Plan to clone Black Cats
Court stay on school fees
Naxalite alert on state border
Calcutta turns breeding ground for ultrasound clinics
Conscience and home call Omar
Sonia stings spectator Atal
‘Nazi’ Uma certifies Modi as excellent
Desam between devil & deep sea
US denies interest in Lanka base
Writers wield the sword

 
 
PLAN TO CLONE BLACK CATS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Siliguri, April 30: 
The state government plans to raise at least three battalions of commandos on the lines of the National Security Guards’ Black Cats, trained in counter-insurgency and jungle warfare.

“The need for a specialised force to combat terrorism has become more pronounced in the recent context of extremists outfits tormenting both security forces and the public in several districts of south and north Bengal. The state urgently feels the need to raise a specialised force to combat this menace,” highly placed official sources said.

According to the official, the modalities are being worked out and the process is underway to select some 200-300 crack recruits from the state’s armed police battalions. These recruits will have to pass stringent mental and physical tests to qualify for the elite commando force.

“We are in the process of the nitty-gritty of the selection and once things are thrashed out with the Union home ministry, the force will leave for Sirsa,” the official said.

“The state will bear all expenses and is ready to take care of the recruits’ welfare and needs during the six month-long training at the NSG centre,” the official added.

The police recruits will be trained by the NSG at their Sirsa headquarters in Haryana. They will go through the gruelling NSG combat training courses in urban warfare and undergo special training in counter-insurgency and jungle warfare techniques.

They will also undergo training in close-quarter combat, hot pursuit, laying ambush, as well as quick reaction to terror strikes and reflexes in chance encounters.

Militant groups like the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation and the United Liberation Front of Asom operate in Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Coochbehar in North Bengal. Groups like the People’s War Group and the Maoists Communist Centre are active in South Bengal districts of Midnapore and Bankura.

Maoist guerrillas of Nepal, on the run from forces in the Himalayan kingdom, are believed to have found sanctuary in North Bengal, particularly in Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri.

“With the sophisticated fire-power of these militant organisations and their superiority in jungle warfare, it is natural that we have to raise specialised force to take them on in their own backward-the jungles,” the sources said.

“This force has to act and think like guerrillas to combat them – hence, this specialised training,” the sources said.

“The commando units will also be armed with a sophisticated arsenal to match the extremists’ firepower. This apart, this force will also deter other hardcore criminals once mobilised in the region,” the sources added.

   

 
 
COURT STAY ON SCHOOL FEES 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 30: 
Justice S. Burman Roy of Calcutta High Court has passed an interim order restraining Krishnapur Adarsha Vidyamandir from taking further fees from guardians for their proposed primary and kindergarten school at Dum Dum Park.

Authorities of the Vidyamandir were taking Rs 50 from guardians against the admission forms of the proposed school.

The court passed this order on a petition by Adarsha Sishu Bidyabithi principal Lucky Sinha and 17 others. The petitioner had challenged the validity of the high school’s decision, claiming that it had no authority to set up another school in the same premises. The matter will come up for hearing on May 2.

Society of Krishnapur Refugee Cooperative Colony sponsors both the Vidyamandir and the Bidyabithi. Petitioner’s counsel, Dhrubajyoti Ghosh, argued that the society had not empowered the high-school authority to take such a decision.

More than 350 residents of Dum Dum Park condemned the decision to set up a primary and kindergarten school in the same premises. The signatories in their petition claimed that the decision of setting up a kindergarten in the premises was illegal as the society had gifted the land to the Vidyamandir to set up a high school.

On April 6, some residents of the area demonstrated at the high school premises demanding that it withdraw its decision to set up a primary school.

   

 
 
NAXALITE ALERT ON STATE BORDER 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
April 30: 
The home department has directed the Burdwan district administration to strengthen security along the Bengal-Jharkhand border in the wake of intelligence reports indicating that many activists of the Maoist Communist Centre and other Naxalite groups have entered the Bengal from the neighbouring state.

Six criminals from Jharkhand were recently arrested in the Bengal. Dacoits based in the neighbouring state looted a local fish market and a businessman’s house and fled there.

The Intelligence Bureau report adds that — because of locational and communication advantages — criminals are using the Burdwan-Barakar route to flee to Jharkhand after committing crimes in Bengal.

Many inter-state buses ply between Burdwan and Chirkunda in Jharkhand. The miscreants travel on these buses with weapons in the guise of passengers. Several People’s War Group guerrillas have also entered the state through the Barakar border, police learnt during interrogation of PWG militants.

