Accused: minister in Modi govt
Scramble to seal Mayavati deal
Doves can do what hawks want to do
Mamata stands by PM
Lesson in Islam and jihad for Atal
Jaya call for Tiger boss capture
Nitish rules out rail selloff
Calcutta Weather

 
 
ACCUSED: MINISTER IN MODI GOVT 
 
 
FROM Sujan Dutta
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA 
A minister in the Narendra Modi Cabinet in Gujarat has been accused of leading mobs that torched and burnt houses in an Ahmedabad locality in complaints lodged with the Ahmedabad police commissioner.

The incidents took place on February 28, the day after the Godhra killings when the VHP called a Gujarat bandh. The bandh call was supported by the BJP.

So far, the allegation against the Modi administration has been that it had tacitly backed the pogrom in the wake of Godhra. But the written complaints lodged with the Ahmedabad police commissioner, if true, will mean that members of the Modi government directly incited the violence.

A total of 13 complaints allege that the Gujarat minister for revenue, Haren Pandya, led mobs in his constituency Ellis Bridge in Ahmedabad. Pandya refutes the charge.

“So far, there has been no death in my constituency. So far, there has been not a single FIR against me. (These allegations) are not at all true. You can also ask the police commissioner. Complaints that are not backed by FIRs and police investigations mean little,” Pandya said when asked for his version. He also explained why he would not participate in such violence but requested that part be kept off the record.

The Ahmedabad police commissioner, P.C. Pande, was not available at home, in his office or on his cellphone till late tonight.

Allegations that the police did not accept FIRs naming the perpetrators of violence are further buttressed by these complaints. One complainant has specifically written that he did go to the police station to file an FIR but the police did not accept it.

There are 12 complainants in one incident that occurred around 12.30 pm on February 28. They have filed the complaints separately. Each complaint is dated March 18 and is acknowledged to have been received on April 6.

Here is a gist of the complaint (written in Gujarati): “On February 28, 2002, at about 12.30 pm a violent mob gathered near Gandhi Travels. This mob first destroyed Gandhi Travels, then Hotel Aram and then Hotel Hans Inn and burnt them down. Thereafter, the mob came towards Mohlatwad. The mob was carrying deadly weapons like pipes, swords, tridents and containers of inflammable liquid like petrol, diesel, kerosene. Initially, the mob pelted stones at our Mohlatwad residence because of which we fled and took refuge in Vankarvas, just behind Mohlatwad. Shri Amrutbhai and Valjibhai, residents of Vankarvas, saved our lives. The mob looted our households and all the houses were burnt down. We have seen the following persons in the mob: Haren Pandya, MLA, Ellis Bridge, Paldi; Bhadio alias Patel of Kochrab village; Sailesh (cycle parking attendant), Baldev Rabari who lives near Paldi petrol pump, Bholio from Aman Auto, Paldi village, Amrit Travel Wala and others.”

All the 12 complainants were residents of Mohlatwad and are now sheltered in refugee camps.

The second complaint is more specific in that the complainant says he was not allowed to file an FIR. Fazalbhai N. Gandhi, a trader who lived in Tarana Apartments opposite Jethabhai Bus Stand, Narayan Nagar, Paldi, says the incidents occurred between 2 and 6 pm on February 28.

A gist of the complaint: “On February 28, as there was a Gujarat bandh, I remained at home. On that day, around 2 pm, a big mob with weapons led by minister Haren Pandya had come. Among those in the mob were the owner of Siddharth Provisions and Rinku Sardarji and their friends from the Shantivana Society (a well-known residential complex in Narayannagar). The mob pelted stones on our flats and also hurled burning rags inside and I could leave only around 5.25 pm. I had gone to Ellis Bridge police station on March 11, 2002, to give a written complaint but they did not record it the way I wanted them to. The police did not want to record the people I was naming. Now that curfew has been lifted, I am making this complaint.”

The complaint is dated March 20, 2002. It was received in the police commissioner’s office on April 5. Fazalbhai N. Gandhi adds: “I had gone to see my flat on March 19 when somebody came and told me ‘your flat has been burnt down; if you come again, you will be burnt too’. I also complained about this incident to the deputy commissioner of police on telephone number 3225867 and requested for police protection.”

