Jharkhand in joint combat to curb Naxalites
Power cuts ‘strike’ exam
Chase puts Ulfa rebels in police net
Coke plant bombed for Laden ‘link’
Consensus exception proves contest rule
Students pawns in syllabus tussle
Sonia push for second stint
Nitish between sabotage & shaky bridge
Borders bristle with fresh war games
DMK mayor at Jaya door

May 13: 
Alarmed at the increasing infiltration of Naxalite rebels from the adjoining state, West Bengal today joined hands with Jharkhand to combat them.

Senior police officials from both the states held a meeting at Bokari in Jharkhand on Saturday to frame a strategy to curb Naxalite activities in the region.

Inspector-general of police, western range, Jitram Bhakat along with superintendents of police of Bankura, Paschim Midnapore and Burdwan were present at the meeting.

According to Bengal police officials, a joint-action plan has been chalked out to resist People’s War Group and Maoist Communist Centre rebels. These include regular co-ordination between police officials, conducting joint raids, exchanging information and holding joint meetings.

“If we have information that militants fled to Jharkhand after committing a crime here, we will conduct raids in possible hideouts in that state and the Jharkhand police will assist us. The same is applicable with the Jharkhand police. Besides, the Jharkhand police will inform us about PWG activists and vice versa,” said Basudeb Bag, Bankura district superintendent of police.

The meeting also decided to beef up security along the Bengal-Jharkhand border to check the infiltration of militants. “We have already strengthened security along the border in Burdwan and Bankura districts. Now the Jharkhand police will join us,” officials said.

Concerned about the free movement of MCC and PWG activists, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had taken up the matter with his Jharkhand counterpart Babulal Marandi.

Bhattacharjee urged the Jharkhand chief minister to adopt a joint-action plan to curb Naxalite activities.

According to home department officials, the state police will also hold discussions with the Orissa police for assistance in combating the rebels.

Senior officials will also seek suggestions from their counterparts in Andhra Pradesh, where the Naxalites are most active, to tackle the rebels.

Containing the Naxalites in Bengal has become a top priority for the government. A combined force of armed police from three districts, Rapid Action Force personnel, commandos and specially-trained policemen are on the lookout for the Naxalite rebels.

The Naxalites are mostly concentrated in the forest areas of Bankura, Paschim Midnapore and Burdwan.


May 13: 
More than 700 students of Haldia Institute of Technology boycotted their examination which began today even as severe power cuts in the districts continued unabated.

However, power minister Mrinal Banerjee said electricity generation had improved with the State Power Development Corporation stepping up its supply. “We will have to restrict supply in the districts to protect the entire system,” he added.

Students of Haldia Institute of Technology boycotted the terminal examination conducted by Vidyasagar University, demanding its postponement as power cuts had hindered their preparation.

Second and third-year students had approached the college director and the registrar with their demand on Sunday. Their plea being turned down, the students went on a rampage, assaulting a security guard and ransacking the registrar’s office.

But vice-chancellor Anandadeb Mukherjee made it clear that the examination would go ahead.

Power cuts have been plaguing the state since Friday with the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) supplying less power to the State Electricity Board (SEB).

The NTPC drastically reduced its generation last week to restrict supply to Orissa’s Gridco for not paying dues to the tune of Rs 875 crore. Two 500-mw units at Farakka and Talcher and a 210-mw unit at Kahalgaon were shut down.

“We are receiving about 260 mw less than what we should as Bengal’s shares from the NTPC. As a result, severe power cuts are plaguing the districts. Why should we suffer for no fault of ours?” asked G.D. Gautama, the SEB chairman. Gautama raised the issue with chairman of the Central Electricity Authority V.V.R.K. Rao last Friday.

The shortfall in SEB-served areas was around 160 mw this evening. The situation was further compounded by fluctuations in the supply frequency as more than 1200 mw of electricity suddenly went off the eastern grid due to the shutdown of NTPC units.

