Checkposts to monitor PWG
Party breather for Dulal
Pension racket busted
Sonia pins hopes on polls, not poaching
Mamata skips meet, roots for ‘old friend’
‘Accident’ alert from Karunanidhi
Screamer spoils BJP breakfast
Modi pushes for poll as bullets fly
9/11 shadow falls on tour meet agenda
Fall guy to people’s man

 
 
CHECKPOSTS TO MONITOR PWG 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Digha, April 14: 
East Midnapore district police have set up a number of checkposts along the borders with Orissa and Andhra Pradesh, fearing that People’s War Group activists might try to enter Bengal from those states.

All entry points at the border will be intensely monitored, said superintendent of police Anuj Sharma. “Policemen armed with sophisticated weapons are guarding the checkpost. If necessary, we may seal the border at any moment. We may chase anybody or intercept any gang sneaking in through the border,” he said.

However, local residents protested against the administration’s decision to intensify vigil along the border by setting up checkposts. “We are harassed by West Bengal police when we enter Digha for daily marketing,” said Tapan Jena, a resident of Chandaneswar village of Orissa.

Tourists from Bengal also face inconvenience when they go to Talsari beach or to Chandaneswar to worship Shiva.

Kalpana Sen from Calcutta complained that she had to stand in a long queue on this border for checking. “I came here to pray for my son at the temple of Shiva at Chandaneswar. But I have been unnecessarily delayed in the name of checking. I have come all the way from Calcutta today and had planned to go back just after worshipping the lord. But I am not sure whether I will be able to do so,” Sen said.

Murder arrests

Three persons were arrested for allegedly murdering a housewife at Madhabpur near Haldia, reports our correspondent.

Haldia sub-divisional police officer Debashish Baij said Hazibul Khan, his father, Sheikh Hannan, and Khan’s friend, Afsar Ali, were arrested for plotting the murder of Sajeda Bibi (21) who married Khan in 1996.

Sajeda was murdered on March 10 and the body was found the next day.

   

 
 
PARTY BREATHER FOR DULAL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 14: 
The state CPM leadership has ruled out “immediate” action against party functionary Dulal Banerjee, now in police custody for allegedly masterminding twin murders in Dum Dum area on March 4.

Banerjee, a member of the party’s Cossipore-Dum Dum zonal committee, was arrested for allegedly masterminding the murder of Chandan Chakraborty and Sanjib Goswami, who were charged with stealing earrings from a housewife.

During interrogation, Banerjee confessed to the crime, deputy commissioner of police (detective department) Soumen Mitra had said yesterday. “Banerjee was even present when the youths were lynched. We have also learnt that the charge of stealing of earrings was fake,” Mitra said today.

Unfazed by the events, CPM state secretary Anil Biswas said the party will “talk to Banerjee before initiating any disciplinary action against him”.

Banerjee has been remanded in police custody till April 26 and no disciplinary action is expected to be taken till then.

“It is true that Banerjee was arrested in connection with the murder. But he may not be involved in the murders. We will go by our own report about the incident and initiate action if necessary on the basis of that,” Biswas said.

The CPM has set up a committee, including Rajya Sabha member Prasanta Chatterjee and Dilip Sen, an influential party leader.

   

 
 
PENSION RACKET BUSTED 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Jhargram, April 14: 
A racket of misappropriating pension benefits, by suppressing the death certificates of government employees who had retired, has come to light at the Jhargram head post office.

The scandal came to the surface when Dhananjay Mahato of Radhanagar received a notice from the railways demanding that he refund Rs 62,000 his father, Srihari Mahato, purportedly overdrew between 1999 and 2002.

This stunned Mahato as his father, a former employee of South Eastern Railway, had died in March 1999.

Srihari used to collect his pension through the post office and his pension papers were kept with a postal agent. However, according to a complaint lodged with Midnapore senior superintendent of post offices S.N. Singh, the death certificate of his father, which was submitted to the post office, is missing.

   

 
 
SONIA PINS HOPES ON POLLS, NOT POACHING 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
Guwahati, April 14: 
The Congress is smelling blood in the crisis in the Vajpayee government but will prefer to face snap polls than try and patch together a rag-tag coalition at the Centre.