The Ellis Bridge police station also recorded an FIR on the incidents on March 1, 2002 (C.R. no. 121 of 1/3/2002) but named no names.

   

 
 
SCRAMBLE TO SEAL MAYAVATI DEAL 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, April 17: 
The loose ends in the tie-up with the Bahujan Samaj Party sewn up, the BJP parliamentary board is likely to meet in the next two days to put its seal of approval before Mayavati is sworn in Uttar Pradesh chief minister.

The BJP’s apex decision-making body, which directed its Uttar Pradesh legislature party to sit in Opposition soon after the Assembly polls, will roll back its decision on the ground that such a coalition is the best bet for a stable government. With no party close to a majority, the arrangement would also save the state from another election.

Though the BJP had given the impression that it was in no hurry to clinch the alliance before the Goa executive, National Democratic Alliance strategists decided to shore up numbers after allies Telugu Desam and Trinamul Congress upped the ante on Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.

The BSP, with its 13 MPs, was then seen as a “safe” bet. “Whenever a bhasmasura (destroyer) casts his evil spell, a rakshak (saviour) emerges unexpectedly to save the situation,” said a BJP parliamentarian, pointing to the Desam and the BSP respectively.

From the long-term viewpoint also, the BJP is looking to the BSP alliance to bail it out in the next Lok Sabha elections. “This time, come what may, we are determined to see the partnership last until the next general election. That’s the only way the BJP can save itself from total rout,” said a general secretary.

So the BJP instantly grabbed BSP boss Kanshi Ram’s offer of support to the NDA in return for propping up Mayavati. Kanshi Ram met home minister L.K. Advani today.

After Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi did the spadework to bring the BJP and the BSP together after the abortive experiment of 1998, it was the turn of Advani to step into the picture.

Advani, said BJP sources, was instrumental in persuading his protégé and former chief minister Rajnath Singh not to oppose the deal. Singh relented, but on condition that he would not be asked to leave Lucknow and move to Delhi.

Singh, who is the leader of the BJP legislature party, is also believed to have asked if he could head the proposed co-ordination committee.

Advani yesterday made it clear to Mayavati that Singh was “too important” a person in the Uttar Pradesh unit to be shunted around arbitrarily and would have to be accommodated in a position of some consequence. The BJP is also adamant in its demand for the Speaker’s post.

According to the deal, the BJP is slated to get the posts of deputy chief minister, home minister and leader of the legislative council. The BSP will get power, irrigation and PWD.

   

 
 
DOVES CAN DO WHAT HAWKS WANT TO DO 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, April 16: 
India and Pakistan are not ready for cricket yet. But General Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee willing, the two countries could still slug it out in the skies in a duel that will involve doves, not missiles.

Connoisseurs of the ancient sport of kabootarbaazi (pigeon-flying) in both countries have proposed an India-Pakistan one-dayer on the Wagah border in October. But kabootarbazs on this “peace mission’’ say it will be much more than just a pigeon-flying competition.

“The idea is to instil a spirit of brotherhood, understanding and tolerance through these immortal symbols of peace,” said Prince Mirza, a kabootarbaz with a reputation of being “one with the birds’’ in the city of nawabs.

The peace proposal in place, groups of kabootarbazs from Lucknow and Lahore have now written to their respective governments to allow the friendly contest “as the aim is to give peace a chance”.

Mirza said three kaboortarbazs from Lahore — Liaqat Khan, Furquan Ali and Salim Khan — have taken the initiative on the other side of the border.

“They even wanted to participate in the recently-held kabootarbazi competition here,” said Mirza, adding with a sad shake of his head, “but they were denied permission by the Pakistani government.”

After communication with the Pakistanis was restored, other kabootarbazs from Rawalpindi and adjoining areas joined their fellow pigeon-fliers from Lahore. They then got together to float the idea of an Indo-Pak match in the skies. “Once the challenge came from them, we accepted it readily. Hum bhi peechhe hatne waale nahin hain, (We are not one to shy away),” Ismail, another kabootarbaz in the old city area of Lucknow, said.