Union power secretary R.V. Shahi has called a meeting in Delhi tomorrow to discuss the problem. The possibility of snapping Gridco from the eastern grid will also come up for discussion. The chairman of the Central Electricity Authority has also convened a meeting on Tuesday to settle the row between NTPC and Gridco.


Siliguri, May 13: 
Three militants of the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) were arrested today as they tried to flee on a stolen motorcycle.

Intelligence sources said the Ulfa rebels had arrived in Cooch Behar some days ago from the outfit’s area command camp in south Bhutan.

Officials said villagers of Deochorai under Toofanganj chased the militants when they stole the motorcycle. The militants then entered Toofanganj town where the police nabbed them. A sophisticated revolver with three live bullets and documents were recovered from the trio.

The militants, all in the early twenties, are residents of Bilasipara in Assam and were identified as Dipul Kalita, Vivek Brahma and Ajit Nath.

Both police and intelligence agencies are interrogating the trio on the purpose of their visit to Cooch Behar.

“We are probing into their intention of entering Cooch Behar. From the documents seized, it is evident that they were on a recce and had picked up the motorcycle for mobility. The possibility of the militants trying to abduct some prominent figures in the region cannot be ruled out,” an intelligence official said.


Patna, May 13: 
Terror struck in the posh Patliputra Colony area last evening after a Coca-Cola bottling plant here was bombed by a mysterious “swadeshi” outfit, which left behind leaflets claiming a “bin Laden-Coke pact” to flood India with “foreign consumer items”.

The Bihar outfit, Swadeshi Chetna Abhijan, is unattached to any political party and a stranger to the acknowledged brand of swadeshi propagators like the Swadeshi Jagran Manch. The BJP also disowned it.

According to additional director-general of police, Patna zone, A.R. Sinha, a group of motorcycle-borne youths raided the bottling plant last evening and raised slogans against the company when stopped by security personnel. Before leaving, the gang hurled bombs, two of which exploded on one side of the wall, causing some damage. One unexploded bomb was found inside the plant.

One of the slogans printed on the leaflets which the police later seized read: “In this country, water, land and air are our own. But why are the foreign commodities?”

Watanko phir girvi na rakh dena watanwalo, shahido ne bari mushkil se azaadi dilayi thi (Oh, countrymen, don’t let the nation be mortgaged once again. The martyrs had given us this freedom after a long struggle),” the leaflets said.

The pamphlets claimed that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, Saudi terror mastermind Osama bin Laden and Coke were conspiring to “sell” the country.

Kya aap bin Laden ka samarthak hain?” the Abhijan asked, urging people to unite against the imaginary triple entente. Its strident swadeshi sentiment was reflected in the way the organisation compared foreign drinks to foreign urine. It also explained how foreign drinks contained poisons like BVO which are harmful for the natives.

The Abhijan warned that the country’s home-grown confectioners would not spare the foreigners. Naming one such network owner, it said Indian cold drink manufacturers would soon take up arms against multinational companies.

Sinha felt the outfit may not be real. “We are trying to investigate their antecedents and the causes of their attack on the bottling plant,” he said, adding that the slogans could be a ploy to mislead the police about their actual motive.

“Had the outfit been real, it would not have named an Indian company… planning to attack the multinationals. The attack could lead the police to something very different,” he said. Investigators said the attack could be related to an extortion racket but this was yet to be confirmed.

While the police have begun raiding hideouts of known antisocial elements, the tone and tenor of the campaign literature prompted some parties to blame the RSS and the BJP.

A Rashtriya Janata Dal minister said the BJP was trying to whip up fake swadeshi sentiments in the state.

State BJP spokesperson and party vice-president Kiran Ghai dismissed the allegation. “We have never heard anything about this organisation before. The BJP does not have any connection with whatever was spoken in the campaign literature. We demand a thorough probe into the incident,” she said.

Senior executives of Coke from Delhi and Calcutta are camping here but refused to speak to the media. Sources in the company said the officials were talking to all the employees and trying to assess the situation.