Many inter-state passenger and commercial vehicles, private cars and autorickshaws are plying between Burdwan and Jharkhand. About 30 buses carrying nearly 2,000 passengers ply daily between Bengal and Jharkhand and Bihar. Besides, nearly 125 state and private buses, carrying more than 1 lakh people, ply between Burdwan and Barakar. There are also auto services from Barakar to Charkura in Jharkhand.

Though there is a checkpost at Duburdihi at Barakar, officials posted there casually check the trucks passing through. “We are supposed to verify the challans of goods being transported but we do not have the manpower to check the goods,” said M.K. Besra, who is in charge of the checkpost.

“If someone carries AK-47s in a basket of apples, we can do nothing. We do not enough manpower to check inside a vehicle and have to be satisfied with checking the papers. Besides, there is no co-ordination with the security forces,” he added.

“We don’t have any power to intercept a vehicle carrying passengers across the border,” echoed Joydeb Mondal, assistant commercial tax officer posted at the Barakar checkpost.

Burdwan district superintendent of police B.N. Ramesh said a blue print has been prepared for strengthening security in border areas. “We have decided to set up a few camps to keep vigil on buses and other vehicles. Besides, the police will conduct thorough checks on all buses entering here or returning to Jharkhand,” said Ramesh.

“A special force, including plainclothed policemen, will be deployed at Barakar,” the police official elaborated. Co-operation has already been sought from his counterpart in Jharkhand, the district superintendent said.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA TURNS BREEDING GROUND FOR ULTRASOUND CLINICS 
 
 
FROM R.VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, April 30: 
A survey has found that there are 583 ultrasonography clinics in West Bengal, of which as many as 120 are unregistered, the state government told the Supreme Court today.

Calcutta topped the list with 203 clinics, of which 56 are unregistered, according to the survey by the state’s health department. The bordering district of North 24-Parganas, many parts of which are considered part of Calcutta, has the second largest number of clinics. Of the 67 such centres in the district, 18 are unregistered, the family planning commissioner said in an affidavit.

The survey, which was filed after the apex court had expressed dissatisfaction over the state earlier report, revealed that none of the clinics have a genetic counselling centre.

On April 8, the Supreme Court had held that it was unbelievable that only about 500 ultrasonography clinics were functioning in Bengal. The court had directed the state health secretary to be present in court.

“The government of West Bengal has accelerated action under the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Technique Act, so that the target date set by the court is achieved,” according to the government’s affidavit.

The case was brought to the apex court by the non-government organisation Centre for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes, which contended that female foeticide was increasing because of the presence of ultrasonography clinics. The male-female ratio (number of females per thousand males) in Bengal has decreased from 955 to 948 in urban areas and 969 to 967 in rural areas.

The court had directed all states to conduct a survey of such clinics operating illegally and close them down. It is feared that the illegal clinics may conduct sex-determination tests.

A three-judge bench of Justices M.B. Shah, B.P. Singh and H.K. Sema today imposed a cost of Rs 5,000 on the Uttar Pradesh government for not complying with an earlier order of the court. It directed that the cost be given to the Supreme Court Legal Aid Service.

Additional solicitor general Altaf Ahmed agreed with the court order. “States should be sufficiently responsible in such an important matter. A heavy cost should be imposed on erring states and the money should be put to good use,” said Ahmed.

   

 
 
CONSCIENCE AND HOME CALL OMAR 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 30: 
The Gujarat censure motion claimed another minister from the Vajpayee government today.

A day after coal minister Ram Vilas Paswan quit, Omar Abdullah, minister of state for external affairs, offered to resign, saying it was “untenable and improper” for him to continue in government as the National Conference has decided to abstain from voting on the Opposition-sponsored motion under Rule 184.

Government sources said Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is likely to accept Omar’s resignation shortly.

Omar said his father Farooq Abdullah had met Vajpayee on Saturday and told him that since the National Conference would abstain during voting, his son would quit. The Prime Minister has urged Farooq to reconsider the decision.

“But once our parliamentary party and the executive said there was no question of reconsidering our decision, I told the Prime Minister this morning that morally I could not continue in office as officially the National Conference would abstain. I told him my offer of resignation stands and he said he would consider it,” Omar said.

Citing the reasons for abstaining, he said: “We are deeply unhappy about the situation in Gujarat. It will not be possible for the National Conference to vote against the Opposition’s resolution.

But, at the same time, it is not possible to support the resolution as it is too broad-based and that can create problems for us.”

NDA sources said the resolution spoke about atrocities against the minorities in general before referring to Gujarat and that could be embarrassing for the National Conference as most Kashmiri Pandits — who are in a minority in the Valley — were thrown out by militants and have been living in relief camps in Jammu for years.