But there were bureaucratic and diplomatic hurdles which wouldn’t allow such a thing to happen. Consultations between the two groups then led to an idea which Mirza calls “ingenious”.

“We decided to save our respective leaders the embarrassment of accepting our proposal and hit upon the idea of holding the competition on the Wagah border,” Mirza said.

“I don’t think that should be a problem,” Ismail interjected, adding, “of course, we still have to sort out the issue of who will be the referee and where exactly he will stand on the border.”

The kabootarbazs said their idea had been received with excitement by their counterparts in other cities in Uttar Pradesh. Mirza said he had all the support from the Kabootarbaz Association of Uttar Pradesh. The association is now trying to get permission for the international match from the apex body of kabootarbazs based in New Delhi.

If things go according to plan, the Indian and Pakistani teams will assemble on the two sides of the border in the last week of October “when the weather for this extraordinary sport is perfect for both bird and man.”

Once that happens, the Indian and Pakistani sides will fly their pigeons and try to win over as many birds from the other side as they can. It is an elaborate process that involves long hours of staring at the sky, making strange and amazing noises and gesticulations. At the end of the day, whichever team is left with fewer birds loses.

Mirza is confident the Indian side will win. “We have an excellent kutta kabootar (some sort of shepherd dog among pigeons),” Mirza said, adding with a naughty wink of his eye, “moreover, we have beaten them thrice on the international border.”

But there were bureaucratic and diplomatic hurdles which wouldn’t allow such a thing to happen. Consultations between the two groups then led to an idea which Mirza calls “ingenious”.

“We decided to save our respective leaders the embarrassment of accepting our proposal and hit upon the idea of holding the competition on the Wagah border,” Mirza said.

“I don’t think that should be a problem,” Ismail interjected, adding, “of course, we still have to sort out the issue of who will be the referee and where exactly he will stand on the border.”

The kabootarbazs said their idea had been received with excitement by their counterparts in other cities in Uttar Pradesh. Mirza said he had all the support from the Kabootarbaz Association of Uttar Pradesh. The association is now trying to get permission for the international match from the apex body of kabootarbazs based in New Delhi.

If things go according to plan, the Indian and Pakistani teams will assemble on the two sides of the border in the last week of October “when the weather for this extraordinary sport is perfect for both bird and man.”

Once that happens, the Indian and Pakistani sides will fly their pigeons and try to win over as many birds from the other side as they can. It is an elaborate process that involves long hours of staring at the sky, making strange and amazing noises and gesticulations. At the end of the day, whichever team is left with fewer birds loses.

Mirza is confident the Indian side will win. “We have an excellent kutta kabootar (some sort of shepherd dog among pigeons),” Mirza said, adding with a naughty wink of his eye, “moreover, we have beaten them thrice on the international border.”

   

 
 
MAMATA STANDS BY PM 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, April 16: 
The Trinamul Congress today gave breathing space to an ally-assailed Atal Bihari Vajpayee, saying it will support any confidence motion moved by the Prime Minister despite its differences with the BJP on the Gujarat developments. But the party will continue to put pressure on the Centre to strictly adhere to the national agenda for governance.

Talking to reporters here this afternoon, Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee explained that her party did not favour the idea of a Lok Sabha election every alternate year as it hampered national development and put a fresh burden on the common people.

“But our support to the Vajpayee government will not be blind support. We have certain specific commitments to the people and intend to take them up with the Centre from time to time,” she said.

The Trinamul leader, who has been in constant touch with Telugu Desam Party chief Chandrababu Naidu over Gujarat for the past few days, conceded that the two parties had come closer due to their “ideological affinity”.

Mamata reiterated her party’s stand on Narendra Modi’s removal as Gujarat chief minister and opposed snap polls in the riot-ravaged state. “We are one with the Desam over the Gujarat issue and feel the administration’s main task is to maintain peace and restore people’s confidence,” she asserted.

