CPM diktat to desert leader in custody
Romance cloud on teen murder
Scared students set to skip exams
Poll can wait, not transfers
Opposition hits the streets
Jaya keeps Modi options open
Left veers from riots to President race
Arif quits BSP over BJP deal
Murder slur on Laloo aide
Fires raze slum, singe highrise

Calcutta, April 17: 
The CPM leadership has cautioned the party’s Calcutta district committee against lobbying for Dulal Banerjee, who was arrested last week in connection with the twin murders in Dum Dum on March 4.

Banerjee, an influential member of the Dum Dum-Belgachhia zonal committee, has confessed to sleuths that he was present when two local youths — Chandan Chakraborty and Sanjib Goswami — were lynched by a mob on the night of March 4 for snatching earrings from a housewife in the locality.

CPM sources said chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee wants Alimuddin Street to be firm against party leaders who are hauling up the police for arresting Banerjee. He is also learnt to have asked the police to go ahead with the investigation without bowing to any pressure from local party leaders.

“We have come to know during the course of interrogation that Banerjee is involved in the incident and even the snatching of earrings was fabricated to justify the killings,” said deputy commissioner of police, detective department, Soumen Mitra.

Investigating officials from the Anti-Rowdy Section claimed to have gathered “sufficient evidence” to prove the allegation against Banerjee. “We arrested Banerjee only when we were definite about his involvement in the murders. Now, we are ready to prove everything in the court of law,” they said.

Reports said the detective department took over the investigation when the widows of the victims first lodged complaints in the Cossipore police station and later with some senior police officials, saying Krishna, Pancha, Bhombal, Bapi Khara and Kele Gopi — associates of Banerjee — had “brutally” murdered their husbands.

The CPM top brass’ tough stand against the party’s Calcutta district committee was evident from the turnaround in the stand of key party functionaries from the city who were defending Banerjee till yesterday.

“We shall not comment any further on Banerjee’s arrest as the matter is being handled by the state leadership,” said Rajdeo Goala, local MLA and secretariat member of the city district committee. Till yesterday, he was vocal against Banerjee’s arrest and maintained that the sleuths had falsely “implicated” him.

Echoing Goala, city district committee secretary Raghunath Kusari said those found guilty in the “lynching” incident would be brought to book, no matter how important they are in the organisation. “We have already expelled Krishna for his direct involvement in the incident and instituted a two-member commission to probe if other party members and functionaries are involved,” he said this afternoon.

Kusari made it clear that the party would initiate action on the basis of the report, which will be submitted by two senior partymen —Prasanta Chatterjee and Dilip Sen. “We have nothing against the police if they have taken Banerjee in custody on the basis of specific charges,” he added.


Asansol, April 17: 
The body of a Class VIII student, missing since Monday, was found last night with his throat slit at a marsh, 2 km from here.

The body, identified as that of Pappu Bauri, bore three bullet wounds and several stab marks.

Police said that on Monday afternoon, one of Pappu’s friends had called on him and took him along to fetch milk.

When he failed to return till late night, Pappu’s mother and grandmother searched for him among neighbours and friends.

After the body was found last night, investigations led the police to arrest six of Pappu’s friends, a girl and her father.

Officer-in-charge of South Asansol Phari Jagannath Mondal said preliminary investigations pointed at an affair between Pappu and the arrested girl. It was being suspected that the girl’s father used Pappu’s friends to kill him, he added.


Ahmedabad, April 17: 
About 10,000 Muslim students are likely to skip the Gujarat board examinations beginning on Thursday despite the “elaborate security set-up” and transport facilities arranged by the state government for those taking the tests from Ahmedabad.

Minority community leaders met senior government officials this evening and asked them to postpone the SSC and HSC examinations by at least two days. But the authorities were in no mood to oblige.

“We have made all necessary arrangements — transport facility from residence and relief camps to examination centres with police protection. They wanted us to change certain examination centres, we did that. But now we cannot concede any more unjust demands,” said state education minister Anandiben Patel.