According to Congress assessment, the Vajpayee regime’s days are numbered. As Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh put it: “It is just a matter of time. Our assessment is that the disquiet within the NDA and Sangh parivar will grow.”

He said the Congress should stand on its own strength instead of working out a coalition. “The mandate in 13th Lok Sabha for us was to sit in the Opposition. We will seek a fresh mandate and get one whenever polls are held,” he said.

AICC general secretary Kamal Nath went a step further. “Ab ulti ginti shuru ho gayee hai (The reverse countdown has begun).” He said the message from the Guwahati conclave was simple: “BJP ki vidai aur Congress ki wapsi (BJP’s departure and Congress’ return).”

Congress president Sonia Gandhi told party leaders last night that she was not sure about the fall of the Vajpayee regime in the event of some NDA allies pulling out. She told them even if the government survived through manipulation, it would not last long. She instructed party chief ministers and MPs to pay greater attention to parliamentary constituencies as the general elections might be held sooner than expected.

An overwhelming majority of party leaders are averse to the idea of a coalition because the complexion of the Lok Sabha gives little or no scope for a Congress-led government.

The main Opposition party is unanimous that the next government should be headed by Sonia despite her inexperience. This proposition is unacceptable to many parties like the Nationalist Congress Party, the RSP, the Forward Bloc and the Samajwadi Party.

State-level political compulsions do not allow the Congress to move closer to “secular” BJP allies like the Telugu Desam, the Janata Dal(U), the Samata Party and the Biju Janata Dal.

Sonia has a rapport with Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee but she is reluctant to accept Mamata’s condition of keeping the Left parties out of an alternative against the BJP. In terms of numbers, all calculations leave the Congress hopelessly short of majority.

The Congress leadership is also opposed to the idea of backing an alternative government from outside, as it had done earlier for the United Front, because of the experience that such an arrangement leads to ideological compromises and harms the party’s organisational interests in the long run.

In Guwahati, a clear line emerged that the Congress should wait and watch till the next elections. Speaker after speaker said the country was viewing the Congress as a “credible” and “natural” alternative to the BJP. They claimed that the party would do well even in states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar as voters would see it as a national player.

The Congress Working Committee is packed with leaders opposed to aligning with the Samajwadi. These CWC members were delighted when Sonia took a potshot at Mulayam Singh Yadav, mocking his suggestion to boycott the Gujarat polls.

Party leaders commented that her remarks had ended the possibility of a Congress-Samajwadi tieup at the Centre and Uttar Pradesh.

Congress floor managers have decided to step up the attack on the government when the budget session of Parliament resumes tomorrow. The parliamentary party executive decided that nothing short of Narendra Modi’s resignation would satisfy it.

The gameplan is to create more differences among NDA partners. “We will enjoy the drama,” a Congress leader said.

   

 
 
MAMATA SKIPS MEET, ROOTS FOR ‘OLD FRIEND’ 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 14: 
Mamata Banerjee today skipped the meeting of the National Democratic Alliance in Delhi, but said her Trinamul Congress would sail with “old friend” N. Chandrababu Naidu of the Telugu Desam.

Strongly resentful of the BJP’s decision to call early polls in Gujarat, Mamata, however, did not appear ready to walk out of the alliance yet. Nor did she, like the Desam, insist on Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi being replaced.

Mamata said she had serious objections to the BJP’s recent tendency to bypass the national agenda of governance, “but I don’t want the NDA government to collapse at the moment”.

She attributed her absence from the NDA meeting this evening to receiving the call-up late.

“I got information about today’s meeting at 3.30 pm and the Delhi flight was scheduled to leave at 5. How can I go to attend the meeting if they (Delhi) inform me at 3.30?” an aggrieved Mamata said.

Mamata disclosed that she had a talk with Desam leader Naidu during the day. “I assured him that my party will stand beside him as Trinamul and Telugu Desam are very old friends.”

“The BJP is a big party and it is obvious that they have some programmes of their own. But they have to keep in mind the fact that they are running a coalition government in which a number of political parties are with them. I believe that the BJP will run the government on the basis of consensus among the NDA partners and not only implement their own party programmes,” she replied when asked if her party would withdraw support immediately.