New Delhi, May 13: 
The BJP has been trying to make a virtue out of evolving a consensus for the next presidential election, but every President since 1952 — except for Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy in 1977 — had to face a contest.

Reddy was elected unopposed because after the Emergency, the Congress was incapacitated. It was routed in the Lok Sabha elections and Charan Singh, who was home minister in the Janata Party government, dismissed nine of its state governments.

The Congress had no choice but to settle for a consensus candidate. Ironically, he happened to be the same person who was humbled in the 1969 presidential election by V.V. Giri.

Veteran political watchers remember the 1969 election. As former Lok Sabha secretary-general Subhash C. Kashyap put it, it was the “most keenly contested one”.

Reddy had been declared as the Congress’ official nominee. But days before the nomination was to be filed, party president Indira Gandhi named Giri, then the Vice-President, as her candidate and asked her party members to vote according to their conscience. Reddy was the Lok Sabha Speaker and although he had quit his office he did not resign his Lok Sabha seat.

Giri polled 4,20,077 votes (50.2 per cent) and Reddy came a close second with 4,05,427 votes (48.5 per cent). The difference was less than two per cent but the election led to a split in the Congress, with Reddy’s supporters floating their own Syndicate Congress.

While the 1987 presidential polls — that saw R. Venkataraman installed in Raisina Hill — was certainly not so close, old-timers describe it as one of the “most serious” contests.

It took place under the shadow of the much-talked-about tensions between the incumbent President, Giani Zail Singh, and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Pitted against Venkataraman were former Supreme Court Chief Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer and a relatively unknown entity, Mithilesh Kumar. But it was Kumar’s presence that added an uncanny twist.

It was rumoured that the life of the frail and old third candidate was in danger and he might not even be allowed to file his nomination. But his proposers and seconders from Bihar landed in time, while Kumar was put up in a government house on Balwant Rai Lane under round-the-clock medical attention and security. The election eventually went off without a hitch and nothing was heard of Kumar since.

Venkataraman won comfortably with 72.3 per cent of the votes polled. Iyer finished a distant second with 27.5 per cent.

In a history replete with ironies, Zail Singh was pitted against H.R. Khanna, a former Supreme Court judge who was superseded for promotion by Indira Gandhi in an unprecedented step.

For the rest, the contests were glaringly unequal: larger than life figures like Rajendra Prasad and S. Radhakrishnan were up against mostly unknown candidates and the victory margins spoke for themselves.

The first time in 1952, Prasad fought against K.T. Shah, an economist from Bombay University. The second time his contender was N.N. Das, an ex-Congressman. Radhakrishnan’s opponent was C.H. Ram, of whom nobody recalled a single detail. “In those days there was no requirement of 50 proposers and seconders,” Kashyap said. “They were absolutely unknown people who very often wouldn’t give their deposits.”


New Delhi, May 13: 
The tussle is between the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) and the Supreme Court. But it is the students who are paying the price.

The Supreme Court has stayed the circulation of the NCERT prescribed new History, Hindi and Social Science textbooks. This means that schools will have to revert to the old textbooks the NCERT had discarded as unfit. But the NCERT so far has shown no sign of “swallowing its pride” and re-printing the old textbooks on the controversial subjects.

Many schools are finding their own solution by putting together a book bank of the old textbooks. “The students who have finished with these textbooks are asked to donate them to the book bank,” said a teacher.

It’s not just one or two junior classes that are feeling the pinch. As many as five classes from the first to the eleventh are facing a scarcity of the old NCERT textbooks. There is a crisis brewing over Hindi textbooks for classes I, III, VI, IX and XI — a dearth of Social Science textbooks for classes VI and IX and History textbooks for class XI.

Students in classes I, III, VI and IX have already gone without the controversial textbooks for a month. “The NCERT should print these old textbooks or else it can be charged with contempt of court,” said an academic.