Patel said the government had done enough to ensure there was no disturbance at any of the 205 centres in the city. “Video-recording will be done in all the examination centres and any trouble-maker will be booked,” she said. “What more do they want?”

Though the minister claimed that all Muslim students would appear for the examinations, some leaders of the minority community said a large number would stay away from the tests out of fear as the centres where they have been allotted seats were not safe.

However, 70 students living in the Shah-e-Alam relief camp will be able to take the tests as they have been allotted centres in the camp’s vicinity.

“I don’t think anyone from the Walled City would like to go to Hindu-dominated localities to appear in the examinations,” said Mohsin Qadri, though he made it clear that the students did not want to boycott the examinations. They are simply not prepared to sit for the tests in the prevailing tense situation, he added.

“When there is peace, we can think of examinations. But as of now, there is no question,” said Inamul Iraki, another Muslim leader who is camp-in-charge of Dariya Khan Gumbhat. No student living in the relief camp would appear for the examinations, he pointed out.

There are many localities that are still disturbed. Though the Narendra Modi government has said that “buses carrying students to examination centres will be given police protection, Muslims do not trust the police”, said Yasin Dudwala, whose nephew Sayyed Mohmmed has made up his mind not to appear.

“Where was the police when our people were being burnt and killed and our houses and shops set on fire?”

For Sayyed, a student of Nutan Vidyalay, and 10 of his friends, it was a collective decision not to appear for the tests.

Life is more important than examinations, they pointed out.


Ahmedabad, April 17: 
The Narendra Modi Cabinet today deferred a decision on dissolving the Gujarat Assembly, sticking to an assurance given by the BJP high command to its restive allies on Sunday night.

On Monday, BJP state unit chief Rajendrasinh Rana had hinted that the Cabinet might recommend dissolution of the House today. The BJP co-ordination committee had authorised the chief minister to go ahead with the move. But Modi said today the Cabinet “did not even discuss the issue”.

“Though we all are in favour of early elections, it is not the right time to dissolve the Assembly as riot victims are still in relief camps and examinations are commencing from Thursday,” senior BJP leader Bharat Pandya said. “What we wanted we have achieved,” he added, pointing out that the party’s message that it is going to hold early polls has reached the people. BJP leaders feel early polls would help the party consolidate its Hindu votebank.

The government, however, shuffled the bureaucracy, transferring and promoting as many as 52 IAS officers at one go.

Some transfers were pending but the government, prompted by the uncertain political climate, widened the sweep to include officials it wanted to shunt out.

Prominent among those transferred were Pankaj Joshi, joint commissioner, Sardar Sarovar Project, who has been shifted to Rajkot as municipal commissioner. Kutch district collector H.N. Chibber has been moved to Gandhinagar as deputy secretary (general administration department).

BJP sources said the real factors that forced the party to have second thoughts on dissolving the Assembly were the pressure from NDA partners, presidential polls in July and negative feedback from district units.

Some district units, the sources said, advised against elections in June, when power and water crises are at their peak.

Drought and presidential elections were “major considerations”, the sources said, but hoped that polls could be held “after the monsoon” in September. Waiting till monsoon would also enable the party to vote in the presidential polls, scheduled for July.

BJP leaders feel that if the Assembly is dissolved and the Election Commission does not call polls by June, Gujarat MLAs will not be able to take part in the presidential ballot.

Sources said elections in June might see the BJP get a few more seats in cities like Ahmedabad and Baroda, where polarisation is expected to be acute.


New Delhi, April 17: 
With Parliament coming to a standstill for the third consecutive day, People’s Front leaders took their battle against the Narendra Modi government to the streets.

Thousands led by the Left and the Samajwadi Party MPs gathered outside Parliament. The MPs after forcing adjournments in both Houses walked down to the venue of the public meeting.