Mamata distanced herself from the Congress-led Opposition gameplan to expose differences among the NDA partners by seeking a vote on the continuation of the Modi government under Rule 184.

But she refused to commit her support in the event of a vote under Rule 184. “Our MPs will take a decision if and when the matter comes up in the Lok Sabha,” she said.

Asked whether NDA convener George Fernandes had contacted her, Mamata said: “Many NDA leaders have been in constant touch with me. I can name 15 leaders who have talked to me on the recent developments. I will also talk to the Prime Minister when I go to Delhi next week.”

Sources said several factors have prompted Trinamul not to quit the NDA despite the BJP’s refusal to replace the Gujarat chief minister. One of the them is finance minister Yashwant Sinha’s hint of a rollback of some budget proposals that had gone against the middle-class.

   

 
 
LESSON IN ISLAM AND JIHAD FOR ATAL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 16: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee got the first academic rejoinder to his statement on Islam this evening at an assembly of Muslim scholars during the release of Islam and Jihad, a book by noted lawyer and columnist A.G. Noorani.

The book comes at a time when no less a person than the Prime Minister appears to have taken up the RSS’s refrain that Muslims, wherever they are, create strife and tension. “This book was triggered by a call from my brother-in law in Bangalore, who was upset with the kind of misunderstanding about Islam that gained weight since the September 11 attack on (the) World Trade Center,” said the author.

Today’s was an occasion to pull up Vajpayee for adding to the grist of misinformation on Islam — an occasion where scholars like Mushirul Hasan from the Jawaharlal Nehru University expressed their anguish at having to clarify what Islam stood for.

“After September 11, I have been reluctant and agonised to speak on Islam and jihad,” Hasan said. He had been a victim of a vicious assault by Muslim fundamentalists while teaching in the Jamia Milia University. For months, Hasan could not enter the university premises and was forced to work from home.

Today, he did not see much ray of hope. “I do not think books like Islam and Jihad. are going to make a huge difference to stereotype images that people have of Islam. Nobody wants to listen. They want to read Arun Shourie and are more comfortable with a communalistic position,” Hasan said.

Noorani’s book is an effort to clear the misconceptions that have come to be associated with Islam. “In the first place, I would like to say that jihad actually is the Prophet’s injunction to speak the truth in the face of unjust rulers,” he explained. Fatwa never meant an “edict”. “It is just an opinion that can be given by maulvis,” he added.

Aligarh University vice-chancellor Mohammad Hamid Ansari said: “Much of what has been written on Islam is so utterly wrong.” Pointing a finger at his own community, Ansari said it “has “forgotten how to think constructively”.

“Nothing has contributed more to the absence of constructive thought than this inability to think constructively,” he said.

   

 
 
JAYA CALL FOR TIGER BOSS CAPTURE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai, April 16: 
Jayalalithaa’s ADMK today pushed for an Indian military action with Sri Lanka’s “concurrence” to capture Velupillai Prabhakaran and bring him here to stand trial in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case if the island nation fails to deport him.

A resolution adopted by the Tamil Nadu Assembly was emphatic that the Centre speed up the LTTE chief’s extradition through diplomatic or other means.

The ruling party made it clear that neither Prabhakaran nor anybody associated with the banned Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam should be allowed to get a toehold on Indian soil. This was imperative to protect the “security, integrity and sovereignty of India”, the resolution, moved by chief minister Jayalalithaa, said.

A few days ago, she had said that even if the Centre allowed Tiger spokesman Anton Balasingham to come to India for treatment, Tamil Nadu’s doors were closed to him. However, today’s resolution did not mention Balasingham’s name.

The resolution was adopted amid noisy scenes with PMK members, in black shirts, walking out of the House in protest against any move that could hamper the peace process in the embattled island.

The people were “greatly shocked” by Prabhakaran’s April 10 news conference at Killinochchi, the resolution said, rejecting the banned outfit’s advocacy of “forget-the-past attitude” with regard to Rajiv Gandhi’s murder. The former Prime Minister was killed in 1991 while campaigning in the state when a suicide bomber blew herself up.