“Politicians in states with six to eight per cent Muslims (meaning Gujarat) are making such a noise over their plight, so how can the National Conference be expected to keep quiet?” they asked.

“As it is Ghulam Nabi Azad (of the Congress) has started a propaganda that the National Conference is on the side of the Hindu rioters,” the sources added.

The government’s take on why Omar resigned was first, he had to face the Jammu and Kashmir elections in September and second, the state was a Muslim-majority one. Asked if his return to Jammu and Kashmir was inevitable, Omar said: “I am going back sooner than later. Technically I could do both jobs I suppose, but I feel I will not do justice to either, especially since my job in Delhi involves being out of the country for much of the time.”

Though Omar was described by government sources as “one of our ablest and promising ministers”, they admitted that Vajpayee had no option but to accept his resignation.

“If he had to quit for some other reason like going back full-time to Jammu and Kashmir, it would have been an honourable exit. But to lose him on an issue like Gujarat saddens us. If he abstains, he has no choice but to resign and we have no choice but accept the resignation. If the government did not, it would have set a bad precedent. Some minister would find some issue to abstain from voting and this would make a joke of collective responsibility and accountability,” they said.

On whether Gujarat had undermined India’s international image, the outgoing junior foreign minister replied: “It has embarrassed us internationally. It is an internal matter but I don’t personally agree with the view that governments can’t question us on internal matters.”

   

 
 
SONIA STINGS SPECTATOR ATAL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 30: 
The debate on Gujarat today grew as nasty as it could get, but it did not deter Sonia Gandhi from again accusing Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee of gross “double standards”.

“He has been making shifting statements. In the Shah Alam camp in Gujarat, the Prime Minister spoke about Narendra Modi’s rajdharma --- then in Goa he changed track,” said the Congress president, who has come under much flak of late for making “personal” attacks on the Prime Minister.

Earlier this month, Sonia had said that Vajpayee had “lost his mental balance”, but apologised a day after. Today she made it clear that her “apology” was only a tactical retreat.

Targeting the Prime Minister afresh, Sonia said: “Let us put an end to this propaganda that had the Opposition condemned Godhra, Gujarat would not have happened. I would like to ask the Prime Minister what prevented him from taking the lead in the House in condemning Godhra.”

Before Sonia began her speech this afternoon, Cabinet minister Uma Bharti spewed venom at her, saying the Congress was forever “lusting” for power. Bharti also poked fun at her for staking claim to the government though she did not have the numbers.

Bharti’s vitriolic attack appeared to have honed Sonia’s aggression. Unfazed at the sight of BJP legislators streaming out of the House as soon as she took the floor, Sonia held out a clear ultimatum to the Centre: “Unless proper steps are taken to bring justice, we will continue to expose this government’s insidious designs in and outside Parliament.”

She also hit out at Bharti’s dismissal of the horrifying tales of rape in Gujarat as “concoctions”. Recalling the conversations she had with some victims who recently come to Delhi, Sonia said: “The stories of large-scale rape and many of the victims being killed after being raped have outraged us.”

Launching a two-pronged attack, Sonia said that while the Modi government had “betrayed” the people of Gujarat, the chief minister’s masters in Delhi had “failed the people of India”.

“Narendra Modi besmirched Gujarat while the government in Delhi looked on as a passive spectator,” she said.

Sonia also made it clear that her party was not shying away from Assembly polls in Gujarat. “Let not the BJP think for a single moment that we are afraid of elections in Gujarat. We are ready for them whenever they are held. And we are also confident that the people in Gujarat will give the BJP a fitting reply,” she said.

   

 
 
‘NAZI’ UMA CERTIFIES MODI AS EXCELLENT 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, April 30: 
Union sports minister Uma Bharti spoke more like a Vishwa Hindu Parishad activist in today’s parliamentary debate on Gujarat, lauding the state government for its “excellent” work and hailing the police action as “commendable”.

Her words drew a sharp rejoinder from former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar. “Your speech was not of a Hindu sanyasin but of a member of the Nazi regime,” he said even as the treasury benches applauded her incantations against “pseudo-secularists” and Muslims.

Bharti said: “The Gujarat government should be praised for the excellent work it has done. The police action has been commendable.” That the BJP decided to field the former VHP activist as its first speaker was an indication of the party’s strategy — not to be defensive in the face of the Opposition’s charges.

The ruling party members, confident of pulling through the vote under Rule 184, were shrill in their protest when the Opposition spoke. They cheered Bharti loudly when she spoke the language they wanted to hear.