This is the first time that the People’s Front has organised a public meeting to protest against the Gujarat violence.

However, Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Laloo Prasad Yadav said he had not been invited to the meeting.

Inside Parliament, the Telugu Desam Party continued firing charges against Modi even as it seemed half reconciled to letting the Vajpayee government off the hook on the issue, at least for the time being.

Samajwadi leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, too, dragged in Uttar Pradesh politics and accused the BJP of swinging “shady” deals with the Bahujan Samaj Party. “Vajpayee sarkar sharam karo” (Vajpayee government hang your head in shame), Samajwadi MPs chanted while the Congress and Left leaders shouted anti-Modi slogans.

Desam MP Yerran Naidu tried unsuccessfully to make a statement while a Shiv Sena MP was spotted with a garland of onions to protest the government’s ban on onion export.

The BJP members kept up their attack on Congress president Sonia Gandhi and demanded an apology from her for her remarks against Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

The deputy Speaker adjourned the House before the situation got out of hand.

In the Rajya Sabha, the Opposition waited for the new members to finish taking oath before launching their attack on the government with Treasury Bench members returning the fire.

When Parliament became silent, the noise outside the Parliament gates rose to a pitch.

Mulayam, the first speaker at the public meeting, issued a clear threat to the Vajpayee government, warning them not to play with fire.

He was followed by former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet and his CPI counterpart, A.B. Bardhan.

Laloo held his independent show in the evening when he along with his party MPs went to meet the President to seek dismissal of the Modi government. “We are all protesting — maybe in different ways,” the former Bihar chief minister said.


Chennai, April 17: 
Barely a week after analysts felt she was tilting towards the BJP-led Central coalition, Jayalalithaa today broke her silence on Narendra Modi and suggested that the Gujarat chief minister resign.

“It will be better if Mr Narendra Modi resigns,” the Tamil Nadu chief minister told reporters at the secretariat after the Assembly session this afternoon.

Last week, Jayalalithaa had refrained from commenting on the demand for Modi’s resignation, even after the National Human Rights Commission indicted his regime for the way it handled the communal riots.

Though the ADMK chief had condemned the post-Godhra carnage, the reproof came with a rider: “the majority community, too, had their rights”. Political circles interpreted this as a sign of Amma’s sympathies shifting towards the BJP. But after today’s statement, sources said Jayalalithaa was keeping her options open with the ruling coalition as well as the Opposition.

The ADMK chief expressed concern that Parliament has been paralysed for the last three days, with the Opposition calling for Modi’s sack and the BJP equally adamant on persisting with him. “In the interests of the country, the Centre should take a good decision,” Jayalalithaa said.

The ADMK leader did not agree with the BJP on holding early elections in Gujarat. “I do not think there are valid reasons for advancing elections in Gujarat. What is needed is a change of government,” she said, adding it was up to the BJP and the Centre to take the necessary steps.

Jayalalithaa also refused to comment on the possibilities of a political realignment at the Centre, when asked about the “information” she had received about a “secret meeting” between DMK parliamentary party leader Murasoli Maran and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi.

The ADMK chief said she would rather wait and watch what direction the stand-off between Telugu Desam chief Chandrababu Naidu and the BJP-led NDA takes in the coming days.

Observers said Jayalalithaa is in no hurry to jump on to the BJP bandwagon because its intransigence over the Modi issue was getting “untenable” for all parties.

This is one reason why Amma, they said, has reiterated her earlier “equidistant position” from both the BJP and the Congress, even if at a later date she might be willing to bail out the NDA in case of a numbers crisis. But sources said there was a more immediate and crucial reason behind Jayalalithaa’s statement this afternoon.

Both the Congress and the Tamil Maanila Congress had supported her government’s resolution in the Assembly yesterday, demanding that the Centre speed up LTTE chief V. Prabhakaran’s extradition. Congress MLAs today presented Amma a shawl for bringing in the “bold resolution”.