The resolution said that though the Centre has branded the LTTE a terrorist organisation, other pro-LTTE groups like the TNLA and the TNRT posed a threat to the country’s security.

The resolution said the people look at the LTTE with a “mixture of hatred and fear”. However, under the “changed circumstances” in Sri Lanka if peace returns to the northern Tamil-speaking areas, “we will be immensely happy”, it added. It would also pave the way for Tamil refugees here to return to their homes in Sri Lanka, it said.

Despite the persuasive language of the resolution, barring the Congress and the Tamil Maanila Congress, none of the other Opposition parties supported it entirely. In fact, most felt it could hamper the Norwegian-initiated peace process. They were, nonetheless, unanimous on bringing Prabhakaran to book.

The PMK, whose 18-member group was the most vocal and walked out even as the Speaker, K. Kalimuthu, put the resolution to a voice vote. The CPI, the CPM and the Dalit Panthers of India’s sole MLA, R. Thirumavalavan followed suit. The DMK, led by K. Anbazhagan, remained neutral on the resolution.

Jayalalithaa demanded immediate action by the Centre “just as the US took steps to catch Osama bin Laden after September 11 terrorist attacks.”

   

 
 
NITISH RULES OUT RAIL SELLOFF 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, April 16: 
As thousands of public sector employees struck work in a nationwide protest against the Centre’s labour and privatisation policies, the NDA government today sought to calm frayed nerves, saying it had no plans to privatise the railways, the country’s biggest public-sector employer.

Addressing a gathering of railway employees on the occasion of the 47th railway safety week, railway minister Nitish Kumar said: “We have said many times in and outside Parliament that we are not going to privatise the railways. Let me reaffirm it here today on this occasion.”

Digvijay Singh, Kumar’s deputy, went a step further. “The question of privatising the railways will come up only when Indian army is privatised,” he said. The railwaymen gathered at the National Centre for Performing Arts greeted the announcements with thunderous applause.

The message was well-crafted and unmistakable from the beleaguered Vajpayee government, which has been drawing fire for its labour policies from allies such as the Shiv Sena which supported today’s Left-sponsored strike. Significantly, it was delivered by ministers from the Samata Party, an ally.

Nitish Kumar dismissed reports that the railways might go the way of such public sector undertakings like the Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited that was sold to the Tatas for Rs 1439.25 crore in February.

He said the railways is in the midst of a modernisation drive to make it financially strong. “We will modernise the railway, not privatise it,” the minister reiterated. The railways is setting up mineral water and power plants to save money. “Would you call this privatisation?” he asked rhetorically.

Playing to the galleries, Singh said nobody should “even dream of privatising the railways as long as Nitish Kumar and I are at the helm of affairs”.

In a sop to the rail employees, Nitish Kumar said he had taken up with the finance ministry Yashwant Sinha’s decision to tax the railway employees for the free travelling passes given to them and their families. “I hope the issue will be sorted out soon.”

Tens of thousands public sector employees, including those in banking and insurance sectors, stayed away today in response to the strike called by the Left unions and supported by the Shiv Sena.

“We are strongly opposed to the Centre’s anti-labour policies, including indiscriminate privatisation of public sector units,” Uddhav Thackeray, son of Sena chief Bal Thackeray, said. “we will always fight for the workers.”

This was the second time in a year that the Sena had joined hands with the Left to protest against the Centre’s labour policies. Last year, the Sena campaigned with the CPM to make an industrial strike a success.

The Sena is especially peeved with the Vajpayee government for its attempt to amend the labour law without consultation.

The party said it would oppose the amendment both in and outside Parliament.

Trading at the forex market was badly hit because of the strike. So was the work at the country’s largest port. Public transport, however, was kept out of the strike, so trains and buses ran as usual. International and domestic flights, except those bound for Calcutta, took off and landed on time.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum:33.8°C (-2)
Minimum: 26.4°C (+1)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative humidity

s
Maximum: 93%,
Minimum: 70%

Sunrise: 5.18 am

Sunset: 5.54 pm

Today

Partly cloudy sky, with possibility of the development of thunderclouds towards afternoon or evening
   
 

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