The CBSE feels the same -— the NCERT is just trying to postpone the inevitable — eating a humble pie on an issue given top priority by not only the NCERT director but also by human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi.

Just when the NCERT was patting itself on the back for being able to push through a highly controversial new school syllabus — the Supreme Court clamped down with an order refusing the NCERT permission to put out textbooks in line with its new syllabus for Hindi, Social Science and History.

The court order came after a public interest litigation was filed by social activists, accusing the education council of tampering with historical facts. The case will come up for hearing on July 12.

“The NCERT should not stand on prestige — it should first think of the students and print the old textbooks,” said a senior official in the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE).

He said the CBSE will soon take a formal stand on the textbook issue. “The NCERT should print the old textbooks,” CBSE officials maintained.

But the advice seems to have gone unheard. The NCERT recently put out an advertisement announcing a list of the old textbooks it is going to print, which would be available with wholesale agents across the country.

The advertisement said the release of NCERT textbooks for Hindi, Social Science and History for classes I, III, VI, IX and XI have been delayed because of the Supreme Court judgment.


New Delhi, May 13: 
The Congress and the Left parties want President K.R. Narayanan to run for a second term in the event of a consensus eluding him for another stint at Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Narayanan has been lukewarm to the idea of a contest so far. The President, currently vacationing in Ooty, has been sounded out informally by emissaries on behalf of Sonia Gandhi and Left leaders like Harkishen Singh Surjeet, who harped on the theme of maintaining the secular profile of the Indian polity. The President reportedly has sought more time to consider the Opposition’s proposal.

Congress leaders today said Sonia planned to directly approach Narayanan if he continued to dither. The Congress president will also hold talks with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on May 17-18 to work out some sort of a consensus on the presidential polls.

Well-placed sources both in the Congress and the BJP admitted that the prospects of a consensus were bleak. The BJP is less than enthusiastic about Narayanan, pointing out that no President, except Rajendra Prasad, had got a second term. “What is so exceptional about Narayanan that he should be given (a) second term?” asked a senior government functionary.

The Opposition gameplan is to force a contest and create fissures within the ruling NDA. According to the assessment of the Congress and Left parties, the BJP and some of its allies would find it difficult to openly oppose his candidature in the wake of “social realities” if Narayanan throws his hat in the ring.

Hailing from a Dalit background, Narayanan’s early education was funded by the local Harijan society.

The Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Forum of Parliamentarians is sharply divided on the issue of supporting Narayanan. The forum is headed by BJP vice-president Sangh Priya Gautam, while Union minister of state Ashok Pradhan is its treasurer.

Opposition MPs want the forum to pass a resolution in favour of Narayanan, but those owing allegiance to the BJP and the NDA are lukewarm about taking such a drastic stand at this juncture.

The Congress is also counting on parties like the ADMK, the Telugu Desam, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Nationalist Congress Party who hold crucial chunks of votes in the electoral college. If the Desam and the BSP support the NDA, the ruling coalition will be able to push through its nominee.


New Delhi, May 13: 
Nitish Kumar’s statement in the Lok Sabha today failed to throw up any clear answers to the Jaunpur rail tragedy even as railway officials and the Uttar Pradesh government continued to differ on the cause of the accident.

Railway officials maintained that sabotage led to the derailment of the Shramjeevi Express, jumping to a conclusion even before the preparation of the preliminary report on the accident in which 12 people died. Uttar Pradesh officials said the tragedy happened because of the collapse of a rickety bridge on a loop line where the Patna-bound train had been diverted.

The standoff forced the railway minister to admit in the House that it was difficult to ascertain the cause without an investigation.

Yesterday, rail officials and Nitish were quick to blame sabotage as the cause of the derailment. If it is true, this will be the first train accident because of sabotage this fiscal (2002-03). Last year, 14 of the 281 accidents that occurred were attributed to acts of sabotage.

Kumar today announced a compensation of Rs 1 lakh to relatives of the deceased, Rs 15,000 for those seriously injured and Rs 5,000 for those with minor injuries.