Trinamul sources said Mamata was upset by the BJP’s decision to inform her about today’s NDA meeting at the last minute. A senior party leader said: “It is not possible for Mamata to rush to Delhi in a hurry. Moreover, she had sustained a fracture on her left wrist on Friday when some women constables at Ilambazar in Birbhum district tried to protect her from some of her fans. These constables unknowingly pulled Mamata by catching her wrist and she developed a crack.”

Mamata said her party did not want an immediate election in Gujarat, but wanted Modi to continue.

“Modi should be allowed to function as the chief minister and he should devote himself to saving the state from the communal turmoil as a result of which many people belonging to the majority group are also leaving the state.”

Trinamul’s national executive committee will meet here on April 21.

“I have convened the meeting to discuss our party’s course of action in connection with the recent developments in the NDA,” she said. But it is unlikely the party will take a decision to pull out immediately.

Party sources said Trinamul is not rejecting out of hand Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s appeal to the party to consider a fresh alignment.

   

 
 
‘ACCIDENT’ ALERT FROM KARUNANIDHI 
 
 
FROM M.R. VENKATESH
 
Chennai, April 14: 
The DMK, an important member of the Vajpayee-led coalition, appeared set to move in tandem with the Telugu Desam Party over the BJP’s decision to seek dissolution of the Gujarat Assembly and call elections after rejecting chief minister Narendra Modi’s resignation offer.

DMK president and former Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi told a news conference here this afternoon that though the continuance of Modi or otherwise was essentially an “internal party matter” of the BJP, the Gujarat violence and its implications had a larger political dimension.

The DMK, while strongly condemning the communal clashes in Gujarat triggered by the Godhra carnage, has so far refrained from commenting on the conduct of the government there. But today, breaking his silence, Karunanidhi conceded that though it was a “problem concerning another state”, the “communal violence, atrocities and the bloodbath” in Gujarat had made it an “all-India issue”.

The situation warranted Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to immediately convene the NDA — at the time this evening’s meeting of the alliance had not been called — to find a way out of the crisis, Karunanidhi said.

“We will say whatever we want to say at the NDA meeting,” Karunanidhi replied when asked whether his party will press for Modi’s resignation and about the moral propriety of the BJP deciding to call elections in Gujarat. “Naidu is still in the NDA just as the DMK is, along with other parties, and that is why it is absolutely necessary for the NDA to meet,” he said.

Asked if the stability of the government was in danger, Karunanidhi sent a subtle warning, saying that unless the NDA met and discussed the cluster of issues involved, an “accident or danger” could overtake the NDA.

Karunanidhi also indicated that the DMK might not go along with the proposed resolution to be brought by the ADMK government in the Assembly on Tuesday, calling for steps by the Centre to get LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran extradited from Sri Lanka to stand trial in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case here, and to even, if necessary, send the Indian Army there to “capture” him.

“Just now, an environment conducive to the peace process has come about in Sri Lanka,” Karunanidhi said.

   

 
 
SCREAMER SPOILS BJP BREAKFAST 
 
 
FROM FREDERICK NORONHA
 
Panaji, April 14: 
If the Naidu nightmare forced Atal Bihari Vajpayee to work the phone late into the night, he woke up this morning to an unpleasant advertisement screaming “stop the killings in Gujarat at once, please”.

Put out by non-resident Indians based in the US, the full-page advertisement that appeared in a section of the press asked the Centre to “protect life and property of all the citizens, provide immediate and long-term assistance, prosecute attackers of innocent men, women and children, promote harmony groups to prevent future tragedies and publish an action-taken report in 30 days”.

“We are deeply anguished by the gruesome atrocities happening in Gujarat. We are also appalled that the government has not been able to stop the killings even after 40 days,” said the ad published by individuals in Connecticut, New York, Maryland, New Jersey and other centres of NRI migration.

It is also backed by the India Foundation in East Lansing (Michigan), the India League of America, Seva International, the Vaishnava Centre for Enlightenment of Michigan, the Vedanta Society of East Lansing, the Association of Indian Muslims of America in Washington and groups working for communal harmony in India.