Bid to unite CMs

Jayalalithaa today wrote to her counterparts in all the states, urging them to lobby for the Centre to revoke the open market borrowing restrictions. She had earlier raised the issue in a letter to the Prime Minister.

The Centre recently withdrew a facility that allowed the states to borrow from the Union government for “special” purposes. Jayalalithaa urged the chief ministers to unite so that the “ability of the states to implement development schemes was not stymied any further”.


New Delhi, April 17: 
With the Gujarat crisis reaching a dead end, the Left leadership is now turning its attention to the presidential elections due in a couple of months.

Leaders of the Left Front and the Samajwadi Party will meet tomorrow at the residence of senior CPM MP Somnath Chatterjee and one of the issues on the agenda is to form a strategy for the presidential polls.

While the main aim of the People’s Front is to defeat the BJP-sponsored candidate, it is also firm on not backing the Congress if it fields its former Rajya Sabha MP Karan Singh. “We are totally opposed to his candidature,” says a Left leader.

The BJP, according to sources, is backing P.C. Alexander, former special officer on duty to Indira Gandhi. “There is no question of our lending support to him,” said Opposition leaders.

The name of former West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu is also doing the rounds, though tentatively. Once the most sought-after candidate for the Prime Minister’s post, Basu has a wide swathe of acceptability, cutting across all sections of the Opposition, including the Congress.

But whether the main Opposition party will veer around to backing the CPM leader for the highest office in the land is another matter. Also Basu’s age, point out some, is a disadvantage.

The former West Bengal chief minister quit because of age and ill health. As some in the Opposition ranks pointed out, the President’s post is no longer as “comfortable” as it used to be.

“These are unstable political times — a fractured polity that requires frequent intervention by the President,” said one leader.

The Opposition’s strategy ideally is to have a consensus presidential candidate to prevent splitting of votes that would be to the BJP’s advantage. But so far, the Congress has not made any overtures to the front. “We do not know what is on their mind. They have not spoken to us,” said a Left leader.


New Delhi, April 17: 
Former Union minister Arif Mohammad Khan has sent feelers to the Congress following his resignation from the Bahujan Samaj Party today.

Arif, who had resigned from the Congress in 1987 over the Shah Bano case, said he was quitting the BSP to protest the party’s decision to align with the BJP in Uttar Pradesh.

The Congress is in two minds over inducting Arif. The Muslim lobby in the Congress is exerting pressure on Sonia Gandhi not to draft him into the party fold. According to some former ministers, Arif’s return would send a “wrong signal” to the minority community, pointing at his opposition to the supremacy of Muslim personal law over the uniform civil code.

Those in favour of Arif’s return said his “homecoming” would be an asset to the party.

At the height of the Shah Bano controversy in 1986, Arif had favoured providing maintenance to divorced Muslim women beyond three months as directed by the Supreme Court. But Muslim leaders succeeded in forcing Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to reverse the apex court judgment through an Act of Parliament.

Arif was a general secretary in the BSP. In a letter to BSP chief Kanshi Ram, Arif said: “Since I stand committed to fight against communalism and the BSP deciding to align itself with BJP, I see no moral way out but to part company so that I can devote myself to the fight against divisive forces.”


Patna, April 17: 
For a newsmagazine, making a murder probe its cover story is commonplace. It’s news when the editor himself is booked in connection with the crime.

Reporter, a newsmagazine published from here, could hit the stands next week with the probe on the murder of a pramukh of Nawada’s Warsaligunge block last night as its cover story. Unfortunately, its editor, Rajballav Yadav, is among the accused in the case.

Rajballav, a Rashtriya Janata Dal minister-turned-editor, was today booked in connection with the murder.

According to Nawada superintendent of police J.S. Gangwar, the pramukh, Udayshankar Singh, a Bhumihar, was returning from the house of the local MLA, Aruna Devi, around 8 last night when alleged supporters of Rajballav shot him from point-blank range. Additional director-general of police A.R. Sinha said Singh’s brother later filed an FIR against the minister, accusing him of plotting the murder. “The police would now investigate the case and take action.”