A statutory inquiry into the cause of the accident by the Commissioner of Railway Safety (CRS) has been ordered. He will start a detailed enquiry from Wednesday at Jaunpur, Nitish told the House.

“After we receive the report from the CRS listing the cause of the accident, prompt action will be taken against the persons responsible and remedial steps will be taken to prevent the recurrence of such accidents,” he said.

Railway officials appeared keen to gloss over the collapse of the bridge. “The bridge was listed under the ‘reinforcement’ category, which means that it was safe for limited traffic,” sources in the railway ministry said. “We were using it to divert minimum trains. It was more than 70 years old. Human failure is totally ruled out in such accidents — it has to be either due to sabotage or due to heavy pressure on the bridge.”

Numbered 107 by the railways, the bridge was built in an area called Shaganj near Jaunpur.

India has over 1.2 lakh steel bridges, and many are ageing, weak or accident-prone. Over half of them were built during British rule.

In June last year, 52 people died when three coaches of the Mangalore-Madras Mail tumbled into the Kadalundi near Kozhikode, Kerala.

In 1989, the Bangalore-Trivandrum Island Express plunged into the Quilon, killing 107 people. The Commissioner of Railway Safety, which conducted an inquiry, said: “A freak typhoon struck just as the train was crossing the bridge.”

In 1981, a cyclone blew a train off the tracks into a river in Bihar killing more than 800 people. Since 1986, there have been between 200 to 250 train accidents every year. More than 6,000 people have died.

In 1999, the Railway Safety Review Committee, headed by Justice H.R. Khanna, had submitted a detailed report on safety measures. The report identified nearly 300 bridges as “weak and distressed” and in urgent need of replacement. But no action was taken.


New Delhi, May 13: 
A series of manoeuvres by Indian armed forces over and above its deployment under Operation Parakram has worried the global community led by Washington. It is one of the chief concerns that US assistant secretary of state for South Asia, Christina Rocca, will address in her talks with India.

The official reason given for the Indian army exercises is that “troops have to be kept fighting fit”. Strategic thinkers would say that the successive exercises are also intended to send out the message that America’s Operation Enduring Freedom cannot afford to dispense with Indian cooperation. Indian army movements can easily force Pakistan into making matching deployments and throw into disarray Islamabad’s participation in the coalition’s “war on terrorism”.

Unconfirmed reports say that such movement on the Pakistan side might have already taken place. Pakistan’s 11 and 12 corps, normally based in its western sectors, were deployed on its border with India since the Indian military’s deployment began in December. Islamabad was probably moving elements of its 11 and 12 corps to help in the search for al Qaida activists. Washington might well have detected some hesitancy in the Pakistani establishment to persist with the movement of these elements because of the Indian army moves.

The Indian army exercises, with air force back-up, are on even as the security establishment in Delhi has concluded that Musharraf’s proclaimed steps against militants have yielded precious little for India.

As the snows melt in the higher reaches of Kashmir, there is the possibility that infiltration will rise. The figure being quoted is that through April this year, 120 militants infiltrated into India as against 130 in the same month in 2001. This justifies the army to persist with its deployment.

In the army commanders’ conference last month, the consensus was not in favour of withdrawal of troops without tangible results.

The US was worried as it is with Operation Parakram that has seen the movement of some eight lakh troops from peace time locations to their assigned locations near the border. US forces are in Pakistan carrying out operations targeting al Qaida leaders in association with the Pakistan military.

US forces in India — a unit of about 100 US Rangers from the Pacific Command — began a joint exercise with the Indian army’s para-brigade in Agra today, though for a different purpose. Fact is, the US cannot afford a war between India and Pakistan now when both countries are of strategic and military importance to it in its current operations.

Two months ago, American satellites were reported to have picked up the movement of the army’s 2 (strike) corps then commanded by Lt Gen. N.C. Vij. The Americans were said to have expressed their displeasure.