“You must vigorously prosecute and punish the criminals and their supporters, regardless of how high or low a position they hold. Please take effective steps for restoring immediate peace to Gujarat,” they said in their appeal addressed to the Prime Minister.

On Saturday, around 200 people had marched in a peaceful protest in the Goa capital even as the BJP national executive was under way. The protest was against what the citizens called “state-abetted communal killings in Gujarat”, and was organised by the Forum for Communal Harmony.

The rally demanded the dismissal of the Narendra Modi government, imposition of President’s rule, an inquiry under a Supreme Court judge into the Godhra and post-Godhra killings and distribution of relief “without discrimination”.

Protesters took to the streets carrying placards, saying “Mr PM, hide your face in shame, not from world leaders, but from the women and children of Gujarat” and “Bharat ki parampara — shanti, sadbhav, bhaichara (India’s tradition — peace and communal amity)”.

The forum also called on the Goa government to immediately set up a state human rights commission and a state minorities commission.

On Friday, as the three-day BJP meet got off, local daily Herald had carried a page of articles critical of the Gujarat violence opposite a full-page official ad issued by the BJP-led state government, welcoming “poet, statesman and Prime Minister” Vajpayee to Goa.

   

 
 
MODI PUSHES FOR POLL AS BULLETS FLY 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, April 14: 
Three persons were killed in police firing at Dariapur even as senior BJP leaders met in Gandhinagar tonight to discuss dissolution of the Assembly and snap polls.

Indefinite curfew was clamped in Dariapur after incidents of arson and stone-throwing between mobs. The police first lobbed teargas shells to disperse the trouble-mongers, but had to open fire at 2.30 pm, killing three and injuring 11.

Godhra happened 45 days ago, Ahmedabad continues to simmer even today. But this has not deterred the BJP from pushing ahead with its attempts to chalk out the election strategy for the riot-ravaged state.

BJP state secretary and spokesman Nalin Bhatt said senior leaders, including ministers, will meet informally to discuss the political situation and consider the “time schedule for the mid-term poll”.

The BJP was not in a hurry to dissolve the Assembly, he said. The party’s national executive has asked chief minister Narendra Modi to seek a fresh mandate, but that does not mean that the Assembly will be dissolved tomorrow. Modi will take his own time. The party is watching the developments in Delhi, especially the reaction of NDA partners. A decision will be taken considering all these factors, Bhatt added.

Sources said Modi is keen on polls in June. The party feels that if the elections are held after monsoon, the BJP may not be able to exploit the “Hindutva sentiments that it has cultivated” in post-Godhra Gujarat.

But in the light of the NDA announcement to go slow on the election, the state meeting tonight left the date decision to Modi and the Cabinet.

Modi set the tone for his poll-happy colleagues last night at the airport on his arrival from Goa when he seemed to kick off his campaign by playing the Gujarati card while addressing his supporters. In the riot-ravaged backdrop, he also announced that his first priority will be rehabilitation of the victims.

The chief minister set to work today, visiting a couple of relief camps. Significantly, he chose only Hindu camps — his political constituency — and not the Muslim shelters.

“The unrest in the state is a result of the work of elements who wanted to throw Gujarat into communal fire to achieve their selfish ends,” he said at functions to mark B.R. Ambedkar’s birth anniversary.

In spite of a propaganda to malign Gujarat, his government would not budge from its “firm resolve” to provide equal justice to all, he added.

If elections are held early, the BJP expects to better its 1998 tally when it captured 120 of the 182 seats. Keshubhai Patel, who was removed to make way for Modi, said at the airport yesterday “we would ensure that the Congress does not win even a single Assembly seat’’.

   

 
 
9/11 SHADOW FALLS ON TOUR MEET AGENDA 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 14: 
The theme colours of the 51st Pacific Asia Travels Association conference are symbolic of Indian festivity — hot pink, orange and turmeric. But the annual meet to be inaugurated by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee tomorrow will not exactly be wine and roses.

Travel industry professionals will bury themselves deep in discussing the future of tourism in their first major meet after September 11. “The world has become unpredictable. The industry is concerned with the future of tourism,” said Pata chief Peter de Jong.

