupted in the Sealdah-Bongaon, Sealdah-Ranaghat and Sealdah-Krishnagar sections.

The government said it was a nor’wester but met officials will visit the affected areas tomorrow to record the devastation and determine the nature of the storm. “The team will submit a report on return,” Sarkar said.

Sources said the storm was caused by a trough of well-marked low pressure spread across Chhattisgarh, Gangetic West Bengal and Bangladesh.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has ordered the district magistrates to open relief camps and gruel kitchens for the homeless. Several ministers fanned out in the morning to oversee relief.

Nadia was the worst hit with a toll of six. Three persons died in Bongaon in North 24-Parganas. Most victims were crushed under their roof as they slept.


Calcutta, April 3: 
Chhoto Angaria returned to haunt Bengal politics after the CBI today certified following a DNA test that two of the bloodstained samples collected from the spot of the January 2001 massacre matched those of the relatives of the missing Trinamul men.

A buoyed Mamata Banerjee said her party’s claim had been vindicated and demanded chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s resignation. Bhattacharjee, however, refused to comment till he received official intimation.

Experts,however, said the results do not prove beyond doubt that the blood samples were of the missing persons.


Calcutta, April 3: 
The CBI today claimed to have established after a DNA test that two of the blood samples collected from the spot of massacre matched that of the relatives of missing Trinamul men.

However, experts say the only way to establish beyond doubt that the blood samples were of the Trinamul men were to match them with DNA samples of the men themselves. These samples can be collected from their comb or old clothes, for example.

The tests were carried out by the Central Forensic Science Laboratory.

“DNA tests of two of the blood-stained samples matched those of the relatives of two Trinamul Congress activists,” CBI spokesman S.M. Khan said over the phone from New Delhi.

Trinamul claimed the findings vindicated the party’s claim that its supporters had been killed in a pre-planned attack by CPM men at the village in Garbeta on January 4, 2001.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, however, refused to comment. “I will say what I have to say only after I am intimated officially,” he added.

But Mamata Banerjee lost no time in demanding the chief minister’s resignation. “Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has no moral right to remain in power,” she said. “The government has been proved wrong by the CBI and it is now clear that a massacre did take place at Chhoto Angaria.”

CPM state secretary Anil Biswas rose to Bhattacharjee’s defence. “The chief minister had never said nothing had occurred at Chhoto Angaria,” he said, but refused to comment on the CBI findings.

Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly Pankaj Banerjee accused the chief minister of being the “brainchild” behind the Chhoto Angaria massacre. Inspector-general (CID) Partha Bhattacharya wasn’t spared either. “He should be immediately sacked for trying to stall the CBI investigations and trying to mislead the probe,” he added.

Bhattacharya, however, said “all kinds of logistic support” had been provided to the CBI. “I personally monitored the case and the CID was the agency that handed over the six blood-samples to the CFSL for DNA tests. We even provided the CBI with the licence-plate numbers of two getaway cars, allegedly belonging to the attackers. So where’s the question of trying to mislead the CBI?” he asked.

“We continue to share an excellent relationship with the CBI,” he added.

The CID had handed over the case to the CBI for a more detailed investigation on April 30 last year. The CBI managed to trace the owner of the car.“We have mounted a massive raid and will nab the culprits shortly,” was all a CBI officer in New Delhi would say.


April 3: 
Jayalalitha today called Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee over the phone from Chennai. The call was significant for two reasons. The first was incidental: Bharti Telenet was launching its basic telephony service in Chennai and Amma was making the first call.

The second, however, was pregnant with possibilities. Though they spoke a lot of telecom stuff, the political grapevine buzzed with interest over what it saw as an indication of Amma’s efforts to re-establish her link with the NDA.

Bharti’s boss Sunil Mittal, who was hovering in the shadows during the STD call, was happy to play the conduit. “Standing beside her I could see the power that she radiates, especially when surrounded by her council of ministers,” he said.

The newfound warmth between Vajpayee and Jayalalithaa was clearly in evidence. They talked for three minutes, but thanked each other more than six times. Jayalalithaa is not part of the NDA government, but with arch rival DMK grumbling after the Gujarat carnage, her call will be of some consolation to Vajpayee.

As proof of the growing bonhomie between the BJP and the ADMK, state BJP leaders had turned out for the inauguration of the temple meal (anna dhan) scheme she recently launched. This further soured relations with the DMK.

Vajpayee told Jayalalithaa telecom was one sector where the benefits of reforms were most visible. “These are the direct result of our progressive national telecom policy, 1999,” he said and pointed out that the number of fixed phones, mobile phones and Internet subscribers had increased while tariffs for the consumers had fallen substantially.

Jayalalithaa has been in sync with the government in speeding up reforms. Recently, she had signed an MoU with the Centre for restructuring financial aid, with special focus on the power sector and other basic sectors. Subsidies, too, have been slashed.

The package of reforms she unveiled late last year included measures like privatisation of the transport sector and loss-making public sector units, hike in power rates, ban on recruitment and reduction in government staff strength by 30 per cent.

Both Vajpayee and Union finance minister Yashwant Sinha have been asking the states to adopt measures like these to stop the country from sliding into a fiscal morass.

Jayalalithaa’s “Thank You” laced conversation with Vajpayee was followed by another more emotional. Dhalal Azmi, the Kuwaiti girl who had eloped with her Indian lover but landed in Vellore jail for travelling on a forged passport, today thanked Jayalalithaa for helping her get bail.

Accompanied by her lover Khader Basha, Azmi met the chief minister at the secretariat.


Mumbai, April 3: 
“Mr Moneybags” Bharat Shah, film financier and diamond merchant, has been granted bail by the Supreme Court 15 months after his arrest.

Shah was arrested on January 8, 2001, under MCOCA, a tough Maharashtra law, for his alleged links with Dawood Ibrahim’s extortion gang operating in Bollywood.

The apex court said there was not enough evidence to link Shah to the extortion racket. The court said conversations between Chhota Shakeel, said to be a key member of Dawood’s extortion team, and Shah, that the prosecution cited as evidence, did not prove that the financier was party to organised crime.

The court asked Shah to furnish a bail bond of Rs 1 lakh and two sureties of the same amount. It also directed him to surrender his mobile phone to Mumbai police, the investigating agency.

Shah, who was Bollywood’s leading financier at the time of his arrest, has invested more than Rs 100 crore in Hindi films.

His bail meant good news for Bollywood, with well-wishers gathering in front of his office. Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt was with Shah’s family in Delhi when the apex court gave the order.

“Courts are usually misguided by the police. In Shah’s case, the highest court has corrected it,” Ram Jethmalani, Shah’s lawyer said on the bail order. Bombay High Court had twice rejected Shah’s bail applications.

But it was not good news for home minister Chhagan Bhujbal, already under criticism for withdrawing charges under the Prevention of Terrorism Act against suspected terrorist Mohammed Afroz. “We shall abide by the Supreme Court verdict,” he said.




Maximum: 26.9°C (-9)
Minimum: 21.4°C (-3)


18.1 mm

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 84%,
Minimum: 50%

Sunrise: 5.31 am

Sunset: 5.48 pm


Generally cloudy sky, with possibility of light rain, accompanied by thunder, in some parts

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