“Whenever I think of Godhra I wonder what does a Hindu in this country feel? That he can be set ablaze?” asked the minister, holding up newspaper pictures of Godhra victims.

Short of repeating RSS spokesperson M.G. Vaidya’s warning to Muslims to earn the “goodwill” of the majority community for their safety, Bharti said all that could gladden the hearts of her ideological gurus in the Sangh parivar.

The Union minister showed a picture of a mother trying to protect her child from the flames in the Sabarmati Express but had no word of condemnation for the massacre of women and children that followed later.

Bharti also took the cultural organisation, Sahmat, to task for “spreading rumours” of atrocities on women. Showing touching faith in the Narendra Modi government, she said: “I asked the chief minister whether such incidents were true and he denied. There should be an inquiry into the findings of Sahmat and if found guilty, serious action should be taken against the organisation.”

Her speech rested almost solely on listing the virtues of Hindus. It was because of the “liberal” outlook of Hindus that many Indian Muslims had not crossed the border in 1947, she said. “Hindu ka dil bahut bara hai (The Hindu has a very generous heart),” Bharti added.

She began her speech with a broader perspective — tracing the genesis of the communal conflict — but soon slipped into the role of a VHP pracharak, lashing out at anybody who spoke in favour of the minority community.

Her target was mainly the Congress, which she blasted for “presiding over the 1984 genocide” and for mindlessly chasing power, and its president for aspiring to the Prime Minister’s office without the numbers.

She also tried to foist the blame for the killings in Gujarat on the Congress, saying that two of its councillors were party to the Godhra carnage. “They were also part of a mob which stalled a fire brigade from dousing the flames on the train for a good six to seven minutes,” the minister said.

   

 
 
DESAM BETWEEN DEVIL & DEEP SEA 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 30: 
For Yerran Naidu, the Telugu Desam leader in the Lok Sabha, it was a tightrope walk. His turn to speak on the Gujarat debate came before Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s did. But party chief N. Chandrababu Naidu had declared in Hyderabad that the Desam would decide which way to vote only after hearing out the Prime Minister.

The most diplomatic course for Yerran Naidu was then to beat the government with all the sticks he had, yet not reveal whether the Desam would make the final strike during the voting under Rule 184.

The Desam politburo met twice — once in the morning and then in the evening — and authorised Chandrababu Naidu to take a final decision on the vote.

Like Sonia Gandhi, Yerran Naidu demanded that the BJP consider placing Gujarat under Article 355. “The Gujarat violence is much more serious than Bihar violence — a point raised by some in the House. Chief minister Narendra Modi has failed to control the law and order situation. Even now the violence is going on,” he said.

Yerran Naidu made it clear that the BJP government had wilfully ignored every suggestion made by Chandrababu Naidu to rein in Modi and bring the situation in Gujarat under control. “Chandrababu Naidu has been in regular touch with the Prime Minister. He has told Vajpayee the people have no faith in the Modi government. And the need of the hour is to change the leadership in the state,” he said.

On the one hand, the Desam MP launched an unbridled attack on the Vajpayee government. On the other, he whip-lashed the Congress for its “corruption, nepotism and double standards”. In a way, Yerran Naidu made his party’s dilemma clear: backing the NDA government was becoming increasingly untenable given the proportions the Gujarat crisis was assuming, but the Congress’ presence in Andhra Pradesh as the Desam’s main adversary was leaving it no viable option.

Stuck between the devil and the deep sea, Yerran Naidu hit out at the government for trying to whittle down the killings from a national to a local issue. “It is the primary duty of the government to protect the lives and property of its citizens. The Narendra Modi government has failed and must go,” he said.

In the build-up to today’s debate, the Desam has sided totally with the Opposition in demanding that all business in Parliament be suspended till a discussion on Gujarat takes place.

Expressing the Desam’s exasperation with the failure of the Centre and the Gujarat government to rein in violence, Yerran Naidu said: “They should remember that it is an NDA and not a BJP government. But the BJP is the main ally in the NDA and therefore has the prime responsibility of reversing the situation in Gujarat.”

He also ridiculed the BJP’s suggestion for holding elections. “How can you hold elections in Gujarat now — is this the meaning of democracy?” he asked.

A slanging match erupted between the Desam and the Congress when Yerran Naidu charged his rivals with compromising on communalism.

“Narasimha Rao, then Congress Prime Minister, had been a silent spectator to the demolition of Babri Masjid,” he alleged.