Cross-border conflicts, insurgency and internal disturbances have become an inescapable reality in many countries and yet travel had become an integral part of modern life, he added.

“Travel is beyond privilege, it is a right,” Jong said.

The delegates will address these issues in due earnest over the next three days. Some of the other key topics will include ways to remain in the forefront of the trade, the aviation sector and its future and eco-tourism.

Indian tourism faced flak from foreign media ahead of the meet and questions were raised about the cost of domestic air travel.

Union tourism and culture minister Jagmohan said India has a policy of open skies and market forces will help bring down prices, but the genuineness of the policy was under the scanner with a section of delegates alleging that Delhi was blocking international flying capacity.

The minister turned bellicose while answering charges on the Centre’s dual pricing policy and monument taxes. Twenty per cent of the world’s population have 80 per cent spending power. What is wrong if they pay extra? he asked. The 3,000-plus monuments in the country need maintenance and so those who can afford should pay, Jagmohan added.

He also justified the dual rates for domestic and foreign tourists by saying many countries had it.

However, Jagmohan also spoke of a tourism revolution and eliminating terrorism. He asked Pata to give priority to the movement against terrorism. India will continue to support Pata in its efforts to promote quality tourism, he said and welcomed its focus on eco-tourism.

Tourism, Jagmohan said, is not just entertainment or relaxation, it could be a vehicle for removing poverty.

While the Pata host committee is upbeat about the response to the conference, not everyone is gungho. Over 1,000 delegates, including 570 foreigners, will attend the meet to be covered by about 130 foreign media representatives, the organisers said.

Hoteliers, however, were not happy. “Around 25 to 30 per cent of the bookings had to be released by most of the big hotels as there was no demand,” said Lalit Suri of the Bharat Group.

Glitches also appeared at the media registration counter. Other than the few who had registered through the Press Information Bureau, most did not get their registration tag or kit.

   

 
 
FALL GUY TO PEOPLE’S MAN 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 14: 
Ram Naik, once high on the list of the RSS’ “disfavoured” ministers, has become a darling overnight.

He was hailed as the “People’s Man” in the latest issue of RSS’ English mouthpiece Organiser (April 14). At a time when the Sangh is looking askance at the BJP and certainly its ministers, the paean for Naik comes as a surprise to partymen. More so because it is penned by Organiser editor Seshadri Chari.

Pegged to a function organised by the Mumbai BJP to celebrate Naik’s 12-year term in the Lok Sabha, the article extolled his oratorical skills, his efforts to make the singing of the national anthem and Vande Mataram a practice in Parliament as well as his involvement in renaming Bombay as Mumbai and the city’s airport as Chhatrapati Shivaji airport.

Highlighting his “secular” credentials, Chari stressed how Naik got a stamp of Christ released on December 25, 2000.

But what could be music to Naik’s ears was Chari’s praise of his ministerial stint: “As petroleum minister his handling of the LPG gas connections, the provision of piped gas and the gasohol pipe scheme have further demonstrated his concern for the common man.”

Just two years ago, the Sangh had prepared a list of “controversial” BJP ministers and Naik’s name was among them. The main charge against him was that he appointed his daughter as one of his officers on special duty with special base in Mumbai.

A whisper campaign at the RSS’ all-India delegates convention in Nagpur in March 2000 insinuated that he used his post to shower “out-of-turn” favours on friends and relatives with gas agencies and petrol pumps.

The allegations gained ground when in February-March 2001, BJP and NDA leaders brought to the government’s notice specific instances of Naik’s “nepotism”.

Uttar Pradesh BJP leader Kalraj Mishra complained that the petroleum minister used his discretionary powers to favour BSP members in eastern Uttar Pradesh with petrol pumps and gas agencies. Janata Dal (United) and Shiv Sena MPs wrote separately to the Prime Minister on March 30 about “corruption” in allocation.

Matters came to such a pass that home minister L.K. Advani ticked off Naik and his minister of state Santosh Gangawar.

Sources said “chastened” by the rebuke, Naik made a serious effort to “decentralise and democratise” the allocation and involve BJP and RSS leaders.

   
 

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