Vij has since been transferred as Chief of Staff Army Training Command (ARTRAC), Shimla. Defence ministry sources have always denied that the transfer was at the behest of Washington. There have been indications that Vij’s transfer was the outcome of a communication gap between him and the western army commander, Lt Gen. Sangra (who has now retired).

The 2 corps, usually based in Ambala, has been moving its armoured and mechanised units again. (The movement of armoured units is always closely watched because they are perceived to be assault forces in times of conflict in the plains). Other mobilised hardware include bridging equipment and field artillery. This series of movements began around end-April.

The movements are possibly part of an exercise that has been codenamed either “Operation Parakram II” and/or “Operation Brahmashava”. The movements are backed up by sorties of IAF aircraft. The manoeuvres are confined largely to the Suratgarh-Ganganagar area in Rajasthan but could be covering a part of Punjab as well.

Details of the movements are not available. Defence ministry sources even refuse to term these movements an “exercise” and call them “manoeuvres”. The exercise is likely to continue till April 15.

This is roughly the time for the 1 and 2 (both strike) corps to conduct its exercises. Last year, the 1 corps concluded its exercise by May 11. That exercise, codenamed “Poorna Vijay” was crucial to the military’s strategic objectives because it was said to have factored in moves in the event of a nuclear strike and for a nuclear strike.


Chennai, May 13: 
The DMK mayor of Madurai today called on Jayalalithaa at Fort St George with a silk shawl and a plea to loosen her government’s purse strings for development schemes in his city.

Amma’s smile said it all as Ramachandran led an all-party delegation from the Madurai corporation to the Tamil Nadu chief minister’s office.

Three days ago, the ADMK government had a Bill disqualifying MLAs and MPs from holding top posts in local bodies passed. An uproarious Opposition had unanimously interpreted it as targeting DMK youth wing leader and Chennai mayor M.K. Stalin, who had just returned from the World Mayors’ Conference in Brazil.

DMK chief and former Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi’s son would soon have to choose between the Chennai mayorship and his Assembly membership.

To political observers, the Madurai mayor’s meeting with Jayalalithaa is significant as his Chennai counterpart is yet to make a courtesy call on the ADMK leader since her comeback as chief minister.

Though Stalin and DMK general secretary K. Anbazhagan had attended the swearing-in of Jayalalithaa, his non-compliance with the protocol in not calling on the new chief minister as the city’s mayor drew flak in the Assembly.

Stalin had said he had no problem in meeting Jayalalithaa, but pleaded that getting an appointment with Amma was a “Herculean task”.

However, not many ADMK leaders took his excuse seriously. Speaker K. Kalimuthu had said that he would have helped the mayor get an appointment with the chief minister if he approached him.

In the backdrop of this row over courtesy and protocol came the disqualification Bill, which put Stalin on the mat. The “Stalin-targeted” Bill is likely to be challenged in court. But none quite anticipated that another DMK mayor would call on the chief minister, even for purely “politically-neutral reasons”, within days of the passage of the Bill.

The only face-saver for Ramachandran is that members of all political parties, including Madurai CPM MP P. Mohan, were part of the delegation pleading with Amma to release funds to the tune of Rs 17.5 crore. A Rs 50-crore project to provide water from the Vaigai Dam to Madurai city was also on their list of demands. The delegation also asked the chief minister to expedite work on a new underground drainage system.

Ramachandran saw “nothing political” in the 20-minute meeting, during which Jayalalithaa assured the delegation of “all assistance at the right time, keeping in mind the overall financial position of Tamil Nadu”. He was merely leading an all-party group to highlight Madurai’s needs, Ramachandran said. He did not agree with the new Bill passed in the Assembly, the Madurai mayor added.

But the visit has set off ripples in the DMK’s Madurai unit. Supporters of Stalin’s elder brother, M.K. Azhagiri, have demanded party action against him.

However, Stalin himself took no notice of the developments as he kicked off the campaign for the DMK candidate in the Saidapet constituency in the city this evening for the May 31 Assembly byelection.


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