   

 
 
US DENIES INTEREST IN LANKA BASE 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
New Delhi, April 30: 
The US is “looking for the highest quality of statesmanship towards resolving issues, short of a conflict”, in the context of the role India and Pakistan are to play in Washington’s coalition against terrorism.

Rounding of two days of political-military discussions with the Indian government, US assistant secretary of state Lincoln Bloomfield Jr said Washington was not expecting the tension on the border between India and Pakistan to be an obstacle in forging relationships in the region.

“The US is engaging (with Delhi and Islamabad) with goodwill. We are building for a positive future,” Bloomfield said. Bloomfield is principal adviser to US secretary of state Colin Powell on political military affairs.

Washington was also not seeing its presence in South Asia for a long term in that it “does not covet any permanent military bases” in the region. Bloomfield was responding to speculation on perceived US interest in setting up a base in Sri Lanka.

“The purpose of today’s political-military dialogue was to set the stage for a closer and even more productive bilateral relationship. I had the opportunity to hear in detail India’s strategic perspectives, priorities and visions for the future in the context of the regional and international security environment. I was also able to present American perspectives on Operation Enduring Freedom and the global war on terrorism,” he said.

Bloomfield and his team held talks with Arvind Gupta, joint secretary in the National Security Council secretariat and with Jayant Prasad, joint secretary (Americas) in the ministry of external affairs.

   

 
 
WRITERS WIELD THE SWORD 
 
 
FROM SHRABANI BASU
 
London, April 30: 
If the pen were truly mightier than the sword, something other than words would have flown when writers clashed.

Mercifully, Amit Chaudhuri and Rohinton Mistry, both leading Indian writers in English, have reopened an old battle only on the pages of newspapers physically separated by continents.

Chaudhuri, who divides his time between Calcutta and Oxford, has written a letter to The Guardian of Britain in response to comments by Mistry, who has made Toronto his home, on an unflattering review of his first book, Such A Long Journey, done by Chaudhuri 11 years ago.

The mild-mannered Chaudhuri has lashed out at Mistry after the newspaper published a profile of Mistry last week where the Mumbai-born writer referred to a quarrel with Chaudhuri six years ago over what he thought to be unwarranted remarks made in the review about the Parsi community, to which he belongs.

In the review that appeared in the London Review of Books, Chaudhuri wrote: “The Parsis of Bombay are pale, sometimes hunched, but always with long noses… and (have) a bad temper which one takes to be the result of the incestuous inter-marriages of a small community.”

Mistry, known as a quiet and reserved person who likes to keep to himself, did not react at the time. Six years later, when they met in New York at a gathering of Indian writers, Mistry turned to Chaudhuri and asked: “How could you have written that piece?”

This was the version given by a third person present there. The Guardian quoted Mistry narrating the encounter that differed in detail. “If it had been any other minority — Jewish for instance — what you wrote would have been completely unacceptable,” he told Chaudhuri.

Chaudhuri clarified today that in the review in 1991, he had described the Parsi community, “and which formed such an important part of my childhood and youth in Bombay, with satire not unmixed with affection”.

When the two met six years later, “I clarified to him that I had intended to be ironical and humourous, but certainly not malicious,” Chaudhuri has now written. “I would like anyone to quote anything from that review that might be said to incite hatred towards the Parsis. I thought the matter closed but am appalled to see it re-introduced.”

This is not the first time writers have fought in public. John Le Carre, the celebrated spy thriller writer, had hit back after novelist Salman Rushdie wrote a critical review of his book.

American Paul Theroux produced an entire book about his falling-out with Nobel prize winner V.S. Naipaul.

In the letter, Chaudhuri explained he had nothing against the Parsi community. He objected to The Guardian describing him as a “Hindu writer”, and said it was a “mystifying category in which I have never before been placed. I am an atheist.”

“I think of myself fundamentally as an Indian and part of my inheritance are the Hindu, Muslim, and Christian religions, and the cultures of several communities, including my own, the Bengali and Mistry’s the Parsi,” said Chaudhuri.

“I find this old colonial habit of breaking up Indians into communities and setting them against each other pernicious.”

Chaudhuri said he was sorry Mistry had to face religious prejudice. He had no reservations about Mistry on account of his religion. His only reservation had to do with his writing, for he had never “found the Bombay he encountered in his stories or his first novel particularly persuasive or memorable.”

In a final jibe at his fellow Indian writer, Chaudhuri said: “The depth of his ‘Parsi-ness’ would perhaps be demonstrated better by discussing the effectiveness with which his writing conveys this quality rather than by recounting quarrels he has had with his reviewers.”

   
 

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