Warsaligunge, notorious for its caste feuds and a series of massacres in the last three years, is once again in ferment as the killing has reopened the old enmity between the Bhumihars and Yadavs of the area.

The murder, which was preceded by the rape of two tribal women of the area, unleashed a wave of public anger with thousands of residents blocking the streets and trying to stop trains. The residents even staged a demonstration in front of the Warsaligunge police station, demanding the minister’s arrest.

Rajballav is the fourth minister in the Rabri Devi Cabinet to be booked in a criminal case in a span of six months. If the police probe makes any headway, he would probably have to go the way of the other three who were forced to resign. RJD chief Laloo Prasad Yadav has made it clear that the moment an arrest warrant is out for a minister, he would be axed. Laloo, however, is believed to be impressed with Rajballav’s courage and even called him a “brave soldier of the RJD”.

Sources said Singh was murdered because of the differences he had with the minister’s associates over contracts for the bus stand and several other issues. The pramukh was an associate of Akhilesh Singh, a caste ganglord whose wife Aruna Devi is the local MLA.

Rajballav is alleged to be “a don of the area patronised by the RJD president”. In May 2000, 12 Bhumihar men were allegedly killed by the Ashoke Mahato gang, which owes allegiance to the minister.

RJD sources said he became close to Laloo after he survived an attempt on his life by Bhumihar gangs. In 2000, after being elected to the Assembly, he was made minister for labour and planning in the Rabri Cabinet.

Rajballav had launched Reporter late last year, blaming the mainstream media for bias against the RJD. Rabri Devi, who attended the launch ceremony, was effusive in her praise for the minister-turned-editor. “He will get all assistance from the state government’s publicity department,” she said.

Rajballav’s enemies say his association with the underworld will be his undoing. The minister was wanted in connection with two other criminal cases in the eighties. His name also figured in a diary recovered from slain gangster Akshat Singh.

Rajballav defended himself, saying names and telephone numbers of people’s representatives are available everywhere and brushed aside questions about his links with last night’s murder.

“How can a minister be dragged into a case when he was busy doing his job at the state headquarters?” he asked.


Mumbai, April 17: 
Residents of a highrise that caught fire in an upscale neighbourhood had a narrow escape today, hours after a blaze left thousands homeless in a slum in the city.

Residents of the 11-storey Anand Darshan on Pedder Road rushed out in panic after a fire broke out in a flat on the 10th floor. Eight fire engines fought the blaze for nearly two hours before putting it out. The building is located next to Jaslok Hospital in south Mumbai, home to the rich and powerful.

Fire brigade officials said no one was injured in the blaze, including those living in the flat. It was not clear immediately what had caused the fire.

Traffic on the busy Pedder Road was stalled as firefighters fought the blaze, causing a snarl-up during evening rush hour.

Earlier in the day, a fire gutted parts of a teeming slum in the western suburb of Bandra, leaving thousands homeless, but miraculously injuring only two.

The fire, fuelled by exploding cooking gas cylinders around 6.30 am, cut a swathe through Behrampada, one of the biggest slums dotting Mumbai, gutting hundreds of shanties.

Thirteen fire engines, armed with seven water tankers, struggled for several hours to bring the blaze under control. The fire was smouldering till evening in some parts of Behrampada.

Firefighters initially feared that many residents could have been trapped in their shacks, most of them made of flammable cardboard, plywood and cloth.

But later, they said almost all the residents had managed to escape unhurt as they were awake when the fire broke out. They said the fire could have been devastating in terms of casualties if it had started last night.

A resident said the spreading fire caused cooking gas cylinders to explode in some of the shanties, fuelling it further.

Only two persons were injured. One of them was a firefighter and the other a slum resident, a fire official said, adding that several thousands were rendered homeless.


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